Brothers – Judaism and Islam

Speech to Islam Awareness Week Launch, 26 August 2013 at Whare Waka, Wellington

Shalom aleikhem, Salaam aleikum, Kia ora tatau.

On the tenth anniversary of Islam Awareness Week, we can say that we have spent significant time together.  Not only are we more aware of each other, we are friends that know, like, trust, and respect each other.  This is the perfect time to roll up are sleeves and start doing some hard work together.

Judaism and Islam are like brothers, as embodied in the relationship between Isaac and Ishmael.  Our common father Abraham is a towering figure in our sacred texts, and his teachings and ethical guidance are central to both our religions.

Isaac and Ishmael never knew each other properly as brothers, as according to the Torah, Ishmael and his mother Hagar were banished shortly after Isaac was weaned (Genesis 21:14); they did not see each other again until Abraham was buried (Genesis 25:9).

Not only are we brothers in the spiritual sense, we are actually brothers in the biological sense.  I recently subscribed to a service called 23andme, where you spit into a small vial, send it off to the lab, they sequence your genome and tell you all sorts of interesting things about yourself.  In my case, they correctly predicted that I have type O+ blood (which has a significantly lower prevalence in Ashkenazim than in the general population), and blue eyes.  They also said that I am likely to have straight hair, so they’re not perfect.  They say I’m 93.9% Ashekenazi Jewish.  But if you look more closely at my maternal haplotype, T, the top listed example population is: Palestinans.

2013-08-26 17_31_11-My Ancestors - Maternal Line - 23andMe

Through the millennia and centuries our ancestors have lived as brothers; much of the time the relationship has been good, but at other times, and particularly modern times, there has been lots of room for improvement.

The story of our difficult times owes more to politics than to our religious differences – but there is a definite religious angle to these political issues which is ignored or denied at our own peril.

Right now, today, these differences centre on events in Israel and Palestine.  At its core, the central problem is that both Jews and Palestinians believe that the land is theirs.  In Māori terms, both iwi believe that they have tangatawhenuatanga over the holy land.  Problem is, both are right.  When my Māori friends start talking about the Jews as colonisers and Palestinians as colonised, it’s time for a history lesson, as things are not quite so simple.

Here’s a concrete example from my own family.  My niece grew up in Los Angeles and “made aliyah” (ie immigrated) to Israel about ten years ago, and married a lovely young man, a statistician from the Gilo neighbourhood in Jerusalem.  I attended the wedding will never forget her soon-to-be Father-in-law Yossi asking me about New Zealand.  “Who does it border?” he asked.  “It’s a series of islands surrounded by thousands of kilometres of water,” I answered, “the nearest neighbour is Australia, 3-1/2 hours away by plane”.  “Is there much water there?”  “It generally rains every week.  Where I live, we get about 1300mm of rain every year.  It’s very green”.  He paused, and looked at me and said, “it sounds like Paradise”.

Gilo sits in that part of the West Bank that was annexed by the Israeli government after it was recaptured in the 1967 war, and is now part of the Jerusalem Municipality.  The land on which Gilo was built was legally purchased by Jews before the second world war, before the land was captured by the Egyptian army in the 1948 war and became part of Jordan.  In biblical times Gilo was an important town.  The land was largely vacant until modern Gilo was built in 1971.

My point is that it’s very messy.  Occupied territory, or Jerusalem neighbourhood?  There is some truth to both statements, and the contradictory truths seem blindingly obvious to people on both sides.  And it is exactly these perplexing problems involving the lives of real people and contradictory narratives which we must navigate in order to make progress.

I will tell you this though – a sustainable peace will not be black and white, involving the complete victory of one side over the other.  Neither side is about to quit the land, and we had better do what we can to encourage the feuding brothers to reconcile lest the situation result in mutual annihilation.

