Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vocal Pontificating

I'm not going to have any time for blogging today. Fear not, however! This brave new world we live in enables a person from Virginia whom I've never personally met to connect me to a fellow from Melbourne I've never met to interview me and put it up on the Internet so readers from Jerusalem whom I've never met can listen. Or not. As you wish. Still, think about it before you turn elsewhere: instead of reading me pontificating, you can listen. Even on your iPod.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mondowiess Expose

Jay Adler has a long, thoughtful and empathic analysis of the Mondoweiss folks. It hinges on Jewish identity, and how it can function or malfunction. Jay's reading is as compelling as it is, precisely because he more or less shares a starting point with the Mondoweiss folks - though of course he then took a different road. Read the whole thing.
Can we say all this of Mondoweiss? No, we cannot. Not really. For while Mondoweiss may at times espouse these positions, none of them are the end it seeks to serve, not even the ultimate end of a just settlement and a lasting peace. In conflict, a just settlement recognizes the legitimate desires of all parties, not the moral claim of only one. But the active agents behind Mondoweiss do not believe that Israel, or the Jewish people in relation to Israel, has just desires. Horowitz does not support the existence of a Jewish state. Blumenthal, like him, believes that Zionism (Jewish nationalism) – in apparent contradistinction to any other nationalism – is inherently racist. Weiss, a deeply anti-Semitic work in progress, in his haziest, most narcotic fantasy of peace, envisions as its ecstatic end not the peace, but the end of Israel.

American Philanthropy in Israel

There's a fellow who has been writing me recently to convince me, I suppose, of his opinion. His thesis is that American Jews should be donating to worthy causes near home and in their own communities, while Israel should wean itself of its dependence on them.

It's a compelling argument, and I can see his point. Except he's missing most of the picture.

The national budget weaving its way through the Knesset these days is for almost $64billion. I've spent the past half hour or so Googling to find how much American Jews give annually to Israeli philanthropic causes (investing, supporting one's children who are in Israel, maintaining an apartment here and so on, don't count as philanthropy). Or for that matter, all Jews outside Israel. I'm somewhat out of my depth, and short of spare time, so I haven't found the number. But by all accounts I have found, it lies somewhere between 1-5% of the total. Probably closer to the lower sum.

Which means at least 95% of the financial cost of having a Jewish State is covered by the people who live in it. (Not to mention other types of cost, such as defending it). This is as it should be: states and their citizens are meant to cover their costs. But it does raise a different question: if the entire effort of having a Jewish State and 95% of its cost is borne by the 45% of the Jews who live in it, in what way do the others participate? Not by coming here often, alas: something like 80% of America's Jews have never been here, not even once.

I agree with my correspondent that philanthropy, or what used to be called "check-book Zionism", is not the best way for America's Jews to participate in the most important Jewish effort of the past 2,000 years. Investing here, coming often, owning an apartment and spending time here most years, sending each child to study one year at one of our fine universities or yeshivas – all these and many other options are preferable to the check-book variant of Zionism. But they're also all more time consuming, more of an effort, and probably costlier in an immediate way, though eventually they give far better returns.

Philanthropy is a time honored tradition in Judaism. If a majority of America's Jews have decided to marginalize themselves from the Zionist project, I wouldn't try to break one of the most important bonds they still do have (if they do). They need the connection.

Jews Can Be Our Worst Enemies

A Dutch organization whose aim is to convince Dutchmen to boycott Israel has been rebuked by a local "truth in advertising" watchdog for, how shall we put it, fibbing.

So we've got some folks blatantly lying so as to hurt the Jewish State. I think that's a reasonable early warning sign of antisemitism, don't you? I continue to think so, even after reading the item all the way through:
Peace chairman Joost Hardeman, who is Jewish and says he supports Israel
but opposes its occupation of Palestinian land, told Haaretz earlier this year
that he rejected the center's allegations. "We do not propose a comprehensive
ban on Israeli goods, and we are opposed to this," he said. "We only demand that
consumers be made aware, through labeling, of the origins of the goods they are

Khaled Meshaal, Peacenik

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal responds to the positions of Obama and Netanyahu:
"We reject the position taken by Netanyahu... on east Jerusalem, settlement activity, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and his vision of a demilitarised Palestinian state deprived of sovereignty over its land, air space and territorial waters," Meshaal said.Meshaal said Hamas opposed Israel as a Jewish state because that would amount to the denial of the rights of the six million Palestinian refugees."The enemy's leaders call for a so-called Jewish state is a racist demand that is no different from calls by Italian Fascists and Hitler's Nazism," Mashaal said.
This is actually mildly funny, since the Hamas Charter blames the Jews for World War Two (along with WWI and the French Revolution). It's also not in any way new; I'm linking to it not to inform y'all of something you didn't already know, but simply to record the re-iteration of these well-worn positions after all those speeches.
(Via Jeffrey Goldberg)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

American Pressure on Israel can Cost Lives

I'm having a second look at Elliot Abram's article "Hillary is Wrong".

There is nothing in it that we didn't already know, of course, yet let's look at this section:
In June 2003, Mr. Sharon stood alongside Mr. Bush, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at Aqaba, Jordan, and endorsed Palestinian statehood publicly: "It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state." At the end of that year he announced his intention to pull out of the Gaza Strip.
The U.S. government supported all this, but asked Mr. Sharon for two more things. First, that he remove some West Bank settlements; we wanted Israel to show that removing them was not impossible. Second, we wanted him to pull out of Gaza totally -- including every single settlement and the "Philadelphi Strip" separating Gaza from Egypt, even though holding on to this strip would have prevented the smuggling of weapons to Hamas that was feared and has now come to pass. Mr. Sharon agreed on both counts.
These decisions were political dynamite, as Mr. Sharon had long predicted to us.
Noteworthy points:

1. Sharon, like Barak before him, publicly accepted Palestinian statehood, but this made it no more likely to happen.

2. The Bush administration (Bush!) pressured Israel to go beyond what it intended, and Israel complied. This made Palestinian statehood no more likely than before, since the fundamental Palestinian demands are incompatible with Zionism, and therefore won't happen.

3. The Bush administration forced Israel to take severe risks, namely leaving the strip of territory along the Gaza-Egyptian border. The idea was that only by totally leaving Gaza could Israel claim it had really left, and this was regarded as neccessary for the rise of a functioning Palestinian quasi-state in Gaza. The hope was that the Palestinians would indeed take advantage of the opportunity, and it would be possible to build on it. The danger was that the Palestinians would not try to get their act together and would prefer to continue waging war against Israeli civilians.

4. After the Bush administration forced Israel to take the risk, and the calculation misfired, there was no cost to the Americans. Israelis died, and lots of Palestinians, but no Americans. On the contrary: the Americans held an election, replaced their administration, and the new one is repeating the mistakes of its predecessor.

The Palestinians Missed Again

Ehud Olmert and Saeb Erekat both agree that Olmet made on offer to the Palestinians in September 2008 that goes way beyond what any Israeli prime minister ever offered, and the Palestinians didn't respond.
At the end of Olmert's term he tried one last maneuver in an effort to secure a legacy. Olmert told me he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008 and unfurled a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories. He says he offered Abbas 93.5 to 93.7 percent of the Palestinian territories, along with a land swap of 5.8 percent and a safe-passage corridor from Gaza to the West Bank that he says would make up the rest. The Holy Basin of Jerusalem would be under no sovereignty at all and administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. Regarding refugees, Olmert says he rejected the right of return and instead offered, as a "humanitarian gesture," a small number of returnees, although "smaller than the Palestinians wanted—a very, very limited number."

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed that Olmert had made the offer. "It's very sad," Erekat said. "He was serious, I have to say." Erekat said that he and Abbas studied the materials and began to formulate a response, coordinating with the Americans. But time eventually ran out. A few months after Olmert presented his offer, war erupted in Gaza. Shortly after that, Olmert was out of power.
The line about how time ran out is unconvincing. In September 2008 Olmert was about to be replaced by Livni; that this didn't happen was not something anyone could have counted on at the time. Basically, there was an offer on the table that gave the Palestinians considerably more than the Israeli public intended, made by a prime minister who had nothing to lose since his political career was over, and the Palestinians dithered. They always do: either because they're incompetent, or because they'll never give up on their precious right of return – and we'll never allow it. Which means they're holding out for what they can't have, and in the meantime they live without what they could have.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Andrew Sullivan, Isolationist

Andrew Sullivan quotes a reader, and agrees:

A reader writes:
I just glanced at the clock and realized it's 5pm and I've done almost nothing related to my job today -- I've been clicking through link after link, reading and watching all I can from the reports trickling out of Iran. I am so overwhelmed with emotion I can't find the words to properly describe it. My heart reels for these people -- at the same time, I am almost dumbfounded by their courage and bravery and ideals. It's an incredible thing to watch history unfold in real time. I feel confident that one day my children will see these photos and read these accounts in their history books, and I take some solace in the fact that history is on the side of these protesters. But as the day winds down, I find that the emotion I feel most vividly is frustration.
I can't stop thinking about my visit to a concentration camp in Germany a few summers ago and the raw emotion I felt walking slowly down the hall in to the gas chambers. I have some German-Jewish heritage so the moment was especially poignant for me, but you didn't have to be a Jew to appreciate the significance of the surroundings. I remember asking myself over and over again how the world let something like this happen - how good people could stand by and watch as people were slaughtered. I know the comparison isn't fair -- and I know that it's oversimplifying the situation to say that good people are standing by doing nothing. Still, besides turning my twitter avatar green and donating money to
tehranbureau.com (god, those sound even sillier writing them out) I don't know what I can do. I know the answer is nothing. It just doesn't seem like enough.

