Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Thread: Shirim Ivri'im

Songs - or are they poems? - are an extremely important part of Israeli history and culture. There is an ever-growing canon of songs, called Shirim Ivri'im (simply: Hebrew songs), without which one cannot understand how Israelis tick. Since the songs Israelis sing are so crucial, it has long been clear to me one way to tell the evolving story of Israel would be by following these shirim.

This is one of the many books I'd like to write some day, but probably won't.

Yesterday my daughter and I decided it would be a nice idea to write a daily blog post introducing a shir each day from now until Independence Day, in three weeks. We decided to be post-modernist about it (though I mostly agree with Sergio that post modernism is a pernicious invention), by which I mean there will be no attempt to be systematic.

Halicha LeKeisaria - The Walk to Cesarea- was written before the phenomenon of Shirim Ivri'im was invented. The author was Hannah Szenes, 1921-1944. Szenes was born in Hungary, escaped Europe and moved to Mandatory Palestine in 1939, where she settled at the kibbutz of Sdot Yam, a fisherman kibbutz south of Haifa. In 1944 she parachuted into Yugoslavia, crossed the border into Hungary, was arrested, tortured, tried and executed by the Hungarian Fascists. She left behind a number of notebooks with a diary and some poems.

I have no pretensions to be able to translate poetry. Halicha leKeisaria is about a walk along the beach, the beauty of nature, and the yearning that it never end. Szenes wrote this poem shortly before she left, and it all ended.

This version is by Netanella, born in Tel Aviv in 1954 to parents from Uzbekistan. It was recorded in the mid 1970s (my guess: 1974).

Then there's this version. It is by the Breira haTiv'it group, in the late 1970s. HaBreira haTiv'it were (and still are) one of the most interesting creators of Israeli music. They use oriental music (which means, Arab music), sometimes for shirim of their own creation, and sometimes to rework Western music into the Arab format. That's what this one is:

Then and Now, Better or Worse

A number of readers took my post on Meir Ariel's "Surviving Pharaoh" song to be a comparison between the early 1980s and now.

This actually wasn't my intention, which was rather to say that long-term perspective is important and quite comforting. We've gotten out of lots of tight spots, and today's isn't even that bad. However, since the comparison was made, I might as well address it directly.

Since the early 1980s the Soviet Union has disappeared, removing the superpower that armed most of our enemies. The disappearance also enabled more than a million Soviet Jews to move to Israel, greatly strengthening us and transforming us in many ways, most of them positive or extremely positive. Nor has the transformation exhausted itself yet.

The Oslo process, tho disastrous in many ways, clarified to Israeli society that it had irrevocably abandoned the dream of controlling all of what was once Mandatory Palestine, while the Palestinians had not abandoned the mirror dream. This dual understanding gave Israel a political coherence and broad consensus which are enormously powerful. The reason we never blinked during the black years of 2001-2003, as the Palestinians did their best to bring us to our knees by systematically murdering civilians, was this re-affirmed understanding of the fundamental dynamic, in which we are right but willing to compromise, while the Palestinians wish us gone and are not willing to compromise.

The economic conditions are incomparable. 25 years ago Israel was limping along; today it's an economic powerhouse (well, compared to its tiny size).

Then there's the relation to the world. In the 1980s Israel was hated by the Arab world, the Communist world, and the so-called Third World. (The Economist once quipped that the Non-Aligned Nations lost the ability to be non-aligned against the West once the Soviet Union was gone). Today Israel is still hated by the Arab world, even by most of the Muslim world, though the animosity has its gradations, and manipulating them can be useful. The Soviet world is no more, but some parts of it are staunchly pro-Israel (Poland, say, or the Czech Republic), or cynically so, such as Russia itself. Much of the Third World deals with us on Realpolitik tracks, such as the Brazilian president, hardly a good friend, who recently visited us for his own purposes. The two most significant changes, however, have been the relations with China and India, both of which are vastly better now than then. Both are ancient civilizations which spent their first two or three millennia having no interaction with the Jews - and thus, no built-in anti Jewish conditioning.

Seen in historical terms, rather than news-cycle ones, the decline of Europe and the rise of India and China is probably a fine thing for Israel and the Jews, so long as we take advantage of them - and we seem to be aware of this.

Tactic or Strategy?

Barak Ravid reports that the Obama administration is seeking a 4-month building freeze in East Jerusalem, in return for direct talks between Israel and the PA, rather than the silly proximity talks that had or had not been about to start.

If it's a tactic, I'm in favor. Four months isn't very long, and in real talks it will take less than that to demonstrate that the Palestinians have no interest in reaching an agreement, which is the fundamental fact of the matter. (Though it would also allow them the opportunity of proving us wrong, which would be great).

However, Ravid's report also includes this
Haaretz reported on Monday that the U.S. administration had further demands regarding East Jerusalem including the reopening of a Palestinian commercial office there, as well as an end to both the razing of Palestinian homes and the evacuation of Palestinians from their homes.
No homes have been razed for many months, so that demand smacks of the "when did you last beat your wife" trick, except that municipalities enforcing zoning laws are not quite as pernicious as beating one's wife. The reopening of a Palestinian office in Jerusalem, however, is the exact opposite of a freeze. In a freeze everything stops so as to allow negotiators to examine the issue calmly. Opening Palestinian offices where they currently aren't is precisely the opposite.

This raises the issue of the American agenda. If it's getting talks started once again, so as to see where they lead, that's one thing. If it's to force the Palestinian agenda on Israel, that's another matter.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Historical Perspective

The first part of the 1980s were hard times in Israel. Menachem Begin's Likud won the 1981 election by a whisker, but only after an acrimonious election campaign that came close to tearing apart Israeli society. There was a war of no consensus from 1982 that kept on getting worse. The economy was in shambles, and that, too, kept on getting worse, eventually approaching Argentinian-style inflation. Part of the time the relations with the American administration were considerably worse than what they are today, or at any rate certainly no better (hard to believe, huh?).

That was the background for Meir Ariel's song about Pharaoh. Ostensibly, it was a series of kvetches about his upstairs neighbor, the nasty bank clerk, and other woes - except for the refrain:
- Aval avarnu et Par'o, na'avor gam et ze. (We survived Pharaoh, we'll survive this also).

It was an instant and eternal hit. Precisely because it didn't specifically kvetch about Reagen, say, or Begin, or the minister of finance (there were lots of them in those days, coming and going all the time), it never lost its immediacy; by focusing on the original disaster, from which we eventually so spectacularly escaped, it was more comforting than some of the subsequent calamities. "We survived the Cossacks", while true, would have had a less triumphant ring. And it certainly was triumphant, in a kvetch-infused sort of way.

Ariel is unfortunately no longer with us, but the sentiment is still just fine. Just fine for this day of preparations before Pessach, just fine for the American's new boss, just fine as a summary of the past and present.

Avarnu et Par'o, na'avor gam et ze.

The Dove Flyer

The first of Eli Amir's sort-of-biographical novels, Mafriach Hayonim, has finally been translated to English (available only at, with the title The Dove Flyer).

Amir, a prominent figure of the Left, was born in Baghdad and came to Israel in 1949. This is the fascinating story of the last years of a Jewish community which existed for 2,500 uninterrupted years. It spans the period of 1941-1948, between the Nazi-inspired mass pogrom of 1941 and the exodus-expulsion of some 200,000 Iraqi Jews after the creation of the State of Israel. It's the story of the diversity of Baghdad's Jews and the implacable hatred of the Iraqis towards them. It's a story of terror, of hope, and of mass uprooting. It's a story of Baghdad, a live city the author still sorely misses, though he hasn't been there for a lifetime. It's not the Baghdad you read about in the newspapers. It's a memorable story. If you can't read it in Hebrew, try the English.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Peace With Whom, Exactly?

