Monday, November 30, 2009

Mondoweiss Doesn't Like Jews

Mondoweiss approves of those in the UK who dislike the presence of Jews on the Chilkot inquiry. (The issue is introduced here, for those who have forgotten). This puts Mondowiess on the antisemitic part of the discussion, though there could have been another explanation: that they are merely hyper-sensitive to matters of impartiality on panels. Wondering if that might be the case, I searched their site for mention of a previous famous case in which a panel included a person who had publicly made up her mind before even joining. (I'm not saying either of the two English-Jewish historians has done this, mind you. But perhaps Mondoweiss thinks they have).

Nope. The only mentions of Christine Chinkin at Mondoweiss are positive. Here and here. So that's not it.

Mussolini was an Antisemite

When it came to the Jews, the Italian Fascists didn't hold a candle to their German allies. On the contrary, in Yugoslavia and France, high-ranking Italian fascist officials actively thwarted Nazi anti-Jewish policies. (I wrote a chapter about this in Hitler's Bureaucrats: The Nazi Security Police And The Banality Of Evil). Mussolini's role, however,has long been enigmatic.

Less so now, apparently. According to the diaries of his mistress, he was a racist, an antisemite, and proud of it all. This may not be definitive proof to shut down all discussion, but it's a serious source. Remember, the mistress, Clara Petacci, was lynched alongside Mussolini in 1945, so the diary reflects the man as seen at the time, without any sanitizing post-fact cleanups.

Czechoslovakia and Hungary

The Economist has two interesting book reviews, which are worth glancing at even if you won't buy the books.

The first review is of Mary Heimann's Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed. Accroding to the review, Heimann has documented that just about all the nice things we sort of generally "know" about Czechoslovakia and what a positive place it was, were wrong. It wasn't. Having read the review it occured to me that many of the specific points I'd heard of over the years, but never in a coherent way that might change the overall impression of what the country was about.

Well, maybe that's because Heimann's case is overstated, or so her reviewer thinks. But it still sounds very interesting.

Then there's the story of communist Hungary. It was ghastly - according to Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America, by Kati Marton. Even at the time there was no lack of misguided people in the West who refused to accept that for all its blemishes, it was simply superior in almost all things to the communist part of the world; the passage of time isn't making the incredulity any softer. Read the Guardian and you'll see. Anyway, the need to believe the worst about the democratic world as it faces far worse societies which are whitewashed is still one of the main political themes of our day.

This book sounds like a useful reminder that there can be truly evil regimes; if you don't have time for the book at least read the review.

Friedman and the Narrative

Thomas Friedman has garnered plaudits from the hawks for his most recent column:

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.

Sorry, but I'm not impressed. The narrative (or The Narrative) wasn't created after 9/11; it has been aimed at Israel and to a degree at America for many decades. A totally dishonest narrative about how Israel is the source of all evil in the Mideast has been the meta-narrative in the Arab world for generations; 9/11 was its result, not the other way around, because America is regarded as Jewish, or controlled by Jews.

Nor is this Arab pathology particularly novel. Europeans of the Left were convinced Jewish capitalists were behind all evil for the past 200 year, perhaps more, even as Europeans of the Right were convinced Marxism and all its spawns were cynical Jewish inventions. Read Voltaire and you'll be surprised how central the nefarious Jewish influences are that he identifies.

Need I mention the Christian ideas about the Jews and their roles in history and theology? Hardly savory, many of them.

Now I'm not saying hatred of Jews has always been universal, nor that it's the central plank of history. Not. But to look at the post-9/11 world and be surprised by the centrality and potency of antisemitic ideas and their derivatives seems, to me, a bit lightweight.

Levi and the Shrink

Gideon Levy, he of Haaretz, spent half an hour talking to a psychoanalyst on television. It's in Hebrew, and since it's video, I don't think Google can translate it for you.

Levy comes across as reasonable, calm, reflective, and articulate. Well, he's a talented journalist, so the articulate part is what you'd expect.

He tells how proud he is to aggravate us. His motivation is plausible: he has set himself the task of ensuring that we're never able to say "we didn't know" about our relationship with the Palestinians. Since he thinks we're profoundly wrong in that relationship, his second goal is to aggravate us. He admits that's a goal, the aggravation, which he achieves by using ever more extreme language. Strangely, he also tells that he can't stand it when outsiders criticize us - pretty weird, bearing in mind how important a source he is for Israel's haters.

Honesty doesn't get mentioned. Careful evaluation of facts, either.

Dershowitz vs. Goldstone

I know, I said I'd stop talking about the Goldstone Report. Indeed, I've mostly stopped. Still, here's a link to Alan Dershowitz' encounter with Richard Goldstone. Oh, wait. After repeatedly alleging that no-one was reading his full report nor dealing with its content, even as the number of people doing so was rapidly growing, Goldstone declined the invitation to discuss his report publicly with Dershowitz. Apparently the meeting with Dore Gold was enough, especially as Dershowitz is a far more formidable public speaker than Gold. So Dershowitz spoke alone, with a copy of the Goldstone Report propped up alongside him.

Hat tip: Noah Pollack.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ruminations from Warsaw

I've been traveling rather a lot to Warsaw these past two years, and have posted about my thoughts here, here, here, here and here. (In chronological order. Interesting how my attention has moved from visit to visit).

Last week I had occasion to walk around quite a bit (the best type of transportation if you can afford it), and the shape of the city finally started falling into place: I think I now am familiar with most of central Warsaw. So my ruminations this time are broader than they've been so far.

Christmas Shopping

For those of you who find interest in the Daf Yomi thread at this blog, but have no way of learning more on their own, Penguin has recently published an English-language book about the subject: The Talmud: A Selection (Penguin Classics). According to Lawrence Grossman, reviewing it in The Forward, it's actually a good introduction. Sounds like a fine Christmas present, don't you think?

Someday I ought to write a rumination about the phenomenon of how ever more traditional Jewish books are being translated into English, in what has become a phenomenon unprecedented since the heyday of Aramaic, 18 centuries ago. But I'm too busy right now, sorry.

Hurray for the Boycott!

As the Dubai meltdown threatens to deal yet another blow to the world's economy, it looks like Israel will not be directly affected: since almost no-one in Dubai was willing to do business with the detested Israelis, the Israelis weren't offered the option of losing their money in Dubai. Heh.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Geopolitical Airport

Budapest international airport, last night. Passengers intermingling in one corridor with five gates: Tel Aviv, Beirut, Bucharest, Damascus, and againTel Aviv.

Whoever sorts the gates doesn't read many newspapers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Travel

The weekend of Thanksgiving is famously the worst time to travel in the entire year, and today is the worst day of the weekend. Or so I've been often told: I've never tried it, myself.

Today I will. Of course, in Warsaw Budapest and Tel Aviv they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so maybe it won't be a problem, but still, I'm proud of my bravery for trying.

