Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Silly and the Ignorant

On Monday, when many Jewish blogs shut down for Yom Kippur, Glenn Greenwald wrote a long post called "A Glossary of Terms in Foreign Affairs".
As we debate the many scary enemies and exciting possibilities for new wars -- escalation in Afghanistan, our very own "Cuban Missile Crisis" against the Persian
Hitlers, the Socialist Menace in Venezuela -- events can become very confusing. Compounding that problem are the many complex, technical terms often used in media discussions of foreign affairs. It's therefore helpful to keep track of the relevant terms --- ones just from the events of the last week alone -- to maximize clarity as we debate our imperial responsibilities:
He then goes on to offer a long list of snippets he's cut from statements made by all sorts of people. The point of the exercise is very simple: The Americans are bad or hypocrites for saying bad things about the Iranians while being worse themselves. Anyone they've ever looked askance at, be they Iranian, Venezualian, Russian, Palestinian and what have you, are exactly as good or bad as the Americans, except that they're generally better. And of course, the Israelis are the worst of all, no doubt about that.

Greenwald probably has a handle on constitutional matters, the legality of torture, habeas corpus and similar themes he generally writes about. I doubt his positions are as obviously correct as he makes out, but at least he's arguing about things he understands. Foreign relations, clearly, are not his forte. As for basic things such as political context, wheat and chaff, historical depth precedent and significance - these are clearly beyond his ken, even though you'd think no-one could get through a freshman's year at college without at least bumping into them.

Using his method of snipping two sentences from any context and setting them up as proof of intent or identity or anything, I assure you I could prove that Yassir Arafat was a staunch Zionist, Franklin Roosevelt a fascist, Abraham Lincoln a racist, and Martin Luther King a male chauvinist pig and serial fornicator. (Actually, that last one, taken out of context, was true - though totally irrelevant to the man's historic greatness). Detach yourself from the world people live in, and allow yourself to edit their words to serve your purposes regardless of truth, and you can prove just about anything. (Well, I don't suppose there are any sentences that could be misquoted to make Gengis Khan seem a Wall Street executive, or Julius Ceaser an atomic scientist. Some leaps of anachronism truly are beyond plausibility. I think).

Greenwald is an important blogger, and many people read him to learn things. Were I to be caught writing a post like that I'd be embarrased to leave home for a month, but I guess Greenwald and I have different positions on intellectual integrity, and on truth and how it might be determined, not only on things such as whether Israel is the world's worst offender.

He didn't (stay at home). As a matter of fact, the very next day he was on television, explaining to the viewers of MSNBC that America and Israel are bullies, and Iran is their much-maligned and misunderstood victim. He proudly posted the You-tube link at his blog so readers who missed it might catch up.

The funny part of the story is that his positions were so outlandish that the person brought in to counter him was none other than Arrianna Huffington, hardly a fan of Bibi Netanyahu she. The sad part of the story is that of the five talking heads who appear in the 8-minute section of this current affairs TV program, not a single one - not one - had anything informed to say beyond the usual cliches. They were brought in to talk about the growing tensions between Iran and the world, or perhaps Iran and the United States. You'd think a panel on that would have included an expert on Iran, say, one on the constuction of nuclear weapons, perhaps an expert on the decision-making process in the American government, an international-relations buff, perhaps an expert on miltary matters, or the gathering of intelligence.

Nope. Two journalists, two bloggers, and an anchor; and nary any relevant expertise from any of them. Maybe it isn't so surprising Greenwald allows himself to write such intellectually sloppy blog posts.

Fallible Rabbis

The Talmud is arguably the most influential book in all of Jewish writing - and Jews have written many many books. The Torah (Pentatuch) of course ranks higher and is more seminal; the rest of the Bible only notionally so, I'd argue. Absent either Talmud or Torah and you have no Judaism; over the centuries, however, considerably more time has been invested in relating to the Talmud, and that's the sense in which I'm willing - a bit gingerly - to position the Talmud even higher than the Torah.

This year the 100,000 or more of us who do Daf Yomi have been doing the Nezikim tractates (Bava Kama, Bava Metzia and now Bava Batra); in many ways, these three, perhaps along with the Shabbat, Sanhedrin, and perhaps Kiddushin tractates are the most improtant of all 37 tractates.

What do these volumes, whch stand at the center of Judaism, mostly deal with (bearing in mind that all tractates wander all over the thematic landscape)? Not theology, as you might expect of the heart of an ancient religion; not how God relates to us and back. Nor even religious belief in any recognizably Protestant form, of Faith, say, or Destiny. The Nezikim tractates deal with civil law. What happens when my ox damages your vegetable patch. How do we know when a contract is valid. This month we've been discussing things like setting boundries between fields, respecting the neighbor's property, figuring out what happens when two people claim the same property. In a month or two we'll have a long look at the laws of inheritance. (I peeked).

Which means these discussions which stand at the heart of Judaism deal with the reality that people living together will have a lot to bicker about. Real people in the real world will have all sorts of differences about lots of things in their daily lives. This can't be changed or abolished, but hopefully it can be regulated.

It's not only the simple folk or the uneducated. The other day I passed the story of Rav Kahana, whose field was washed away in a flood, and who then rebuilt his fence on his neighbor's land. There's a medieaval scholar who explains he did this by mistake, but that's not the reading as I see it, since he was certain enough about it to be taken to court. The Gemara then tells both of the ruling that was handed down, but also of how Rav Kahana himself - as an important scholar - participated in the legal discussion of how such a case should be ruled. This is not the first time I've come across such a case, where an important scholar and religious leader is censured (or exonerated) for his earthly actions. Even important rabbis, leaders of their communities and figures of reverance for the following millennia, were real people, and they had real quarrels just like everybody else.

Bava Batra 41a-b. (Note for Soccerdad and the other eagle-eyed pedants: Yes, I know this is a few pages ahead of the schedule. I'm a progressive fellow).

Have I ever mentioned that this thread starts and is explained here? Well, it does.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Novice or Underqualified?

Earlier today I had a discussion with a friend about Obama's ability to run the world (to the degree an American president can, which is always more than anyone else, and less than he'd like). My interlocuter was of the opinion that he's in way over his head and not likely to grow into the job; I was of the opinion that he's in way over his head but may yet grow. We both agreed that he came to the job woefully unprepared; the disagreement was whether there's a learning curve that can take him high enough soon enough.

The job of POTUS is extraordinarily complicated, and no-one comes to it fully prepared; as a general observation I think it's reasonable to need up to two years of on-the-job training.

Rob Satloff at the New Republic seems to be on my side of the discussion, arguing that Obama's MidEast policy was all wrong, but now he may be fixing it. I hope he's right; and I can see why my friend this afternoon is less convinced. (Via Jeffrey Goldberg).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Goldstone Gets His Facts Wrong

Wandering around the Internet I've come across an organization called UN Watch. They look like an interesting outfit, and offer all sorts of interesting materials. On their blog I found an interveiw from July with Richard Goldstone in which he defends Christine Chinkin. You can decide for yourself if he's convincing or merely revealing.