Sulzman, a recent reader who attributes positions to me which I don't hold, comments:
What exactly don't you think Obama doesn't get about Israelis? I think he gets Israelis exactly right, which is that they've become complacent about the peace process, and perhaps understandably so, given developments over the last 10 years. But for the U.S. that's a big problem. I thought this article by Tom Friedman today pretty much got it right.
The Friedman column is here, and indeed makes a similar point: that Israelis no longer care about making peace.

In a truly weird development, Fake Ibrahim supplies the answer, though of course his intentions were rather the opposite:
One year after the Israeli invasion of Gaza, people you were acquainted with continue to die at the border. In the past two weeks a foreign worker and three soldiers were killed: compare that to less than 30 Israeli deaths in the whole Qassam years. It looks like Cast Lead was a failure. How many Peretz's are you prepared to sacrifice before you admit that force alone won't bring you security?
Whether the Gaza Operation was successful or not, it's still too early to know. It brought a year of calm, that's beyond argument; what happens now we don't know, but can hope that the calm will return. In either case, the answer to your question, Fake Ibrahim, is that we'll sacrifice as many people as we need to sacrifice, and for as long as it takes even if it be another century or two, but we won't give up. Or to put it more bluntly, we'll make every reasonable effort not to sacrifice anyone, but if needs be, we'll keep at it until the Palestinians decide the conflict is no longer worth the sacrifices it demands of them.

Yet the mystifying part of the story is that uninformed and malicious Fake Ibrahim gets it, while Sulzamn, who was here not long ago, and Friedman, whose profession it ought to be to know better, don't. Fake Ibrahim understands that we can't be enjoying the lack of peace and the losses of life this requires, while Friedman thinks
To put it another way, the collapse of the peace process, combined with the rise of the wall, combined with the rise of the Web, has made peacemaking with Palestinians much less of a necessity for Israel and much more of a hobby. Consciously or unconsciously, a lot more Israelis seem to believe they really can have it all: a Jewish state, a democratic state and a state in all of the Land of Israel, including the West Bank — and peace.
Does the name Ehud Olmert ring a bell? He won an election here in 2006 by promising we'd leave the West Bank even without peace, and then in 2008 (September 2008: that's all of 18 months ago) offered the "moderate" Palestinians not only 100% of the West Bank but even East Jerusalem. The response? There never was one. Abu Mazen never responded, hoping (correctly, as it turned out) that Obama would be elected and he'd wring more concessions from Israel. (Well, he was right about Obama. It remains to see if Obama manages to deliver: I expect not).

Friedman's column - like most of the discourse about all the things the Israelis "must understand", is arrogant, uninformed, unintelligent, and coming from someone with his pay-grade, offensive. Israeli cab drivers and tomato merchants are better informed about the details of this area: and they have to be, since it's their lives, or the lives of their children, which will be lost if the wrong decisions are made - or more accurate, whenever the wrong decisions are made.

Newsflash for the ignoramusi, from the White House down: we understand our situation, and don't much like it. Sadly, all possible alternatives at this stage are worse. Those of you with true power, if there are any of you, might try to help by convincing the Palestinians to make a deal. But if you don't have that power - and you probably don't - then at least stop preachifying. It makes you look unserious.

As a former Lefty and current centrist, it pains me that you've got to go all the way to The Weekly Standard to find thoughtful descriptions of how destructive the Obama policies are, and how dangerous for the people who live here, but there you have it. Here. Then again, perhaps you don't need to go to the Weekly Standard. Simply read the mainstream, PA- ("Moderate")-controlled press. Here, translated into English.

Cynicism and Reality

I realize this news item is 100% spin, from the carefully crafted insider's message through the editorial decision to run it so as to bolster The Man, to the appreciation it will garner with the folks of a particular ethnic group who loved him last year and may or may not been having minor pangs of doubt recently. I wasn't born yesterday, as they say in French.

Having said all that, the facts of the matter really are positive. As I've said in the past and will probably say again, it's a unique country in the annals of history, and everyone ought to appreciate it. The Man is a product of it, even though he's got lots yet to learn.

More R&D

Dell is looking seriously into setting up an R&D center in Israel. Lots of the other Biggies already do, of course. They all get their money's worth, too.

Recommending Brewster Chamberlin

My old friend Brewster Chamberlin is churning out books. Brewster lives on Key West, which is a bit off my beaten path, so we haven't seen each other for some years now - ever since he retired from his position in Washington DC, actually, and went off to the jungle to write. As anyone who knows him would expect, the books he writes are all over the map. Here's a unique book about Paris, for example: Paris Now and Then. If you're worried, this one is a partial version. In this one he went further south and east: Mediterranean Sketches; in this one he veered away from erudite travel books: Radovic's Dilemma: A Mediterranean Thriller. He also used to write about things related to Nazis, here and here - one of the things he and I have in common is that both of us used to and don't anymore.

I admit I haven't had the time to read them all, but from what I have read, and from knowing the author, his books have got to be better than 98% of what's out there.

Eliraz Peretz, RIP

The deputy commander of the Golani forces in Hebron at the time of my visit last year was Eliraz Peretz, 32, father of four. He was killed in action yesterday, alongside one of his soldiers, Ilan Sabiatkovski, 21. Eliraz was the brother of Lieutenant Uriel Peretz, killed in action in 1998, and next door neighbor of Major Roi Klein, who was killed when he threw himself on a live grenade to save his troops during the Lebanon war is 2006.

Talking about an incident in Hebron, he told a reporter
"This isn't a simple situation," he said later, "the soldiers need to protect the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian citizens at the same time. Keep calm and collected, and, above all, keep from getting used to things, since the whole place can light up in an instant."

"It may not be natural for soldiers who trained to storm at targets, but this is also one of our missions," he said.

Reflective Blogger

Jeffrey Goldberg isn't blogging, because he needs to think.
I'm also trying to figure out what to think about this unusual turn in American-Israeli relations, and I'd rather not just pop off. This is big stuff.
How quaint. Isn't that against the rules?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Petraeus Clarifies

General Petraeus called Gabi Ashkenazi, his Israeli counterpart, to deny the reports of his blaming Israel or Israeli policies for endangering Americans.
"But I think people inferred from what that said and then repeated it a couple of times and bloggers picked it up and spun it," he added. "And I think that has been unhelpful, frankly."

Petraeus was referring to blogging activity surrounding his comments on Israel, and apparently it was important for the general not to be seen as hostile to Israel, for Israeli consumption but also for the American public.

The two decisions Petraeus made, to call Ashkenazi and publicize the conversation, are important. CENTCOM is responsible for all the Arab states east of Egypt, and tends to shy away from making public its contacts with the IDF. Petraeus told the press that he did not seek to bring the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into the realm of CENTCOM responsibility, as they, along with Israel, fall under the responsibility of the European Command.
Hmmm. Bloggers.Who might he have in mind, do you think?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Water? Let Them Drink Wine

Something like 98% of the interest in Israel focuses on its relations with the Arabs, mostly the Palestinians. The remaining 2% focus on the weirdos, such as the odder part of the Haredi community. For those of us who live here, however, there are other parts of life, too. The water we drink, for example. It's no secret, and hasn't been ever, that while our national water management systems may well be better than those of many other folks, seen on their own they're wasteful, inefficient, and act on the basic assumption that disaster simply won't happen and need not be prevented; better to get on with an endless method of patches, band-aides, rubber bands and crossed fingers.

This week a committee submitted a comprehensive - and devastating - report. So now it's official, not merely common knowledge.

There are two options for the next step. One is the time honored treatment for most committee reports: it will be filed away, and someday, many years from now, it will be dug up by somebody for a spot of "I told you so!" fun. (Or it will get lost in the archives... another topic one might write about...).

The second option is that someone will set about fixing things in a sensible and intelligent manner.

