Thursday, May 29, 2008

Toppling a Prime Minister

The fumbling leadership during the war in Lebanon didn't topple Olmert, but it seems the Talanski case has, or is about to. Not one of our finest moments, if you ask me.

Criminal investigations have become, unfortunately, a standard feature in the lives of many of our politicians. Indictments are less common, which says something about the ease of launching the investigations, or the canniness of the politicians in covering their traces. Or both. Progressing from investigation to indictment is significant, because that's the moment a minister (if the politician is a minister) must vacate his position. Convictions are rather rare. Olmert himself was tried once, while he was the Mayor of Jerusalem, and he was cleared.

Indicting a prime minister has never happened, either for lack of blame, or perhaps for lack of prosecutor's guts: The resignation of a prime minister means the resignation of the entire government, followed by political turmoil and the effective end of the prime minister's career; for practical purposes, indicting a prime minister is like convicting him, and so far no prosecutor has dared, though in the cases of Netanyahu and Sharon the media thought it was close.

What happened this time, however, was weird. By all accounts the prosecution doesn't yet have a good enough case for an indictment. They may yet get there, and for all we know Olmert may someday be convicted. Or not. That's what trails are for, in courts, with judges, and with a presumption of innocence until conviction. However, they convinced the court that Talanski, apparently their main witness, had to give his testimony NOW, immediately, before he goes back to where he lives in far-away New York. Can't wait for an indictment to be drawn up, nor for Olmert's lawyers to prepare a line of defense, or even a line of cross examination. Hurry hurry hurry!

The result was that Talanski gave his version, the whole country was shocked, and there's now no need for a trial because Olmert has been convicted in the court of public opinion. To make matters weirder, Talanski is coming back in two months, when Olmert's lawyers will cross examine him as part of a trial that may never happen, because who knows if an indictment will ever be written, and anyway the suspect will have been punished already.

Weird. And not anything we need to be proud of, no matter how you look at it.

Politics and Sleaze in Israel: a Brief History

An observation, apropos nothing: At the turn of the 20th century there were no wealthy Jews in Jerusalem, only poor ones. There were wealthy Jews in Frankfurt, New York, Casablanca and Baghdad, but there weren't any in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv hadn't been invented yet. 50 years later there were no Jews at all in Frankfurt and Baghdad, and Casablanca was emptying out; there were more wealthy Jews in New York than previously, and there were also some in Jerusalem. Another 50 years on, there are a handful of wealthy Jews in Frankfurt, no Jews in Baghdad nor in Casablanca, quite a number of them in Jerusalem, and the wealth of the Jewish communities in Greater New York is fabulous beyond imagination. (Some of them live part time in Jerusalem, so we can count them twice).

And why is all this relevant to anything, I hear you asking? Because until not very long ago, the nexus of wealthy Jews and powerful politicians was not much of an option. Add to that the ethos of the (Israel's) Founding Fathers, who saw themselves as staunch socialists who live on kibbutzes, and you begin to see why sleaze wasn't much of an issue in the days of Ben Gurion Through Golda. No sooner had the next generation taken control of the helm, however, the problem appeared. No-one talks much about it anymore, but Rabin was first toppled, in 1977, against a background of personal and party sleaze. Begin and Shamir, the next two, came for the same generation (almost) as their predecessors, and were hardly blameless in a general way,but they seem to have been sleazeless. (Begin was legendary).

Then came the next ones: Peres was never really fingered, but Ezer Wiezman left the President's seat under a cloud, and police investigations have been launched against every prime minister since Netanyahu, and against many ministers. Irrespective of political persuasion.

Geeks and Peace

As anyone who has ever dealt with them knows, geeks are often rather otherworldly types, in spite of their image as being cutting-edge futuristic prophetic agitators for revolutionizing the world (= otherworldly). Which must be part of the explanation for the success of this idea: a joint Israeli-Palestinian hi-tech startup, moreover one with the goal of making cyberspace even more a concrete place than it already isn't.

Who knows? Were there ever to be a large constituency for such things on the Palestinian side, this might even be the face of our local future. Hallevai, as they say in French.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cultural Divide Israel-Germany

There's an agency in Germany that on paper is a perfect candidate for what LeverEdge knows to offer. Magnificent. So we're in the initial stages of feelers and probes, prior to the stage of dancing around one another, prior to the stage of negotiations, prior to the stage of collaborating on a big and interesting and mutually beneficial project. The whole process will take a year if we're lucky, and we may well not be (lucky). Still, it's worth trying.

Also, there's a commercial firm in Germany that is closer than we are to the agency, and is better positioned than we are to getting in. So we've been scratching our heads, stroking our chins, and generally sort of deliberating how best to move forward. We have an idea they don't have, they're locals with some connections - standard stuff.

This afternoon I called one of the fellows at the firm, and told him that one of my colleagues has just this moment told me he'll be in Germany, in the right town, 9 days from now, and we feel he should do a spot of scouting at the agency. Nothing official, mind you, we're not anywhere near that stage yet, but lots of good things can come of unofficial reconnaissance missions, no?

The German colleague hemmed and hawed. I didn't back off. He said it wouldn't be easy to arrange. I said that wouldn't be easy is the story of life, and it's best to live life at its fullest. He mumbled that merely in order to get into the premises of the agency you need to make an appointment three months in advance. I said that we had 9 days, not three months, but we didn't need an official appointment. We're touristing around, not trying to buy the place. He said You know Yaacov, I'm not certain; I said You know Quincy (that's not his real name), you're not certain that not, either, are you.

He was actually being very clear: "I don't think it will work" in such a context means No. Anybody can understand that code. And I was pretending to hear the words, not the code.

Later, I told the colleague who's about to go traveling about the conversation. He commented that in such a situation, had it been an Israeli who was being called to create access, he first would have assured the potential visitor that it was done already, 100% certain, don't worry about it, the cab will take you from your hotel at 9:15 that morning and I'll meet you at the entrance. Then, after the phone call and the reckless promise, he's spend the next 8 hours doing nothing else but making certain that he could deliver, even if when he'd made the commitment he don't have the faintest idea how even to start. He'd probably find someone with an uncle who's brother-in-law does reserve duty with the ex-boyfriend of the accountant in the department across the street from the agency, or some such obvious connection.

(Lest you think I'm making this up, some years ago when Yad Vashem was preparing to embark upon a large technology project, someone organized a meeting for the two of us at a potentially relevant English firm two hours north of London, and off we went. Only after we'd been sitting in the meeting for two hours did it dawn on me that the fellow who had set it all up had no more connection with the locals than I had.)

Cluster Bombs and Thinking about War

Weapons are created to kill people. As long as people kill one another, there will be weapons around with which to do so. Yet some weapons are deemed nastier than others, and their use less legitimate. Some weapons disappear because they are superseded by more lethal ones, but some, occasionally, are banned for their nastiness, and then they either disappear or don't. Now that I think of it, I can't name a single weapon that was ever totally disused merely because it's nasty. Still, the attempt to somehow moderate warfare is a good idea, so people who try seriously to do so should be commended. (The pacifists and the closet pacifists, who are against killing under any condition, are less admirable as I've pointed out here).

This week there seems to be some international convention to ban the use of cluster bombs. What are they at all? Here's the Wikipedia article; and here's a factual and cool-headed article from The Guardian. The need for this convention - are you sitting? - is that at the moment, there is nothing in international law that bans their use.

Given that the context of the discussion is international, and apparently just about everyone uses cluster bombs, these articles don't single out Israel; indeed, it appears that there are worse culprits than Israel, countries like the USA and UK, for example. So when the Israel bashers concentrated in 2006 on Israel's use of cluster bombs in Lebanon, perhaps they weren't being fully balanced in their criticism. Who knows. Maybe they weren't even being detached and objective. If you read the Guardian piece carefully you might even note that the Israeli-manufactured version, the M35, is actually comparatively benign. Comparatively, of course.

None of which stopped the editor of the Guardian from illustrating the article with a picture from Southern Lebanon. Oh well.

Thinking this through has led me to a different question, regarding the discussion of war in the democracies. There is no end of criticism of the American (and British) decision to go to war (what's known as the Jus ad Bellum question). When you look closer, however, you'll notice that there is practically no intelligent discussion of the way those democracies wage the wars they're in (the Jus in Bello question). Of course, oceans of ink have been spilled on Abu Ghraib and on Guantanamo, but those are side issues far from the field of battle. What do we know about the use of air power and artillery in the present campaigns? When may American troops open fire, under what conditions, and how does the practice measure against their standing orders?