I have a different reason for writing about him.
Interviewer: Maybe this is one reason why the Israeli government decided not to cooperate with your commission. I mean the commission, your commission,
Mr. Goldstone, was established only after the Israeli military operation which was a reprisal act, not after seven or eight years of Palestinian shelling of innocent civilians in Israel.
Goldstone: I understand that and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons for the lack of cooperation, but you know at the same time I don’t believe this was an issue, the shelling. I don’t believe was really taken to the Security Council by the Israeli government. I may be wrong but that’s my impression.
Uh huh. Here's the list of letters Israel sent to the UN complaining about the rockets from Gaza - the complaints Goldstone thought had never happened. (I've copied from Israel's report, which I wrote about here).
Letters of 3 October 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/937 • A/55/441), 7 October 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/970 • A/55/460), 11 October 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/980 • A/55/470), 12 October 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/985), 20 October 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/1007 • A/55/508), 2 November 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/1065 • A/55/540), 20 November 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/1108 • A/55/634), 22 November 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/1114 • A/55/641), 29
December 2000 (U.N. Doc. S/2000/1252 • A/55/719), 1 January 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/1198 • A/56/706), 2 January 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/2 • A/55/725), 23 January 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/71 • A/55/742), 25 January 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/81 • A/55/748), 2 February 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/103 • A/55/762), 9 February 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/125 • A/55/777), 13 February 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/132 • A/55/781), 14 February 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/137 • A/55/787), 2 March 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/187 • A/55/819), 6 March 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/193 • A/55/821), 7 March 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/197 • A/55/823), 14 March 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/24 • A/55/730), 19 March 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/244 • A/55/842), 26 March 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/278 • A/55/858), 27 March 2001(U.N. Doc. S/2001/280 • A/55/860), 29 March 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/291 • A/55/863), 16 April 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/364 • A/55/901), 23 April 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/396 • A/55/910), 1 May 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/435 • A/55/924), 9 May 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/459 • A/56/69), 11 May 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/473 • A/56/72), 18 May
2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/506 • A/56/78), 25 May 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/524 • A/56/80), 30 May 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/540 • A/56/81), 4 June 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/555 • A/56/85), 11 June 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/580 • A/56/91), 13 June 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/585 • A/56/92), 18 June 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/604 • A/56/97), 19 June 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/611 • A/56/98), 21 June 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/619 • A/56/119), 2 July 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/656 • A/56/131), 3 July 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/662 • A/56/138), 13 July 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/696 • A/56/184), 17 July 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/706 • A/56/201), 26 July 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/737 • A/56/223), 27 July 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/743 • A/56/225), 6 August 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/768 • A/56/272), 7 August 2001(U.N. Doc. S/2001/770 • A/56/275), 9 August 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/775 • A/56/280), 10 August 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/780 • A/56/286), 14 August 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/787 • A/56/294), 28 August 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/825 • A/56/324), 30 August 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/834 • A/56/325), 5 September 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/840 • A/56/331), 10 September 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/858 • A/56/346), 17 September 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/875 • A/56/367), 20 September 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/892 • A/56/386), 25 September 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/907 • A/56/406), 4 October 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/938 • A/56/438), 5 October 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/943 • A/56/444), 8 October 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/948 • A/56/450), 17 October 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/975 • A/56/483), 19 October 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/990 • A/56/492), 25 October 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/1011 • A/56/506), 30 October 2001(U.N. Doc. S/2001/1023 • A/56/514), 6 November 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/1048 • A/56/604), 13 November 2001(U.N. Doc. S/2001/1071 • A/56/617), 28 November 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/1121 • A/56/663), 29 November 2001(U.N. Doc. S/2001/1133 • A/56/668), 3 December 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/1141 • A/56/670), 4 December 2001(U.N. Doc. S/2001/1150 • A/56/678), 27 December 2001 (U.N. Doc. S/2001/1262 • A/56/758), 4 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/25 • A/56/766), 11 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/47 • A/56/771), 16 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/73 • A/56/774), 17 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/79 • A/56/778), 18 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/86 • A/56/781), 22 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/104 • A/56/788), 24 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/115 • A/56/793), 29 January 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/126 • A/56/798), 8 February 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/155 • A/56/814), 13 February 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/164 • A/56/819), 19 February 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/174 • A/56/824), 20 February 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/185 • A/56/828), 27 February 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/208 • A/56/843), 4 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/222 • A/56/854), 5 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/233 • A/56/857), 11March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/252 • A/56/864), 12 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/257 • A/56/867), 15 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/280 • A/56/876), 19 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/293 • A/56/880), 22 March 2002 (U.N. Doc.
S/2002/301 • A/56/884), 25 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/302 • A/56/886), 27 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/315 • A/56/889), 28 March 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/322 • A/56/891), 1 April 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/337 • A/56/895), 2 April 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/345 • A/56/898), 3 April 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/348 • A/56/899), 8 April 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/360 • A/56/905), 11 April 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/373 • A/56/912), 12 April 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/415 • A/56/909), 1 May 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/503 • A/56/936), 8 May 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/533 • A/56/940), 22 May 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/572 • A/56/957), 23 May 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/583 • A/56/964), 24 May 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/584 • A/56/965), 30 May 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/604 • A/56/967), 5 June 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/620 • A/56/970), 14 June 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/669 • A/56/983), 19 June 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/683• A/56/992), 21 June 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/696 • A/56/995), 10 July 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/743 • A/56/1001), 17 July 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/775 • A/56/1006), 19 July 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/800 • A/56/1008), 26 July 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/841 • A/56/1014), 31 July 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/852 • A/56/1016), 1 August 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/859 • A/56/1018), 7 August 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/893 • A/56/1021), 14 August 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/919 • A/56/1025), 19 August 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1049 • A/57/419), 25 August 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1076 • A/57/431), 27 August 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1089 • A/57/438), 10 October 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1134 • A/57/463), 23 October 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1186 • A/57/495), 30 October 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1214 • A/57/579), 1 November 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1220 • A/57/585), 7 November 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1224 • A/57/592), 13 November 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1241 • A/57/601), 15 November 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1260 • A/57/615), 25 November 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1295 • A/57/625), 29 November 2002 (U.N. Doc.
S/2002/1308 • A/57/632), 11 December 2002 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1347 • A/57/642), 2 January 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2002/1440 • A/57/697), 6 January 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/9 • A/57/703), 14 January 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/46 • A/57/706), 17 January 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/62 • A/57/710), 29 January 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/110 • A/57/719), 12 February 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/171 • A/57/729), 26 February 2003 (U.N. Doc. /2003/225 • A/57/741), 5 March 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/252 • A/57/745), 11 March 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/299 • A/57/750), 1 April 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/395 • A/57/770), 25 April 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/502 • A/57/799), 1 May 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/517 • A/57/804), 6 May 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/527 • A/57/807), 12 May 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/540 • A/57/810, 20 May 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/557 • A/57/815), 2 June 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/603 • A/57/820), 13 June 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/645 • A/57/839), 20 June 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/662 • A/57/842), 10 July 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/699 • A/57/846), 13 August 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/809 • A/57/858), 10 September 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/873 • A/57/862), 9 October 2003 (U.N. Doc. S/2003/972 • A/58/424), 14 January 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/33
• A/58/682), 30 January 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/80 • A/58/697), 25 February 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/142 • A/58/721), 2 March 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/172 • A/58/726), 16 March 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/212 • A/58/736), 16 March 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/211 • A/58/735), 3 May 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/350 • A/58/780), 8 June 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/465 • A/58/837), 28 June 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/521 • A/58/850), 13 August 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/647 • A/58/870), 30 August 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/702 • A/58/881), 24 September 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/757 • A/59/380), 2 November 2004 (U.N. Doc. S/2004/880 • A/59/548), 11 January 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/14 • A/59/667), 19 January 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/40 • A/59/678), 28 February 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/130 • A/59/717), 15 April 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/250 • A/59/781), 19 May 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/327 • A/59/805), 7 June 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/375 • A/59/829), 8 June 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/457 • A/59/873), 23 June 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/410 • A/59/854), 13 July 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/452 • A/59/870), 29 August 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/552 • A/59/905), 26 September 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/609 • A/60/382), 27 September 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/610 • A/60/385), 17 October 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/655 • A/60/435), 27 October 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/680 • A/60/448), 5 December 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/756 • A/60/580), 5 December 2005 (U.N. Doc. S/2005/757 • A/60/581), 31 March 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/205 • A/60/742), 26 May 2006 (U.N. Doc. A/ES-10/334 • S/2006/336), 12 June 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/382 • A/60/885), 26 June 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/436 • A/60/905), 30 June 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/463 • A/60/913), 5 July 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/485 • A/60/931), 10 July 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/502 • A/60/935), 10 October 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/798 • A/61/507), 14 November 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/887 • A/61/574), 15 November 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/891 • A/61/578), 24 November 2006 (U.N. Doc.
S/2006/916 • A/61/594), 5 December 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/941 • A/61/608), 19 December 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/1000 • A/61/647), 26 December 2006 (U.N. Doc. S/2006/1029 • A/61/681), 19 January 2007 (U.N. Doc. S/2007/23 • A/61/705), 7 February 2007 (U.N. Doc. S/2007/60 • A/61/729), 22 February 2007 (U.N. Doc. S/2007/101 • A/61/755), 7 March 2007 (U.N. Doc. S/2007/129 • A/61/787), 4 September 2007 (U.N. Doc. S/2007/524 • A/61/1038), 12 December 2007 (U.N. Doc. S/2007/728 • A/ES-10/406), 19 December 2007 (U.N. Doc. S/2007/750 • A/ES-10/407), 15 January 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/647-S/2008/24), 4 February 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/673 - S/2008/72), 8 February 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/685 - S/2008/86), 11 February 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/688 - S/2008/90), 27 February 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/710 - S/2008/132), 13 March 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/735 - S/2008/169), 27 March 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/770 - S/2008/209), 9 April 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/797 - S/2008/233), 18 April 2008 (U.N. Doc. S/2008/261), 22 April 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/812 - S/2008/269), 25 April 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/820 - S/2008/277), 9 May 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/839 - S/2008/311), 12 May 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/840 - S/2008/316), 14 May 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/843 - S/2008/328), 5 June 2008 (U.N. Doc. A/62/857 - S/2008/367), 24 June 2008 (U.N. Doc. S/2008/420), 22 December 2008 (U.N. Doc. S/2008/807), 24 December 2008 (U.N. Doc. S/2008/814). 30 See, e.g., Letters of 13 March 2008, 18 December 2008, 29 December 2008.

Silly Boycott

The editorial of The Forward explains why the efforts to boycott Israel are wrong, and also self defeating.
The argument that pushing Israel into economic, academic and cultural purgatory will somehow persuade its government to dismantle the security barrier, evacuate
the West Bank and embrace its sworn enemy is misguided. And that’s being generous. Whatever the flaws of the Netanyahu administration — and there are
many — it is clearly responding to (and, true, at times stoking) real fears and anxieties among the Israeli population.
The boycotters are either grossly ignorant about the Israeli psyche, or don’t care to understand it. The attempt to isolate and delegitimize “is counter productive because of the nature of who we are. It confirms our worst fears,” says the noted South African journalist Benjamin Pogrund, who now lives in Israel and writes extensively about boycotts, having lived through the apartheid era in his native land.