Part of Israel's great strength is that the second option does exist, and is reasonably plausible. Not certain, no. Not obviously inevitable, alas. But it is plausible. Those of us who have been watching this place for a long time know that there is constant improvement on many fronts. Go back and read the old Efraim Kishon stories, for example, which poke fun at the strange ways things get done in Israel: they're still funny, but many of them are no longer true in any recognizable form. (Some still are).

So here's hoping.

PS. The wine-drinking option is no joke. In Medieval Europe the water sources were often so filthy that people drank wine as the only option. Cheap wine, I expect, but not water.

An Israeli Perspective on Obama

Quite a number of people, including readers of this blog, feel Obama is an antisemite and hates Israel. I don't. He clearly isn't enamored of us, that's true, but his problem is broader than animosity towards Israel: the man doesn't understand the world. Being the president of the United States means he can call in whatever experts he wishes, and his lack of understanding of the world is so comprehensive he doesn't recognize that the folks feeding him data and interpretations are inept. As I've repeatedly said, it takes two years to learn the job of president of the US, so perhaps he may yet learn - though time is running out, and he's making things worse as he goes (not only on our subject).

Here's an article in Hebrew about how he's screwing up Israel-Palestine. There's nothing particularly new in it, and the reason I'm linking is the identity of the author: prof. Eitan Gilboa, perhaps Israel's most prominent scholar on the US and on Israeli-American relations. He's a centrist, like most of us, not a firebrand. When he writes a column flatly declaring "Obama is tripping-up Netanyahu" (whom Gilboa probably didn't vote for), and it appears on Y-net, it reinforces the commonly accepted version around here in a way that an op-ed in Haaretz never will.

I fail to see how forging an Israeli consensus that America is not to be trusted can remotely promote peace. Someday, should an agreement ever be reached, Israel will be required to take enormous, life-endangering risks. We won't take the risks because of our love and trust in the Palestinians; if we can't trust the Americans, it will be all that harder to convince us. This may not be just, but it's the real world.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Screw-up, Second Round

Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post describes how Obama is running his Israel-Palestine act all wrong. Worse: he's refusing to learn from his mistakes, preferring to repeat them.

The facts of the case are not complicated. When Obama was elected there was a significant Israeli proposal on the table, which the Palestinians were studiously averting their faces from, pretending not to see. 15 months into Obama's term, the animosity on all sides is stratospheric, and the Palestinians and Israelis can't even find their way into the same room. Not all of this is because of American missteps - but most of it is.

Way to go!

Christopher Columbus Wasn't

You'd think that after the public rebuke by The Economist, Juan Cole would tread carefully for a while. You'd be wrong. Yesterday he explained to his readership that the Jews' connection to Jerusalem is largely myth (and of course, that Israel's politics on the matter are illegal, harmful and so on).

Bill Clinton apparently once told Yasser Arafat that in his insistence on denying a Jewish connection to Jerusalem he was offending Clinton's sensibilities as a Christian. To which one might add that when revisionist history goes so far as simply to deny inconvenient chapters of the past while trampling on the entire methodology of knowing about it, they offend anyone invested in the attempt to think rationally about what cannot be known through immediate experience. Once you're ready to do that you're in Orwell's 1984: you can't prove the French Revolution ever happened; George Washington never lived; Martin Luther was a fable; Thermopylae was invented by the sports equipment companies, and of course Alexander the Great is the brain-child of cynical Greek politicians unhappy with the disintegration of Yugoslavia. (Need I mention that the Nazis never killed Jews?)

I'm not going to fisk Cole's silliness. He's not important enough, and if his followers accept nonsense such as this that mostly tells us about them. I will however briefly note that his entire edifice is based on two hugely controversial books. One by Shlomo Sand, and the other a collection of articles from the Copenhagen School of Thought. Like Cole, this is not my specialty, so I won't go so far as to say that the Copenhagen scholars are truly as unprofessional as the Holocaust deniers; I will however say that they are at the extreme edge of what the scholarly community has to offer. Ah, and they first appeared a year or so after the Six Day War.

Propounding a historical thesis based on these folks alone, as if their argumentation is accepted knowledge and given truth is, how to put it, not serious.

PS: Remember this?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One More on Obamacare

I finally had a conversation this afternoon with a fellow who knows what he's talking about. An American who lives in Israel; a scholar whose entire career is about public health policies and that sort of thing; a Lefty-bleeding-heart-liberal chap bereft of the starry-eyed ability of uninformed folks to pretend the world is nicer than it is and ever can be (which is to say: a rather common type of Israeli).

"So tell me", I inquired, "what's the story of this Obamacare thingy? Is it good for the world or bad?"

He launched into a learned speech... and then stopped. "You know what? Go read David Brooks in the NYT today. He's got it right".

I did.

Those Pesky Zionists

Before traveling to Italy I did a spot of reading. The usual guide books are fine if you wish to know that museums are closed on Mondays in Florence, or that the taxis in Venice are as expensive as a college education at Harvard (and they only go on water anyway). If you wish to know anything significant about the places you're about to visit, however, guide books are a poor bet.

For Venice I found an old book, published 50 years ago by an Englishman who lived there for a while and wrote a mildly eccentric book about the place. James Morris, Venice. It was lots of fun. A bit dated, true, but all the important parts of the story happened long ago anyway, and the last 50 years haven't added anything of significance and for the updated part I had those guide books.

So far so fine. Being a professional navel-gazer, I couldn't help but noticing the (very few) parts of the plot that deal with... us, of course. So how's this:
In Venice you can enjoy the pleasures of the Orient without suffering its torments. Flies are few, mosquitoes are decreasing, beggars are unpersistent, water is wholesome, nationalism is restrained, nobody is going to knife you, or talk about Zionism, or blame you for Kashmir.... (p.196)
1960, I remind you. There were no illegal Jewish settlements upsetting American presidents back in 1960. Osama B. was three years old. Why, even Arafat hadn't invented the PLO yet. Englishmen in the "Orient", however, were being blamed for Zionism and Kashmir. Then and now.


I know what the Hebrew says. I don't know what the Arabic says (I'd ask Ibrahim, but being a fake, he's unlikely to know). To be honest, I don't know what the English says, either.

(Thanks for the gags, P)

Monday, March 22, 2010


The Economist, no less, takes on the silliness of Juan Cole and Andrew Sullivan, who've been touting this Ministry of Truth map of a faraway land they know nothing about. Ouch!

H/t Judeosphere

UNI=United Nations Idiocy

Barry Rubin has a fine example of how utterly idiotic the United Nations can be. It has nothing to do with Israel this time (though lots of the neighbors are involved); I'm posting because if not for Barry's noticing, it's a story none of us would likely ever to have come across.

Three Periphal Comments to Obamacare

Over the past few weeks we've had the need for a number of medical interventions a notch more serious than sniffles and sore throats. Nothing major, thankfully, but the sort of things that happen in life. In each case we were struck by the degree to which the level of service is improving over time. The intelligent application of technology to health service in a universal system makes life better, it's that simple.

Over the past 18 months or so I've made the mistake, three or four times, of putting a toenail in the general proximity of the American health care discussion. I was pleased to see that there are readers of this blog from both sides of the Great Political Divide of American politics, so in each case I was treated to torrents of - well, it wasn't abuse, but it certainly was reprimands for having got it all wrong. I should probably simply shut up this morning, the day after Obama passed a health insurance law, or Congress did at his behest, or something. But we bloggers, we talk too much by definition, else we wouldn't blog.... so here goes.

1. A rich society - and America is - should be able to protect its members from the harm of not having reliable health insurance. There are different ways of reaching that goal, but since I'm an firm believer in democracy, my fundamental belief is that democratic societies mostly figure out reasonably correct means to achieve the common goals. So if the United States is now a bit closer to being a good society (no society is ever near perfection), in the long run this should make America stronger. Given the alternatives, a strong America based on a healthy American society is good for the world (and good for Israel). So yesterday's legislation, I hope, is more a good thing than a bad thing.

