Friday, July 31, 2009

Israel's Report on the Gaza Operation

Israel has published a report on the Gaza Operation. It's apparently not final, since some of the IDF investigations have yet to be completed, but it deals with a whole plethora of issues, from law and international law to methods of waging war and civilian casualties.

The summary is here; the full report is here.

I intend to read it next week (164 pages), and then I'll come back and comment. I recommend other people join me in doing so. You also might want to see who in the media and blogosphere is relating to it and how.

Since I haven't read it I can't comment on its content. I do however look forward to people relating to its content in a rational way. Statements such as "this is Israeli propaganda, we know that in advance" are not helpful. If anyone reads it and can then explain why it's simply propaganda, I'm listening.

Energy from the Jerusalem Sun

We've got lots of sun this time of year. It's possible someone (actually, two someones) are close to figuring out a way to make use of it.

Responsibility to Protect

You'd think the idea that powerful nations ought to intervene to stop genocides would be a no-brainer. Of course, there's the problem that the sons (and daughters) of powerful nations need not necessarily pay with life or limb to clean up the worst messes humanity makes. That's a legitimate point. And you'd be sure to spot the danger that deciding where to intervene will always be subordinate to the politics of the matter. And of course, inevitably the malicious fools will demand intervention to stop Israel's genocide of the rapidly multiplying Palestinians.

Having said all that, however, I stand by my first statement, that stoping genocide is the right thing to do, even if it has been done only very rarely. My understanding is that it was even agreed upon at the United Nations back in the 1950s, when there was still some hope the United Nations might prove worth its electricity bills.

Apparently I was wrong. The UN is still haggling about the idea, and seems of a mind to drop it. If I follow the argument, it is that the likely candidates to stop genocide are the powerful, rich nations, while the genocidaires are often in poor, undevelped countries, and powerful-rich-vs-poor-undeveloped, poor and undeveloped always have the moral high ground. Or some such argument. Noam Chomsky is at the forefront of the people who'd prefer mass death to American actions to save lives.

Just for the record, by the way: one of the few cases I can think of where outside powers intervened to stop a genocide was in Cambodia. The Vietnamese invaded and stopped the slaughter, backed by the Chinese; most of the rest of the world condemned them for doing so. International politics can be a very strange place.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The End of Israel?

Here are some ruminations for Tisha'a be'Av, the 9th day of Av, on which we mourn the destruction of the Temple, a long long time ago. Could it happen again?

Because of its length, I've put this post over here.

Nastiness Inspired by Israel

Robert Mackey at the New York Times tells a troubling story about what he calls India's Wall of Death.

Well, sort of. Actually he tells a rambling tale that starts with Indian women who have joined the Border Security Force. Since most of us have never heard of the BSF, he helpfully sends us to a recruiting film they've posted on You-Tube, while smirking about its resemblance to Bollywood films. I assume such a film fits into a context its intended Indian audience recognize, and which the rest of us don't, so perhaps the smirk is unwarranted. The article then wanders on to tell how violent the BSF is - even their own website says so - and then it brings various people who tell that the violence is unjustified and wanton. Since they say so it must be true, apparently, because Mackey wastes no time on any attempt to figure out what's really going on. You might be interested to hear that while he cites a statistic from the BSF website about 4,814 people they've killed in 19 years, and sets this up so we think they were mostly innocent villagers, he fails to cite the number from the same webpage whereby 1,375 BSF men have also died. I guess the innocent villagers were armed and shot back. Or perhaps sometimes shot first. It's hard to know if you parachute into the story from the stratosphere and immedately begin pontificating.

The BSF link, by the way, is here. Mackey forgot to add it.

Having introduced us to an organization we'd never heard of, poked fun at its self image by choosing one item divorced from any context, convinced us it's an outfit of bloodthirsty gunslingers which routinely kills villagers, he then embeds a British Channel 4 film to prove the whole thing. If there are pictures in a film, it must be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Finally, having convinced us this is an ugly story, he informs us the Indian fence was inspired by Israel, and he helpfully recommends we read what he calls a "fascinating article" published by an Indian we know nothing about in a UAE newspaper. UAE, in case you don't know and he doesn't tell, is United Arab Emirates. Just the place to learn about Israel. So I read the fascinating article. The author knows about India, though I have no way of telling how acceptable his analysis is; he certainly knows nothing about Israel beyond a clischee here and there.

Parting shot: If Israel hadn't inspired the Indians, none of this would be happening, we're led to understand. Of course, the fact that lots of people are dying along the Indian fence, while the Israeli one has played a demonstrable role in saving thousands of lives goes unmentioned. (Yes, over the years four or five people have also died along it, but they weren't villagers tending their fields). The source for this nasty allegation? Jonathan Rugman, at Channel 4. Except that even as he makes this unsubstantiated claim, he also demonstrates how false it is, by noting that the Indians began constructing their fence in 2000. The Israelis began constructing theirs, I remind you, in 2002. Perhaps they were inspired by the Indians?

Top notch journalism, 2009.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No-One Really Cares About the Laws of War

The Guardian is an antisemitic bastion; the Mondoweiss people are beyond rational discussion. One reason why I return again and again to the Economist is that if they aren't rational, no-one is; if they can't get a story right, who will?

This week they've got two articles on the Pakistani war against the Taliban (in Pakistan). One, an editorial, mostly crows about how the Pakistani army seems to have won a round and must continue; the other, a descriptive article, is, well, descriptive.

Both tell how the army won, but in a most revealing way. Take the opening paragraph of the leader, for example:
LONG reviled for their reluctance to fight the Islamist militancy that they themselves helped unleash, Pakistan’s generals have a rare victory to boast of.
In a three-month offensive against the Taliban in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the army has regained control of the lofty Malakand region, killing hundreds of militants. This has done less damage to civilian life and property than two previous, failed offensives in Malakand. The local Pushtuns, over 2m of whom were displaced by the fighting, are now returning home. They mostly support the army’s efforts. (My italics, of course).

This observation is then fleshed out, just a wee bit, in the second article:
SULTANWAS, a once-prosperous village in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), is now a bomb site. Its white concrete houses, gaudily decorated thanks to migrant wages sent back from Dubai, lie in heaps. Debris that had billowed in great clouds after army jets bombed the village in early May litters the surrounding fields. The Taliban, who had occupied Sultanwas a few weeks before, had no chance; 80 allegedly died in the rubble.
Involving some 40,000 troops, the army’s action has been devastating. Over
2m have been displaced, in what may be the biggest unplanned movement of people
since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Hundreds are reported to have been killed. Yet the army, which has received unprecedented public support for its attack on the Taliban, is claiming a great success.
Should we take a closer look? The Pakistani army bombed its own towns, millions of its own civilians became refugees, but no worry. There were fewer civilians killed than last time. How many fewer? Why dwell on such things. Were many towns pulverized - well, probably, since the article tells that billions will be needed for reconstruction efforts, but why allow such minutiae to bother us when a glorious victory over the Very Bad Guys has just been had.