Here, in Yossi’s Paradise, we have an opportunity to overcome our differences far away from the source of the problems.  Perhaps we can exhibit more generous and mature brotherly behaviour when we’re removed from the fighting and conflict over resources.

I have close personal experience of reconciling brothers.  I am the father of three sons, currently age 21, 17 and 10.  When they were younger, the eldest and middle boys used to squabble and fight continually. When the eldest went away to university, they both realised what they had been missing.  Ever since, they’ve been best mates and whenever the eldest is in town they spend a lot of time together.

We can make progress by exploring the relationship with our brothers with an open heart.  But we must look at things warts and all, and not seek a kumbaya moment by ignoring the bad stuff from the past.  It won’t last, and we need to build a sustainable future.

Part of this process of reconciliation relies on good faith, and liberal application of the Golden Rule.  In the Talmud, this is stated as “what is hateful to you, do not to to another person”, and derives directly from the biblical commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

This rule also appears in many places in the Hadith, for example Sahih Muslim, Book 1, 72:

Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.” 

These same principles form the foundation of Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, an excellent blueprint for how we can get along with each other.

This week, in the leadup to our Days of Awe and the Jewish New Year (similar in many ways to Ramadan) we are reading the Torah portion Nitzavim, in which Moses (pbuh) is delivering his final lecture to the Jewish people.  He tells us that we have the choice between a blessing and a curse; the blessing should we act according to God’s will, and the curse if we do not.

It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?: Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” Rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it. [Deuteronomy 30:12-14]

Ultimately we are commanded to “choose life”.

It is in our capacity to learn about each other and treat each other with the compassion that is in both of our religious traditions, and work to respect even the things within each other that we do not like.  For that is at the heart of love – the ability to empathise, and to work together even though you may not like everything about each other.  We’ll never like everything about each other, but we shouldn’t let that get in the way of working together for a better New Zealand, and a better world.

To make this happen at a personal and organisational level, speaking as the Jewish Co-Chair of the Wellington Council of Christians and Jews, in the next year it is our stated intention to extend our hands to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and transform that organisation into an Abrahamic Council.  In that way we will be able to continue our dialogue, or rather trialogue as mature equals.

So let us get to know each other, and transform our childhood squabbles into mature, adult brotherly love.  We can only do that with a complete, unreserved understanding of each other and our historical narratives.

Thank you.

TICS bill submission

I recently contributed to a submission on the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill, a rather rushed and ill-considered piece of legislation that has massive potential for abuse by future governments, and which places unreasonable costs and procedures on people providing Internet services.

The introduction reads:

We explain in this Select Committee submission our opposition to the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill on the grounds that—as currently drafted—it is unclear, will not achieve its purpose, and is likely to have unintended consequences that undermine its purpose.

We further argue that New Zealand’s interests—in terms of national security, economic well-being, and protection of citizens’ basic privacy rights—will be best served if New Zealand businesses have the flexibility to innovate, compete, and succeed in creating products and services that provide robust protection for the privacy rights of their customers, while also effectively supporting legitimate interception capabilities required by law where applicable.

To commit the resources and effort required for such innovation, and to be able to attract investment to support growth, businesses need a clear understanding of their obligations, and confidence that these obligations will not unexpectedly change in fundamental ways through no fault of their own.

The remainder of our submission argues the following high-level points:

  • As reinforced by a recent United Nations Human Rights Council report, privacy is a fundamental human right that communications surveillance frameworks must protect.
  • The proposed legislation is unclear on a number of critical issues regarding which businesses are affected, what services are affected, and what obligations businesses have regarding interception capabilities; furthermore, it does not provide businesses sufficient predictability about their ongoing obligations.
  • This lack of clarity and predictability can produce negative side effects and unintended consequences that affect New Zealand’s national security and economic well-being, as well as New Zealanders’ safety and human rights.
  • Despite the numerous disadvantages the proposed legislation would impose on the legitimate activities of government, business, and citizens, it will not enable interception of communications using noncompliant services, which will be most attractive to the individuals whose communications will be most important to intercept.

