Friday, July 30, 2010

From Goldstone to Wikileaks

Robin Shephard, writing from London, notes that the tools crafted against Israel will soon be used against the UK (and America, Germany, Australia, and anyone else engaged in the currect war in Afghanistan). And the next wars after that, I'd add, wherever they might be, unless we assume Mr. Assange and his ilk are going to but an end to war.

The Goal of BDS is No Israel

Noah Pollak sends a link to this YouTube about the real goals of the BDS movement: not peace between Israel and Palestine, but No Israel.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Roaming with Dror Etkes

Michael Totten and I spent the day driving around the West Bank with Dror Etkes. Michael is in Israel for a month, collecting stuff to write about, so if you aren't a regular reader of his already, I suggest you make a point of following him now, and see what he has to tell.

Who's Dror Etkes, you ask? Well, that depends whom you ask. The Magnes Zionist says Dror is a hero of his. Yisrael Medad, from the opposite end of Israel's political spectrum, recently wrote about the Dror Etkes he doesn't like. The fact is that Dror, who set up and for many years ran the settlement monitor project at Peace Now before going on to Yesh Din, is a more complex person than most people think. Yes, he's one of the fiercest adversaries of the settler movement, and he likes to give the appearance of a profound skeptic of the Zionist project, but me, I don't buy it. Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan of our radical left, but Dror - whom I've known off and on for 25 years - doesn't fit into their pigeon holes. A Hebrew-speaking Jew who knows every inch of the Biblical heartland like the back of his hand, who cris-crosses it constantly even at times of high security tension; who does his best to know the intricacies of Israel's corridors of power and law so as to insist they live up to their own standards, and who explains his motivation by citing Leviticus 19 verse 16: "neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the LORD" - that's not someone I'd thoughtlessly brush aside. Spend the day with him and you'll learn that he knows more about the settlers and the many gradations of identity and motivation among them, and is generally much fairer about them, than any of the journalists he's shown around over the years. He'll also describe the Palestinians in plausible, non-starry-eyed terms.

I'm not going to try to describe the tour - maybe Michael will - but here are various observations I had during the day.

Set aside Dror's affectation of using the terminology of the Post-Colonial-gang - a patina which adds nothing to explain what's happening on the West Bank - and it's surprising how much his positions and mine overlap.
1. We agree that the conflict with the Palestinians isn't about the borders of 1967, it's about 1947, meaning Israel's existence as a Jewish state.
2. Neither of us thinks removing the settlements will bring peace, though Dror does see this as a necessary condition, and I tend to agree.
3. Both of us mostly agree on which settlements won't ever be removed (Dror may be more expansionist than I, since he sees them all the time).
4. We broadly agree about the motivations of the various strands among the settlers, including that most of them - the Haredis in Modi'im Illit, say, the Russian immigrants in Ariel or the regular folks from Jerusalem who live in Maaleh Edomim - are not primarily ideological. They aren't there to colonize Palestinian territories.
5. While Dror is more stern about it than I - because of what he does and knows - I agree with his analysis of the hard core of settlers who mostly live in the ideological settlements along the top of the hills: they are there to ensure Jewish control of the Biblical heartland.
6. We agree that a large majority of Israelis don't support the settler's project; Dror is persuasive, however, in demonstrating that the majority fears a clash with them more than letting them have their way.
7. We disagree - but not vehemently - about the responsibility the Palestinians bear for the situation. For example, Dror sees a roadblock which has been emptied of IDF troops as a threat to Palestinian freedom of movement that can be re-created at short notice; I see it as a roadblock that will never be manned again if the Palestinian violence doesn't return. We both tend to agree the violence may well return.
8. I agree with Dror that the majority of Israelis neither knows nor cares what goes on on the West Bank. This wasn't always to, but it has been for at least 20 years. Non-settler Israeli civilians never go to the West Bank; even I, who do every now and then, am not aware of most of the details of the story. This means that Israelis sincerely don't understand the extent to which Palestinians regard the settler project as the Israeli project, and distrust us for it.
9. Dror agreed with me that since the Palestinians - effectively all of them - no longer go to Israel, they've lost touch with our reality at least as much as we no longer see theirs. The fact that a solid majority of Israelis wishes to be rid of the occupation, has no interest in the Palestinian areas, and yearns to partition the land and move on to other things, is probably not recognized at all on the Palestinian side.
10. This cognitive disconnect, we both agreed, is a result of the misnamed peace process.

