Saturday, October 31, 2009

Blaming the Jews

I've been balancing my reading of the Goldstone Report with Timothy Garton Ash's fascinating Solidarity, The Polish Revolution, which I expect to complete tomorrow and then to review here. In the meantime, two quotations.

The first describes how the Polish Communists explained the declaration of the state of emergency of Dec.13th 1981, which put an end (temporarily, we now know) to Solidarity.

But war against whom? The Military Council in its first proclamation talked of 'already overt preparations for a reactionary coup'... The extremists in Solidarity who had presumably prepared this 'coup' were zealously identified by the only two official newspapers still published, Tribuna Ludu and Zolnierz Wolnosci: Geremek, Kuron, Medzelewski... Radio Warsaw 'revealed' Geremek's Jewish origins, and Tribuna Ludu 'revealed' his conspiratorial links with revisionis-Zionist centres abroad. Suddenly all was clear. Of course -- this patriotic war was a war against the Jews... (p.275)

Further on, Garton Ash is seeking the sense to the events, the motivational forces, the implications and significance (seen from 1983, when he wrote the report). Describing the underlying cultural characteristics of the Solidarity leaders, he notes that:
Whatever their debt to socialist ideals, in this vital sense their priorities were Christian, not socialist. Socialism proceeds from society to the individual: people are unfulfilled, it suggests, because society is imperfect. Christianity proceeds from the individual to society: society is imperfect, it suggests, because human beings are imperfect. (p. 291).
I guess I'm Christian.

Goldstone: There Are Brave Israelis!

Another hour or two and I'll have completed the reading of the Goldstone Report. I hope to find the time this week to write a reasoned response to it. If the topic weren't so serious it would be comic. In the meantime, here's another nugget of wisdom from the report. On page 528 the report is bemoaning the stifling of free and democratic discourse in Israel - but there are still brave souls fighting the good fight:

1701. In this context of increased intolerance for dissenting opinions in Israel, the mission wishes to acknowledge the difficult work of non-governmental organizations in Israel, who courageously continue to express criticism of government action that violates international human rights and humanitarian law. The work of these organizations is essential not only to ensure independent information to the Israeli and international public, but also to encourage a facts-based debate about these issues within Israeli society.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Israel Damned No Matter What

The Goldstone Report recognizes, in an infuriating and perfunctory way, that Hamas was shooting at Israeli citizens. The entire theme of the report, however, is that whatever Israel did in response was wrong.

This fundamental position verges into plain farce when, near the end (i.e after page 400 or so), the report turns its focus to events on the West Bank in recent years: as you'd expect, everything Israel does is wrong, no matter what. Take, for example, para. 1510 (p. 415):
According to B’Tselem, Israeli officials have made public statements relating the arrests of the PLC members to political goals: “in an interview with AP a few hours after the first wave of arrests, on 29 June 2006, Major-General Yair Naveh, OC Central Command, said that the decision to arrest senior Palestinian officials was made by the political echelon and that they would be released upon the release of Gilad Shalit. In an interview with the army radio station on 24 May 2007, the day that the second wave of arrests took place, the then-Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, stated that “the arrest of those heads of Hamas is to show the military organizations that we demand that the firing stop.””
In the preceding and following pages the report condemns such Israeli actions, even though the Defense Minister himself has been quoted describing how Israel is seeking a non-lethal method to put a stop to the firing of rockets at its citizens.

Israel may not defend itself. Period.

J Street Round-up, 1

OK OK OK. Given what this blog is about, I can't really not deal with the J Street conference that took place this week, and, more broadly, with the J Street story in general.

Of course, given that I only have 32 hours each day, and some of them need to be utilized for non-blogging activities, I'm not quite certain how to fit this new task in if I'm to address it seriously. So I've hopefully launched a new series, "J Street Round-up", and we'll see how long it turns out to be.

This first installment brings to you a video of an entire meeting that took place at the conference. I don't know who the moderator is. The panelists, however, are Jonathan Chiat from The New Republic, and Matt Yglesias, the popular blogger. Two intelligent and articulate men, Chiat probably center-left in American politics, Yglesias firmly left. Their topic was the meaning of "pro-Israel".

In spite of the difference between them, they are both pro-Israel. What stuck me was the degree of their disconnect (both) from the Israeli reality. Certainly Yglesias, and probably also Chiat, would fit into the Meretz part of the Israeli political spectrum - yet there's a reason Meretz hovers on the edge of political extinction these days. I'm not saying the Meretz position is illegitimate - but it does have to deal with a whole set of facts known to every Israeli; most deal by abandoning the Meretz positions, and a small number deal and manage to maintain their positions. These two fine young men - I'm not being facetious - are engaged in a conversation about Israel that doesn't relate to the world Israelis live in.

This may be a broader problem.

Debate: Jon Chait & Matt Yglesias square off on what it means to be pro-Israel from Isaac Luria on Vimeo.

Update: Yglesias has written about this event on his blog, here. His post is quite reasonable; his readers, on the other hand, the dozens of them commenting, are, well, silly.

Alhadeff and the Wolves

Here's why those Australian Jews sometimes get their man, as in yesterday's story about the bad history textbook:
Alhadeff is highly skilled in framing issues of Jewish concern in universal language that resonates with wider Australian society. He avoids stridency and adversarial discourse that would pit Jews against everyone else, instead speaking from a familiar and unassailable moral standpoint with which no reasonable person would disagree.

Invitation to CiF

There are indications that CiF Watch is annoying the editors of The Guardian. It's undeniable that at least some of the editors read CiF Watch some of the time.

Today the Watchers have directly called out Brian Whitaker, a Guardian Biggie:
Here’s an offer. Why don’t you write an article for us explaining why you think this is not case? I’ll publish whatever you write. In particular, our readers would be intrigued to know the following: Why do you feature a disproportionate number of writers deeply hostile to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state many of whom are self-hating Jews and have a track record of antisemitism? Why do you tolerate antisemitism in the comment threads? Why for example have the numerous antisemitic commenters that populate CiF not been permanently banned – its not as if you are oblivious to this? Why do you delete comments putting forward a pro-Israel position? Why did you ban AKUS, Cityca and others? And why do you insinuate that pro-Israel posters are paid agents of the Israeli government?

I doubt Whitaker will respond. I wouldn't, if I were in his shoes. In PR, big doesn't respond to little, and The Guardian (alas) is bigger than CiF Watch. Were they to respond, it would be like the White House allowing itself to get into an argument with, say, Fox News.

Ah... Forget I said it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

War is Always Wrong

The United States is being critcized somewhat similarly to Israel, for having the temrity to wage war in a manner the UN doesn't like. A certain Philip Alston, who has been appointed by - you guessed - the United Nations Human Rights Council, thinks that killing Taliban from the air may be illegal.

As regular readers know, I actually think the American public should be watching the drone war and asking questions - but they need not be answering to the UN, nor should the matter be one of international law.

My inclination is to see this newest development as positive. Remember, the drone war is the Biden method, the alternative being touted by the camp that wants less American involvement; it's the doves who want it, not the hawks. The longer this goes on, the greater the probability that normal, sensible people will recognize the international-law-pacifists for what they are.

In which context, what do you make of para. 1313 in the Goldstone Report:

The Government of Israel seems to see the hardship and suffering of
Palestinians as an inevitable consequence of a situation of war. The
Government’s statement that “civilian populations inevitably and tragically
suffer during a time of armed combat, particularly where the combat operations
take place in densely populated urban areas” may be correct, but this does not
relieve Israel from its obligations under international humanitarian law

In other words, even when Israel may be right, it's certainly wrong. The whole Goldstone Report is an example of a legal system gone haywire. Fortunately, the system is now aiming also at the big guys.

Fine Words

Timothy Garton Ash, writting in 1983 about Solidarity's heady days in Poland two years earlier:
It's strange that so many people in the West still somehow half-believe or assume
that Soviet-block leaders use words like 'Democracy', 'Peace', 'Freedom' or
'Partnership' in the same sense as we do.

Solidarity, The Polish Revoluton, p. 210.

Some things never change. No Soviets around aymore, but their intellectual heirs are all over the place. Moreoever, the people who used the terms falsely back then were often vituperative about Zionism. Who'd have thunk.

Means, Methods, Morality and Memory

Most of us ought to be able to agree that if someone drags innocent civilians from their home and hacks them to death, that's cold-blooded murder. If done repeatedly, in an attempt to cause wide-spread terror and up-end the social order, the perpetrator is a terrorist.