2. It is hugely ironic that on the day of his historic achievement, Obama is being compared favorably to Lyndon Johnson. I'm old enough to remember how LBJ was literally drummed out of town by the political forebears - indeed, in many cases, by the very same individuals - who today are crowing over Obama's political victory. What can I say? Hee hee hee.

3. World history and the Jewish question. After all, at the end of the day we all ask ourselves what world history does for us. There can be no doubt that when Netanyahu meets Obama tomorrow, the meeting will be different for the outcome of yesterday's vote. Perhaps even dramatically so. Yet if there was one irrevocable thing I learned from the disintegration of my worldview in late 2000, when the political positions I had believed in and preached for my entire adult life came crashing down about me, it was that reality is stronger than any conceivable spin machine. The president has just had a political victory at home. This doesn't make his ineptitude in the Middle East any different than it was last week. Many Americans may or may not be impressed by his ability; the rest of the world is still the same complicated world.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Remember the Goldstone Report?

Professor Richard Landes,who blogs at The Augean Stables, has carefully read the Goldstone Report. The first part of his findings is here, the second here. I've only had the time to skim over it, and recognize that rational discussion of the report hardly has any value in any case, but if you're interested in an intelligent reading of this famous anti-Israeli screed, you'll find Landes' comments valuable.

Illegal Settlements

Veteran reader David Sigeti wonders if I'd like to comment on this article, in which former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer writes about the illegality of the West Bank settlements. Kurtzer's thesis is that much of the settlement activity is illegal - and has been throughout - even by the standards of Israel's legal system.

It's an interesting read, mostly for the quick and truncated glimpse it gives us behind the scenes of the American-Israeli relationship; on one level, the American ambassador has routine access to top-level Israeli officials to a degree unmatched by most regular Israeli citizens. (There's also an amusing anecdote, when Kurtzer and some Israelis are trying to agree on where the settlements end, and Kurtzer has relevant secret American intelligence data he's not able to share with the Israelis: because it came from satellites? From Palestinian farmers? From American moles in Israel's officialdom? He doesn't say, alas).

The most interesting thing I come away from the article with is how fiendishly complex the matter really is, with almost no ability to reach agreements about the simplest facts of almost any part of the story. What is the legal case? Who owns which land? How does anyone know? When is a legal document "right", if at all, ever? If an attorney states a legal position, how do you decide if it's law, or politics, or both, or neither?

For a number of years I've been idly telling myself that once Israel leaves the West Bank, I'd like to write a book about the settlement project and Israeli society. The book can't be a book of history until after the story is over, of course, which is one reason I never started working on it; Kurtzer's article indicates that long before writing about the project and Israeli society, it will first be necessary to figure out what the project was. The simple facts. Because something like 90% of what people think they know to be facts, are actually little more than ideologically-driven hearsay.

Take the fundamental question: who owns the land. I don't know the answer, which in any case would differ according to whichever plot of it you're standing on. I do know, however, that contrary to everything the media ever tells you, most of the West Bank is barren hill-sides or dessert, and has been forever. It's not fertile farmland, not olive groves nor vineyards, and certainly not towns and villages. Thorny hillsides, dry and dusty ravines. Before you determine who owns pieces of it, you're going to have to figure out how they may have come to claim that ownership.

Back to Kurtzer's thesis, however: I expect he's roughly right. Much of the settlement project happened in murky gray zones on the edge of legality, some of it on the outside parts of it. This is not the reason the settlements need eventually to be disbanded, most of them: that's a matter of politics. As regular readers will recognize, I'm of the opinion that in matters of international relations politics, power relations and national interests generally trump legality. When they don't, it's often because the power brokers managed to have the law written to fit their purposes. Sorry if that makes me sound like a cynic.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blog-reading Computers

I spoof you not. Apparently there's a group out there diligently teaching their computers to read (and enjoy?) blogs.
While recording their words for posterity and obsessively checking their hit counters to see if anyone is reading them, today’s blog authors can console themselves with the thought that computers, at least, find their work fascinating.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More in Anger than in Sorrow

The Economist ponders the motivations for Obama's anger at Israel:
One school of thought holds that Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton escalated their reaction to the Biden insult in order to make Mr Netanyahu abandon his rightist allies and tread the American path to peace; some say the president was waiting for a chance to destabilise him to force his replacement by someone more emollient. A rival theory is that there is no plan: Ramat Shlomo simply ignited the rage that has smouldered in Mr Obama’s breast since Mr Netanyahu refused his call last year for a total freeze on settlements, forcing Mr Mitchell to waste nearly a year niggling for a temporary compromise.
Forgive me if I've gotten my narratives mixed here, but wasn't unflappability one of the many things that had people so swooning about Obama? He's never ruffled, the gushing pundits told us, a rational fellow who stands above the weaknesses of mere mortals who are controlled by their emotions, their prejudices and their animosities.

So were they wrong? Or were they right, but there's something uniquely aggravating about Jews living in their homeland which makes otherwise stoic Obama lose his cool? Wouldn't that be odd?

The report then concludes with this parting shot:
In testimony to a Senate committee this week, General David Petraeus, hero of Iraq and America’s commander in the wider Middle East, said the unsolved conflict in Palestine was fomenting anti-Americanism in the wider region. An obvious point, perhaps; but yet another reason why the love is draining out of a special relationship.
Set aside the question as to the love which is or isn't draining. The fundamental point is the contention that since the "wider region" (the Muslim world, perhaps?) isn't willing to live with a Jewish state, America's interests would best be served by jettisoning Israel. Now I know that's not what Petraeus said, but it is a logical oversimplification of what he reportedly did say. If the Muslims really really don't like having a Jewish state in their midst, perhaps America ought to try harder to mollify them.

Interesting, isn't it.

Lost in Translation

Hard to argue with the idea that the current Israeli government is pretty crappy at diplomacy. Or worse.

Is this because they're all so ghastly right-wing, fanatic nationalists and so on? Perhaps. And perhaps not. The diplomatic stupidities will blow over sooner or later; given that the Palestinians aren't ready to make peace with Israel one way or the other, there's no long-term significance to the fact that the negotiations aren't about to succeed. What could be significant, however, would be a righting of the social and economic imbalance between Israel's Jews and Arabs. Which, it appears, may be something Netanyahu's government is seriously trying to do.

Inexplicably, the English version of the story dropped 100,000,000 NIS from the sum reported in the Hebrew version. I have no explanation for the discrepancy.

Jerusalem in the News

The events in Jerusalem this week demonstrate the insignificance of blogging. Had I been here I would have spluttered and fumed; this way, all I have to do is point you to Yossi Klein Halevy's fine article, which says it all.

On a related point, I heard a comment yesterday about how at the moment, Israel is more popular in the United States than Obama. Walter Russel Mead tries to take a long view on this, to the extent a contemporary can: it's the Christian Jacksonians who are supporting Israel, more than the (numerically insignificant) Liberal Jews; this underlying structure of American politics is not going to change anytime soon, though it may well add its two bits to shorten the political career of Barack Obama.

And note Mead's article on the Jacksonian tradition, here.


Back from Italy.

We started in Venice. A place like no other I've ever seen. Created after the fall of the Roman Empire, the town flourished for a thousand years as a republic while the rest of Europe went through the Middle Ages. It was easily one of Europe's largest towns, doing a roaring business sitting astride the lines of commerce between Europe and the East. It was a hard-nosed and stern place, not to say cruel, and it's goal was to be rich. The accidental discovery of America was partly the result of the search to find a way around Venice as the middle-man of trade with the East; it worked, though not in the way anyone foresaw, and Venice spent the 17th and 18th centuries magnificently living off its accumulated wealth. Napoleon ended it in the 1790s, and ever since it has been essentially a tourist attraction, no more.