Conclusion: The proposed legislation as currently drafted is not clear enough to fully evaluate, but nonetheless raises significant concerns that it may be ineffective and have unintended consequences that undermine its primary objectives. Therefore, we oppose the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill in its current form.

You can read the full submission on the Parliament web site.


Questions for ventures seeking funding

People regularly approach me or one of my investment entities asking for a meeting to discuss their venture and possible investment.  If I know them, they’ve been referred to me by someone I trust, or they have an amazing LinkedIn profile I usually take the meeting.  If they’ve crafted a great short pitch or include an succinct one-page executive summary in their email, I’ll also be interested in having a look.

However, if they just send me an email requesting a coffee without much detail, I usually send them the following set of questions… the more complete and interesting the answers, the more likely it is that I’ll be interested in investing my time into finding out more.

  1. Your name:
  2. Email:
  3. Phone:
  4. LinkedIn URL:
  5. GitHub URL:
  6. Name of your venture:
  7. If you can, please provide a < 3 minute video describing your venture
  8. If you can, please provide a < 3 minute video describing your team
  9. Describe your business in 140 characters or less
  10. In more detail, what will your company do or make? What’s new, interesting, or different about what your company will do?
  11. Who are your customers?
  12. What’s your distribution strategy (how will your customers learn about and buy your product)?
  13. Explain how the company will make money.
  14. Who are your competitors (please include URL’s), and how are you different from them?
  15. Why is now the right time to be doing this?
  16. What are your key challenges?
  17. Please describe current progress or traction. Include customers, user metrics, revenue, or any other indicators of progress.
  18. What consideration have you given to applicability and opportunity in international markets?
  19. Have you considered an exit strategy?  How and when do you see your involvement with this business coming to an end?
  20. Please provide information on money the company has already raised, and any information on fundraising plans for the future.
  21. How much investment do you think you need to achieve your current goals?
  22. Please tell us about each founder and their role.  Include LinkedIn, GitHub, and any other relevant URLs.
  23. Not including the founders, how many additional employees are there? Include LinkedIn, GitHub, and any other relevant URLs.
  24. What are some things that the team (or its members) have built in the past? Please include URLs.
  25. Why is your team the right team to be building this business?
  26. How much time can you and your team members commit to working on your company?
  27. How much do you think your company is worth today, prior to investment?  Why?
  28. What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done (other than this project)?
  29. What has been your biggest personal failure, and what did you learn from it?
  30. Why should we choose your company to invest in?
  31. How do you think we can best help you?


Welcome to Race Relations, Dame Susan Devoy

Dame Susan Devoy was recently appointed Race Relations Commissioner, amidst some controversy.  Like many, I was surprised by the appointment – I’d expected someone to be appointed to the position had some experience in the field, and was known to practitioners.

It’s a done deal now – the appointment has been made, and I think what’s missing is some acknowledgement that although her formal qualifications may be lacking and her actions in the distant past not quite aligned, Dame Susan is a very capable person and has demonstrated willingness to do the job well.  Furthermore, her appointment represents a big opportunity – to bring positive communication about race relations to the general public, rather than continuing to preach to the converted.

My friend Joan Buchanan who (inter alia) runs the Spirit of Rangatahi programme organised a welcoming event on behalf of the faith communities in Wellington earlier this week at the Wellington Jewish Community Centre, which was well attended.  I was unable to be there in person as I was overseas on business, but I prepared the following message for the event:

On behalf of the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation, the local Jewish Community, and the Wellington Council of Christians and jews, Bruchim habaim to everyone, and a special brucha haba’ah to our special guest Dame Susan Devoy.

That’s Hebrew for tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

I’m Dave Moskovitz – I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person tonight, as I am in California on a long-planned business trip and won’t be back in Aotearoa until Friday.  But thanks to technology, hopefully I can be with you in some ethereal way.