It also mentions that Omar Bargouti fellow, who's trying to shut down Israeli universities while doing an MA at one of them.

The Forward stands on the Left of American Jewry, to my understanding. Not far Left, but comfortably Left.

America's Disappearing Jews

Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at JTS, tells that unfortunately the pessimists in the discussion about assimilation and the dwindling of America's Jews are mostly right.
This hesitance to grapple seriously with the issue of intermarriage is part
of a broader phenomenon: Speaking of threats to Jewish survival has become
passé. Many argue that such discussions no longer serve to rally Jews; if
anything, they turn people off. Moreover, advocates of this point of view tend
to argue that if Jews are disengaged, it is because of failings in our
institutions. If only we had more compelling programs and wiser leaders, if only
we would cater more to the desires and preferences of younger generations, we
would retain larger numbers of Jews, they say.
At the risk of sounding trite and simplistic, raising committed Jews isn't that mysterious, and has very little to do with programs and wise leaders. The best place to create committed Jews is in the homes of committed Jewish parents. True, committed Jewish parents do tend to create committed Jewish communities with programs and leaders and what have you, but those are all spinoffs. If you've got the committed parents, everything else will work out. If you don't, it probably won't.

More on Leonard Cohen

The Forward had a reporter, one Nathan Jeffay, at the Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv concert I mentioned last week. Jeffay wrote a far better report than I, even though it was the same event: so enjoy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

There Are Antisemites and There Are Antisemites

My reading of Juan Cole is that he's either an antisemite, or he writes a lot of things that are antisemitic. (Follow my "Juan Cole" tag to see the story). Still, as anyone who has ever given the topic of antisemitism any thought will readily recognize, there are gradations of the malaise. Cole's is a comparatively benign version, and he himself recoils from some of the worse stuff. A fine example of this is his post of September 19th, in which he forcefully expressed his revulsion at a speech of Ahmedinejad. You may wish to note, however, that he then posted some comments from readers who were less squeamish than he - and keep in mind that he actively censors the comments on his blog, thus taking responsibility for each and every one of them.

Being repulsed by Ahmedinejad, of course, is no proof of innocence. That would be like saying, say, that Father Coughlin wasn't an antisemite, since his contemporary Goebbels was worse - clearly not a reasonable position.

The folks at CIFWatch have noticed the Guardian is less squeamish than Juan Cole. They apparently can't bring themselves to say that Ahmedinejad is a Jew hater. Particularly useful is an article by Mark Gardner, who compared how the various British news outlets reported on Ahmedinejad's UN speech. The Guardian was the only outlet that didn't manage to see the plain reality.

Someday I should write about this in greater depth, but this afternoon - a few short hours before Yom Kippur - isn't gong to be that day.

More on Missile Defenses

Everyone seems to be surprised that the Iranians tried to hide part of their nuclear program, as disclosed last week; the more honest are asking if perhaps additional sections remain to be discovered. It's at moments like these one can't help scratching one's head in perplexion. Israel has been warning the Iranians are trying to achieve nuclear weapons for, what, 10 years? 12? 15? Hello? Anyone out there?

Barry Rubin offers an interesting column about the potential effectiveness of anti-missile defense systems. He'd better be right, because the more convincing they look, the more pause they'll give the Iranians and their proxies, and the fewer people will get killed on all sides.

Michael Oren in the NYT

The New York Times has a profile of our Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. It's not a very important article, but I like Michael, so why not link to it?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Leonard Cohen

We went down to Tel Aviv (well, technically it was Ramat Gan) last night, and joined some 45,000 other people in a Leonard Cohen concert.

He never had a magnificant voice, but at 75 he still has the same reflective and resonant voice he always had - quite an achievement, that. He sang all his greaties, and we sang along. At the end he wished us peace, using the blessing of the Cohanim, in Hebrew.

For me, the top moment was when he sang Who By Fire, an interesting adaptation of Netane Tokef. Netane Tokef has been the climatic moment of the Rosh Hashana services for more than a thousand years, and we said it twice this week; we'll say it again early next week on Yom Kippur - so his timing was impecable.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

UNHRC Roundup

David Harris has some interesting details about how twisted the UN Human Rights Council really is - and he posted it at the Huffington Post, no less. (I don't regularly read the Huffpo: Jeffrey Goldberg made me do it).

As regular readers know, I'm not certain if a reasonable person shouldn't simply accept that the reigning narrative about international law and the waging of war is so hopelessly irrelevant to the real world as to be written off in its entirety, or if its fundaments are good enough that it needs to be salvaged from the pacifists who bear its name in vain. The official Israeli postion is that it needs - and can - be salvaged. Paul H. Robinson, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, apparently tends to the position that as it stands, the whole corpus needs to be rejected, or at least very seriously revamped, which is roughly the same.

There has been a lot of chatter about the significance - or lack thereof - of Richard Goldstone's Jewishness, his connections with Israel, the fact that his daughter once lived here (she seems not to anymore). I know very little about the man and have nothing informed to say about all that. I have, however, carefully re-read the letter signed by a groupf of folks back in January, among them Prof. Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics, castigating Israel for its action in Gaza. The fact that Ms. Chinkin was chosen as one of four members of the Goldstone Commission has already been cited by many as an indication of the agenda of the commission before it even began working. Here, have a look yourself. The way I read it, the authors are refusing Israel the right to determine if and when it may defend itself:
ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.
The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

Moreover, the title (given perhaps by an editor at the Times, not by the authors of the letter) is even more crass: it informs us that it is not Israel's intention to defend itself at all, but rather... well, I'm not quite certain what they think Israel's intention is. Nor is there any indication whatsoever how all these people know what Israel thinks or intends, given that most of them don't know Hebrew, haven't particiapted in the national discussion prior to the operation, and none of them have access to the documents of the decision makers which will only hit the archives in 30 year or later.

Goldstone saw this, and made his decision to sit on the commission with Ms. Chinkin. What was going on in his mind, I cannot say. But I don't think it's all that important, either. This decision of his over-rides anything else one might have to say about him in this context.


This post is off-topic and I appologize in advance. It's just I can't resist such an opportunity for pure Schadenfreude.

The top headline on the Guardian's website tells that Gordon Brown (still the Prime Minster of the UK) begged and beseeched for a one-on-one meeting with Obama but was turned down. (Bibi got one). The article implies the Americans were purposefully snubbing the British for setting free that Lybian Megrahi fellow a few weeks ago. To add outrage to mortification,
Brown's efforts to secure a prestigious primetime slot for his keynote speech at the general assembly in New York were also thwarted when the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, delivered a 100-minute speech to the UN, massively running over Brown's 15 minute slot.
Just for the record, so far as I know Brown is an honorable bloke. Hapless, perhaps, and destined to go down in history as a John Major twin, but I'll bet John Major was also an honorable bloke.

Catch 26: War and International Law

According to the new orthodoxy of the primacy of a specific version of international law over the right to wage war, the IDF can be castigated for acting without regard for the law; but when the IDF does rely on legal council, the lawyers will be indicted for supplying legal basis for actions the critics don't like.
A senior prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague said
Monday that he is considering opening an investigation into whether Lt. Col.
David Benjamin, an Israel Defense Forces reserve officer, allowed war crimes to
be committed during the IDF's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip this
Dennis Davis - a South African district court judge and international law
lecturer at the University of Cape Town, who directed the conference - said he
firmly opposed the remarks delivered by Benjamin, who was once his law student.
Davis added that were Benjamin still his student, he would "fail him."

I was once a teacher, many years ago. It happened that some students understood what I had to offer and then rejected it from a position of knowing what they were talkling about. This always caused me professional pride. I guess in South Africa it's different: once a subordinate student, always subordinate.

Catch 26: if you accept the international law pacifists it's criminal to defend yourself from enemies; if you protect yourself using the tools of international law you're a criminal for having twisted the law as they intended it.

A similar dynamic is playing out in the US, of course. This is good. If it were only Israel, no-one would notice or care. If it's the United States being pilloried by the international law pacifists, however, sooner or later the mainstream may beat them back into the lonely corner they should be in.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Miracle That is Israel

Back in the Old Days, before people decided transplanting European ideas into non-European climes was colonial, paternalist and just plain evil, the Zionist project was often held up as a shining example of what could be achieved by people determined to lift themselves by their boot straps. The fact the Zionists could be portrayed as fine socialists gave an added fillip to supporting them, though the reality was never so clear; most of the Jews were escaping persecution in Europe or the Arab world, or fulfilling an ancient dream, or both; socialism was a fetish of a small group - but it was the powerful, leading group.

For decades there was a fundamental alignment between what we might loosely call the Left and Zionism, even if it was based partially on images and impressions, and the reality was always more complex. Seen from this perspective, the end of the affinity was the result of the Left redefining it's Weltanschauung, not a change in Zionism.