I understand the feeling. My own sense of helplessness is abated by blogging manically. It's all I know to do. But watching a boot come down on a human face in real time is ... well more than frustrating. But this is the fallen world we inhabit in which power always trumps freedom if it is ruthless enough in the short term. What we look for is the long term, the arc of history, and the rightness of the cause. Our job cannot be to end tyranny or evil, for that is impossible and the attempt can be counter-productive. But we can expose it, explain it, witness it and through the march of time chip way at it.

So that's what it has come to. The American Left, traumatized by the Bush years, has receded to the cynical and egotistical isolationism of the American Right in the 1930s. Yes, there's lots of evil out there, but no, there's nothing efective we can do about it, so we'll live our fine lives over here and pity the poor folks over there.

I'm not saying one should always set out to slay whatever dragons can be seen on the horizon. Yet it seems to me the story of American policy between 1939 and 2004 was an attempt to find the right balance between effectively promoting freedom and destructively not suceeding. No longer, if it depends on the people in Andrew's camp. They'll have compassion, yes, and green tweets, but don't expect much more from them.

Andrew Sullivan Misses Some Points

Andrew Sullivan doesn't allow comments on his blog.The best you can hope for is that he'll cut a section from a letter you send him, and post it annonymously, as "A reader writes".

Well, yesterday I wrote him, not something I often do. While my readership is but a tiny fraction of his, you folks can see it, no censorship here.

Hi Andrew –

Your link to Mark Lynch is a bit problematic.

Yes, it's likely American pressure is causing Israel to open many roadblocks.

No, it didn't start with Obama. No conceivable American pressure would have made any difference if opening roadblocks had immediately enabled terrorist attacks, as was the case for much of this decade. There has been significant improvement in the PA's ability – and WILLINGNESS – to combat their own thugs; this has enabled Israel to open roadblocks without endangering innocent lives. This Palestinian change of tack should be attributed to their fear of Hamas taking over the West Bank, and also to the efforts of the Bush administration. I realize it will be hard for you to accept that the Bush administration did anything right, but this is a clear case, and it has been discussed in the Israeli media repeatedly over the past year or 18 months – long before Obama was president.

The efforts of the Obama administration, so far, are peculiar. True, pressure on the Netanyahu government is yielding some results. Yet the potential of this pressure, at its greatest, will be to bring the Israeli positions back to where they were when President Clinton dictated his final terms for peace on December 24th 2000, which Israel accepted; probably even that is no longer achievable, since the experience of this decade has taught a broad consensus of Israelis never to accept any significant Palestinian right of return. Meanwhile, even if the Obama administration pushes Israel all the way back to December 2000, the Palestinians – as we all remember, even if you've forgotten – rejected Clinton's diktat. Unless the Obama administration puts massive pressure on the Palestinians to change their fundamental positions, no peace is possible. So far, such pressure is not in evidence.

A comment on the 600 roadblocks Lynch mentions. They don't exist. I wrote about this recently here, but you should look at my post only so as to reach the United Nations report behind it. Even according to their own data, the 600-roadblock story is counterfactual. Or put in simpler language: it's a lie. A widespread lie, true, one repeated so often that many gullible people repeat it thoughtlessly since "it must be true", but it's still a lie. And the propagators either know it (Palestinian and UN), or should know better (Andrew Sullivan).

Finally, I see you're deeply troubled by the claims of the Iranian regime that the CIA shot Neda. I can understand why you're troubled, but I'm mystified by the surprise in your voice. Since when it is news that regimes that are willing to murder people are also willing to lie about it? Isn't that one of the main stories of our age? Yet why should we castigate only the vicious regimes, when even you, Andrew Sullivan, participate in dissemination of a Big Lie about Israel?

Israeli Concessions, American Ones, and no Palestinian Ones

The New York Times has a reasonable article about the steps Israel is taking to improve conditions for the Palestinians on the West Bank. Reasonable, in that at least the article doesn't pretend it all happened because of Obama. No more than reasonable, however, because the article somehow manages not to mention the efforts of the Bush administration, personified by General Dayton, who has been mentoring the PA security forces for quite some time and who must bear at least some credit for their growing abilities; without that happening Israel wouldn't be lifting its own hand.

The part I most liked was this:
But Palestinian officials said that the Israeli measures did not go far enough. The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday that they did not meet Palestinian expectations, and that “what is required is a full cessation of military raids in Palestinian Authority areas.”

It was always thus: Israel doesn't meet Palestinian expectations.

At the bottom of the NYT piece is a link to Elliot Abram's op-ed at the Wall Street Journal. According to Abrams, who was there, the Bush administration did reach understandings with Sharon's government recognizing that the largest settlements near the border would remain in Israel (implying there might be land swaps for them). Abrams thereby contradicts Hillary Clinton who says such understandings never happened.

What surprises me about the whole issue is the assumption - nay, certainty - that no-one's keeping track so people, even the American Secretary of State, can say whatever they wish because no-one knows enough to call them on their fibs. I mean, we're talking about 2004-2005, not the twelfth century. The day before yesterday. Some of us are old enough to remember what was happening four years ago, and we don't need Elliot Abrams to write in the newspapers to know that Hillary Clinton is not telling the truth, unless it might be in some lawyerly-hairsplitting meaning.

The funny part, of course, is that Hillary's husband Bill, once President of the United States, had the same position when on December 24th 2000 he dictated his terms of peace to the Palestinians and Israelis: That the large settlements near the border stay put. Buy hey, that was a very very long time ago, almost nine years, and it's too much to expect that anyone know facts that old.

Predictably, the folks from the Palestinians-are-always-right brigade are linking to a rebuttal of Abrams. It's over here, should you be interested. It left me unconvinced, but maybe you'll be swayed. In any case, the key point to remember is the distinction between outposts and far-flung settlements, on the one hand, and large settlements near the line, on the other. The first two ultimately have no future as even Netanyahu's government implicitely admits; the second type will never be dismantled, as even the people of the Geneva Accord recognized in writing. How President Obam and Secretay Clinton, two highly intelligent people, have managed to lose sight of this, I cannot say.

A Booming Economy!

I've been reading the Economist, off and on, for 40 years. While they often have interesting things to say on many topics, their primary interest is economics. More often than not, when their reporters file stories about places there will be a noticable emphasis on its economics.

Not when it comes to Israel, of course. While I have no doubt that they have reported on Israel's economy once or twice in the past half century, I can't offhand remember ever having noticed. When they report on Israel they talk about politics.

So it remains for others to do. Here's a nice article in Haaretz. Synopsis: While much of the world economy and world's economies are sagging groaning and creaking, Israel's is doing admirably well. The country's economic leadership has mostly got things right, and its entrepreneurs and businessmen are taking fine advantage. True, the political leadership of the country is a disaster (it's the same people, by the way), and the crushing burden of being at war for a century doesn't help - but apparently it doesn't harm much, either. Israel's GDP per capita ranking is about 20th worldwide as is.

Remove the need for that gigantic army and everything that goes with it, and we'll shoot to the top of the table within 5 years, if you ask me: move over Norway.

Next time you hear the boycott-Israel brigade enthuse about the tomatos they aren't buying, you might want gently to tell them Israelis are largly a hard-working bunch who've faced far worse adversity without blinking.

Geneva vs. Haifa

Remember that giant atomic contraption built under the Swiss-French border that cost gazillions and didn't work? Well, I don't profess to understand any of this article, but the first two paragraphs were fun:

WHEN the Large Hadron Collider, a giant particle accelerator near Geneva, was switched on last September, the press was full of scare stories about the risk of it producing a tiny black hole that would, despite its minuscule size, quickly swallow the Earth. In fact, the first test runs could never have made such an object. And, just over a week later, the LHC broke and has not yet been repaired. But it is true that one of the things its operators would like to create, if and when they get it going again, are miniature versions of those fabled astronomical objects whose intense gravity means no light can escape them.

Among their reasons for this aspiration is a wish to examine Stephen Hawking’s famous but untested prediction that, despite their famous blackness, black holes do actually emit radiation, including light. But if they do not get the LHC running pronto, they may find themselves beaten to the prize of producing this so-called Hawking radiation by an experiment being carried out on a desktop in a laboratory in Haifa.