But what if we dislike the social order that's being attacked? Might that lead us to be understanding, even if perhaps not openly supportve? What about a social order that is demonstrably evil on a large scale? What then?

The reason I'm asking is because there's this fascinatng article in the New York Times about just such a murderer, a man by the name of John Brown. Yes, that John Brown, the one who wished to topple slavery, repeatedly murdered innocents to make it happen, and intended to spill far more blood but was stopped. Though, truth be told, he probably never conceived of as massive a spilling of blood as eventually happened, on the way to exonerating his goals.

By my lights, the man was a murderer and in the modern terminology which didn't exist in his day, a terrorist. Yes. And no, Lincoln was neither, though he presided over far worse. I have a moral system which can contain all these concepts. What's interesting is that 150 years later, two separate exhibitions are still wondering about the matter. Unlike the story of Agincourt which I mentioned the other day, this stuff is still quite relevant and active - as history often is.

Fibbing About the Jews

Cambridge Univesity Press (sounds impressive to me) published a school text book with various nonsensical statements about Jews (not neccessarily Israel). Hard to imagine, isn't it: such a thing happening.

On the other hand, an e-mail I got this morning tells that the publisher has now recognized the problem and is pulling the book. It would not have been pulled, however, had the local Jews not been keeping their eyes peeled.

Tattered Poll at The Guardian

The fine folks at CiF Watch have alerted me to a comical poll currently running at The Guardian, in which the editors tried to support J-Street. The formulation of the poll's question was imprecise, the two possible answers to choose from were downright confusing and misleading, but the illustration - a tattered Israeli flag - is clear.

So far, so boring.

The funny thing is that for all the intellectual shoddiness, a very large majority of participants in the poll don't seem to support J Street. How embarrasing.

The voting is open until this evening. Feel free to aggravate the Guardianistas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Goldstone Wordle

Elder of Ziyon, who has been doing an extraordnary job of fact-checking the Goldstone Report, has a real cute - or perhaps, deadly serious - intellectual teaser for you. He has made a graphc representation of the 250 most common words in the report... and he wonders if you can find the word "Hamas".

I really recommend you check it out. 24 hours from now I'll be posting the answer here, if you haven't found it on your own by then.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel in Jerusalem

Yesterday we went to see Yehoshua Sobol's startling play about Alma Mahler. It was fascinating, on many levels.

Alma was as interesting a person as they get. In a long life she was married to Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel, and was attached to Gustav Klimt, Alexander Zemlinsky, Oskar Kokuschka, and other cultural luminaries, mostly in Vienna. She was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, died in New York as an American, and is buried in Vienna.

Any play based on her story should be fascinating. Sobol, along with an eccentric Austrian actor and director, Paulus Manker, did more than write a play. They created a theatrical spectacle.

Recently they transplanted it to Jerusalem, where it took on additional layers of fascination.

The play begins in a large banquet hall. About half the audience - 70 people or so - are seated at a gigantic table, the rest sit or stand in the wings. The furniture is 19-century, lots of candelabra, no obvious electricity. A striking elderly woman enters, and welcomes us to her 130th birthday; she then calls in her series of men to join her, one by one. Three young women then come in, each claiming to be the true original Alma. Improbably, everyone then sings a version of Tom Lehrer's "Alma Tell Us". The elderly Alma tells that whenever she chose a creative man, he rode with her to ever-higher levels of creative genius. Our task should be to follow the young women and decide which has the gift.

At this point the play morphs from unusual to highly unusual: it splits into about four different plays, with part of the audience following each of the four "Almas". For the next four hours or so the actors and audience wander the building, sitting in a room with two or three actors until they abruptly leave, and the audience either manages to follow them (but what happens when they themselves split up and go in different directions) or stumbles into a different scene. At one point we had been standing in a courtyard where a young Alma and three famous suitors had been cavorting, when two of the figures ran off through a doorway. We followed, but they had already disappeared - no matter, a different scene was unfolding in the room we had entered, between the elderly Alma and an agonizing young suitor in 1938. I'm told it takes at least four visits to the play to see all its sections.

Occasionally all the strands converge, in a central courtyard, or back in the banquet hall, before spinning off again.

Some of the scenes were unremarkable: he accusing her of sleeping with him, that sort of thing. The overall effect, however, was magnificent. There were two scenes which I especially liked. The first was Mahler's funeral. Everyone converged in a central courtyard; The four Alma actresses stood in a row, each holding a candle; Mahler's Funeral March boomed out as the casket was slowly marched across the courtyard to where the four women stood, then we all followed it to the next courtyard where it was set down. The three young Almas moved somberly off, leaving only two figures facing the bier: the elderly Alma, fully in black, leaning on the arm of... Mahler. You begin to see there's no attempt to adhere to factual chronology.

The funeral scene draws high drama from the real Mahler's music. Not so the second scene. It was late in the evening, in a largish room full of bookcases, a few desks, lots of candles, and perhaps 30 people from the audience sprawled around. Among them sit or stand Franz Werfel, Alexander von Zemlinsky and Mahler, and they're talking about what it meant to be attached to Alma, comparing notes, ribbing one another ("she told me you weren't very good at that"). The real Alma outlived them all, and there was no point in time when they all might have come together, so the entire scene is a-historical - but poignant, reflective, and memorable.

Alma herself was born in 1879, died in 1964, and lived every moment of her life in chronological order. She had as linear a life as the rest of us, with no parallel tracks and no looping back on herself in the next room. Yet she was always immersed in art, so she'd probably love the way Sobol has coiled her life into this post-modernist braid. The act has been on since 1996; originally played in Vienna, its website tells that it has since been presented in 9 towns where Alma visited or lived, including Venice, Los Angeles and Berlin. Each town must have had its own effects; the ones in Jerusalem certainly enhanced the drama.

First, the venue. The play can't take place in a normal theatre, obviously. In Jerusalem the building chosen was a 19th century hostel constructed by the Russians, as part of the Russian Compound. During the 1940s this was the heart of what was derisively called Bevingrad, after Ernst Bevin, the British anti-Zionist Foreign Minister; nowadays it would be called a Green Zone, where the occupying forces hunker behind their massive fortifications in the center of a hostile town. This particular edifice was converted to a prison. Among the many people incarcerated in it were a number of Etzel and Lehi members, and some of them were even hanged here. It's normally a depressing place.

People who have seen the play in Vienna and in Jerusalem tell me much of its profanity and nude scenes have been cut, out of deference to the venue (tho there was quite a bit of profanity even so). The language has been adapted: almost no German, mostly English, but also some Hebrew. One act we saw had an actor who knows no Hebrew with an actress who was using only Hebrew, and the two of them conversed for seven or eight minutes like that, for all the world as if they weren't even noticing the oddity. (At one point he tried to ward off an outburst of her anger by muttering B'seder, B'seder).

Then there was the trip to Palestine. Apparently Alma and Werfel came here in the 1930s, so one of the threads of the plays does so too: literally. Three or four actors and a dozen spectators climb onto a desert-jeep (a sort of Safari-vehicle) and traipse off to Palestine, followed by another 20 spectators, an Austrian actor who knows no Hebrew leading them all in singing some 1920s' halutzim songs (Anu banu artza livnot u-lehibanot ba). As we approached the gate of the compound we passed the graves of two of the hanged men from 1946, then we passed along the back side of the new City Hall edifice, turned right and passed the municipal court, then the imposing Russian Church with it's Kremlin-like architecture, then the Kishle police station and detention, before turning back. Along the way a police car gut stuck in the middle of our cavalcade, and the officers sat there resignedly waiting for us to pass; three Haredi men from Mea Shearm, just down the hill, watched the entire scene with astonishment.

As well they might. Even I, part of the scene, spent much of the evening in a state of astonishment. As you well may: Should Alma ever come to your town, make a point of going to meet her.

No Peace Possible in Jerusalem

One objective reason Israelis see the world so differently from the way many others see it is that news items such as this one are routine here, but are almost never noticed elsewhere: Khaled Meshal - that's one of the topmost Hamas figures around, in case you've missed him - reassures his audience that the only solution to Israeli claims to Jerusalem is to beat the Israelis in war.

And note he's not talking only about the Temple Mount/Haram a-Sharif. Though he does expect Israel's Arabs to join battle on the side of the Muslims.

Human Rights Watch Watch: Bernstein Stands Firm

Last Week Richard Bernstein, founder of HRW, blasted them in an op-ed at the New York Times. The current heads of HRW responded as we knew they would. Not by setting up, say, an investigating group that would look into the allegations, but rather by immediately shooting back. "Of course we're right. Always".