In recent decades there's a growing affinity between Zionism and the free-market Right. This, too, can easily be taken too far, and like it's predecessor position, it's built partially upon a willful editing and simplifying of the complexity that is Israel. Still, just as the previous alignment was based on some factual fundaments, so is this one.

Here's perhaps the most lucid exposition of the new alignment I've seen in quite a while. It's an article by George Gilder in City, and seems to be a synopsis of his new book The Israel Test.

I recognize not everyone likes George Gilder. He's a ferocious capitalist, one of the formulators of supply-side economics. I'll bet he's not at all a supporter of Obamacare. He's a prophet of the entrepreneur class, and of the idea that human ingenuity, if given the freedom to succeed and fail unimpeded, will make for a better world, while government needs mostly to get out of the way.

His article, and apparently his book, see Israel as the single most important place in the world right now, perhaps alongside Silicon Valley, where human ingenuity is forging a better reality. He's not Jewish; he's not a Zionist; he seems not to have had any position on Israel at all for most of his life (he's almost 70). Like many a recent convert, he sees his new love in a better light than it deserves.

Having said all that, however, there's basically a lot of truth to his description - and of course, it's lots of fun to read. Most gratifying, and better than a month's worth of The Guardian or three months of Mondoweiss. Near the end, he waxes a bit poetical
During a trip to Israel in 2008, Fruchter, Amir Eyal, and Guy Koren of EZchip
took me out to dinner in Caesarea. The restaurant was on the Mediterranean
beach. Above the beach stood the ruins of Roman temples and terraces, theaters
and arches, all surfaced with golden sandstone and carefully refurbished and
illuminated. Shops and restaurants were decorously arrayed along the beach. The
rush of water on the sand, the scent of fish in the air, the glow of sunset, and
the lights on the Roman stone all lent the area a magical feeling of peace and

The last time the Jews tangled with the Romans, the Jews came out a very sorry second best. Yet the Romans are long since gone, very long; the Jews, meanwhile, have set up snazzy restaurant's on their ruins and are peering around the corner to see how much of late 20th century technology they can make obsolete by the end of next year.

Maybe the Locals Aren't as Stupid as Expected

I have nothing original or particularly interesting to say about the photo-op Obama had yesterday with Abbas and Netanyahu. The Obama team seems slowly to be understanding (or not) that there's a reason the Arab-Israeli conflict is so long-running and intractable, and it's not that the players can't see what's so glaringly obvious from afar. On the contrary: us locals, we've long since covered all the options that seem so obvious to the novices, and we understand fully why they're not real. It's our lives, and we're not novices.

The clischee about how we've forgotten more about the matter than the newcomers may ever know is reality, not platitude.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coal to Newcastle

Israel is exporting snow to the Alps.

Honestly. Not a joke. Really. It even says so in the newspaper.

For the Hebraically challenged, here's the story. An Israeli company called IDE started by desalinating sea water, then turned its technology to large cooling installations used in mines, and from there it was a short step to producing large quantities of ice or snow. Of course, the ski resorts in the Alps have been using artificial snow machines for years (decades?), but some recent years have been uncommonly warm, and there's a growing demand for a longer ski season, while energy is capped (or not). The new Israeli contraption gives more snow for 20% of the energy.

The base prices of such a toy is $3,000,000, and it will give you 950 cubic meters of snow daily, so if you want one for your back yard feel free to contact me and I'll help you with the deal (reduced commissions for readers of this blog).

Or you might wish to boycott Israel and stop skiing. That's also an option.

Did Israel Win?

Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Jeffrey Goldberg and the Powerline guys don't agree on many things, yet they've joined in linking to the Jackson Diehl column at the Washington Post, Israel's Gaza vindication.
The point, however, is that Israel has bought itself a stretch of relative peace
with Hamas, just as its costly 2006 invasion of Lebanon has produced three years
of quiet on that front. From the Israeli perspective, a respite from conflict is
the most that can be expected from either group -- or from their mutual sponsor,

Actually, as I've described in the past, the reprieve may prove to be more than merely a lull in violence. Israel's various anti-missile systems are all approaching the point of operative depolyment. Should they succeed at the task they were designed for, Hezbullah and Hamas may have whiled away their chances to inflict serious harm. I'm not saying they won't devise new ways - of course they will. They're miserable at giving their people better lives, but they'll always figure out innovative ways to hit Israel. Still, each week of calm is a week closer until those systems are deployed.

It's nice the Israeli perspective is gaining traction at the Washington Post.

Is the Boycott Movement Gaining Traction?

Gal Beckerman at the Forward thinks it is.

Yet note that his article, like most pieces that seek confirmation that the boycotters are beginning to hurt Israel, never gives numbers. Ultimately it's an economic matter, after all: can Israel be made to hurt so badly that it makes a difference. So you'd think the boycotters would have a big chart with numbers: the size of Israel's economy, stats on various segments of it, targets that need to be reached so as to make a difference - that sort of thing.

But of course there is none of this. As even Beckerman sort of admits, the boycott movement is fundamentally about having a world without Israel; if that's the goal, the boycotters might note that the Jews have faced much worse foes in the past, and from abysmally worse starting positions.

So far, 2009 is proving less of a problem for Israel's economy than for most developed countries. (See the various financial and economic indicators of The Economist).

Then, of course, you've got the ludicrous aspects of the movement:
Ironically, Barghouti, who appears to be one of the movement’s chief strategists, is currently in a master’s degree program in philosophy at Tel Aviv University — even though he is one of the founding members of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. He has been one of the activists strongly pushing the greater BDS movement in the direction of opposing any institution associated with Israel. Asked about his affiliation with an institution he wants boycotted, Barghouti declined to discuss his personal life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Things You Can Find in Your Backyard

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi was a disciple of Rebbi. Rebbi was the editor of the Msihna and of the last generation of the Tanaim, the scholars of the mishnaic era, and Yehoshua was of the first generation of Amoraim, the scholars of the Gemara; this means he lived in the third century. He is kown to have taught at the academy of Lod; late in life he moved north and taught at Tiberias.

Among his teachings is the poignant observation - given the horrible destruction of the previous two centuries - that empires come and go but the Jews are always here.

A few months ago Mitch Pilcer found him in his backyard.

If you're familiar with the bed&breakfast scene in Israel, you've probably come across Mitch and his Zippori Village cottages. If you're not, it's never too late to start. I warmly recommend. He's something of a character, is Mitch, all the more reason to drop by for a visit. He's been building his guest cottages for years, piece by piece, and while digging the foundations for an addition he stumbled across the burial cave of one Yehushua ben Levy.

Maariv has the story, which is as complex as you'd expect. The Haredi say it can't be since Yehoshua was one of ten righteous Jews who have over the centuries been transported straight to heaven and have no graves (the most famous was Elijah). The professors claim they've already identified the grave of Yehoshua his wife and his daughter, about 10 miles to the west of Zippori, so this fellow must have been merely a namesake. The archeology establishment says Mitch had no right to go digging on his own in such an unauthorized way, and how dare he; they've hauled him before the courts. Mitch himself says now he's going to have to pave a parking lot for all the awe-struck visitors, and this is going to be bad for business since he caters to people seeking nature and serenity.

Pretty awesome, if you stop to think about it.

Strange Negotiating Methods

Avi Issacharoff explains why the three-way meeting of Obama-Abbas-Netanyahu, scheduled for tomorrow, is a sham:

The summit serves, first and foremost, to provide the Obama administration with a much sought photo-op: Three leaders shaking hands, seemingly getting back to negotiations. This would come against the backdrop of the White House's resounding failure to force Israel's agreement to a complete settlement freeze or to persuade Arab states to make even tentative steps toward normalization with Israel, so a picture of the three leaders together will look like an extraordinary achievement. It might even help Obama and his administration to get the stalled peace process moving, however slowly.
This is precisely the reason why the PA realized that although Abbas set the precondition of a complete settlement freeze, as the United States demanded, he must now, according to that demand, rescind his condition without getting anything in return. The talks Abbas held in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and in Jordan with King Abdullah II brought home to him just how desperately the Americans need this summit.
It seems to me worse than a sham. I could be wrong, since the general public isn't privy to each and every detail about the negotiations, but so far as I've been able to follow, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were chugging merrily along for a couple of years, albeit without reaching agreement, until about a year ago when the Palestinians decided to wait and see who would win the elections in the US and Israel. When Obama won they hoped for greater American pressure on Israel, and when Netanyahu ended up as Israeli prime minister, these hopes rose more: Surely Obama would put pressure on Netanyahu to be more forthcoming to the Palestinians.

Obama obliged by requiring a settlement freeze, a position eagerly adopted by the Palestinians who now insist there can be no negotiations without one, even though such negotiations were previously the norm. The Americans thought they could simply change the terms of negotiations. We're big, we can dictate, they seemed to believe.

The world doesn't work that way, as you'd think everybody knows.

