Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Other Good Books

Here are some of the good books I read in 2008, but never found the time to review:
Matthew Battles, Library, an Unquiet History.
James Bradley (with Ron Powers), Flags of our Fathers. A very fine book. And if you haven't read Ron Power's Mark Twain, A Life - do. It's magnificent.
David Guterson, Our Lady of the Forest. A good read, though I found it less engrossing than his two earlier books, Snow Falling on Cedars and East of the Mountains.

The Demons History Bequeaths Us - 2

Norman Cohn (not a Jew, in spite of his name), on the Joachite prophecy, one of the longest-lasting millenarian ideas ever, according to which human history will go through three stages: the Age of the Father, or the Law; the Age of the Son, or the Gospel, and the third, still in the future, which will be the Age of the Spirit. The first had been the age of fear and servitude; the second, the age of faith and filial submission; the third would be the age of love, joy, freedom, when knowledge of God would be revealed to all.

Joachim of Fiore lived in the 12th century. Yet his ideas have had a very long shelf life, and when Cohn wrote about him, in the 1950s, they were still very much alive:
For the long-term, indirect influence of Joachim's speculations can be traced right down to the present day, and most clearly in certain 'philosophies of history' of which the Church emphatically disapproves. Horrified though the unworldly mystic would have been to see it happen, it is unmistakably the Joachite phantasy of the three ages that reappeared in, for instance, the theories of historical evolution expounded by the German idealist philosophers Lessing, Schelling Fichte, and to some extent Hegel; in Auguste Comte's idea of history as an ascent from the theological through the metaphysical up to the scientific phase, and again in the Marxian dialectic of the three stages of primitive communism, class society and a final communism which is to be the realm of freedom and in which the state will have withered away. And it is no less true - if even more paradoxical - that the phrase "The Thiid Reich", first coined in 1923 by the publicist Moeller van den Brueck and later adopted as a name for the 'new order' which was supposed to last a thousand years, would have had but little emotional significance if the phantasy of a third and most glorious dispensation had not, over the centuries, entered into the common stock of European social mythology. (Page 108-9)
The final paragraph of the book:
The old religious idiom has been replaced by a secular one, and this tends to obscure what otherwise would be obvious. For it is the simple truth that, stripped of their original supernatural sanction, revolutionary millenarianism and mystical anarchism are with us still. (Page 286)
One constant of the millenarian phenomenon was that the millenarian leaders almost invariably were burned at the stake, whether in the 6th century or the 16th. That no longer happens. A second constant was that before they were burned, they massacred the local Jews. Though, truth be told, one didn't need to be a millenarian to slaughter one's Jewish neighbors. You may of course contend that ideas that flourished at the center of European culture for centuries and were still thriving a mere fifty years ago, have now all disappeared, but you'd have to demonstrate how and why. Irrational thought disguising itself as rational is still rampant, and hatred of the Jews likewise, after all.

Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millenium, Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Paladin, 1970. The book seems unavailable at Amazon, more the pity, but at Worldcat they'll tell you which is the library nearest to you that has it - all you need to do is tell them where you are, anywhere in the world. It has also been translated to many languages, as befits a magnificent work of history that is still a great read, more than fifty years since its first publication.

Blind Belief vs. Facts

Juan Cole: Israel is destroying tunnels that allow Palestinians to smuggle in goods from Egypt.

LGF: Here's a film that shows that how the tunnels kept on exploding after they were hit.

Technology in the service of disseminating lies and refuting them.


As 2008 draws to a close I'm racing to post reviews of things I've read during the year. Here's a review of a fine book about the partitioning of India. It's all about Israel and Palestine, though they're never mentioned, not even once.

What we Teach Our Children - 2

Following my earlier post with this title, which mentioned that my son is preparing to go to war, Faux Ibrahim responded in an accusatory tone:
If your son was ordered to shoot a bound and blindfolded prisoner in the foot, what do you think he would do?

And, perhaps more importantly, what do you think he should do?
Ibrahim is the false name chosen by a Lefty fellow from Rosario, Argentina, who realizes that his obsession with Israel's wrongdoing and mostly with what he perceives as its wrongdoing, must be cast as coming from an Arab; otherwise the only explanation can be that he's an antisemite. Like many of his fellow antisemites, most of what he has to say is foolish, silly, or otherwise unserious; the main reason to give him any attention at all is not for the content of his rants but for insights into his impulses and rationalizations. Still, as some readers will have noticed, from time to time I use him as a useful foil.

In this case also. It just so happens that my laptop contains something I wrote seven years ago that relates head on to Faux-Ibrahim's question; the son in the story was Meir, Achikam's older brother.

I dare Faux-Ibrahim or anyone else to show me parents anywhere in the world, and anytime in history, who do or did as good a job of preparing their sons to be moral warriors. The story of Meir and I in December 2001 is highly unusual - everywhere except in Israel. Here, it's banal. The only advantage I can claim over all the other fathers around here is that my ability to write English is better than most, Hebrew being their language.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Demons History Bequeaths Us

History matters. Not because people know about it, think about it, and learn its lessons so as not to repeat its mistakes. As a general rule people don't know history, they often don't think, and learning from history is an extremely rare art.

History matters because it forms the world we live in even when we never give it a thought; it informs our understanding of the world, our decisions and our actions. This is not necessarily bad, though the founders of rational thought did think we should develop the ability to question our inheritance and form our own opinions of it. They were only partially successful, and the counter forces often seem stronger, three or four centuries later.

The pathologies of the progressive intellectuals of rich and pampered Western Europe are so well known I'll merely run by them for a moment, by way of context for a pathology I've written less about. The gang I sometime call the Guardianistas (not my invention, of course) have three major pathologies. First, they're so stricken with guilt for the colonial, or imperial, past of their nations (UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Iberia, and, with a stretch, Italy) that they think colonialism is the arch-template for understanding the relationships between national groups, always and everywhere, and that the top dogs of colonialism are mostly dogs, simply because they were on top: it's an understanding of the world that starts from the need to condemn and the need to exonerate, and thinks in theoretical categories which may be useful for understanding what goes on or went on, but often isn't. I suppose this categorizing imperative comes from Marxism, unless it's the other way around and they used to flock to Marxism because it categorized people so comfortingly.

The second pathology is hatred of the Jews. This emotion is so deeply embedded in Western culture, so central to it, that a concerted and conscious effort is required to extirpate it. Some individuals were always immune, others learned to resist, and the example of both groups condemns the rest by demonstrating that it is possible, and those who don't free themselves from the pathology bear responsibility for their choice not to. Hatred of the Jews, alas, is very much alive and thriving, in a variety of versions, in much of what used to be called Christendom, and in large swathes of the Muslim world.

Declaring the Jews the worst of colonials, contrary to all evidence, combines the two pathologies beautifully and oh-so-conveniently. It even adds potency to the hatred of the United States, perceived of in this scheme as the largest colonial power enamored with Israel, the worst one.

America is a large place, and there are quite a number of self-hating Americans who have eagerly accepted this mantle, but they are nevertheless a small minority (and they have not just elected a like-minded president, as they fervently hoped). America's history dictates that it's pathologies are different - indeed, the new president stands at their center, and demonstrates that sometimes, at least, America is rather good at facing its demons.

The third pathology of of the Guradianistas, but shared with many others, is the destruction of moral thought.

Actually, however, my intention for this post was to write about the Germans. The Germans don't share the Guardianiasta's pathology, because they have a different history. The antisemitism of their history was far more violent and destructive, for starters, which makes them far more wary. Not necessarily more successful, mind you, or more intelligent, but wary. Discussions of things Jewish in Germany are often stilted, shallow, inhibited and frustrating, because everyone is frightened of saying something wrong; as a German-speaking Jew I've often had the comic experience of being the only one in a room full of intelligent Germans willing to speak his mind - to gasps of astonishment from everyone else.

When it comes to Israel, German history dictates that German positions be measured, and indeed German diplomacy traditionally is closer to Israel's positions than just about anyone else in Western Europe. (The Eastern Europeans, with yet another history, do it differently. See the Czech Foreign Minister earlier today saying out loud that Hamas is to blame for the present round of violence. Czech history expressing itself on matters of the Mideast). Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and present Chancellor Angela Merkl come to mind as impressive examples of this German expression of history.

And yet there is another way to go, too, and it plays out differently. Perhaps the single most important pathology of post-Nazi Germany is the refusal to countenance warfare of any sort. You can see where this came from. Twice in the 20th century the Germans started major wars to achieve goals they'd set themselves. The first time was a disaster, the second time was calamitous on an epic scale - for the Germans. Then, having achieved none of their goals and all of that destruction, the decades of peace gave them just about everything they'd intended to acquire, or a better version of it they hadn't even thought of. Ergo: War is always bad, it can never achieve anything positive, no warlike action can ever be justified in any way, and idiots who insist on waging war are criminals of the worst sort.

