Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Netanyahu's New Government

One advantage in being a centrist is that you don't need to be against a new government merely because you didn't vote for it. On the contrary. Being a centrist means you hope a new government will do such a fine job you'll have no compunctions about voting for it next time. (Alas, this doesn't always happen).

So, although I didn't vote for Netanyahu nor any of the parties that make up his rather improbable coalition, and I'm not convinced his government will successfully run this country for the coming four years, I hope it will. And if it does, I'll vote for him next time.

In the meantime, here's a statement that's making its rounds in cyberspace regarding one of the key figures in the new government; for those of you who are hebraically challenged, the pun is that the Hebrew word for cabinet minister is Sar, which rather rhymes with Czar.
Update: AP has an article about Netanyahu's new government which also sorts of takes a centrist line: maybe this time he'll be alright.

Arab Leaders, International Law, and Genocide

Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir, recently indicted by the ICC for his role in the genocide in Darfur has been greeted with open arms at the meeting of Arab leaders in Doha yesterday. (Yes, that would be the Doha that gives its name to the present round of international trade talks. Heh). The fact that the man is one of the top criminal around doesn't seem to perturb his Arab brothers. Keep this in mind the next time they or their mouthpieces rant on and on about how horrendous Israel is, where even if you take their version of events Israel hasn't done anything remotely similar to the genocide in Sudan (nor to the previous one, in southern Sudan, with 2,000,000 dead).

Discussing Israel's Actions - 2

The people who know Israel is wrong, no matter what the facts might be, will be unmoved by this New York Times item, which tells that the IDF military police has shut down the investigation into the allegations of the Oranim soldiers for lack of facts. And note: not for lack of evidence, which could imply the events happened but can't be documented well enough to indict anyone. Lack of facts mean it didn't happen.

The item does however raise a number of perplexing questions:

The academy’s director, Dany Zamir, told Army Radio on Monday that he accepted the advocate general’s report. Still, he added, “If soldiers will now feel that they cannot talk because of the outcome of this specific story, then this is very bad for us as a society and army.”

Anyone have any idea what he's talking about? Or this:

On the other hand, he stated, it was not his intention to attract news media attention by making the contents of the soldiers’ discussion public. He added that the news media’s focus on the story “truly complicated everything.”

First he leaked the discussion to the press, then he didn't mean it to be public. And of course, inevitably:

A group of nine Israeli human rights organizations issued a statement saying that the army’s speedy closing of its internal investigation underlined the need for an independent investigation into possible Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
Translation: since the investigation didn't give us the results we were praying for, we need to try again with an independent team who won't be swayed by such things as empirical evidence or lack there-of. You easily see the dynamic here: These folks are Israelis, so they must be reliable where the other Israelis, the ones with the training and access, are obviously not. That's the line our enemies will take, at which point these particular Israelis will cite the international opinion as proof of Israel's need to do it better, by handing its sovereign obligation to investigate to entities who have no obligations to anyone except their agendas. By the end of the day the discussion will have been transferred from crimes that didn't happen to Israel's intransigence in not allowing outsiders to say they did.

Discussing Israel's Actions - 1

A rabbi from Sderot traveled to the US to tell people about life under fire. Not everyone was interested:
When I welcomed the custom of a question and answer period following my presentation, the very right of free speech that I welcomed to the audience of now over 100 people was thrown in my face and denied to me. First, an audience member verbally attacked me, expressed his support for the firing of rockets into Israel, and ended his anti-Semitic rhetoric filled rant with a question irrelevant to anything in my presentation. I then pointed out to the audience the same fact I want to point out in this article, that this person was not simply criticizing Israel but was clearly expressing his support for a terrorist organization.

Yet before I could finish answering the question, I was interrupted and silenced by the overwhelming Hamas supporters. Next, another audience member stood up and screamed out, calling me a “dirty whore” in Arabic and proceeding to grab his crotch and scream “Here’s your Qassam!” in Arabic.

The critics of Israel used to assure us they were friends worried about some of our actions; then they dropped the friends part but insisted their valid unease at our actions need be heard; there is a growing group out there who don't care in the slightest what our actions are; their problem is our existence.

Which of course isn't new at all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Concert for Peace, Or Not

Last week the NYT carried this nice fluffy story about a youth orchestra from Jenin that preformed for a public of Holocaust survivors in Holon, Israel. It was the idea of the orchestra's Israeli Arab director, Wafaa Younis, (no idea if she's fluffy) and funded by Shari Arison, Israel's wealthiest woman, who no doubt is fluffy headed (but means well). I briefly toyed with the idea of linking to the story, but seem not to have. It was too fluffy for me, and didn't seem to have much significance beyond the good-feeling markup.

Apparently I was wrong. Some influential group in Jenin has fired Ms. Younis, forbidden her to enter town, and put an end to her harmful escapades.

Adnan al-Hindi, the leader of the camp’s Popular Committee, a grass-roots group representing the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the young musicians had been exploited by the orchestra director, Wafaa Younis, for the purpose of “normalizing” ties with Israel. He said by telephone that the children had been “deceived” and dragged unwittingly into a political situation that “served enemy interests” and aimed to “destroy the Palestinian national spirit in the camp.”

“It was a shock and a surprise to the children and their relatives,” he said, adding that Ms. Younis had told the young musicians’ families only that the trip to Holon was an opportunity for artistic self-expression.

Ms. Younis, from central Israel, has been traveling to Jenin every week for several years to teach music in the camp. Mr. Hindi said that the house she rented as a studio had been sealed, and that she was barred by the Popular Committee from all activity in the camp.

Depressing, isn't it. And note that al-Hindi is Fatah, not Hamas.

A Warm Community in the Cold

This post has nothing to do with my usual themes, simply with the human condition.

Via Powerline I reached a dramatic slideshow at Boston.com about the floods in North Dakota. Or, more accurately, about the communities in and around Fargo, as they face the icy rising waters. It's a dramatic series of pictures, and it tells an impressive tale of an entire community facing adversity with determination, lots of hard work, and also, it's important to add, formidable logistic abilities. Everybody seems to be working hard, the pictures show no panic, but the efforts seems to be achieving things, complicated as this must be. Someone must be directing the effort, allocating volunteers, organizing empty sandbags, mounds of sand, heavy equipment, and so on and on.

Moving, and highly impressive.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Ethos of Success

As some of you know, after decades of doing one sort of thing, a year or two ago I set off to do something quite different, and am acting like a hi-tech entrepreneur as if I was 20 years younger. Yet old habits refuse to die, and at times I revert to them: When in need of understanding a new situation, read a book or three.

So I just read Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start. Lots of fun, and I warmly recommend it, even if you're not starting anything but appreciate a wry and self deprecating take on how the world works. Actually, while this blog deals mostly with my old persona, not with the entrepreneur me, I'm blogging about it because on a level Kawasaki probably didn't have in mind, his manual for getting up and running is also a commentary on a specific but very important way of life, and it addresses some of the themes of this blog.

The world of innovators is about people adding value to the world, he tells between pages 3-215 (that's the whole book). It's also a world where getting bruised is merely a way of figuring out how to do your thing better. While he has an entire chapter on "Being a Mensch", he isn't into feeling sorry for oneself. The whole victim thing, surely one of the most powerful emotions around and perhaps the single most potent one in international politics, is summed up on page 117:
Your goal shouldn't be to 'retain control' and 'avoid getting ousted'. Your goal should be to build a great organization. There may come a time when you should be ousted. Deal with it. Would you rather have an inferior organization that failed, but that you were in control of until the better end?
Deal with it. Make the best of what you have, and pick up and move on when necessary. The world would be a better place if everyone lived that way; it's no coincidence the folks who do often seem to control the world, or at least their segments of it. It's not a conspiracy, a cabal, nor even the machinations of the hegemonic power brokers. It's a way of life that optimizes the possible rather than bemoaning the world's imperfections and injustices. Simple, isn't it?

At the Center of the Storm

Martin Ivens of the London Times has a somewhat rambling article written in Tel Aviv about the upcoming G20 meeting in London. His subject: the G20 is a talkshop. Obama's real legacy will be forged in the Middle East.