For all its longevity, splendor and uniqueness, it's hard to think of anything of lasting value that it created, except for the city itself.

From Venice we went to Florence. Technically older than Venice by many centuries, Florence compressed its historical role into a few centuries, most famously the Fifteenth. Yet what a role it was: a small town that would fit easily into southern Manhattan took human history and diverted its direction. Not in one field - say, the ability to represent reality in art - but in many. The Florentines redirected literature, and art, and science, and philosophy, and the art of governing - and banking, too, though the bankers are a bit unpopular lately. They invented the Renaissance, those Florentines, and that lead to the Enlightenment, and to Capitalism, and Democracy, and Socialism, and Fascism, and Communism and Nazism... and if you think the present war between parts of the Islamic world and humankind isn't a direct result of the fact that some folks followed Florence and others didn't, well, I don't know why you come to this blog.

Yet today Florence is a mere tourist attraction. The Venetians still do pretty glass trinkets, and the Florentines are world leaders in leather and fashion - but that's proof of the matter: trinkets.

Maybe. We lack the perspective, you see, to know how this part of the story will work out. Are Venice and Florence (and Paris, Berlin, Stockholm and Brussels) the vanguard of the benign, gentle affluent and peaceful period of history, in which everyone lives well and long, and rationality and good sense rule over irrationality and human nature? Perhaps. Many Europeans certainly think so. Some of us doubt it.

Jerusalem is one of the few places in the world that can look Florence in the eye as an equal. Lots of the art of Florence is about Jerusalem, after all. Jerusalem is of course vastly older - and these days, much younger. That explosion of creativity has a familiar air about it. I'm not saying that Jerusalem today is as crucial to Man's story as 15th century Florence. No. But the creative purposefulness, the eagerness and ability to innovate, the assumption that just because things are done the way they're done is itself justification to figure out a better way to do them, the community of people banging ideas off one another and jointly changing the paradigms: there's a spot of deja vu about it.

All of which is to say that I ought to blog less. Blogging is so intensely a matter of the moment, so irrelevant two days later, that it has to be a waste of time. I'm not saying I'll stop, but I ought to.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I'm going offline for a week. OFFLINE. Totally. Just like in the 17th century.

In my absence, feel free to visit Fake Ibrahim's place. He'd be really tickled if you all show up suddenly and tell him how persuasive you find him, and how you intend to stick around. I assure you I won't be offended.

Will Biden be Offended?

By this, I mean.

My bet: no, he won't. Not one chance in a million it will even get mentioned in any reportage on his visit.

Tony Judt's "Postwar"

Trying to clear my desk this afternoon before going off to other climes, I recognize I'll never find the time to write the review of Postwar it so richly deserves. That would be Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.

I've said this before but I'll say it again. This is one of the best history books published in recent years, certainly one of the best I've read in years. First, there's the language. Often reviewers praise the language of a book when they've not got much better to say. In this case, I'm praising the language because it's clear, understated, but always a pleasure to read. Judt has the ability to wander over his terrain, looking at things from a changing perspective and through diverse lens, all without our being aware of his mechanics. It's like listening to a particularly compelling teacher roam over terrain he knows better than the back of his hand.

There's the breadth of knowledge. It is, quite simply, inspiring. Wow.

There's the author's perspective, and his professionalism. True, he really doesn't like Margaret Thatcher, and doesn't manage to hide it. Yet he's also a man with strong political convictions and a well-known writer on contemporary political issues. This never stops him from pointing out the weaknesses, cynicism or other foibles of the actors he's describing, even if you suspect he mostly agrees with some of them - and he does this all in a calm, British understatement tone.

It must be said that the historical depth shallows out as he goes, but that's the way it has to be. We have far more perspective on the late 1940s and even the 1970s than on the 1990s. Eventually, his final chapters are not much more than exceptionally good Economist reports - but The Economist is, after all, the best news magazine out there, so that's not so bad. And all the previous chapters were much better.

The content: he says at the beginning that he doesn't have a grand thesis. His story, however, is the story of how present-day Europe came to be: and it's a very different place than it was. His first section, titled Post-War, deals with 1945-1953, and it starts with a litany of how awful things were in the various corners of Europe in 1945, and how the different countries went about their first attempts of climbing out of the mess. So it's a story of many strands. Then there's a section on Prosperity and Its Discontents: 1953-1971, then Recessional: 1971-1989. Without trumpeting the fact, his narrative loses strands and begins to coalesce: South joins West, West is different than East in uniform ways. The poignant part is how West Europeans essentially wrote off the East, while the East pined after the West. (A friend who read the book summed up it's 900-some pages in one sentence: It was because of the different quality of the refrigerators produced in East and West Germany).

The final chronological section is called After the Fall: 1989-2005. By now Judt is describing the world we're in, there's only one major strand, yet he has shown that it wasn't planned, wasn't even contemplated in its present form, rather it grew out of a long serious of events and decisions and compromises. A sobering thought for those who see the European Model as humanity's future (Judt may; many of us don't).

He then finishes with thoughts on the role of memory and history.

It's a long book, but also a long pleasure to read.

Of course, Judt isn't just anyone. From the perspective of this blog and its themes, he's part of the problem: a Jew with a weighty voice who takes anti-Israeli positions and is widely recognized for them. How does this fit with the magnificent historian, I hear you wondering?

I don't know. People are complex, and the author of this intelligent a book can also be the writer of profoundly wrong and wrong-headed columns about the Jews, their identity, and their place in the world. Fact.

Yet as is publicly known, he is suffering from a horrible and incurable sickness. That's not a justification for anything, but I choose to regard it as cause for reconciliation. I have no will to criticize him anymore. On the contrary: I hope, for him, that in the future he will be remembered as a fine and important historian, and his other writings will fade into oblivion.

Comments and Spam

I've been getting lots of spam comments recently, so I've had to change the comment policy so as to block automatic spammers. Real people will continue not to be censored, obviously, only machines which send out automatic comments.

Sorry for any inconvenience.

Jerusalem in the Crosshairs

Hard to imagine an act of greater diplomatic idiocy than yesterday's decision to build 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem smack in the middle of Joe Biden's visit.

Haaretz wraps up the story here. It's not clear who the precise idiots were: Netanyahu apparently saw it coming and warned Eli Yishai, the relevant cabinet minster, not to screw up during Biden's visit; Yishai now claims the officials under him didn't inform him about the pending decision - which is a lame excuse at best; probably a dishonest excuse; and if true, shows that Yishai is an abysmal manager. Which he isn't, so I expect his apology is dishonest.

So we created an opportunity for everyone from the American Vice President down through the EU suits all the way to the boss of the UN to condemn us - and for what? What was gained? Nothing. (Though come to think of it, how do we know who's lower on the totem pole, the UN or the EU? Just asking).

That's one side of the story.

The more important side of the story is that it demonstrates how warped the dynamic has become. Some bureaucrats pushed some papers on the way to eventually building housing for some 10,000 haredi Jews in Jerusalem, and there's world-wide condemnation? What? Huh?

I'll be uncustomarily blunt. Jerusalem was invented by Jews. It is known worldwide because of Jews. It's significance for Jews is greater - far, far greater - than the significance of London for the English, Washington or New York for the Americans, or Mecca for the Muslims (that last one is probably the closest example, however). There have been Jews living in Jerusalem for most of the past 3,000 years, often as the majority, and when not as the majority, often because they were expelled or slaughtered or both. A plausible case could be made that if the Jews could choose between owning Jerusalem with war, or not owning Jerusalem with peace, the former would be preferable - and keep in mind that for the Palestinians there's no question at all that they prefer war with a dream of Jerusalem over peace without it.