Israel insists on waging war from time to time. Do you see where this leads?

For those of you who are germanically-challenged, the article is a silly stringing together of some of the evidence that Israel's wars haven't yet brought it German-style peace with its neighbors, combined with a scrupulous refusal to see any cases where Israeli use of power has ever achieved anything. It's interesting in that the author has no patience for Hamas, and couches his deliberations, sort of, in the normative German template: if you refrain from violence you'll glean all the benefits we'd like you to have (after all, we're not antisemites, and we're not against Israel; only against its stupidity).

It quite overlooks that Hamas has every intention of achieving all sorts of political goals by the use of violence. Which brings us to the German corollary of the Gurdianista's amalgamation of pathologies, anti-colonialism with hatred of the Jews. Germans such as Mr. Schmitz, writing in the second-most important paper in Germany, applies the "no violence ever" thesis to the Israelis, but not to their enemies. One wonders where this selectivity comes from, doesn't one.

As for the pathologies Jews have inherited from their history: tomorrow, perhaps.

PS. No, I'm not following the Marxist tradition of explaining people's actions and determining their moral stature by their group. I'm describing common patterns - but individuals are free to shake them off, and often do.

Tragi-Comic Relief

The parade of antisemites at The Guardian includes an article by one Ed Husain. He trots out all the usual claptrap about how Palestinian hatred is all Israel's fault; given his elevated status of Person of (light) Color at a newspaper where skin color confers moral stature, he admonishes his readers that actually, they, the descendants of imperialism, are the true culprits for the mess and must now rectify the damage. So for, so boring. But then he has this magnificent line:
How can the children of Holocaust survivors become such brutal killers? And during the Sabbath?
My italics.

A Clear Eyed Analysis

At times like these you should always seek out the columns of Yossi Klein Halevy (The New Republic is a good place to start your search).He's good. Very good.

(He is also the author of a fine book about how Jews and Muslims should be living together and praying together: At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden. Alas, written in a different era, back in the previous century, when people like him, myself, and most Israelis believed the conflict was almost over.)

Mazal Tov to the Rattling Family

Life goes on, in the best way.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What We Teach Our Children

This morning we completed the Kidushin tractate; tomorrow we start Bava Kamma. The final Mishna in the Kidushin tractate talks about the education and vocational training a father must give his sons. The final viewpoint, that of rabbi Nehorai, is that the single most important, perhaps even exclusively important one, is to teach them Torah.

As I've written elsewhere, the tradition of Daf Yomi, the daily page of Gemara learned in cycles of seven and a half years, is new: it was invented a mere 80 years ago or so, even if by now hundreds of thousands of people, men and women, participate. The tradition of learning, however, is ancient. On any given day, and every single given day over the past 2,200 years, through thick or thin (there has been lots of thin), Jews have been studying the Mishna and its ever-growing supplementary layers; the Mishna itself looks back to centuries of learning Biblical sources. When we participate today, and tomorrow, and next year, we're participating in a lively conversation that has been going on, literally uninterrupted, for more than 2,500 years. The conversation has spanned the entire Jewish world, with contributions coming from today's Iran westward to America (recently); from Northern Europe to Yemen. At all times the discussion included intricate and detailed things about the Land of Israel, Erez Yisrael; most of the time, though not for a few centuries before and after the fist Christian millennium, some of the participants have been Jews living here. The last time this wasn't true was about the time Columbus was discovering America, perhaps a bit earlier. Ever since then, however, there has been an uninterrupted presence of scholars contributing to the discussion from this holy and unique land.

Zionism is not, by and large, a religious phenomenon, nor even a cultural one, though it is also them. It is not to be explained simply by the Jewish insistence on carrying on that conversation no matter what, nor because of their insistence on doing so here. But it is also that. Jews who wish to look away from these facts may do so: we're an argumentative bunch and we always argue about everything, including crucially important things. Non-Jews, however, who take for themselves the right to decide what we may or may not dream of, may or may not aspire to, may or may not attempt: they surely are denying us the right to be who we've always been. This, most emphatically, is a form of antisemitism, have no doubt about it. No matter how they play with words or profess otherwise.

We teach our children to be Jews: we teach them to be part of the discussion, with all the responsibilities that entails.

Achikam just called. They're turning off their cellphones now. We've done our best to teach him; now he's shouldering the responsibilities.

Another Comment on Arab Solidarity

Apparently the Egyptian leadership isn't happy that Hezbullah's Nassrallah has called for masses of Egyptians to rise against their leadership and march to the assistance of the common brothers in Hamas. According to Y-net (but not the BBC), the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Aboul Ghreit, said earlier today
"This man (Nasrallah) spoke of Egypt's armed forces. These honorable armed forces are meant to protect Egypt and if he does not know that, I am telling him: No and no! "The honorable armed forces are capable of defending this homeland from people like you. You want to create chaos in this region as a service to interests that are not for the good of this region."
Now, it's of course a pleasure to poke fun at the prophets of "the angry Arab street" in the Western media, and since these are grim days, finding things to draw pleasure from is OK. On a more significant level, the divisions in the Arab world are a sign of hope. If they all operated by the same Stalinist (or Nasserite) Groupthink, it would be impossible ever to live with them in peace because the extremists would dictate the line for everyone.

The Groupthink folks in the West, by the way, look at the same set of facts and tell you that the Arab regimes are all evil puppets of the even more evil Americans, themselves controlled by the Big Corporations and Oil Companies, while it's the Nassrallahs of this world who represent the brave alternative, as demonstrated by the fact that the Arab Street backs them, across the Arab World. All 12,000 of them.

So What DOES the Arab World Think?

The Arab world is mostly not democratic. Iraq seems seriously to be trying to get there; Lebanon sometimes is and most-times isn't. The Jordanian non-democratic regime is benign - but not democratic. Actually, when it comes to democracy the Palestinians are closer than most Arabs, except when they aren't.

This means it's not easy to know what "the Arabs" think about issues. Not that it's easy to know what "the Americans" think, even less "the Europeans" and their interesting layers of doing business. It's not even clear if there's any particular significance to what "the Arab World" thinks about anything.

Though of course there is the rock-solid constant that representatives of Arab countries at the UN will always be against Israel, and that includes Egypt and Jordan who are officially at peace with Israel. Even regarding Israel, however, there are differences, tones, shadings, and complexities among the hundreds of millions of Arabs.

In order to really get an understanding of what's going on in the Arab world, you'd need first to have complete command of the Arab language, which itself is common as a literary language, but is extremely diverse in its local vernaculars to the extent of mutual incomprehensibility. Yet that's not enough. You also have to know a lot of facts. I speak English, but that doesn't mean I can tell you much about Australian society, nor about India. Just look at Juan Cole: he knows all sorts of languages but doesn't understand the countries he talks about.

So when Western journalists assure you that
the Arab "street" is unanimous in its support of the Palestinians as the demonstrations from Damascus to Baghdad showed.
(that's Anne Penketh in The Independent), it's either unnecessary, because of course the Arabs prefer the Palestinians over the Jews, or it's Ms. Penketh yearning for some confirmation of her own emotional needs: the Evil Israelis Armed by the Evil Americans are hated by the Noble Downtrodden. Or some such psychoanalytical mumbo-jumbo.

But it's not only The Independent. This morning, the rot is rather clearly on display even at the New York Times. Their top article at the moment is titled Israeli Troops Mass Along Border; Arab Anger Rises.

The continued strikes, which Israel said were in retaliation for sustained rocket fire from Gaza into its territory, unleashed a furious reaction across the Arab world, raising fears of greater instability in the region.

Remember, it was only two days ago the New York Times itself said the Israeli attacks were a response to Hamas rockets, but maybe a three-day memory is too much to ask from journalists. But let's stay on message. The NYT tells us about these furious reaction, and also adds that their danger is that they'll create greater instability. We're not told who is the person or people with the rising fear levels. It's general, generic, something like that. Until we read the very next paragraph of their own item:

Much of the anger was also directed at Egypt, seen by Hamas and some nearby governments as having acceded to Israel’s military action by sealing its border with Gaza and forcing back many Palestinians at gunpoint who were trying to escape the destruction.

Witnesses at the Rafah border crossing described a chaotic scene as young men tried to force their way across into Egypt, amid sporadic exchanges of gunfire between Hamas and Egyptian forces. Egyptian state television reported that one Egyptian border guard was killed by a Hamas gunman. A Palestinian man was killed by an Egyptian guard near Rafah, Reuters reported.

To the best of my knowledge, Egypt is the largest (though not richest) Arab country. It's decidedly not democratic, so who knows what The Egyptian Street thinks, but the Egyptian government is hardly pro-Hamas in this conflict, and Egyptian troops in Rafah seem to be killing and being killed in confrontations with - well, I'd say, other Arabs, for lack of better information.