Bernstein has now responded to his responders. It's no longer in the New York Times, but his response has been posted at the Contentions blog of Commentary Magazine. He's not blinking, and not backing down.
I believe that Israel should be judged by the highest possible standard and I have never argued anything else. What is more important than what I believe, or what Human Rights Watch believes, is that Israelis themselves believe they should be held to the highest standard.
That is why they have 80 Human Rights organizations challenging their government daily. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a vibrant free press. Does any other country in the Middle East have anything remotely near that? That is why they have a democratically elected government. That is why they have a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political societies, etc etc etc.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Avi Bell on Bill Moyers on Richard Goldstone

Bill Moyers of PBS interviewed Richard Goldstone two days ago. The transcript of the interview is here. (You can also watch the interview from the same page, the link is in the upper left corner).

I haven't even read the entire Report yet, it's so long; once I eventually finish it I'll write my thoughts. However, Professor Avi Bell, law professor at Bar-Ilan and at University of San Diego, has e-mailed his responses to the interview to a list I get. (That would be the group behind the Understanding the Goldstone Report website).

Avi Bell:

1. The Goldstone report draws its conclusions on the basis of 36 incidents it says it investigated. The report says that incidents are illustrative and therefore justify the broader conclusions made by the report. But Goldstone admits that the report lied in saying that the incidents are “illustrative” and in saying that the Mission worked according to its self-described neutral mandate rather than the official biased one. Goldstone says “We chose those 36 because they seemed to be, to represent the most serious, the highest death toll, the highest injury toll. And they appear to represent situations where there was little or no military justification for what happened.” In other words, the Mission chose incidents that were seen as NOT ILLUSTRATIVE, and, rather, most likely to support a finding of war crimes.

2. Goldstone repeatedly misstates the law in the interview.
a. Goldstone implicitly misstates the rule of distinction. Goldstone rightly says that the rule of distinction requires combatants to distinguish between “combatants and innocent civilians.” But then, he “proves” that Israel violated the rule of distinction by saying “We found evidence in statements made by present and former political and military leaders, who said, quite openly, that there's going to be a disproportionate attack. They said that if rockets are going to continue, we're going to hit back disproportionately.” Stating that a counter-attack will be disproportionate to the attack isn’t a violation of the rule of distinction. The rule of distinction requires that Israel not aim its fire at civilians as such. It has nothing to do with how much fire Israel can aim at legitimate targets.

b. Regarding the rules of distinction and proportionality, Moyers asks Goldstone, “Who is to say that? Who is to make that distinction?” Goldstone answers, “Well, that distinction must be made after the event.” That is absolutely, positively, not the law. The law is that commanders must make judgments on the basis of knowledge they have at the time, not that one second-guesses them after the event and judges them guilty on the basis of knowledge they may not have had. Thus, for example, Newton testified “In order to properly assess a real proportionality assessment therefore, the relevant question is what did the commander know? What information was available to him?”

This is not an isolated misstatement by Goldstone. Throughout the interview, he keeps giving examples of judging after the fact. For example, he says: “We spoke to the owner of a home in Gaza City. He said he looked out of his window and he saw some militants, whether Hamas or other Palestinian groups, setting up their mortar launchers in his yard. He ran out and said, "Get out of here. I don't want you doing this here. You're going to endanger my family, because they going to bomb. Get out." And in fact, they left. Whether that was typical or atypical, I don't know, we didn't, obviously, cover the field. But assuming they had disobeyed them, assuming they had launched the rockets from over the objections of the household owner, and his family, they launched the rockets and disappeared. It would be a war crime, as I understand it, for Israel to have bombed the home of that innocent household, who didn't want this to happen.” Goldstone again, is wrong. Even if the facts were as Goldstone stated them, and the owner was absolutely innocent, the launching point of rockets would still be a legitimate target, and it would be permissible to attack it if the collateral damage were proportionate to anticipated military advantage, notwithstanding the damage to an innocent owner.

Here’s another example. Moyer prompts “so there was intention,” meaning Israel deliberately violated the rule of distinction. Goldstone responds: “Well, certainly. You know, one thing one can't say about the Israel Defense Forces is that they make too many mistakes. They're very, a sophisticated army. And if they attack a mosque or attack a factory, and over 200 factories were bombed, there's just no basis to ascribe that to error. That must be intentional.” Goldstone again is arguing that he can determine whether there was a crime by looking after the fact at what was destroyed, without any evidence of what the commander thought was the military advantage in attacking the site and what the commander thought would be the collateral damage. In Goldstone’s favor, here he at least tries to provide an excuse for his misstatement of the law: his preposterous assumption of Israeli omniscience.

c. Goldstone falsely states that the only legal way to fight in an urban area is with commando actions. Moyer asks him: “But when the terrorists, the militants, whatever one wants to call them, are known to be embedded in, as you say, those tight, complex, concentrated areas, what's the other army to do?” Goldstone says: “It's for example, to launch commando actions, to get at the militants and not the innocent civilians.” This is clearly not in line with the practice of any other state in the world.

3. Goldstone says that NATO fighting in Yugoslavia was basically legal (Goldstone’s comment: “Take the United States fighting wars in Kosovo and Iraq and Afghanistan. They have certainly at a high level, gone to extremes to protect innocent civilians. Where they've made mistakes, and mistakes have been made, in Kosovo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, apologies have followed. The United States, in general, has accepted and tried its best, with the assistance of military lawyers, has tried its best to avoid violating international humanitarian law.”). But Israel’s government specifically said, and the report noted that “The Israeli Government states that this expression of its objectives is no broader than those expressed by NATO in 1998 during its campaign in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” (paragraph 1201). And the report responded by intimating that Israel’s objectives were therefore illegal (paragraph 1202 – “The Mission makes no comment on the legality or otherwise of NATO actions there”), before then saying explicitly that Israel’s objectives were illegal.

4. It’s interesting to see what Goldstone calls a good investigation. He dismisses the more than 100 Israeli investigations now ongoing because, he says, “it's now, what, seven months since the end of the war. There's only been one successful prosecution against a soldier, who stole a credit card, which is really almost fodder for cartoonists, in the plethora of alleged war crimes.” In other words, Israeli investigations will only be credible if they find Israelis guilty. The other reason he advances for attacking the Israeli investigations is “in those military investigations, as far as I've read, in only one cases have the military even approached the victims in Gaza. And obviously, to have a full investigation, one needs, as you say, to hear both sides.” This is rich, considering that Goldstone never spoke to any of the persons he accuses of committing crimes. Goldstone adds that Israeli investigations shouldn’t be trusted because they are done in “…secrecy? And, you know, I always quote Justice Brandeis, who said, "The best disinfectant is sunlight." And this is happening in the dark. And even with the best good faith in the world on the part of the military investigators, the victims are not going to accept decisions that are taken in the dark, and don't involve them.” But Goldstone is still refusing to refuse the evidence (written submissions, etc.) on the basis of which the report was written.

5. Goldstone states of Israel, “It's got a wonderful legal system, its got a great judicial system, its got retired judges who certainly, in my book, would earn the respect of the overwhelming number of people around the world, including the Arab world, who, if they held open, good faith inquiries, would put an end to this.” It’s worth reciting this in relation to Goldstone’s claims of the inadequacy of Israeli investigations. As paragraph 1803 of the report admits, the Israeli investigatory system ends at the High Court of Justice. Anyone who is disappointed with a decision not to investigate an incident or bring charges against an individual, or failure of a military court to convict may appeal to the High Court of Justice. This includes non-citizens, like alleged Palestinian victims, and interested observers like Goldstone himself. And the High Court of Justice has no standing requirement, so anyone may bring suit, even if they are not directly harmed. If Goldstone really cares to have new investigations, and has any real evidence to show that crimes were committed aside from the conclusory statements in the report, why doesn’t he file a petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice? Why doesn’t he suggest it to any of the alleged Palestinian victims? Is he afraid to put his alleged evidence to the test of a court?

Dishonourable Report on "Honour Killings"

The Guardian website has a long (2400-word) report from its sister publication The Observer about so-called 'Honour Killings", in which Muslim men murder their womenfolk for a perceived hurt to the honour of the men.

The "news" part of the article is the claim that the British authorities are no longer willing to give the perpetrators or their society any leeway, having decided that in the UK, protection of life is more important than cultural norms, and if the two collide, the sanctity of life is the value that won't change.

So far, so good.