The theory of Just War distinguishes between waging a just war (this one certainly is), and waging a war justly. Yet the more I follow the way we report to ourselves on the wars of the world, the more I become convinced this distinction is meaningless in the real world. Wars are judged bythe first criteria only. When going to war is justified, no-one cares about the way it's waged, if carefully or barbarically. When the decision to be at war is unjustified, no-one cares how careful the warriors are; they'll be damned. Though there's then a second twist, which is that if it's our country at war, we won't report on the full impact it's having; this would explain why to this very day it's basically impossible to find an honest reckoning of the two battles of Faluga, say, even tho most of the media really didn't like that war. But the "home team" effect over-rode their distatse.

If we're honest about it we must recongnize that Israel's wars are unacceptable to most of the rest of the world irrespective of the way they're waged, which is why no-matter what the reality is the reports about it are automatically the opposite from reports such as these about Pakistan (or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or have your pick). And the reason for this is profound and fundamental. It's not - as I used to think - that Israel insists on using military force in a post-military world. The world isn't post military. Just look at how the Economist eggs the pakistanis on: more! Keep on Going!

Where are the exhortations for peaceful engagement and seeking dialogue with the enemy since only that can ever succeed?

Now They Tell Us

Remember the article of faith across most of society from early 2003 at the latest, whereby George Bush was uniformly hated the world over, and his removal was an essential, urgent prerequisite for healing America's relations with humankind? I'll bet you've heard this line before, unless you spent the past six years in the Amazonian jungle, perhaps.

Well, it ain't necessarily so. People who preferred nuanced reality to articles of faith always knew that in Eastern Europe many people rather liked the American President, many in Africa likewise – and of course, those pesky Israelis demonstrated their general obnoxiousness by thinking him perfectly acceptable.

Now that the nightmare of his presidency is over and past, however, the Economist lets slip that actually, in the world's largest democracy and soon its largest country, Bush was much liked.

WHEN she landed in Mumbai on July 17th as the first front-rank visitor from Barack Obama’s administration, Hillary Clinton, America’s secretary of state, faced an unfamiliar difficulty. India was uncommonly keen on his predecessor, George Bush. In the words of Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, its people “deeply loved” Mr Bush for his efforts to strengthen bilateral bonds between the world’s biggest democracies.
At the heart of this strengthening was a nuclear co-operation agreement that made India an exception to the global counter-proliferation regime and a more legitimate nuclear power. By contrast, many Indians have looked on Mr Obama nervously. On the campaign trail, he threatened protectionism against their outsourcing industry. In office his team has paid more attention to Pakistan. America has also been paying court to China—against which Mr Bush had wanted India as a counterweight.

Carlo Strenger Proves his Point (Easily)

Carlo Strenger is a psychiatrist and professor at Tel Aviv University. I've known him, a bit, for more than 25 years, and have been following his rise the whole time. I've also started reading some of his books, though I don't think I ever read one all the way through. He's far to my left politically, but in a typical Israeli way, which means his life story is more complicated than that of many of his Western counterparts, and his positions often have more subtlety than theirs.

He has somehow worked his way onto the roster of contributors to the Guardian's Comment is Free (CiF), the paper's pseudo-blog platform for online discussion, and there he tends to write columns that would better fit into the local Hebrew-language discussion. (He also writes in Haaretz, but in an interesting twist many of us are familiar with, when writing in Hebrew his positions move even further from the center as he strives to ensure he's shocking us).

His most recent contribution to CiF is a classic case of setting up the yokels. He pokes fun at the knee-jerk fundamentals of too many on the Western Left (Israel/America always wrong; People of Color always right and so on), and tries to show why such positions might be unhelpful in explaining what's really going on in Israel and by implication, in the rest of the region.

Sure enough, the Loonies pile on in large numbers to prove his thesis by castigating him for being an Israeli.

I'm actually not suggesting you waste your time reading his column nor the responses to it. I'm just documenting the malaise, and reminding myself that it's virulence doesn't abate in the slightest merely because it's been a few months already since Israel was last capturing world headlines with some imagined atrocity.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Has Obama Already Talked to Us?

Jeffrey Goldberg took Aluf Benn's Op-Ed (which I linked to earlier today) and asked some folks at the White House if perhaps their boss ought indeed to talk to the Israelis. No, they told him, because he already has. The Cairo speech was directed also at the Israelis; the president strongly emphasized America's committment to Israel, condemned terrorism and so on.

This is true, but not relevant; indeed, if Goldberg is quoting accurately, the White House response merely underlines the problem:
I spoke to two senior administration officials who seemed to feel fairly
strongly that Benn doesn't understand what the President is trying to do.

One of the things Obama needs to address is our growing conviction that in his arrogance he underestimates our intelligence. He preaches that we need to rethink our positions while demonstrating very little understanding of the complexities we've long since worked through; he assures us public bilateral agreements made a mere four years ago never happened; he seems incapable of distinguishing between settlements even when the Palestinians have already recognised such distinctions, and his position is empowering them to renounce positions they've already accepted.

Aluf Benn, as I've said in the past, is a lefty journalist at Haaretz, a staunchly left-leaning newspaper. He has been criticizing Obama's methods of dealing with Israel, while explaining how most left-leaning Israelis think the same. If the best Obama's aides can say in response is that he doesn't understand the intricacy their boss is applying, I think they've demonstrated how Benn has got it right.

What You See and What You Don't

Fascinating article in the NYT about the ability - partially natural and partially acquired through hard work and experience - to recognize danger at a glance, before there's enough data to know what you know. The article focuses on the ability of some American soldiers to identify hidden bombs from afar, because of some minute detail that's "wrong". Much of the discussion is about the psychology and physiology of the matter: electric pulses in sections of the brain, that sort of thing.

Yet the story also demonstrates the opposite: that sometimes you can have something staring at you in the face and still be unable to see it. It starts with a true story:
The sight was not that unusual, at least not for Mosul, Iraq, on a summer morning: a car parked on the sidewalk, facing opposite traffic, its windows rolled up tight. Two young boys stared out the back window, kindergarten age maybe, their faces leaning together as if to share a whisper.
The soldier patrolling closest to the car stopped. It had to be hot in there; it was 120 degrees outside. “Permission to approach, sir, to give them some water,” the soldier said to Sgt. First Class Edward Tierney, who led the nine-man patrol that morning.
“I said no — no,” Sergeant Tierney said in a telephone interview from Afghanistan. He said he had an urge to move back before he knew why: “My body suddenly got cooler; you know, that danger feeling.”