Meanwhile, all according to the same single NYT news item, there may be other inter-Arab tensions:

In Lebanon, the leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, put his fighters on alert, expressing strong support for Hamas and saying that he believed Israel might try to wage a two-front war, as it did in 2006. He called for a mass demonstration in Beirut on Monday. And he, too, denounced Egypt’s leaders. “If you don’t open the borders, you are accomplices in the killing,” he said in a televised speech.

Sounds brotherly, doesn't it. The article goes on to tell us about other folks who are angry about the lack of Arab solidarity:

Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, condemned the silence of some Arab countries, which he said had prepared the grounds for the “catastrophe,” an Iranian news agency, ISNA, reported.

“The horrible crime of the Zionist regime in Gaza has once again revealed the bloodthirsty face of this regime from disguise,” he said in a statement. “But worse than this catastrophe is the encouraging silence of some Arab countries who claim to be Muslim,” he said, apparently in a reference to Egypt and Jordan.

Now as we all know (don't we?), Iran isn't part of the Arab World, so it's not clear what they're doing in this article, which certainly implies that they are. The article then continues in the same vein: Protesters in Beirut are furious at Israel - abut also at Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

So what do we really learn from this? First, that the Arab world is complicated, even in the ways if faces the universally accepted enemy of Israel. Second, that even the journalism of the New York Times is probably not a very good way to learn about the world. In more ways than you'd like to think, even they are not that much better than bloggers, especially when the bloggers write about things they're really specialists at, in ways the journalists aren't.

Third, that even the NYT looks over its shoulder all the time and fits its message to some perceived "public sentiment" (Liberal Street?): else how to understand this paragraph from the same item:

News agencies reported that a rocket fired Monday from Gaza killed a man and wounded seven people in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon. Three Israelis were also stabbed by a Palestinian in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the reports said, quoting the Israeli military.

News agencies said. The rising Arab Anger is so factual it goes into the title. The death of an Israeli, the wounding of ten others, not to mention that they're all civilians, this is unverified information that has come in to the notice of our reporters, but we can't vouch for its veracity at this stage.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

War in Gaza Evening 2: Media and Blog Watch

The events in Gaza are proving to be an interesting litmus test for one's ability or inability to think in rational terms about Israel.

The Guardian, we've already demonstrated, is deep in the irrational camp that condemns Israel no matter what. This is getting worse as the hours pass; by now, the evening of the second day of Israel's attack on Hamas, they're into their obsessive mode. As anyone who has ever designed a website will tell you, the most important place on it is the upper left corner, and from there on down and right the significance dwindles; what's below the scrolling line is almost non-existent. So the Guardian this evening has filled the upper left column with a picture from Gaza, and then 14 separate links. Only beneath them all is the forlorn 15th link: Afghan suicide bomb kills 14 children. (I'm linking to their web page here, but it will change by tomorrow. I suppose I could post a print-screen of their travesty, but they're not worth the effort).

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has a long and wordy article by Jorg Bremer. Would I sign him up for an AIPAC seminar? Perhaps not, but it's a reasonable post. So we've got the top German newspaper being far more rational about the Jewish State than an important British one. Funny the way history changes, isn't it.

The BBC tells that the whole Arab world is in an uproar; the proof being that thousands participated in demonstrations today. Thousands? Out of hundreds of millions? Including this enigmatic sentence:
A suicide bomber blew himself up at a rally in Mosul, northern Iraq, killing a protester and wounding 16.
Sort of sounds as if the suicide bomber was for the Israelis, doesn't it.

Among the blogs, Juan Cole sides with the frenzied reports of al-Jezeera, always more reliable in his opinion than, say, the New York Times. His thesis: Israel is committing war crimes. Israel is committing war crimes. Israel is committing war crimes. Do I make myself clear?

Less important than Cole, but even more loony, Dianne Mason has come out of semi-retirement. The last anyone heard of her she was bemoaning Obama's choice of Secretary of State, back in November; then she went silent and one hoped perhaps she'd been knocked off by Madoff's ponzi scheme or some such. Alas, she's back, with a long article about how the Jews don't deserve a state of their own, and since they insist on having one, they do deserve anything the Palestinians try to do to them for the crime of their existence. Not much room for nuanced discussion with that one, is there?

Faux Ibrahim of Rosario, by the way, is so off the map that the best he can think about to write today is some tall tale about Israeli telephone books. Feverish, if you ask me.

Things you Can Learn from Aerial Photos

The IDF website has a series of aerial photos of targets hit yesterday by the Israeli Air Force. Now I know, many people won't believe the IDF website, sight unseen and no matter what, as it just has to be a propaganda tool of the bad guys. Still, it's instructive. The aerial photos demonstrate that, contrary to the impression hammered home by Israel's mostly uninformed critics, the targets yesterday were mostly NOT situated in densely populated areas, and it would have been possible to take careful aim at them and reasonably expect not to harm innocent civilians.

Of course, collecting factual evidence and trying to understand what it means is much less fun than knee-jerk ideological rants. I can appreciate that, of course. But it's sort of what participants in rational discussions in the democratic tradition are encouraged to do, as part of what differentiates them from believers of voodoo cults, medieval throngs, and fascist mobs.

(hat tip: Noah Pollack)

The End of Poverty

Here's a review of Jeffery D. Sach's worthy book. And also a demonstration that the muses stay active even when the guns are firing.

Israel's Fiercest Critics: Homegrown

Gideon Levy has a one-track mind: Israel is awful. The funniest example for this came a few years ago when he was sent to Beijing to cover some event; while there he managed to dig up a Palestinian businessman. The fellow is married to a Chinese woman, drives a Mercedes and makes millions in the skyrocketing Chinese economy, but he was willing to give Levy an hour and to tell how awful it is to be a Palestinian refugee.

He has a regular column in Haaretz on weekends, called "The Twilight Zone", where he tells about the suffering of the Palestinians. This morning he published an extra-curricular column. His animosity against his country is even more explicit than what you find at the Guardian.

Yet I can live with Gideon Levy. One significant difference between him and our foreign critics is that he's here. When Palestinian terrorists were blowing themselves up in Tel Aviv, before we figured out how to block them, his life was in the same danger the rest of our lives were in, as Peter Beaumont's life isn't. The second difference is that he's criticizing his own county, not someone else's. Anyone who knows how to read between the lines knows that the American and British forces fighting their just wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are less scrupulous than the Israelis when it comes to trying not to hit civilians, yet to the best of my knowledge no-one in any major media outlet in either country does what Levy does. The Guardian screeches about Israeli war crimes, factual or other, but never treats its own forces to a similar level of scrutiny. They're not only antisemites, they're also hypocrites, an accusation that can't be leveled at Levy. Third, since Levy is an Israeli, he has the right to hold his own society up to a higher standard, even one so high as to be cruel and unreasonable. It's his society he making his demands from, not someone else's.

He's wrong of course, in his interpretations, and not always accurate in his factual depictions, but he's a sign of our democratic strength, and I can live with him.

War in Gaza Day 2: Media Watch

Times of London can't make up its own mind abut the facts. First, it has us understand Israel is killing Palestinian civilians:

Children on their way home from school and policemen parading for a graduation ceremony were the principal victims of a bloody few hours that left the territory in flames.

Neat sleight of hand, that: children and celebrating policemen, one single category. Then, deeper into the news item, we're informed that

The strikes caused panic and confusion as black clouds of smoke rose above the territory. Most of those killed were security men — including Gaza’s police chief — but an unknown number of civilians were also among the dead.

If you keep on going all the way to the bottom of the page, you finally get some numbers:

Earlier in the day, when the death toll stood at 155, police spokesman Ehud Ghussein had said about 140 Hamas security forces were killed.

Yesterday I speculated that The Independent is probably awful. Perhaps I spoke too hastily. Their leader this morning is perfectly reasonable. They haven't become Zionists, but if everyone wrote like this, I wouldn't need to blog about it.

The Guardian, meanwhile, is even lower today than it was yesterday. They've got a column written by Peter Beaumont, none other than their Foreign Affairs editor. Obviously everything is all Israel's fault, you wouldn't expect anything else from the Guardian, but Beaumont goes even further and hopes that Israel has finally given the Arab world something that will focus their minds on how evil their real enemy is:

But perhaps in a wider Arab world, becoming more uncomfortable by the day about what is happening inside Gaza, something is changing. And Israel has supplied a rallying point. Something tangible and brutal that gives the critics of its actions in Gaza – who say it has a policy of collective punishment backed by disproportionate and excessive force – something to focus on.

Something to be ranked with Deir Yassin. With the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Something, at last, that Israel's foes can say looks like an atrocity.

Creepy, isn't it? The fellow is hoping that the Arabs will actively hate the Israelis as much as he, his newspaper and his readers do, and that the overtly antisemitic killers of the Hamas will serve as their rallying point. (Sabra and Shatilla, by the way, were massacres by Arabs of Arabs).