The underlying themes: Reality is stronger than politicians' ability to spin it, even hugely talented politicians. Even the President of the United States is rather limited in his ability to forge reality. And finally, the Jews are at the center of it. Again, I might note: they've been there or nearby for most of the past 2,000 years, give or take five centuries.

It would be nice to be comfortable and irrelevant, in a New Zealandish sort of way. Sigh.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cool Rationalism vs. Atavistic Fanatics

Last week Uri Dromi published another column at the Guardian's CiF. Dromi is one of the Guardian's fig leaves, enabling them to say they can't be antisemites because look at the range of their authors.

The reason I'm linking is because there's an interesting dynamic there. Dromi is looking for facts, trying to sift evidence and evaluate it. The kind of thing an educated enlightened person should do. Many of the responders haven't the slightest interest in facts; for them, the story is crystal clear and shouldn't be muddied:
These days, I find it hard to find the will to comment on blogs that seeks to deny or minimise violence against the Palestinians in the hands of Israel state. I cry for our collective failure to defend the Palestinians. We know what needs to be done- boycott Israel until the state of Israel violence oppression against the Palestinians comes to an end. Thank you the Guardian and other media outlets and their brave journalists do informing us the truth of this not secret inhumanity.




Or this one:

This is all just nonsense anyway. The fact is that no matter what either side do. Palestinians have the moral authority because they have a moral right to resist occupation and being forced to live in the largest open air prison in the world.

One of the many reasons enlightened people the world over need to confront antisemitism is this: the antisemites are a throwback to the darker moments of history, and they dismantle the tools crafted over centuries by which society climbed up out of barbarity.

NYT Corrective

Somewhat to my surprise, I admit, the New York Times continues to follow the story of the IDF behavior in Gaza; this time they've got a story that mostly tells it as it is. So unlike some media outlets, at least the NYT is being professional.

(Silke in comments to the previous post fumes over the editorial choice to caption the story with a picture showing devastation in Gaza, but I can live with that. There really was lots of devastation; I'm willing to own it, war being what it always is, and the Palestinians insisting on war over peace. The slander was in depicting the IDF as a raging brutal horde, which of course it never remotely was.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Media on IDF Brutality in Gaza

Alex Safian at CAMERA sums up what's now known about the allegations made by Danny Zamir's soldiers: the two worst allegations, about IDF snipers gunning down Palestinian women and children, simply never happened.
Two central incidents that came up in the testimony, which Danny Zamir, the head of the Rabin pre-military academy presented to Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi, focus on one infantry brigade. The brigade’s commander today will present to Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg, commander of the Gaza division, the findings of his personal investigation about the matter which he undertook in the last few days, and after approval, he will present his findings to the head of the Southern Command, Major General Yoav Gallant. Regarding the incident in which it was claimed that a sniper fired at a Palestinian woman and her two daughters, the brigade commander’s investigation cites the sniper: “I saw the woman and her daughters and I shot warning shots. The section commander came up to the roof and shouted at me, 'Why did you shoot at them?’ I explained that I did not shoot at them, but I fired warning shots.” Officers from the brigade surmise that fighters that stayed in the bottom floor of the Palestinian house thought that he hit them, and from here the rumor that a sniper killed a mother and her two daughters spread.

Regarding the second incident, in which it was claimed that soldiers went up to the roof to entertain themselves with firing and killed an elderly Palestinian woman, the brigade commander investigation found that there was no such incident.
I admit, this is not particularly surprising. It is not easy to figure out the facts of a simple killing in a civilian setting, as any police officer will tell you; peering backwards through the fog of war is even harder. Not impossible, mind you; the shelves with history books that do it are long and laden; but rushing to prove the bestiality of IDF troops is often a fool's errand, motivated more by the determination to convict Israel of immorality than by painstaking respect of facts.

As I wrote a few days ago, Israelis routinely and publicly examine their actions at war, as it should be; in this case, the full investigation tells the opposite story from the first one: The Palestinian family had been held in a house alongside the IDF troops, and now they were being directed out of harm's way. A woman with two children didn't follow the directions given her. A sniper indeed identified a woman and two children in a place they shouldn't have been in; he fired warning shots meant to frighten, not harm. His officer shouted at him for firing in the direction of civilians, since even the officer thought he was shooting at them. The sniper - the only person in this story who was looking through the sights and doing the shooting - reassured his commander he wasn't about to harm anyone. Other soldiers, within sound range but not eye contact, thought the sniper had killed civilians, and were so disturbed by the incident that it eventually reached Haaretz, triggering an investigation that unraveled the facts of the case and refuted the allegations.

Sounds like a moral army to me, and a moral citizenry too. Commendable, wouldn't you say? Conduct to be proud of.

But don't expect anyone to do any commending. The initial allegations were quoted - very literally - worldwide. Their refutation won't be. There are banal reasons for this, having to do with the profound unseriousness of the business of media and news as entertainment. Yet that is not a satisfactory explanation. The act of slandering Jews is one of the most fundamental in Western society, and has been for millennia, often with lethal results. When educated and respected stalwarts of their societies engage in the pastime, they bear full moral responsibility for their acts. They may or may not be antisemites (shorthand: the Guardian is, the NYT isn't), but their actions are.

How about Haaretz? Had they published the allegations in Hebrew alone, thus enabling the crucial internal discussion without translating it for the rest of the world to gloat over, would that have been better? Anshel Pfeffer, one of their columnists, agonizes over the issue. I tend to agree with him. The Israelis need to have their discussions; the observers will disseminate the incriminating parts no matter what, and won't disseminate the exoneration no matter what; Haaretz bears some responsibility for this dynamic, but not much.

The opprobrium belongs fully to those engaged in antisemitic acts.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

And Still Counting in Gaza

I'm not certain why we have two items on this on two consecutive days, but perhaps Haaretz was simply being sloppy yesterday. Knowing them, it's certainly possible. Anyway, Y-net cites an official announcement from the IDF today.
The IDF said Thursday that an internal inquiry found that 1,166 people were killed in the three-week offensive that ended in January. It said 709 were Hamas militants, and just under 300 people, including 89 children aged 16 and 49 women, were civilians.
According to the military, it is unclear clear whether an additional 162 men who died were militants or civilians.
These numbers are rather different from the Palestinian ones that were quoted world-wide and are by now etched in stone and won't be dislodged.

It's possible they're both wrong; it's not possible they're both right. You might perhaps expect respectable media outlets to try to get to the bottom of the matter, and figure out what the truth is - but I can't say why you might expect that.

The Rot Reaches the Washington Post

I don't know much about Pat Oliphant, a Washington Post cartoonist. Abe Greenwald at Contentions intimates he's a fellow with a record, tho Greenwald doesn't think that exonerates anyone. Personally, I'm more interested in the top editors of the Washington Post, perhaps the second most influential newspaper in the United States, for allowing this on the pages of their paper:
As Meryl Yourish adds, it's a version of the Israeli flag. Do you suppose Ari Roth would say that means it's art, and thus not to be evaluated for its truth?

They're not good days, these ones. Sure, our descendants will dance on the graves of these hate mongers, if they can find them in the dust, unless they're distracted by the antisemites of their own generation, but knowing your enemies will fail doesn't make them more palatable.

Israel and Innovation

From time to time - with rising frequency these days - I ponder on how it must have been to be a Jew in the 1930s, with antisemitism the official policy of some of the world's greatest powers, with antisemitic parties in most countries, and with loud antisemitic cries from all sides. It must have been very frightening. Not like these days, when the rising tide of Jew-hatred is very aggravating, certainly, but not really frightening.

Less often, I think about how the world must have looked to the dazed survivors in Europe of summer 1945, or to their grim relatives elsewhere. Their story is not told that often, and very rarely is it dwelt upon. As a general statement, Israel's critics and enemies, both, detest it when Jews in general and Israelis in particular talk too much (or at all) about the Shoah. Israel hasn't learned the lessons of the Jews' own past, they'll tell you. Israel has learned the lessons too well, and is now copying its tormentors, they'll tell you. Israel, of all nations, should understand better, they'll tell you. Israel is trying to wield the ultimate victim-weapon to as to stifle thought, discussion or recognition of what's really going on, they'll tell you. And so on.