Anyway, may my American readers all have a fine holiday!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Americans More Hawkish than Israelis

I haven't written about the possibly immanent Shalit deal. We wait, for the time being. Interestingly, however, according to Haaretz, AIPAC and also the American administration (that would be the Obama administration) are unhappy with what they're hearing:
Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official told Army Radio on Wednesday that the U.S. administration is opposed to the emerging understandings between Israel and Hamas surrounding the deal. "The U.S. does not support negotiations with terror organizations," the official said. "Washington knows that any release of Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank could harm Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and become a victory for Hamas," he added.

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC also voiced concern over the possible prisoner swap but refrained from explicitly criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, senior AIPAC strategist Josh Block told Army Radio that the Israeli government must find a balance between the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and the protection of Israel's long-term interests.
I'm not certain what to make of those statements, but I thought you'd find them interesting. It's a very odd configuration of positions.

Too Many Jews

The UK Chilkot inquiry into how they went to war in Iraq (first mentioned here yesterday) apparently held its first public sessions yesterday. It looks like the British will be treating themselves to much discussion and media coverage of the matter in the coming weeks.

I don't expect to follow it closely, nor blog about it often, you needn't worry. In the meantime, however, Normblog tells that some respectable British media types are openly doubting the predominance of Jews on the panel. Norm is a calm and measured bloke, who always prefers English understatement; still, his point is glum. In the very long tale of English animosity against Jews, the early 21st century is turning out to be worse than you might have expected.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Obama from Warsaw

I asked a Polish colleague today what the Poles thought about the American decision to drop that missile program. It's hard to know from the American media and blogosphere, since too many of them tell it as they'd like it to be, irrespective as it may be. My interlocutor grew serious.

- The Poles are angry, and feel Putin quashed Obama.
- All of them think that way, or some? You, personally, or most people?
- Most people. And the timing of the announcement - September 17th - couldn't have been worse.

He himself actually could be expected to be more lenient in his judgment, since he's a youngish university professor who teaches technology and is well traveled. A member of the Western and forward-looking part of Polish society. To underline his statement he told me there had been a popular caricature which showed Obama proclaiming "Yes We Can". Underneath the artist added "But we probably won't".

Haredi Pros and Cons

Here are two amusing-but-serious columns about the relations between the Haredi part of Israeli society and the rest. The first, by Shachar Ilan, a secular observer and critic, until recently at Haaretz, offers 18 positive things about the Haredis. In response, Yaacov Rivlin, a Haredi blogger, finds 18 positive things to say about the secular Israelis. (Though his mostly Haredi readers rather disagree with him).

I don't have the time to translate right now, so Hebrew-challenged readers need not follow the links, alas. Here's one from each side:
Ilan about the Haredi: They read. Really.
Rivlin about the secular: Every few years they go to the polls and vote according to their own decision.

Legality of a War

The Guardian is unhappy that a commission appointed by its own government to look into how the UK went to war in Iraq (the Chilcot inquiry) may not look carefully enough at the legal aspects.
There have been repeated calls from influential legal and judicial figures for an investigation into whether the invasion of Iraq was illegal, including the former senior law lord Lord Bingham, who last year reiterated that it was "a serious violation of international law".

International law, you see, is above the sovereign decisions of a democratically elected government.
"Some of the debates around the legality of the war are quite sophisticated – it is not all clear-cut," the senior legal figure said. "It's going to be very difficult to deal with someone like Blair without a panel experienced in cross-examination."

And the legal experts know better than the citizens and their elected representatives.

Winning Can Be Ugly, But It's Better Than Losing

Just two days ago we heard that the Hamas leadership in Gaza really really doesn't want anyone shooting at Israel. Since there are just about always armed Palestinians who are even more extreme, it's not clear this plea is going to be fulfilled. Someone in Gaza is still shooting, even if their ability to do so is very limited, and Israel is still responding. This could escalate, it could peter out, or it could continue as it has for the past 8 months, as a minor irritant that doesn't much affect the lives of any Israeli citizens.

Meanwhile, in faraway Brazil, Abbas explains that the Palestinians aren't about to launch a third intifada, even though the Israelis aren't giving them everything they think they deserve, because they've suffered too much from the second one. Abbas is ultimately not the one to make that decision - if there are enough Palestinians who want another intifada they can have it without his permission - but the impression is that in this matter, at this moment, he's expressing the will of his people. They really don't want another round.

The Palestinian decision of Fall 2000 to respond to Israel's proposals with violence was touted at the time as the desperate act of a people with no choice; Israel was told by the entire international community that its only possible response was to reward the Palestinians in negotiations. This was not true at the time, and the various Palestinian leaderships seem to be publicly admitting it now. Their choice to use violence was fraught with danger, and the dangers indeed materialized. This is profoundly unfortunate, and thousands of people, a majority of them Palestinians, paid with their lives. It is also what war is about.

Israel's neighbors who refrain from starting wars don't suffer from the results of the wars they don't start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

American Jewry from Many Directions

Mondowiess is furious that J Street is against the anit-Israel boycott movement. Is this a tempest in the far-left American Jewish teacup, or is it a rant by the pedigreed loonies against a group that's disappointing them by staying within the general consensus? We need to know more about J Street than we presently do to be able to answer that.

Meanwhile, back in the mainstream, The Forward has published its annual "50 Top American Jews" list. It may take you half an hour to read, but I recommend. It's fascinating. It also shows a vibrant, diverse and creative American Jewry.

Ah, and there's Michael Oren, of course.

Obama From the Left

I really ought to write a post about Obama's scolding us last week on Jerusalem. Maybe I'll find the time, and be online, but not right now. In the meantime, however, you might want to look at this column by Zvi Bar'el. Bar'el is the Haaretz correspondent for the entire Arab (and sometimes even Muslim) world beyond the Palestinians (Avi Issacharoff reports on the Palestinians, as does, sort of, Amira Haas). He's decidedly left, not irrationally so, but he's not center-left, either. So it's interesting to see how he wants to agree with Obama's position, but recognizes the intellectual hollowness of it (that's his word, not mine).

The American demand is proper, even if it is very late and unusually aggressive. However, its lack of context is infuriating. Freezing settlements is not a policy. Its entire purpose is to give Mahmoud Abbas, the resigning Palestinian Authority president, a reason to get back to negotiations. But negotiations cannot be a final goal, just as freezing settlements cannot be considered the ultimate achievement. What then? Is Abbas doomed to be a constant negotiator in endless negotiations? Does Washington have a plan for continuing negotiations?
Without a solid American diplomatic plan that will make Israelis, not Netanyahu, understand how to keep negotiations from bogging down a moment after Abbas and Netanyahu start talking; without a clear American position on the Palestinian right of return and the holy places, and whether Washington is for or against Palestinian reconciliation that brings Hamas into the government; the settlement freeze will become an unnecessary test of strength between Netanyahu and Obama. Because if the American president takes the trouble to look into one illegal building in East Jerusalem, and rightly so, he cannot in the same breath say that the really important questions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are none of his business.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Off Again

I'm on my way to Poland. Blogging this week will be affected, I expect. But who knows?

We Regret to Infrom...