Israeli society discusses how its wars are waged all the time, and the public that does so is well informed and intelligent. Apparently this can't be said of anyone else. On the contrary. Discussing the nuts and bolts of waging war, besides being beyond the ability of most people in just about all countries, is also shunned for fear it would be seen as disloyalty to the troops.

Driving Lessons

The other day just as I was about to cross a street a bus came careening by and tried to take the corner from a two-lane street into a one-lane one. And took down a traffic sign that had been standing innocently on the corner. So now the bus was stuck, impaled on the traffic sign in its flank. The driver tried to back up, into the two-lane road, where the next vehicles were already piling up. At this point I noticed that the bus belonged to a driving school. As the driver tried, as gently as possible, to disengage from the traffic sign while not blocking traffic in all directions for longer than necessary, and also while not losing his composure in the face of the aggravation of all and sundry, I saw that it wasn't a he, the driver, it was a she. A middle-aged Arab woman with her hair covered by a kerchief. Learning to drive a bus.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

IAEA and Iran's Weapon Program

I'm not a great fan of international organizations set up to fix the world, at least not of those we have. Still, it's interesting to note that at the moment, the International Atomic Energy Agency seems more clearheaded than the American intelligence community when it comes to Iran:

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in an unusually blunt and detailed report, said Monday that Iran’s suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons remained “a matter of serious concern” and that Iran continued to owe the agency “substantial explanations.”

You might also like to mosey over here: a link supplied by the NYT to other sites that relate to the NYT article. It won't take you more than a few seconds to start reading all sorts of opinions from people who don't care what the objective facts of the matter are, as long as they can bash Bush and the Israelis.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Something Must be Done in Gaza!

Every year about now there's a big literary festival, apparently organized by the Guardian, at the picturesque Welsh town of Hay. Although most of the activities take place in tents outside town, the participants manage to create a large echo chamber, so that they all return home reinforced in the positions they already had.

The biggest guest this year was Jimmy Carter, and he excoriated the usual people:

Britain and other European governments should break from the US over the international embargo on Gaza, former US president Jimmy Carter told the Guardian yesterday. Carter, visiting the Welsh border town of Hay for the Guardian literary festival, described the EU's position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as "supine" and its failure to criticise the Israeli blockade of Gaza as "embarrassing".... The blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, imposed by the US, EU, UN and Russia - the so-called Quartet - after the organisation's election victory in 2006, was "one of the greatest human rights crimes on Earth," since it meant the "imprisonment of 1.6 million people, 1 million of whom are refugees". "Most families in Gaza are eating only one meal per day. To see Europeans going along with this is embarrassing," .... Let the Europeans lift the embargo and say we will protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, and even send observers to Rafah gate [Gaza's crossing into Egypt] to ensure the Palestinians don't violate it.

Jonathan Freedman moaned in his column "if only we could have Carter back", and if you want a taste of the opinions in the echo chamber, scroll down to the comments at the bottom.

OK. You all know my opinion of the Guardian. Today I wish to surprise you, and (sort of) agree with Cater and his audience. I think it really is time for the EU and all the rest to break with the US, and to launch out in a new direction. It would look something like this:
Heads of State of the EU countries, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Russia, China, and the American Deputy Undersecretary of State for Stuff agreed this afternoon on a radical departure from previous practice in regard to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The President of the EU, Ms. Swahilla Chamoun, read the terms of the new agreement, directed at the warring sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Enough already! A tiny sliver of land, 11 or 12 million people, fewer than Mexico City, and you hog the world's attention as if you held the key to world peace. We're fed up, and here is what we've resolved upon.

1. The Israelis left Gaza in 2005, with no intention to return. Instead, they're blockading the place and causing problems.
2. The Palestinians will desist immediately from any and all violence in or around Gaza. Totally, completely, and permanently. We repeat: No. More. Violence. At. All. Now or forever. Zilch. Nada. Halas. Since they're not going to engage in any more violence, they will also desist immediately from bringing in any weapons beyond pistols for policemen.
3. The Israelis get to count to 7 (days) of no violence, and then they will begin to ease their blockade on Gaza. Within 100 days of total lack of violence, the borders between Israel and Gaza will be as open as the borders between the EU and Eastern Europe.
4. In order to have those open borders, whoever is in charge in Gaza will deal with whoever is in charge in Israel just like the Ukrainians deal with the Hungarians. You can't have open borders if the authorities on either side pretend the others aren't there. How childish can you be.
5. No. More. Violence. At. All. Ever. Did we mention that already?
6. The EU will partner with the Arab League and OPEC in funding infrastructure programs in Gaza. These programs will be monitored by Danes, Swedes, or Norwegians; funds will be disbursed only to projects that consistently live up to Scandinavian standards. After five years this mechanism will be applied to the rest of OPEC and the Arab League; After 25 years it will be applied also to the Italians, but that's a different story.
7. Education is a long term investment. Incitement to hatred, too. The incitement will stop immediately. All school books, children's programs, adult's programs, university courses, firemen programs and others will be clean of incitement. We don't care if it's Israeli school books calling for martyrdom operations against Palestinian pigs and monkeys, or Palestinian books calling for the death of Israeli pigs and monkeys: they must all be burned. Teachers, journalists, clergy, academics, media people or celebrities: anyone calling for violence or inciting hatred will be fired. Any institution harboring any such culprits will receive no further EU-Arab League-OPEC funds. The Finns will be the arbiters in unclear cases.
8. None of the above mentioned funds will go anywhere until after the Israelis and Gazans have resolved the issue of the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Given as the Palestinians seem to feel that Shalit is more important to the Israelis than any one Palestinian prisoner is to the Palestinians, the rate of exchange will be 1:450. If the Israelis don't like it, tough for them.
9. After six months of serenity between Israel and Gaza, the same principles will be applied to the West Bank. Israeli settlers out; refugees and their great-great grandchildren in. No violence whatsoever, ever again, period. Borders manned by civil neighbors a-la-Hungary-Ukraine. The contours of the borders will be those dictated by President (Bill) Clinton in December 2000, and accepted by Israel.
10. Jerusalem: if you can rid yourselves of all the other issues and only this one remains, we'll think about it and get back to you.
11. Over the past 60-plus years many people the world over have come to believe that we Europeans are wimps, and they won't listen to whatever we say. By way of demonstrating how serious we are about all this, we're going to back it up with the force of our arms - and remember, for the six centuries prior to the mid 20th, we were mighty frightening bastards. We have no intention of going back to that, but we will back the need for a total cessation of violence with the threat of some calibrated violence of our own as a measure of last resort. For that purpose all EU states will raise their income tax by 1% and the resulting funds will go into the forming of an Armed International Police Against Culprits (AIPAC).
12. We're deadly serious about all this. Don't tangle with us.

French Secular Theologians

A conference at Tel Aviv University has focussed on the persistent fixation of French intellectuals on Israel, these past 60 years or so. Apparently the fixation is growing, and is now the single most important element in the world view of many French intellectuals; those on the opposite sides of the line don't even talk to each other any more (not even over glasses of wine in the Latin Quarter? That bad?)

I'm at a loss to explain this virility. You want to have a fixation on China? The Wahabbis who own most of the world's oil? Even the United States? Fixations are generally not great things to have, but at least those ones have some degree of rationality about them. Maybe. But Israel? For 60 years? I won't say this is necessarily antisemitism, but I will note that antisemitism draws from the same well. The need to see the Jews as central to the human story can become a source of antisemitism. It doesn't have to, but it can.

On Theology, Media, and Politics

Shmuel Rosner interviews David Brog, a colleague of Pastor Hagee, about his statement that Hitler was a divine tool. The statement caused quite a brouhaha, and John McCain publicly distanced himself from Hagee. Brog puts the statement into theological context, while regretting that politics and the media are a bad place to explain theology.

Indeed, mixing theology with the other two is a bad idea. Barack Obama, by the way, will tell you the same. So far as I understand, much of the world view of his former pastor, Reverend Wright, is also informed by theology - in his case, Liberation Theology.

It's mildly astonishing, don't you think, how theology is playing such a major role in this presidential campaign (of 2008, I remind you: the 21st century).