Save the Planet the Human Way: Forward

Lots of the more vocal Cassandras insist we must dramatically impair our standards of living so as to Save the Planet. (The Guardian, predictably, is a hotbed of these folks). True, human nature being what it is, this is both impossible and vicious. Impossible because it contradicts human nature - never an obstacle to the millenarians, but still true. Vicious because even if it were somehow to happen, most of the suffering would inevitably be bourn by the poor; the poor in the developed world, and the poor in the rest of the world. Not a problem, say the Cassandras: we'll have to force the rich to ante up.

Which is why it will never happen, of course. Even if it would save the planet, which is debatable.

The traditionally human way of doing this is by moving forward, into technologies that impact the world less while offering more.

Building a smart electric grid, for example, which will probably reduce the use of electricity by 10% while bringing vast benefits.

Once these issues are ironed out, though, the smart grid could provide the platform for a huge range of innovation and applications in energy, just as the internet did in computing. “I think that an open, standards-based network could give birth to a thousand new companies,” says Eric Dresselhuys of Silver Spring Networks, a firm based in California that works with utilities to implement smart-grid networks. A smarter grid will not only help people save energy or use it more efficiently, but will also promote the adoption of all kinds of green technologies, including wind, solar and plug-in vehicles. “It’s the platform that allows for the transformation of one of the largest and most important industries in the world to take place,” says Mr Dresselhuys.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hamas is Nasty

Do you ever get the feeling Hamas (and others of its ilk) use the terminology of human rights and democracy cynically? When it serves them, they're all for it and swear by it, but if it doesn't serve them, not? If so, you won't be surprised to hear this story (Hebrew only).

B'tselem, an Israeli so-called "human rights" group which focuses mostly on Israeli infringments and rarely on Palestinian ones, to the extent many of us find them factually challenged, has published an ad in the main West Bank newspaper (Al Quds) calling for the exchange of Gilad Shalit for many Palestinians held by Israel. Shalit was kidnapped three years ago yesterday, and contrary to international law and all that, no-one has seen him since, his family has no way of communicating with him, the Red Cross never visits him, he has no access to any sort of legal proceedings, nothing.

Why in the West Bank, you ask? After all, Shalit is being held (probably) in Gaza?

Because in Hamas-controlled Gaza B'tselem wasn't allowed to publish their ad. Asked to comment, the spokesperson of B'Tselem had no official explanation, but said that they assume ("anachnu manichem") that in Gaza the press isn't very free.

Homosexual Rights in Israel

The annual Gay Parade will march this afternoon in Jerusalem. No counter demonstrations are expected, probably because the Haredi community is collecting its powder for the large demonstration they're planning for Saturday afternoon against a municipal parking lot that will be opened near their neighborhood; this is turning into the first major test of the political mettle of our new mayor, Nir Barkat. The Gay Parade is a distraction so will be ignored.

Personally, I don't know what the Gay Parade is for. It originated in New York, a town that loves parades about everything, in the 1970s when gays were campaigning for acceptance. Jerusalem doesn't generally have political parades, and anyway, what are the local gays demonstrating for?

A few weeks ago the research unit of the Knesset posted a paper they'd prepared about the legal status of gay marriages in Israel and elsewhere. (In Hebrew, of course). It tells that there are seven countries in the world that recognize gay marriages, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Canada and South Africa; also, five States in the US. Then there is a larger group, though not that large, that recognizes varying forms of civil arrangements. Israel is near the top of that group, with arrangements that are functionally the same as marriage, without the name.

I followed this up by checking with a legal fellow who's invovlved in this matter. He agreed with me that the legal rights of homosexuals in Israel are mostly guaranteed, and there isn't much left to kvetch about. He even agreed with the logic of my position that marriage itself, being a cultural and religious institution with many layers of meaning to it, is better left alone, and told me that's also the position of the Supreme Court. He'd probably like it otherwise, but he can see the sense of the compormise.

I'd have you compare this with the Arab world, but that would be snarky of me. So compare it to Asia Africa or South America, instead.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Roadblocks on the West Bank

Heard the one about the more than 600 roadblocks that make life on the West Bank so hellish for the Palestinians? I'm sure you have, often. Why, the United Nations itself says so.

Although if you carefully read the most recent UN report, 18 pages of it, and you understand the topography, recognize the places, and take note of what's really being claimed, the situation is not exactly black and white. I'm not going to do your work for you this morning, but here's one hint, from page 8:

Not certain what you're seeing? The caption may be helpful:

A guardrail and an earthmound blocking a access to Road 60 from a dirt track
south of Sinjil village, Ramallah governorate

They're evil, those Israelis are, putting up guardrails along highways to obstruct tractors and cows from straying onto them from the surrounding countryside. As a matter of fact, their reach is so all-encompassing that every single such guardrail the world over has been set up by Zionists, in case you didn't know; if you see any in your vicinity, say, in New Zealand Texas or Bavaria, now you know they're actually signs of our secret dominance over you. And if this blog goes off air, it'll be because I've been revoked by the Elders.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the one in which the roadbloacks were put up because the empiric experience was that they were one of the tools to protect civilians from being blown up in Pizza parlors, most of them have been removed, and travel for Palestinians across the West Bank is mostly undisturbed.

On a trip to Ramallah, Palestinians will be checked at the Za'atra roadblock,
which is south of Hawara, but Palestinian eyewitnesses said there are no delays.
This is the only roadblock in the northern West Bank where checks of Palestinian
vehicles are still being carried out. On average, a trip between Ramallah to
Jenin takes 90 minutes, while several months ago it took hours.

Some roadblocks, however, are still acitve:

Twenty days ago the DCO roadblock to the eastern entrance to Qalqiliyah was
removed, and the Einav roadblock east of Tul Karm was also lifted. In it place
there are soldiers but they do not check Palestinian vehicles but only cars with
Israeli license plates to prevent Israeli citizens from entering Palestinian

Any idea why such measures might be necessary?

Don't expect this to be cited at Mondoweiss. Or the Guardian.

The Protracted Demise of a Once Significant Organization

Back in the 1930s, the Jewish Agency was the closest thing the Jews had to a government - which means, not close at all. It operated in a context of international hostility towards its people that is basically unimaginable today, for any group worldwide. Yes, there are some groups today that face seemingly intractable hurdles on their way towards national political expression - the Tibetans spring to mind - but none of them have international hostility remotely resembling the world-wide antisemitism of the 1930s, backed up by the malign indifference of the most powerful governments in the world.

Still, the leaders of the Jewish agency, with David Ben Gurion at their head, plodded on and did their best. Sometimes successfully, oftimes not; sometimes wisely, oftimes not.

After they succeeded, and the State of Israel was founded, the Jewish Agency still had important auxiliary tasks, and again, it did them about as reasonably as any institution peopled by people might be expected to do: With more success than failure, overall.

That was then. Today, it's hard to know what the Jewish Agency is for, what it does, why it still exists even in its much-reduced form - unless perhaps as a vehicle for political machinations. And even that isn't enough to justify its continued existence; we've got more viable vehicles.

The Strange Stories of the Jews

The Jewish world is full of strange things, places and people. New York and its Times are an important place in it. But Israeli is the center of it all.

As it should be.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Middle Satan

Simon Tisdall at The Guardian is offended that Ahmedinejad and colleagues are blaming the UK for inciting the turmoil in Iran, along with the usual suspects such as the CIA and the Mossad.

Near the bottom of his column he admits, through very gritted teeth, that the antics of the Iranian regime are making Netanyhu's job easier.

So far so uninteresting. What is of greater value, if you're interested in peering into the cesspool of antisemitism and related hatreds beneath the veneer of civilisation in the UK and elsewhere, are the comments at the bottom of the column. Many of the peole who comment at CiF, that's the readership of the Guardian's website, fully accept Ahmedinejad's line. I remind you that comments on CiF are moderated by Guardian staff.

We Don't Deny the Holocaust, We Do Accept Israel's Rights

CNN has an interview with an Iranian student in Teheran. His opinions are anecdotal - there's no way of knowing how representative he is - but his description of how the demonstrations are organized is less anecdotal; he tells that they're being organized by a leadership council, and people like himself go when and where the leaders tell them.

The anecdotal part is of course encouraging, were it to be widely accepted:
For about three decades our nation has been humiliated and insulted by this regime. Now Iranians are united again one more time after 1979 Revolution. We are a peaceful nation. We don’t hate anybody. We want to be an active member of the international community. We don’t want to be isolated. Is this much of a demand for a country with more than 2,500 years of civilization? We don’t deny the Holocaust. We do accept Israel’s rights. And actually, we want — we want severe reform on this structure. This structure is not going to be tolerated by the majority of Iranians. We need severe reform, as much as possible.

It occurs to me that if Israelis ever manage to talk to Iranians again, they won't be confronted by the Palestinian narative about how the European Jews colonized the Palestinians land and invented a false history. The Iranians have a long memory, apparently, so we can appeal to the mutual parts of it, which go back a very long time. Cyrus, for example, the Persian emperor who granted the Jews the right to return from Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE: that's quite a while ago, isn't it, and the Palestinian insistence on denying it denies one of his most famous acts, too, doesn't it?

Six After the Revolution

Naj, the Iranian blogger to whom I reached out the other day, has responded. She assures me she's no enemy of Israel, and would be happy to talk once things calm down.