The Obama position meant pretending Bush-era committments had never happened - a blatant untruth; and it demanded of the Israelis a major change of policy regarding East Jerusalem. So far as I'm aware no Israeli government has ever accepted any curb on construction in East Jerusalem. It's conceivable that Israel might agree to some partition of Jerusalem as part of a full peace agreement with the Palestinians. It's not conceivable that Israel would accept such an outcome as a precondition for the resumption of talks.

Once the Americans staked their position, the Palestinians couldn't demand less, with the result that negotiations are now impossible; they haven't been happening since last September, and seem unlikely to happen anytime soon.

If this reading is true, it's mostly the doing of the American administration. Bravo!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova

In honor of Rosh HaShana, the New York Times has dug up a story and recording of the first Jewish service in Germany in 1944, held by a group of American troops. The impromptu cantor, Max Fuchs, is still with us.

Before shutting down for Rosh HaShana I'd wish a good Eid el-Fiter holiday also to any Muslim readers of Ruminations, but I don't think there are any. So I wished it to the various Arabs I know.

The Economist on Goldstone

The Economist essentially agrees with Israel on the Goldstone Commission. This is the Economist, not Y-net or Arutz Sheva.
To some, Israel’s Gaza war will always be in principle unjust: a disproportionate response to Hamas’s rockets. Indeed, the suffering in Gaza, from war and the economic blockade, has been grievous. They may be tempted to applaud Mr Goldstone’s report for that reason alone. Yet if the mere fact of Israel’s attack were enough to condemn it then Mr Goldstone’s report was pointless all along. And there is a danger of double standards. American and European forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo also caused thousands of civilian deaths, without attracting a Goldstone.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Enough Already on the Assimilation Thread?

Norm responds to my recent response to his response to me.

On first reading, I thought he had me. My sentiment is to disagree with his point, but he's built it so well and so logically I didn't see any clear way to refute it; indeed, he set me wondering if perhaps he's even right, and his logic should change my emotion's mind. (Can such a thing be done?)

The more I think about it, however, the more it seems we've stumbled onto a profound difference of opinion, touching upon the questions of who the Jews are, and what they're for.

But it's late in the week, tomorrow evening is the beginning of Rosh Hashana, so the discussion will wait for some other time.

In the meantime Norm, thanks for the discussion, and it's been an honour to have it with you.

Shana Tova.

On Education

The Economist has an amusing (or perhaps not so amusing) story about the education system in Britain:

TRADITIONALLY, Britain has been an educational skinflint. For years its
spending lagged behind the rich-world average. Under Labour all that changed.
Teachers were awarded big pay rises, lots of money was spent renovating
dilapidated schools—and an army of teaching assistants were hired to help keep
order in the classroom and relieve teachers of routine paperwork. The number of
these classroom helpers, who often have few or no educational qualifications,
has exploded, from 60,600 in 1997 to 176,000 today. Proud government ministers
frequently refer to the increase.
But that pride has been tarnished by the results of a study commissioned by
the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which suggests that support
staff may be holding children back. The researchers collected data on children
between the ages of five and 16. At every age and in most subjects, children who
got help from teaching assistants or support staff did worse than those left to
their own devices. Damningly, in many combinations of age and subject, the more
help children got, the less well they did. Pupils in the final year of primary
school who received the most support in science, for instance, were roughly
eight months behind their unsupported peers.

Astonishing, huh? Not really. Education is more complicated than how much money you throw at it, or how many people make a living from it.

It just so happens that the Daf Yomi series recently passed a long discussion in the Talmud about education (Bava Batra 21a-22a). Here are some of the highlights, severely edited for brevity's sake.

The discussion starts with the story of Rav Yehoshua ben Gamla, who saved the Jews from forgetting their heritage (nishtakcha Torah MeYisrael):
Originally, fathers taught their sons. Yet many fathers were not able to teach, so the rabbis set up schools in Jerusalem. Yet Jerusalem proved too far for many children, so the rabbis decreed that schools be set up in each regional town. Students were usually about 16 years old, because by that age they could reach the town on their own. Finally, Yehoshua ben Gamla decreed that there should be schools in every town and village, and children should go to them from the age of six.

Not before six, however - that was a decree by Rav Shmuel ben Sheilat; he also decreed that if a child refuses to study, the teacher should hit him only lightly, and be sure not to harm him; if he continues not to study he should be left alone and he'll absorb something merely from being there, among other children who are learning.

It is permitted to send children to a school in a different neighborhood if there's no school nearby, but not if the children will need to cross a large river on an unsafe bridge - in that case a local school must be set up.

A class should have no more than 25 children. If there's no alternative it can reach 40, but then the community must hire an assistant for the teacher (Ha! That's where the Brits took the idea from!).

There are differing opinions about firing poor teachers. One opinion says poor teachers shouldn't be fired, as the remaining ones will then become complacent, knowing they're the best; others say the remaining teacher will try even harder, so as to justify the decision (this is called Kin'at sofrim tarbe chochma: the envy of scribes increases wisdom).

There is a long discussion about which sort of teacher to prefer: he who teaches a lot but with inaccuracies, or he who teaches slowly, but with no mistakes. Some say the quantity is important and the quality will repair itself over time; others think false eaching is irreparable. Eventually the discussion moves in the direction that some things can be re-learned or corrected; but some things once learned wrong cannot be repaired.

From here the discussion veers into protection of businesses versus competition: what are the conditions in which it is permissible to open a store that will compete with an existing store, and when is such behavior not permissible; who can be fired for what, and who can't; and all sorts of matters which are yet unresolved, 2,000 years later, but that's a post for another day.

Need I remind that this thread began, and is explained, here?

UN Commissions and Realpolitik

Ari Shavit at Haaretz complains about how the world isn't fair:
No sane person in the world believes that the United States, Russia or
China could be subjected to purist international law. The United States has
killed thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the last
few months encouraged Pakistan to make an extremely brutal military move in its
Swat Valley. The United States was not required to account for it because
everyone understands that this is the price of the terrible War on Terror.
Russia committed blood-curdling war crimes in Chechnya, while China deprives its
citizens of basic rights and is conducting a wicked occupation in Tibet. They
are not asked to pay for this because everyone understands that you don't mess
with superpowers.

Meanwhile, the folks who deal with real power, such as the prime minsiter, foreign minister, the relevant ambassadors, those sort of people, are injecting the issue into their dealings with their American counterparts. You want our cooperation on this that and the other? Well, here's another item on the list of things that need to be dealt with. (It's also in the American interest to block the human-rights-wrong-headeds, given the way America wages war).

These are among the reasons the Jews need their own sovereign state. So that when antisemites try to kill Jews they'll be killed themselves; and when their allies - the antisemites, the hypocrites and the befuddled - try to protect them they'll fail. It's a nasty world out there, and hoping for the best of human nature is a fools errand. Or worse.

Mary Travers, RIP

Mary Travers of Peter Paul and Mary has died, age 72.

The New York Times obituary is impressed by her sex appeal, but to be honest, that was rather a while ago. For myself I can say that I liked her voice decades before I ever saw on Youtube that she had once been a blonde.

Her passing is a measure of our proximity and distance from the historic sixties, with their ups and downs, in a way the recent death of Ted Kennedy wasn't. On the one hand, it was a time of important historic change and turmoil, but for lots of people it's history of which they have no memory. Long ago. On the other hand, here's a recognizable icon from those days, still living with us until yesterday.

There were issues on which she and her folks were on the right side of history. There were issues on which they weren't. Their music was part of that story, and it was mostly good music. You can go to Youtube and remember.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

War, Civilians, HRW and Hypocrisy

Loise at CiF Watch in her recent column about Antony Lerman has a link to a fascinating report on 60 Minutes from 2007. The video report is here, the text is here.

It's a report about American bombing in Afghanistan. It focuses on a case where American bombs killed 9 civilians while missing their intended target. No one in the report denies the facts.

The villagers tell how they hate the Americans, and think they're worse than the Soviets. You can see their perspective. The American airforce colonel who commands the hi-tech control center from which all air strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan are directed tells about the major efforts his experts make to limit innocent casualties, including aborting most potential attacks for fear of hitting civilians. He comes across as sincere, and I have no doubt he's telling the truth. Afghanistani President Karzai tells that he understands the Americans have no intention of killing civilians, and he's convinced that when they do so it is always by mistake; yet he insists the American way of waging war is totally counterproductive. He has me convinced. (The report was in 2007, and this year the Americans have begun making a strong effort to reduce civilian casualties - with limited success, if the stories of this week are any indication).

So far, so banal. War is hell, and it's complicated hell, and sometimes the alternatives are far worse, and you have to work unceasingly on making it a bit less hellish, and you'll never fully succeed. I've covered this ground umpteen times, and you've got my message already. The true gem-aspect of the report is when they talk to Marc Garlasco.

Yes, that Marc Garlasco. He of Human Rights Watch; he of the Nazi memorabilia fetish. The Marc Garlasco who worked for the Pentagon until 2003.

Well, apparently he wasn't merely an employee of the Pentagon, the one who distributed tea to all the more important folks. He was one of the top experts who determined who got bombed from the air and under what conditions. If we believe him - and I don't see why not to - the Americans have (or at any rate, had) a scale of acceptable collateral damage: 29 dead civilians for one important enemy is acceptable; for 30 or more you need authorization from the Secretary of Defense or even the President.