I expect a more profound reason for all the shrieking is a dim awareness that actually, the multi-stranded story of those dark days has the potential to disrupt almost all the pat templates they use to explain the world - so they ward it off.

Take, for example, the multiple-tiered explanations about how when people suffer, they aren't nice in return. They must be assuaged, their needs addressed, their woes removed, their grievances respected, acknowledged, and rectified. You know the line; it's one of the top meta-narratives of our age. It's also all wrong, fundamentally wrong, and quite pernicious. Those Shoah survivors disprove it by the simple fact of how they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps (after they acquired boots) in a mostly indifferent and partially hostile world.

Some fifty years later, on February 20th 1999, the Economist published a Special Report titled Innovation in Industry. It was a fun read, so much so that I made myself a copy, which was fortunate because I can't find it now on their website. They talked endlessly about Silicon Valley, of course, but also had this:
Apart from its genius for networking, Silicon Valley seems to have an abundance of two other ingredients that other places lack. One is a culture that rewards risk, handsomely, but does not punish failure. The other is simply chutzpah—that upbeat sense of self-confidence that says anything is possible, go for it, and never be too shy to ask for help. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the place emerging as California’s most likely rival in innovation is Israel, with its close-knit society that networks ceaselessly, deals daily with risk, reveres learning, and is blessed with a torrent of well-educated immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Natan Sharansky, a physicist and former gulag prisoner who is now Israel’s trade and industry minister, points out that a fifth of his new country’s population arrived in the past five years, doubling the number of technicians, engineers and scientists there. Israel has 135 engineers and technicians for every 10,000 people, compared with America’s 18. This abundance of talent shows up in the success rate of new ventures in Israel. No surprise that Israel trails only America and Canada in its number of new listings on the innovation-driven Nasdaq stockmarket each year. With such stellar results, the amount of venture capital chasing Israeli innovations has been increasing by around 35% a year. Last year more than $4 billion of high-risk money found its way into innovative start-ups there, not far off the figure that venture capitalists invested in Silicon Valley. If it can keep this up, Israel is set to become the innovation centre of the world.

That was then, and now is now. The Dotcom bubble exploded, the "Peace Process" did too, the Palestinian culture of death attacked Israel with its full potency while the world media looked on and tut-tutted; more recently the entire world economy is staggering. And on March 12th 2009, a decade and a week after the previous report, the Economist came back with another (it starts here). "Global heroes. A special report on entrepreneurship".

For me personally this one was even more fun that the previous one, since - contrary to any reasonable expectation I ever had - I'm deep in the entrepreneurship world myself, in spite of my advanced age and encroaching senility. More pertinent, however, after the first few conceptual chapters about the phenomenon in general, the reports turns to discuss who's doing what, and why. Sure enough, as if the decade never happened, Israel gets mentioned, again, and again, singled out beyond all others. Here, for example:

DOV MORAN’S desk is littered with the carcasses of dismembered phones. Mr Moran has already had one big breakthrough: inventing the now ubiquitous memory stick. But he dreams of another one: he wants to separate the “brains” of the various gizmos that dominate our lives from the “bodies” to enable people to carry around tiny devices that they will be able to plug into anything from phones to cameras to computers. Mr Moran sold his memory-stick business to SanDisk for $1.6 billion, creating a thriving technology cluster near his office. This time he wants to build an Israeli business that will last, challenging the giants of the camera and phone businesses.

Israel is full of would-be Dov Morans. It is home to 4,000 high-tech companies, more than 100 venture-capital funds and a growing health-care industry. Innovations developed in the country include the Pentium chip (Intel), voicemail (Comverse), instant messaging (Mirabilis, Ubique), firewalls (Checkpoint) and the “video pill”, which allows doctors to study your insides without the need for invasive surgery.

Even more than other countries, Israel has America to thank for its entrepreneurial take-off. A brigade of American high-tech companies, including Intel and Microsoft, have established research arms there. And a host of Israelis who once emigrated to America in search of education and opportunity have returned home, bringing American assumptions with them. Many Israeli entrepreneurs yo-yo between Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv; almost 70 Israeli companies are traded on NASDAQ.

The Israeli government helped by providing a ready supply of both human and physical capital. Israel has the world’s highest ratio of PhDs per person, the highest ratio of engineers and scientists and some of the world’s best research universities, notably Technion. The country’s native talent was supplemented by the arrival of 400,000 well-educated Jewish refugees from the former Soviet empire.

However, Israel’s main qualification for entrepreneurialism is its status as an embattled Jewish state in a sea of Arab hostility. The Israeli army not only works hard to keep the country at the cutting edge of technology, it also trains young Israelis (who are conscripted at 18) in the virtues of teamwork and improvisation. It is strikingly common for young Israelis to start businesses with friends that they met in the army. Add to that a high tolerance of risk, born of a long history and an ever-present danger of attack, and you have the makings of an entrepreneurial firecracker.

Eat your hearts out, Guardianistas and boycotters.

Look What Everyone Missed

Last Friday Haaretz had an article about the nauseating T-shirts some IDF units print. The worst, according to the article, emanate from the sharpshooter units, and they include depictions of the wrong Palestinians in the cross-hairs: a child, a pregnant woman, a fleeing teenager who is taunted with the slogan "run faster before we get you".

True, the soldiers themselves admitted they'd never wear these T-shirts in public because of the total opprobrium they'd be greeted with; and also true the sharpshooters are carefully controlled and have strict guidelines for their operation and I can't remember a single case where it was alleged that even one of them ever did such a thing as is depicted on these shirts; but still, it's an ugly tale, and someone clearly needs to add some common sense to that course of training. Make no mistake: I'm condemning the shirts.

And yet. Achikam got home last night, and at about 1PM he got up to eat breakfast, wearing a T-shirt prepared recently by his unit depicting a hand shooting lightning over Gaza. He read the article, and agreed with me that it's an ugly story, but pointed out something I, and everyone else, had overlooked. In most of the cases where the drawing showed Palestinian civilians in the cross hairs... they weren't civilians. The pregnant woman shown behind the above link is brandishing a rifle, as is the child ("when they're smaller they're harder to hit"), while the teenager being exhorted to run has the full set of drawn knife, grenade, and suicide belt (these picture aren't online, they're in the paper version).

Bottom line: we've got ugly T-shirts,worn by sharpshooters whose actual combat behavior belies the message, while the message itself is much more complex than anyone gives credit for. Including the sophisticated journalist at the sophisticated newspaper whose main marketing line is that it's "a newspaper for thinking readers".

Hatred Trumps Facts (Always...)

A Palestinian who writes for an Israeli newspaper wanders around America talking at campuses. He repeatedly encounters a vocal minority who aren't even slightly interested in what he has to say, unless he castigates Israel. When he doesn't always, they turn on him with fury, and attack him for not being attuned to the circumstances of the Palestinians; when he cites facts he is threatened:

I never imagined that I would need police protection while speaking at a university in the U.S. I have been on many Palestinian campuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and I cannot recall one case where I felt intimidated or where someone shouted abuse at me.

Nice, isn't it?

Aesthetic Trumps Moral

Jeffry Goldberg has posted a fascinating conversation he had with Ari Roth (yes, of course he's Jewish, with that name). Roth is playing Caryl Churchill's antisemitic screed "Seven Jewish Children" at the Jewish theatre he runs in Washington, DC. Goldberg thinks that's a horrible idea. They argue past each other at great length; it's the transcript of an argument, not an edited article.

Roth's main justification for playing the screed is that it was written by a master, and is an accomplished work of art.
AR: I read this play and I said, "My God, she's been listening really, really closely to how Jews speak." She's not Jewish. She's gone to a shitload of cocktail parties, she's memorized every play that David Hare ever wrote about Israel. You know, her referencing the swimming pools is a reference to David Hare's "Via Dolorosa" when he talks about something fundamentally un-Jewish about Jews is Gaza sitting by their swimming pools and watching a Palestinian walk two kilometers with a jerry can for two liters of water. That's a direct reference to that. Every fucking line there comes from something else she's overheard or watched or said. And who the hell knows if she's ever been to Israel or not. I have no idea. But she is smart. She is a smart writer. And each one of these lines is doing something that is more sophisticated than you're giving her credit. And then --

JG: Oh, I'm not saying that she's not sophisticated. I'm just saying that she's using her skills and her shrewdness in order to paint a picture of Israel's that's a caricature. And she knows that Jews, because of their self-flagellating nature, will just go along with this to an extraordinary degree. I mean if she were brave, she would write about the Qu'ran, about Islamic fundamentalism...