We all hope they'll calm down on the right side of history, not the wrong.

On a related matter, it's interesting to note that not only I admit not to knowing what's going on in Iran. Apparently, the American government doesn't know much, either, in spite of all those tweets, You-tube films, and what have you. It would be better, of course, if they did know, but it's reassuring to hear they don't think the stuff we're being inundated with is really enough.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Where Are All the Demonstrators?

It's an article of faith with most True Believers of this political franchise or that, that the media is controlled by the other camp. Zionists control everything, or AIPAC, or the Neocons; on the other side everyone's convinced the media is totally Left-controlled, in the hands of the Anitsemites and what have you.

I'm in favor of empric data, when possible.

This article in Maariv today has all the hallmarks of the "Everyone's against us" syndrome: except that the authors are onto something that can be tested empirically. Their thesis: the mobs who routinely demonstrate against imaginary or real Israeli misdeeds, are totally lacking from their usual haunts as the Thugs of Teheran shoot their own civilians in bright daylight.

Where are the hundreds of thousands of European demonstrators?

Someone sent me an English translation, for the Hebraically-challenged among you:

Where is Everyone?

Ma’ariv (Monday, June 22, 09) by Ben Caspit and Ben-Dror Yemini (opinion) –

Tell us, where is everyone? Where did all the people who demonstrated against Israel’s brutality in Operation Cast Lead, in the Second Lebanon War, in Operation Defensive Shield, or even in The Hague, when we were dragged there unwillingly after daring to build a separation barrier between us and the suicide bombers, disappear to? We see demonstrations here and there, but these are mainly Iranian exiles. Europe, in principle, is peaceful and calm. So is the United States.
Here and there a few dozens, here and there a few hundreds. Have they
evaporated because it is Tehran and not here?

All the peace-loving and justice-loving Europeans, British professors in search of
freedom and equality, the friends filling the newspapers, magazines and various academic journals with various demands for boycotting Israel, defaming Zionism and blaming us and it for all the ills and woes of the world—could it be that they have taken a long summer vacation? Now of all times, when the Basij hooligans have begun to slaughter innocent civilians in the city squares of Tehran? Aren’t they connected to the Internet? Don’t they have YouTube? Has a terrible virus struck down their computer? Have their justice glands been removed in a complicated surgical procedure (to be re-implanted successfully for the next confrontation in Gaza)? How can it be that when a Jew kills a Muslim, the entire world boils, and when extremist Islam slaughters its citizens, whose sole sin is the aspiration to freedom, the world is silent?
Imagine that this were not happening now in Tehran, but rather here. Let’s say in Nablus. Spontaneous demonstrations of Palestinians turning into an ongoing bloodbath. Border Policemen armed with knives, on motorcycles, butchering demonstrators. A young woman downed by a sniper in midday, dying before the cameras. Actually, why imagine? We can just recall what happened with the child
Mohammed a-Dura. How the affair (which was very harsh, admittedly) swept
the world from one end to another. The fact that a later independent
investigative report raised tough questions as to the identity of the weapon
from which a-Dura was shot, did not make a difference to anyone. The
Zionists were to blame, and that was that.
And where are the world’s leaders? Where is the wondrous rhetorical ability of Barack Obama? Where has his sublime vocabulary gone? Where is the desire, that is supposed to be built into all American presidents, to defend and act on behalf of freedom seekers around the globe? What is this stammering?
A source who is connected to the Iranian and security situation, said yesterday that if Obama had shown on the Iranian matter a quarter of the determination with which he assaulted the settlements in the territories, everything would have looked different. “The demonstrators in Iran are desperate for help,” said the man, who served in very senior positions for many years, “they need to know that they have backing, that there is an entire world that supports them, but instead they see indifference. And this is happening at such a critical stage of this battle for the soul of Iran and the freedom of the Iranian people. It’s sad.”
Or the European Union, for example. The organization that speaks of justice and
peace all year round. Why should its leaders not declare clearly that the world wants to see a democratic and free Iran, and support it unreservedly? Could it be that the tongue of too many Europeans is still connected to dark places? The pathetic excuse that such support would give Khamenei and Ahmadinejad an excuse to call the demonstrators “Western agents,” does not hold water. They call them “Western agents” in any case, so what difference does it make?
To think that just six months ago, when Europe was flooded with demonstrations against Israel, leftists and Islamists raised pictures of Nasrallah, the protégé of the ayatollah regime. The fact that this was a benighted regime did not trouble them. This is madness, but it is sinking in and influencing the weary West. If there is a truly free world here, let it appear immediately! And impose sanctions, for example, on those who slaughter the members of their own people. Just as it imposed them on North Korea, or on the military regime in Burma. It is only a question of will, not of ability.
Apparently, something happens to the global adherence to justice and equality, when it comes to Iran. The oppression is overt and known. The Internet era
broadcasts everything live, and it is all for the better. Hooligans acting on behalf of the regime shoot and stab masses of demonstrators, who cry out for freedom.
Is anything more needed? Apparently it is. Because it is to no avail. The West remains indifferent. Obama is polite. Why shouldn’t he be, after all, he aspires to a dialogue with the ayatollahs. And that is very fine and good, the problem is that at this stage there is no dialogue, but there is death and murder on the streets.
At this stage, one must forget the rules of etiquette for a moment. The voices being heard from Obama elicit concern that we are actually dealing with a new version of Chamberlain. Being conciliatory is a positive trait, particularly when it follows the clumsy bellicosity of George Bush, but when conciliation becomes blindness, we have a problem.
The courageous voice of Angela Merkel, who issued yesterday a firm statement of
support for the Iranian people and its right to freedom, is in the meantime a lone voice in the Western wilderness. It is only a shame that she has not announced an economic boycott, in light of the fact that this is the European country that is most invested in building infrastructure in Iran. She was joined by British Foreign Secretary Miliband. It is little, it is late, it is not enough. Millions of freedom seekers have taken to the streets in Iran, and the West is straddling the fence, one leg here, the other leg there.
There is a different Islam. This is already clear today. Even in Iran. There are millions of Muslims who support freedom, human rights, equality for women. These millions loathe Khamenei, Chavez and Nasrallah too. But part of the global left wing prefers the ayatollah regime over them. The main thing is for them to raise flags
against Israel and America. The question is why the democrats, the liberals, and Obama, Blair and Sarkozy, are continuing to sit on the fence. This is not a fence of separation, it is a fence of shame.

Netanyahu: No Conflict With the Iranian People

Netanyahu in an interveiw to the German magazine Bild (the original interview is here):

Peaceful relations between Israel and Iran would be possible if new leadership
took power in Tehran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an
interview with German newspaper Bild published on Monday.
"There is no conflict between the Iranian people and the people of Israel and under a
different regime the friendly relations that prevailed in the past could be restored," Netanyahu told German daily Bild.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry is already busy making hay:
Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said in response to
remarks by Netanyahu regarding Iran’s unrest, "The Zionist regime tried not to take a clear stance regarding Iran’s elections like some western countries, but since Sunday it started provocation to confront peace in Iran but it would not succeed.

Sooner or later, this narrative will be an accepted narrative in the antisemitic cesspools. The turmoil in Iran was a Zionist ploy to attack Iran.

Another War (re)Starting, But Who Knows or Cares?

After all, it's only Africans. Nothing that the world need notice.
In the past month or so hundreds of people have been killed in violent clashes similar to the one in Torkej, as nomadic groups compete for the best cattle and grazing land. Conflict is normal, but it is not normal for so many to be killed in this way—at least in recent years. The UN says that more people are now being killed in the south than in Darfur, Sudan’s troubled western region.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reaching Out to Naj

In the previous post I linked to an Iranian blog titled Neo-Resistance, authored by an educated Iranian woman named Naj. Having spent some time reading her blog, there is much in common between us.

Except that she vicioiusly hates Israel.

So I'm sending her this message, at her blog and at mine.

I wish you the best, Naj, you and your fellow citizens. And I hope for your success in these dramatic times.

After they're over, hopefully for the better, and you have a moment to think about the rest of the world, I'd apreciate your trying to explain to me why you see us as such implacable enemies. I don't see why we should be.

Could Moussavi be Gorbachev?

One reason I've been skeptical about much of the reportage about Iran is that it wasn't clear to me the extent to which what was happening was truly revolutionary, and how much it was an internal family squabble between differing factions of an ugly regime. (That, and not knowing Persian, not trusting 99% of the Western media to know any more than I about what was going on, and assuming that even many Iranians themselves may not fully understand what they're doing, as is usually the case in dramatic historical upheavals).

Moussavi, after all, comes from deep inside the Ayatollah's regime, not outside it; if you look at the numbers of people, first and foremost Iranians, in whose deaths he can be implicated, it's much larger than whatever can be attributed to Ahmedinejad. Ahmedinejad speaks repugnantly; Moussavi was part of the regime itself in its bloody 1980s.