At the end of the article, we read the rest of the story
That morning in Mosul, Sergeant Tierney gave the command to fall back. The soldier who had asked to approach the car had just time enough to turn before the bomb exploded. Shrapnel clawed the side of his face; the shock wave threw the others to the ground. The two young boys were gone: killed in the blast, almost certainly, he said.
The striking thing about the article is that it misses the central part of the event: that some Iraqi murderer purposefully used two young Iraqi boys (5 year olds) as a deadly decoy to kill Americans. The murderer knew the Americans would notice the children and want to help; he was evil enough coldbloodedly to sacrifice them for the purpose of killing Americans; and the sergeant, unlike the NYT reporter, was so profoundly aware of this possibility that it tipped him off to the danger.

Do you wonder where the murderer got the children? He didn't kidnap them as they weren't panicking; that wouldn't have worked. He probably knew them, and they knew him, and when he left them in the car he told them he'd be back in a moment and they shouldn't worry. So they didn't. But the Sergeant did.

And the reporter didn't.

Obama Needs to Talk to Israelis

Says Aluf Benn, writing in the NYT.
Third, Mr. Obama seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis. We are close emotionally and politically, but we are different. We speak Hebrew and not English, we live in the Middle East and have separate historical narratives. Mr. Obama’s stop at Buchenwald and his strong rejection of Holocaust denial, immediately after his Cairo speech, appealed to American Jews but fell flat in Israel. Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle — not guilt over the Holocaust — brought Jews a homeland. Mr. Obama’s speech, which linked Israel’s existence to the Jewish tragedy, infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Natalia Estemirova: Hero of our Time

Every now and then - rather too often, regretably - I stop to write abut the deaths of faraway heroes. This week it's the Economist's fine telling of the harsh life, incredible humanity, inspiring bravery and, as a result, forseeable early death by murder of Natalia Estemirova, and many of her friends and husband before her.

It's an uneven world we live in, with extreme disparites between the lives we're given to lead. Ms Estemirova did more with the conditions she was born into than is reasonable to expect; this made her an outstanding person.

There are Settlements and there are Settlements

The NYTimes has a longish and mildly confusing article about the two largest Haredi settlements on the West Bank, Beitar Illit and Modi'in Illit, which together make up for some half of the growth of the settlements. The Haredi are far too complex a story for regular journalists, it appears, even the rather good ones at the NYT, who can't really figure them out and fall back on sterotyping and sound bites. Still, even in their clischee-ish rendition, it's pretty obvious the Obama team isn't doing anyone a service by predicating their peace-mongering on pretending these places are the same as Tapuach.

Which is precisely what I've been saying for weeks. So if you wish to exchange your subscription to the NYT to support of this channel, all you need to do is... hmmn. I'll have to figure out what I might wish you to do.

PS. Did you note the part about the 40-year-old mayor with three grandchildren?

Antisemitism in the UK

I was talkling the other day to a friend who employs certain types of British professionals here in Israel. To my question How bad is business these days with the recession-stricken UK, he responded that his particular line is booming, and he's hiring lots of additional staff; because of the situation, he's able to choose the best of the best.

How so, I asked? Easy, he responded. It's ever less pleasant to be a Jew in the UK. Israel is The Evil State, and people treat their local Jews as contaminated by it (my formulation). Haaretz reports similarly. So if it's ever less pleasant and also business is down why stay? Better to go to Israel.

Which means the British antisemites are strengthening Israel by pushing their most talented Jews onto our shores. Heh.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Learning War as You Go

I'm too busy these days to do much blogging. If business takes off, as it may, I'll not be back for quite a while. If it slows down, as it may well, perhaps I will. Since much of what I'm working at these days is in the US, well, yet another reason to hope Obama gets his act together, I suppose.

Anyway, the NYT carried a story today about the evolving war in Afghanistan. Apparently, both sides (Taliban and Marines) are carefully watching each other, learning, and adapting. This is one of the fundamental things about warfare: just when you think you've figured out how to do it right, the other side changes their rules and you've got to start all over again, including lots of mistakes on the way. Ah, and mistakes at war cost human lives.

I sort of wish, since the war's aleady happening anyway, the broader public which has forgotten what war is all about might educate itself a bit, and become a mite less foolish. But I don't think that's happening.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Israel Won the War in Gaza

Four months of calm on the Gaza front, with almost no rockets being fired at Israel, are the result of a strategic decision by the leadership of Hamas, reports Ethan Bronner.
“Armed resistance is still important and legitimate, but we have a new emphasis
on cultural resistance,” noted Ayman Taha, a Hamas leader and former fighter.
“The current situation required a stoppage of rockets. After the war, the
fighters needed a break and the people needed a break.”

Instead of shooting, Bronner reports, Hamas is trying its hand at a different sort of struggle against Israel, cultural:
“We are not terrorists but resistance fighters, and we want to explain our
reality to the outside world,” Osama Alisawi, the minister of culture, said
during a break from the two-day conference. “We want the writers and
intellectuals of the world to come and see how people are suffering on a daily

This should be fine with Israel. If the Palestinians ever truly renounce force and turn to, say, Ghandian peaceful resistance, Israel will indeed cave in, and make room for an independant Palestinian state. Sure, there will be extreme quibles about the final inches (Jerusalem, descendants of refugees), but since a majority of Israelis long ago accepted that partition of this tiny land with the Palestinians is the way to go, if only the Palestinains think the same - I don't see the danger.

Contrary to what the Guardianistas of the world fervently believe, Israel has no joy from Palestinian suffering, and would vastly prefer they lived normal lives alongside us while allowing us to live normal lives alongside them.

In the meantime, if what is happening in Gaza is merely a tactical lull, not a strategic decision, well, the Iron Dome system is apparently rapidly approaching deployment; every day and week that pass without fire at Sderot and its region is a day or week less until we can stop the rockets when they return.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Presidents are an Unpopular Sort of Thing

USA Today has a real cool map showing the rise and fall of presidential popularity (mostly the fall) since 1945. You can plot the map all sorts of different ways to see the data from various perspectives. Having just played with it for a bit, here are some glum insights:
1. Presidents mostly end less popular than they begin unless they're Reagan or Bill Clinton.
2. Republicans and Bill Clinton are more popular at the beginning of their 2nd term than their first (but it often doesn't last). Democrats, not. (Except Bill Clinton).
3. There doesn't seem to be any correlation between popularity and historical significance (who'd have thunk).
4. The presidents with the stablest popularity (a relative term, mind you) were either mediocre with fine economies (Eisenhower, Clinton), or Reagan (who also has a reasonable economy most of the time, come to think of it, but wasn't mediocre).
5. The most popular president ever (since 1945) was Bush 2, after 9/11. He then plumetted, but contrary to accepted wisdom, he never got quite as low as Nixon. And Truman went lower even than that, if you believe it. Remember him? He's the annonymous one who stepped into FDR's gigantic shoes, set up the postwar world order, set the rules for the Cold War that eventually brought victory, and fired McArthur.

(via Contentions)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama has the Wrong Map

Says Michael Doran from Harvard. (Via Michael Totten).