Finally, a point we didn't discuss, and may or may not agree on: It is the Biblical heartland, the West Bank is. I've been advocating an Israeli departure from it since the 1970s - a long time ago. Yet it's the place we come from. You wander its hills and read the Bible, and each hill is in there; each story is on one of them. We've been reading the stories and commenting about them, uninterrupted, since before the Athenians quarreled with the Spartans, a thousand years before the Roman Empire, two thousand years before the major cities of Europe began growing out of unimportant villages. They're not as dramatically beautiful as Norway or Montana, but if you've been participating in the Jewish discussion for the past few thousand years, they're home. You can't roam them and remain unmoved.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Newsflash: World Upside Down

The world has to be quite bonkers when the British prime minster calls Gaza a prison which Israel must open, and Amira Hass says it's the Palestinians doing it to themselves as part of their PA-Hamas rivalry.

I feel the need to retire to a Pacific island for a decade or three. Or a Finnish lake deep in the forest, as long as there's no road or telegraph lines anywhere nearby. Call me when they're done.

Fog of War, Foggy Thinking, Pure Malice

Due disclosure: I have been writing here for years that the American public and that of its allies has not been facing the reality of its wars. The accounting routinely demanded of Israel is on an order of magnitude more severe than what the armies of the free world are called upon to deliver. I've been saying this, however, not so as to damn the Americans and their allies, so much as to call attention to the inconsistent standards. The war against the Islamists, I am convinced, is in its broad outlines not only just, it is essential; it's also inevitable if the free world wishes to remain free.
I've been looking through some of the Wikileak documents from Afghanistan, and I'm sick to the stomach. Unless the various Islamist forces which face humankind are all total idiots without Internet connections and with no ability to read English, these documents will get people killed. No ifs, buts, or any other comfortable lies with which to hide grim reality. Publishing this type of internal military documents and in such quantities, at a time of war, must harm the side whose innards have thus been exposed. It cannot be otherwise.

My personal experience with military-intelligence documentation has been limited to two very different cases. The first was in the 1970s, when at two different moments, one in my regular military service and one early in my reserve duty career, I was sat down on hills and told to observe the Arab country on the other side of the fence. (The earlier case was Lebanon, the latter was Jordan). We were given sheets of paper on which to record boring minutiae. Mind-numbing minutiae, actually, so of course we kvetched. In both cases someone mildly better in the know took us to task, going so far as to demonstrate why our intelligence services needed to know if it had been one uniformed policeman in that village or two, and how often they had come by. It dawned on me at the time that if one had a large enough collection of banal, innocuous and uninteresting data, one might find all sorts of important patterns in them. This was an entire generation before it became fashionable to talk about data-mining, pattern matching and all those things that make Wallmart so good at what it does.

The second, very different encounter, was when I was doing research about the SS and it's Nazi accomplices and collaborators, and I spent a few years poring over the slips of paper the bureaucrats sent back and forth with nary the expectation that I'd ever see them. Some of my fellow researchers and I had the time and patience to read the documents carefully and with a growing understanding of the world they were emanating from, and this enabled us to know not only who was doing what, but what different players would be likely to say - indeed, think - when confronted with some new situation.

So when I glance at a report such as this one, from 19 January 2009, even though I've never in my life seen this particular sort of document, I immediately take note that whoever's doing the reporting is gauging importance of participants in the meeting by the size of their security attachment; or that he (?) infers that Saroubi is likely Saroubi district - i.e that he doesn't know, he's guessing. Not to mention that the Americans know about the meeting at all: how do they know? Who told them? Which observer needed to gauge importance by retinue?

And that's one single document, analyzed on the fly by Yaacov who knows nothing from nothing about the context, the identities, the actions, nothing. Might we assume the connivers who managed to topple the WTC buildings might be able to glean actionable knowledge about their foes by spending a month or five carefully sifting through Wikileak's miraculous trove of operational military documents from an ongoing war?

In the snippet embedded here, Julain Assange says, and I quote: "We have tried hard to make sure that this material does not, umm, put innocents at harm, ahh, all the material is over seven months old, so it's of no current operational consequence, even though it may be of very significant investigative consequence".

