February 14: The true path

What the Middle East needs now is leaders who care more about the welfare of their people than their own power.

The true path
Sir, – “Bumpy road to democracy” (Editorial, February 11) adroitly analyzes the political situation in Egypt. But economics is the underlying story.
There is a pattern to the unrest: It is largely confined to the non- OPEC countries. These are the states that are most vulnerable to the sharp increases that have taken place over the past year in basic food costs, and they are the least able to counter those effects through subsidization.
The pinch is particularly hard in Egypt, where the average worker spends 40 percent of his or her income on food. In retrospect, the billions in American aid to Egypt were badly allocated.
Should radicals take over, the situation will get worse because crude prices will spike due to the risk premium. Since agricultural commodities are closely correlated with petroleum, food prices will soar, too.
What the Middle East needs now is leaders who care more about the welfare of their people than their own power. That is the path to prosperity and democracy.
Jericho, Vermont
Not his vassal
Sir, – With regard to “UK’s Hague: Now’s no time for tough talk from J’lem” (February 10), has no-one told the British foreign secretary that Israel is no longer under the British Mandate? When Britain was threatened during World War II, it carpetbombed Germany without thought for innocent civilians. All those who wish to live in peace with the State of Israel will do so, and those who don’t will be treated as any other sovereign state would treat enemies.
Free speech paramount
Sir, – In response to “British physician calls for TAU to discipline pro-boycott academics” (February 10), I understand entirely the strength of Professor Stanton’s feelings about TAU lecturers who campaign so publicly for boycott. I happen to disagree with their positions most strongly.
The academic community supports a wide variety of views and policies. That is the nature of a campus. The views of the overwhelming majority of academics are not reported, and disproportionate attention is focused on this small group.
However, I feel it is imperative that the university provide an environment where there is complete freedom of speech and completely reject the concept of disciplining such lecturers on account of their views and statements, so long as those views are within the law.
It is an essential feature of any academic institution that there be complete freedom of speech – that is what enables academic research and free association. It is a foundation block of Israel’s democracy that there be free speech. Curtail the right to such comments and you prejudice the nature of the state; you compromise democracy and bring Israel down to the level of its enemies.
In addition, were TAU or any other academic institution to “discipline” its lecturers, it would rapidly vindicate and accelerate all campaigns to isolate and boycott it or any other Israeli university on the grounds that it was no longer an institution guaranteeing free speech, that it was a compromised entity and as such illegitimate in the family of the academic world.
The mere fact that one can so easily point to the essential openness of the academic institution raises its status, proves its independence and guarantees its existence as a center of excellence.
The writer is chairman of the TAU Trust in the UK
Dancing with dictators
Sir, – Larry Derfner castigates Israel for claiming to love democracy while establishing “special relationships” with dictators over the past decades [“Israel and the dictators (besides Mubarak),” Rattling the Cage, February 10].
Interestingly, his own position mirrors what he claims to reject.
The Gaza blockade is meant not only to protect Israeli citizens from attack, but to weaken the Hamas regime – a regime that is every bit as repressive as those in Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Derfner once wrote: “Nothing [the Gazans] have done... gives Israel the right to control their country or take away the Gazans’ right to defend it with force” (“I blame my country,” Rattling the Cage, June 3, 2010).
When he says “Gazans,” in practice he means Hamas. So according to Derfner, Israel is wrong when it deals with dictators, even if that relationship might be beneficial to Israel’s security interests. But it is just as wrong when it opposes a regime that brutalizes its own people, attacks Israeli civilians and has a stated goal of destroying Israel.
Zichron Ya’acov
Sir, – Egypt’s revolution underscores Israel’s risks in exacerbating Arab public opinion by perpetuating the occupation and settlements.
Instead of depending on American-subsidized dictators, wise Israeli policy would encourage a well-disposed Arab public.
Hence, it is folly that Israel’s Right badly worsens Arab public opinion – and Israeli security – by ignoring the Arab League peace plan, claiming the last bit of Palestinian land, and placing there half a million Israeli settlers.
This will produce either one unified state or an occupation that lasts forever.
Israel’s rightist policies generate the paradox that the more democratic the Arab world , the more negatively it may see Israel – and the more justified this would seem to the world.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Prudence required
Sir, – In “Return to negotiations now” (Comment & Features, February 9), Smadar Perry, in trying to persuade Israel to quickly come to an agreement with the Palestinians, offers us several cogent arguments that, if examined carefully, should lead us to completely opposite conclusions.
Perry demands the return to negotiations now because if we continue with the status quo, “[t]he next phase is already at our doorstep: The Islamist movement is gaining strength, leveraging the slap on the face that the US administration has delivered to Mubarak and his supporters.”
Wouldn’t prudence – and the reality of Hamas’s democratic takeover of Gaza, as well as the increasing influence of the Islamist movement in the entire region – require us to understand which way the wind is blowing before making irreversible concessions or granting legitimacy to a grossly unstable Palestinian leadership?
Petah Tikva
Be my Tu B’Av?
Sir, – Who would believe that in Israel, the Jewish state, one can find articles about celebrating Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, romantic dinner suggestions and gifts to buy? In the time of the Roman Empire, February 14 honored Juno, queen of the gods and goddesses. February 15 was the Feast of Lupercalia, a celebration of fertility and sexuality. On the evening of February 14, Roman girls had their names written on slips of paper for young men to draw for a partner for the festival.
When Emperor Claudius II ruled Rome in the third century, he could not mobilize soldiers because they did not want to leave their families, so he cancelled marriages and engagements.
A priest secretly married couples until he was caught. He was known as St. Valentine and suffered martyrdom on February 14.
When the “indecent” pagan festival was outlawed, the fifthcentury pope replaced it with a morally suitable celebration and named it with Bishop Valentine as patron saint.
When Jews have a perfectly wonderful holiday called Tu B’Av, celebrated in August, as a holiday of love, why would they need to celebrate a Christian holiday with pagan origins? What? You don’t know about Tu B’Av? Go forth and learn!