These are of course estimates. It might happen that an attack would be undertaken with the expectation of 25 dead civilians, but then something would go awry and there would be 50; things like that can happen at war.

So the 60-minutes fellow, Scott Pelley, asks Garlasco how many such attacks he set in motion, and what were the resulting numbers. 50 attacks, says Garlasco. How many targets achieved? None. None of the top Iraqis were actually killed. How many Iraqi civilains died in the attacks you set in motion? "A couple of hundred civilians at least", says Garlasco.

Not 213, say, or 304. Garlasco has no accurate number, and anyway, it's only numbers for him, not people. Pelley looks shocked, so Garlasco defends himself and the military he was part of:
"I don't think people really appreciate the gymnastics that the U.S. military
goes through in order to make sure that they're not killing civilians," Garlasco
points out."If so much care is being taken why are so many civilians getting
killed?" Pelley asks."Because the Taliban are violating international law,” says
Garlasco, “and because the U.S. just doesn't have enough troops on the ground.
You have the Taliban shielding in people's homes. And you have this small number
of troops on the ground. And sometimes the only thing they can do is drop

As I've said repeatedly, I think the American war in Afghanistan is just, and I think the Germans are hypocrites for participating only on the edge and only where it's percieved (falsely) to be safe. I also think no-one in ISAF is thinking enough about keeping civilian casualties to their utmost minimum, though General McChrystal seems to be trying, and this is important. I've also repeatedly said the American (and UK, and German, and other) public is not thinking this through to the degree I think they should be, and nothing remotely like what we do in our wars.

Having said all that, I've never seen a degree of hypocrisy as extreme at that of Marc Garlaso, he who pontificates for HRW on Israel. It is truly breathtaking.

UN Report on Gaza

I'm not going to read the almost 600 pages of the report released yesterday bythe Goldstone Commission. The demonstrable record of the United Nations in matters Israel is so reprehensible it's not worth the effort.

Amir Oren at Haaretz, however, has an interesting column.

The New York Times, which vociferously opposes the murder of noncombatants,
was indirectly involved in the deaths of women, children and other civilians
just a week ago. It happened near Kunduz, Afghanistan, when British and Afghani
commandos liberated kidnapped Times journalist Stephen Farrell: Civilians were
caught in the cross-fire and killed, as was Farrell's Afghani interpreter.

Had the Times, a bastion of opposition to harming civilians in war zones, known
that civilians would be killed in the rescue, would it have preferred that the
operation be called off, and that Farrell remain in the hands of his captors?
What will it write if a similar operation is undertaken to release Gilad Shalit?

Unlike journalists, governments and field commanders deal with this dilemma
every day. It is easy to decide when the target is a battalion of tanks in the
desert. But it is more complex when the threat to a military unit comes from
within a civilian environment - the very civilians the unit has been sent to
protect. Ignoring the nature of military action is the height of hypocrisy. The
leader of the United Nations fact-finding mission, Richard Goldstone, ought to
be smart enough to know that in reality, the gold and the stone are not
separated, they are entwined.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Are Jews Liberal? Are They?

Norman Podhoretz has just published a book titled Why Are Jews Liberals?. No, I haven't read it - it just came out last week, and I only have 342 books ahead of it on my list, and I'm not certain I'll get to it at all.

Tablet, however, the newish American-Jewish magazine, asked a gaggle of American Jewish intellectuals to write up their thoughts on the matter, which they obligingly did, here, each according to their lights. It's an interesting discussion. (And bear in mind, all yee non-American provincials, that the term is being used in its American meaning which is the opposite of its older, British and European meaning).

I was tickled that none of the writers simply came out and said: Jews are liberals because that's what right-thinking people should be, and how could they be anything else? Had anyone asked me to write, in a short paragraph, why a majority of Jews are Zionists, I might have said Because that's what right-thinking Jews must be, and how could they be anything else?

Still, there's a serious point here, and that's that what American Jews are and what non-American Jews are is not obviously the same. A large majority of American Jews really are liberals, and it will be interesting to see what happens if and when they ever have to reconcile that with support for an Israel many liberals no-longer like; one fears some may prefer the American issue, not the Jewish one.

As usual with blogging, I can get away with taking this serious discussion no further, for lack of time or inclination. Were I writing for a respectable journal, the editor would send me scurrying back to my quill and parchment to keep on working.

If it's Not Perfect, It's Evil

The folks at CIF Watch soldier on in their attempt to discredit the Guardian and its commenters. I salute their ability to wade through that cesspool daily; it's not as if they're going to convince the Guardian to mend their ways; that's not an option.

I also visit the Gaurdian daily, but since I'm trying to undersand what makes them tick I often skip their ravings about Israel and try to capture the wider picture. Today they've offered a whooper, in the form of an article by one Leo Hickman, call it an anti-Borlaug obituary.

Those of you who were children in the 50s and 60s may share the memory of being told to finish our spinnach because the children in India were starving. Those born later, don't have that memory - because the children in India (mostly) stopped starving. Hundreds of millions of them. The man who did more than anyone to supply them with food when they didn't have it was Norman Borlaug, who passed away this week at the age of 95. You'd think he'd now be allowed to belong to the ages as one of humanity's most important heroes, ever.

Not if you're of the Guardian mind-frame, though. According to Mr. Hickman (and apparently others before him), Borlaug is partially to blame for global warming, which means that his achivement of saving hundreds of millions of lives then is at least partially outbalanced by the possibility that we may have warmer weather later.

The mind boggles.

After it winds down from boggling, however, there's a deeper comment here. That is the intolerance of revolutionaries and other ideologues for flawed reality. If a soultion to a problem is itself only limited, or even if it's nigh-perfect but causes secondary blemishes, it's not really a solution it all. Only by tearing reality down and building it again without flaws can we really get to where we should be; celebration of flawed achivements is evil because it suggests we should live in this world, not strive for that one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Germans Near War

Since I'm having fun at the expense of the Germans today (see previous post), here's an article from the Economist about Germans and Afghanistan.

The Germans carefully inserted themselves in Afghanistan in a way that would make them feel good about their contribution to the defense of the West and be helpful to their American allies, while at the same time being in no danger whatsoever. Alas, the Taliban aren't playing according to the rules and when a German commander recenly felt himself threatened he called in the American airforce. Lots of people got killed, not all of them combatants, according to the partially sanitized report in the Economist.

The initial official German response was dishonest, and at home there's a growing constituency for getting out.

Two important differences between Israelis and other Westerners is that we've got to be more careful in the way we wage our wars, and we can't get out.

Does our Language Form Us?

Claudio Casula of Spirit of Entebbe has a magnificent post here. Unfortunately you need to read German to understand it - but since some readers of Ruminations have that handicap, I'm warmly recommending.

What Claudio has done is to take all the vacuous, mindless clischees in which contemporary German political discourse takes place, and pasted them next to pictures of Palestinians from earlier this decade. Each picture has a statement next to it; each statement comes from a universe no Palestinian would recognize, or vice versa. Thus, for example, under the second picture, which shows six Palestinian KKK types with suicide vests, his caption is
"Ashraf (31, middle of photo): Environmental and integration policies interest me the most. I'm delighted to take in new ideas".

Near the bottom he has a photo of rifle-brandishing demonstrators, with the caption
"Jihad (34): I'm always for constructive talks, in the internal Palestinian realm and with the Zionists. As long as you talk no-one shoots. It's that simple".

Besides being very funny, there's also a serious subtext. We think in the vocabulary we use. When our vocabulary has been sanitized so as not to contain negative thoughts, we'll see the world without its negative aspects. Actually, we won't see the world at all, merely a phantasy we've constructed for ourselves, but if everyone around us does the same, then the outsiders who insist on seeing things differently will eventually begin to seem sinister in their insistence on having bad thoughts.

More on Assimilation

Norm Geras runs a bit with a ball I had last week, and now I'm running with it a bit further. The topic is Jewish assimilation of the type where people cease to identify as Jews or lack the identification from birth (probably the larger number). As disagreements go, Norm and I aren't really bickering here, we mostly agree, but perhaps our differences can illuminate the issue a bit.

Norm makes four points. First, that if you're liberal or pluralist (European terminology) you've got to respect the decisions of the individual even if you'd have prefered them to decide differently. He's right. When individual Jews decide to leave the fold, that's their right which we must respect (tho he leaves open the possibility for personal anguish, and he's right about that, too).

Second, it's equally right for Jews to make efforts that as few leave the fold as possible, so long as the efforts are legal. So, education or social encouragement are alright but coercion would be wrong. On this, also, we agree.

Third, that the presistence of antisemitism is an important reason to persist in being Jewish and encouraging others to do so. While I don't disagree, I'm less bothered. In spite of my daily reading of the Guardian, antisemitism isn't really an important part of my everyday life, and it's low on my list of reasons to persist in being Jewish. The way I see it, being Jewish is an effort and always has been, and poking the antisemites in the eye, while pleasurable, doesn't justify the effort. There are better, more proacative reasons.