Haaretz carried a full-page ad on Friday, from Btselem. The graphics were of a death announcement, and it went:
Btselem regrets to inform the public that it has reached the age of 20.
We're sick of it. And you're sick of us. But four million people in the Occupied Territories still lack their rights, and they're even more sick of it.
When they live in dignity and freedom, we'll leave. We promise.

At the bottom was an invitation to join them in tours they're giving. I signed up to a tour of Hebron, next week.

You can disagree with much that Btselem does - I certainly do - but they're trying to fix what they percieve as wrong in their own society, and they live here to pay the price when they're wrong. You've got to respect that, at least. They aren't the same as the International Intervention Brigade.

Multilateral Sovereignty

Ten days ago, after I posted my reflections on the Goldstone Report, I found myself deep in an interesting e-mail correspondence with a law professor from Tel Aviv University who is a vocal supporter of abolishing national sovereignty and replacing it with an international human rights brigade. I'm not certain he would have chosen those precise words, but he was quite clear about the underlying principles. Actually, it was even worse, because his definition of what goes under "human rights" is breathtakingly wide, far beyond anything ever conceived of back in the late 1940s, when this fad got seriously underway.

He also rebuked me for not agreeing with him, given how by training I'm an historian of Nazism; I, of all people, should be better informed, he said.

Well. Maybe that explains why I've changed career tracks, I suppose.

Anyway, while I've been aware of this subject for quite a while, this correspondence, along with my reading of the Goldstone Report which preceded it, has alerted me to the seriousness of the issue. There really are many millions of people out there who are eager to whittle away democracy, i.e the responsibility of the electorate to make decisions, so as to replace it with teams of unelected specialists who are confident in their ability to know better what needs to be done, and what is unacceptable. The professor even called my type of democracy, the outmoded type, "technical democracy", while the type he advocates he called "fundamental democracy" or some such term (democratia mahutit).

So I've inaugurated a new tag (see below), called multilateral sovereignty, which I'll use to mark posts about this. Perhaps some day I'll write a book about it, who knows. If you're not interested in this newish interest of mine, feel free to skip those posts, or if I'm really annoying you, you may cancel your subscription.

The Economist last week had a thoughtful column on the fiscal aspects of this subject and their hazards.

Israel's Supreme Court just this week gave a dramatic demonstration, too. Five years after the Knesset passed a law enabling the careful privatization of prisons, the justices threw out the law. Haaretz has the story here, and two columns about it, one in favor of the decision, one critical.

I'm not convinced one way or the other myself. I'm uncomfortable with the ability of five unelected judges to throw out a law. I think it's ridiulous it took them five years, years in which the private businessmen spent a very large sum to build a prison and hire and train its staff. The fact that American, British and French legislators have passed similar laws, which haven't been struck down, indicates to me that it's not obvious that privately-run prisons must obviously be transgressors against the human rights of prisoners. On the other hand, I like the ability of Israel to decide for itself, irrespective of what others decide: that's the very essence of sovereignty. As for the prison itself, it seems the prisoners in the privately-run prison might actually have been treated better than those in the state run one - highly ironic, that - but on the other hand, I can see the sense of contending that the state must preserve it's monopoly of the use of force.

It's complicated. All the more reason not to take it out of the hands of the elected legislators, no?

Analyzing Warstuff

Where do you go if you're an American general, say, or a British one, and your troops in Iraq or Afghanistan are encountering a new type of homemade but lethal weapon, and you need some advice on what it's made from so as the better to defend yourself?

To Israel, of course. The Israelis have this unit, run by a mad scientist, who collects bit of ordnance, learns everything possible about it, and makes useful recommendations.
Recently, the American military began studying the IDF experience. "They never imagined IEDs like that. They're still back in the 1980s, fighting the Soviets. They're making this huge review and came to us to learn everything about the materials and how to take the things apart," says Tuval.

Delegates from other armies fighting in Afghanistan, including the British, Italians and Germans, have also visited the lab to study the threats ahead. British experts, this time from Scotland Yard, also visited the lab in 2005 to learn the types of explosives used in the 2005 London bombings, which were different from bombs they knew from the IRA.

So far, so not surprising. The part I found of special interest, however, was this one:
In other cases, the lab is requested to produce results in real time. During Operation Cast Lead the lab deduced from shrapnel embedded in a paratroop officer's helmet that he was not injured by an IED but by a sniper's bullet, thus making the army aware a sniper was operating in that area.

Interesting, isn't it? The troops in the field and their commanders weren't sure what was going on, so the forensic fellows back near Tel Aviv figured out there must be a Palestinian sniper hidden nearby. Just the kind of thing the foreign observers and bearers of human rights in vain always know better about than the professionals who are there at the time.

Hamas: No Return to Warfare, Please

One of the small military factions even more extreme than Hamas shot a rocket into Israel yesterday. The Hamas rulers of Gaza hurriedly read them the riot act: no one shoots at Israel. We don't want any re-run of last January. Maybe some day, but not this year.

It has been about eight months now since the rocket attacks on southern Israel have dwindled to a drizzle, and apparently even that has Hamas nervous. This inevitably won't last forever, but for the time being, it seems our operation was proportional: there was a problem, we took action, and the problem was resolved.

Rather straightforward, don't you think?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Innovative Farmers

It was great to be offline. I recommend it to everyone, and ought to do more of it myself.

One day we drove up to the Dalton Plateau, near the top of the Upper Galilee. Some 15 years ago a family of local farmers were about to plant an orchard of apricots, when someone caught their wrist and told them to have a look at pomegranates. So they had a look, and went for it. They must have been accompanied by some savvy agronomists, however, and spent a few years developing a new strain of pomegranates, which gave enormous fruit - 1.2 kg each, they claim, the size of a soccer ball. They then noticed that the sugar level of their monsters were already within the range of wine grapes... so why sell fruit if you can sell wine instead? This took another few years of research and development, but about 5 years ago they began marketing red wine based on pomegranates. We were shown 5 different types of wine, but apparently they've got more. All are excellent. Last year they sold 570,000 bottles, 70% of them exported.

They claim they're the first and only producers of pomegranate wine worldwide. They are currently working with Shiba hospital and Tel Aviv University to document the health qualities of their products, which apparently are even better than regular red wine.

Their website is here. Check them out: perhaps their products can be found at a supermarket near you.

Beside being a nice story, worth the telling on its own account, you won't be surprised I'm using it to make a broader point, about life in an entrepreneurial society. These folks, I remind you, are farmers, living on a windswept, rather desolate-looking mountaintop a few miles south of the Lebanese border. The nearest big city, Safed, isn't. Big, I mean. Haifa is an hour and a half away, reasonably far by tiny Israel's standards. They're not high-techies, not engineers, not young adventurers out to disrupt some well established industry. Yet once they dropped the boring idea of planting apricots, they're surrounded by the infrastructures and ethos necessary to be cutting edge innovators. They've got agronomists, medical researchers, engineers to develop the tools to extract all possible components from their fruit and turn it into wine, oil, and lotions. They can find someone to market their previously unheard of product. They've got a good, multi-lingual website. They've got the financiers. And there's the social expectation and encouragement: you've got a cool idea? Run with it. Everyone else does. The worst that can happen is that it won't succeed. But why shouldn't it?