How did such a bunch of intelligent folks around such an intelligent president get it so wrong, so fast? You might think they're too influenced by the fantasies regularly spouted by the media, but aren't presidents supposed to have better sources? Isn't that an essential part of letting them be president?

On Ramallah

Michael Totten comments on Ramallah.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Jerusalem

I'm way too busy these days for much blogging. Fortunately, however, there are lots of others out there still doing a fine job, and I can link to them. David Hazony, for example, who has done a great job of summarizing the issues the Obama adminstration raised earlier this week when they urgently summoned our ambassador Michael Oren to Foggy Bottom, (over the weekend apparently, so urgent it was) to reprimand him for the intention to build some apartments in Sheich Jarach.

At the same blog (Contentions), Rick Richman has dug up an interesting historical document:
Neither Resolution 242 nor 338 mentions Jerusalem, and the omission was intentional. On March 12, 1980, Arthur J. Goldberg, who was U.S. ambassador to the UN when Resolution 242 was adopted, wrote a letter to the New York Times to “set the record straight”:
Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate. . . . In a number of speeches at the UN in 1967, I repeatedly stated that the armistice lines fixed after 1948 were intended to be temporary. This, of course, was
particularly true of Jerusalem. . . . I made it clear that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiable and that the armistice lines dividing Jerusalem were no longer viable. In other words, Jerusalem was not to be divided again.

Personally, I have not yet written off the Obama administration in its attempt to make the world better, though my original scepticism is being reinforced steadily. One does however wonder if anyone there knows much about history.

One Man's Terrorist is... Still A Terrorist

Barry Rubin writes a standard piece against the Zeitgeist, exposing the idiocy and harmfulness of the idea that truth and justice are merely subjective constructs in the eyes of the beholder.

He's right, of course, though his column is a bit jaded: they've said it all, we've said it all, no-one's listening.

But then he gives a fine metaphor, one I suggest we use often until it becomes self evident:
Let me suggest an experiment. Take an apple or other handy piece of fruit or vegetable. Hold it in one hand. Then take a very sharp knife. Hold it in your other hand.Then, say out loud: One man’s [expletive deleted] is another man’s truth.Next, assuming that the location of the piece of fruit is a matter of personal opinion which has no relationship to spatial dimensions, slash out with the knife until you fall to the floor bleeding profusely.Congratulations, you now understand the effect of such a doctrine on the Middle East.

Monday, July 20, 2009

European Taxpayer Money for Israel's Critics

A number of European countries have been supporting "Breaking the Silence", an Israeli organization which collects stories about how bad the IDF is. This is actually not new; Europeans support the radical corner of Israeli society as a matter of routine, and have been doing so for many years. I know this because I'm sort of friendly with some of the people in these organizations and they're quite free with the information; my response has been to wish them luck and suggest they ratchet up their fundraising efforts, since in essence what they're doing is exporting Israeli services to Europe.

The funny thing about the report this time is that the Europeans aren't getting their money's worth. I've read many of the reports in the recent case, and they're mostly comfortably within the norm for warfare. Nothing NATO soldiers aren't routinely doing in Afghanistan. But for that, you have to know what NATO soldiers are doing in Afghanistan, on the one hand, and you need to read Hebrew, on the other. Not qualifications most Europeans are likely to have.

Fundamental Historical Baggage

Maureeen Dowd's regular column in the NYT deals this week with the hypocrisy of Republican politicians. The content doesn't particular interest me one way or the other. It's a litany of things Dowd doesn't like abut the behavior of various Republican politicians, and it's probably very interesting if you're into the minutiae of such things; I expect - without knowing, mind you - that a similar list could be made about Democratic politicians, or British Labor ones, or German CDU ones, or Israelis of any political stripe. Polticians in democracies, rather like apparatchiks in tyrannies, are rarely paragons of moral greatness.

The reason I'm linking to her piece is because of its title: Pharisees on the Potomac. For Dowd, brought up in a Christian culture even though she herself may well be secular, agnostic, athiest or whatever, the term Pharisee resonates as a deeply negative description. It goes back 2000 years, and is so profoundly a part of her cultural conditioning she's totally unaware of it. It simply "is".

For any educated Jew, on the other hand, the same word resonates very differently. The Pharisees were the group of Jews in Judea, 2000 years ago, who came out on top of the generations of severe religious and cultural strife. The Pharisees won the cultural war against the Saducees, first and foremost, but also the essenes, the early Christians (=Minim), and various other splinter groups of the time. Which means, the Pharisees: that's US. And proud of it, too. This isn't a remote and insignificant factoid from 2000 years ago: it's how we identify ourselves whenever we deal with those 2000-year-old texts which are the living fundament of what many of us are today, in July 2009.

I'm not saying Maureen Dowd is an antisemite. She isn't. But even Maureen Dowd, an unthinking and superficial liberal in an American society which is broadly free of antisemitism, can't quite get rid of the cultural baggage she has inherited from millenia of cultural forbears.

Nor can we.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The British Way of War

The Economist apparently has a good reporter with the troops in Afghanistan. Following the detailled report I linked to the other day, here's another one, this time much of it from the Helmand valley and the field of battle itself.

War is hell. It's also complicated, and eight years after arriving in Afghanistan, the Western Allies still haven't figured out the corect way of waging this one.
Subsequent British contingents were similarly stretched out. One aim was to clear the road to the Kajaki dam to allow the refurbishment of a hydroelectric plant. Another was to retake the town of Musa Qala, abandoned by the British in 2006 despite American protests. British tactics changed with each six-month rotation of troops. One especially damaging practice was “mowing the lawn”—raiding areas repeatedly to clear out insurgents without holding the ground, exposing anyone friendly to the British to grisly retribution. Whereas the American army and marines drew up a new manual on counter-insurgency in 2006, the British have yet to revise their doctrine. They rely heavily on American thinking, without American resources.
The really significant part of the report, however, tells about efforts not to kill Afghani civilians:
The American overall commander, General Stanley McChrystal, has urged his troops to minimise civilian deaths, even at risk to themselves. It is easier said than done, as Major Giles Harris, a company commander, explained. “When we meet the bad guys, we win,” he said. But protecting civilians was “a continual challenge”. “It is the discipline required not to take the gloves off. You are asking my guardsman not to empty the magazine of his weapon into the compound wall from which he is being shot at.”

Factual. Matter of fact. Even more serious, the article repeatedly makes the point that the more British casualties, the lesser the public support at home without which the war cannot be fought. Which means, even if the soldiers do manage to let more of them get killed so that fewer Afghanis will be hurt, this may only expedite the loss of public support and - potentially catastropically - an Islamist victory.

Fiendishly complicated, and then some.