As a small side story, it's interesting to note the URL given to Beaumont's column: Israel and the Palestinians terrorism. And you thought the Guardian never uses the word "terrorism" in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Mahmoud Abbas apparently doesn't read his Guardian, because he's blaming Hamas for what he's calling a massacre, while standing next to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. It would be hard to make up such a story line, wouldn't it: Arabs condemning Hamas, while the Guardian prays they'll join it in its hatred of Israel.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

War in Gaza: Media Watch

The London Times still has an item up from yesterday, about two Palestinian girls who were killed by rockets fired by their own side that were aimed at Israeli civilians but fell short. I mention this merely as a reminder of who Israel faces - and how it doesn't get reported in some media organs.

The New York Times gives the story in its context. Its top headline, "Israeli Gaza Strike Kills More than 200" is followed by the subtitle "Air Attacks are a Response to Hamas Rocket Fire on Israel". The following article tries to be factual:
Most of those killed were Hamas police officers and security men, including two senior commanders, according to Palestinian officials. But the dead included at least a dozen civilians, including several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.
The rest of the long new item is reasonable reporting. It doesn't dig back into the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor tell much about the Hamas charter which is blatantly antisemitic ("the Jews are to blame for both world wars"), but that's not how newspaper reporters understand the world; given how they do, this new item is fine. Only once does the reporters' (3 of them contributed to the item) lack of historical perspective trip them up:

The leader of Hamas in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said in a statement that “Palestine has never witnessed an uglier massacre.” Later, in a televised speech, he vowed to fight Israel. “We say in all confidence that even if we are hung on the gallows or they make our blood flow in the streets or they tear our bodies apart, we will bow only before God and we will not abandon Palestine,” he said.

Any idea what he's talking about, Mr. Haniya? It's a deft piece of propaganda. To Western ears, he makes it appear as if Israel is trying to destroy the Palestinians, massacre them and exile them from their land, none of which is true. For Palestinian ears, however, the same set of sentences means something different: "We're in this fight because we'll never give up any of Palestine", i.e Israel has no right to exist. Neat, huh? The NYT folks missed it, because though they're good journalists, you need to be more than a good journalist to understand this story.

The BBC has a 1000-word, titled "Massive Israeli air raids on Gaza". The fact of Hamas rockets on Israeli civilians is noted only more than 600 words into the report, unless you count an attribution to an Israeli announcement in the 5th paragraph; the BBC however only gets around to admitting that there may be some truth to that Israeli claim near the end of the report.

And then you've got the Guardian. I suppose I ought also to look at the Independent, and maybe tomorrow I will, since it really isn't fair to single out the Guardian for its straightforward antisemitism, but a few years ago the Independent starting requiring readers of its website to pay for the torture, so I stopped going there. The Guardian has a larger readership, I'm told, and is the top-notch paper of the British Left, so when it's antisemitic, this is the responsibility of all those who go along with it.

The Guardian starts it report with a headline one can stomach: Air strikes in Gaza kill 205 as Israel targets Hamas. But this is the first paragraph:

Israel stood defiant tonight in the face of mounting international condemnation, as it vowed to continue a massive bombing offensive against key targets in the Gaza Strip that left 205 dead and 700 others injured.

Most of the article is about how the international community, including the White House, is critical of Israel's actions; in the entire article there is only one, cryptic mention of the Hamas rocket attacks and that comes in an attribution to Ehud Barak.

I expect the fools at the Guardian really believe what they write, but that's no excuse. As for the facts, let's wait a day or two and see if the world's mumbles of caution really are "mounting international condemnation", or if they're mumbles of condemnation. One way or the other, it's hard to see what happened on the international scene today that might be described as mounting international condemnation. When that happens, it of course still won't mean the world is right, but so far, it hasn't even happened. It's a weekend, between Christmas and New Years, the Europeans are all on vacation....

And then the Guardian offers us Ian Black's punditry:

Devastating air strikes may limit Hamas's capacity to attack – but will almost certainly increase its support among Palestinians.

He doesn't know this, mind you; he's speculating. As he does throughout his article:

The bomb and missile strikes by F16 warplanes this morning hit Hamas compounds and positions from Gaza City to Khan Yunis in the south of the coastal strip. Civilian casualties, on a normal school and working day, must have been inevitable in the densely populated area.

In other words, he doesn't have any facts, but he assumes the Israelis "must have" killed many civilians.

Retaliatory Palestinian fire killed one woman in southern Israel – underlining the unequal military balance.

It's just not fair, is it. The Palestinians can't kill as many civilians as they'd like. And it's totally unreasonable that Israel is killing so many Palestinians when all the Palestinians are doing is kill your ocasional Israeli. (It was a man, by the way, Beber Waknin of Netivot. Not a woman.)

opinion polls shows that Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the rightwing Likud, is likely to beat Livni's centrist Kadima party in Israel's elections, set to take place in February. Prospects for revived talks, which were already slim, must have now diminished further.

Background, you see, so you get the general picture: not only are the Israelis attacking today and killing Palestinians civilians, but next month they're going to elect a government that will halt peace negotiations.

The looming general election is another reason Israel is not keen to send troops into Gaza on a large scale, which would expose its own forces to heavy casualties. Instead Israel prefers to use its unchallenged aerial superiority – clearly a blunt instrument that cannot distinguish between fighters and civilians.

Cowardly Israelis, killing Palestinian civilians from the air with blunt intruments (see "hammer", as in the title).

This is nothing short of a massacre, an outrage," the independent Palestinian MP Hanan Ashrawi – no friend of the Islamists – told the BBC from her Ramallah home. "The cycle of violence is generated by the occupation and by the ongoing state of siege that is attempting to collectively punish a whole people.

"This will enhance the standing of Hamas. People are sympathising with Hamas as the people who are being ruthlessly targeted by Israel. They are seen as victims of ongoing Israeli aggression."

Which is interesting, since Ashrawi lives - as noted - in Ramallah, and Ramallah - as not noted - is blooming. The economy is up, the quality of life is up, the distance from Hamas-controlled Gaza is growing ever greater, and all of this a stone's throw from Jerusalem. Weird, these Israelis; they try so hard to hit the Palestinains they don't even notice that right next door, in Ramallah, the Palestinians are beginning to do well for themselves.

Achikam in Gaza

Achikam called earlier this evening. His unit is moving down to Gaza.

In some ways it's easier to be the soldier than his parents.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Animus towards Jews on Christmas - 2: Juan Cole

There most definitely is antisemitism at the Guardian, and the previous post is an example of the way it is disseminated in unmarked back channels. Is Juan Cole also an antisemite? Sometimes I think so, and his Christmas column today is a case for the prosecution.

As often with Cole, it's hard to know where to begin, his statements are so outlandish. But here are some partial remarks:
Some 15 percent of the 10 million Palestinians is Christian, and they are after all the original Christians. Bethlehem has a special place in their hearts because it is the birthplace of Jesus in Christian belief.
Actually, the original Christians were Jews, who regarded themselves as such and never thought they were creating a new religion. That happened only a few generations later, in a context the original followers of Jesus probably couldn't have conceived of. I also wonder where Cole's statistics come from - the 15% one, and the 10 million. But don't expect him to enlighten us anytime soon.

You also might want to note that Bethlehem used to be almost 100% Christian, and the decline has been happening literally for generations; if even Bethlehem is now down to a Christian minority, might this have anything to do with the general dwindling of non-Muslim communites all over the Arab world? If it's truly only due to the evil machinations of the Israelis, why so? Do the Israelis have a preferrence for Muslim Palestinians over Christian ones? If so, why? And how do they manage to selectively get rid of the Christians? How did they manage to start the dynamic prior to 1967, when they didn't even control the place?
Almost no one in the US knows that the Israeli wall or separation barrier, which has ghettoized many Palestinians and expropriated from them property and farm land, is strangling Bethlehem. The barrier cuts Bethlehem off from Jerusalem and steals private property from its residents. It has created an economic crisis that has caused Palestinian Christians to emigrate from the city. The "Christians of Bethlehem overwhelmingly (78%) blame the exodus of Christians from the town on Israel's blockade . . ."
Is the wall strangling Bethlehem? How so? Further down in his post he notes that tourism in Bethlehem is up this year, even though the wall is the same wall as last year: perhaps some other dynamic is at play? And what methodology does the august professor suggest for resolving the question? The article behind Cole's link, by the way, is a hodgepodge of nonesense, lies, innuendo, hearsay and general malice.

Why did the Israelis build the wall? Since Cole never mentions this one might note it was built because many dozens of Israeli civilians were murdered by Palestinian murderers who entered Jerusalem from Bethlehem between 2001-2004; since the wall has been erected and the checkpoints manned: a miracle! No more murders from Bethlehem!