AR: If it was written by a halfway decent writer and somebody wrote a play about the so-called pernicious Jewish lobby that's affecting the way the make our decisions. So listen to this. Here's why we're doing it. The fact that, over eight pages, so many of the lines resonate not with the language of hate, but with the language of perception. Meaning she has overheard, she has seen, she has captured the language that Jews speak to each other with and that is astonishing.

JG: It's astonishing that she overheard the ways Jews talk at cocktail parties?

AR: Because that makes her a ten-times better theatrical reporter than anybody I've ever seen. This is play written with extraordinary precision. She wrote a play that arrested my attention. And it has a problem title. I hate the title. It is a problem place where it ends, but it is subject to an incredible amount of interpretation. It's written with multiple characters. People argue with each other. It's not written as a diatribe. And so you have to allow for the art form of theater to have its way with her text. That is what's going to happen, that's what's happening in this rehearsal room. I struggle with the play. God bless me. I'm a struggling Jew. You know?

JG: You can't decontextualize it. I'm sorry. It comes out of a certain moment and it comes out of a culture that has demonized Israel. It comes out of a particular theater subculture in Great Britain that demonizes Israel...

AR: Okay, just stop for a second. Let's pretend we're not talking about a play but we're talking about a painting. Let's pretend Picasso. Picasso was going to paint, à la Chagall, the story of Gaza, like in "Guernica" -- he's outraged by the killing of children in Gaza. So let's say Picasso does with simple brush strokes, little artful renderings of who his friends, the Jews, used to be; who they were in the '60s; how they were in the '90s; and what he sees today. And he does them with little stokes, little hints of this. And they just happen to be the strokes of a master artist, as opposed to an idiot. And they end with a horse braying and an electric light bulb going off and bombs falling. And that is his cry from the soul.

JG: Are you saying Caryl Churchill is Picasso?

AR: I'm saying it's Caryl Churchill's "Guernica." Come and debate this. And how did Franco feel about "Guernica?" Who knows? He was angry too. I'm angry. I don't think this is a great work of art, but I think there's a great artist doing something interesting here...

AR: I want your very, very smart blog readers to understand that the way to discuss this play is not to lift lines from the last page and a half of it. That is not how to fully experience and understand the meaning of any drama. I can't cede this to journalists who don't love theater enough to understand what's going on here. That is not a sophisticated way to regard art, by picking out a sentence here and then going apeshit over it!...

AR: There's a lot at stake here. There are big intellectual and political questions. And to boycott this and to just turn away and say "We don't hear Caryl Churchill. We don't hear this criticism," that's wrong. You asked why I said yes to this. I said yes to this because it's disarmingly, and maybe even unfortunately, so well-written.
Morality and truth are subordinate to art, says Roth. Goldberg could have taken the argument even further, of course, and pointed out that loud and consistent antisemitism has this nasty propensity to end up with dead Jews: this is one of the few constants in Western history these past thousand years or more. By aiding and abetting it, you ultimately have to own its outcomes. Yet my understanding of Roth's position is that he's not interested. If it's high art, it's valuable, and real-world outcomes be damned.

Which, taken one step further, means that aesthetics are superior to morality, and even to human life. Read George Mosse's books on the cultural environment that fascism originated in: they're full of such ideas. Though Ari Roth would be deeply deeply offended if he heard me saying so.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The King of Vodka

This is the title of a recently published book. I haven't read it yet (here's why), but it's on my list. It sounds like a good read, but also - due disclosure - I know the author, Linda Himelstein, and I've been following her efforts as she's worked on it. She's a serious person. As regular readers know, I generally have a low opinion of journalists, but Linda spent years working at knowing what she's talking about, without losing the main advantage journalists often do have, the ability to tell an interesting tale. Here, for example, she tells about some of her adventures in writing the book. Once you read them, you'll just have to read the book itself.

If you buy it now, Amazon will still deliver it before Pessach. Since Vodka isn't chametz, there's no fear in reading it once the cleaning is over and you want to take a break.

Still Counting in Gaza

The IDF is still collecting information on the people it killed in Gaza. It's touching, their belief that a careful accumulation of verifiable facts will sway anyone's mind.

So far, close to half of the names are of dead Hamas men. A quarter are of civilians. 14 are of Fatah men killed by Hamas. The rest - many of them identified by name - are still being investigated, apparently most of them were young men, who may or may not have been Hamas fighters.

The IDF also has some indications the Hamas list of victims is not fully reliable:
The fatality list presented by the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza has numerous inaccuracies and contradictions, the IDF says. For example, Tawfiq Ja'abari, the commander of the Hamas police, and Mohammed Shakshak, a personal assistant to the head of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Ja'abari, are both described as dead children on the Palestinian list.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gaza Food Blockade Over

The government decided yesterday to allow as much food into Gaza as anyone wants to send in. If you see this mentioned in your local media, feel free to tell me. Even more interesting will be to see if any media outlets continue to talk about the hungry Gazans being starved by Israel: If they say so, we'll know they're lying. If they don't, we'll know they know, and we'll also know they didn't tell what they know.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Israeli Brutality in Gaza?

The media is all agog about the stories emanating from Israel's internal deliberations about the recent Gaza operation. As regular readers will not be surprised to know, there is scant connection between the media narrative and the reality, though at least some of this could be rectified merely by reading the English translation of the discussion. Since my take is a bit long, and includes significant quotes from the discussion to demonstrate my points, I've posted it in article form, here.

I don't normally engage in promotion, but given the pervasive coverage and its perversity, feel free to send this article on to others if you think it's convincing.

On Bringing Back Gilad Shalit

My wife, that's Achikam's mother, has published an eloquent op-ed in Haaretz about the obligation of our government not to allow any soldiers to languish in the captivity of Hamas monsters. Haaretz didn't translate it into English, but perhaps we can fix that later on.

Update: David Boxenhorn was extraordinarily helpful, and posted a translation in the comments section. Thank you, David!

Someone else also prepared a translation, which my wife then worked on a bit, and I'm posting it here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Iranians with a Clenched Fist

There are mounting indications Barack Obama's hope the world will join him in being civilized nice and pleasant may not happen, at least not yet. The top Iranian fellow, Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, that's the boss of Ahmed Ahmedinajad, mind you, gave a feisty speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of Iranians, who responded by chanting Death for America.

This is one reason I'm generally in favor of enemies talking to one another: in the good scenario, they talk, find agreement, and cease being enemies. In other cases, they talk, re-affirm for themselves that the other side really needs to be confronted, and carry on with the enmity with new resolve. A win-win situation.

The NYT, however, sees it differently. Their response to the Iranian clarity is to call for America to be even nicer, lest the Iranians haven't yet understood this is the Obama administration, not that horrible Bush fellow. They've dug up an Iranian economist named Saeed Leilaz, dubbed him "a prominent political analyst" - which for all I know he may be, but he certainly isn't the only one around - and he urges the NYT readership not to take Khamenai seriously:

Prominent political analyst Saeed Leilaz said Khamenei's comments did not amount to a rejection of better ties with the Obama administration. Rather, Iran's current hard-line leaders need to publicly maintain some degree of anti-U.S. rhetoric to bolster their own position, especially with their conservative base, he said.

''Iran's ruling Islamic establishment needs to lessen tensions with the U.S. and at the same time maintain a controlled animosity with Washington,'' he said. ''Iran can't praise Obama all of a sudden.''

Khamenei will also likely stand his ground as long as he remains concerned about the United States' ability to destabilize Iran, he said.

For its part, the Obama administration must take practical steps such as lifting a ban on selling Iran spare parts for passenger aircraft or considering unfreezing Iranian assets in the U.S., Leilaz said.

You tell 'em, Leilaz.