As you'd expect, however, the article does its best never to articulate what the problem really is: a MUSLIM cultural norm. I'm not saying murdering one's daughter or sister is something any Muslim would do, or that Sharia always advocates it, because that's certainly not the case. There must be some intersection between Muslim mores and something else, perhaps different causes in different contexts. Nor is it true that the only women ever murdered by their menfolk are Muslim. Still, having noted those obvious clarifications, it wouldn't hurt to add that the phenomenum is a deadly malaise of Islam, not of humanity in general.

The article tries its best not to say this. In it's first half, it touches the problem only once, with this quotation from a politically correct police officer:
"This crime genre transcends every nationality, religious faith or group,
nor is it unique to the UK, every country in the world has honour-based
violence. But we want to make it clear that people can come forward to us; they
will be believed."
A statement which is, of course, not true. Or at best, it's extraordinarily misleading.

Near the bottom of the article, a British Muslim women says the dire words:
"Those who are lagging behind now are the religious leaders. They may pay lip
service to change but they have networks and contacts and they are not trying to
change anything. Sharia courts are letting Muslim women down and I am sorry to
say that the British government is turning a blind eye to these courts. We have
civil laws that cover every individual; none of these religious courts provide
the same rights and protections for women."

Yet the very next paragraph balances her statement:
Irfan Chishti, a leading imam in Manchester, said the phenomenon was so
secretive that it could be hard to identify who was at risk: "It is not an
Islamic issue, it's more of a tribal tradition that cuts across several faiths,
but I can say categorically that it is not acceptable.
Yes, the Imam would be the right person to tell us about honour murders in other religions - which, we note, go unmentioned by name.

We're then treated to this mishmash of wishful thinking combined with demonstrably false sociobabble:
Honour-based violence can be a socioeconomic issue. Experts say there is a strong correlation between violence against women and issues such as inequality
between men. In deprived communities where men are struggling to
earn a living they can feel subordinated and lacking in respect, and so try
to get their authority back by dominating anyone below them, usually
women... Confusion in immigrant communities where people feel adrift in a
new culture and try to anchor themselves to the past is a key factor, says
Haras Rafiq, a former government adviser on faith issues and the co-founder
of the Sufi Muslim Council. "Religion becomes infused with cultural
practices and honour takes on an overinflated importance," he said.
Right. Honour killings, as we all know, are an eternal part of immigrant communites - especially in immigration countries such as Pakistan and Syria!
In Pakistan the practice of honour killing – called karo-kari – sees more
than 10,000 women die each year. In Syria, men can kill female relatives in a
crime of passion as long as it is not premeditated. It is legal for a husband to
kill his wife in Jordan if he catches her committing adultery. Crime of passion
can be a full or partial defence in a number of countries including Argentina,
Iran, Guatemala, Egypt, Israel and Peru.

The mention of Israel, of course, is pure Quatsch, as the Germans say. Nonsense. Yes, there are cases in Israel where Arab men murder their women in honour killings, but the law regards this as murder, not crimes of passion, whatever those are.

I don't know about Argentina.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I'm reading Timothy Garton Ash's The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (Third Edition) - his 1983 history-and-eyewitness-report on the rise and fall of Solidarity in 1980-81. I'm preparing a lecture I need to give next month in Warsaw, but it just so happens that we're about to mark the 20th anniversary of the extraordinary events of 1989, when the Soviet Empire dissolved; since Garton Ash is such a fine historian and eye-witness, the New York Review of Books has asked him to write on those days. The first of two installments is here:

The year 1989 was one of the best in European history. Indeed, I am hard pushed to think of a better one. It was also a year in which the world looked to Europe—specifically to Central Europe, and, at the pivotal moment, to Berlin. World history—using the term in a quasi-Hegelian sense—was made in the heart of the old continent, just down the road from Hegel's old university, now called the Humboldt University. Twenty years later, I am tempted to speculate (while continuing to work with other Europeans in an endeavor to prove this hunch wrong) that this may also have been the last occasion—at least for a very long time—when world history was made in Europe. Today, world history is being made elsewhere. There is now a CafĂ© Weltgeist at the Humboldt University, but the Weltgeist itself has moved on. Of Europe's long, starring role on the world stage, future generations may yet say: nothing became her like the leaving of it.

Debunking Shakespeare

According to the New York Times, a group of historians is applying new methods to military history, and one of the things' they've found is that Henry V wasn't. Or if he was, his victory at Agincourt wasn't. Or if it was, it wasn't all that important - that was merely Shakesperian agitprop.

Well, immortal agitprop, you'll have to admit.

The article contains a link to a database the historians are setting up with all the possible names of the soldiers of the 100-Year-War; so far, they've got 20,000 names, apparently. So I snooped around. As far as they know to tell, there were no soldiers in the 100-Year-War (1369-1453) with any of the following names: Cohen, Levy, Mizrachi, Atias, or Rabinowitz. (No Lozowick's either).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stratification of Antisemitism at The Guardian

A few days ago CiF Watch posted a piece about the followup at CiF to an article by Harold Evans. It's an interesting story for the way it demonstrates three layers of anti-Jewish animosity at the Guardian.

The first is the editorial level of the paper: what get's published in it. Any long-term reader of the Guardian will recognize that it's editors really don't like Israel. Really really. Yet they're not Nazis, they're not even Hamas, which means not only that they don't hate Jews in Manchester, they don't even automatically hate everything about Israel. Sometimes the remains of their Enlightenment conditioning shine through, and they'll see Israel in a rational light. Often not, of course, but it can happen. One remnant of this is their insistence on the occaisional airing even of a pro-Israel piece on their pages or on CiF. The Evans column that launched our story was one such: veteran British journalist Harold Evans described the Goldstone Report for the travesty it is.

Then there's the level of The Guardian's readership, or at least the segment of it that leaves comments on CiF. A few of them are valiant folks trying to stem the tide by leaving rational comments based upon reality (irrespective of their conclusions: I'm not saying that rational thought must inevitably lead one to agree with a particular political viewpoint). Most commenters at CiF, however, are stark raving mad. They also hate Israel, America, and anyone who doesn't join them in this hate, such as a venerable Old Boy Englishman such as Harold Evans. They have not the slightest interest in facts, save as clubs to beat the Jews with -and they're impartial to the factuality of the facts.

This makes CiF Exhibition A for anyone trying to document the state of Jew hatred in the early 21st century. Such people and such ideas exist out there, make no mistake about it.

Then there's the intermediate level, between the editors of The Guardian and the cesspool of the commenters. This is the level of the CiF moderators, Guardian employees of a lower rank than the editors, who decide which comments are too injurious to remain posted - and by default, what is acceptable and may remain. Because of their existence, The Guardian owns all the content of CiF, above and below the line; feverish hate-filled rantings posted by commenters and not removed by the moderators have been actively condoned by the Guardian staff.

One of the important services of the CiF Watch group is that they're collecting and documenting the actions of the Guardian moderators. They're capturing copies of comments before the moderators delete them. This means we get to see the comments that are so extreme and offensive even the Guardian staff can't live with them - so that's valuable and interesting. It also means we get to see what sort of rational and fact-based position is routinely deleted for not adhering close enough to the Guardian party line. This is where the mediators show the true colors of the editors: an occasional pro-Israel column can be tolerated, but only to a limited degree. Fig leaves, yes; full-blown debate and airing of counter arguments, not acceptable.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Do American Jews Teach Their Children?

There's a fascinating article on the English-language side of Y-net about a recent piece of research into what American Jewish summer-campers think their Judaism means:

In comparing the participants of three of the major streams of Judaism, he found that those attending Orthodox camps were significantly more likely to select symbols related to Jewish religious practice, to the Holocaust, to Israel and to discrimination, while participants in Conservative camps were most likely to select universal values such as democracy, co-existence, olerance, ecology, humanism and peace. He attributed this to the Conservative Movement's emphasis on universal values within a Jewish context. Participants in Reform camps were more likely to select items related to Jews' accomplishments in the non-Jewish world (such as wealth and success).

This comment, however, was the most fascinating of all (to me):
"Interestingly, those at the Reform camps were also most likely to select
the symbol of Anne Frank, indicating a somewhat difference attitude towards the
Holocaust than that of the Orthodox campers, who were more likely to select
Auschwitz as symbolic of their Jewish identity," said Cohen.
The idea that the Holocaust is central to Jewish identity is much more American than Israeli; the distinction between the Orthodox teenagers and the Reform ones, however, is revealing, if it's really there and not merely a quirk of the research methodology. Auschwitz is central to the murder of the Jews; Anne Frank is a single sort-of-uplifting story (except for it's end, of course, lest we forget). It's like comparing a continent with a beautiful statue on it.