As for Hagee's statement. When I was in 6th grade one of our teachers made a rather similar point, during a bible class (in Isaiah, I think). That evening I proudly presented the insight at the family dinner table. My father looked at me calmly, and then began posing questions about the implications of the statement. Within about 15 minutes he had dismantled it entirely, leaving not a single pebble in place. It was an electrifying and formative experience.

My father was the better teacher of the two.

Land for Peace

According to Haaretz, a Palestinian source close to the negotiations tells that Israel has offered 91.5% of the West Bank to the Palestinians, and an additional land swap of Israeli territory, all of this not counting Jerusalem. The Palestinian says the maximal amount of West Bank territory they're willing to accept under Israeli sovereignty is 1.8%.

I don't think any of this is particularly important, since any future agreement will have different numbers. The reason I'm linking is to bookmark the item. In the future, when the violence returns and the negotiations again collapse, the Israel bashers will all tell about how Israel's avarice was the source of all evil, and the thirst of the settlers for ever more land. None of them will ever mention that even according to Palestinian sources, Israel was willing to hand over more than 90% of the territory after removing the settlers from it. Given the size of the West Bank, the argument is over something like 170 square miles, - say, the size of Washington DC and part of Bethesda. Such is the extent of the evil colonial Israeli avarice that fuels this endless conflict, if you wish to believe it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where Did the Suicide Murderers Come From?

The New York Review of Books seems fascinated recently with Jihad in general and the suicide killers in particular (and I watch them). In the current issue, Ahmed Rashid has read seven books and comes to report. Much of what he says makes sense. That over the centuries Jihad has meant various things, some of them quite benign, and many of them less malign than the present interpretation of the Islamists. That ultimately, the only way to beat the Islamists will be from inside the Muslim world, through the efforts of moderate Muslims to recapture the mainstream of their culture (and integrate it into the modern world, a point Rashid doesn't say much about). So far, so reasonable.

The puzzling thing about the review is that it gives the impression - perhaps even outright says - that the present phenomenon started with Bin Laden, and al-Qaeda, sometime late in the 1990s. Nothing is said about the Palestinian suicide murderers who appeared shortly after the Oslo Process began, in 1994 at the latest, nor the wide approval they garnered. Nothing is said about the suicide murderers in Lebanon - they pushed the Americans and French out of of Lebanon in 1982, if one can remember that far back, and the phenomenon began earlier. No mention is made of the wave of mostly children sent to their certain deaths by the Ayatollahs in the Iranian-Iraqi war of the early 1980s - whether that was truly religious in motivation or merely dressed up as such I can't say, but it was concurrent to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, not after it; the warped behavior there had nothing to do with Americans, CIA, or bin Laden.

Germans Are Boring

According to a report in The Observer, Germans are boring, and boringly similar to one another. This based on a long report just published in Der Spiegel. You can read the full report in its English version here, but it's boringly wordy. The Observer, being British, sums it all up concisely, and even remarks that after centuries of being non-boring, it's probably a fine thing that the Germans now are.

Being so boring also explains why there is no German literature of any lasting value anymore, for example, and why Germany, while being such a smug and self satisfied place, is less and less important for the general story of mankind. Is Germany the face of the future for the rest of us? On one level, perhaps: boring means lack of strife, peace, satisfaction. On another level, probably not. Hopefully not. The Germans as they come across here (and those of us who know them won't be surprised) have ceased to be dangerous, but they've also ceased to bother: challenges, children, facing the travails of bettering the world. They don't even work very hard: their average work week is 30.3 hours, and tens of millions of them just get by at work, without any motivation to move up - which anyway would be done by sucking up to the boss.

Those Scary Zionists

You may remember that a while ago I tried to set up a joint Arab-Israeli blog, as a place for civil disagreement, and then straightaway had to shut it down because my interlocutor probably wasn't an Arab, which sort of put a dent in the premise.

At the time, I issued a challenge to any other anti Zionists to come forward and engage in such a duel. I had only two conditions: that the discussion be civil, and that it be between two identified people - what I called "Google-able". Given the fiasco of the first attempt, this seemed reasonable to me.

No one has stepped forward so far. Yet there was one individual, who called itself "The Debater. This person claimed "I do possess degrees, have taught, and am a serious writer". Indeed, in the following exchange of e-mails, whoever it was demonstrated intelligence, learning, and the ability to disagree civiliy. What it refused to do was give any indication of its identity. I don't know its gender, country of domicile, anything.

It gave two reasons for this adamant refusal. The first was that identity should have no bearing on arguments. At first glance, this is a reasonable assertion. I might even wish, a bit wistfully, that it were true, and that arguments be won on the merits of their logic or strength of their factual basis. Moreover, my willingness to engage in such a joint blog experiment is grounded, I admit, in my expectation that I'll be able to demonstrate that in order to be seriously anti-Zionist one has no choice but to prefer value judgments over rational ones. Still, it takes a high degree of credulousness to believe that anyone sees the world in some objective mode, irrespective of their identity. No-one does that. The best one can (and should) strive for is the ability to reconcile objective facts and rational thought processes with the subjective perspectives we inevitably have.

This, however, is intellectual word chopping. At one point The Debater gave its real reason for insisting on remaining anonymous:
[I]n commenting about identity, try putting yourself in the shoes of an anti-Zionist who's being told to reveal his true identity. The charge of "anti-semitism", though undoubtedly true in specific cases, has been used as a weapon of character assassination to silence any form of opposition to Israel. I don't believe you do this but others who read the blog certainly can...... The blog opens us both not only to fair-minded Palestinians and Israelis who wish to learn in the spirit of intellectual and decent debate as we do, but also to emotion-driven fanatics who are not in the least interested in meaningful debate but in ad hominem, smear attacks. As an Israeli Zionist, you're immuned to this and is perhaps why you have not seemed to understand this sensitivity at the other side of the fence. I think you should be understanding and take into account these sensitivities in your debater. The repurcussions to a serious and scholarly anti-Zionist has been seen time and again, as you well know.
In other words: Being an anti-Zionist can be dangerous, because one will be smeared as an antisemite. I'll let that statement stand unanswered, because of the volumes it speaks on its own.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thoughts on Migration to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s

This new job I have at LeverEdge gives me opportunities to meet all sorts of interesting people. Last week I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Esther Meir-Glitzenstein of Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva. Dr. Meir-Glitzenstein focuses much of her attention on the story of the Jews from Arab states who came to Israel since the creation of the the state, and she's quoted in this article in Haaretz, about a conference on the subject. Her forthcoming book tells the story of the Iraqi Jews - something like 120,000 people most of whom arrived here at the very end of the 1940s, and once here did better than most of their brethren from other Arab lands, though not as well as most of the immigrants from Europe.

The single most important reason for the relative success of the Iraqis, so my understanding of her thesis, was their relative well-developed "human resources", by which I understood her to be referring to the comparatively modern education and training of the Jews of Iraq, which enabled them better to integrate into Israeli society which was essentially modern.

Yet there were also other things that influenced the outcome. One, which surprised me, was the timing. It turns out that arriving in Israel at the peak of the chaos of 1948-50 was ultimately better than arriving in the mid 1950s, counter intuitive as it sounds. The chaos, you see, was all-pervasive. A very bloody war had just been won, the state was broke, the national institutions were fledgling, and a large chunk of the population was destitute and effectively homeless. The Iraqis, in that context, didn't have it worse than anyone else, and were forced to use their wits to forge new lives, just like many of the people around them. So they did, as best they could.

A few years later the state had lifted itself by its bootlaces, and immigrants arriving were greeted by a bureaucracy that knew what it was doing, that had set itself goals and knew how to reach them. Many of these goals were plausible, such as the attempt to spread the population out of the center of the country, to reinforce the borders with population, to block the return of Palestinian refugees, and so on. So new immigrants were loaded onto trucks, sent away from the center to newly invented "development towns", and dumped off there. (As I've written here and here, this was reinforced by an almost super-human can-do ethos of the 2nd- and 3rd-Aliya immigrants, steel-hard people who had done the same a generation earlier to themselves, had watched their sacrifice succeed, and had no patience for anyone's weaknesses or human frailty). In the short term, achieving such goals was important, even if it wasn't helpful to integrating the immigrants into Israeli society, since they were shunted off to it's margins. In the long term, the marginalizing of the immigrants of the 1950s created issues that have yet to be resolved more than 50 years later.