Update: Juan Cole explains how Khamenai is actually engaging in constructive dialog. The part about the chanting mob seems to have been dropped in his depiction.

UK Journalists are Fools

My routine, many mornings, includes visits to the NYT website, Haaretz, and the Guardian, before going to visit various bloggers. The other day the NYT had an item telling that PSA testing, a standard test to discover prostate cancer, apparently isn't very useful. A few minutes later, when I got to the Guardian, they had an article telling the opposite: that PSA tests could save lots of lives. I briefly toyed with the idea of poking fun at the Guardian on an issue far removed from by usual topic, but then went to do more important things.

In the meantime, someone else has done the job for me: only he shows it was the entire British media that got their story line all wrong, and he says this actually isn't very amusing.

So newspapers ignore one half of the evidence and fail to explain the other half properly. In the past, nobody could catch them, and nobody could compete with them. That has now changed. Anyone can write, and publish online, and appear in Google news alerts: the NHS, medical research charities, individual academics, journals' press offices.

These people are intelligent, informed, and they can explain things clearly, without worrying about eyecatching hysteria, or space, or hyperbole. Some will be silly, some won't be. If they ignore half the evidence, they will be busted in the comments, mocked, and sensible visitors will never come back. They can also link directly and transparently to scientific papers, which mainstream media still refuse to do.

Journalists insist that we need professionals to mediate and explain science. From today's story, their self-belief seems truly laughable.

In other words, they're a bunch of incompetents, at best, those British journalists. This brought forth the obvious question:

Here`s a serious thought - is poor science reporting just part of a wider malaise? Why expect science to be an exception if the quality of the UK press in general has plummeted? I think this may well be so.

For example, the tone of say, the Guardian`s (or Telegraph`s) main political and social comment also displays the same air of over-excitement, high emotional levels (sometimes feigned, of course), lack of logic, inability to handle numerical data, etc. There is a clear desire to stimulate the reader in a swift way - perhaps the papers think that they are competing, not with, say the works of Proust, but with video games, porn, TV, drugs and alcohol for the reader`s attention. Hence the combination of celebrity/football/TV coverage and a coverage of `serious` matters too that is similar in style to the `lighter` stuff. I.e. it is ALL lightweight.

Frankly, can you really have confidence in the UK newspapers` coverage of genuinely complex issues like Gaza or Iraq?

A truly startling thought, isn't it?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Imaginary Mega-City

Last month's edition of The Atlantic had an interesting story by Richard Florida about what the recession may do to different American cities. Counter-intuitively, he says the places that sinned the most may still come out on top, and above them all, New York. This is because NY is the most important of the mega-cities, clusters of megalopolises:

The University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Robert Lucas declared that the spillovers in knowledge that result from talent-clustering are the main cause of economic growth. Well-educated professionals and creative workers who live together in dense ecosystems, interacting directly, generate ideas and turn them into products and services faster than talented people in other places can. There is no evidence that globalization or the Internet has changed that. Indeed, as globalization has increased the financial return on innovation by widening the consumer market, the pull of innovative places, already dense with highly talented workers, has only grown stronger, creating a snowball effect. Talent-rich ecosystems are not easy to replicate, and to realize their full economic value, talented and ambitious people increasingly need to live within them.

Big, talent-attracting places benefit from accelerated rates of “urban metabolism,” according to a pioneering theory of urban evolution developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers affiliated with the SantaFe Institute. The rate at which living things convert food into energy—their metabolic rate—tends to slow as organisms increase in size. But when the Santa Fe team examined trends in innovation, patent activity, wages, and GDP, they found that successful cities, unlike biological organisms, actually get faster as they grow. In order to grow bigger and overcome diseconomies of scale like congestion and rising housing and business costs, cities must become more efficient, innovative, and productive. The researchers dubbed the extraordinarily rapid metabolic rate that successful cities are able to achieve “super-linear” scaling. “By almost any measure,” they wrote, “the larger a city’s population, the greater the innovation and wealth creation per person.” Places like New York with finance and media, Los Angeles with film and music, and Silicon Valley with hightech are all examples of high-metabolism places.

Later, he sums it up: dense and intense means creative and successful.

Let's run with his idea for a moment. Each of his mega-cities is larger than the State of Israel. However, if you postulate a cluster of cities from Beer-Sheva at the south of Israel's metropolis, up north to Beirut then east to Damascus and down to Amman, you've got an entity that does compare, in size and population, to some of his examples. Its diversity could easily equal many of the others, what with the kaleidoscope of Jews in Israel; Palestinians (not very monolithic they, and apparently the most enterprising of the Arabs) in Israel, Jordan and (sigh) Palestine; the crazy ethnic quilt of Lebanon, and the traders of Damascus if only someone would let them be part of the rest of the world.

I know, Shimon Peres already wrote a book about the "New Middle East", and we rightfully all made fun of him for it. But his underlying point was legitimate. If the Arabs who surround us were to decide competing with the modern world is better than hating it, and living with us is preferable to futilely trying to get rid of us....

Oh well. Just a thought.

War Crimes in Gaza?

As anyone who knows me will tell, I'm not one to shy away from allegations of Israeli wrong-doing. When we do things wrong we need to recognize, understand, own up, learn for the future and move on. This in one of the most important ways to ensure our overall morality at war, since we're going to be at war for a long time yet.

Haaretz has just launched a series (so they say) of articles in which soldiers who fought in Gaza tell of wrongdoings. I'm linking to the first article here, and may link to the next. As war crimes go, these stories published so far are not particularly horrendous; they tell of lax orders and lack of care, not of an intention to kill civilians, but let's see what the next installments tell. I expect Haaretz will publish the whammies in their weekend (=Friday) edition.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Prisoners aren't bargaining chips"

Israel's far-left activists are not always the sharpest minds around. Predictably, earlier this afternoon I received an e-mail update from ACRI, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, in which they proudly told of (and attached) a letter they'd just sent to the prime minister, deploring the willingness of the government to look into legal ways of depriving incarcerated convicted Hamas murderers of some perks. According to media reports, these perks include cable TV sets in each cell so the inmates can watch al-Jazeera and al-Manar, the right to take mail courses at the Open University (an accredited Israeli university), and family visits.

ACRI thinks one of its main tasks is to bolster the rule of law over arbitrariness, but in this case they seem to have dropped that line. If the government finds legal basis to make the murderer's conditions less comfortable, then it's legal, and what is ACRI deploring? If it's not legal, as they claim, the government is unlikely to decide on the new measures, and if it does will be blocked immediately by the High Court of Justice (which, unlike the Supreme Court in the US, responds to such things swiftly, sometimes even immediately). It seems to me a rather clear case of ideology trumping not only common sense - that's standard for these folks - but even their own principles.

The position of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) is more fun.They aren't a bunch of lawyers, as ACRI largely is, so they took a different line, calling on Olmert to disband the committee he's just formed to search for legal ways to make life less pleasant.
"The forming of this committee and the mere deliberation of this matter constitute a dangerous premise… Using prisoners as bargaining chips goes against moral values and international law, and against a Supreme Court ruling on the matter"
Let's step back a moment and run over the issue. The inmates under discussion are convicted murderers of civilians. Most of them prepared and dispatched suicide murderers, which means they operated cold-bloodedly and in a calm and calculated way. Many of them murdered more than once; as a general rule, the reason they eventually desisted was that they were lucky enough not to be shot in clashes with the IDF; I doubt a single one of them had a change of heart and was arrested, say, in the monastery to which he had retreated to atone for his sins.

They were convicted in a court of law. Israel has no capital punishment (alas, I sometimes think, and sometimes don't), so the maximal sentence they can get is life imprisonment, multiplied by the number of their victims.

The present discussion has nothing to do with justice. By any reasonable measure of justice, they should spend decades in jail, perhaps to be let out as doddering old men. Nor is it a discussion of politics, in which the war between Palestinians and Israelis has truly ended, and Israel sets free convicted murderers because its erstwhile enemy percieves them as fighters in the now concluded war. Hamas, you remember, is deeply antisemitic, its charter calls for killing of all the Jews, and its spokesmen proudly proclaim there can never be any recognition of Israel's right to exist.