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I am going decidedly, firmly, very much offline. I'm sending my ailing laptop off to a laptop hospital, and not looking back. If I see a PC from afar, I'll turn the other way and walk off unconcernedly. I. Will. Not. Connect. To. The. Internet.

Next week? We'll see about next week.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How Deep is the Rot?

The rot of antisemitism at The Guardian, I mean. Well, apparently it's about as deep as you could imagine. Think: the kitchen of the top editor.

CiF Watch will soon be promoted up the ranks of the Elders of Zion for their fine work.

Vincent van Gogh

There's a new, six volume edition of his letters and drawings: Vincent van Gogh: The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition (Vol. 1-6). A bit pricey, but wonderful, apparently. The Economist gushes:
The publication of the six volumes is cause for celebration. To have all the artist’s words together with all those images is like being given a pair of super-special 3D spectacles. The resulting self-portrait has a depth that would not exist were this a collection only of images or only of words. This could be the best autobiography of an artist yet to appear anywhere.
You can even go see it all online, free.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lunatics, Murderers and the Mentally Ill

There are two cases in the headlines this week of murderers who may have had emotional issues. On the one hand there's Major Hassan, a Muslim who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood. The other one is Jack Teital, indicted this morning for two cases of murder and assorted lesser crimes.

Teital is further along in the legal process: there's already an indictment which spells out what the prosecutors know. The Hassan case probably won't reach that stage for many weeks, so there's more room for uninformed public speculation - on blogs, say.

The responses are interesting. Teital lived in an immediate environment - the Shvut Rachel settlement - which contains animosity towards Arabs. The Rachel in the name of the settlement was a young woman murdered on the nearby road, and the settlement was put there in response. The people there are law-abiding citizens, but, yes, they feel at war. Having said that, however, I have yet to hear a single voice even hinting at any form of exoneration for Teital. See this response from some of his wife's family, this morning:

Avitan reiterated his stand that the family plans to cut itself off from Teitel. "His response at the courtroom this morning proves that the man is disturbed. In any event, we are completely distancing ourselves from this man. A person who does such terrible things should deal with them alone. We have a lot of work to do, each busy rehabilitating our own lives," he said.

Teitel's sister-in-law, Dasi Kreif, commented on the condition of her sister Rivka, the wife of the "Jewish terrorist".

There was no doubt that an indictment would be filed following these terrible actions. We are trying to go on with our lives, but Rivka will have to deal with a great crisis in her life. It will ruin her life. At this stage she refuses to believe as long as she has not met with him privately, looked him in the eye and asked him. Soon she will begin to understand, and it will be very difficult."

Not a word of support for the man or his actions; and even the statement that he's disturbed is a social description, not a medical one. It's intention is derogatory - that man is a lunatic - not exoneration. No-one's saying Teital is a lunatic so not responsible for his actions or anything of the sort. This is as it should be: the man is a murderer and belongs in jail.

Then there is Hassan. Over here you can see how Richard Silverstein and some of his readers already know he's mentally ill; indeed, his illness blocked him from understanding reality. Now, I recognize that Richard and his followers don't represent much - rather like the lunatic fringes of Israeli society don't represent the mainstream. Still, it's interesting to see the degree of bile they're willing to deploy in their race to prove that Hassan is mentally ill and nothing else.

Mental illness, just for the sake of the science, is a horrible thing. The people it afflicts suffer from it hugely. Some manage to live normal lives most of the time, some never manage at all. There have been geniuses with mental illness, though we don't know if there's a connection between the two; perhaps they'd have been even more creative had they not had the illness to cope with. There's the exceedingly rare case where the mental illness may even contribute to greatness - we talked about Abraham Lincoln in this context a few months ago. Rarely, there are people whose illness drives them to violence. But that's very rare, it's not easy to prove, and in any case, no serious person would ever base themselves on some media reports to determine the condition.

Just saying.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Critical Reading of the Goldstone Report

As regular readers of this blog have noticed, I've been reading the Goldstone Report, in my spare time, for weeks now.

It's a fascinating document. Not for what it tells about the Gaza Operation in January 2009, it's putative subject. If you want to know about that you'll have to look elsewhere, since the Report is of an intellectual and methodological stature that is simply contemptible - and I'm aware that's a very strong word. It's fascinating for the wide window it opens into the minds of a certain type of person who is becoming ever more common in the early 21st century. Intelligent and educated people, who enthusiastically cast off empiric and rational modes of investigation achieved over centuries of effort, in a mad race to impose their world view; this worldview includes undermining democracy itself if the democrats don't think as these people know they must.

As such, the Report is a warning to all of us who regard the uncertain freedoms of the Enlightenment as the best form of society devised by mankind.

My response, 5,600 words, can be found in Google Document form here, and in PDF here.

Here's a snippet:

Even more baffling than the willingness of the investigators to invent Israeli motives, which at least is not denied, is their refusal to seek evidence of the actions and intentions of the defenders. They made a few feeble enquiries of what they call the Gaza Authorities about the fighters, were rebuffed with the odd response that these authorities had no knowledge of what the fighters of their own side might have been doing, and that was all. Yet in dozens of cases described in their report, the question demands to be answered: if the IDF was firing in this direction, what do the Hamas commanders have to tell about their forces? Had they booby trapped the building? Were they firing from here? Had they laid mines in this field? Were they congregating in this mosque, and for what purpose? Was this farm intended as a line of defense, or that zoo as a trap for advancing IDF troops? In many cases the investigators asked local civilians, but they never asked the fighters or their leaders.

Bizarre as it may sound – and it is truly bizarre – the investigators came to what had been the scene of a war, and tried to piece the events together without talking to either of the warring sides. They asked the Israelis, and the Israelis refused to talk. They didn't ask Hamas, so Hamas never even had to refuse. Yet they had the arrogance to tell what had happened.
Having read and written, it is my intention now to put the Goldstone Report firmly behind me. Enough is enough.

The Extremes Connect

CiFWatch continues its theme from yesterday (previous post). Today they show how Steve Bell at CiF and one of the neo-Nazis at Stormfront have almost the exact same commentary to make on the 20th anniversary of the breaching of the Berlin Wall. The thesis, in case you can't guess on your own, being that Israel's separation barrier is worse than the Berlin Wall. So the question: do these folks read each other, perhaps?

Perhaps. But not necessarily. And even if so, it doesn't have to prove anything. I read the Guardian, and Richard Silverstein, and Mondoweiss, and all sorts of strange people, but that doesn't mean I'm like them. It merely means I take them seriously enough to want to know what makes them tick. It seems to me CIF Watch is on to something more important than who reads whom. They seem to be demonstrating how the Jew haters of the Left and the Jew haters of the Right are coalescing in the way they see the world. They don't need to copy from each other, if their processes of cognition have converged. It is that convergence which is significant.