Esther also made another comment about those development towns. Since some of them never did very well, the officials kept sending new immigrants to them each time there was a wave of immigration, even into the largest wave of them all from the disintegrating Soviet Union in the the early 1990s. In each case, strong immigrants either never asked the officials and went where they chose, or, if they were slightly less strong they were sent to the development towns but climbed out of them as soon as they learned the Israeli ropes. Meaning that the weaker development towns functioned (inadvertently and unintended) as negative filters. The only people left in them were the weakest of each wave of immigrants, until they became self-perpetuating reservoirs of some of the weakest elements in Israeli society, with no chance of improving themselves. A fact we can all attest to, in that we all know successful individuals who come from those places - and they live near us, in Jerusalem or in other flourishing cities, but not where they were born.

Hamas Against the Palestinians

Maariv (Hebrew, paper version) points out that since the beginning of April, 6 weeks ago, Palestinian forces in Gaza have attacked every one of the border crossings between Gaza and Israel. Such peace loving humanitarian fellows, trying to do what's best for their people.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fed Up With the Palestinians

Bradly Burston, an Israeli Journalist of the Left, explains why he's fed up with the Palestinians.

Finding a Picture

Remember the picture of Miriam posing on the beach with the Altalena burning behind her? Here's the story of another picture from that same Haaretz picture supplement of ordinary people in the national story. This one is of the Breuer family (mother and daughter on the right) who accompanied Leonard Berenstein on a tour he took through Israel in April 1977. This particular snapshot was taken on the Jordanian border.

It's a bit odd, in that from the perspective of the cameraman the officer is the center of the picture, yet the supplement identified him merely as "an accompanying soldier" since the Breuer family didn't recognize him.

The supplement was published on the morning of Wednesday, May 7th, which was Memorial Day for our fallen soldiers. As the Zahavi family was on their way to the military cemetery to visit the grave of their son Nir, killed in battle with PLO forces in June 1978, they began receiving phone calls from friends: "Go look at page 32!"

And so, 30 years after his death in battle, the family stood around the grave of captain Nir Zahavi with a fine picture of him they'd never seen before. "It was highly emotional; sad, but also good".

(The follow-up story was published in the Haaretz magazine of 16 May)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Stuff News is Made of

Another Palestinian has killed himself in an attempt to make certain no provisions reach the Palestinian population and that the Israelis take the blame.
"Israel must not let such attacks halt the flow of goods into Gaza," said John Ging, the Gaza director of the UN organization in charge of Palestinian refugees. "If you hand the agenda over to the extremists, then they are very happy about it. If it only takes one rocket to derail everything, then that's massive power," Ging said.
Four tons of explosives in a truck that approached the Erez crossing under cover of mortar fire by the driver's fellow thugs. But hey, these are only the extremists and their one rocket; we can't let them have any impact can we.


I find I've been writing longer posts than I used to; this format is better suited to them. Since it only takes a minute to change, I can always go back.

Muhammad al-Durra: The Blood Libel

A French court has quashed the slander charges against Phillipe Karsenti, who claims on his website that the famous broadcast from the beginning of the 2nd intifada was staged. The court seems not to have ruled on what did happen that day, but accepted that some of the film seems doctored. Doctored, one might add, is more serious than merely confused or inept. Doctored means intent to lie.

So far as I know, no-one seriously claims the little boy didn't die, or wasn't killed. Yet there's a world of difference between a story of Israeli soldiers purposefully shooting down a child, as the story was presented at the end of September 2000, and a story of a Palestinian gunman murdering a Palestinian child because a camera was focussed on him and it would be only too easy to blame the Israelis for his death - those are the two extreme narratives that now seem possible. There are two slightly more moderate narratives: that Israeli soldiers under fire were so careless that their fire killed a child while his father pleaded for their lives, vs. the possibility that it was Palestinian "friendly fire" that killed the child, as was claimed in the French court. The disparity between these two narratives is also great.

Does it all matter, the Israel bashers (including the homegrown ones) will ask. After all, Israeli fire has killed hundreds of Palestinian children since the death of Muhammad al-Dura. Israelis do things like that, and the full veracity of this one case is neither here nor there.

Well, yes, it does matter.

It matters because the image was about Israeli murderous blood thirst, and no matter what the Israel-bashers say, this doesn't exist. Indeed, too many Palestinian die in the wars the Palestinians insist on waging, but that's a very different story.

It matters because of the power this particular image had, and still has, to inflame feelings against Israel. Less than a week after it happened no less a person than the French President himself, Jacques Chirac, threw the incident in the face of no less than the Prime Minster of Israel, Ehud Barak, as justification for blocking an agreement to stop all violence which had just been crafted by the American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, Yasser Arafat and Barak. (This is a true and fully documented story).

It matters because it now seems that media the world over colluded in a false narrative (best-case version) or perhaps a cynical lie designed to defame Israel (worse-case narrative).

It matters because the Palestinians on-site had to know that the Israeli soldiers couldn't be doing that particular shooting; worse, as the father pleaded for their lives, the Palestinian gunmen continued shooting, consequences for the father and son be damned. Afterwards, until this very day, they did their utmost to disseminate the lie. Some of the disseminators had to know it was a lie; others simply never cared. When you're willing to sing the praise of your people who blow themseles up to kill Jews, you certainly will have no compunctions not to lie.

It matters because truth is better than lies.

Finally, it matters because the story of the tragic death of the child Muhammad al-Dura fits so exactly into the centuries-old motif of the blood libel. Yes, this is a case where the standard protestations of the antisemites that they're merely criticizing Israel, with no taint of antisemitism about them, hit reality.

(James Fallow wrote an interesting article about this in The Atlantic).

PS. Will the Guardian run the story from the French court? So far they don't have it on their website.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wandering all Over the Landscape

Those of you who are uneasy about the way Ruminations has been a bit unfocused recently might want to know that this is a sign of encroaching wisdom.

A Letter I Wrote

Here's a letter I wrote recently. Honestly. (Take that, Ibrahim).

السيد المحترم،

نشكرك على رسالتك القيمة، التي أثرت فيها، حسب ما فهمت، النقاط التالية:

1. إن اليهود لا يهتمون بمعاناة غيرهم.

2. قبل مجيء الصهيونية عاش العرب واليهود سوية لقرون من الزمن وكانت تجمعهم علاقة ودية، بما يختلف عن الأوروبيين الذين كانت علاقتهم باليهود علاقة مشحونة.

3. كان رد فعل النازيين على جرائم ارتكبها بعض اليهود مبالغا فيه جدا، وكان من الخطأ قتل العديد من اليهود لجرائم قلة منهم.

4. يفعل الإسرائيليون نفس الشيء، إذ يقتلون العرب الأبرياء لهويتهم الجماعية وانتمائهم العرقي.

5. على خلفية التاريخ الإيجابي العربي اليهودي المشترك، ألا ينطوي سلوك اليهود على نكران فظ للجميل؟!

أقول بكل صراحة أنني اختلف معك في النقاط المذكورة جميعا.

1. إن لليهود تاريخا حافلا بمساعدة الآخر، إذا كان أكثر ضعفا منهم. وعلى سبيل المثال، قد يهمك زيارة موقع Joint Distribution Committee حيث ستلاحظ أن البندين الأولين يتناولان المساعدات المقدمة لكل من ميانمار والصين اللتين تعرضتا لكارثتين طبيعيتين مؤخرا، علما بأن الأمر ليس استثناء بالنسبة لنا، انما هو القاعدة.

2. إن التعايش اليهودي العربي كان فعلا أفضل من التعايش بين اليهود والمسيحيين الأوروبيين، ولكنه من الخطأ القول أن اليهود والمسلمين ربطتهم علاقات من الصداقة من منطلق كون اليهود شركاء للمسلمين، لأن اليهود باعتبارهم من "أهل الذمة" كان وضعهم يعتبر أدنى بحكم الشرع. وإذا كانت تجليات ذلك قد اختلفت من مكان إلى آخر ومن حقبة لأخرى، إلا أن واقعا من المساواة التامة لم يكن له وجود قط في يوم من الأيام.

3. لم تكن جرائم النازية تمت بصلة لأي جرائم يهودية حقيقية أيا كان نوعها، مع أن النازيين كانوا يختلقون بين الحين والآخر قصصا تدور حول فظائع مزعومة اتهموا اليهود باقترافها، تأجيجا لكراهية الألمان لليهود. وباختصار شديد، اضطهد النازيون اليهود لأن مجرد وجود اليهود كانت تعتبره عقيدتهم النازية مضرا بالإنسانية وتهديدا لبقاء ألمانيا. لقد تم قتل اليهود قتلا عمدا لأن النازيين أرادوهم قتلى، بغض النظر عن أي شيء فعلوه أو كان بإمكانهم فعله.