At the moment, however, no-one is offering the Jews peace for giving up ownership of Jerusalem. Not, not, not. The current narrative beloved by the international community is a simple lie. It's not true. Here's another piece by an Israeli centrist expert on the Mideast, to continue yesterday's thread - Barry Rubin, this time.
The best way to stop building on, and even fully remove, settlements on the West Bank would be to make a peace treaty in which all settlements would be removed from the territory of a Palestinian state. (Though, with Palestinian agreement, some could be incorporated into Israel as part of territory swaps. Indeed, the Obama Administration has accepted this idea.)
The Palestinians want all Israeli settlement activity to cease? That's easy. Agree to make peace with Israel, and there will be no more "illegal" settlements. it's that simple. Really.

In the meantime, while everyone tells us we're so awful and horrendous, the Jews are strengthening their presence in Jerusalem. Seen from the perspective of any arbitrary moment in the past 2,000 years, that's awesome.

Postscript: Here are two articles such as you'll never read in non-Israeli media, examining the issues from the opposite perspective. One, two.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No to the Two State Solution

American Vice President Joe Biden is in town today, mostly to make sure Netanyahu doesn't order a pre-emptive attack on Iran anytime soon, but along the way also to pretend things are moving forward on the Israel-Palestine negotiation track:
"I think we are at a moment of real opportunity, and I think that the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian people, if everybody stops and takes a deep breath, are actually more in line than they are opposites," he added.
Why do respectable people make such silly statements? I can't answer that. I mean, the man is the number 2 person in the American administration; there's a reasonable chance he's being recorded, and someone might even be watching; who knows, if you stretch your imagination a wee bit it's even (just) imaginable that someone will still remember long enough to know how unrealistic he was being.

Ehud Yaari recently published an important article in Foreign Affairs, and a quick summary of it in The Forward. Sadly, the full article is not accessible, and neither of those two links lead to the parts that - to my mind - are most important, namely, the description of how the Palestinians are not interested in a two state resolution to the conflict. Yaari is one of our top experts on the Arab world and the Palestinians in particular; he has spent his entire professional career of over 40 years listening to things Arabs say (in Arabic, of course). His analysis is obvious to those of us who stake our lives on knowing what's going on around us, but needs to be said from the perspective of someone who really listens, directly. So I've cut and pasted a snippet, in the hope the Foreign Affairs people won't sue me for copyright infringement. Its a long and interesting article, and I've only cited three paragraphs.
A small sovereign state within the pre-1967 boundaries has never
been the fundamental goal of Palestinian nationalism; instead, Palestinian
national consciousness has historically focused on avenging the
loss of Arab lands. As the prominent Palestinian academic Ahmad
Khalidi has argued, “Today, the Palestinian state is largely a punitive
construct devised by the Palestinians’ worst historical enemies.” Furthermore,
he contends, “The intention behind the state today is to
limit and constrain Palestinian aspirations territorially, to force them
to give up their moral rights.” Indeed, in a private conversation in
2001, then pa President Yasir Arafat told me that he believed statehood
could potentially become a “sovereign cage.”

Many Palestinians now feel that by denying Israel an “end of conflict, end of claims” deal, they are increasing their chances of gaining
a state for which they are not required to make political concessions.
Within a few years, the scant support for the two-state formula that currently exists will likely erode, and new concepts will begin to
compete as alternatives. In other words, the Palestinian community
will accelerate its collapse into Israel’s unwilling arms, in effect accomplishing
by stealth the sort of Arab demographic dominance that
Israeli leaders have for decades sought to avoid by occupying, rather
than annexing, the Palestinian territories. Such an annexation in reverse
would leave Israel no choice but to coexist alongside an Arab
majority within the whole of Palestine as it existed under the British

Khalidi has illustrated what many Israelis and Americans refuse to
see: the Palestinian general public instinctively distinguishes between
“independence” (the end of occupation) and “sovereignty” (statehood).
Most Palestinians wish to get rid of Israeli control but do not
necessarily strive to see the land divided. More and more Palestinians
are therefore considering options other than statehood. One option
proposed by Abdel Mohsin al-Qattan, former chair of the Palestinian
National Council, would be to maintain the territorial integrity
of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and
govern it through a weak joint central government and two strong autonomous
governments—without necessarily demarcating geographic
borders between them. Another popular solution among
Palestinian leaders is a unitary state, which, for purely demographic
reasons, would eventually be controlled by an Arab majority.
Update: Soccerdad points me to what seems to be the Yaari article in its entirety here.

Michael Oren in Action

Regular readers will know that I'm a great fan of our ambassador in the US, Michael Oren. Recently he was shouted down by rowdies at the University of California, Irvine

On that occasion he won the discussion simply by maintaining his composure in the face of uncouth behavior. And especially note his final sentence in the YouTube film.

This week he's back on the attack, with a letter to the Irvine community suggesting he'd be glad to come back and talk.

Assuming our enemies - at Irvine or elsewhere, are interested in talking, of course.

The Fall of a Belief?

Those of you with very long memories may be able to go back to the previous millennium and reconstruct the scientific-moralistic doom-theory of the day. This was before a series of unusually hot summers convinced everyone humans were cooking the planet; the Armageddon of the time was genetically modified crops: they were going to wreak havoc on nature, destroy the future, and anyway they were an American conspiracy of hegemony, so they had to be bad.

Then the world was distracted, GM crops fell off the radar, and more fashionable reasons were invented for the world to end. GM crops, however, are still out there - and mostly doing good, as a matter of fact. True, they're still banned in Europe, but Europe isn't a very important place anymore, and this is yet another indication of why.

It may be that we're now seeing the demise of the Church of Global Warming. The Weekly Standard - never a stalwart of the Church to begin with - has a long article about how the entire edifice seems to be crashing these past few months. So far, so unconvincing: that's what the Weekly Standard is supposed to say. Now if the Guardian were to say the same, that might get our attention... Over here. George Monbiot himself, the High Priest of the Church at the Guardian, trying to explain why no-one's listening anymore: it must be because people are stupid (he uses different words, but that's the thesis). Of course, if they're stupid now, how were they less stupid two years ago as they crammed the pews of his Church and clamored for the airlines to shut down? He doesn't get into this. Nor does he mention the possibility that rather than being plain stupid, people may look out the window from time to time: in the late 1990s it really was hot for a couple of summers; recently, it really has been quite cool for a number of winters.

I recommend reading the comments below his article, in which some seemingly educated folks engage with Monbiot, who to his credit engages back. This is what the demise of an entrenched intellectual fad looks like, and it's fascinating.

For what it's worth, here in the Holy Land we've just had the warmest winter in decades, so if Monbiot wishes to turn Zionist this is his opportunity.

Anyway, as I never tire of saying, I'm agnostic on the science of the matter, which is totally beyond me, but I'm convinced that paying the Saudis and the Iranians quadzillions of $ so we can pour gook into the air can't be a good thing; the sooner someone invents cheaper and cleaner options, the better. If it's cheaper, everyone will go for it, because whether folks are all stupid or not, they tend to look out for their private interests.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Aaron Koblin, a fellow who likes to take large data-sets and express them visually, shows the flight patterns of American commuters. I especially liked watching the red-eye flights.