At best, Mr. Assange appears to be a blathering idiot, an innocent ignoramus who has figured out a way to show us things we were never meant to see, and without ever stopping to ask why we weren't meant to see them invents a story about the evil powers-that-be and gleefully exposes. Though when he then goes on to pontificate about war crimes, the babe-in-the-dry-woods-with-a-flamethrower theory does seem a bit far-fetched.

The fog of war is often understood to mean the inability of soldiers clearly to see what's gong on around them; in its derivative meaning it then includes the limitations on the rest of us to make sense, at our remove, of what's really going on. Yet there's a third meaning, ultimately the most important one. The fog of war is the inability of each fighting side to know what the other side knows, what it intends, how it understands the battlefield it's in, how much longer it can stay on course. Julian Assange and Wikileaks have removed a huge amount of the fog that has been confusing the Islamists until this week. They will take advantage of it.

Democracies must craft an ever-adapting set of mechanisms to peer through the derivative sort of fog. Yet like all other parts of the democratic decision-making, there's a filter between total participation of all citizens, and real actions. There are elected representatives; there are means of oversight; there are all sorts of checks and balances. Shareholders don't participate in commercial negotiations, patients don't sit in staff-meetings of physicians, voters don't sit in the chambers of legislation, and no outsider is ever allowed into the room where the court or the jury deliberates its decisions. The idea that the military, of all organizations the one that most immediately deals with life and death, can be disrobed for all to see and no harm will be caused is breathtaking in its idiocy and its malice.

Tell Me Who Your Friends Are...

Two of the more prominent Israel-critics in the American blogosphere have come out recently with posts that ought simply put them beyond where reasonable people wish to be seen. Andrew Sullivan is now attacking left-wing journalists for not joining his odious campaign to be repugnant about Sarah Palin's son, and Philip Weiss talks about the Jews who control America's media in a manner which is frankly antisemitic, in its classical form of, say, 1920.

On second thought, you probably don't want to follow either of those links. I've posted them merely for the record.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Sad Book and a Funny One

The Economist is ultimately a British publication, much as they do aspire to be worldly and all that. It shows in their fundamental skepticism in matters of Israel, and sometimes it shows up in the way they offer book reviews for items which have yet to be published in America (and thus can't be delivered yet by, which means they effectively don't exist). Here are two reviews of two very different books which one might have taken to the beach for some light summer reading, if only someone else had had their act together.

First, the sad book, John Calvert's Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism (Columbia/Hurst), reviewed by The Economist here. Sad, but probably important.

Then there's this one, by John Gross: The Oxford Book of Parodies. Going by the few snippets offered by The Economist here, this one's probably a delightful book.

Israel's Best Friends and Supporters

On some days of the week you'll hear that America's Jews are Israel's most important friends and allies, and must be treated accordingly (by having a say in Israeli legislation, say, or perhaps even in Israeli political decision-making). On other days of the week you'll hear other melodies, such as that Israel's increasing bellicosity or extremism are forcing America's Jews to lose interest and wander off. (Assuming of course that the bellicosity and extremism are demonstrably true - a highly unlikely proposition, of course).

Actually, the case for the involvement of non-Israeli Jewish communities in matters of Israel is more complex, and doesn't rest, ultimately, on the degree of support they evince, rather on their strength as parts of the Jewish people and the relationship between Jews. In the meantime, however, over the past few years I've been wondering if it's intellectually honest to make the claim about America's Jews being number one supporters at all. There are these folks over here, who seem to be considerably more numerous, probably stronger politically, and, let's face it, these days probably more adamant in their support than too many of America's Jews. Moreover, if the description is accurate, they're putting considerable effort into multiplying their numbers:

Attendees of this year's gathering are visibly different from those in the past: about one in five of the 5,000 participants was from a Hispanic Church. “Last year we had about 300 Hispanics, but this year we started specific outreach to the Hispanic churches where Spanish is a language of worship”, says David Brog, the executive director of CUFI. “We have started an outreach to African-Americans. It was always our goal to broaden our base ethnically, geographically and theologically”.