4. يوجد الإسرائيليون لسوء الحظ في حالة حرب مع جزء كبير من العالم العربي، ولسوء الحظ أيضا، فإن القوات الإسرائيلية لا يحالفها النجاح دائما في مسعاها لقصر الحرب على المقاتلين، وحين يحدث مثل ذلك تحاول عادة استلهام الدروس من أخطائها كي تتجنب تكرارها في المراحل التالية من الحرب. لم تكن ثمة يوما سياسة إسرائيلية من القتل العمد للمدنيين العرب. أبدا.

5. أن موقف إسرائيل لا ينطوي على نكران الجميل، فحتى لو كان التاريخ كما وصفته، مع العلم بأنه لم يكن كذلك، فإن اليهود لا يدينون بالعرفان لأجيال عربية سابقة، على شهامة أبدتها في معاملة الأجيال اليهودية السابقة بشكل أفضل من الأوروبيين، فقد يجوز القول إن العرب كانوا أقل هدما في معاملتهم لليهود مقارنة بالأوروبيين، ولكن سلوكهم نحوهم لم يكن بناء بحال من الاحوال.

فكرة أخيرة نعرضها عليك: إن كل ما تريده إسرائيل فعلا، وكل ما أراده الصهيونيون يوما، هو أن يعيشوا حياتهم بسلام إلى جانب جيرانهم العرب. إن اليهود، بخلاف النازيين، لا نية لديهم ولا مخططات عندهم للتخلص من العرب. صحيح أنهم يصرون على أن يكون لهم وطن خاص بهم، كما يريد اللبنانيون والسوريون والمصريون والفلسطينيون. يقضي الموقف الإسرائيلي الرسمي الذي تكرسه انتخابات ديمقراطية، بأن يكون الوطن المشترك متقاسما مع الفلسطينيين، ليكون لكل طرف أكثر من لا شيء وأقل مما يطمح به. أما النازيون فلا يمكن بشكل من الأشكال أن يكون مثل هذا القول قد انطبق عليهم.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Fundamental Misunderstanding of History?

In half a nutshell, my day job at LeverEdge consists of capturing knowledge that resides in people's minds, and making it easily accessible to users of user friendly software systems. This means I've given some thought and have a degree of awareness of what works and what doesn't on websites that offer information. The reason I mention this is that the website of Haaretz is unusually aggravating. If you've read an article in the dead-tree Hebrew version, and wish to find it on the English website, perhaps so as to blog it, it is rarely easy, and too often simply impossible.

The reason I mention this is that in the weekend magazine of last Friday there was a very interesting interview with General Amos Yadlin, departing head of our military intelligence. I managed to find a promo published a few days earlier, with some of the highlights, but not the interview itself. Which is to bad, because the interview presented not only an analysis of the trends in the Mideast at the moment, it also offered some (limited) insight into how an intelligence organization works, and how its commander thinks. This always would have been of interest to some of us who know our lives depend at least partially on what those folks do; it is doubly interesting since the failure of the intelligence services regarding Iraq, back in 2003, and the massive conviction since then that such services exist only to make political positions tenable, and are thus illegitimate sources of information.

Amos Harel published a piece this morning that reflects much of what Yadlin said, so the two links give you sort of a summary of the interview I can't find. They are both worth reading.

Bottom line: things may well get worse. And the main reason is that Iran wishes it so and is working hard at making it so. Now I know that in many circles this is pure blasphemy, for a variety of reasons. What puzzles me about all those people who can't get their minds around the concept of a long-term scheming Iran is, why can't they? After all, there is nothing new, nor anything surprising, in a group setting predatory goals and doing their best over long periods to attain them, irrespective of the amount of requisite violence. It's an ever-recurring theme in the history of mankind, one that first appeared many millennia before the birth of Gaorge Bush the 2nd, or even before the advent of the Jews in history - and the Jews have been around longer than anyone else.

Why is this so unacceptable to so many people?

Checkpoints Save Lives

A young woman serving in a military police unit near Nablus identified a Palestinian teenager who was about to detonate an explosive belt.

He will now go into the statistics of dead Palestinian children, and the checkpoint will continue to be counted in the statistics of cruel Israeli measures of repression.

I'm not even being facetious. These are all facts.

Born to Kvetch

The Y-net homepage has a caption (I can only link to the article behind it) that comes straight from a Yiddish Weltanschauung: "Tourism up 41%, Hotel Crisis Looms".

Don't come, tourists! Stay away!! Shooh!!! Shooh!!! We've got a crisis looming here!!!

What will you do while you're staying away, you ask? You can read this fine book, for starters.

The Green Messiah

Wouldn't it be nice if a team of Israeli scientists invented a way to create cheap energy that can be produced on a massive scale without pouring gook into the air by the mega-ton? This would have many benefits:

1. Save the world.
2. Force the Saudis, Iranians, Russians and Venezuelans to finally start being productive rather than pumping money out of the ground.
3. Since they won't (be productive), and also won't have any more income, the rest of the world will be able to stop cringing, bowing, licking boots, etc.
4. The Guardian will have to publish an article about how it was Israelis wot saved the world, even tho they're colonialist imperialist fascist thugs who mistreat the noble Arabs all the time because they're evil. (But the article will be on page 26, at the bottom, and the part about saving the world will be in the 12th paragraph).
5. We'll all be able to turn on the lights in our living rooms each evening without feeling guilty for drowning the polar bears and flooding the Bangladeshis, not to mention Manhattan.
6. The term carbon footprint will be taken over by a teenager rock band in Arizona.

Ah what sweet dreams. Well, dream on.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Carribbean Silliness in Israel

Full disclosure: where I live, we don't own a television. So I can't fully explain the following.

Lest readers of this blog get the mistaken impression that Israel is somehow any less silly a place than anywhere else, here's a description of a TV event that sealed the season of perhaps the most popular series in 2000 years.

Olmert's Scandals for Dummies

Remember the conundrum of the two crooks who have been arrested and are being interrogated separately? If they both keep mum, they'll both walk free. If one squeals he'll sit for 5 years, which is unpleasant, but the other one will sit for 20, which is really tough luck for him. However, if one keeps mum but the second squeals, one sit for 20 years - uggghhh. Especially as if he'd known his buddy was such a bastard he himself would have spilled the beans first and sat only five years. But then, the entire five years he'd have been able to kick himself for not shutting up, in which case he'd now be free, and sipping herbal tea or something in this place.

It's a tough life, being a crook.

Anyway, until recently the Olmert saga has been rather like that story except there have been three crooks, not two: Olmert himself, his former law partner Uri Messer, and his extremely loyal assistant, Shula Zaken. (By the way, according to all sources, the three of them are all highly capable people. Crooks, perhaps, but intelligent ones). The trio were rock-solid in their loyalty to each other, and the poor police never had a chance.

What has now changed is that the police have caught this Talanski fellow. He's not part of the Band of Brothers and Sister. Whether he's a crook or not I can't say, but if he is, he's not a card bearing and trusted member of our gang who can be relied upon. I can't say how they did it, but the police apparently have manged to plant uncertainty in the mind of Uri Messer, who has been doing all sorts of calculations about 5-years vs. 20 and that sort of thing.

Shula, by the way, still seems rock solid.

Disclaimer: Ruminations has no information beyond what has been splashed all over the media these past 15 years. All of the above is pure speculation and bears no relation to any real characters or actual people.

You Need an Education to Become Educated

What happens when a society (the US, in this case) decides that everyone should be able to have a college education? It's an admirable goal, no doubt about it. Except that some people don't have the tools to acquire a college education. Then what?

A Lethal Cultural Malaise

Here's another description of how unfortunate it is to be a woman in the Arab world. According to The Independent - hardly a Zionist propaganda organ, they - may men in Iraq seem to think it's a fine thing to use the camera in their cellular phone to film themselves having sex; once they send out the pictures, the women are murdered by their fathers or brothers for having desecrated the honor of the family.

The whole thing is sick, from beginning to end.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

An American President and Israel

Thomas Freidman discusses what makes an American president good for Israel. He starts with a literary gimmick:
Pssst. Have you heard? I have. I heard that Barack Obama once said there has to be “an end” to the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank “that began in 1967.” Yikes!

Pssst. Have you heard? I have. I heard that Barack Obama said that not only must Israel be secure, but that any peace agreement “must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people.” Yikes!