As the days go on, however, these considerations have lost validity. I still don't know Persian, still don't trust the Western media to get it right, and according to this transcript of Moussavi's most recent speech he's still anything but a disciple of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, that blemished but magnificent age of thinkers who formulated the principles of freedom enjoyed by the citizens of democracies these past 200-some years. (Link via Andrew Sullivan).

Gorbachev never intended to go where he ended up going, either. Never ever. He wanted to fix Communism and the Soviet Union, not kill them. Yet the logic of the events was such that by questioning the regime, he unleashed the forces that demolished it. One of the profound differences between Enlightenment-informed democracies and all the rest is that ability to change course without changing everything. Fascism didn't have it, Communism didn't (though as I've noted, Chinese autocracy is proving surprisingly resilient).

So whatever the Iranian movement was a month ago, or even only a week ago, I think it's something admirable now. When their Supreme Leader took sides and threatened the demonstrators to desist, and they didn't, not even in the face of death, this isn't a squabble, it's large numbers of people demanding freedom. Are they a majority of Iranians? Perhaps. I have no way of knowing. The beauty of democracy, however, if they ever attain it, is that it shouldn't matter. If a majority of Iranians - or even only a minority - wish to continue to live in a religious society, no-one will tell them otherwise. Enlightened democracy doesn't mean they must all become silly Guardian-style heathens. Though it would, of course, grant Iranians the choice to be silly Guardian-style heathens alongside their fellow citizens who wish to be fundamentalist clerical-types. That's freedom.

We should wish it on all people; this week, we should be praying for our Iranian fellow men and women that they achieve it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ignoramusi Pontificating

Regular readers will know my opinion that The Economist is at the pinnacle of the journalist world. Sadly, this doesn't mean much. Even the folks at The Economist can't remember things that were quite obvious only a few years ago.

Today's Leader (British for Editorial) analyses Netanyahu's speech, under the subtitle Binyamin Netanyahu has taken one essential step. Now he must take a whole lot more. Set aside the silly proposition that the Israelis must move so that there will be peace, while the demands on the Palestinians are perfunctory and shallow. They're Brits, are the editors of The Economist. What's so completely outlandish about the article is the assumption that Netanyahu has inserted new conditions into the process that will foil the process.

The Germans have a fine word for this, which needs no translation: Quatsch.

Rather than write a long rebuttal, I've done something easier. I've gone back to the book I wrote in 2003, Right to Exist, and have simply lifted its tenth chapter, the one which described what would need to happen for there ever to be peace. Admittedly, I have no official standing, and represent only myself, but the chapter contains descriptions of what everyone was talking about in early 2003. Since the topics were exacly the same then and now, and the positions also (though the Palestinian positions got worse when they elected a Hamas majority in January 2006), well, the Economist contention must be wrong.

Wrong. Not interpreted in a way that aggravates me. Factually wrong. What the Economist has to say is demonstrably false. Not true.

Here's a snippet of the chapter, relating head on to the Economist's untrue description:

In July 2001, 9 months into the Jerusalem Intifada and four months into the Government of Ariel Sharon, a group of some two dozen intellectuals from both
sides convened to build a bridge over the ruins of peace. These were all old friends who have been meeting for many years in hope of finding enough common ground to enable the politicians to pick up the torch. Back when they started, they were unpopular pariahs in their respective communities for daring to reach out to the enemy; but over years of perseverance they had managed to pull ever larger segments of their people behind them, and from eccentrics they had become mainstream. Between them there must have been many thousands of hours of dialogue. Intelligent, educated individuals, rational realists, there was not a hard-line militant among them.

Their idea was simple: to agree on a joint declaration calling on the warring factions to desist from their insanity and return to negotiations. The peaceniks would join hands, and with their moral authority embarrass the politicians back to sanity. The Palestinians were willing to join in stating that there should be two independent states alongside one another, but the Israelis, alerted by the fiascos of Camp David and Taba to a nuance they had previously overlooked, demanded that the statement clearly say that Israel would be a Jewish State and Palestine an Arab one. The Palestinians refused. Jews, they said, are a religion, not a nationality, and neither need nor deserve their own state. They were welcome to live in Israel, but the Palestinian refugees would come back, and perhaps she would cease to be a Jewish State.

Talking Through their Hats

Whether you like him and his opinons or not, you've got to admit that over the past week Andrew Sullivan has made himself into one of the single most important sources for news coming out of Iran. He's doing a fine job.

None of which makes his information any more reliable. Consider the two posts he put up right before Khamenei's speech in Teheran this morning. Ian Black at The Guardian telling that since we haven't seen much of Ahmedinejad this week, his position may well be weakening. And Charles Recknagl sifting the evidence to bolster the proposition that Khamenei is wavering. Both articles appeared mere hours before Khamenei's scheduled speech, in which he proved the opposite of what these folks had been speculating.

Why don't these people and their legions of colleagues go find a real job, say, baking bread or paving roads or laying bricks? At least then they'd have the satisfaction they'd created some sort of value in life.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

El Baradei, Syria: Israel at Fault for Destroying Reactor

Here's a story that's too funny to be true, or too sad to be invented. Mohamad ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) castigating Israel because by destroying Syria's atomic reactor in 2007 it made it hard to investigate whether it really was a reactor. Meanwhile, Syria says that the uranium traces the IAEA found at the site came from the weapons Israel used.

Did you follow that? The IAEA never had a clue the Syrians were building a reactor until after Israel destroyed it, which Israel shouldn't have done because that made it hard to find; and the Syrians explain that any incriminating evidence was put there by the Israelis.

Sometimes I tell myself being a news-and-politics junkie and blogger is a total waste of time. The world is so completely idiotic it's useless even to try and fix it; better to deal with other matters.

Jerusalem Stone

We're having the annual "Week of the Hebrew Book" this week: a fine gimmick to encourage the sales of books. One evening I just happened to pass by the fairgrounds, totally coincidentially, mind you, and with no prior intention whatsoever I found myself wandering between the booths looking at books. Unfortunately I had my credit card on me, and I felt bad about the poor salespeople standing there with all those books to sell...

Anyway, one of the titles I rescued was a book of Yehuda Amichai's poetry on Jerusalem. Only after I got home did I notice that it's a bilingual edition, the original Hebrew, and an English translation.

So here's a poem, which is even vaguely contemporary:
האבן הירושלמית היא האבן היחידה
שכואבת. יש בה רשת עצבים.
מזמן לזמן מתגודדת ירושלים
להמון מחאה כמו מגדל בבל.
אך במקלות גדולים מכה אלוהים-המשטרה
לתוכה: בתים נחרבים, חומות נפרצות
ואחר-כך תתפזר שוב העיר, תוך מלמולי
תפילות תלונה וצעקות-פה-ושם מכנסיות
ומבתי כנסת וצריחים ממסגד.
כל אחד למקומו
Jerusalem stone is the only stone that can
feel pain. It has a network of nerves.
From time to time Jerusalem crowds into
mass protests like the tower of Babel.
But with hugh clubs God-the-Police beats her
down: houses are razed, walls flattened,
and afterwards the city disperses, muttering
prayers of complaint and sporadic screams from churches
and synagogues and loud-moaning mosques.
Each to his own place.

Poems of Jerusalem (Hebrew Edition)

"Fog Over Channel, Continent Cut Off"

That was a famous headline in the London Times many years ago, when the sun never set on the Empire, but couldn't work its way through to London, either.

I continue not to know what to say about the turmoil in Iran. Which is too bad, since cyberspace is chock-full of all sorts of commentary from folks who are quite certain about it all. Well, I'm not. I know who the Bad Guys, are, for example, but not who the Good Guys are. I think I know what the one side wishes to achieve, have however not the slightest idea what the other camp wants. Nor am I convinced there are two camps: perhaps there are five? I could easily write a long post about all the things I don't understand, before explaining how I'd just love the events to vindicate whatever set of political beliefs and especially pet animosites that I harbor. Alas, none of that would make me any better informed.

Also, since we don't know how this chapter of the story is going to end, there's always the danger that if I pretend to know what I'm talking about three days will suffice to prove me wrong - and that would be embarassing. Most pundits normally have at least ten days between pontificating and being proven wrong, by which time no-one remembers any longer.

So I feel for President Obama, who is coming under growing criticism for not knowing what to say. I mean, the man has unbeatable resources and tools at his fingertips, from the CIA and the NSA all the way over to Rahm Emanuel, and still he's at a loss for words. (Obama!)

Searching for a way out of my perdicament, I stumbled across a book review describing a similarly confusing set of events in a faraway land and a very faraway time (2002. A totally different era which no-one living today can be expected to remember). It tells of the coup-that-wasn't-quite in Venezuela, and the reason I'm linking to it is that apparently it took seven years and lots of hard work to unravel the lies of the participants and the obfuscations of the pundits and begin to piece together a reasonable picture of what really went on there.

The Silence and the Scorpion: The Coup Against Chavez and the Making of Modern Venezuela

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Opinion Trumps Reality

The NYT has a cute article this morning about technology's application to the events in Iran. Nothing profound, mind you, but I recommend, especially if technology and its application to life interests you.