(For those of you who have encouraged me to write that book about the antisemites, as I sometimes say I ought, thanks for the encouragement. Yet even if I ever do so it won't be as an expression of my Jewishness, rather as part of Israel's war against its enemies - related, but not the same).

Finally, Norm tells that as he sees it, the Jews aren't about to disappear, and worrying about it isn't a priority. I agree that the entire group called the Jews aren't about to disappear, but I can see with my own eyes that large numbers of them are. My great grandparents left Russia as Jews at the start of the 20th century - so we sidestepped the Shoah. A century later, most of their youngest descendants are no longer Jews, and the trend will continue except in Israel. There's nothing particularly unusual in my family.

Since being Jewish is extremely important to me, this saddens me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Navel Gazing and Revolutionary Mass Murder

I'm reading Amity Shlaes' excellent The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Perhaps I'll review it here, by and by. In the meantime, a small anecdote that illustrates how some things never really change. In chapter two she's following a group of American progessive thinkers who in 1927 went on a fact-finding mission (that's what it would be called today) to the Soviet Union. Although this was before the worst excesses of communism, the communist revolution had already killed hundreds of thosands of people, and you needed to be a bit myopic or obtuse not to have noticed. Some were:
A number of the [...] travelers had also involved themselves with the Sacco and Vanzetti cause - Douglas, for example, had sent money for the defense. But the pleas failed, and the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti was expected to happen while the travelers were in Europe. This act seemed to confirm American barbarism. Roger Baldwin, especially, wondered whether Soviet Russia might have found a higher sort of freedom. (p. 59).
Baldwin was the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU. To be fair, in the 1930s he recognized that Stalin was a monster. But that was later.


It looks like Israeli-Palestinian negotiations may eventually restart. Perhaps. Likewise, American-Iranian negotiations, perhaps, or not. American-Israeli negotiations about settlements have been dragging on for months; in the meantime, judging by the dramatic rise in trips of Israeli political leaders to Moscow, somebody must be negotiating something on that track, too.

One of the (many) problems with the way the media treats negotiations is that too many of the reporters have never seen a negotiation close up. As a result, many reports focus on what the reporters think would be a good outcome to have. This gets even worse with bloggers. In reality, negotiations are generally unpleasant encounters between very hard-nosed folk who are doing their utmost to get as mush as possible from the other folks while giving as little as possible.

The Atlantic has a fascinating description of a negotiation that happened last year when the Bank of America had second thoughts about acquiring Merill Lynch, and the men of the Federal Government didn't want that to happen. Yes, all the relevant men (there seem to have been no women) were on a first-name basis; and no, they were not being nice.

This is how big boys negotiate.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting Lost

There has been quite a kerfuffle this week around an ad screened on Israeli TV about Jewish youth being lost to the Jewish people. You can see the ad here, and if you understand Hebrew you may agree that it doesn't say much of what its detractors say it says. But that, of course, is standard: most reportage about Israel is non-factual, so why should this be any different?

There's an old Yiddish saying about how folks who protest their innocence too loudly often have something to hide; on that level, the uproar about the film is very indicative of what different people feel they need to be apologetic about.

I don't have the time today for a full expose, alas, as it would have been fun. I will however make one serious comment.

Until the late 18th century there wasn't any problem of telling who was or wasn't a Jew. The Jews were the ones living as Jews. Since then things have gotten a bit more complicated, and there can be many parameters for identifying Jews. Yet no matter what parameters one uses, I don't see how to get around the fact that large numbers of descendants of Jews outside of Israel no longer are Jews.

Read that sentence carefully before you bark at me. Like the ad everyone got so mad about, it's carefully calibrated, and your responses may tell more about you than about me.

Six Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono is a Thinking Guru, I suppose you could say. An intelligent fellow who has done lots of thinking about the practice of Thinking. His fundamental insight is that if people think in thoughtful ways rather than merely jumping all over, they'll get better results. He has developed various techniques to help them do so.

I recently read his Six Thinking Hats. It's a short book, a couple-hour read. He tells us there are six types of thinking, each of which he has tagged by color.

White hat thinking is about facts. It's neutral, often numbers: sales are up by 12.3%, unemployment is down to 2.4%, investments in the stock of XXX have had returns of 14.6% annually for the past 18 quarters. (Remember those days?) White hat thinking does not allow for opinions ("I expect the economy to boom forever"), but reporting the fact of other people's opinions are allowed ("Senator Such-and-Such says the economy will boom so long as he doesn't get unseated").

Red hat thinking is purely about emotion. "I think that idea you just carefully presented is pure bunk. My proposal is superior in all ways." De Bono's point is that if a group sets aside a specific segment of time for articulating emotions (red hat), it will be legitimate to put on the table all the ulterior messages that inevitably cloud any discussion.

Black hat thinking is by far the most pervasive. It is giving all the reasons why something won't work (with the exception of the emotional reasons, which were given legitimacy under the red hat). Your idea may be worthy, but it will be too complicated, too expensive, no-one will buy it, the Bad Guys will ride it's coat-tails and screw us, the boss will never let us get away with such a scheme, the voters won't either, the voters will love it but we're a company not a democracy..... and so on. We all excel at this type of thinking.

Yellow hat thinking is the section of the discussion where all participants must think sunny positive thoughts. (If not they'll be shot, I expect). So while you detest the promulgator of the idea (red hat), and you're convinced it will swallow all available resources for a decade with no possible return on investment (black hat), and you recognize there are dry facts in favor of it (white hat), yellow hat is the part of the discussion where everyone offers happy thoughts about all the good things that could happen if only...

I imagine some people might not easily participate in the yellow hat part of the discussions, but maybe that's just me.

Green hat thinking is the part where folks have to be original and innovative. Where they offer new ways of looking at things, new possible solutions, new ways out of a bad situation. (Names of potential new bosses to replace the bastard we have - ah, sorry about that). Actually, Jews tend to do this very well, after a couple thousand years of living by their wits in less-than-optimal conditions, but I'm here to report that the ability to come up with new ideas of value is not easy. Some folks know how to do it, others don't, and I'm not certain how you train people. To give him credit, de Bono has some concrete suggestions.

Blue hat thinking is what the project manager does. He (or she) runs the process, tells everyone else when it's time to switch color and ensures compliance; the blue-hatter also thinks about matters such as meeting deadlines, running logistics, ensuring quality and all those edifying things.

It's an interesting way of looking at the world and how we get things done in it. It's also quite irrelevant to many parts of the human endeavor. Listening to music, for example. Interpretating history. Writing a novel. Falling out of love (well, there's red hat thinking there).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is Iran Really Dangerous?

Depends where you live, apparently, at least to an extent. Acording to this article in The Forward, Left-wing Israelis and Left-wing Americans can agree on many things, but not this. The Israelis really fear Iran, whhile their American counterparts don't.

So far, so not-really-surprising. The Iranians aren't about to harm the US in any direct way, so it's easier to be indulgent if there's no real danger. If you follow the article closely, however, you'll see that's not the only distinction between the camps.
The other left-wing pro-Israel groups arrived at their Iran policies partly
because of their alliance with an array of liberal Democrats wary of engaging
Iran in the wake of the Iraq War and its resultant quagmire. Behind the scenes,
these groups have sought sanctions that would not harm ordinary Iranians.

Translation: If you're on the Left of American politics, you cannot see the Iranian challenge on its own merits. Like it or not, you see it through the prism of American involvement in Iraq. Whether this is relevant to Israel's existence is moot, but that's life.

More Human Rights Watch Watch

We've been running this series about how the people employed by Human Rights Watch to watch Israel tend to be, shall we say, flawed and perhaps not well suited to their job. There was Sarah Lee Whtison, veteran pro-Palestinian agitator who went to Saudi Arabia to raise funds from Saudi oil magnates for bashing Israel. There's her deputy Joe Stork who's on record for opining that murdering Israeli athletes at the Olympics is reasonable if you're oppressed by Israelis.

But these revelations aren't really that surprising if you think about them. It takes a specific type of warped mind to see Israel the way these folks routinely misreport it. The surprise in the stories is the brazenness. If you wish to bash Israel, hire an unknown language instructor from some town in Argentina, say, not prominent pro-Palestinian activists; at least you'll have a wee bit more credibility for a time. Perhaps. Maybe. Well, hopefully.

The newest story, however, is just plain weird. It turns out HRW employs one Marc Garlasco as a "senior military analyst", whatever that might be, and predictably he writes often about all the bad things Israel routinely does. Garlasco, however, is also a Nazi paraphernalia fetishist. Really. Noah Pollack writes at Contentions, but Omri Ceren did the research, and clarified here.

Navel Gazing, Torture and Other Boring Trivialities

Remember Abu Ghraib? That infamous prison near Baghdad where people were tortured? Of course you do. It's a memory that will remain part of the Western political lexicon for generations, long after its context has become a vague blur of American troops in a faraway land engaged in an incomprehensible effort to achieve an indefensible goal. The My Lai of the early 21st century, if you wish.