J Street From Israel

Jeffrey Goldberg, always a valuable blog to visit, has been dealing a lot recently with the pros and cons of J Street and it's approaching big conference. The Big Question is if J Street is pro Israel, as it professes, or not, as many observers think (Goldberg isn't sure either way).

I'm confident that 99% of Israelis have never heard of J Street. This is an American issue, in spite of purportedly being about Israel. Still, one Menachem Pritzker, a reader of the Goldblog, has a comment which sums it up neatly, to my mind:
Are there any other examples of a Washington lobby that knows "better" than
the party they're lobbying for? Would it be possible, say, for a group to
lobby for raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes to 25, and doubling
tobacco taxes, and still get away with calling themselves a "pro-tobacco
lobby?" Why would they even want to?It seems ridiculous to me that a group
with positions farther to the left than Meretz could position itself as lobbying on
behalf of us. From an Israeli perspective, this whole J-Street episode has
been insulting, upsetting, and very confusing.

Jews in the American Military

Ever since the advent of national armies at the beginning of the 19th century, serving countries which sooner or later gave equal rights to their Jewish citizens, it has been interesting to see how the Jews relate to service in their armies. Germany's Jews were very proud to serve in WWI. Soviet Jews served en masse - like everyone else - in WWII; I've seen estimates that as many as 200,000 Jews died as soldiers of the Red Army (and they're not counted as part of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis).

Nowadays, it's a rare European Jew who signs up to the military of his country, even in countries that nominally have conscription.

How about the US? Of course, during WWII Jews were conscripted and fought proudly. Anecdotal evidence indicates that by the 1960s and Vietnam, however, they were preferring not to. Offhand, I can think of only one single American Jewish acquaintance of my generation who has served in the US military. Here's an article from the Forward about Captain Benjamin Sklaver, who was killed recently in Afghanistan; while it lacks full statistics, it seems to say there aren't many Jews in the American military.

Seen from the perspective of an Israeli, this is a bit strange: America is at war, after all, and it's very (very) good to its Jews, so you'd think more of them might wish to pay back a civic debt. But perhaps not.

Human Rights Watch Watch: Self Reflection

If you take human rights watchers seriously - which used to be the right thing to do but gets ever harder - perhaps their single most important goal must be to get their targets to reflect, and change their ways. One way or the other, the point of the exercise should be to make things better, by having the human rights transgressors stop being transgressors. This can happen after external pressure, but mostly it's hoped to come from within. (The founding impetus for the whole phenomenon, the Helsinki Accords in 1975, was intended to force the Soviets to better their ways).

What happens when the watchers themselves are called upon to reflect? They don't.


Analysis of the Gaza Operation and its Possible Implications

Two fellows who know about armies, one an Israeli and the other a not-Israeli, have written a report on the military aspects of the Israeli attack on Hamas forces last January, and how this may play out in future clashes. I read the executive summary, which convinced me the rest is probably interesting. Some other time, alas.

Silverstein Responds

Richard Silverstein e-mails an explanation on why it took so long to allow my comment to appear on his blog: it could have contained a death threat. Lest he accuse me of cherry picking his words, here's the full text:
Your comment was moderated as all first time comments are because very
often first time comments at my blog contain death threats & other
abuse. When comments dispute my views I sometimes hold off on publishing
them until I have time to write a reply, which is what happened to yr
comment. So you might want to add to yr dyspeptic post the fact that I
haven't censored yr comment at all & intend to publish it.If you weren't so
snarky & merely wrote asking when the comment would be published you might
actually have gotten a respectful reply. Richard

True to his word, he indeed posted my comment and his response. I leave to you to decide if his response was so weighty as to require the pondering period he apparently needed before penning it. (I know. No-one pens anything anymore).
In fact, I doubt YOU have read the rpt. There are actual elements in the rpt
which can legitimately be criticized. But you haven’t found one. But arguing
about whether Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination dealt the peace process a fatal blow
or not is a silly point to use as your primary basis for arguing the Report is
wrong. Can’t you do any better than that?
And then writing an entire blog
post because I didn’t get around to approving yr moderated comment is even
sillier. But hey, knock yrself out.

There will probably be future installments to this story, but not now. Too many other things on my plate - such as completing the reading of the Goldstone report; I'm about half way through, and it's a fascinating document.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Richard Silverstein: Courageous Coward?

I can't tell you much about Richard Silverstein. He's a figure of some prominence in the small corner of American Jewry which actively dislikes Israel as the Israelis understand it - though he might say he's against AIPAC, not Israel. He's probably in his late 50s, and I'm not clear if he's ever held a real job, with real responsibilites and the need to make decisions that are inevitably less optimal than you'd like; on the other hand, he's got three children, and raising children is a reality-based occupation. So who knows.

He runs a blog called Tikkun Olam; Make the World a Better Place. Yes, that Tikkun Olam. With a vengeance. As long-time readers will remember, from time to time I choose a blog from part of the spectrum I sorely disagree with, and follow it for a while to see if I can figure out what makes its author tick. I followed Juan Cole for quite a while; Glenn Greenwald swiftly turned boring and predictable, and Mondoweiss - well, they're so full of hatred there wasn't much of a handle on which to hang a rational reading. The good people at CiF Watch are doing a fine job so I don't need to, though I do follow the Guardian in general, not only CiF, as a long-term proposition.

At the moment I lack the time to adopt Mr. Silverstein and his blog, but maybe later.

I did however have an interesting introduction to him this week. I was sent to a post on his blog with a report on a large conference call some 150 progressive rabbis had with Richard Goldstone. Having read it, I left a comment, only to learn that Silverstein doesn't just let folks leave comments on his blog: you've got to earn it by hewing to the party line, apparently. That was yesterday; in the meantime he has published a comment that was submitted since I submitted mine, so he's clearly decided to block me.

Google being what it is, I can leave record of the blocked comment by writing this post on my blog, which contains all the words connected to the matter, so even if it's not at his blog, it is on the record. Again, here's Silverstein's post, and here's what I posted:

October 19, 2009 at 5:29 AM
I wonder how many of the 150 rabbis have actually read the report. The bias in it is so profound and counter-factual that I have my sincere doubts if Judge Goldstone himself read it carefully. Take, as a simple example, the statement in para 179: “The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli extremist in 1995 dealt a lethal blow to the peace process.” There are indeed many people who believe this, but they’re all in a particular and easily identifiable camp of observers of the Israeli-Palestinian confllict; it is also easy to find numerous factual problems with the statement. In any case, the issue isn’t relevant to the mission of the fact finders; it was only inserted as part of a clumsy attempt to frame the Gaza operation in an a-priori anti-Israeli narrative.
Judge Goldstone signed on it. He owns it.

So that's done.

If you're into comedy, by the way, you might be tickled by this post Silverstein put up today, in which he bemoans the fact the CiF didn't publish enough of his columns, so he quit.

Tikkun Olam - A Clarification

Having read the responses from some readers, and re-read what I wrote yesterday about Tikkun Olam, I fear my post showed the weaknesses of blogging. I could have written a better piece on the topic.

It was not my intention to say that Judaism (or any world-religion, for that matter, Islam included), being old, doesn't have ability to guide its adherents through modern arguments. On the contrary. World religions contain accumulated wisdom of millennia (or 1,500 years, in the case of Islam, the youngest of them).

What I was saying is that mining that accumulated treasure so as to bolster a particular new-fangled idea is intellectually dangerous and potentially dishonest; by cherry picking a particular strand of a culture without recognizing its context one runs the danger of losing precisely the accumulation of wisdom.

Two examples from present day Judaism.

Judaism gives tremendous importance to Erez Israel, and also to the cohesiveness of the Jews as a national group. Yet by focusing merely on that it is possible to justify the wackiest hoodlums at the edge of the settler movement; even if you're careful not to go that far it's still possible to see the settler movement as more central to the existence of the Jews than it deserves (and see the occasional musing even among the settler's intellectual leadership about how perhaps they haven't lost most of the Jews by giving the settlements a priority they should never have had).

The Tikkun Olam camp is the mirror reflection of the settler movement (not it's loony and criminal elements) in that they also glean concepts that really are there, pare off most context, and give their ideas a significance they don't really have. Does Judaism contain ideas, indeed, uniquely compelling formulations of universal aspirations, for complete peace and justice? Yes, it does. Long before other cultures did, too. Yet the earthy, realistic considerations never get lost in mainstream Judaism. Aspirations are great; living in the flawed world is more important. Judaism is not about fixing the world - or perhaps it is, but in a very complex way which does not much resemble the political behavior advocated by the Tikkun political camp, who owe more to modern political impulses invented in the past few centuries. Judaism is too worldly to get swept off its feet by such ideas, even if some of them can be traced back to it.