Now try to imagine what would happen if an IDF unit was facing similar conditions. This is not a hypothetical question. On January 18th earlier this year I linked to an article that had just appeared in the Economist in which the editors asked themselves if Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza. The grudging answer was that maybe, but then again maybe not, it would depend on the specifics. And at the time I added:
Of course you might ask if the Economist regularly poses this question whenever anyone else (the UK included) goes to war, and the answer is probably no.
Actually, the answer, it appears, is a resounding No. The Economist doesn't dream of talking about its own soldiers, or their American or Nato allies, as they do about Israel. And the Economist, I remind you, isn't the Guardian.

Olmert on Settlements and Negotiations

Ehud Olmert has published his thoughts on the settlements-negotiations issue in the Washington Post. Olmert is out of power, and though he'd love to come back, he probably won't; so publishing is about the only way still open to him to bolster his legacy. This doesn't make him the most impartial of pundits. At one point in his column he veers into comic farce when describing the agreements between the US and Israel reached by his predecessor Ariel Sharon, which he continued:
Sharon reached understandings with the U.S. administration regarding the growth and building of settlements, as part of the road map. The understandings included that:
-- No new settlements would be constructed.
-- No new land would be allocated or confiscated for settlement construction.
-- Any construction in the settlements would be within current building
-- There would be no provision of economic incentives promoting settlement growth.
-- The unauthorized outposts built after March 2001 would be dismantled (a commitment that Israel, regrettably, has not yet fulfilled).

My italics. Hey Ehud, weren't you the Israeli prime minister who regretably didn't fulfill the commitment?

Still, the column does record once again how uninformed, indeed, unintelligent, the Obama administration's position on settlements has been. Denying the existence of previous agreements, and haggling about things that won't be changed anyway does rather distract from the main issue, which is the Palestinian refusal to make peace:
To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them. My proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees. It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians rejected my offer and preferred, instead, to drag their feet, avoiding real decisions. My proposal would have helped realize the "two-state solution" in accordance with the principles of the U.S. administration, the Israeli government I led and the criteria the Palestinian leadership has followed throughout the years.
I believe it is crucial to review the lessons from the Palestinians' rejection of such an offer.

Lands of the Unfree

Freedom House has published its report about freedom in the world, 2008. They find 42 countries and 9 territories to be Not Free, the report I've linked to focuses mostly on the 17 countries and 4 territories that are the worst of all.

The Middle East is represented by Lybia, Syria, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. (I expect Iran wil be in the report for 2009).

The Palestinians aren't on the list. Or rather, they are, higher up in the Not Free category, and while this is not only because of Israel it is partially so, and this is bad. Still, they're not in the 21 worst places to be described in the report. Which then raises the question, why do some people think the Palestinians have it worse than anyone else? And what are we to make of American, British, Argentinian or other bloggers activists and noise-makers, who willfully overlook the suffering of tens of millions of people in order to focus mainly or exclusively on Israel's crimes in denying freedom?

I'm not defending Israel in this post; I'm attacking Israel's detractors.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bookmark for Future Use

The NYT has an upbeat article about the many things that are getting better in the West Bank. I recommend bookmarking it, because sooner or later the narrative will return to form, and we'll be told about the never-ending suffering of the Palestinains, always caused by the Israelis.

I also found the frankness of the reporter refreshing (Ethan Bronner, who's actually pretty good):
Asked to explain why the West Bank’s fortunes were shifting, a top Israeli general began his narrative with a chart showing 410 Israelis killed by Palestinians in 2002, and 4 in 2008.
“We destroyed the terrorist groups through three things — intelligence, the barrier and freedom of action by our men,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with military rules. “We sent our troops into every marketplace and every house, staying tightly focused on getting the bad guys.”
But he added that the 2006 legislative electoral victory by Hamas, followed by its violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, led Mr. Abbas to fight Hamas. Palestinian troops have been training in Jordan under American sponsorship.

Complicated Afghanistan and Just War

The war in Afghanistan is important. At the moment it's one of the main arenas of conflict with those Islamists who are willing (or forced) to fight rather than merely murder; if they aren't defeated we'll all pay a heavy price, such is their hatred of mankind and their eagerness to kill people.

But it's not a simple tale. The Economist just offered what seems to me a reasonable analysis of how muddled and complicated the country is. It's worth reading.

Being who I am, I was glumly tickled by this section:
The biggest change under General McChrystal is the instruction to reduce
civilian casualties. A “tactical directive”, issued at the start of Thrust of
the Sword, says that winning the support of the Afghans overrides all else. “We
must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories—but suffering strategic
defeats—by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage and thus alienating
the people,” he says. This may increase the danger to troops; but the greater
risk is to push Afghans into the arms of the Taliban.

We're eight (8) years into the war, and the top American general has told his forces that they really ought to be more careful and kill fewer civilians. Civilians, I remind, who may well be citizens of an ally nation, who's crime is that some nasties happen to be in their neighborhood. And the mention of this is in the Economist, a British paper. If it's also in any American publications, I assure you it's not on their front pages.

Earlier this week President Obama met with some top Jewish folks, and apparently told them Israel must think more about its policies. The next day I met a group of very intelligent American news-junky types, the kind that follow every detail of the political scene. At one point I mentioned, as an aside, that Americans have been killing thousands of civilians in their wars these past few years. They were incredulous. Did I mean mercenaries with American companies, perhaps? No, I meant American pilots in Afghanistan, American drones in Paksitan, and American Marines in Iraqi towns, most notably Faluga. They were astonished, my audience.

On a scale of human forms of waging war, the Americans really are about as good as you'll find. But the idea of their president lecturing us about how we need to be more reflective, not to say more careful, leaves me scratching my head in puzzlement.


Interesting difference between Israel and America.

In Israel, when our enemies hold even a single one of our people hostage, it's a national issue of strategic importance, and eventually we pay for his release with many hundreds of jailed criminals, sometimes including convicted murderers.

When the same happens to an American serviceman, we aren't even informed of his name - assuming we hear about the case at all.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Security Barrier

Amos Harel at Haaretz has tried to figure out whatever happened to the Security Barrier (aka. Land-grab, Apartheid Wall, etc). The original article, written of course in Hebrew, was accompanied in the printed version by a map. The English version doesn't have the map, and if you don't know the geography quite well it's rather confusing.

The bottom line, however, is pretty clear. The barrier or its downgraded alternative take in only 4.5% of the West Bank; even some of the larger settlement blocks are outside of it.
In response, the cabinet amended the route in February 2005 to include just nine percent of the West Bank. In April 2006 an additional one percent was shaved off
by the government of Ehud Olmert. In practice, however, the route encompasses
only 4.5 percent of West Bank land. The four "fingers" in the last map (and which Israel presented at Annapolis in November 2007) were never built, not at Ariel and Kedumim (where a "fingernail" was built, a short stretch of fence east of the homes of Ariel); not at Karnei Shomron and Immanuel; not at Beit Arieh, nor south of that, at Ma'aleh Adumim. Instead, with little publicity, fences were put up to close the gaps closer to the Green Line, at Alfei Menashe instead of at Kedumim, at Elkana instead of Ariel and in the Rantis area instead of at Beit Arieh.