Pssst. Have you heard? I have. I heard that Barack Obama once said “the establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue. The Palestinian people deserve it.” Yikes! Yikes! Yikes!

Friedman then goes on to "unveil" the fact that these statements have actually all been made by George Bush.

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint some of you folks, but in case you haven't heard, such statements have all also been made by Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel. And also by his predecessor, Ariel Sharon. As well as by his predecessor, Ehud Barak. Not only that, such sentiments (along with others) were all incorporated into the official Israeli offers to the Palestinians at Camp David, in summer 2002, and reiterated when Israel accepted (Bill) Clinton's dictated terms of December 24th 2000, and then again in the even more radical offers made at Taba in January 2001.

The problem is not Israel's willingness to live alongside a sovereign State of Palestine that will also be Judenrein; that has long since been agreed to by the Israelis (though you'd never know it from reading the Israel bashers). The problem is that the Palestinians haven't yet decided they're willing to live next to a sovereign Jewish Israel.

Which is why - back to Tom Friedman's column - what is important about the American president is less what he (or she) thinks about what Israel should do, and more about how he will deal with an Arab world that shares very little by way of moral assumptions and behavior with the rest of us. Friedman doesn't address this in today's column, but then, that wasn't his thesis this week.

Negotiations vs. War

Gitta Sereny once asked Franz Stangl, erstwhile commander of the Sobibor and Treblinka death camps, if there was anything the Jews could have said to him that would have influenced him to allow some of them to live. It was 1971, Stangl had already been convicted for mass murder and sentenced to life in prison, where Sereny was interviewing him. You might have expected him to have snapped out of the world of 1942 by then. But no, not really: Not only did Stangl have no satisfactory answer to the question, he couldn't understand it at all, and was quite incredulous when Sereny insisted. "What could they possibly have said to me that would have made any difference?"

So when President Bush states, in his speech before the Knesset the other day, that
“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along"
this could have been accepted as a banal statement about one of the fundamental truths of human relations: that some differences between people or groups cannot be resolved by talking.

The Obama campaign responded sharply, and the American media seems to have spent an entire news cycle deliberating the pros and cons, and much hay was made by all sides. That's politics, and everyone had fine fun, which is OK. I'm not against politicians making hay.

My problem is with the underlying issue. With the assumption, by now it's actually an article of faith, that any international problem can be dealt with through intelligent diplomacy of some sort, and that anyone who says otherwise is a warmonger. Many otherwise reasonable people believe this claptrap, in spite of the fact that the history of the human race has been unequivocal: sometimes, group A wants X, and group B wants the opposite of X, and no compromise can be found to make either of them accept less.

Rather than denying human nature, better one should concentrate on the real challenge: how to tell when your enemy is implacable and cannot be bought off by words, and when he actually could? Because history is also full of the second form, when group A wants X, Group B wants anti-X, and some external impulse can change the equation without the need for any violence. That's the real art of diplomacy: figuring out the full possibilities of avoiding violence while never flinching from the use of force when there is no alternative. To complicate the matter further, it's people we're talking about, not mathematical equations, and since people make choices all the time, their implacable position of last year could theoretically have changed by now, or might change next year.

War is hell, and also a terrible waste. Refraining from it is always better than engaging in it - except where the alternative is worse. Figuring out which is when is one of the hardest tasks leaders, or their peoples, can be faced with. Pretending otherwise is foolishness.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Charles Krauthammer on Israel at 60

He goes to the fundamentals, and is of course right. Sometimes, it's refreshing to step back from the endless fixation on the complexities of the story and to look at the big picture.

I liked his quotation:
As historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote, Israel is "the only nation in the world that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did 3,000 years ago."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Forgiving in Rwanda

A fascinating story about how Rwandans are trying to put the genocide behind them. Apparently low-level murderers, i.e. the ones following orders and brutally slaughtering their neighbors with machetes and axes, can in some cases come before their community, including the survivors, and if they tell the truth about what they did and beg forgiveness, it is granted. Even by the survivors themselves.

The item gives no numbers or general context (well, it's CNN, after all), so we don't know if the forgiving is widespread, total, or rare, nor what happens when someone doesn't play their "alloted" role. Still, it is interesting that this avenue exists, and it least in some cases also works. We already knew from the survivors of the Shoah that the endless talk about how people with grievances will be bitter, violent, and seek revenge was not the only human option, and that people can make moral decisions no matter how much they have suffered. Some variation of this seems to be operating also in Rwanda.

Playing the Bad Guys Against One Another

Most of the time there isn't all that much difference between the politics of the Guardian and those of the New York Review of Books. A pox on both their houses, as the Bard concisely put it. Sometimes, however, there are differences, and this week has given me the opportunity to play the one off the other on two related yet separate issues.

First, what makes the Islamists tick, or perhaps, why don't we get rid of the Israel problem so we'll have world peace.

The insufferable Seamus Milne, of the Guardian of course, dedicates his column this time to how bad Israel is for the world. Seamus is so ideological and predictable, along with being consistently easy with his facts, that you really needn't read him. He's a waste of your time. His main theme in life is that Colonialism is the greatest crime ever, more or less, and he dedicates much of this column to reminding us that Israel is a creation of British colonialism and is itself colonial. The introductory paragraph ot the column, however, as well as it's final shot, explain how Israel is so especially bad:
The commitment to Palestinian rights should first of all be a question of justice. But, given the toxicity this conflict brings to the entire relationship with the Muslim world, it is also a matter of obvious western self-interest.
Israel is the reason for the ill-will between Islamists and humanity.

Well, no, says Malise Ruthven at the NYRB, who has just taken the time to read nine (9) new books about Islamism, and has come to report. There is the obligatory dig or two at Bush and even one at Kissinger, but all in all, it appears that Islamist terror is a complex thing, building on a variety of impulses, some of them centuries old.
Conventional wisdom generally holds that a resolution of the problems of Palestine and Jerusalem is the sine qua non for addressing wider geopolitical issues afflicting relations between the Islamic and Western worlds. By removing images of Palestinian persecution from Muslim television screens, a peace settlement would take the sting out of an issue that carries a formidable symbolic charge. But the Israeli occupation, though a constant source of pain and humiliation, is only one of many issues the global jihadists have in their sights.
(In an aside, and for the record, allow me to state unequivocally that "Conventional Wisdom" is a fool.)

Seamus is not worth reading; Ruthven actually is, if you have the time.

The second theme where the NYRB beats the Guardian this week, is the possibility of an Obama presidency ending the war in Iraq. Both of the following articles agree that an Obama presidency is what we all want (tho the NYRB one pretends Hillary is still in the running). They also both agree on the bottom line. It's their different lines of reasoning that make the comparison interesting.

Jonathan Steele (Guardian) really likes Obama, first and foremost because as a six year old in Indonesia, young Barack came to understand how evil an imperial power the United States really is. (I assure you, this is the essence of what he says. It doesn't seem to occur to him that if this was an accurate description, no American electorate would ever send him to the White House). On the other hand, Steele is already bracing himself for disappointments, because - you guessed - Obama is already failing on Israel. In a fine demonstration of how obsessed people like him are with Israel, Steel dedicates about a third of his article to how awful we are. Bottom line: Since Obama has failed on the "Israel test", he will probably also fail on the "Iraq test".

Thomas Powers at the NYRB agrees that the US won't leave Iraq anytime soon, but his article is at least interesting. He read ten (10!) books, and parts of what he tells isn't even so well known. The degree to which a mind-set from on-high seems to have blinded American decision-makers on all levels, comes as a mild surprise. Not a total surprise, mind you. There really is something disconcerting about the way the present administration decides what reality is and acts accordingly no matter what: in the belief that Islam is a Religion of Peace, for example, or in the inability to see how awful the Saudis are. And I don't think any reasonable person can commend the Americans for the events in Iraq those first years after the invasion, no matter which side of the divide you started out on.

At the end of his review, however, Powers describes what he expects will happen after January 2009 - ad it's not what Conventional Wisdom says.

The Labor Union Wishes Well

The power of organized labor in Israel is considerably less than it used to be (and most workers, though not all, make a better living). Some unions however are still quite strong, and none other than the union of workers of the electricity company (a monopoly). Since they have the power to shut down the country, and in the past have demonstrated their willingness to use it, they are largely unbeatable and untouched. The rest of us pay the price.