Human Rights Watch Watch - From the Top

Richard L. Bernstein was a founder of Human Rights Watch, and its chairman for two decades (1978-1998). Yesterday he published an op-ed in the New York Times telling how the organization has lost its way. It was set up to guard human rights in countries where there is no-one to do so; there are alas many such countries. Instead, it obsessively fulminates against Israel, a country with all the tools to investigate itself:
Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.
Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Bernstein's vision for HRW is the sort of thing any right-minded person would support, and such an organization would be a source of pride. Instead, the noble agenda of human rights has been hijacked to serve as a handmaiden to the worst mankind has to offer.

Do you think the present team at HRW will listen to Bernstein? Can they listen? Can anything reach them?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tikkun Olam

A number of readers have posted thoghtful questions over the past few weeks, to which I haven't related, mostly for lack of time. I have however made myself a list of comments I should respond to by and by. Here's one.

A reader asked me what my position is on Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew term which literally means "fixing the world", and which has become a recognized term in English, at least in broad circles of progressive thinkers in America but perhaps also beyond; I expect Richard Goldstone sooner or later will tell us he's engaging in Tikkun Olam.

Judaism is a very (very) old religion, and it pre-dates all the major ideological fault lines of the modern world by two or three millennia. So in that context, it's meaningless to speculate what "traditional Judaism" thought about the role of government in redressing the woes of society, for example. The Bible says nothing about health care one way or the other, and the Talmud has no position on international law. True, some of the most visionary and uplifting sentiments in human history come from the Bible - the aspiration to a world without war, and a world ruled by justice (until you begin to look closer and it turns out mercy may trump justice). Yet the same Bible - sometimes, the very same prophets - also contains some extraordinarily harsh sentiments about the fate of evil people and evil nations.

Anyway, traditional Judaism as developed by the Pharisees - the only group that culturally survived the cataclysm of the destructions of the first and third centuries - was a practical culture, and mostly shied away from visionary meta-schemes. Tikkun Olam is a perfect case. It's a Talmudic term, and as I've explained here, and also here, it doesn't mean what the English language thinks it means. Tikkun Olam in Talmudic tradition is a legal mechanism for resolving some kinds of complications which can arise from pedantic readings of the law.

So you've got some Biblical prophetic statements that contain a yearning for a theoretical perfected world (but no program to reach it). You've got the earthy rabbinic scholars who don't worry about perfection of the world and focus on the here and now. To be fair, in the middle ages there are once more Jewish voices that talk about perfecting the world, indeed, perfecting all of existence; some of those strains of thought then made their way into Hassidic Judaism, three hundred years ago - but I really don't think there's much affinity between those ideas and the ones of rabbi Lerner at Tikkun Magazine. The contemporary Tikkun Olam thinkers may not be earthy and pragmatic, but they're hardly religious mystics in the meaning of the Kabala.

Where did the modern usage of Tikkun Olam come from? I don't know. If any reader wishes to point us at some way of finding out, be my guest. I expect that if someone were to trace the lineage, it would be something like 18th century Enlightenment, French Revolution, then the more radical parts of the French Revolution, from there to the utopian strands of 19th century European thought -and about that time, newly enlightened Jews leaving their ghettos and joining the general European discussion, liking one of the camps and going back to their own sources to prove that Judaism said the same thing - which it probably didn't, but that was irrelevant.

This is a subject worthy of more than a blog post, but that's what I'm offering at the moment.

Book Recommendations

One can't read only the Goldstone Report from cover to cover without respite; there have to be other readings to balance it. So here are three quick recommendations about books I've been reading.

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes. This is a rather revisionist look at the New Deal of the 1930s, so it's relevant reading as we watch President Obama revamp the American economy, or not. Shlaes starts with the non-controversial, indeed straightforward fact that for all the fine things Roosevelt's New Deal accomplished, it didn't pull the American economy out of the recession. World War II did that. Her thesis is that it didn't, because it did the wrong things, encouraging various statist experiments while interfering with the power of the free market and especially innovators and industrialists to do it on their own.

It's a provocative thesis, and yes, it's oh-so-very-relevant. Alas, however, she doesn't do much to prove it. She's a fine storyteller, she consistently keeps us engaged in her flowing descriptions. She's convincing that Roosevelt was a master politician, but we already knew that, just as we knew the New Deal wasn't a careful application of a fully consistent economic world view. She likes Wendell Willkie, the head of an electric company who eventually ran against Roosevelt as a Republican in 1944, and she positions him as a counter-Roosevelt figure. (Interestingly, Willkie was almost the last Republican presidential candidate ever to be endorsed by the New York Times, but that's a different story).

The problem is that for her thesis to carry weight, not merely to intrigue, it would have had to offer a lot more economics than it does. The book probably would then have been a much slower read, and less fun, but it would have been more convincing, or at least more challenging. As it is, it's more a book of jounalism than economic history. I do recommend it though, for its interesting perspective and cast of fascinating characters and events.

In a dramatic leap we turn to David A. Kessler's The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Kessler is a physician, lawyer, and top FDA bureaucrat who in spite of being as well informed as anyone, didn't manage not to be fat. So eventually he went looking for the science behind this, which he presents in this book. It's almost 300 pages long, and he could have written it in 30 - but again, as with Shlaes, those 30 would have been intense and demanding (and wouldn't have counted as a book). This way, it's a readable book that can be skimmed with no major intellectual challenge.

Kessler's thesis, in one sentence, is that sugar fat and salt make us want to eat more sugar salt and fat. Whether they understand the science or not, the food industry has cracked this truth and does its best to offer what Kessler calls hyper-palatable food, which means irresistible.

I came away from the book with the conviction that the only food one should eat is unprocessed food. As an acquaintance of mine (who hasn't read the book but gets the message) has been saying all along: I never eat anything that was created in a factory.

Near the end of the book Kessler tries to offer ways to free oneself from the tyranny of industrial sugar-salt-fat. He recommends formulating and applying counter-commands, that will block the imperatives of the enticing food we see all around us. It occurs to me that this really may work. I eat only kosher food, so all those yummy-looking extravagances I see all around me when I'm in America: I've never had them, I have no chemically inbuilt memories of how much I crave them, and were I to reach for one of them, my own repulsion would be stronger. I'll bet they taste heavenly, but I have no urge to eat them. On the contrary.

Finally, let's go to Kazau Ishiguro's Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, which just came out a few months ago. It's not his magnificent The Remains of the Day, one of the better books I've read, but it is a very good book. Five short stories, very lightly interwoven, about itinerant musicians (and one itinerant English teacher) and their world.

I liked the way Ishiguro used American English when his narrators are American (or East European), but English English when they're Brits - but maybe that's banal when dealing with a master wordsmith. His depiction of the itinerant's world was new to me: folks who spend their career on the edge of the normative family-work-walking-the-dog-saving-for-retirement world, indeed, they live off that world and encounter it every day, without any apparent feeling of regret for not being in it. Artists who make a living from their art, without high-flying aspirations nor the despondency of not achieving them.

Not that they all live lives of serene contentment: if so, what would the author write about? Most face a flaw in their lives, or several of them; and the stories are not about how they get resolved, either. It being reality Ishiguro would like to comment on, none of the flaws actually go away. At best, they evolve, moving from one state to another. As Jane says in Mr. and Mrs. Smith - hardly a profound cultural creation, that - happy ending are merely stories that haven't ended yet. Ishiguro, however, can be profound, and this is a wistful book, beautifully written, that may well cause you to notice the band in a cafe alongside a piazza in a new way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


On page 200 of the Goldstone Report we find this sentence:

706. The Israeli ground offensive from the east reached al-Samouni neighbourhood around 4 a.m. on 4 January 2009. In addition to the ground forces moving in from the east, there were, in all likelihood, heliborne398 troops that landed on the roofs of several houses in the area.

Should you wonder what that means, heliborne troops (and how would the Commission members have known?), you can follow footnote 398:

One witness told the Mission that on 5 January 2009, walking on Salah ad-Din Street towards Gaza, he saw by the roadside parachutes Israeli troops had used to land in the area.
Israel has not used parachutes in battle since 1956. I've never heard of parachutists in any army jumping from helicopters, because the two methods contradict one another. Parachutists jump from mid-altitude airplanes, and aim at large areas since they cannot be guided to precise points. Helicopters land troops on precise points; the troops jump out from a height of a foot, or three.