Keep that in mind next time someone inevitably tells you about the horrible pain the fence has inflicted on the Palestinians as it stole their lands and carved up their future state. The reality is that the fence is almost entirely on, or very near, the Green Line; with the exception of the Jerusalem area it never cuts more than a mile or two into the West Bank. Maybe three, at Elkana.

Changing Names (or not)

I was in Chicago a few days ago, and just about where-ever I went I saw the Sears Tower, what it's being 110 floors high and all that.

Today its name was officially changed, in accordance with the wish of a company that has rented some of its office space. If Chicagoans are anything like Jerusalemites, this will never work. Decrees changing names gratify the bureaucrats that decree them, but the populace doesn't have to follow suit merely because someone decreed.

The Jerusalem bureaucrats on both sides of the city dictated new names to the neighborhoods the other side had left behind in 1948. On the Jordanian side this seems to have worked; no Arabs clung to the names Neve Yaakov, for example, or Rova Yehudi in the Old City. On the Israeli side, however, the locals couldn't be bothered, and kept the Arab names no matter what the bureaucrats wished. Talbiye remained Talbiye, not Kommemiyut; Katamon is still Katamon, not Gonen, and so on. If you think about it, this is even a bit funny, since places such as Talbiye and Katamon were mostly invented after World War 1, which means they were Arab neighborhoods for, say, 25 years, and have been Jewish for more than 60, but the Jews still insist on calling them by their Arabic names.

It's not only language, however. Ask people where Ganei Katamon is and no-one except the immediate locals will know; ask people where Migrash Hapoel is - the soccer stadium of Hapoel -and they'll tell you exactly where it was, even though it's been gone, by now, for almost as long as it ever existed.

I don't go to Chicago very often, but I'll be very surprised if next time I'm there anyone knows where the Willis Tower is.

Uninformed Comment

Long-term readers will remember that for a while I followed Prof. Juan Cole's popular Informed Comment blog, until I got tired of his silliness and stopped. (I even had a label in his honor, see below this post).

Though I no longer record his antics here, I still stop by his blog from time to time to see what his audience likes to hear. Yesterday he had a post that contained this fine nugget of non-truth:
Israel's war last winter on little Gaza achieved virtually none of its real (as opposed to its announced) aims. There had not been any rocket fire from Hamas against Israel during the period of cease-fire in 2008. Israel violated the cease-fire and even thereafter, no Israelis were killed in the lead-up to the invasion.

Unless perhaps there's another Gaza somewhere, from which prior to the war there was no fire at another Israel? And perhaps in that alternative universe, Hamas now does shoot at Israel in spite of the thrashing it received? That might explain it, because nothing else can.

Iron Dome is On Its Way

The anti-Katyusha (and kassam) system being developed in Israel is approaching completion. Not there yet, but advancing well.

Hopefully it will be in place before anyone attacks Iran's nuclear instalations, if that happens, because there's no doubt such an attack will provoke Hezbullah and and Hamas to fire whatever they have.

Free Speech

A month late, I've stumbled across a New York Times article about how different democracies deal with limitations on free speech. Apparently, only the United States really fully means it, protecting people's right to lie, offend, and be systematically nasty; Canada, at the other end of the spectrum, doesn't even allow merely insulting talk; the Canadians apparently feel one of the responsibilites of the State is to preserve harmony. Germany, Israel and others have specific limitations based on their particular historical pasts (you can't say Nazi things in Germany, you can't sell Nazi stuff in Israel).

Personally I lean in the direction of the American method. Speech that directly incites to violence is forbidden, but nothing else. Any other system will require the authorities to decide what's "nice" and what's "not nice"; that must by definition be a subjective evaluation, very much determined by the identity of the observer.

Or, to be more specific to my world: hatred of the Jews is embedded so deeply in much of Western culture, that many shades of antisemitism are totally unrecognizable by the antisemites, who sincerely believe they're merely saying things as they are. These sentiments are profoundly potent, and yet they're never detected by "guardians of free speech". Better to let the market of ideas combat the perniciousness than have some thought police do it; the thought police, after all, would soon be understood by the antisemites simply to be tools of the Jews.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Human Rights Watch Hopes No-one Is Watching

David Berenstein, a law professor at George Mason University, writes in the Wall Street Journal that an official of Human Rights Watch used the organization's anti-Israeli positions as a fund-raising pitch in Saudi Arabia.
Finally, some would defend HRW by pointing it that it has criticized Saudi Arabia's human rights record rather severely in the past. The point of my post, though, is not that HRW is pro-Saudi, but that it is maniacally anti-Israel. The most recent manifestation is that its officers see nothing unseemly about raising funds among the elite of one of the most totalitarian nations on earth, with a pitch about how the money is needed to fight "pro-Israel forces," without the felt need to discuss any of the Saudis' manifold human rights violations, and without apparent concern that becoming dependent on funds emanating from a brutal dictatorship leaves you vulnerable to that brutal dictatorship later cutting off the flow of funds, if you don't "behave."

Jeffrey Goldberg found the allegation hard to believe, since if it was true it would severely compromise HRW. So he did what fine journalists used to do but don't always anymore: he asked Kenneth Roth, the boss of HRW. And then asked again. And again. Quite persistently, and not allowing Roth to weasel out of the issue. He presents most of the correspondence, and eventually admits that, yes, HRW is essentially guilty as accused.

Read the whole thing, as Glenn Reynolds often says.

September 13th

September 13 1993 was the day on which the first Oslo Agreement was signed, on the lawn of the White House, amid great hopes for a better future that were eventualy to lead to great suffering and widespread death of innocents. How symbolic, then, that it was a September 13th, this time 2008, on which Israel's Prime Minster offered the Palestinian President more than he was mandated to offer; and the Palestinian turned him down.

I've written about this before, as the story has been coming to light over the past few weeks. Aluf Benn, however, has the most detailled description I've seen so far, and it should be widely read.
Political debate aside, the essential lesson from Olmert's proposal is that the parties' stances have hardly changed since the failures of Camp David and Taba. Nine years of war, diplomatic standstill and thousands killed on both sides have not softened them. The Palestinians have not given in and Israel has not broken. Apparently a compromise can be reached on borders, but Israel does not want Palestinians to return to its territory and the Palestinians want the Temple Mount. Neither side is prepared to give up its national symbols and tell its people that the pledges of the past - "we will return to our villages in Palestine" and "united Jerusalem in Israel's hands forever" - were just illusions.
Benn is not being accurate. Israel - or rather, Olmert, speaking within his legal brief but well beyond any public one - did change Israel's position. He was willing to relinquish Israeli control over any part of the Old City in Jerusalem, a position taken by no one previously. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are still exactly where they were when they rejected having a sovereign state in the summer of 2000: There has to be a Right of Return (=no Jewish Israel), and they must be in full control of the Haram al-Sharif because it isn't the Temple Mount (=no Jewish historical legitimacy, and rejection of the fundamental tenet of Zionism).