The reason for this post, however, is to have a look at the picture which goes with the story.
Or better, have a look at the caption: A Moussavi supporter flashed a peace sign to marching protesters.
It's not a peace sign, of course. It's a victory sign. The fingers form a V, not a P.
Telling, isn't it. About the New York Times, not Iran.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More on Country vs. Citizens

A reader named Joe writes about to the previous post.
Greenwald has responded, without mentioning you, in an update. I wonder what
your response to that update is.

So here goes.

First, I doubt Greenwald read me and decided to argue without attributes. That would be petty, and I don't have reason to think him petty. More likely, to my mind, is that he noticed how very flimsy his arguments were, and tried to fix things. Not very convincingly.

Second, Greenwald has no facts. Indeed, he has dug up a quotation, but it doesn't say what he says it does. Iran is a largish country, about four times the size of France with less than twice the population, so there must be substantial areas (many of them desert) where there are no civilians to be killed in bombing raids; it may well be that's where the Iranians have put some of their nuclear installations. (I don't know this for a fact, but Greenwald doesn't know the opposite). The quote he brings says that if Iran was bombed, and if its regime tried to fight back, things could get ugly. Which is probably true, but brings us to the main point.

The idea behind using military means to stop a nuclear weapons program is to block horrendous loss of life even at the cost of limited loss of life.

Michael Walzer, probably the best-known teacher of Just War theory in our generation, addresses this question directly when he tells of deliberations confronting the Allies during World War II. According to their information, the Germans were transporting heavy water from Norway to Germany, and the only way to stop the shipment entailed the certain killing of all the Norwegian civilians on board. With hindsight we know that the Germans didn't even have an active nuclear program, but the Allied decision makers operated on the data they had, not the full story we have. So they killed innocent Norwegians to block a German nuclear program which they were convinced would have caused vastly greater suffering.

I have no doubt that an attempt to block an Iranian nuclear program will indeed cause some death of innocents. If one assumes that the Iranians will retaliate wherever they can, some of the innocents will be Israelis, others will be Europeans, some will be Argentinians, and probably some will be Americans. Almost all will be civilians, because unlike whoever attacks them, they will never have the intention to hit military targets; civilian ones are so much easier. Remember, the Iranian Mullahs and their proxies have been killing innocents ever since they reached power in 1979; many of them at the behest of one Mir Hossein Moussavi, who was the prime minister.

Unlike the Iranian Mullahs who kill indiscriminately, and used to send tens of thousands of their own children to die storming Iraqi troops, the Americans and Israelis, the only two countries which might conceivably attack Iran, never aim intentionally at civilians; should the need arise to attack Iran, they will certainly not be aiming at those demonstrators in Teheran. Not.

Readers of this blog will attest that I have never called for an attack on Iran, not once. Nor am I now. The best option, I've always thought, is for the Iranian people to change their ghastly government; this may be about to happen but probably isn't. The second best option is for the Iranians to change their minds as the result of negotiations. This will not happen, alas. The third option is for the rest of the world to enforce such harsh sanctions that the Mullahs back down: but this will have to hurt the Iranian populace, and is very unlikely to work anyway. The fourth option is to negotiate with the Mullahs with drawn weapons. The experience with Saddam in 1991 indicates that won't work either. The fifth option is to use military force.

It's a bad option, and it might not even work. But is allowing those murderous Mullahs to wield nuclear weapons preferable?

Distinguishing Between A Country and its Citizens

Mondoweiss yesterday slammed Netanyahu for his willingness to countenance an attack on Iran to foil its nuclear ambitions. Look at all those brave Iranians facing their ugly government! Netanyahu wants war against them!

Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, castigates American hawks who call for force in halting Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Matt Yglesias, in a recent post about the administration's "debate" over whether
to bomb Iran, wisely included a random photograph of an Iranian street with
civilians walking on it. These are the people Norm Podhoretz and his comrades
want to slaughter.

I can't speak for the American hawks, but to the best of my understanding, the situation is diametrically the opposite of what Mondoweiss and Greenwald make it out to be.

First, there's an obvious distinction to be made between a government and the totality of its populace. The government makes the decisions, sometimes supported by parts of the populace, rarely by all of it, and often by a minority of it. One can act against a government without wishing to harm its citizens - in fact, that's how wars are supposed to be waged. That's why the Hezbullah and Hamas way of war is so profoundly wicked: it aims at all civilians, and not at the IDF at all. (Need I mention that Hamas and Hezbullah are both Iranian clients? That means, clients of the Iranian regime, not each Teherani protestor).

Second, people calling for the Iranians to be stopped with military forcewould all prefer the goal to be reached with peaceful means - but so far these haven't done much good.

Third, a military option, were it to be chosen, would not target civilians in Teheran but rather the military targets in places like Nantaz.

Fourth, the reason there is urgency in stopping the Iranian nuclear program is exactly because no-one wants to hurt the Iranian population. So long as the Iranian nuclear program has not yet reached fruition, it may be possible to halt it with very limited loss of life. Once the Iranians have nuclear weapons, attacking them would mean tremendous loss of life, on all regional sides - though not in the United States. The Iranians can't reach the Americans yet.

I have no explanation why these simple self-evident considerations are so far beyond the comprehension of educated people such as Greenwald or Adam Horowitz, who loudly and frequently pride themselves for their acumen.

Emerging Consensus on Iran?

Michael Totten has temporarily moved full-time to Contentions; he's good, Michael is, and you'd do well to follow him there.

In this post he notes that the events in Iran have forged a temporary consensus of left and right in America (or in the West in general?).

It won't last, of course, but it's interesting as a phenomenon. Once this particular story is behind us, there will be much to think about. Until then, we should indeed unite in hoping for the success of the folks who wish to change Iran, since what it has been and still is, is so ghastly.

Funny What Being Jewish Means

Adam Yahiye Gadhan, an American who joined Al-Qaida, has issues with his Jewish grandfather, Carl Pearlman.

While the grandson himself is apparently not Jewish by any standard, it's still a cautionary tale to remind us that Jews and their offspring can be as woefully idiotic as anyone else.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Point of the Conflict

Should I find the time sometime soon, perhaps I'll try to sum up the issues Netanyahu raised in his speech yesterday, the responses to them, and the significance of them all. Here, however, a quick comment about the Jewish State requirement.

The entire Israel-Palestine conflict stems from the tragic reality of two peoples with legitimate claims to one small land. For the Jews, it's their ancestral homeland. For the Palestinians, it's the land they lived in when they first began developing a national identity. Since neither side is going to relinquish their claim, the only resolution to the conflict will be when both accept that the claims of the other are legitimate, and both accept partition.

If Israel is not allowed to define itself as the homeland of the Jews, what's the purpose of the entire effort? French, Angolan or Argentinian claims to the homeland of the Palestinians would be baseless and illegitimate; the reason the Israeli's claim is legitimate is that they're Jews.

Erring Can Have A Heavy Price

Jeffrey Goldberg responds sardonically to Roger Cohen's apology about Iran. Goldberg is right, of course, but I'm more interested in Roger Cohen.

Cohen has invested considerable effort over the past two months or so to convince his readers at the New York Times that Iran is far more benign than those nasty NeoCons and Israelis are making it out to be. This gave him quite some prominence in the blogosphere, as he became a hero for some, and was regarded by others as a Useful Idiot.

He now admits - though of course he doesn't say so - that he was more of a Useful Idiot. Yet he does this so quickly into the dramatic events in Iran that most of us will probably give him a brownie point or two for integrity: he's publicly recanting, after all. Which is all well and fine but for two problems.

First, he acknowledges that if the Iranian regime is thwarting the will of the Iranian people, there isn't any way the American administration can coddle up to the regime, even in the name of engaging with open fists etc. That would be a betrayal of the Iranian people. So he advocates that President Obama’s outreach must now await a decent interval. Umm, no. Not if that now publicly recognized nasty Mullah regime is hurtling towards nuclear weapons you can't wait. Surely Cohen must now acknowledge that if they're truly nasty, they may be truly nasty? If they're willing to spit in the face of their own people, perhaps they'll be careless with the wellbeing of the same people on their way to some insane program of regional dominance backed with nuclear power?

Second, Cohen needs to own up to the possibility that there are other people out there who can't afford to be wrong, because if they are it will mean more than a public recantation in a newspaper column: it will mean the deaths of innocent people. As a matter of fact, there are lots of such people, for whom the themes he routinely pontificates on are not matters of opinion but of life and death. When they get it wrong, they're dead and can't recant, or bear responsibility for the deaths of others who can't hear their recantations.

I'm one of them, though only in a minor way, diluted among many. When we assured ourselves, in the 1980s and 1990s, that if only we'd be nice to the Palestinians there would be peace, we truly believed it, and earnestly voted for it. By the time we realized we'd been wrong, it was too late, and more than 6,000 people died, most of them Palestinians but more than a thousand Israelis. Publicly admitting our mistakes didn't bring any of them back.

If Roger Cohen is really in a contrite mood these days, perhaps he should dwell for a serious moment on the human price of being wrong, before he writes his next column.