Of course, the fact that extremes can end up resembling each other is not a surprise; it's a well known and oft repeated phenomenon. Sometimes the similarities even lead to active collaboration. The anti-democrats of Left and Right in the last years of Weimar Germany are merely the most famous case where extremes hated the center more than each other and worked together to destroy it. The service CiF Watch is doing right now is to document how the same is happening again today. This is a phenomenon worth watching.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tragedy, Comedy or Farce at CiF?

CiF Watch has posted a list of comments from CiF and from Stormfront, a popular neo-Nazi site, and wonders if we can tell the difference.

I like the idea. I dislike the reality it demonstrates.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Belief Trumps Facts

Andrew Sullivan has a link to the transcript of an NPR (radio) program the day Major Hasan murdered 13 soldiers at Fort Hood. There are two radio types who's job is to talk all the time, and they've just brought a colleague online, one Daniel Zwerdling, who's got some background information about the murderer:

... But second of all - and this is, perhaps, you know, more relevant. The psychiatrist says that he was very proud and upfront about being Muslim. And psychiatrist hastened to say, and nobody minded that. But he seemed almost belligerent about being Muslim, and he gave a lecture one day that really freaked a lot of doctors out.

They have grand rounds, right? They, you know, dozens of medical staff come into an auditorium, and somebody stands at the podium at the front and gives a lecture about some academic issue, you know, what drugs to prescribe for what condition. But instead of that, he - Hasan apparently gave a long lecture on the Koran and talked about how if you don't believe, you are condemned to hell. Your head is cut off. You're set on fire. Burning oil is burned down your throat.

And I said to the psychiatrist, but this cold be a very interesting informational session, right? Where he's educating everybody about the Koran. He said but what disturbed everybody was that Hasan seemed to believe these things. And actually, a Muslim in the audience, a psychiatrist, raised his hand and said, excuse me. But I'm a Muslim and I do not believe these things in the Koran, and then I don't believe what you say the Koran says. And then Hasan didn't say, well, I'm just giving you one point of view. He basically just stared the guy down.

Sound's rather straightforward to me. The man has just murdered 13 American troops, and here's evidence he's strongly influenced by the ideology that's at war with America (and the rest of the free world), and perhaps this connection might be worthy of our attention.

Nope. Here's how the two hosts of the program relate to this information:

INSKEEP: So we have a picture of a man, then, who, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was disliked by his colleagues. Or maybe disliked is not the word. Disturbed some of his colleagues is perhaps a better way to put it.

ZWERDLING: No, and disliked is also a relevant word.

INSKEEP: OK. And then�

ZWERDLING: Then he - the psychiatrist this morning said people generally considered him a blank bag. You, you know, can guess what they say.

INSKEEP: And then he is sent to Fort Hood, Texas, and he knows at the point that this shooting allegedly begins, that the shooting begins of which he is accused, that he's about to be deployed by Afghanistan. Now, Tom, you've been looking into some of the stresses of military personnel of being sent overseas.

GJELTEN: That's right, Steve. You know, you referred to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There's - almost seems to be a phenomenon that you could maybe call a pre-traumatic stress disorder. There have been a lot suicides in the Army, many more as a result of these wars than in previous years. Interestingly enough, as many soldiers have killed themselves before they were due to be deployed as after. Thirty-five percent of the suicides are pre-deployment, 35 percent are post-deployment. So there seems to be an issue here of expectation of what you are getting into. And the fact that Major Hasan would've known better than others, even, about how traumatic combat experience would be, you know, raises the question of, you know, was he an example of these soldiers who are literally freaked out by what they are likely to face when they are deployed?

INSKEEP: And it's hard to miss the location of this shooting: a processing center for people being sent overseas.

To his credit, Zwerdling does then make an effort to bring the attention back to where it should be, but he's talking to the wall. The conditioning of the other two fellows simply doesn't let them hear him. He's not saying what he's saying.


The Short 20th Century

For a moment in the 1990s, people began to talk about The Short 20th Century, the one that began in 1914 and ended in 1989 (or 1991). The idea was that the 19th century, not including its first 15 years, was a rather peaceful place, all the way up until August 1914. And the 21st century was sure to be a peaceful place, too, all the way back from the end of the Cold War. In between these peaceful eras, there was that ghastly (but thankfully short) 20th century, with all its wars and stuff.

Of course, the century being discussed was European. Much of the rest of the world was on a somewhat different schedule. At the heart of Europe was Germany. At the heart of Germany in the 20th century was the 9th of November:

November 9th 1918: Germany capitulates and The Great War ends.
November 9th 1923: German chauvinists, mostly Nazis, commemorated the black anniversary with an attempt to overthrow the reviled Weimar Republic. This event is known as the Beer-hall Putsch.
November 9th from 1933 onwards: in commemoration of the putsch, which happened on the day of the capitulation, the 9th of November was one of the main days of celebration on the Nazi calender.
November 9th 1938: the celebrating Old Fighters convened in the Beer Hall in Munich in the presence of Hitler hear a speech by Goebbels which launches the Reich-wide pogrom later known as Kristalnacht.
November 9th 1989, the Berlin Wall is breached, and the symbol of the Cold War is no more.

Funny how history can sometimes seem so pat and sensible. But then events keep on happening, and the tidiness sort of dissipates. Seen from this side of 2001, it seems a bit eager to think that 1989 was the end of history and the beginning of a peaceful multilateral world.

Though the part about Germany was correct. November 9th 1989 probably was the last time Germany was at the eye of world history.

Obama and Netanyahu: Not Pals

Aluf Benn, a serious journalist at Haaretz, has some cool words to say about Netanyahu's rising sense of confidence about facing down Obama:
Netanyahu may be an experienced diplomat and politician, and Obama may be a novice, but Obama is the president of a superpower, and Netanyahu represents a small country that depends greatly on the United States. It sometimes appears that Netanyahu forgets this, and pretends he is the head of a superpower, for example when he identifies himself with Winston Churchill, or in declaring that the Israeli mind will free the world of oil dependency in a decade.
This is of course true, and needs to be kept firmly in mind at all times. The fact that the Obama administration clearly does not yet understand the real world out here (I'm not talking about the internal American scene, where the jury's still out), doesn't change the fact that for the next three or seven years, the Obama administration will be the single most important and powerful actor on the international scene, and also extraordinarily important for Israel. Maybe they'll learn. Even if they don't, Obama will be re-elected or not because of domestic issues, not his relationship with us.

There is however also the flip side of the coin. In seven years at the latest Obama will be packing. As will his successor in 15 years at the most. And that one's successor, in 23 years. At which time, Israel will still be in this highly volatile neighborhood.

Most political leaders most of the time cannot ever make decisions which will reverberate much beyond the term of their successor. Can anyone think of anything Helmut Schmidt did that makes any difference today? Does anyone even remember who Helmut Schmidt was? John Major? Romano Prodi? Bill Clinton? (Oops. Sorry).