The whole thesis about the evil of seperating Bethlehemm from Jerusalem is a red herring. Someday there may be peace between Israel and Palestine. When that happens, Bethlehem will be in Palestine, and most of Jerusalem will be in Israel. There will be a border in between, with guarded border crossings. One can argue about the precise line on which the Israeli barrier has been constructed, but it's hard to see how one can argue against its very existence. Given the close proximity of Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the border will always run close to both of them.
The distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is some 10km, but Palestinians must take a 26km secondary dirt road passing through Israeli checkpoints which are often closed with no warning or explanation. Palestinians in the West Bank are not permitted to enter Jerusalem without a date- and time-limited pass from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) - more often than not refused.
Actually, the distance from the northenmost houses of Bethlehem and the southernmost ones of Jerusalem isn't 10 km, it's about 100 meters, perhaps 200. Since the historic main road between the two goes through Jewish Talpiyot, (which is inside the Green Line), the Palestinians will have to use a winding secondary road to reach the Arab sections of Jerusalem - just like they did between 1948 and 1967, when Bethlehem and East Jerusalem were occupied by Jordan.

Cole's editorial choice to celebrate Christmas on his blog with one single post, entirely dedicated to misinformation and lies about Israel, needs to be recognized for what it is.

Animus towards Jews on Christmas - 1: The Guardian

Easter was traditionally the worst time for Jews, because that's when their Christian neighbors were focused most on the crucifixion and the most likely to express their religion with a spot of pillage rape and murder. That was a long time ago, you'd think. So it's surprising to see how easy it is to find nastiness directed at Jews on this day of Christmas early in the 21st century, just before the dawn of the Era of Obama and the expectations some have from it.

First, the Guardian.The example I've chosen from today's edition isn't particularly malign; rather it's an example of condescending snottiness in an article that's otherwise harmless and quite insignificant - and that's why it's so significant.

Alex von Tunzelmann, a movie critic, fittingly chooses Christmas to ask how historically accurate Life of Brian is. She thinks it is; while I expect I know a bit more than she about that period, I'm not going to dispute her. Not because she's right, but because who cares? It was a fine film, with lots of good fun.

But her column does contain this disturbing paragraph:
As the film correctly hints, stoning was extremely popular with angry mobs. The Bible advises stoning for, among other offences, being a wizard, touching Mount Sinai while Moses receives the ten commandments, rebelling against your parents, or goring someone to death, if you are an ox. Further to this, stoning was often carried out summarily against traitors, and bad actors.
Quite the barbarians, those ancient Judeans. Almost as bad as the Londoners of the 17th Century.

Well, no. Actually, compared with the those Londoners, the ancient Judeans were paragons of human rights. The Talmud, much of which was created in Judea just about the time Brian wasn't there, contains a long discussion about the death sentence. Essentially, while capital punishment was on the book for all sorts of things, the rules for applying it were so severe that it couldn't happen. Witnesses to a murder, for example, had to remember the shape of the leaves on the tree behind the scene else their testimony be rejected, the assailant had to be warned by at least two witnesses, in advance, that his action was a capital offense, and so on. A court that condemned anyone to death once in 70 years was referred to derogatorily as a "lethal court", and the sages then had a big argument about whether such a thing had ever happened or not.

Why besmirch the Londoners of the 17th century? It wasn't until the 20th that the English reached such a level of reluctance to use capital punishment, the French got there in the 1970s, and the Texans aren't there yet.

You would think no-one takes the Guardian seriously about anything, but you would be wrong. Many people actually do. This little tidbit demonstrates how deep (abysmal) the ignorance about Jews is over there; a fact that never stops them from pontificating, but also a demonstration of how deep seated their venom really is, that it's so easy to find even in a lightheaded holiday column about a lightheaded film.

Still Investigating the Death of Salah Shechade

Salah Shechade was one of the bloodiest Hamas murderers ever, so that when Israel killed him on July 22nd 2002, it should have been occasion for grim satisfaction. Even more so since there was concrete information that he was planing the next murders, so killing him saved lives.

Killing his wife alongside him was to be regretted, though to be honest, it was a time of war, she was an adult and knew exactly what she was married to, and the option of arresting him and bringing him to justice didn't exist. A woman who goes to bed with a man with blood under his fingernails isn't a saint herself.

Their daughter, however, didn't choose her father. And the other twelve neighbors were innocent non-combatants, some of them children. After the bodies were all counted there was a furious debate in the Israeli public. Most of us were unconvinced that there had been no other choice; the air force made things worse by protesting they hadn't known how much collateral damage a one-ton bomb would cause in a residential neighborhood. I mean: duh. At the time I condemned the action, and do so still.

Interestingly, the discussion is still ongoing, though now it's taking place in different venues. The government has set up a commission of investigation (earlier this year). Two days ago the High Court of Justice turned down a motion by a number of Left-wing organizations who complained the commission can't be expected to do its job since it is staffed by retired military types. Basically, the Court suggested waiting for the results before rejecting them. (The decision is in Hebrew, of course).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas or Otherwise

Ruminations wishes its Christian-minded readers a hearty Merry Christmas!

For the Non-Christian-minded, whether they be estranged Christians, Jews, or Innuit (no Muslim readers of Ruminations so far as management knows), you might want to consider celebrating the Ten Days of Newton.

Gaza, Politicians, and a Feckless Media

Here's an image that was up on Y-net earlier today.

Yoav Guetta of Ashkelon, 10 years old, after his house was hit and partially destroyed by a Palestinian Grad missile earlier today.

This picture will never appear in the Guardian, or at the BBC. Actually, given that it's Christmas Eve, it won't appear anywhere outside Israel. Which is too bad not because of its propaganda value, but because it explains part of what will be in the news right after Christmas, when whatever retaliation Israel chooses creates good pictures of Palestinian suffering.

Israel's critics often erroneously assume the Israelis aren't aware of Palestinian suffering, and castigate them for not finding out. I don't remember ever seeing a piece of self reflection in which such a critic asks themselves if they've acquainted themselves adequately about the Israeli perspective.

There's an interesting discussion taking place in Israel these days. Rockets aimed solely at civilians are raining down on towns near Gaza, and also on towns that aren't so near (the Palestinian range is getting longer because while they're dismal failures at creating better lives for themselves, they're great at inventing ways of hurting Israelis). On the one hand you've got politicians from left and right facing elections, who are screaming for retaliatory actions against Gaza. On the other hand you've got Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense, apparently backed by many of the generals, who are wary of wielding the destructive power they've got, and who consequently appear irresolute and callous towards Yoav Guetta and hundreds of thousands of other civilians. In this argument I'm on the side of the hesitators, at least for the moment.

Not, mind you, because I think nothing can be achieved by violence and one must seek a rational accommodation with Hamas. It was only a few years ago, remember, when far worse Palestinian terror which was killing hundreds of Israeli civilians was stopped through the power of violence. The combination of killing or arresting most terrorists in the West Bank, followed by the justifiable assassinations of the top Hamas leaders in Gaza did the trick, not anything else, and certainly not sitting down to talk with the poor Palestinians.

Violence most certainly can achieve political goals, as human history consistently shows these past 5,000 years or so. Yet it must be wielded carefully, the violence: effectively, and morally. The West Bank isn't Gaza, and what worked in the one in 2002-2003 probably won't work in the other in 2009. We also ought not forget how a knee-jerk use of violence in Lebanon in 2006 ended badly: instead of killing thousands of Hezbullah fighters, as we should have, we killed a few hundred, a number that was too small, along with hundreds of Lebanese civilians, a number that was vastly too large.

So if Barak (supported by Olmert, who is still Prime Minister) is carefully preparing an effective response to the Palestinian insistence on killing Israelis, I think it's worth waiting a bit if needed. Setting things up so that the Obama administration sees who's insisting on violence and who's being reluctant is also a worthy consideration. As long as sometime soon - say, in the fullness of not much time - something effective is done.

My preference would be to kill the Hamas leaders from the top down, rather than from the rank and file up. But then again, fortunately it isn't my brief.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More things You Can See at a Hospital

About ten days ago I spent a long evening at a hospital, and came back to report. This evening I was there again, for an even longer evening. This time however I had my laptop with me, and can inform you that not only does Shaarei Zedek hospital have free WIFI access in its main building: so does Haddassah. So that's where I read the Mead article recommended in the previous post, and the post itself was written and put up from deep in the bowels of the local ER.

The things you can do with technology these days: 50 billion dollar ponzi schemes, blogging from the weirdest places - as a matter of fact, you can even combine them, as one of the e-mails that came in while we were sitting around contained an excel sheet with a list of doomed philanthropic projects killed by the Madoff.

The ER is divided by an imaginary line right down its middle. On the right are the patients cared for by Sheehan, if I correctly caught her name, a cheerful young woman with the full head cover of a religious Muslim woman. The left side of the line was capably run by Arkadi, apparently a Russian fellow tho without any accent I could hear, chiefly noticable for his proud tatoos all over his forearms. At one point Arkadi explained to an elderly woman who wished to take her husband home already that the ER is the place where they deal with urgent medicine, so it's a place where you have to wait a lot.