So there's a new boss at the electricity company, and yesterday he announced a new efficiency plan. This morning the union published its initial reaction, before settling down to learn the details and formulate their response: "We wish the boss well, and hope he'll stay at his job long enough for us to negotiate this with him".

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

BBC on Israel at 60

Their website has (or at least, had) a very large banner with the optimistic headline Israel at 60. When you click on it, it leads here, to a full page of menus and features relating to Israel.

Or not.

I expect one could spend an hour or two going through all the materials collected on this section. Some of it, no doubt, must be balanced, fair, and informative. But it's the BBC, remember, the place where the favorite newspaper among the staff is The Guardian. So all you really have to do is take a good look at this introductory screen, and you'll be left with no doubt about the BBC's line on Israel.

Top bar: "Israel at 60". And two images, one of Israel's flag,the other of the Palestinian one.

Next line. A picture of Ben Gurion, perhaps declaring the creation of the state, and a title: "60 Years of Middle East Division". Not, say, 60 years of creation in the face of adversity, or 100 years of Middle East Division (90 would probably be the most accurate number). The main theme, you see, is the conflict with the Palestinians.

Next is a bar with 3 items. A brief history of Israel, statistics, and maps. I peeked. The maps are reasonable. The statistics start all right but then veer sharply into the Israel-Palestinian issue, with lots of purportedly accurate but actually misleading data from - inevitably - Be'tselem. After all, there's no one else around, is there? The link to the history of Israel is actually a link to the history of the conflict. After all, what is Israel if not its wars.

Next line, three links with pictures. The story of a Palestinian refugee, the story of a Palestinian camp, and the story of a mixed city in Israel. No, not mixed Russians-Moroccans-Yemenites-Americans-French-Algerians-Ethiopians. What were you thinking? Jaffa. Mixed Jews-Palestinians, of course. Again, I peeked. Jaffa is the site of Yehuda Poliker's powerful song about starting a new life in a foreign country, based on a letter by his father. No mention of the Bulgarians on the BBC's story, alas.

Next line: A title that indicates Israelis are weary. Then one about the issues that fuel the conflict. Finally, off to the right of the screen, a series of pictures of Palestinians.

Bottom row, three links with images: A British soldier remembers; a Christian Palestinian remembers; and finally, an Arab Israeli has problems.

You don't image there's a pattern here, do you?

Asia Times on Israel at 60

Asia Times Online is an English and Chinese online newspaper that look at the world form Asia, not the West. This week they have a very interesting piece on why Israel is such a successful place. A recommended antidote to the Guardian, even if only for the few minutes it will take you to read it.
It is fashionable these days to speculate about the end of Israel, and Israel's strategic position presents scant cause for optimism, as I contended recently. Israel's future depends on the Israelis. During 2,000 years of exile, Jews remained Jews despite forceful and often violent efforts to make them into Christians or Muslims. One has to suppose that they did not abandon Judaism because they liked being Jewish. With utmost sincerity, the Jews prayed thrice daily, "It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to acclaim the greatness of the One who forms all creation, for God did not make us like the nations of other lands, and did not make us the same as other families of the Earth. God did not place us in the same situations as others, and our destiny is not the same as anyone else's."

If the Israelis are the happiest country on Earth, as the numbers indicate, it seems possible that they will do what is required to keep their country, despite the odds against them.
What a novel thought: the Israelis will not fail because they are determined not to fail. Who would have ever thought of such a thing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Funniest Picture Ever

Miriam Zur at 16, posing for the camera on the beach of Tel Aviv, June 22, 1948.

Her grandaughter found the snapshot in a shoe box a few years ago, and sent it to Haaretz recently in response to their call for pictures of ordinary Israelis in the national epic. (I can't find the link on, which says something about their website and its user-unfriendliness).

The commotion in the background, distracting us from how pretty Miriam is? Oh, that's the Altalena burning. One of the most dramatic events in Israel's endless series of dramas. One of the most formative events in more than a century of Zionism. A day on which Israeli soldiers fought Israeli irregulars with casualties on both sides, with the five-week-old state of Israel as the undisputed victor. A day such as the lack of which has damned the Palestinians to generations of suffering, and the Lebanese too.

It was also the day Miriam managed to get her picture taken on the beach.

Zahar: Black is White

Mahmoud a-Zahar yesterday held a press conference in which he related to the prospects of a cease fire in and around Gaza. Parts of it were repeatedly broadcast on our radio, but I can't find any mention of it anywhere online, except in this garbled rendition in Haaretz (3rd paragraph from the bottom). What he said (in English!) was that if Israel didn't agree to the terms of Hamas, Hamas has ample possibilities "to continue the defense against the Israeli settlements and cities around Gaza".

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Stench of Evil

While significant chunks of world opinion endlessly tells itself that America is the world's worst calamity and that Israel is even worse, every now and then a report seeps through to make your blood run cold. The Observer (at the Guardian's website) offers a long report about the sub-human situation of the women of Yemen (with grim comparisons to other parts of the Arab world).

It's horrifying. And it's sanctioned by somebody's God. And the only hope offered by the article is that Oxfam is sort of trying to perhaps make things a wee bit better at the edges of the issue.

It's a sick world we live in. Twisted.

The Fog of War

A few weeks back I commented on how hard it is really to know what's going on in wars, and in Iraq in particular. Today's NYT offers another example.

Remember how late in March, all of 7 weeks ago, everyone was talking about the Iraqi government's disastrous attempt to gain control of Basra? (Some of the pundits were crowing and gloating as if this was the best thing they could imagine). Well, perhaps the contemporaries didn't know what was really going on, or perhaps they did but it changed after their attention turned elsewhere, or perhaps they were right and the NYT is now wrong, or perhaps there are other explanations. What's clear is that the report filed this morning by two NYT fellows in Basra is anything but what we were led to believe (or had stuffed down our throats) less than two months ago.

What's the moral of the story? I dunno. That the media can't ever be fully trusted. That pundits should be trusted even less. That wars are complicated events. That most of us, most of the time, see the reality we wish to see, not the one that's there. All of the above and some. I report, you scratch your heads.

Parsing a Survey in the Economist

The Economist is perhaps the best weekly magazine in the world. It is clearly a front runner for the title of most informative source of reportage on the entire world, in the world. It’s a serious paper, not like the Guardian or its ilk. It commands a wide readership of well over a million, many of them influential and powerful.

Its coverage of Israel can be reasonable – and it can be infantile and ridiculous. Here is a 2800-word survey of the Palestinians, published this May of 2008, which is never overtly anti-Israel, but is never-the-less twisted, warped, and nasty.

My response is here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Contra Naqba

Efraim Karsh takes a second look at heaps of British documents from the end of their control over Mandatory Palestine, and learns that most Palestinians would have been willing to live alongside Israel, had it not been for an aggressive leadership that pushed towards war with the Jews, and forced its own people to get out of the way and come back once the Jews were gone.

Meanwhile, Shlomo Avineri takes a look at the Palestinian story from a different perspective, sees a different process, but essentially the same result. Avineri is further to the left than Karsh, and he's a political scientist to Karsh's historian. The way Avineri sees things, the Palestinian's problem is that they never managed to cobble together a responsible national leadership that would offer their people institutions whereby to execute any sort of national policy.

I liked his comparison of the Palestinian failure with the Algerian success: surely the Algerians faced a far more brutal foe than the Palestinians ever did, but the Algerians created a national structure that brought them ultimate victory. On second thought, however, before going agog about how successful the Algerian national movement has been it's worth keeping in mind that the numbers of Algerians butchered by other Algerians is significantly larger than the total numbers of Palestinians and Israelis together who have been killed these past hundred years or so.

Neither Karsh nor Avineri use the most important documentation: that of the Palestinians. Though I'm not aware of anyone else who has, either. Assuming it exists in any accessible form, which it may not, or certainly not fully.

Contra Haredim

Rav Benny Lau (of our community) chose the 60th Anniversary as the moment to launch an attack on the Haredi control of the rabbinate.

Most of what he writes is not particularly new, though some of the recent examples of Haredi meddling, most notably their attempt to revoke thousands of conversions not done by them, have indeed been particularly aggravating. Not many people outside the Haredi community would disagree with him.

The weakest part of his argument is that the religious Zionist camp is ever less unified itself. Some parts of it are drifting towards the Haredis, or away from Zionism because a majority of the Zionists disagree with them about the Divine command to control the West Bank; on the other end of their spectrum, a significant minority of their children are leaving the fold as they reach adulthood. It appears, unfortunately, that their own message could use some tinkering or re-evaluation.