There's a more artsy version here, but I prefer the simpler one

And then there's another one, here

What does all this have to do with the usual topics of this blog, you ask? Not much. But believe me or not, it actually does have to do with my real job, which is keeping me away from blogging these days, so the least I can do is share the cooler aspects.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Language of the Jews

If you've ever studied the stories of the Jews you'll know a source of Jewish cohesiveness was their cross-border language: a Jew from Baghdad and a Jew from Marakesh both prayed in Hebrew and spoke Aramaic, and this facilitated commerce. Later, the Jew from Trier and the Jew from Krakow and the Jew from Tiberius, they all prayed in Hebrew, knew enough Aramaic to navigate the Talmud, and spoke Yiddish, and this, too, facilitated commerce. Still later, much later, Soviet officers liberating Nazi camps identified themselves to emaciated survivors with code words in Yiddish, though the Aramiac and Hebrew had mostly been lost in the turmoil of emancipation then Bolshevism. (The main problem the early Zionists had with the non-European Jews was that they didn't speak Yiddish).

One morning in the summer of 1981 I saw the end of this world. I was studying in Vienna at the time, and three young students from Belgium suddenly appeared at our shul for the morning service. The rabbi, an elderly man from Israel, greeted the new comers in the time-honored tradition, asking them in Yiddish where they were from and if they needed anything. They looked discomfited, and responded in Hebrew.

That was thirty years ago. The elderly rabbi has long-since passed on, as has his generation and the remnants of his world; the students of that morning are middle-aged men. Earlier today I called the Chabad (Lubavitch) house in an Italian town where I'll be spending next weekend, to ask about some arrangements. The fellow who picked up the phone spoke perfect Hebrew, the obvious language for Jews of different lands to communicate in.

Dumb Antisemitism?

Walter Russel Mead keeps writing interesting things (I've cited him previously here and here). I have the sneaking suspicion he's not a Zionist, but when it comes to America, he seems to be what they used to call a realist. This includes realizing that most Americans support Israel and have done for a long time. In this article he comments that the reasons for this support can't be Jewish influence, manipulation or chicanery: there simply aren't enough Jews around to be having the effect they're having on so many people, and anyway, most of the Americans who so support Israel do so more fervently than many American Jews do. (Phil Wiess comes to mind, and Richard Silverstein, not to mention Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomsky - but he's actually referring to the J-Street sort of Jews, not the nut-jobs). (h/t Goldblog)

Meanwhile, the Divest This! fellow, who obviously is a business-and-numbers chap, looks at the matter from a different direction. Not political belief or religious persuasion, but what people do to make their buck go furthest: in many cases, it appears, they do business with Israel. Heartwarming.

More on Elias Khoury

Last week I wrote about the translation to Arabic of Amos Oz' book A Tale of Love and Darkness. The translation, remember, was commissioned by Elias Khoury, an Israeli Palestinian lawyer, after his son was murdered by Palestinians who thought he was Jewish. Now we read that Khoury's father was likewise murdered, not many years after he managed to climb out from under years of Shin Bet persecution. After all that, he can still say
“This book tells the history of the rebirth of the Jewish people,” he said as he sat in his law office. “We can learn from it how a people like the Jewish people emerged from the tragedy of the Holocaust and were able to reorganize themselves and build their country and become an independent people. If we can’t learn from that, we will not be able to do anything for our independence.”
Awe inspiring. If there were more such people around, on all sides, the world would be a better place.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Still Left Left

Following the Meretz report on their electoral failure, we're having a spate of op-eds on the demise of Israel's Left. Ari Shavit, once the Chairman of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, now a persona non-grata in those circles for his apostasy, makes a reasonable point: The Israeli Left had the correct ideas, to the extent that they eventually were adopted by Israel's mainstream, at which point they were tested against reality and found sorely lacking. Now, he says, the only way for the Left to recuperate is to adapt their messages to recognize reality - specifically, they must figure out how Israel can end the occupation of the Palestinians while retaining its ability to defend itself from the Palestinians who wish Israel gone, not peace alongside it.

So far, so reasonable. Except for one thing: why is it the task of the Left to come up with the resolution? Might it not be the Center, or the Right, or the association of pet owners? Why must the answer come from the Left?

The Things Jew Haters May Dream Of

Shaul Rosenfeld has an article about the Left which betrays its principles to hate Israel. Not much there you don't already know. Still, his first paragraph did give me a moment's pause:
The events of “Israel Apartheid Week” in the world opened this year with “freedom fighter” Leila Khaled’s emotional plea to “continue the armed struggle against Israel.” Khaled, a certified airplane hijacker and a well-known favorite of the radical Left in Western European delivered her words of “reconciliation, peace, and brotherly love” in a videotape shown to participants of a Mideast studies convention held at University of London last weekend.
Times were, the most a Jew hater could openly hope for was that the Jews would stop being Jews, or that they'd stop looking like Jews, or that they'd move far away. The Nazis of course wished for far worse and did their best to achieve it, but they were a bit extreme. Nowadays, however, you can sit in the comfort of your leafy town and openly yearn for the destruction of the main Jewish project, a destruction which will of course include mass suffering. Not that the Jew hater would do the action themselves, but they support the folks who will. Loudly, openly, brazenly.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fine Men Gone

My friend Elly Dlin has died, suddenly. As did another friend, David Bankier, less than a week ago. We buried David on Friday, in the middle of one of the worst rainstorms I can remember; Elly, it seems, is to be buried in Edmonton, which is touching since there probably wasn't anywhere he would have fully called home,so he'll rest where he was born and grew up.

I need to write about them both; but I need to find the time. As you've noticed, I've been blogging less of late: too many other things going on, in other parts of life. In the meantime, if any of you are in Dallas or Edmonton, you might want to give Elly what we call chesed shel emet: the true charity, for it cannot be repaid.

All Knowing

I don't think I've ever written directly about my religious beliefs, one way or the other. In all the verbiage I spout, I challenge anyone to find any clear endorsement of a position on a transcendent deity. Mostly, this is because it's my business, not of interest to the world; but there's something very Jewish (I think) in discussing the issues I focus on without dragging divinity into it.

This post will be no different. The point I'm about to make is about logic, not belief.

The earliest computers were invented in the 1930s, I think. As a child in the early 1960s I heard the grownups talk about machines that were learning to think, though I doubt I'd ever met anyone who had actually seen such a machine (and they still haven't figured out how to think). If you can believe it, I completed my undergraduate studies on a portable typewriter, and never considered acquiring a PC until I was doing an MA. When in 1994 I stood in front of an audience of hundreds of researchers and said that the goal of the Yad Vashem archives was to put everything we had on the Internet, the startled audience erupted in applause. (Only later did I begin to think about the practicalities. Ouch).

70-some years after the first invention, The Economist has a special report on the super-abundance of data we're creating. (The report begins here; a single-page introduction is here). The thesis: Everything is being recorded, and the world is dramatically changing. The Onion spoofs the reality here.

If we allow our thoughts to run forward a few decades, to, say, the first centenary of the invention of the earliest computer, it's reasonable to expect there will be digital images of every inch of the globe viewable from any direction; there will be mountains of data on every human and much of their activities; every human thought which has ever been put into writing and survived until the late 1990s will be available somewhere in digital form; any and every human interaction which takes place in any format other than face-to-face talk will be recorded... and probably much more.

Whether you like it or not.

Now, assume a deity which has been around for longer than the first century of human digital recording. Is there any logical reason to assume that this deity doesn't have the abilities Man has so recently acquired? What's so implausible about a deity knowing everything about us all, always? We're well on our way there on our own, and just starting...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

We Were All Wrong on This, Too...

The other day I linked to a story about how the archeologists may have got it all wrong. The Onion now takes the idea further.

A Tale in Arabic

If you've not yet read Amos Oz A Tale of Love and Darkness, do so. Stop reading this blog if you don't have time for both. It's the best book published in Israel last decade, period.

If you can't read the Hebrew original, you can now read an Arabic translation, published in Beirut.
The translation, by Israeli Arab Jamal Gnaim, was funded by the Khoury family of East Jerusalem in memory of their son George Khoury. Khoury was a promising Hebrew University law student when he was killed in a 2004 shooting attack while jogging on the university's Mt. Scopus campus.
(His killers thought he was a Jew).