Last time I wrote about logistics and politics. Having done that already, here are some quick sketches of the folks; the point being to give some real-life impressions to those of our readers who think this is a place populated with fascistic colonialists or what have you.

So there was the young Arab woman, accompanying an elder woman; the young one was exceptional for her flashy pumps that looked straight from a Las Vegas show. There was the 60-ish man, apparently sort of homeless, who spent the afternoon making as if he was dying, but once he knew he'd be spending the night and meeting a social worker the next morning, he made a startling recuperation, transforming from a dramatically dying patient to a merely kvetching one. He spoke Hebrew with the staff for mundane things, but whenever he needed to be detailed he switched to English; late in the evening we realized his mother tongue is probably German. Or some other, but also German.

At one point a doctor poring over some report asked the room in general what a particular word meant; five different voices from five different directions, two of them patients, all told him it was Russian for nausea. This aggravated an old woman who was lying in a bed speaking English with her Phillipine caretaker: she launched into a speech about how her late husband had been one of the pioneers of ensuring that Modern Hebrew had medical terms for all possible needs, and why were they now reverting to Russian? Later in the evening I chatted with her son, a man in his mid-50s, who told us his father had actually been a physician, not a linguist, but that indeed he had been on a commission that tried to inculcate Hebrew terms. The son, himself a member of the hospital's legal team, admitted ruefully that most doctors most of the time use Latin terminology, in spite of the efforts of his father and his generation.

Around the corner from where we were, so that I couldn't quite see what was going on, a middle aged couple was loudly griping that their child wasn't getting the full attention they felt he needed. Later, when I walked by, I saw that the "child" was in his mid-20s.

It's Hannuka, so there were at least three teams of Bratzlaver Hassids who came though the ER singing, dancing, and handing out sweets with missionary messages. A Brtatzlaver comforting an ill Arab with words about how God wants us all to be happy and positive is not the kind of thing the Guardian will ever tell you about. Or Haaretz, for that matter. Of course, these Bratzlaver characters don't serve in the army, as we all know, except that one of the five of them was wearing his reservist uniform. He was the one who urged a chocolate doughnut on me, by the way, commenting that while the calories and oil might not be the doctor's order, Hannuka over-rides such pettiness.

Later on a Shas-type fellow with a large box of sufganiot (jam buns?) came by; the first person he came up to and made certain was supplied was Sheehan. About that time a young doctor was placing a call to the specialist upstairs. He started out describing a case in Hebrew, but about the middle of the way through they both switched to their preferred language, Arabic. When a very Ashkenazi-looking doctor tried out his Arabic, however, he was treated to quite a rash of ribbing. They told him that maybe by the time he makes full professor he'd be able to string together two sentences.

Eventually it was time to go home. This required some paperwork, obviously, for which I had to disturb two bored clerks who were agreeing that some Jim Carrey film they'd both recently seen was horrible. I didn't catch it's name, so now I can't go to any Jim Carrey films for fear of agreeing with them.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Plan for Israel-Palestine

Walter Russel Mead is considered a serious fellow, I'm told. He has just published an article in the next Foreign Affairs advocating a new way of approaching peace making between Israelis and Palestinians. Shmuel Rosner thinks it's an article that will be widely read in the new administration and may be taken very seriously.

It's an interesting approach and worth the time to read. The first third or so is a thoughtful analysis of the perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians. I can't speak for the Palestinians, but regarding the Israelis I fear Mead concentrates a bit too much on the 20th century and not quite enough on the preceding three millenia, but what he does describe is mostly correct - so his description of the Palestinian position may well be similarly correct.

You've have to be a a callous clod not to accept that the Palestinian narrative is one of tremendous frustration and pain.

Mead's thesis, in a nutshell, is that the Palestinian's sense of grievance centers, above all, on the displacement of the Naqba, and that the only way they'll ever be willing to give Israel peace and security is after it has been satisfactorily addressed.

This is refreshing in that it doesn't pretend that Israel retreating to the lines of 1967 will ever remotely bring peace, which is of course the main conceit of most putative peacemakers and fools, and is convenient as it puts the full onus for lack of peace on Israel. One could say, as most Palestinians do, that the way to redress the injustice of the Naqba is to reverse it, but that's not helpful as it means dismantling Israel one way or the other, and while many enemies of Israel would greet this rapturously, the Israelis won't, which means it can be achieved only through mass destruction and murder. (Western enemies of Israel are unfazed by the thought, but that's why they're not part of the discussion).

Mead's suggestion is that the Palestinian catastrophe was, and therefore remains, the responsibility not only of Israel but of the international community, and therefore the international community must participate in the solution. He details various components of the solution, but at the end of the day he's talking about money, and offering full equality and citizenship in various countries, Arab and Western. Once this has been done, he expects, the Palestinians will be satisfied and will be able to accept partition with Israel and reciprocate with an end to violence.

Is he right in his optimism? I haven't the faintest idea. Will it ever happen? I very much doubt it. I don't see Arab or European countries offering room for tens of thousands of Palestinians each, and even less do I see the same countries paying for a resolution of the conflict in hard cash. So long as Israel pays, fine; if America wants to pitch in, also fine. But the Europeans and Arabs coughing up, say, 30-40 billion $? No way.

Still, it's an interesting read.

PS He also has an interesting comment on the limits of what even the Obama administration will have to accept:
The outlines of a settlement -- regarding borders, security, refugees, and water rights -- are reasonably well understood by all parties, and Obama cannot do much to change them. He cannot expand the Holy Land to give each people the territory it wants; he cannot create another Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, to give each side its own holy site; he cannot move the al Aqsa Mosque away from the Western Wall.

The Most Powerful Words

Jeff Jacoby (doesn't sound like an Episcopalian name to me) has a moving column about a Christmas message from when we were younger.

It occurs to me once again that often (not always, but often) when a public speaker must make the most important statement of their careers, they reach for the words of the Old Testament. Or perhaps it works the other way around: if at a time of great turmoil a speaker uses the right choice of words from the Old Testament, his words are likelier to be etched in the common memory.

Believe in it or not, and even if the closest you can come to it is through a translation, it's still the single most important book in history.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gaza: Alternate Realities

The Guardian tells of the horrors that Israel is inflicting on Gaza. No reason is given for Israel's bizarre cruelty. Near the end of the article, there's an enigmatic mention of the fact that Egypt is colluding with Israel in blockading Gaza, but if there's no explanation of Israel's barbarity, there isn't even acknowledgment that the Egyptians are equally "guilty".

Meanwhile, over at Y-net, the discussion is about the apparent need to invade Gaza in order to halt the rocket attacks from there on Israeli civilians. No mention of the Egyptian blockade here, nor of the Israeli one.

Neither article mentions the fact the electorate of Gaza democratically elected a government that denies Israel's right to exist, nor the other fact that in 2005 (a mere three years ago) Israel unilaterally pulled all its troops and civilians out of Gaza, thereby giving the Palestinians the opportunity to build their own future there, while proving to Israel that leaving the Palestinians alone without settlements leads to peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hamas Decides to Renew Attacks on Civilians

Hamas has calmly decided shooting indiscriminately at civilians in the hope of killing them is better than seeking a policy that would benefit the citizens they rule.

Gaza-based spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, said there was "no possibility" of renewing the truce.

"We at Hamas have the right to respond to any Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people. It's a national duty," he said.

Speaking to Israel's Haaretz newspaper, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the ceasefire had been beneficial.

"Of course the tahadiyeh (calm) was not a mistake," he told Haaretz.

"If the quiet continues, there will be quiet. If the calm breaks, we will operate."

Excusing Murder

Excusing murder and pretending it's something else is a practice many politically minded people engage in when the perpetrators are of their own camp. The history of the 20th century, however, shows that Westerners of the political Left tend to do this on a larger scale than anyone else, perhaps because they also have the propensity to think the world could be truly fixed if only their pet list of policies were followed - a conceit shared with the Nazis on the Right, but generally not typical of the rest of that side of the political divide, which often errs in the opposite direction of expecting the world can't be fixed at all so let's enjoy it as is.

The 21st century isn't looking any better for the political Left, if its first decade is any indicator. Here are two very different stories, both telling the same tale.

Larry Elder notices the wide-spread hypocrisy regarding that shoe-throwing fellow the left and some of the Arab world is so agog about.
The violence-hating al-Zeidi, according to reports, displays a picture of the "revolutionary" Che Guevara on his wall. Cuban émigré Humberto Fontova, author of "Exposing the Real Che Guevara," credits Guevara with 14,000 executions. Witnesses say this icon for many radicals personally murdered hundreds -- including children and pregnant women. But we digress.
Meanwhile, Michael C. Moynihan reviews Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, by Bernard-Henri Levy.