The prime minister of Israel has in his (or her) power to make decisions which will directly impact on the Jewish existence in the 24th century; the status of Jerusalem being merely the most obvious of them. We've been around for a very long time, and are in for the long haul. No Israeli leader should ever make historical decisions for an immediate political reason alone. It must fit in to the long term, too.

Erdogan: Israeli Crimes are the Worst

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Israeli crimes are far worse than anything a Muslim regime could do, and certainly worse than the Sudanese crimes:
The Turkish prime minister said Ankara respects human rights and would not hesitate to challenge Bashir if it believed he had committed atrocities. But Erdogan said he does not believe that Sudanese paramilitary forces committed acts of genocide against African residents of Darfur.

"It is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide," Erdogan told ruling party members.

Says the Turkish prime minister. Turkey, for crying out loud.

I'm not telling you all this so as to argue with him. On the contrary. I'm posting it because when trying to understand human action, it's always important to keep firmly in mind that what people believe, and what can be empirically shown worthy of belief, are two vastly different things. Rationality is one possible mode of human operation, but it has never been the only one, and often it isn't the preferred one, either.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Israel Model

There's this new book out which is being talked about a lot: Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Apparently, they've figured out how to make a pile of money from Israel's start-up culture, without themselves being hi-tech entrepreneurs: write a good about about it.

The Economist, which has been intrigued by Israel's unique role in the world of technology entrepreneurs for years already, has a review of the book not in the review section, but rather in the business section:

The country that has led the world in promoting entrepreneurship has also done the most to plug itself into global markets. The Israeli government’s venture-capital fund, which was founded in 1992 with $100m of public money, was designed to attract foreign venture capital and, just as importantly, expertise. The government let foreigners decide what to invest in, and then stumped up a hefty share of the money required. Foreign venture capital poured into the country, high-tech companies boomed, domestic venture capitalists learned from their foreign counterparts and the government felt able to sell off the fund after just five years.

Last year Israel, a country of just over 7m people, attracted as much venture capital as France and Germany combined. Israel has more start-ups per head than any other country (a total of 3,850, or one for every 1,844 Israelis), and more companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange, a hub for fledgling technology firms, than China and India combined. It may not have the same comforting ring as “the Swedish model” or “the polder model”, but when it comes to promoting entrepreneurship, “the Israeli model” is the one to emulate.

Here's a story about what it's like to live in the middle of this whirlwind.

About six months ago I needed to find somebody with a very specific type of software capability. The details are unimportant, but it had to be a company from a certain minor branch of the software world, and within that segment of the industry it had to be someone with a specific type of interface capability. So I went googling, and identified something like 20 companies worldwide that looked as if they might have what I needed. Of the 20, five (5!) were in Israel, all located within 30 miles of each other north of Tel Aviv (none in Jerusalem, alas). Eventually we winnowed it down to two who basically had what we needed, though in two very different formats. Their offices were a three minute walk from one another, both in Netanya.

What are the odds of that happening anywhere else in the world, outside Silicon Valley itself? (If there).

So the other day Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Dan Senor. It's a bit understated, but otherwise a really fun read.

It's a very young country, very difficult environment, there are no natural resources, no access to regional capital or regional markets. If you were to paint a picture of the circumstances under which you're not going to have a successful economic developing country, it would be Israel...
JG: Go to one final thing, something that struck me when I was reading this book. You have a boycott movement in Europe, but in the U.S., too, you have forces that want to delegitimize Israel. I realized in reading this that it would be quite something to go tell Intel or Google or IBM to divest from Israel.

DS: They'll never do it. I mean, it's impossible. What various companies told us is that if they had to shut down operations in India tomorrow, they could survive because it's basically a lot of outsourcing and a lot of call centers. They said if we had to shut down our operations in Ireland, we could survive. But what one person after another told us is that the one place in the world that would devastating for them to have shut down would be Israel, because they put so much of their mission-critical work and R&D in Israel. The Intel story we tell is amazing, this key chip that was central to Intel taking off was designed and then manufactured in Israel, so it would be devastating to these companies to lose Israel. And one more thing -- the most interesting data point on all of this is that European venture capitalists invest more in Israel than they do in any single European economy.

JG: Is that true?

DS: Yes and, to me, that says it all. For all the ranting from Europe about boycotts and attempts at boycotts, that's not what European capital is doing. In terms of the U.S., this is even more true. I don't want to oversimplify, but who do think is more important to Barack Obama: The head of J Street or Eric Schmidt at Google? And if Eric Schmidt said that his company would be devastated if Israel came off-line -- and we interviewed Schmidt and he talked about the importance of Israel -- then I think I know the answer.

Moshe Halbertal on Goldstone

Moshe Halbertal, a thoughtful, left-leaning professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, has written a fine essay about the Goldstone Report. Being who he is, his line of reasoning is novel: he had hoped the Report might have something to contribute to the thorny philosophical issues of asymmetrical war.

In 2000, I was asked by the Israel Defense Forces to join a group of philosophers, lawyers, and generals for the purpose of drafting the army’s ethics code. Since then, I have been deeply involved in the analysis of the moral issues that Israel faces in its war on terrorism. I have spent many hours in discussions with soldiers and officers in order to better grasp the dilemmas that they tackle in the field, and in an attempt to help facilitate the internalization of the code of ethics in war. It was no wonder that, when the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war was published, I was keen to read it, with some hope of getting a perspective on Israeli successes or failures in this effort to comprehend war, and to fight it, morally. Unlike many who responded to the report, in praise or in blame, I gave this immensely long document a careful reading.

Alas, the Report didn't do what he'd hoped it would, Rather than being serious, it's foolish. Read his essay to see why.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hummus, Falafel, and Israeli Colonialism

Elder of Ziyon has the latest in the Lebanese onslaught on Israeli use of and identification with Mideastern foods.

This has been going on for a few weeks now, this Lebanese project of denying Israel's claim to Hummus, falafel, t'china (tahini), taboule and so on. Initially I watched it with a grin. If this is all that's left to fight over, we're in heaven!

As it continues, however, it occurs to me there's a deeper side to the kerfuffle. The reason Israelis love and identify with so many Mideastern foods, beyond the fact that they're good and healthier than fish-n-chips, hamburgers and vodka, is that a large chunk of Israel's Jews have been living in the Mideast these past 3,000 years or so. How many Israelis? Well, what with intermarriage (between Oriental and European Jews) at something like 40% of all marriages, I'm not certain anyone knows anymore, but I'd hazard a guess that about half of all Israeli Jews are at least partly of Mideastern stock.

All that talk of the colonialist Jews who fled the antisemites in Europe and inflicted themselves on the poor Palestinians? Wrong. The newest version, whereby they're now also stealing the Lebanese heritage? Equally wrong.

I dare these Lebanese cooks to prove that Hummus wasn't invented by the Jews of Baghdad centuries before the Arabs arrived in the 7th century. Or that felafel wasn't the favorite food of the large Jewish community in Alexandria (Egypt) about the time when Cleopatra was drinking pearls in her vinegar. (I can't prove they were, but that's the point).