In our foundation text, the torah, the law, the five books of moses, the first five books of the bible, we are commanded to welcome the stranger no less than 36 times.  This commandment is repeated more than any of the other precepts in the Torah, which we can take as an indicator of its importance, as well as the importance of being reminded to fulfil this commandment.

In the Talmud, our 66 volumes of interpretation of the Torah, Peiah chapter 1 verse 1 says:
“These are the obligations without measure, whose reward, too, is without measure: To honor father and mother; to perform acts of love and kindness; to attend the house of study daily; to welcome the stranger; to visit the sick; to rejoice with bride and groom; to console the bereaved; to pray with sincerity; to make peace where there is strife. And the study of Torah is equal to them all, because it leads to them all.”

To welcome the stranger and to make peace where there is strife.  These are at the very top of the priority list of the things we must do in life.  And these tasks are at the heart of the job of the Race Relations Commissioner.

Our previous commissioner, the much loved and respected Joris de Bres left some very big boots to fill.  He did an excellent job of encouraging new relationships, and shoring up the societal infrastructure that supports communities’ ongoing encounter with each other as well as wider society.

But we have now have the opportunity to take this message to a new audience, to ordinary New Zealanders who do not necessarily identify as being “different”.  Dame Susan, because of your personal brand, you are uniquely positioned to deliver this message.  I’ve never been a particularly sporty person, but I always cheered for you on the squash court when you won titles overseas for New Zealand.  And now I hope we’ll have the opportunity to be even prouder of you off the squash court, while you’re making a real difference in enhancing our societal cohesion and understanding at home, for lifting your game beyond the game.  Your good work can ensure that we live in a safer and more harmonious country where, according to the ultimate Kiwi value, everyone has a fair go.

Your job is to remind us and wider society that we gain strength from our diversity, and that together we can build a New Zealand that is far richer, more interesting, and more globally connected.  New Zealand can be a global model for how people from seemingly incompatible backgrounds can thrive together in fellowship and achieve great things together, for our own communities, for our country, and for the world.
That’s no small job.  Let’s not be deluded: despite the fact that many New Zealanders believe we have the best race relations in the world, there is still an insidious undercurrent of racism and xenophobia, more prevalent in some quarters than others, sometimes silent, sometimes open.

Some people reluctantly accept this as the price of freedom of expression.  However I believe that it is up to each of us to call out our family members, friends, colleagues, and others when they exhibit bigoted behaviour, as bigotry is not acceptable under any circumstances.  And for the people who don’t even know that they are behaving in a bigoted and hurtful way, it’s our job collectively to help educate them.

Dame Susan, I know I speak for everyone in the room tonight when I say that you will have our individual and collective firm support in your new job.  It is not a job that can be done effectively by one person in a vacuum, or even an Independent Crown Entity.  It is a job that all must to do in order to keep our country great, and ensure a bright future for all of our children.  I know you can call on any of us to help you out should you ever need it.   As I explained at the beginning, we Jews are enjoined by divine decree to help you in encouraging all New Zealanders to welcome the stranger and make peace where there is strife; I can’t speak for the other faiths and ethnicities in the room tonight but I know we all have similar traditions, beautiful in the way they are expressed in their own voice.  In this, as in many other things, we are united.

And should you somehow not manage to satisfy absolutely everyone with every single action you take (or decide not to take), you’ll find us an understanding and forgiving lot – no doubt you’ll need to exhibit both the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job in your new job.  You should know that we’re all right behind you, and we want you and your cause to be successful.

So welcome, we hope to have frequent interactions with you, and as my grandmother used to say, “Don’t be a stranger!”.

I’d like to finish with a Hebrew song, which quotes from the first verse of Psalm 133: Hine ma tov u ma naim, shevet achim gam yachad – Behold how good and how pleasing it is to sit together in unity as siblings.  If you know the song, please join in.