Haaretz, predictably, inserts a You-Tube video with Medea Code-Pink Benjamin in the article, since she's an important part of the story, I suppose. Given that Benjamin actually is Jewish, I'm not certain they thought through the implications of that one.

Elinor Joseph's Nice Story

Lots of important things to think and write about today, no time to do the thinking and writing, however. So instead, here's a very nice story to warm some cockles. It's propaganda, yes, and a puff story, most very definitely, but it's also true - not something one can say with confidence about much of what gets published in the media these days.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Sun Rises in the East

Everyone and their cousins are all excited and agog about yesterday's Wikileaks exposure of 90,000 (exactly 90,000?) documents from the war in Southern Asia. I expect the story will serve well as a litmus test or Rorschach blot to demonstrate what everyone thought previously. Me, I don't have the time for 90,000 documents, so that leaves me to chose which pontificator to believe. On balance, I think I'll follow The Economist, which itself follows Andrew Exum aka Abu Muqawama: The macro story in the documents is novel only if you haven't been watching anyway these past few years.

As for the micro-story, that's a different matter. Will any ISAF troops be killed now or later because their enemies are carefully reading the documents and making tactical changes to the way they wage war? I expect so. Any civilians? Any of us?

Declaring Loyalty to One's New Country

It's summer, nothing is happening anywhere in the world, the boredom is killing us and we've got to find something to talk about. Israel's government has decided it might be great to discuss a new loyalty oath for new citizens. To be clear: the oath under discussion will never play any role in the lives of existing Israelis, whether they be Jews, Arabs, Russian non-Jews, Portuguese Catholic priests* or anyone else. Nor will it effect future Israelis born into that status. The oath under discussion will be recited by people who are opting to become Israelis, as an expression of free choice. Many of them will be Palestinians marrying Israeli Arabs, or Palestinians in East Jerusalem wishing to ensure that no future peace agreement separates them from Israeli social benefits and health care.

According to Haaretz, members of the cabinet can't agree on what should or shouldn't be in the oath; even members of one party in the cabinet, Likud, can't agree among themselves.

Shlomo Avineri notes that lots of democratic states have such oaths on the way to gaining citizenship: Norway, Britain, Australia, the US. A respectable club to be in. However, he suggests using intelligent language, rather than a blunt formulation:

The question that remains is whether the expression "Jewish and democratic state" is the right formula. Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor felt that this language is an unnecessary provocation of Israel's Arab citizens, and he is right. In "A Strategy for Immigration Policy to Israel," a position paper issued by The Metzilah Center that I authored with Amnon Rubinstein, Ruth Gavison and Liav Orgad, we proposed a formula that requires acceptance of "the legitimacy of the State of Israel," since that is precisely what Israel's enemies wish to deny it.

What's more, anyone who opposes such a formula (and there are such extreme elements among Israeli Arabs ) will thus prove that he is not interested in civil rights but the denial of Israel's legitimacy. The demand for a pledge of allegiance with substantive content is therefore acceptable and justified, but it is not too late to choose language that is both more substantive and less vulnerable to criticism.

* The Portuguese Catholic priest who's an Israeli citizen is not an invention.

Professor: The Jews Are at the Center of All Creation

Juan Cole hosts a colleague of his, one Prof. Farhang Jahanpour, an Iranian scholar who teaches at Oxford. It's a long article, some of its content is plausible, some less so, and much of it deals with things I know less about than the professor. The reason I find it worthy of record is its beginning: We're ten years after the Camp David negotiations, and their failure doomed the world to its present turmoil:

... However, the deal broke down over the issue of Jerusalem as the result of Israel’s insistence that it was the “eternal, undivided capital of Israel”. If agreement had been reached at that summit, the history of the past ten years would have been completely different from what it has been. The Israelis and Palestinians would have experienced a decade of peace and security. We would not be talking about the presumed danger of an Iranian nuclear programme, or the estrangement between Turkey and Israel, and we probably would not have witnessed the terrible events of 9/11or the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, the world is going through very difficult times at present. The global economic recession, which according to the Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman could yet go through a double dip recession or even a depression,2 the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict, and the scourge of international terrorism have produced a situation more dangerous than at any time since the Second World War. All these events are fuelling extremism on both sides. On the one hand, the Israelis are talking of the existential threat that they face from a future Iranian nuclear bomb, and on the other hand we hear talk of a Zionist conspiracy and a Jewish-Christian crusade against the Muslims.