UN: No Evidence

This really is a bit funny.
Two days before Israel's capture of a ship that was apparently ferrying arms to Hezbollah, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a report to the UN Security Council in which he said the United Nations took the Israeli allegations about weapons smuggling to Hezbollah seriously, but lacked the ability to independently verify the information.
So here's the proof, courtesy of Israel's Navy (and Mossad, but we won't mention them).
Israeli commandos seized a ship Wednesday that defense officials said was carrying hundreds of tons of weapons from Iran bound for Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas - the largest arms shipment Israel has ever commandeered.

The Israeli military said an Iranian document was found on board, showing that the arms shipment, disguised as civilian cargo, originated from Iran, although the paper was not shown to reporters. Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda, the deputy Israeli navy commander, said that despite its size, the shipment of weapons was a drop in the ocean of arms being shipped to Hezbollah.

Try to imagine what the world would be like if anyone trusted the important things to the United Nations.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Forever. Forever?

Hillary Clinton is (or was) in Cairo. While there she clarified that
Washington does not accept the legitimacy of the West Bank enclaves and wants to see their construction halted "forever."
Forever can be a long time. Americans can remember a history of a few centuries. There have been people of European stock in America for a bit more than half a millennium. Latin was the main language in Europe for, what, a thousand years? Islam has been around for almost 1,500 years, and Christianity for 2,000. The European Union got into stride a few decades ago; there is reason to hope that the United Nations in its present form won't last even one century - though it probably will. But I wouldn't bank on 500 years.

There have been Jews in Eretz Yisrael, if you believe the archeological evidence, since at least 3,000 years ago. Seen in that context, settling or not settling "forever" is probably a bit of a stretch.

Islamic and Nazi Antisemitism

Robert Wistrich is an archetypal professor. He knows a lot about his subject, by which I mean a lot. He speaks many languages, fluently (I've heard him sounding like a native in Hebrew, English, German, Russian and French, but there are more). He reads all the time, except when he's writing; he has published many books. He's the kind of fellow who encourages me not to be a full-time historian, since there's no way I could compete; better to dabble in many things and not have to be measured by success in one.

One of his more important books is to be published in America in January: A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad. Amazon offers, among others, this review:
"A message of this remarkable work is that the Holocaust did not only discredit anti-Semitism. In a sinister way, the murder of six million Jews has also inspired fantasies of completing what the Third Reich had begun, and has led to widespread defamation of Israel by equating its policies with Nazism. The grim case that Robert Wistrich advances in A Lethal Obsession is overwhelming. In the awesome scale of its research, in its moral and literary force, and in its compelling political urgency, there is no book quite like it."—Stephen J. Whitfield, Professor of American Civilization, Brandeis University.

Yesterday Wistrich published an op-ed in Haaretz about the similarities between Nazi antisemitic propaganda and what's going on these days in the Muslim world, and the lack of recognition of the problem in the West. The column has the advantage of being about 1198 pages shorter than the book.

Augean Stables on Goldstone

Prof. Richard Landes, author of Augean Stables, has a long post about Goldstone's methodology, based upon lots and lots of quotations from the report itself. The thesis: the fact finding mission carefully chose what interested it in a way that would ensure the result it wanted to have.

How surprising.

The House voted yesterday for the anti-Goldstone resolution. As I said, it's non-binding and the administration can disregard it if they choose, but it's nice to have.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Goldberg Interview with Hussain Ibish

Jeffrey Goldberg has a very interesting interview with Hussein Ibish:
Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which is the leading American group advocating for an independent Palestine alongside Israel, has a new book out, "What's Wrong With the One-State Agenda?" which does a comprehensive job of demolishing the arguments made by those who think that Israel should be eliminated and replaced by a single state of Jews and Palestinians. He has performed an important service with this book by noting one overwhelming truth about this debate: Virtually no one in Israel wants a single-state between the river and the sea. It's useful to remember this salient fact when listening to the ostensibly reality-based arguments of the one-staters.

I spoke to Ibish about his arguments last week, shortly after he spoke at the J Street conference. Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Me, I could make peace with Ibish in four minutes flat, including two for a discussion of the weather. Well, maybe it might take 12 minutes.

I expect most Israelis could.

Lozowick on Cesarani on Eichmann

A reader has left a comment on my recent "Evil isn't Banal" post:
There is a book by David Cesarani,
"Becoming Eichmann, Reviewing the life,
crimes and trial of a desk murderer" which
seems to be very critical of Arendt's approach (I haven't read it on
my waiting list).
The book is here: Becoming Eichmann

This set off a bell, and I went to the back room, bent down to rummage around at the back of the lowest shelf of the cupboard behind the old piano, and lo and behold: behind a pile of old shoes (most of them left shoes, for some reason) and dusty Lego castles, I found... a review I once wrote about Ceserani's book. Apparently it was published in some German journal, but I did the writing of it in English. So on the spot I decided to redeem it from the lost past, and here it is!

David and I used to be friends; in recent years we've drifted apart what with my moving to a new career. Now that I see the review, however, I wonder if there wasn't more substance to our loss of mutual interest. Sad.

Gold and Goldstone

As a number of readers have noted, Dr. Dore Gold (a former Israeli ambassador to the UN) will debate Richard Goldstone about his (ghastly) report, the day after tomorrow, at Brandeis University. Further details, and eventually also a tape of the debate, can be found here.

Poland's Solidarity

I know the 1980s were a long time ago, but the story of Solidarity makes for a fine read, and I needed to know more about it for a lecture I'm scheduled to give later this month in Warsaw, so I did what used to be the obvious thing (at least before Wikipedia): I ordered and read a book about it. The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (Third Edition), by Timothy Garton Ash.

Here's my review.

Standing Up to Goldstone

Congress is to vote today on H. Res. 867, which calls for the administration to kill any further promotion of the Goldstone Report in international institutions. This is a declarative measure, which bears no necessary executive significance. Congress is the legislature, the President heads the executive, and as any 6th grader has heard, they're separate and balanced and all that.

Still, declarations and symbols play real roles in life, on all sorts of levels, so when possible it's better to get them right than wrong. Which is why Goldstone himself and the forces backing him see the need to to foil the adoption of the resolution. (The forces backing him apparently share a telephone number with Human Rights Watch, but I'm not getting into that). Goldstone sent a letter to Representative Howard Berman, a Democrat from California and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee where the measure is under discussion, explaining why he and his colleagues ought first to read his report, and then not do what they're proposing to do.

Berman has now replied, and sent Goldstone's letter and his rebuttal to all the relevant House members. You can read it here. While I can think of derogatory things to say about the report that are not in Berman's rebuttal, it's clear that whoever wrote it for him has read the Goldstone Report: most of the grist of the rebuttal is taken from the report itself.