No, not that Abu Ghraib. I was asking about the one where Iraqis tortured Iraqis to death, routinely and in large numbers. The one most people in the West have already forgotten, if they ever knew.

I once heard Alan Dershowitz comment that Israeli human rights organizations are unique in that they, and they alone, have the moral right if they so wish to hold their own society to a higher standard than anyone else aspires to, because it's their society. How they go about doing this is a moot subject I'm not addressing this morning, but if you accept his logic, then Americans have some legitimacy in holding the actions of their soldiers and policemen to higher standards. The fact that the Iraqi practice of torture was infinitely worse than any American practice ever was, seen in this perspective, is less significant than the fact that they were American. The Glenn Greenwalds and Andrew Sullivans are Americans, and care about the morality of American agents.

Fair enough. A bit narrow minded, though; parochial. Such an understanding of the world generates the very peculiar conceit that American crimes are unusually evil, when in fact they're demonstrably sophomoric on the scale of nastiness people routinely inflict on each other. But then, moral equivalence is generally not an activity for the intellectually honest.

There's a pragmatic problem, however, of the kind people die from, which is that as the Americans pull out of Iraq, the Iraqis may be reverting to form.

Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture
is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse,
even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights
Watch, a New York-based lobby. His outfit reports that, with American oversight
gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such
places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling
out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made
confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout
of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been
relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw
that many had lost limbs and organs.

It's that direct connection that ought to disturb: As the Americans leave, the torture ramps up and freedoms are restricted. Americans can claim they owe little to Africans murdering Africans in jungles (see previous post), but the emerging regime in Iraq is emerging from an American intervention, and whether you like it or not, what happens in Iraq impacts on the US (and Europe, and elsewhere). This is where the naval gazing sanctimony and lazy (im)moral refusal to make distinctions between gradations of evil nor act upon them slip from unpleasant intellectual omissions to life-endangering callousness.

On a different topic, it is interesting that some societies figure out how to live in reasonably free societies with flaws, while others are good only at the flaws part. Sadly, when it comes to the real world, we're not all alike.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Navel Gazing and Genocide

An important point in my education about how craven the media often is came in the late 1990s. Back in 1994 I had been perfectly aware in real time that a genocide was happening in Rwanda. Samantha Power later documented the efforts of the international community and the American government not to know (see her excellent A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (P.S.) ), but regular people such as myself, we knew. Then, about three months after the genocide began, there were suddenly gigantic refugee camps across the border in Congo, most famously at Goma. TV crews, NGOs, and all manner of Western compassion. Israel, ever eager to be part of such outpourings of sympathy, sent an entire field hospital, along with a government minsiter, Yossie Sarid, who stood in front of our cameras and told how the Jewish State wouldn't stand idle in face of such persecution and suffering.

A few years later, I read the harrowing but profoundly important We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch. Beyond the general horror of the tale, I was also horrified to learn that the suffering people in those refugee camps... had been the perpetrators and their families, fleeing from the victorious Tutsi army that had put an end to the genocide. The victims of the genocide were dead, you see, and couldn't congregate by their hundreds of thousands in refugee camps.

How had the entire world got it so extraordinarily wrong, I asked myself in disbelief?How idiotic had we been?

The answer, I suppose, was that no-one cared. It's only Africans, after all.

In the years since then I've been aware - and have even commented on this blog - that mass murder on a horrific scale is taking place in the Congo. Millions of people have been murdered, probably no less than 4,000,000. This month there appears to be a lull in the killing, but earlier this year - that's 2009 - the killing was in full throttle. Not that you'd know it unless you really wanted to, and knew where to look. The media would not be the place to look, with the partial exception of the Economist, and, with lots of patience, the NYT.

Howard W. French has read three recent books on the topic, and summarizes their findings for us at the New York Review of Books.

Although it has been strangely ignored in the Western press, one of the most
destructive wars in modern history has been going on in the Democratic Republic
of Congo, Africa's third-largest country. During the past eleven years millions
of people have died, while armies from as many as nine different African
countries fought with Congolese government forces and various rebel groups for
control of land and natural resources. Much of the fighting has taken place in
regions of northeastern and eastern Congo that are rich in minerals such as
gold, diamonds, tin, and coltan, which is used in manufacturing electronics.

He puts the number of dead (so far) at 5.4 million, which means we're talking about magnitudes unseen since WWII, and tragically comparable, too. Beyond the sheer horror of the story, a depressing aspect is that if we're to believe the three authors, the limited media that does notice the events has them wrong, again. The Tutsi forces are instigating much of the killing. The genocide of 1994 wasn't the first; there was an earlier one in the 1970s, with 300,000 dead Hutu in Burundi. And so on.

I don't know who's right and who's wrong. I can't say if perhaps there's a side to the conflict which is bad, and another side that is fiendishly worse. My mind boggles at the possibility that everyone is equally right and wrong, culprits and victims according to the decade you choose to look at. I don't think history works that way. But I admit I don't have the tools to sort it out; nor are some of the witnesses being cited, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, credible reporters. We know how unreliable they can be.

The Apartheid regime in South Africa was despicable, and the world community eventually helped topple it. But it was nothing compared to this. Alas, the people suffering in the Congo are Africans being murdered by Africans deep in the Jungle. Nothing the world needs to care about. Matter of fact, nothing the world needs even to try to decipher.

What are Newspapers For?

Us bloggers, we can write whatever we wish, whenever we wish, about whatever we wish, with or without regarding truth or accuracy as we wish. The rest of you, our readers, either continue or discontinue your subscriptions according to whatever whim takes you. (I assure you I don't fork out all that money to read Mondoweiss or Juan Cole because I like them).

Alas, it's exactly the same with real newspapers except their business model is dependant on enough people forking out enough real money for them to remain viable. Other than that, we're all the same. Indeed, far too many newspaper folks even behave as if they were bloggers. See Isabel Kershner in yesterday's New York Times, the most venerable of newspapers. Ask yourself if she isn't simply talking through her hat. She doesn't have any facts beyond what she heard on the radio, I assure you, to which she has added a few sprigs of opinion:
It is not clear when construction of the additional 455 units will start, but settler representatives said it was their understanding that these units would not be subject to a freeze.
The seemingly paradoxical moves — a raft of approvals and then a formal freeze — represent Mr. Netanyahu’s attempt to balance competing political and diplomatic pressures. His own Likud Party supports settlement building, but the Israeli left and much of the international community denounce it.

And see the previous post for hard facts.

Still, indavertantly and unintentionally, one might even say against their own better judgement and political inclination, the staff at the NYT has added some valuable information to the discussion. Look at the picture at the top of the report, and you'll notice two interesting things. The first is that there are no Palestinians - not towns and villages, not farmers - losing space because of this construction. The picture is of a town in the desert, and as is often the case with deserts, no one lives there before the developers arrive.

The second is the identity of the construction worker. He's an Arab. A Palestinian Arab.

Even Less than a Sham

Chaim Levinson at Haaretz took the extraordinarily unusual step of actually trying to figure out the facts behind a headline, and has the details about those 455 apartments whose construction was authorized yesterday.

Apparently, they've mostly been authorised long ago in one way or the other.
"The fact is, these apartments were approved last year, otherwise we wouldn't
have begun the infrastructure. How apartments that have already been approved
and have begun to be built are approved again, you should ask the defense
minister, not me."

Looks to me like a sham in a sham in a muddle.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Sham and a Shame

Regular readers don't need me to elaborate much about the decision to build 455 new homes in six settlements just before starting a construction freeze. The whole thing is a sham. Obama started with a reasonable postition that enlarging settlements while negotiating their dismantling is not helpful. So he demanded that not happen. Netanyahu's government could have accepted his position, though one hopes they'd have demanded a reciprocal requirement from the Palestinians - a demand they not teach children Israel shouldn't exist, or some such. The Obama team, however, perhaps in their haste to distance themselves from the Bush administration, demanded the cessation of construction also in places Israel isn't going to dismantle, thereby encouraging the Palestinians to halt the negotiations they themselves had been intensively engaged in. Netanyahu won't, and indeed shouldn't, buckle on this one, so it seems there is now a fudge. There were plans for constuction of 455 homes in the pipeline; these have now been authorised. There aren't any additional plans at the moment, so tomorrow or next week Netanyahu will declare a freeze. Should the negotiations go well, everyone will agree that Modi'in Illit and Har Gilo remain in Israel, and construction will continue when new plans make their way thru the zoning process. If not, there won't be much reason to halt construction, will there. So it's a sham.

And also a shame. We've got this exciting new American administration, or anyway, we had for a moment. Peace in the Middle East is probably beyond the ability of any American administration to deliver, as is peace in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, the Caucasus, and diverse other places; still, it would have been nice to have a real stab at it, and not the silly gesture-politics we've been having the past few months.

In late summer 2008 I wrote here that Obama's first 18-24 months would be disastrous, but that then he and his team might understand the dynamics of the job and pull their act together. It's still early enough for them to prove me pessimistic. But it doesn't look so yet.