It seems to me a reasonable person reading those two paragraphs will understand them as a saying that Israeli intransigence about Jerusalem caused the negotiations to fail, and as a result the Iranians are trying to develop nuclear weapons; also, absent the failure 9/11 wouldn't have happened, the recession wouldn't have happened, there wouldn't be wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or bloodshed in Pakistan Somalia and Yemen, nor would there be terrorism or extremism.

That's what the professor is saying, isn't it?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dead People in AfPak

An Afghan organization has published statistics about civilian deaths in Afghanistan during the first half of 2010: 1,074 civilians were killed, for a daily average of six. Two thirds were killed by Islamists, but ISAF forces killed 210 civilians, 108 were killed by Afghan forces and 67 by private contractors.

Meanwhile, over the border in Pakistan no-one really knows what's going on. The BBC is monitoring things and pretends to have verified numbers for 2009-June 2010: about 2;500 dead people, 700 of them killed by American drone attacks. Who were they: Terrorists? Civilians? No one seems to know. Nor are the numbers particularly helpful, since they don't include people killed by the Pakistani army:
Over the same 18-month period, many more than 2,500 people have died in offensives by the Pakistani army and fighting between troops and militants. Exact figures are impossible to obtain.
Which means the Americans and Taliban together have killed fewer than half the total, but no-one actually knows what the total is. Keep in mind, however, that the main killer - the Pakistani army - is killing citizens of its own country.

If it's in the Newspaper it Must Be True

Here's a collection of useful links from the morning's paper:

Brave and heroic criticism of Israel dept: Some of Israel's enemies are bored college students with no real challenges in life, who yearn to be part of "something big". They have no understanding and no interest in understanding the real people involved, or the impact their actions might have on those peoples' lives.

Brutal Israeli Occupation of Gaza dept: Apparently the Egyptians are willing to let Palestinians in and out of Gaza via Rafah, and thousands are going in and out, but one does need a passport. So if you hear of a story about how some Gazans can't get out for lack of a passport, who do you think should be blamed? Wrong. The PA. Apparently when Hamas kicked the PA out of Gaza in 2007, the PA folks managed to leave with all the unfilled Palestinian passports; moreover, in the years since the PA has convinced the French printer of the passports to send new ones only to Ramallah. Perfidious Israelis. And note, by the way, that there is such a things as a Palestinian passport, and also that the registry of Palestinian populace is in Ramallah. The Mondoweiss gang sometimes says that Israel's control of it proves its occupation of Gaza is still viable.

Peace negotiations and common sense dept: It seems that eventually, 18 months too late, Netanyahu has finally managed to position himself (and all of us) on the right side of the peace talks see-saw. Various international leaders are lining up to call Mahmoud Abbas to urge him to join direct talks with Israel, as Netanyahu demands and Abbas refuses. We all know that peace talks with the Palestinians can't and won't lead to peace anytime soon or even for quite a while afterwords. Which means one of the most important things an Israeli prime minster has to do is ensure that at any given moment, reasonable observers will understand that it's the Palestinian side that isn't interested, not the Israeli side. This week Netanyahu has finally succeeded, and I recommend savoring the moment since it's unlikely to last.

Backward groups in Israel dept: Stanly Fischer, governeor of the Bank of Israel, compares the conditions of Israel's Arabs and Israel's Haredi: the economic situation of the Arabs is improving. The condition of the Haredi isn't. They're growing rapidly, most of them aren't working, and their leaders don't see the problem.

Innocents abroad dept: Dipa Nrianjan, a young Indian student, tells about living in Jerusalem, being homesick, then coming back for more. It's a nice story; it depicts a couple of Israel's warts without turning them into a reason to dismantle Zionism, and along the way it also casts a bit of light on one of the most important stories of the past 15 years or so: how Israel and India are growing closer. Of course, for a while there Israel and Turkey also seemed to be growing closer, and we all know where that led to, but the connection with India may be of a different magnitude, for lack of thousands of years of animosity. I also expect that eventually India will be vastly more important than Turkey ever will be. (Though you might be interested to know that Israel's ties with Greece are improving these days, with the Greek prime minsters insisting this has nothing to do with Turkey).