Oz himself, musing on the success of the book, makes a profound point:
"Apparently the more a book is provincial, the more it is universal. When I wrote the book, I thought it would be read only by Jerusalemites from my neighborhood - I was sure that they wouldn't understand it in Tel Aviv," Oz said. "Now they're reading it in Beirut, Albania, Bulgaria and Korea. In China, for example, it was chosen as one of the best books of 2007."
Universal values are all well and fine, but they must start with real people, who live in real places, with real contexts. The power of universally significant stories or ideas is that people worldwide recognize our common humanity in diversity.

Israel's Arabs: Time to Fix their Economy

The Marker, the financial sister-paper of Haaretz, has been closely following the story of the growing attempts to integrate Israel's Arabs in the upper reaches of the economy rather than the lower ones. Some of the reportage is about interesting efforts being launched by government and establishment agencies; some is carping on how great the need and how little being done. The whole thing is beginning to look like what could be a significant change for the better, which would benefit everyone involved.

(Mostly in Hebrew, of course. Such stories don't often get published in English). Here, and follow the previous links.

Also, relating to my previous post, note that Meretz and our radical Left have very little to do with the whole matter. The correctives are coming from a center-Right government, and free-market financial players. Just like you'd expect if you recognized our far Left for what they are.

Meretz: Wrong for the Wrong Reasons

In last year's elections Meretz, Israel's farthest-Left Zionist party, barely squeaked into the Knesset with three MKs. Being a party of upright burghers, they set up a commission of inquiry to honestly look into the causes of their near demise, and to suggest how to avert full demise next time. Unsurprisingly, the commission was headed by a professor: probably part of the problem.

The commission made lots of scatter-shot recommendations, from disbanding into some other party (three were suggested), to figuring out what it stands for, to sending up younger representatives (as if age poses a problem in other parties).

Here's a quick thesis: the problem with Meretz isn't its positions, many of which are applied sooner or later by the parties in government, but it's tone. The folks at Meretz are profoundly convinced they're better than the rest of us, the rest of us are ghastly, and they have very little acquaintance with or empathy for the cognitive, cultural or emotional moorings the rest of us share. This is not a good way to win elections.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wee Scottish Laddie

For reasons which are irrelevant to this blog I was just looking at a web-page of the University of Edinburgh. The page instructs wee Scottish students how to use an American software which students sometimes use, stage by weary stage. Instruction line number 9 states, and I quote in unabridged form:
On the wee window labelled PubMed (NLM) which pops up, select Yes to save changes.

Oddessa South

Clifford J. Levy - sounds like a Jewish name to me - is the NYT head of bureau in Moscow. Feeling something was somehow missing in Russia, he found it... in Ashdod.
As a resident of Russia, I found something poignant in the world of these immigrants. In their tumultuous history in the Soviet Union and in the Russian empire before it, Jews were subjected to brutal prejudice yet often flourished. And so their exodus has left a gap in these societies. Of course, Jews have remained, and communities are reviving. But in Israel, you can catch a refracted glimpse of what once was.
It's a fun article, and mostly accurate.

Although Levy, a one-day visitor, does miss another part of the story, which is that the richest folks in Ashdod, the ones who own the luxury apartments in the spanking new extravagant towers on the shore front, are mostly French. Or rather, North African Jews who left in the 1950s when Jewish life in the Muslim world ceased to be viable, made lots of money in France, and have been moving to Israel in droves these past few years as Jewish life in France becomes less viable.

Meanwhile, off in Beit Shemesh (and Raanana, and Efrat) another group of immigrants is moving in - the Americans. Jewish Life in the US remains viable, very, but for some folks it's getting very expensive (if you want your children to have a Jewish education), or less appealing (if your job is in danger): the Israeli economy is stronger these days, a development no Israeli planner ever expected.

Of course, all these groups also converge in Jerusalem, but that's a story for another day.

Wot, no War Crimes?

Just Journalism takes a look at how the British media reports on the killings of Afghan civilians, and looks back at the same media reporting on killings of Palestinian civilians. Nothing surprising,but worthy of documentation. Of course, it's not only the media, its also the endless observers whom the media quotes: politicians, self-anointed human rights talkers and so on.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Costumes and Lightbulbs

Purim is the day of the year when Israelis dress up in costumes, like Halloween in the US. The children I saw were in the usual: policemen, Queen Esther, that sort of thing. Among the adults, however, the most popular costume by far was something with a wig/three passports/tennis gear. Ive never seen so many Mossad agents out on the street in my life.

And then there was this variation on the "how many XXX to fix a light-bulb" joke:

- How many Mossad agents to fix a light-bulb?

- Light-bulb? There wasn't any light-bulb.

Temples Before Cities?

Via one of Andrew Sullivan's assistants, here's an article about an archeological finding poised to change the story of the rise of Man. It about the dig at Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey, where an extravagant complex of temples was constructed 11,500 years ago, centuries before the earliest know city, and with no city anywhere in sight. Klaus Schmidt, the chief archeologist, claims the need to have a temple ignited civilization rather than vice versa, the rise of civilization called forth religion.

Schmidt (55) has been digging there for 15 years, and expects to stay the rest of his life, yet he understood the full significance of the site in the first 60 seconds of his first visit.

The site is such an outlier that an American archeologist who stumbled on it in the 1960s simply walked away, unable to interpret what he saw. On a hunch, Schmidt followed the American's notes to the hilltop 15 years ago, a day he still recalls with a huge grin. He saw carved flint everywhere, and recognized a Neolithic quarry on an adjacent hill, with unfinished slabs of limestone hinting at some monument buried nearby. "In one minute—in one second—it was clear," the bearded, sun-browned archeologist recalls. He too considered walking away, he says, knowing that if he stayed, he would have to spend the rest of his life digging on the hill.

The human mind is even more complex than its past.

Compulsive Antisemitism Syndrome

Do Jew haters recognize their affliction? Are they purposeful about hating Jews, or do they think their ideas are the only possible way to understand the world? This is an important question, with serious implications, and I'm far too busy in the non-blogging world these days to engage in it. Still, Hawkeye at CiFWatch brings some interesting documentation to bolster the second explanation: systematic deleting of totally innocuous comments on a silly Guardian article. The only reasonable explanation I can think of is that these people are so totally detached from rational thought that they've, well, lost the ability to think rationally, and truly believe that disagreements with them must be expunged.

The problem, however, is that there are people around who do disagree with them. CiFWatch, for example. Which means the Guardianistas can't be unaware of dissenting positions, which in turn means they've made a conscious decision...

A Very Long Tale

Yesterday was Purim (in Jerusalem it's today). Purim, Judaism's jolliest holiday, starts from the story of Esther, queen to Ahasveros who may or may not have been Artaxerxes, and tells of a foiled plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. There are various morals to the story, but the historical one is that the Jews and Persians go back a l-o-o-on-g way even if nowadays the Persians call themselves Iranians. Centuries before the Europeans ever met their first Jews, and more than a thousand years before the Arabs burst out of Arabia onto the world stage, the Jews and Persians were deep into their ups-and-down relationship.

Also yesterday, Purim, Ahmadinejad announced (again) that the Jews are the source of all evil:
"Supporters of the Zionist regime who are shouting slogans of human rights and anti-terrorism support systematic crimes of the occupying regime," Ahmadinejad said, adding that "everybody knows that the regime is seeking hegemony over the world." Israel is the "origin of all the wars, genocide, terror and crimes against humanity," he said, and a "racist group not respecting the human principles," IRNA reported. "With God's grace and thanks to the Palestinian resistance, the occupying Zionist regime has lost its raison d'etre," Ahmadinejad said. "The only way to confront them is through the Palestinian youths' resistance, and that of the regional nations."
Look's like we're in a "down" right now.