The entire discussion is about extortion. Israelis can't stand the thought of their single soldier losing his sanity in the hands of beasts who allow him no communication with the world, and eventually may kill him and chuck his body in an unmarked grave as they did to Ron Arad. Hamas knows these emotions of ours will over-ride our sense of justice, and will even force us knowingly to endanger lives of unknown innocents who will undoubtedly be murdered down the line; their knowledge of this is what reinforces their decision not to allow the Red Cross to see Gilad Shalit, because if his mother knew he was alive and he knew we care, it might be easier not to be extorted. His captors are, among other things, callous, scheming bastards.

So ironically, the fools at PCATI got it right: Using prisoners as bargaining chips goes against moral values and international law.

Three additional comments.
1. PCATI's very name is a willful distortion. They know perfectly well that by anyone's standards, Israel doesn't use torture.

2. If ever there was truly to be peace, Israel really would free the Palestinian murderers, as part of putting the past behind us and moving on. If the Hamas truly wished to free all its men (and women), their way forward is clear. The reason they need to kidnap soldiers, torture them and their families, and use them all as bargaining chips, is because they're never going to spring them through peace.

3. Forcing Israel to set free convicted murderers so they can continue murdering, whether the deal goes through or not, is a perfect way of generating additional hate from our side. Just a thought, for all those pundits who never stop preaching about how Israel isn't nice enough to the Palestinians.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"I wouldn't want them to listen to me..."

The soul-destroying saga of the Shalit family drags horribly on. Yet, literally right next to the protest tent they've put up in Jerusalem, is another one, with the opposite message.
Hagit Rayan, the mother of Maj. Benia Rayan, killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, arrived at the Shalit tent Monday to support the family, but upon leaving said she firmly opposed the prisoner exchange.

"If it happened to me I'd do the same thing as the Shalit family, but I wouldn't want the government to listen to me. A government shouldn't operate based on the weeping of mothers"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rockets and Perceptions of Them

Bradley Burston is noticeably further to the left than I. Yet I've often noticed that when such people get angry about the Palestinians, they often express positions to the right of mine. This is the case in his recent column, in which he takes a well-meaning ignorant American Jewish writer to task for totally not understanding what's going on. His thesis, in a sentence: Saddam's missiles in 1991 convinced Israelis they didn't need to control the West Bank; the Hamas ones since 2005 convinced Israelis never to relinquish any more territory to the Palestinians. It's an interesting column, and I recommend it (tho the copy-editing is horrendous. Haaretz is getting ever sloppier).

The American Jewish writer who sent him fuming, by the way, is Anne Roiphe, and an extract of her column is here. He has dealt well with her column, but I'd add a different observation. Let's assume, for sake of the argument, that half of Lieberman's voters grew up in the Soviet Union before coming here in the previous decade, and their appreciation of Ms. Roiphe's sentiments of liberalism and niceness are lacking. Given the choice between leaving them where they were to be lost to the Jewish people but with a "nicer" Israeli electorate, or have them here, rejoined to the Jews but will a lesser "nice" Israeli electorate, my preference is stark. There isn't any wriggle room. Especially as far too many of the "nice" Jews Ms. Roiphe probably prefers are ever less Jewish.

Whatever Happened to that Slogan?

Netanyahu and Lieberman have initialed a coalition agreement. I haven't read the agreement itself, which by law will have to be made public as soon as it comes into effect, but if you believe the report in Haaretz, it seems Lieberman's main pre-election slogan, calling for legislation that would mandate Arab Israelis to swear fealty to the state as precondition for citizenship, has evaporated. What a surprise.

Given that this was practically the only piece of evidence (or better, "evidence") that Lieberman was far-right, far-far-right, and all the other epithets hurled at him and his voters, one wonders if any corrections will now be forthcoming.

Well, actually, no, one doesn't wonder.

And no, I don't support Lieberman. But I dislike him less than I dislike the myriad purveyors of falsehoods about Israel.

On Academic Boycotts

Stanley Fish at the New York Times has a long and convoluted column that eventually gets around to focusing on the question of academic boycotts of Israel. I'm chiefly linking because he's got lots of useful links in his column, rounding up lots of the key spokesmen these past few years, so that's useful. He also has a good summary of the arguments for boycotting Israel:

(1) The academic critics of neoliberalism complain that one effect of the neoliberization of the university has been the retreat by faculty members from public engagement, with the result that intellectual work becomes hermetic and sealed off from political struggle. “We need,” says Henry Giroux, “to link knowing with action, and learning with social engagement, and this requires addressing the responsibilities that come with teaching . . . to fight for an inclusive and radical democracy by recognizing that education in the broadest sense is not just about understanding . . . but also about providing the conditions for assuming the responsibilities we have as citizens to expose human misery and to eliminate the conditions that produce it” (“Against the Terror of Neoliberalism,” 2008)

(2) In the eyes of many academics, a great deal of human misery is being produced by Israel’s policy toward Palestinians. Eliminating it is everybody’s business.

(3) This includes academics who cannot stop at just talking about injustice, but must do something about it, must act.

(4) The political resources of academics are limited, but one way academics can show political solidarity is to put pressure on colleagues who are silent in the face of injustice: “The boycott or the divestment campaign is the mode of political protest that is left after all other forms of struggle have been tried”; it is “the politics of last resort” (Grant Farred, “The Act of Politics Is to Divide,” Works and Days).

(5) Therefore, it is appropriate and even obligatory to boycott Israeli academics and Israeli universities “that have turned a blind eye to the destruction and disruption of Palestinian Schools” (David Lloyd, Daily Trojan). “If, in the midst of oppression, these institutions do not function to analyze and explain the world in a way that promotes justice . . . but rather acquiesce in aggressive neocolonialist practices, then others may legitimately boycott them” (Mona Baker and Lawrence Davidson).

Fish himself then goes on, eventually, to state a position whereby any academic boycott is wrong, including the one on Apartheid South Africa. This is a reasonable approach, of course. I'd add to it that perverse as it was, that regime was no-where near being the world's worst, not even in the Post-WWII world; Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Nigeria all spring effortlessly to mind, and a systematic list would be far longer. So, contrary to Fish's comment, including Israel on anyone's list is, indeed, perverse; singling it out as uniquely evil is, quite simply, evil itself.

I also think calls to boycott Israel are deeply hypocritical and harmful to the boycotters. Israel is one of the most creative places in the world, compared to size or not. How many of the boycotters will forgoe on taking advantage of scientific or technological advances created by Israelis? Hands, anyone?

What's the BBC Policy?

A while ago I mentioned the clearly antisemitic short play penned by a British woman, Caryl Churchill, titled Seven Jewish Children, though there are no recognizable Jews in it at all. The play doesn't seem to be achieving earth shattering success, but perhaps it doesn't need to. The danger of antisemitism is that it permeates the Zeitgeist, not that one particular event or statement convinces lots of people - and I don't think there's any way to argue that isn't happening, since it clearly is.

The BBC has just decided not to air a radio version of the play. Not because its decision makers disagree with it - they actually think it's a brilliant piece - but because they recognize it's too one-sided for them to be able to balance with a second piece. After all, there's no one out there writing imaginary plays about celebratory tents set up for public commemoration of suicide murderers, say, or skits about women who bless their sons as they go off to die with Jewish teenagers or fathers who announce in the presence of their surviving sons that they hope they, too, will follow the example of their murderous brother. As the BBC chaps recognize, no Jew would write such a play.

I admit, not for the first time, that the BBC puzzles me. They have no compunctions in presenting the Israeli-Arab conflict in deeply slanted ways, but every now and then they balk at doing precisely that. What's their method?

Hamas, Too...

According to the Jerusalem Post, citing various Palestinian spokesmen converged in Cairo for yet another attempt to forge a Palestinian unity government, the talks are likely to fail, partly because Hamas rejects the Fatah demand that the unity government accept the agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). In other words, Hamas is not willing to join a unity government that would dramatically enhance the Palestinian's international standing, especially with the Americans, if the price is to recognize Israel's right to exist.
[Salah] Bardaweel [a Hamas spokesman] said that the Hamas negotiators were surprised when their Fatah counterparts told them that there would be no "unity government" unless it accepted the Oslo Accords and recognized Israel's right to exist.