I haven't heard of Israeli troops being flown by helicopter into battle in Gaza, but who knows? Maybe it happened. If so, eyewitnesses would be able to tell about it in one, very clear case: if they saw the helicopters coming in, effectively landing, and then leaving troops behind them. It's that simple.

The story told by the witness is straight from some Arabian tall tale. I am totally at loss for an explanation as to why the fact finders would have wished to cast themselves as giving the time of day to such fabulists, but I'm at loss for an explanation about lots of things in their report. Keep in mind, however, that one of the four members was chosen for being a military man, and some of their staff were hired for their military expertize, so it's not that they didn't know better.

Climate Change and Wars

Remember that time the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize gang awarded an American politician because his politics were right? No, not two weeks ago. And no, not Jimmy Carter. The 2007 prize, Al Gore and the UN Climate Change Panel.

Well, somebody did some fact checking:
THE starkest views of climate change paint war as a looming threat. The
idea that violence will erupt as drought and rising sea levels displace people
from their homes is, in part, why the Nobel prize for peace was awarded in 2007
to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. Yet a newly
published study analysing the historical connection between war and climate
throws into question the assumption that rising temperatures and violence go
hand in hand.
Rather, the researchers tell, if the technology to deal with change is there, the change need not be threatening:
The lesson, rather, is that the way to minimise the likelihood of
climate-induced conflict in the future is to continue the process of crop
improvement (for example, by taking advantage of the potential of genetic
engineering) so that heat- and drought-tolerant varieties are available; to make
farmers aware of these new crops and encourage their use; and to promote free
trade and non-agricultural economic development.
Though, truth be told, at the very end of the article there's still this bit of wishful thinking:
That way people will have no cause to fight, and tyrants no excuse to stir them

Touching isn't it. The assumption that people fight only for rational reasons. Here, see if you can apply it on this list.

Suicide Murders Against Muslims

Jeffrey Goldberg tells an interesting story:
Nine years ago, I was in Cairo for an emergency meeting of the Arab League,
which had gathered to discuss the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.
Most everyone at the meeting was supportive of the Palestinian right, such as it
is, to use suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians. Even Amr Moussa, who was
soon to become the secretary-general of the League, argued to me that suicide
bombing represented a legitimate attempt at self-defense. When I saw Moussa in
Cairo, I argued with him about this support. It seemed to me that Arab leaders
would one day reap the whirlwind for their endorsement of this gruesome terror
tactic, and I told him so. But he argued back, saying that the tragic and unique
reality of Palestine -- the special "desperation" of the Palestinians -- meant
that the tactic of sucide bombing would never spread beyond the borders of this
one conflict.. He was wrong, of course, and many more Muslims have since died in
attacks committed by suicide bombers than have Jews or Christians.

So Amr Moussa sincerely felt the Israelis were (are?) uniquely evil, did he. Today the suicidists have added the Iranian leadership to their list of enemies so evil one should die to kill them. It's a very long list.

Educated Haredim

The academic year started this morning. My son who's at Tel Aviv U called me earlier - he hadn't taken his Notebook this morning, and could I please use his password to find his personal section on the university's website to look up the classroom he was supposed to be in, because the information on the board in the entrance to the building was clearly wrong.

I'm reasonably technically literate as old codgers go, but the way technology has changed the way we do things can still give me pause.

So it's good to see yet another little piece of evidence that our Haredi community is finally accepting their need to have academic qualifications. They're moving incrementally, not revolutionarily, but they're moving. This is important for all of us, on many levels. It will enahnce their ability to pay for themselves; it will enrich their lives; it will enrich ours, too, if this rapidly growing minority among us figures out how to combine modernity with tradition better than they've been doing.

Bombing Civilians

The New York Times magazine has a long profile of Stanley McChrystal, written by Dexter Filkins, who made the effort of embedding with a number of American fighting units in Helmand last summer, before talking to the usual suspects Stateside.

He appears to be an impressive man, does the General. I especially liked this little snippet
Yet for all his asceticism, McChrystal displays a subtlety that suggests a wider
view of the world. “If you were to go into his house, he has this unreal
library,” Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, McChrystal’s intelligence chief and longtime
friend, told me this summer. “You can go over and touch a binding and ask him,
‘What’s that one about?’ And he’ll just start. His bad habit is wandering around
old bookstores. He’s not one of these guys that just reads military books. He
reads about weird things too. He’s reading a book about Shakespeare right now.”

Indeed, weird.

President Obama hired him for his present job, and I'm unabashedly hoping Obama will let him try to do his job as he understands it. Still, here's a story about how the war in Afghanistan was waged for its first eight years, and apparently sometimes still is, in spite of the General's attempts to change things. It's a story about a standard morning conference with the five generals who serve directly under McChrystal - an American, a German, an Italian, an Dutchman and a Frenchman:

One by one, the generals scrolled through the events from the day before: a
roadside bomb in Khost, small-arms fire in Ghazni, a British soldier killed in
Helmand Province. Then one of the European generals started talking about an
airstrike. A group of Taliban insurgents had attacked a coalition convoy, and
the soldiers called for air support. A Hellfire missile, the European general
said, obliterated an Afghan compound. The general — he cannot be named because
of the confidentiality of the meeting — was moving on to the next topic when
McChrystal stopped him.
“Can you come back to that, please?” McChrystal said. McChrystal’s voice is higher than you would expect for a four-star general.
“Yes, sir,” the European general said.

“We just struck a compound,” McChrystal said. “I would like for you to explain to me the process you used to shoot a Hellfire missile into a compound that might have had
civilians in it.”
The European commander looked at an aide and muttered something. The killing of Afghan civilians, usually caused by inadvertent American and NATO airstrikes, has become the most sensitive issue between the Afghans and their Western guests. Each time civilians are killed, the Taliban launch a campaign of very public propaganda.
“Were there civilians in that compound?” McChrystal asked. He was leaning into the microphone on the table.
The commander started to talk, but McChrystal kept going. “Who made that
decision?” McChrystal said.
An aide handed the European general a sheaf of papers.
“I’m sorry, but the system is not responsive enough for us to get that kind of information that quickly,” the general said.
McChrystal’s face began to tighten. Generals tend to treat one another with the utmost deference.
“We bomb a compound, and I don’t know about it until the next morning?” McChrystal said. “Don’t just tell me, ‘Yeah, it’s O.K.’ I want to know about it. I’m being a hard-ass about it.”
The European general looked down at his papers. “It seems it was not a Hellfire missile but a 500-pound bomb,” he said.
McChrystal took off his reading glasses and looked around the room — at the video screens and the other American officers.
“Gentlemen, we need to understand the implications of what we are doing,” he said. “Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction. A guy with a long-barrel rifle
runs into a compound, and we drop a 500-pound bomb on it? Civilian casualties
are not just some reality with the Washington press. They are a reality for the
Afghan people. If we use airpower irresponsibly, we can lose this fight.”

A European general. We're not told his nationality, but I'd love to know how the ambassador of his nation voted last week at the UNHRC as it tore into Israel for the way it wages war.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mourning for Jerusalem

The UNHRC decision yesterday took the deeply flawed Goldstone Report, pared off the few sections that were critical of Hamas, and added condemnation to Israel for trying to keep the peace in Jerusalem, an issue which has nothing to do with anything - or perhaps, has everything to do with it.

In a few days the Daf Yomi brigade will reach this story (I'm still a few pages ahead):

After the destruction of the Second Temple many of the Pharisees decided never again to eat meat or drink wine, as a statement of their grief. Rabbi Yehoshua engaged their leaders in conversation, and asked why?
- Because with the destruction of the Temple we can no longer bring sacrifices, nor pour wine on the altar.
- Well, then why eat bread? Bread was part of the ritual, too?
- You're right. We won't eat bread, either, only fruit.
- But fruit [in the broader meaning of agricultural produce] shouldn't be consumed either. After all, we used to bring our tithes to the Temple, and we can't do that anymore?
- You're right. We'll only eat agricultural produce of the sort that wasn't brought to the Temple.
- But water? We can't drink water anymore, either, can we? Water used to be poured on the altar?

To this they had no answer, and Rabbi Yehoshua continued:
My children, come and I'll try to resolve this for you. We can't not mourn. Yet we can't mourn too much, for if we do there will be no life. So we must mourn as part of life, thus: When a man paints his home he should leave a small section unpainted. When preparing a feast, he should leave a small part unprepared. When a woman puts on her jewelry, she should put on a bit less. As it is written, "If I forget thee Jerusalem, let my right hand wither". [This was written after the destruction of the First Temple, so Rabbi Yehoshua was referring to a cultural tool which had already proved itself]. And whoever mourns Jerusalem will yet see her in her celebration.