Bracing Reality Check

I continue not to have the faintest idea what's really happening in the country of Iran, beyond the writ of the reporters from Teheran. I wish the democrats the best, if that's who they are, though Ann Appelbaum links to a reminder that if they are, Moussavi is an unlikely standard bearer, what with his participation in the mass murder of 30,000 Iranians 20 years ago.

Two weeks ago, however, the Economist had a fascinating column on what the Chinese Communist Party learnt from the Tiananmen Square events and massacre of twenty years ago. Executive summary: they realized they needed to change in order never to lose power, and did so in a systematic and hugely successful way.

This is probably bad for mankind, given how the Chinese don't care in the slightest about human rights in their broad, Enlightened Western meaning (more and more of the West doesn't care much, either, but that's a different subject), and the Chinese certainly seem on their way to being extraordinarliy influential on mankind in coming generations. Actually, another article in the Economist told how the authoritarian powers of the world are already setting up aid projects meant to counter the West.

So maybe we'll soon see a benign, democratic Iran. And very likely we won't. Perhaps not ever.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mondoweiss: First Damn, Then Damn

Philip Wiess apparently doesn't know Hebrew, and wasn't able to listen to Netanyahu's speech; moreover, as he himself admits, he hasn't even seen an English transcript yet. None of which stops him from opining (via an unidentified friend):
Mean-spirited in the extreme, he emphasized on Israel's god-given
right to the "Land of Israel" (euphemism for Israel Plus--plus Judea and
Samaria, i.e., the West Bank, aka Palestine). And on Israel's right to all of
Jerusalem. There was not a generous word about the Palestinians. Only the usual
tone of threat. There was no surprise in this, of course, but the nasty,
supercilious, and hypernationalist tone even took my breath

Lest you think it was all negative, he did offer to cooperate
with the Palestinians on solar panels.

Mindboggling. The intellectual dishonesty is breathtaking. Actually, so is the simple dishonesty, since it totally misrepresents what Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu's Bar Ilan Speech

I don't see much discussion of it online yet, what with it being Sunday, and the Iranian story attracting most attention. Perhaps tommorrow there will be more, and perhaps not.

I liked the speech. Netanyahu said, loud and clear, that Israel looks forward to living in peace alongside a Palestinian state. True, he added some conditions. The Palestinian state must be demilitarized, and the refugee problem must be resolved outside the Israeli borders: both these points were part of (Bill) Clinton's dictated terms of December 24th 2000. Terms the Palestinians rejected then and will reject now, of course. Netanyahu added that Jerusalem won't be divided, and this, to me, is simply common sense.

Netanyahu also said he'll continue building in the existing settlements. This is a complex matter, as I've explained recently, but if it bothers the Palestinians so much the way forward is clear: make peace with us and you'll be able to participate in the resolution of this matter. Huffing and puffing about how awful we are may well be gratifying, I can imagine, but it does no practical good.

And then there was one brief sentence in his speech about what the Israeli government offered the Palestinians in 2008. The negotiations were kept secret, so we don't know the details - but Netanyahu does. I would have welcomed some elaboration. The way Netanyahu built the sentence, comparing the Israeli offers of 2008 with those of 2000,was most intriguing. I expect if the facts were known, they'd cut the ground from under most of the public discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we don't know the precise details, because no-one is telling.

Iranian Reality

I have nothing significant to tell about the election in Iran. I don't speak Farsi, I don't follow Iranian matters particularly closely, I have no expertise that would allow me to make any credible pronouncements on Iranian matters one way or the other.

The best I can do is seek those voices of experts who seem credible to me. Interestingly, the Guardian's CiF has two such fellows up right now. Iranian expatriate Abbas Barzegar reports from Teheran that it was ever only wishful thinking to expect Ahmedinejad might lose:
I have been in Iran for exactly one week covering the 2009 Iranian election
carnival. Since I arrived, few here doubted that the incumbent firebrand
President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad would win. My airport cab driver reminded me that the president had visited every province twice in the last four years – "Iran
isn't Tehran," he said. Even when I asked Mousavi supporters if their man could
really carry more than capital, their responses were filled with an Obamasque
provisional optimism – "Yes we can", "I hope so", "If you vote." So the question
occupying the international media, "How did Mousavi lose?" seems to be less a
problem of the Iranian election commission and more a matter of bad perception
rooted in the stubborn refusal to understand the role of religion in Iran.

Meanwhile, Teheran-based Saeed Kamali Dehghan explains that the elections were clearly stolen:
I have visited at least 10 provinces, some villages and couple of rural places
in the past month. I attended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's big rally in Tehran's Mosala
religious complex last Tuesday as well as President Mohammad Khatami's huge
pro-Mousavi rally in Isfahan on Wednesday and I have talked to pro-Ahmadinejad
villagers who were paid money and given potatoes, but the results announced
today are completely meaningless and ridiculous for me.

These two perspectives, of course, aren't actually mutually exclusive. Ahmedinejad could both have won, perhaps narrowly, and stolen the election; the Ayatollahs, the real powerbrokers, may have decided that since he won they could comfortably crack down on the elements that from their perspective have been getting out of control recently.

Of course I'm making that up; spinning whole cloth out of thin air so as to use it to cut a baseless story line. Which is what most of the Western media seems to be doing, too. They don't have the faintest idea what's really going on in Iran, nor the slightest qualifications to find out, and certainly not the patience to spend the years necessary to obtain those qualifications. What they do have, however, is a beloved narrative, whereby President Obama is transforming the world into a nicer place, and since he's doing this so adroitly, it's working; by holding out his open hand he's encouraging others to unclench their fists - well, most others. Not the Israelis of course, and their ghastly government. And not those weird North Koreans. But just about everyone else.

Or not.

At the end of the day, it doesn't make much difference if the Iranian election was stolen or not. It wasn't democratic to begin with, as any honest observer should have admitted, since only politically acceptable men were ever allowed to run, and because the real positions of power aren't decided by ballot in Iran. More important, whether the election was stolen or not is immaterial to the question of what happens next. This will be determined by the people wielding power, not by the nicer people who aren't. Deal with it.

Mondoweiss Morality

Max Blumenthal, you might call him the video division of the Mondoweiss blog, went with his camera to a Gush Shalom demonstration in Tel Aviv.

In my opinion, based upon long and close familiarity with some of them, these furthest left Israeli loonies are smug snotty arrogant pricks. Not because they wish for peace with the Palestinians, and look forward to the day the Palestinians live in dignity and peace in their own state: I agree fully with those sentiments, as do most Israelis. Nor for their assumption that if only the Israelis would grant it, this would all come to pass: this merely tells me these folks aren't paying attention to reality, and that's not particularly unusual. My problem with them is that their political narcissism is so extreme, they've convinced themselves the rest of us must be cruel callous ignorant dolts, while they alone are enlightened and caring - watch Blumenthal's video and you'll see this clearly. As a result, they are profoundly undemocratic, and quite oblivious to the complexity of reality and disdainful towards the attempts of their countrymen to find a decent balance in a complex world.

I suppose you could sum this up in two words: they're silly.

Blumenthal likes them, obviously; they're his kindred spirits. The funniest part of his post is this sentence:
There are very, very few of them, they are marginalized, even persecuted, and in
desperate need of American support.

The film was made in the very center of Tel Aviv, in front of City Hall. Watch it, and you'll see how his very own film disproves his interpretation of it.

Then you have Philip Weiss (the Weiss of Mondoweiss) who has been traveling a lot to Gaza recently, reporting on how nice the Gazans are and how nasty the Israelis. This recent post is a collection of snapshots made on the streets of Gaza showing the ubiquitous posters celebrating the local shahids. You don't need to know Arabic to look closely at the posters and see who's in most of them: military-aged young men, many armed, who have been killed in the war with Israel to which they were so committed and of which their society is so proud. To which Weiss comments:
My response to these portraits was wholly aesthetic, and not moral. I don't know
what any of these men and boys did, though some of them evidently died in the
January slaughter.

Do you get the whiff of otherworldliness?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lozowick Profiled on Normblog

I'd hoped to be profilee number 300, that would be next week, but alas, he's put me up as 299. Still, it's an illustrious club, so thanks muchly, Norm.

Clear Eyed Cynicism on Settlements

Barry Rubin takes a clear-eyed look at the Obama-Netanyahu-Settlement-Peace quagmire. His thesis: No way will caving in to Obama ever bring peace, but there are fine cynical reasons for doing so never-the-less.

Count me in.

Binyamin Netanyahu: Canny Operator

Amitai Etzioni is a heavyweight scholar, not a clueless journalist nor a lowly blogger. So when he comes out with a contrarian thesis, you don't want merely to brush it aside.

His thesis today is that Netanyahu has outfoxed Obama. Obama needed a wedge issue to twist Israel's arm on, so as to gain legitimacy in the Arab world. Netanyahu obliged, by moving the post years backward; now, when he caves in for Obama's credibility, he'll merely be giving what has long ago been given, and not something new.

What can I say? I hope he's right.

His article then goes on to elaborate some other important facts about the goals of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Nothing us news junkies don't know, but he's right that most people generally aren't very well informed.