Lévy denounces left-wing activists such as the Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who advised Westerners to support the insurgency in Iraq, as members of “the fake left”—because, he argues, the real left would never excuse barbarism. The conspiratorial view of Western governments’ foreign policy motives, the warnings of impending fascism, and the insistence on viewing all world events through the lens of anti-imperialism, Lévy argues, are handcuffing the anti-totalitarian left. He is doubtless right that shoehorning most every geopolitical dispute into a reductionist argument about the appetites of the Empire (and to his opponents, there is only one empire) “is no longer analysis but magic.” Anti-imperialism, a cause he clearly associates himself with, risks descending into “conspiracy-mongering.” For Lévy, it is difficult to divine imperialist intent in NATO’s intervention in Serbia (which many on the European left opposed, to his irritation) or to view Israel’s war with Lebanon as a quest for territorial expansion, without even a mention of its theocratic enemies.

Sometimes I wonder of it isn't simply a matter of growing up, becoming an adult, and realizing the extent to which the world really isn't simple, and can't be made "all right". Moynihan hints at this in his review, noting how Levy's biography of coming to his senses isn't really excusable - and, I'd add, reflects his growing ability to face a reality that was there all along:

The publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago in 1973, he writes, “shook our generation to its core.” Well, it shouldn’t have. Reliable information had long existed outlining the brutality and barbarism of both Leninism and Stalinism. (The God That Failed was published in 1949, for instance, and reliable information about the Great Purge of the 1930s had long been available.) The Khmer Rouge’s genocide in Cambodia, which began in 1975, is also presented as a turning point. “Cambodia is when everything unravels,” Lévy writes, “and the age finally realizes what’s what.” And while “not everyone believes it at first”—because they simply have no desire to believe—“the news is verified and spread, it comes as a shock.” Again, one wonders why, this late in the game, mass killings by dictatorships of the proletariat would provoke any surprise.

Too Many Women...

Kadima's rank and file yesterday picked their list of candidates for the upcoming elections. They were the first party to pull this off using an online electronic voting system, which proves that it's usually a good idea with computer products to let someone else go first and fail so you can learn from their mistakes and look good. Anyway.

Most Israeli parties that aren't orthodox or Arab usually devise a system of reserving a minimum number of slots for women candidates, to ensure they don't end up looking like male chauvinist pigs (the Arabs apparently don't care, and the orthodox are proud of it). So also Kadima. Alas, the voters of Kadima dramatically overshot, when they picked four women for the first ten slots. So this morning, according to the Hebrew version of the story here, (no English translation), the men who were shunted off to the bottom of the list are mumbling that the women who got into the reserved slots in the second batch of ten should be thrown out to make room for more men. Heh.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Browbeating Doesn't Work

Heard of those pesky pirates off Somalia? Well, the powerful nations of the world have decided it's time to frighten them out of their wits, so they go back to being nomads or whatever.

From the deck of an Italian destroyer cruising the pirate-infested waters off Somalia’s coast, [the admiral] has all the modern tools at his fingertips — radar, sonar, infrared cameras, helicopters, a cannon that can sink a ship 10 miles away — to take on a centuries-old problem that harks back to the days of schooners and eye patches.

“Our presence will deter them,” the admiral said confidently.

Alas, the pirates aren't being deterred:

But the pirates — true to form — remain unfazed.

“They can’t stop us,” said Jama Ali, one of the pirates...

He explained how he and his men hid out on a rock near the narrow mouth of the Red Sea and waited for the big gray ships with the guns to pass before pouncing on slow-moving tankers. Even if foreign navies nab some members of his crew, Mr. Jama said, he is not worried. He said his men would probably get no more punishment than a free ride back to the beach, which has happened several times.

“We know international law,” Mr. Jama said.

Armies (in this case, navies), get their job done by destroying the ability of their enemies to to do their job. Putting on shows, dancing in war feathers, rattling sabers: those are all nice but can't replace the dirty part of the job. To kill enough of the enemy to force him to desist. This is a lesson Israel learned the hard way a few years ago, when the Palestinians refused to respect our advantage in gear and insisted on murdering our civilians until the IDF finally decided to kill lots of their armed men. The navies of the West will have no choice but to learn the same lesson off Somalia.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Beloved and a Hated Wife

Deuteronomy 21 verse 15:
כי-תהיינה לאיש שתי נשים, האחת אהובה והאחת שנואה, וילדו-לו בנים, האהובה והשנואה; והיה הבן הבכור, לשניאה

This is translated, incorrectly, as
If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love (New International Version);
Fortunately, the King James version has it right, with:
If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:

The Gemara asks how is it possible that a husband's feelings towards his wife might be of such interest to God, that he needs to rely on it to rule, one way or the other, about the status of the sons? Rather, the meaning of the verse must be that the wife is beloved or hated to God - and that is measured by the type of marriage. If it's a marriage condoned by the rules, it is blessed and the wife is loved; if it's a forbidden marriage (e.g incestuous or other) it is not, and the wife is unloved (though the status of the son, in this matter, is unaffected).

Kiddushin 78a

This thread began, and is explained, here.

There's More Money in Law-Abiding

If you haven't read World of Our Fathers. The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life they Found and Made - well, then do. Go buy it for yourself as a Kwanzaa present, or buy it for someone else who can be trusted to give it back to you. Trust me on this one.

Somewhere in the book Irving Howe makes a memorable point about the Jews and the Mafia. It turns out a small minority of the millions of Jewish immigrants found their way into the ranks of the Mafia (Meir Lansky was merely the most famous of them). Unlike the Italians, however, the Jewish mafiosi were never followed by their sons, nor by anyone else's Jewish sons. The second generation, the sons of the immigrants, you see, figured out that one could make more money legally than even the Capo do Capi was likely to make, and live longer, so there wasn't any point in joining the Mafia.

Well. Apparently some of the third generation fellows either didn't read Howe, or didn't figure out his reasoning. Not that they re-joined the Mafia, mind you: the money still isn't good enough. But still.

Doing Something Right

An irate Iraqi fellow yesterday threw his shoes (both of them, one after the other) at the President of the United States, during a press conference he held with the Iraqi Prime Minister. Much to the glee of the media, of course. Saddam, interestingly, never held open press conferences, so we can't say what would have happened had someone tried such an antic in his day, but I think it's a safe bet that prior to the American invasion of Iraq, had anyone ever dared to throw even one shoe in the general direction of a poster with Saddam's picture, he would have been tortured to death. In the best case scenario everyone would then have shunned his family for fear of any taint of association.

Andrew Sullivan, predictably, sees this differently than I do. Very differently.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Terrorism at the New York Times

Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor of the NYT, has an interesting piece about the use of the term "terrorist". In the past media people did everything possible not to use the word. It was felt to be too judgmental, and it opened them to criticism by people who justified the terror. Of course refraining from using the term, which was mostly replaced by the annodyne "militant", was itself judgmental and morally obtuse, but they preferred that. The whole thing was of course part of a fundamental process of questioning the possibility of the very existence of objective truth and its corollaries, right and wrong.

The spread of Islamic murderousness this decade has focused some minds, and ever more people are not willing to accept a moral equivalence that refuses to recognize the nature of the danger and the simple evil of the murderers. This, Hoyt tells us, has caused the writers at the Times to be willing - however gingerly and hesitatingly - to apply the term when it really would be indefensible not to. In the recent attacks in Mumbai, for example.

This is a step in the right direction, but far from enough. Moreover, Hoyt's description of the editorial deliberations at the paper prove that the fundamental issue is still not clear:

Susan Chira, the foreign editor, said The Times may eventually put that label on Lashkar, but reporters are still trying to learn more about it. “Our instinct is to proceed with caution, not rushing to label any group with the word terrorist before we have a deeper understanding of its full dimensions,” she said.

The idea apparently is that such a potent term, even if it's now once again permitted, cannot be used except for black-and-white cases (i.e Mumbai), but not for complex ones such as Hamas:

To the consternation of many, The Times does not call Hamas a terrorist organization, though it sponsors acts of terror against Israel. Hamas was elected to govern Gaza. It provides social services and operates charities, hospitals and clinics. Corbett said: “You get to the question: Somebody works in a Hamas clinic — is that person a terrorist? We don’t want to go there.” I think that is right.

Let me suggest that the distinction should be moral or legal, not political. Morality is always a matter of intent and choices, and any legal system recognizes this. In order for the taking of a life to be murder, there has to be the intent to kill irrespective of the acts of the victim. When the killing was not intended, even when it was the result of stupidity or sloppiness, it's manslaughter not murder, and of course, killing in self defense isn't even criminal.

This simple self evident truth can be applied to any context impartially. A man arming himself and purposefully and randomly killing people where his own life is not in immediate danger, is a murderer. When he kills as an act of politics he's a terrorist; when he kills to force a group out of a territory he's an ethnic cleanser; when he kills to eliminate an ethnic or national group, he's a genocidaire. (Terrorist is not the worst one can be). This is true whether the man is an Israeli shooting Muslims at prayer, or an ex-serviceman blowing up a building, or a gunman shooting commuters at a train station. You don't need to take time to research his political agenda and decide if you can agree with it a wee bit or not at all.