One of the strange things about the report is that if you dislike Israel, there's lots in it that will warm your cockles. However, if you're into factual analysis, the report supplies endless demonstrations of its own profound biases and general lack of honesty and seriousness. Someone in Berman's office has done this homework.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Talmudic Tall Tales and Yarns

The section of Bava Batra we're at right now (pages 73-76) contains a long series of fantastic tales; Mark Twain would have appreciated them had he had the access. Unlikely as it may sound, the first page or two resemble... Star Wars. No, there's no Republic, no Empire (that would be Rome) and no Jedi. But the reality described... what can I tell you? If there's any way you can go and see for yourself, do so.

Goldstone, J Street and Supporting Israel

There is a resolution to be voted on in Congress tomorrow condemning the Goldstone Report. J Street is against the resolution as presently worded, and wishes it to be watered down.

I don't know if the J Street folks have read the report in its entirety or not. I have. So I feel comfortable in stating that while I'm not in a position to say how supportive of Israel J Street is or isn't, this particular action seems to put it firmly in the camp of Israel's enemies. Not Israel's worst enemies, mind you, but I can't see how this might be a relief to anyone.

The vote will be an interesting test of J Street's power. Can they bring Congress to their line, or can't they, and if they can't, how close will they come. They're a lobby; that sort of thing is their reason to exist. Big conferences are merely the means, not the goal.

Investigating Killings in Afghanistan

The September 4th case where a German officer called in American air support which killed an unknown number of people in Afghanistan - anywhere between 17-142 of them - has been investigated by NATO and the officer was found to have acted reasonably. Perhaps not perfectly, but that's war. The case now goes to the prosecutor in Dresden, who will decide if there's justification for criminal proceedings.

Most of the German media accepts the results; one left-leaning paper is very cynical about it. Der Spiegel has the roundup.

I don't see anyone calling for "independent external investigators", but maybe I didn't look carefully enough.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Evil Isn't Banal

Ron Rosenbaum (author of, among others, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil), has read some interesting research efforts about Hannah Arendt and her relationship to Heidegger, on the one hand, and the Jews, on the other. Rosenbaum is always worth your time, and this review isn't even particularly long, so I recommend it in its' entirety. My paraphrasing: Arendt preferred Heidigger the Nazi over her fellow Jews, and this warped her understanding of the world. Since she's one of the most influential intellectual figures of the 20th century, and remains important to this very day, this is no small problem.
Wasserstein believes she internalized anti-Semitic literature; I would perhaps modify this to say she internalized the purported universalism of Germanic high culture with its disdain for parochialism. A parochialism she identified with, in her own case, her Jewishness, something she felt ashamed of on intellectual grounds, so primitive, this tribal allegiance in the presence of intellects who supposedly transcended tribalism (or at least all tribes except the Teutonic). One can still hear this Arendtian shame about ethnicity these days. So parochial! One can hear the echo of Arendt's fear of being judged as "merely Jewish" in some, not all, of those Jews so eager to dissociate themselves from the parochial concerns of other Jews for Israel. The desire for universalist approval makes them so disdainful of any "ethnic" fellow feeling. After all, to such unfettered spirits, it's so banal.

Apropos her Banality of Evil thesis, allow me a wee bit of preening. Back in the mid-1980s, after I had read her Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Penguin Classics) three or four times and was utterly convinced of its profound truth, I set out to bolster her arguments with a close look at all the documentation Eichmann and his colleagues left. To my great surprise, it turned out the documents resoundingly disproved her thesis, and this eventually formed the conceptual framework for my first book, Hitler's Bureaucrats: The Nazi Security Police And The Banality Of Evil (Continuum Guide in the Third Reich). I have no idea if Rosenbaum ever read my book or not, but he summarizes the matter well:
To my mind, the use of the phrase banality of evil is an almost infallible sign of shallow thinkers attempting to seem intellectually sophisticated. Come on, people: It's a bankrupt phrase, a subprime phrase, a Dr. Phil-level phrase masquerading as a profound contrarianism. Oooh, so daring! Evil comes not only in the form of mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash types, but in the form of paper pushers who followed evil orders. And when applied—as she originally did to Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's eager executioner, responsible for the logistics of the Final Solution—the phrase was utterly fraudulent.

Adolf Eichmann was, of course, in no way a banal bureaucrat: He just portrayed himself as one while on trial for his life. Eichmann was a vicious and loathsome Jew-hater and -hunter who, among other things, personally intervened after the war was effectively lost, to insist on and ensure the mass murder of the last intact Jewish group in Europe, those of Hungary. So the phrase was wrong in its origin, as applied to Eichmann, and wrong in almost all subsequent cases when applied generally. Wrong and self-contradictory, linguistically, philosophically, and metaphorically. Either one knows what one is doing is evil or one does not. If one knows and does it anyway, one is evil, not some special subcategory of evil. If one doesn't know, one is ignorant, and not evil. But genuine ignorance is rare when evil is going on.


(h/t Goldblog)

Wills, Society, Sovereignty

Ever been to the National Gallery of Art? Or, if you're on the West Coast, the Getty Museum? Ever heard of the 3,000 libraries set up by Andrew Carnegie? Or the vaccine against Yellow Fever, developed with the assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation? For that matter, do you ever reflect on how Warren Buffet and the Gates family are doing more the the governments of the world to fight the sicknesses which plague the poor world? Have you ever been to, or benifited from, an American university? (Or an Israeli one, for that matter)?

The reason I ask is because all this philanthropy and the many billions of dollars like it is not to be taken for granted. Actually, it's largely an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon; Continental Europe doesn't "do philanthropy" in a similar way; there, the assumption is that Society - meaning, the government, the state - must supply things like universities, libraries, museums and all matter of social programs.Of course, rich people do support all sorts of fine things, but to a more limited degree. In some countries, the idea of an entrepreneur giving away his fortune rather than bequeathing it to his children is downright illegal. The Economist recently wrote about this, in a fascinating column.
Europe’s inheritance laws pit the Anglo-Saxon emphasis on freedom and markets against a continental focus on social “solidarity”, meaning the belief that shielding people from the vagaries of fate is an overriding public interest (even if that sometimes rewards the feckless). It is no coincidence that Europe is equally divided over labour laws that favour competition, versus those that protect workers from the whims of markets and bosses alike.

This can easily be emotional stuff, too. Surely continental inheritance rules trample personal freedom and are blind to individual merit? Surely the Anglo-Saxon way is a hostage to human caprice? Yes, and yes, at least sometimes.

This is the sort of thing that national sovereignty was invented for: to give different societies the ability to create the conditions that best fit their values, and to allow them to change and modify as they decide. Interestingly, Jewish laws of inheritance seem to lean closer to the Anglo-Saxon, free-market, freedom of choice version. The sections that deal with this in Bava Batra - mostly the 8th-9th chapters - detail the laws and practices of wills and inheritance, and rather resemble the Continental laws, but the freedom to dispatch of ones property as one sees fit up until the moment of death is broad, and supersedes all laws of inheritance. Even on ones' deathbed (Shchiv mera) one can hand out ones' property according to any whim. The laws of the State of Israel are roughly similar, whether because of the British influence, inherited from their 1919-1948 Mandate, or because of Jewish tradition, or both.