Tribal and Emotional, not Detached and Rational

Last year Meredith Kercher, a young British overseas student in Italy, was murdered. Since she was young, pretty, and the murder was connected to sex, the story caught much attention. When it turned out her flatmate Amanda Knox, a pretty young overseas student from Seattle, may have been involved, and if so there was a deeper sexual layer to the tragedy, the story became front-page news in Italy, the UK, and parts of the US. It still is.

I've been following it to the extent that the Guardian, my daily paper, has it at the top of their front page; this week it also reached the front page of another of my daily papers, the New York Times, where an op-ed claimed Knox has been framed by a scheming Italian prosecutor villain. That op-ed has been on the NYT home page for a few days already (!).

This morning Paul Harris at the Observer, that's the Guardian's mildly saner little sister, writes about the phenomenon. He starts by noting that the Knox story-line is so noxious because she's a pretty young woman - her boyfriend and co-defendant never gets noticed at all. He then goes on, however, to describe the mechanism of the fascination, in terms which exactly precisely fit the way Israel is treated:

The only certain thing about Knox is that she has struck a cultural chord that has nothing to do with the evidence and everything to do with being young, female and photogenic. If she were a man, neither her defenders nor her attackers would likely be giving her half the attention they are. It is noticeable that Sollecito is virtually ignored by the press. The debate over Knox is especially vicious on the internet, where blogs fight over every aspect of the case. "Anyone who writes about this case will be attacked no matter what they say. For or against. It is really ugly," said Candace Dempsey, whose blogging on the trial has led to her writing a book about it.

For almost everyone involved in covering the story, online threats and abuse are common. Steve Shay, who wrote the Herald story that so angered Mignini, was stunned to find his picture posted online by outraged anti-Knox bloggers. He was also accused of being in the pay of pro-Knox supporters. "I felt uneasy. Just because you are paranoid does not mean someone isn't out to get you," Shay said. The sheer ferocity of the abuse is one reason why only Bremner has openly come out on behalf of Friends of Amanda. Other members are keeping anonymous. "We are not yet ready to come out in public just yet," said one close friend of the family.

Some cultural dynamics are vastly more powerful than centuries of exohrtation to seek facts with calm rational methodology.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two State Solution: We've Been Here Before

Netanyahu will give a speech in three days in which he'll accept the two state solution, as demanded by Obama, but also - it's worth noting - as officially accepted by his three predecessors Olmert, Sharon and Barak, and implicitly accepted by their three predecessors Netanyahu Peres and Rabin. We're a democracy, and in democracies newly elected governments are bound to international obligations made by their predecessors. Otherwise, no international order would be possible.

So on that level Netanyahu will simply be putting an end to a three-month hiatus of childish behavior, of pretending to live in Never-Never-Land; these three months caused a degree of damage to Israel that, while not being of major significance, was totally predictable and completely unnecessary.

Yesterday Netanyahu went through the preparatory act required of prominent right-wing leaders as they move to the center on this matter: they stand in front of their party stalwarts, and explain that wielding power requires recognizing reality and relinquishing silly slogans. Olmert had such a moment; Tzipi Livni had more than one; Arik Sharon had a memorable one in 2004; Netanyahu already had one in 1996 but he forgot; even Ezer Weizman had such a moment, back in the mid-1980s. In all cases Benny Begin rejects the thesis, and is joined by whatever party hacks happen to be in the Knesset at the moment - Tzipi Hotovely, this time. (You've never heard of her. She's young, feisty, and in about 15 years she'll stand before Benny Begin and his ephemeral cohorts and tell them that wielding power means recognizing reality).

A more interesting question is if Netanyahu will do what he has to do with good grace, or with surly nit-picking. Good grace means being explicit: we wish to live in peace with the Palestinians, each in our own state. Surly nit-picking means saying the same while pretending you're not: We wish to live in peace with the Palestinians according to the road map and after they fulfill all their obligations and we'll be watching like vultures for any traces they're cheating.

Requiring the Palestinians to fulfill their obligations is of course necessary - but it doesn't have to be the theme of your speech.

For intelligent good grace, Netanyahu could do worse than to lift his speech from today's column by Ari Shavit. Shavit is one of the many Israelis who mirror Netanyahu: the lefties who have accepted that wielding power means relinquishing silly slogans, in their case the slogans about justice for the Palestinians will bring everlasting peace etc. Shavit's thesis: the Two State Solution won't work, unless it reflects a two nation solution. It's a fine column. If you can, read the Hebrew original here; if you can't, read the very poor English translation here

Then, once you finish all that, I warmly recommend the bracing analysis of none other than Agha and Malley, here. This may possibly be the first time ever that I've approvingly recommended anything by the Hussein Agha-Robert Malley duo. Usually I find them quite exasperating. In this most recent effort of theirs, however, they explain
If, despite this desolate landscape, the Obama administration nonetheless is
determined to push for a final agreement, it could be because the President has
something else in mind. At some point, he might intend to bypass negotiations
between the parties and, with support from a broad international coalition
including Arab countries, Russia, and the European Union, present them with a
detailed two-state agreement they will be hard-pressed to reject. The concept
stems from the notion that, left to their own devices, the Israeli and
Palestinian leaderships are incapable of reaching an accord and that they will
need all the pressure and persuasion the world can muster to take the last,
fateful steps.

It is one option. But before jumping toward it, basic issues should be
explored. Getting the leaders to endorse a peace deal will be no mean feat, but
it is not the only and perhaps not the most substantial challenge. The other
question is how in the current climate the Israeli and Palestinian people would
welcome a two-state solution. Would they view it as authentic or illegitimate?
Would they see it as ending their conflict or merely opening its next round?
Would it be more effective at mobilizing supporters or at galvanizing opponents?
What, in short, would a two-state solution actually solve?

Their analysis (the first two thirds of their article) is very interesting, and shows, from an unexpected direction, why the two-state solution could easily not bring peace even if the international community were to force it upon two sides who cannot agree on it by their own. Precisely because it doesn't address the fundamental issues. Their recommendation at the end seem vague hollow and unconvincing, but no-one's perfect.

Pot Calls Kettle "Terrorist"

Michael Tomasky, the Guardian's top American reporter, wonders if people will have the integrity to call right-wing murderers terrorists. A bit rich, isn't it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

German History is Still Wrong

You may recollect the recent post where I explained how German history is all wrong. Well, you ain't seen nothing yet: it's even more wrong.

Though I do warn you the item behind that link is not for the faint of heart.

Shoes, Panic and Other Fantasies

A recurring sensation I have when reading Mondoweiss is that they're living in an alternative universe. The same sun shines on them, even the locales are recognizable, but the people and events are all different. It's an odd sensation.

This morning they've dug up a report that Israelis are insulted that Obama put his feet on his desk. Israelis. Insulted. By imporper dress or behavior codes. Can you imagine?

(I once took a couple highly professional Israeli-born colleagues on a European business trip. First, however, I had to hand them a list of basic no-nos for dressing among civilized people, including no sports-shoes, try to stay near dark-blue and away from yellow and green, no jeans, and yes, at least one tie will be neccessary. One of them coped admirably).

The subtext, I think, is that Israelis are barbarians like the Arabs. True, Mondoweiss has tremendous empathy for Arabs and generally prefers them to, say, Israelis or Americans, but it's not real respect - else why poke fun at Israelis for being like them? It's a primitive and ludicrous thing to get insulted by shoes, unless it's shoes being thrown at Bush, but definately if it's Obama's shoes while talking on the phone to Netanyahu.

The report, by the way, knows to tell that Obama's tallking on the phone to Netanyahu. How this is known is beyond me. It looks to me like he's talking to Rahm Emanuel: look at the way he's got his fingers bunched; you can almost hear him "No, Rahm, you can't stab her, she's the head of Congress".

The rest of the Mondoweiss post confuses the emotions of Netanyahu and 12 aides, with the disposition of the other seven million of us. True, Netanyahu's office seems despondent these days, but the rest of us?
We've been following on the site how Israel seems to be in a state of panic and that Israeli anxiety over the US/Israeli relationship seems to be hitting a boiling point. When Obama finally does go to visit Israel, he might want to watch out for some flying shoes.
As I said, the same sun but a different reality.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Another Bit Obama Forgot

It has already been well established that Obama's Cairo speech was poor history in an attempt to forge a new direction for history. I'd even be willing to accept there may have been a connection between his effort and yesterday's electoral victory of the Western-friendly camp in Lebanon over the anti-mankind parties, though I wouldn't get carried away quite yet. There was a moment in 2004 when Lebanese politics had hardened Bush-haters wondering if he'd gotten something right, and a lot that helped. Lebanon, like the rest of the world only exageratedly, is largely impervious to wishful thinking.

Still, it's worth noting the many things Obama got wrong, not to denigrate him but to retain clarity. While I certainly hope Obama's aspirations materialize, pretending history didn't happen is a fine tactic for a speech, but a poor strategy for changing things.

Did you notice he managed to overlook the ethnic cleansing of the Jews of the Arab world, and its ongoing denial? Andre Aciman wishes to remind you.