The CIA Kills People (or not, actually)

There seems to be a new issue for folks to get worked up about: the CIA wilingness to discuss assassinations of Al-Qaeida leaders after 9/11.

I admit to being a bloodthirsty barbarian. Having said that, it seems to me the whole discussion is an exercise in hypocrisy. As even the summary in the NYT correctly notes, such assassinations aren't necessarily so horrible:
Current and former officials said that the program was designed as a more “surgical” solution to eliminating terrorists than missile strikes with armed Predator drones, which cannot be used in cities and have occasionally resulted in dozens of civilian casualties.

I liked that euphemism: drone attacks have "occasionally" resulted in "dozens of civilian casualties". As regular readers will know, the numbers are more likely to be thousands, and not so occasionally, either. Still, the reality of war is far removed from most people's world, while theorizing about it can be done by anyone with a propensity to chatter:

But any targeted killings make many international law specialists uneasy. Hina Shamsi, an adviser to the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University, said that any calculation about inserting a kill team would have to consider: the violation of the sovereignty of the country where the killing occurred; the different legal status of the C.I.A. compared with the uniformed military; and whether the killing would be covered by the law of war.
“The issue is a complex one under international law, and it encompasses all
of the contentious issues of the years since 2001,” Ms. Shamsi said.

International law. The ultimate arbiter of human relations.

Pushing back

Has anyone noticed this new formulation? No one argues anymore, or disagrees, or begs to differ. The term used to describe these age-old activites is now "to push back". I don't know when the term first appeared; I've been noticing it for a few months at the most. As long as it was one possible formulation among many, so be it. Recently, however, I get the feeling it's becoming the only permissable formulation. How lazy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Obama's Still Got it Wrong

This item from a New York Times blog, about a meeting Obama recently had with a bunch of prominent American Jewish figures, is a pretty clear indication he's not making his Jewish supporters happy. For a man touted for his high intelligence and sophisitication, he's managing this pretty strangely. How complicated is it to accept that even if peace in the Middle East were to be possible (it probably isn't), it won't be achieved unless the Arabs make some fundamental changes to their positions?

I found this part of the story especially interesting:
Participants said some of the toughest questioning of Mr. Obama came from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Two said that Mr. Hoenlein told the president that diplomatic progress in the Middle East has traditionally occurred when there is “no light” between the positions of the United States and Israel. But Mr. Obama pushed back, citing the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
“He said, ‘I disagree,’ ‘’ said Marla Gilson, director of the Washington action office of Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization. “He said, ‘For eight years, there was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished.’

Nothing got accomplished? Let's see. The Palestinians launched the worst wave of suicide murders anyone had ever seen (the various factions in Iraq later outdid them). Israel figured out how to beat them, in spite of the 100% of contemporary observers worldwide who said this couldn't be done and Israel must cave in. Later on, Israel unilaterally left Gaza, disbanding all its settlements on the way out. The Palestinians responded by democratically electing Hamas to govern them, and cheered as Hamas and it allies (including some Fatah elements) escalated the rocket attacks on Israel.

Seems to me there was quite a bit going on, much of it very instructive. It's unfortunate none of the President's interlocutors thought to point this out to him; the deeper problem, however, is that he doesn't seem to be aware of it on his own.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama's Got it Wrong

While I was prancing around the US last week, not reading any of my usual time-sinks, life went on. So today I saw this item by Barry Rubin which called my attention to this article from last week by Aluf Benn.

I suppose you might perhaps classify Rubin as right-of-center; not Benn, writing in Haaretz. No way. Which is why his analysis of all the things wrong with Obama's current "settlements must stop" policy is so interesting and compelling. Benn is not merely describing. He's describing and agreeing.
The administration's pathetic attempt to deny the existence of understandings with Israel on construction in the settlements only bolstered this impression. It was possible to blame Israel for violating its promises, or to say that the policy had changed and to explain why, but not to lie.
I'm of the camp willing to cut the Obama administration some slack on their diplomacy of winning hearts by respectful gestures. I doubt it will work, and I hope that once it doesn't they'll recognize the significance of the failure, but I don't see the harm in trying. Learning through experience is the best way there is. At the end of the day, however, the purpose of the new diplomacy is to have results. By alienating the large segment of Israeli society who are his natural allies, Obama is needlessly reducing the chances of his own success.

The purely anecdotal evidence I came across in the States last week was that it's not only Israel's Left he's alienating. A number of American Jews who voted for him told me they're uncomfortable with what he's doing. Or, as one of them said, "I wonder if Rahm Emanuel has different positions than I thought he had". Regarding America, this is purely anecdotal, at this stage. Regarding Israel, perhaps not.

The Economist on the Economy

Yishai, a reader who's ahead of me in the reading of this week's edition of the economist, writes in to say
I think the economist heard you kvetching

Yup. That's the power us bloggers wield over the MSM.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On the Determination to Succeed

The top Economist correspondent to America,who writes a weekly column about the country, has gone back home. His (or her? You can never know with the Economist) final column is here. The thesis: America is somtime admirable, othertimes not. Yet it has a genius for climbing out of the bad spots and creating great things.
But there is fortunately a more solid reason for optimism. That is the country’s
taste for entrepreneurial capitalism, a taste that arrived with the first
settlers and is becoming an ever greater resource, as the global economy is
shaken by wave upon wave of disruptive technologies. America still has a genius
for incubating entrepreneurs and giving those entrepreneurs the wherewithal to
turn bright ideas into global behemoths. America’s biggest company, Wal-Mart,
was founded only in 1962; its sexiest, Google, was conceived in a Californian
dorm room at about the time that your columnist arrived on these shores. Even as
de Tocqueville despaired about the future of his half-adopted country in the
1840s and 1850s, the likes of Carnegie and Rockefeller were about to unleash the
greatest productivity miracle the world has seen. That is the America that still
promises much.

I've been wandering around the US for an intensive week now; tomorrow I'll make my way home,though given the distance this will take a bit. America is a rather glum place these days - though, if my anecdotal impressions have any value, it's not a terminal glumness. The people I talked to were all pessimistic in the short term but I didn't see anyone desist from making plans for the mid- and long-term. If you wish to see a society which has lost its fundamental vitality, go to Germany, or Austria, and probably many other places in Western Europe (not Poland).

This profound determination to work things through and come out intact on the other side seems to me a source of America's firm support for Israel: both sides recognize cultural commonalities, and these create affinities.

Don't Tell, So We Won't Be Bothered

Look at this report, from the BBC. It's about how the Pakistanis have perhaps won this round in their war against the Taliban; then again, perhaps they haven't.