"This is their way of foiling the talks," he charged. "They set impossible conditions."

Don't expect to read this in the Guardian any time soon, of course.

(h.t Powerline)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Deal to Return Gilad Shalit?

Two Israelis were killed this evening by Palestinian gunmen.

Three important things to bear in mind when discussing Israeli willingness to trade many Palestinians for very few Israeli hostages.

The first is that the Palestinians (and Hezbollah) have a policy of holding hostages for years without ever allowing contact between them and their families. Twice this decade Hezbollah has had dead bodies, and throughout the years of negotiations they never admitted that's all they had, preferring to torture the families with the hope someday they'd see their beloved ones. Hamas has been slightly more accommodating with Gilad Shalit, probably because he really is alive, so about once a year they allow a note from him to reach his parents... and that's it. It's despicable, evil, and they're very proud of it. These are our enemies, and we should never forget it.

The second is that Palestinian terrorists, once they're set free by the hundreds for a handful of Israeli hostages, go back to their previous occupation of killing Israelis. International practice is that returned PoWs are not sent back into battle against their erstwhile captors, and most countries respect this. In the case of the Palestinians, each and every one of them must sign a document, before leaving jail, in which they give their word of honor not to return to terror. In some societies, ones' word of honor is binding; Arab culture indeed sets high value on honor (and many Arab women are killed for besmirching someone else's honor) - but Palestinian terrorists aren't bound by their word of honor. On the contrary: hundreds of Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists who were let out of jail as part of the so-called peace process or in return for Israeli hostages. These are our enemies, and we should never forget it.

Third, the dynamic of these things is that sooner or later, the Palestinians or Hezbollah will manage to capture an Israeli, and eventually they'll spring hundreds of Palestinians in return - either that, or a future round of negotiations in the "peace process" will be stuck until Israel releases Palestinians, because after all, we're making peace, aren't we, and peace means we let bygones be bygones. Which mean that Palestinian terrorists know they'll be set free after a few years, or a decade, and won't spend the rest of their lives in jail. The price of killing Israelis (unless in an act of suicide) isn't all that high.

And yet Israel repeatedly exchanges hundreds for one, or more than a thousand for three dead bodies, and so on. Even while knowing that other Israelis wll die, down the line, at the hands of those being let out now. Why?

First, because of that torture. Who would leave anyone in the hands of vicious beasts if there was an alternative? Who would tell a mother to reconcile herself to spending indeterminate years in uncertainty, not knowing if her son is even alive, and if so, fearing the tortures he's undergoing at the hands of animals, who eventually may kill him and discard him somewhere, as probably happened in the 1980s to Ron Arad, an airman shot down over Lebanon, who was still alive a year or more later, but has apparently been dead for many years?

Second, because of our cohesion. External observers are often startled by the vehemence with which Israelis often disagree with one another, in politics and in any other part of life. They fail to understand that this is the corollary of what ultimately is a family: Israelis regard themselves as "we" in ways that are quite lacking in any Western society I've ever encountered. True, as in any family, this doesn't mean there's equality and goodwill spread evenly in all directions. Look how we treat the folks down in Sderot, for example: They were shot at for years and we couldn't be bothered; eventually we went to war for them but didn't do the whole job (and maybe we couldn't have, I don't know), so now they're getting shot at again, daily, and we're back to pretending it isn't happening. I can think of lots of less dramatic examples - none of which change the basic fact that we really do empathize with the mothers of those hostages. We also know it could have been us, heaven forbid, since most of us send our sons to where such stories start.

Third, because of history. The concept of redeeming Jewish hostages is at least a thousand years old, and is deeply ingrained in our culture. Very deeply. It's part of who we are, for better and for worse.

Fourth, because of that "better or worse". No-one will admit to thinking this, but we hope that by being "better", and making the pain of that one family or few go away, along with reuniting hundreds of Palestinian families (who could of course visit their jailed relatives all along), maybe things will get better. Back in the 1990s as we were setting free most of the convicted Palestinian terrorists, we really did hope they, also, might be putting the past behind them, and letting bygones be bygones. Of course, there was not much evidence this was true even then, and there's essentially none at all now, but we like to hope. It's a nice, pleasant sensation.

I'm very glad, at moments like this, that I never accidentally became Prime Minister. Prime ministers are called upon to make life and death decisions, and sometimes they're called upon to make life and death and life and death decisions; me, I blog about their decisions.

And of course, I live in the realities their decisions create. Nothing funny about that.

Hezbollah Clarifies Things

Here's a really fun, short, news item from the BBC. I'd like simply to cut and paste the entire item, but my understanding of blogging etiquette (or is it copyright law?) is that one doesn't do such a thing. So I'm linking, and giving a quick synopsis:

The British recently announced they were going to try to engage Hezbollah in negotiations (codewords: We must engage, they're part of the landscape). The Americans, as in Obama Administration, were puzzled by this (codewords: they look like terrorists to us).

Hezbollah clarified things today, when their leader Hassan Nassrallah explained:

He was responding to a US suggestion that both Hezbollah and the Palestinian faction Hamas should recognise Israel before expecting any US engagement.

"We reject the American conditions," he said. "As long as Hezbollah exists, it will never recognise Israel."

But don't expect this to deter the British. Or at least, not for very long.

The Deadly Futility of International Law

Last week the Economist had a long article on the International Criminal Court's decision to issue a warrant against the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for his role in the genocide of Darfur. As the article itself conceded, the chances of the ICC's action making much difference were not good, for many political reasons. While reading the article, I searched for the slightest indication that the Furis, the people who ive in Darfur, stood to gain anything from the decision, but the Economist didn't mention such a possibility. They did, however, have this to say:
The omens are not good. Hours after the arrest warrant, several of the main Western aid agencies were told to leave the country, some within 24 hours. This was at the extreme end of the reaction people expected: a worrying sign that Darfur’s civilians may again bear the brunt of the regime’s wrath. [my italics]
Why was this at the extreme end of what anybody expected? We weren't told.

At least the Guardian is following the story, unlike most of the world's media. After all, hundreds of thousands of people have been murdered, and more than two and a half million are in camps, but it's in Africa, the Jews can't be blamed nor can George Bush, at least not directly, so it's not an interesting story. But the Economist is telling. This week, their report is even bleaker, and is well worth reading in its entirety. Here's some of it [again, my italics]:

GIVEN the history of the Sudanese government’s brutal treatment of the population of Darfur, some adverse reaction to last week’s indictment of President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) was expected—but nothing quite as bad as what happened. A dozen major international aid agencies and a couple of local ones were immediately expelled from Darfur, and many from the country altogether; staff were unceremoniously escorted to waiting planes while their computers, files and much else were confiscated by the authorities. The remaining aid agencies have been put on notice, and could be next.

The NGOs that were expelled from Sudan provided much of the food, water and medicine to the 2.75m refugees who live in temporary camps in Darfur. So this move is, above all, a huge blow to the fragile humanitarian lifeline that has been keeping the wretched victims of the Darfur conflict alive...

The Sudanese government has given no official explanation for the expulsions, but has made spurious allegations that all these aid agencies were involved in a conspiracy to supply the ICC with the evidence to prosecute Mr Bashir and his henchmen. More to the point, the Sudanese government evidently has no backup plan to replace the vital services the NGOs provided. Although it is clear that the expulsions were planned carefully in advance, it is equally clear that no thought was given to who would do the expelled workers’ jobs instead. This makes the action doubly callous. As usual, it is the ordinary Darfuris who will bear the burden of the government’s vindictiveness.

Since 2003 about 300,000 people have died as a result of the fighting in Darfur.

I apologize, but to me the story as told be the Economist, is, quite simply. weird. The Sudani government is waging a genocide against an ethnic group within its borders. This is so clear that the ICC has gone to the unprecedented step of issuing a warrant against the Sudani Head of State. In response or retaliation the Sudanis.... are stepping up the persecution! Who would ever have thought of such a possibility! They MUST be told to stop!

Do you begin to have the feeling someone is living in never-never land, and it's not the Sudanis?