Bava Batra, 60b

Did Rabbi Yehoshua know that he was fine-tuning the culture of mourning to a level - not too harsh, but not too easy, either - that would be sustainable for almost 2,000 years? I doubt it. Yet the impulse was clearly there. Mourning must fit into life.

The significance of the story isn't the ancient legend, but the fact that ever since it has been possible to see Jewish homes with a patch of unpainted wall, zecher lachurban, a memory of the destruction. Because the balance Rabbi Yehoshua sought was correct, we have indeed, after a very long time, seen Jerusalem rebuilt as the capital of the Jews.

In Yemin Moshe, a neighborhood across from the wall of the Old City, there is a wealthy man who recently refurbished his home. Instead of leaving an unpainted patch, he had an artisan use a new-fangled technology to etch page 60b into a block of Jerusalem limestone, and mount it in his living room wall.

Is this a sign of mourning, or of celebration?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Richard Kemp on the Gaza Operation

I'm taking the unusual step of copying an entire post from another blog. It's the transcript of Richard Kemp's testimony earlier today before the UNHRC, lifted from UN Watch:

Self-Defense is not a Crime of War

UN Watch Oral Statement

Delivered by Colonel Richard Kemp, 16 October 2009UN Human Rights Council: 12th Special Session

Thank you, Mr. President.

I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.

Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.

Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jilani: Approaching the Matter with an Open Mind

Last Goldstone post for today, I promise. (Eventually he and his report will slip into the dustbin of history where it belongs; I'm just doing my two bits to smooth its way).

Hila Jilani is the Pakistani woman who was on the Goldstone Commission. I don't know much about her, but if you believe her own words, it's pretty clear why the HRC people thought she would make a fine member:
Jilani said the panel was aware of Israel's record of ignoring
international law and discriminating against Palestinians internally. And that
Israel had held probes that had effectively whitewashed its military actions in
Gaza. Yet the panel wanted the council to give Israel a chance to hold
transparent and credible investigations...
Yet Israel has "absolute responsibility as an occupying force toward the
civilian population, a responsibility that has very clearly been violated."
Israel has kept the Palestinians "under an extremely repressive occupation for
40 years" and, then, launched the war on Gaza – "a step too far."

Rule number one when setting up a commission: always choose the members to insure the result you wish to have.

United Nations in La-La-Land

One Hillel Neuer was tweeting earlier today from the UN Human Rights Council meeting.

The gravity of the event is encapsulated in his quote from the speech of the Sudani representative:
Israel spared neither women nor children, neither mosques nor homes...not even


Goldstone in La-La-Land

Page 134 of the report:

439. The Mission also addressed questions regarding the tactics used by Palestinian armed groups to the Gaza authorities. They responded that they had nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with al-Qassam Brigades or other armed groups and had no knowledge of their tactics. To gather first-hand information on the matter, the Mission requested a meeting with representatives of armed groups. However, the groups were not agreeable to such a meeting. The Mission, consequently, had little option but to rely upon indirect sources to a greater extent than for other parts of its investigation.

Translation: the Mission=the Commission
Palestinian armed groups=Hamas, Islamic Jihad, perhaps el-Aksa Brigades. Anyone fighting Israel.
Gaza Authorities=Hamas.

So the Commission didn't talk to the Israelis, it didn't talk to any Palestinians who might have admitted to fighting the Israelis, the "authorities" had no connection with the fighters, none whatsoever, no Arab-language documentation of government was sought nor seen, no Hebrew-language documentation was seen, no Hebrew-Arabic intelligence documentation was seen.

Of such materials are important international documents forged.

But, But... We Love The Israelis!

Selcuk Cobanoglu, the producor of the Turkish antisemitic TV program unveiled yesterday explains that he loves Israel, loves the Israelis, and the bloodthirsty soldiers depicted in his program - you can see them on Youtube - aren't even Israelis, though the story takes place in Palestine. Then again...
It is very important that I stress that we love the people in Israel. We love the Israelis. "We know that Israel didn't do these things, but there are small groups who did things like this sometimes, they killed children and things like that. We made the series about them, not about Israel directly," he said. He continued to ask the question, "Does the show reflect reality?" and answered, "In Operation Cast Lead 300 children were killed. Muhammad al-Durra was also killed. Is this logical?"

So the man's an antisemite, and a wolly-minded thinker, and a coward. All at the same time. Impressive.

Politics, Not Law

We've been having a discussion here about whether Richard Goldstone read the report that bears his name. The significance of the matter can be overestimated - the report and its content are out there in any case. Yet the fact that the Commission was headed by a Jew with connections to Israel has given it tremendous added weight; the man thus opened himself to personal investigation, certainly in the context of his report.

Warren Goldstein, a South African rabbi with a PhD in International law, claims in his column published yesterday in the Jerusalem Post that there is very little about the report that is legal, and much that is politics. One of the four procedural weaknesses he finds in the work of the Commission is the impossible haste with which it did its job:

Any lawyer with even limited experience knows that there was just not
sufficient time for the Mission to have properly considered and prepared its
report. One murder trial often takes many months of evidence and argument to
enable a judge to make a decision with integrity. To assess even one day of
battle in Gaza with the factual complexities involved would have required a
substantial period of intensive examination. According to the Mission's Report,
the Mission convened for a total of 12 days.

They say that they considered a huge volume of written and visual material
running into thousands of pages; they conducted three field trips; there were
only four days of public hearings; and yet in a relatively short space of time
the members of the Mission agreed to about 500 pages of detailed material and
findings with not one dissenting opinion throughout.

They made no less than 69 findings, mostly of fact, but some of law and
within those 69 there were often numerous sub-findings.

All of this was quite simply physically impossible if the job had been
done with integrity and care.

Civilian Investigation: Pros and Cons

According to Haaretz, the Americans, British and French are pressuring Israel to launch a civilian investigation into the events of the Gaza operation.

Such an investigation would likely to be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice - Aharon Barak is the obvious candidate - joined by a prominent academic figure and a retired general. It would sit for six months or a year, and eventually submit a thick report in two sections. One would be for public and international consumption, and would address all the issues relevant to the public, political and international discussions. The second, classified, section would focus on the minutiae of military practice; it will remain classified for decades, for obvious reasons. So far as I know, the classified section of the Agranat Commission's report, submitted in 1974, is still not open.

There are pros and cons to such a move.

The most obvious reason not to set up such a commission is that it would seem to vindicate the Goldstone Commission's findings, at least until the results are published. Given the degree to which the Goldstone Report really and truly is an unaceptable document- a very large degree - this is a legitimate consideration.

The second reason not to have a civilian investigation is that the international practice in democracies is not to have them. The investigations Israel is already holding are as professional and legally sound as those the Americans and Europeans hold, and their pressure on Israel to do more is hypocrisy (or power politics, which is similar). Remind me who headed the civilian investigation into the battles of Faluga, say?

The pros are more numerous. First, once the Barak Commission refutes the main findings of the Goldstone report - and it will, there can be no doubt about that - the world will have to divide itself on this matter into two clear camps. The one that accepts Israel as a democracy fighting an ugly enemy with reasonable measures and some room for improvement; and the one that uses whatever tools it can to attack Israel, irrespective of facts or rationality. True, the existing investigations should be enough, but for some people, Aharon Barak's presence will be reassuring.

This consideration also touches the whole issue of international law; a Barak Report will bolster the saner of its advocates and proponents.

Next, Israel has held such investigations for all its wars since 1973, and for various less-than-war cases in between. None of them have ever damaged us, and they've all strengthened us. There really is eternal room for improvement, and serious investigations by serious professionals always find valuable things.

Further, the reading of the Goldstone Report is uncomfortable. Yes, it's biases are outlandish, its methods are worse than primitive, and it's riddled by factual mistakes. Yet it's impossible not to read the litany of horrific things it describes and remain untouched. A civilian investigation would have the tools and the time to do what the individual reader cannot: sift through the endless details and do its best to reach the truth.

So, will there be such an investigation? I'd hazard the guess there won't. I don't see the Netanyahu government setting it up right now, since they've correctly decided to lambast the Goldstone Report with everything they've got; this, in spite of the fact that it wasn't them, it was the previous government (which contained the same minister of defense, that's true).

Should there be such an investigation? I think it would be the grown-up thing to do, yes.