Maybe Augustine Wasn't...?

Paula Fredriksen of Boston University claims that contrary to accepted wisdom, St. Augustine was for the Jews after he was against them. She admits that this change of his mind seems to have escaped the notice of all those subsequent Christians who cited him (along with many others) as they merrily murdered Jews in the ensuing 16 centuries or so. Still, in a new book she's just published she apparently demonstrates that those violent folks were not doing justice to what Augustine really said or meant. Being a historian, she feels the historical truth is not only interesting, it's also important, and might contribute to inter-religious discussions.

Due disclosure requires I tell that I know Paula, and she's a serious person always worth listening to, so her book should be taken seriously. So I've added it to the (alas, very long) list of things I've got to read, and once I've done so perhaps I'll come back and report to what extent she convinced me.

(And note that the book is available in Kindle - a technology I've duscussed which appears not to be going away).

Friday, December 12, 2008

What if Israel were to Save the Environment?

It looks like America's three gigantic car makers are in danger of going under. This is a prospect that should frighten us all, since it will be a major blow to the already reeling American economy, and that does no-one in the world any good.

I profess no particular understanding of the issue. Apparently, however, the root cause of the Big Three's problems is not that there's no market for cars. The Japanese seem to be chugging along. And these folks over here are convinced they're on the threshold of a major (as in "large") breakthrough with cars that save energy and are good for the environment.

Wouldn't it be sweet if a group of Israelis, using Israel as exhibit number one, were to lead a dramatic change in the way we damage our environment? Wouldn't it be a pleasure to read George Monboit's column, say, over at the Guardian, admitting that those colonial reactionary thugs showed us all the way? I suggest a title: "Al Gore did the slide show, but Israel fixed the problem".

Goldberg on Rosner

Jeffrey Goldberg interviews Shmuel Rosner. Two intelligent journalists and bloggers; in this post Rosner does most of the talking, but I'm hard-put to find anything to disagree with him about.

Someday I should reorganize the list of blogs I link to from this page so that it reflects the blogs I actually read, rather than the ones I inserted in the appropriate template long ago. Goldberg and Rosner definately should be on the list. Rosner, by the way, is part of the long decline of Haaretz. He is one of those rarities, a journalist who really knows his stuff. How many journalists are there out there who can routinely back up their interpretation of the story in front of them with the literature that explains it? Not many. So when Haaretz recently decided they no longer need Rosner (and we won't even mention the person they replaced him with) he went to the Jerusalem Post.

The Return of Sovereignty

Long-time readers will know that I'm hardly a fan of the ideology of subordinating national sovereignty to unaccountable international forums and their penchant for inventing so-called international law (see my "International Law" tag for previous posts). So it's nice to see that Germany - one of the main advocates of this set of bad ideas - is backtracking. Apparently, so long as the going was fine, Germany was eager to put Europe and everyone else first; when the going got tough, however, they want first to take of care of their own.

I'm not certain each of the new German policies is to be greeted, but the overarching direction certainly is.

Meanwhile, over in the US of A, home of George Bush the unilateralist, they may have just elected a president who's entire transformative program may be to ensure and redouble the strength of America's uniqueness. Here's hoping.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Things You can See at a Hospital

I spent many hours yesterday in the emergency room at one of our larger hospitals, accompanying someone who fortunately seems mostly alright. Being there for hours demonstrates why at any given season there's a TV series running about an emergency room. Though frankly, I'm more impressed by the logistics and planing of the systems. A large hospital has a few thousand employees, it can't be fewer; there must be hundreds of types of jobs involved, with a wade array of necessary training programs and qualifications, from cooks and janitors to doctors and administrators to technicians to IT folks to accountants, fundraisers, legal types, nurses, drivers, librarians, therapists, social workers..... Not to mention the interfaces with external, independent entities such as the Magen David Adom ambulance service that delivers well-bandaged bruised people and hurting but exited prospective mothers. And the whole thing works, and lives are saved - remember, it's not a Wall Street firm or Walmart: if it doesn't work, people die, immediately. Very impressive.

Since Israel has a fine medical system in a pretty small country, there are dozens of such places, with many tens of thousands of employees, if not more. This is the mainstream of the society, not some lunatic circus in Hebron or so-called Human Rights Peace Group with 4 employees and too much European money.

Which is why from time to time I feel the obligation to repeat one of the best kept secrets of this country: that there's no discrimination. The patients are Jews, Arabs, tourists, foreign workers and whoever isn't well. The staff - from janitors to top physicians, are Jews, Arabs, and whoever is qualified for the job. Are there more Arab janitors than Jewish ones? Perhaps. Are there more Jewish physicians than Arabs? Yep. But the explanations for those disparities have to do with factors well beyond the law. As a matter of fact the proportion of Arab patients is higher than their proportion in the populace, which is part of the same (complicated) equation.

A Fun History Lesson

Someone who's worried about the length of the waiting period for Obama has dug up a trick Woodrow Wilson invented to short-circuit the process. The current political agenda is not important, and indeed, by February 6th 2009 no-one will remember there was ever even an issue: but the history lesson is fun.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Things You Can See at a Wedding

A few weeks ago I wrote about an interesting wedding. Last night we were at an even more interesting one. Actually, from an anthropological perspective, it was one of the strangest convocations I've been at in years.

The bride's maternal grandparent are Holocaust survivors who started from scratch in Tel Aviv of the late 1940s, and climbed to middle-class comfort in one of those rather dreary towns where such people clustered. Like her paternal grandparents, they were what used to be called national religious, which was the Israeli version of the American Modern Orthodox. Her parents are both teachers. The family lives on a settlement, and is there for ideological reasons, not for the cheaper housing. Still, in spite of being on the right wing of the settlers, in summer 2000 they began planning to move; as they told me at the time: "We're in the West Bank to ensure it stays in Israel; if the democratically elected government of Israel decides the West Bank won't be in Israel, we'll be devastated but leave, of course."

The bride also spent three formative years in California, which adds spice to her story. As her cousin remarked to me, "She's the queen of not fitting into anyone's pigeonholes".

The groom's mother comes from a family of very classy, highly educated Jews from Morocco and has at least three famous professors for uncles, including an expert on Arabic. So that's already an interesting twist: it's the Moroccans who are the elite, not the Europeans. The grooms parents, whoever, seemed mostly identified by the fact that they've discovered religion, and are members of a hassidic court that specializes in "retrieving lost Jews". To an outsider, they look like hardcore haredi - but not to the trained eye, which was significant because in the bride's family there is a large wing that is really haredi, and they were also represented at the wedding, eying the newcomers warily.

The groom himself is not haredi of any sort, he's a career soldier in one of those super secret units that get talked about only in hushed tones; but he is orthodox, tho I'm not certain which path he took to get there.

So the crowd yesterday was made up of haredi, psuedo-haredi, old-style national religious, new-fangled settler-born-religious from the infamous noar hagvaot who have renounced the State of Israel for its willingness to negotiate with Palestinians all the way to New Age youth who'd look perfectly at home on the campus of Berkley; you had non-uniformed soldiers from all across the social spectrum; regular secular folks (the type who put on a kippa at a religious wedding) and aggressive secular folks (the type who won't); a handful of European-style Modern orthodox in smart suits or high heels depending on gender. There was a young fellow who was demonstrating his Yemenite origins by dressing like his great grandfather did, and another one who was trying to do the same only with modern attire. Normal, run-of-the-mill regular folks such as I pride myself on being - we were a tiny minority, and eyed one another glumly.

Music is of course central to a wedding so there was a band. Six guys, looking more or less like the rest of the crowd; noteworthy among them was a fellow with a microscopic crew-cut, a large knitted white kippa of the sort preferred by Hamas, who was playing the Scottish bagpipes. I kid you not. Honest. And dancing- hours of it, exuberant, men separate from women except for the bridal couple who were on both sides(and at one point the bride was dancing with the video cameraman while he filmed them at it: there was no video camerawoman). Haredi dancing with bareheaded secular Tev-Aviv types, and everyone else in between. Of course, at one point the dancers were doing Ukrainian Cossack dances, as is customary at Ashkenazi orthodox weddings. The music included Carlebach - created in the 1960s by the hippie scion of a rabbinic family from Hamburg - but also any other type of music you might think of, with one rule: the words of all the songs were traditional. Meaning, verses from the Bible.

So to cap this description, image hundreds of denizens of this menagerie dancing together to the words from Psalm 102 verse 14:
You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.

Tho of course, the Hebrew original is better:
אתה תקום, תרחם ציון: כי-עת לחננה, כי-בא מועד

Yes, the time seems to have come.