Which is too bad, since one of their main ideas: that one can and should be orthodox and fully modern simultaneously, offers a better balance than most of the alternatives.

Meanwhile, my erstwhile teacher Menahem Ben Sasson, currently an important member of Knesset, looks at the issue of the Haredi moves from a more constitutional perspective. His argument, however, is not all that different from Benny Lau's.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Juan Cole's Fine Appraisal of Israel at 60

I'm not being facetious. Cole's post, titled "Happy 60th to Israel", really is a startlingly positive description of some of the ways Israel is making the world a better place (he concentrates on technology and medicine). I've linked to it for a number of reasons:
1. Seeing as I tend to castigate him almost every time he's wrong about Israel, it would be dishonest of me (and churlish) not to praise him when he's right.
2. The Popperian in me forbids me to overlook this unevenness in the pattern; even if it makes Cole's criticism of Israel just a bit more serious for coming from a man who can be complex rather than simplistic.
3. When it comes to Israel, Cole's voice is one of the more aggravating ones on the American scene. Yet occasionally he has these "lapses" which remind us that the public sphere in the US is fundamentally different from the scene in Europe. Whoever his counterparts are in Europe, they have fewer such "lapses", and their hostility is harsher.
4. Yet even the hostility in Europe can at times be tinged by the results of a few centuries of enlightened thought. Posts such as this one from Cole, or this one from the Guardian, remind us that for all the differences in positions, there remains at least some residue of rational thinking and modes of discussing in which most of the political discourse in the democracies is still embedded. (Though see my "Rational Discourse" label for examples of how this is weakening). This is not true when dealing with most of Israel's shooting enemies. Hamas, Hezbulllah, Iran, but also large chunks of the so-called "moderate" part of the Arab world are not committed at all, on any level, to the rationality that is still largely accepted in the West.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Israel's First Century: A Rumination on the 60th Independance Day

200 hundred years from now, or 500, or a thousand, long after the travails of the present have been resolved, our descendants will look back at Israel's first century with awe, seeing us as the larger than life generations who grasped the already ancient history of the Jews and forced it into new channels. How we rose like ashes after the Shoah and reached achievements unequaled for the previous two millenia. How we faced multitudes of enemies for generations and didn't flinch. How practically alone among the nations created after WWII we preserved democracy and created affluence to compare with those of Europe and North America. How we wrestled a tradition of millenia from its limited domain in the houses of religious learning to vibrant creativity at the service of a sovereign nation. How we reignited the vitality of a battered people and set it on a healthier and richer path. How we made endless idiotic mistakes but created the possibility to correct them. How we bequeathed to our descendants a renewed and exuberant heritage, at the precise moment in history when this was the least likely outcome.

How we came home, and it was good.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Israel at 60: Two Reevaluations

Shimon Peres has been on Israel's public scene for as long as there has been one; hopefully someday he'll have a biographer worthy of his fascinating story. Now in his mid-80s, he's having some second thoughts about positions he defended with true fury as recently as last decade.
I believed the separation between the West Bank and Gaza would make things easier, not harder. I did not imagine that we would leave Gaza and they would fire Qassams from there; I did not imagine that Hamas would show so strongly in the elections.
Meanwhile, over at the Guardian someone is willing to reexamine some of their pet beliefs about the evil Israelis. Admittedly, Jonathan Freedland was never the most hostile voice at the Guardian (that dubius distinction might go to Seamus Milne - or of course, to many of their guest authors). Freedland isn't much more critical than many of the voices at Haaretz, with the one crucial distinction that the Haaretz people live here and pay for their mistakes like the rest of us, while Freedland need bear no responsibility for his thoughts. Having said that, however, his reflections on Israel at 60 are interesting and reasonable, all the more so for appearing in the Guardian.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Judeo-Arab Conspiracy: Shut Down

I have just posted the following over at Judeo-Arab Conspiracy, explaining why the exercise won't work:

Judeo-Arab Conspiracy has been active less than two weeks, but we're shutting down. The reason for this is that I (Yaacov) raised doubts about Ibrahim's identity, and Ibrahim did not allay them.

I explained my motivation for inviting Ibrahim to join me in this exercise here. Already then we had a built-in problem, in that my identity is clear and transparent, and Google will tell you all about me, while Ibrahim ibn Yusuf is not the person's real name. I was willing to accept this, since I know from experience how hard it is, perhaps even impossible, to find an Arab willing to engage an Israeli in dialogue between equals. Israelis who start by beating their breasts are alright, but not the ones who are comfortable with their country. Apparently, Arabs who talk to that sort put themselves in danger in their own communities.

In my eagerness to engage in this dialogue I was obviously not careful enough. I asked Ibrahim some questions, and decided to accept his word when he responded. Perhaps this was a leftover from my "peace camp" years: we like to assume that the folks facing us are like us, their motivations are similar to ours, the only difference being that they're on the other side of the argument. Anyway, I didn't see any real danger in setting off on this joint project, so set off we did.

The next thing that happened was what anyone who understands the Internet could have foreseen: I began to get responses from readers who thought they knew who Ibrahim really is, readers whom I otherwise would never have encountered. Some of them supplied me with telephone numbers, creating a deeper level of contact than mere e-mails.

When I confronted Ibrahim with the information I was getting, he refrained from disproving it. Faced with the likelihood that there is nothing particularly Arab about him, I don't see how we can continue blogging at a place that defines itself as "A joint blog of a Jewish Zionist and an Arab Anti-Zionist".

The Challenge:

I continue to believe that Israel's positions (though not every single action) are generally defensible, and am willing to stand up to anyone who feels otherwise. Should there be anyone out there who wishes to continue where Ibrahim was not, they know where to find me. They will, of course, need to be google-able, if there is such a word.

Until then, it is my intention to desist from responding to anyone who is not willing to stand forth and identify themselves with their positions.

Yaacov Lozowick

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I-Pod of Books

As I blog this evening, I'm sitting with my back to a wall of books. Facing me, across the room, is another wall of books. The very lighting of the room consists (partly) of two series of spots glancing down the shelves towards the hardwood floor, highlighting the books. My favorite corner is the red-upholstered armchair under the 90-year-old reading light. On the shelf next to this desk are a pile of books I've read over the past few months which I'd like to summarize here on Ruminations before I put them in permanent positions on the shelves.

I cannot imagine my life without books.

Today I probably spent two hours reading about Amazon's new gadget, the Kindle, watching the films they've put up on their website, and so on. It's fascinating, in many ways. The way they've thought through the process of defining what it is they wanted, how to go about achieving it, and what they tell us about it. I'm greatly impressed by the way Jeff Bezos, the boss, tells in the plural about their efforts. After all, he didn't do the research, the designing, the manufacturing, any of it. His many underlings did. Yet by telling with great excitement about what "we wanted to do", and "how we did it", he most likely encouraged all those subordinates to strive ever more to succeed at the common goal. (Not all of my bosses were always like that, and I probably wasn't so perfect at it myself as a boss).

Will it make the difference he says it will? Will it all prove to be costly ephemeral hype? Will it add another fortune to Bezos' bank account, but be forgotten by next year? Only time will tell, won't it. Even if it does everything he says it might, I don't expect the books on the bookshelves to disappear in my lifetime. But perhaps future generations will see things differently.

Public Commemoration

For most Israelis, the eight days between Yom Hashoah (commemorating the Holocaust), Yom Hazikaron (commemorating the fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks) and Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) are a charged period. For some more than for others, obviously, and for each of us in our own individual way, with our own particular emphases. Much of it, however, is communal, at least as much as private.

On the mornings of Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron sirens go off all across the land, and everyone stops whatever they're doing and stands at attention for the two minutes. I expect this isn't the case in the towns of the Israeli Arabs, and the Ultra orthodox (Haredim) dislike the gesture for its "non-Jewish" origins, but elsewhere, everyone goes along with the gesture, mostly sincerely, often with great earnestness. The two pictures here show how even motorized traffic halts, as the drivers get out of their vehicles - even in the middle of an intersection - and stand solemnly.
(Agrippa St. in Jerusalem, last Thursday, photos taken by Nava Silvera).

Of course, since we're a democracy, we obviously have our scoffers, and some of them inevitably get published, where they tell us that we're totalitarian bolshies who force unthinking conformity on ourselves; the fact that they get published underlining how unserious they are.