Zvi Barel, an informed observer of the Arab world and beyond, tells in Haaretz this morning that the Arab World rejects the whole ICC move as Western Imperialism and intervention in the internal matter of an Arab state. These wold be the same Arabs who routinely use the terminology of International Law and its institutions to castigate israel, condemn it for its horrendous crimes, and generally couch their reservations about Israel in Western terminology knowing perfectly well that this will generate agreement.

If you wish, you may think the Arabs are a bunch of hypocrites, and of course you'l be right. But in a deeper way, there is a profound truth to Barel's story. Sometime in the middle of te 20th century, the European,s exhausetd by their own horrendous recent history, decided to radically change their modes of operation. The Americans, having been twice drawn into European wars, went along with them. The Soviets were also exhausted, and played along, probably insincerely.The creation of the very elaborate system of international law in institutions was the expression of this decision.

The rest of the world wasn't really asked. No-one tried to find out if the rest of humanity was willing to lay aside the murderous traits of 4,000 years of history, merely because the Europeans were exhausted. The imperialistic assumption was that if the West decided to call off human nature, the rest of the world would go along with it.

Apparently not.

Bibi Doesn't Want....

I announced a number of weeks ago that I wouldn't be speculating on the coalition negotiations, because 110% of what's reported is spin, misinformation, speculation, wishful thinking and so on. There are perhaps three people, at most, who really know what's going on: Yaakov Neeman, Gideon Saar, and Netanyahu, and it's a safe bet they don't know, either. There was never any doubt that near the end of the allocated period, there would be a second, serious attempt to forge a Likud-Kadima coalition: first, Bibi needed to show Tzipi he could set up a coalition without her, and she needed him to recognize the price he'd have to pay for doing so. Are we there yet? I don't know. The headline of this morning, whereby Netanyahu (in the Hebrew version it said Bibi) isn't yet ready to agree on rotating the prime-minister's job, indicates that's what they're talking about. Otherwise, how is it a headline? I mean, we assume Bibi isn't ready to jump off the Azriely towers, either, but that's not a headine.

And note the reasoning of Yossie Verter, in Haaretz: it's his job to know things and tell us, but he knows no more than we do; however, he deduces that there must be serious negotiations underway because... Tzipi ain't talking.

So, if the suspense is too much for you to bear, I wanted to tell you all that I consulted my tea leaves and coffee dregs this morning (my crystal ball has been sent to the lab for re-calibration after it insisted Obama would bring world peace, so I couldn't ask it). The tea leaves insisted Peres would run for prime minister next electoral cycle, and the coffee dregs agreed, but added he wouldn't win.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Economist Roundup

No time this afternoon for comments, but here's the roundup of interesting things at last week's Economist:

Why International Law is futile as a weapon against genocide (my interpretation): Sudan.

Why national interests may sometimes end genocides: Rwanda and Congo.

The ongoing and mostly unnoticed humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka.

How genocide requires many perpetrators: Iraq.

How nasty colonialism can still be far better than the following rule of liberation movements: Zimbabwe.

Finally, on a lighter note: Why lots of comments at Amazon is a good thing for selling your book, and the future of a world online library. Light, perhaps, but interesting.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Enough Time to Read

Hardly a week ever goes by in which I don't meet a book - or five - that I'd really like to read. Alas, life being what it is, I'm currently something like a decade behind - assuming, say, 10 hours of reading a day. And the problem keeps getting worse.

Bernard Madoff, however, seems to have found a solution. In return for stealing lots of money from lots of people for lots of decades and using it to live in lots of style, the New York courts are about to arrange for him to have a full 150 years in prison, where he'll have lots of time to read. Here, I can expect to have great grandchildren reaching the end of their natural life spans, with only the dimmest hearsay recollections from the early 21st century, and Bernie will still be sitting there and reading. Hmmpf.

By the way, Powerline claims the 10 American President, John Tyler, born in 1790 (that's the 18th century), still has two living grandsons. Not certain how they figured the maths, but one does wonder if the Tyler family ran a ponzi scheme.

Disproportionate Hypocricy

A German firm which sold some industrial equipment to an Israeli factory is refusing to send the technicians to set it up, because it's in Kiryat Gat, and thus within range of Hamas rockets. Yes, those ineffectual tin-can homemade not-really-serious weapons Hamas has, which cannot be justification for Israeli attempts to make them go away.

So long as they're aimed at Israelis, that is. If you aim them at Germans the narrative changes.

But it's not only the Germans, it's the Americans, too. Powerline points out that Admiral Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence and thus an important and influential man, admits that although everyone agrees about the facts, the danger of Iranian nuclear weapons differs according to perspective: The Israelis take it seriously, the Americans not so seriously. Which is foolish of the Americans, because the single most salient fact about the world from an American perspective surely ought to be the aggravating propensity of the rest of the world not necessarily to behave as the Americans might like. If the Iranians and Israelis end up shooting at each other, it won't be helpful to the Americans that they were laid-back about the possibility earlier on.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Jews Control the World

This post will have no links because I've only got a few moments.

The other day I went on record for not caring about this Chas Freeman character, one way or the other. In the meantime he has been forced not to take the job in the intelligence community he was hoping to have. Predictably, this is sending his fans ballistic (go look at Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan for starters). Their thesis is that the case proves (once again, I might add) that public discussion of Israel is censored in the United States, with large swathes of discourse being forbidden by the awesomely powerful Israelis and their stooges.

There is of course nothing new to this claim; it's been around for centuries (well, the power of the Jews. The United States as a target, that's newer). I admit to being puzzled by their line of reasoning, because for the life of me I can't imagine what might be verboten (Greenwald's word) to say? That Israel's policies are all wrong? That Israel commits war crimes and worse? That Israel is forcing the Palestinians into slavery? That Israel's behaviour is the source of the Islamic ire at America? That Israel muzzles free discussion and thought? That Israel shouldn't exist?

All of these ideas are broadcast widely and continuously not only in Arab World, nor in the Guardian, but also in the American public arena. If Israel were so good at blocking discussion, how come it's so bad at it? Andrew, Glenn, Juan and many others say these things with regularity, and no-one blocks them? True, the Freeman fellow, after being onthe Saudi payroll, was deemed unsuitable for that job, but that hardly proves the point. The entire case proves the opposite, it seems to me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Belief and Responsibility

On Purim we read the Book of Esther. There's a program to kill all the Jews of the Persian Empire, backed by the emperor himself. Mordechai is trying to thwart the plan with a counter plan of his own, based on the position of his cousin and adopted daughter, Esther, the queen. Esther hesitates, given the mortal danger she'll need to put herself into. To which Mordechai responds (Chapter 4, 13-14):
13 And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
It's an interesting statement. The world's greatest power has decided to murder the Jews, but Mordechai is supremely confident they won't be destroyed; this confidence, however, doesn't prevent him from taking any measure to thwart the program, no matter how high the personal danger.

A Purim Contemplation

once upon a time in a shtetl in russia there were no eligible men, and 2 women who had reached marrying age. after much deliberation, the rabbi decided to write to his brother who was a rabbi in a distant village, described the situation and asked for his help. and luckily, in the brother's village there were 2 young men with no potential wives, and the solution was obvious.

the 2 young men set off and the young spinsters' village was all agog with excitement. unfortunately the road was long, the winter was cold and one of the young men died on the way. so after some months, it was only one young man who walked into the village, to be welcomed by 2 mothers of prospective wives.

needless to say, the 2 mothers started arguing, each claiming that the young man was destined for her daughter. no one knew how to deal with this dilemma, and the rabbi, who had made the match, was called in to mediate. he listened to the argument for a while and then declared: the young man must be cut up, a half for each bride.

'no no' said one mother 'let the other one have him! he is such a nice boy, it will be a crime to cut him up!'

said the other 'are you crazy? of course he must be cut up, half each! we were both promised a son in law, its both or neither!'and they carried on along this vein.

'that settles it' said the rabbi 'now i know'.

the entire village stood in silence, waiting for his verdict. what will the rabbi say? how will he decide?

very quietly he pointed and said 'that one, who wants to cut him up, she wins. without any doubt, she is the real mother in law....'

and a happy purim to all

(thanx to Tova for the e-mail)