See if you can spot what the reports isn't telling us.

That's right. Not a word, not a single word, about the possibility that any civilians were harmed. True, two million of them (2,000,000) fled their homes and are still refusing to go back, preferring to live in tents than to brave living in their homes and towns; but this has nothing to do with any civilian casualties their own army might have caused. Not at all.

And in this case, the BBC is at least mentioning there was an event, even while willfully lying about its essence.The rest of your media isn't even noticing the event. After all, a foreign people in a faraway land, who can be bothered.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Murkier and Murkier

The case of the alleged AIPAC spies that eventually collapsed a few months ago was always murky and strange. Haaretz has now interviewed Larry Franklin, the Pentagon analyst who was convicted of leaking classified documents to the AIPAC staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman; the story just keeps getting wierder. Franklin, a Catholic, was set up to trip the AIPAC men by feeding them a false document telling about an imminent threat to Israeli agents in Iraq; the way he tells it, this was the culmination of years of investigation which can only be decribed as antisemitic.

The case, as long as it was active, was used by many in the Walt-Mearshiemer section of the American public (and blogosphere), as an indication of the pernicity of the Israel Lobby and the danger it poses to America. If they were intellectually honest, those people, they might now want to engage in a spot of investigation in the opposite direction, and ask themselves if it's possible that antisemitism can still be a motivating force for an American federal agency - a very serios allegation, I would think.

Can't Find it on the Map

The admirable folks at Just Journalism have put up a spot of research comparing British media's covering of Israel's attack in Gaza and the Sri Lanken victory over the Tamil terrorists. Unsurprisingly, with the exception of the London Times, the British outlets surveyed all told their readers how horrendous the Israelis are to a far greater extent than they did about the Sri Lankens. And the sun kept on rising in the East, for that matter.

When I read the report, I had different comments.
1. the NGOs on the ground in Sri Lanka actually did their best to report. So the media had the information and made a purposeful decision not to do much with it.
2. The comparison between Israel and Sri Lanka is only of limited use. And, as everyone knows, the numbers of civilians killed in Sri Lanka was dramatically higher than the Palestinian casualties, partially because the Sri Lanken army never even pretended it was trying not to hit civilians. (Sri Lanken civilians, by the way). (What do you mean, "not everyone knows"?)
3. While I really have no argument with the Just Journalism gang, it is worth noticing the set they chose for comaprision. What about, say, civilians being killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur, South Sudan, refugees being towed out to sea by the Thai navy and dumped there, and other such atrocities which somehow generated less attention than the Sri Lanken case?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Palestinians: Never Miss an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity

Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel: Pressure from America on Israel? Well, perhaps, but not relevant. The Palestinians refuse to talk... to each other.

Israel: Economic Refuge?

Blogging from an airport, quickly:

The numbers in this item are rather small, but apparently there's a rise in the number of Jews immigrating to Israel this year. Countries of origin: France, UK, and the US. Reason for the uptick: economic. It's better in Israel.

The Messiah is almost here.


I'm doing a spot of globetrotting, and will be offline more than usual. Blogging may be sporadic for the next 10 days or so. But anyway, it's summer. Why read depressing politcal blogs at all?

Friday, July 3, 2009

A First for an American President

Obama's policy is failing in Israel. He's strengthening the resolve of the wrong part of the nation.

I can't prove this, of course, and anyway, it's far too early days. But there is mounting anecdotal evidence, and now here's an inconclusive poll, to say that Obama's decision to single out Israel for high-profile public pressure in the Mideast is achieving the opposite goal. Israel's political center is hardening its positions.
The survey by Dialog, conducted Thursday under the auspices of Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, found Netanyahu's approval ratings were 18 percent higher than Tzipi Livni's - a much larger margin than when they were competing for prime minister. Asked who was better suited to be prime minister, 52 percent said Netanyahu, while only 34 said Livni.
Netanyahu's approval ratings may have jumped 5 points since the last Dialog survey, on June 15. In the most recent survey, 49 percent of the 500 respondents said they were satisfied with Netanyahu's performance. The survey results have a margin of error of 4.5 percent. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman jumped 9 points since a May 14 survey, with a 40-percent satisfaction rate. Defense Minister Ehud Barak improved by only one point. Forty-six percent of respondents said Israel should continue construction in the West Bank even if this causes a confrontation with the U.S., and 44 percent said the opposite.
These are not decisive figures, but seen in historical perspective, they're rather startling. So far as I know, no Israeli prime minister, not even Ben Gurion in 1956, has ever faced down an American president with an explicit demand; because no Israeli electorate would tolerate such a thing. Moreover, the issue this time is one on which a majority of Israelis would usually agree with the American president's position anyway. There is no large political camp in Israel in favor of the settlement project anymore.

But there is a very large political camp which is exceedingly well versed in the issues including the minutiae. Non-Israelis who don't know us well cannot conceive the degree to which politics fascinate Israelis. I've never seen any Western electorate to remotely resemble us in this - probably because there's no other place where the issues are so immediately existential. Since we know the score, we can see the extent to which Obama's positions are detrimental to us. Pretending the Bush-Sharon agreements of 2004 didn't happen is dishonest but also cautionary. Insisting Upper Modiin is the same as Kiryat Arba, and perhaps also East Jerusalem, is not intelligent by any measure. Making believe pressure on Israel alone will bring peace is beyond childish.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


It's been a busy week, and it isn't over yet. Along with everything else going on, we've had an encounter with Swine Flu (everyone's fine now).

The reason I mention this is to tell that I was very impressed by the way the authorities are organized. Everyone involved knew exactly what was supposed to happen and by whom, and what wasn't supposed to happen. The procedures were clear and concise, there were leaflets with explanations, there was a no-nonsense approach with a seriousness about directives which is almost anti-Israeli. Can you imagine a situation where Israelis all do what they're told? Where they even accept who gets to do the telling? Where the tellers have their message honed?

Apparently if everyone knows what they're doing, it's simply a nasty flu, not a threat to humanity. So we seem to have decided to make it be that way.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Israel is the Only Conceivable Culprit

I'm way too busy to blog these days, as you may have noticed. This week, however, a gaggle of Israeli far left organizations published a document about the Gaza operation. It's not online yet, but it probably will be. In spite of being too busy for such nonsense I did take half an hour to race over it. Next week I've got some long boring plane trips ahead of me, so perhaps I'll decide to be systematic in my reading and then write about it.

In the meantime, the same coalition of organizations has put up a short video on how evil Israel is to the Gazans. You can see it here.

Things in Gaza really are bad. Don't you really wish the Palestinians would decide to be greedy and egoistic, like the folks in America, and put their personal gain and material goals ahead of their hatreds and grievances? If they did, Gaza might soon be on its way to being a fine place; why, many of the grievances might even simply disappear.

What a thought, huh?