Other matters dept: Normblog via Twitter sends this link. People are less important and less powerful than they'd like to think, apparently.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Rivers of Babylon Don't Reach Ramallah

The Boney M rock group recently appeared in Ramallah, and sang lots of their songs to an appreciative audience - but not, you guessed it: By the Rivers of Babylon. Someone thought that might be bad karma, or poor taste, or something. You wouldn't wish to offend Palestinians with reflections on Jews pining for their homeland, would you, even if the image is so deeply entrenched in Western culture that rock bands and other popular musicians hum about it.

Since this blog is not Palestinian, however, and as a service for the public, I've collected some musical performances you won't be allowed to hear in Ramallah.

Oops! Sorry, wrong song.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Diplomacy with Englishmen

The new British coalition - or at any rate, the larger, Conservative part of it - intends to change the law that has enabled private individuals to have arrest warrants issued against visiting Israelis. Once the change passes, there will be one less irritation to deal with and, more significant, one less platform for Israel's enemies to broadcast their ire from. This means one less way of creating the (anyway mostly false) appearance of Israel under siege. It will also mean that the UK will be able better to participate in the endless diplomatic moves involving Israel - and that's the motivation for tweaking the law.

Don't End the Occupation! (We Won't Let You, Anyway)

Jonathan Halevi notices the unholy coalition that refuses to accept less than a one-state solution, and right now insists Israel occupies Gaza because if it doesn't...
The Hamas position exemplifies one of the major absurdities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas, which took pride in liberating the Gaza Strip from the Israeli occupation via Jihad, is struggling with all its might to preserve the "Israeli occupation" of the Gaza Strip and obligate Israel to continue transferring supplies to an entity that avowedly declares that it will liberate all of Palestine, liquidate the State of Israel, and kill and expel its Jewish inhabitants. Hamas receives support for its position from international human rights organizations (Amnesty, Human Rights Watch), Palestinians and Israelis. These, similar to Hamas, vigorously argue that Israel is still "an occupying force" and therefore it must concern itself with "the security and welfare of the Gaza residents." Unfortunately, the position of the human rights organizations on which Hamas relies raises substantial questions. If Israel is still an "occupying force” in the Gaza Strip, as they contend, why do these organizations not demand that Israel exercise its obligation to assure the security of the Gaza residents and operate against the Hamas regime, that is gradually applying Islamic law in the Gaza Strip while flagrantly trampling human rights, suppressing the opposition with an iron hand and by executions?

Immediate vs Potential Threats

Israel Harel is to Haaretz as David Brooks is to the New York Times: a moderate right-wing columnist there to prove the paper's diversity. In today's column he puts his finger on a fundamental part of the Conversion Law uproar: That the law is intended to rectify a real problem, in which the Haredi monopoly over conversions is blocking hundreds of thousands of Israelis from becoming Jews. Should it pass, it might well make it harder for some future legislators to achieve what isn't in the cards anyway at the moment, namely the legal recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of marriage in Israel.

Unfortunately I lack the time to study the present issue, to talk to some of the main figures, to read the relevant material beyond the draft law itself - which is an anodyne document that may or may not have serious implications, which may or may not happen. What is clear to me, however, is that the proposed law will not effect the Law of Return nor the current interpretation of it which recognizes Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of immigration. That interpretation stems from a ruling by the Supreme Court, and Rotem's law doesn't effect it - indeed, it doesn't even mention it. It's not about that issue at all.

What is also clear to me, having observed Israeli society for more than 40 years, is that no law could ever force the 40-60% of Israelis who will never accept Reform conversions, to accept them. Were such a law to be passed, the orthodox of all strands, probably backed by a large chunk of Mizrachi secular Israelis, would set up unofficial registries of Jews and marry their children only according to them, thus in effect splitting the Jewish people. I'm not saying this would be nice, or justified, but it would be the reality. That's the reason it hasn't been mooted since the mid 1970s, when Gideon Hausner destroyed his party by insisting on an earlier version of such a law. (No, you've never heard of the party. It's been gone, ever since).

Essentially, therefore, the opponents of David Rotem's law are demanding that hundreds of thousands of Israelis remain in limbo now and for the foreseeable future, so as not to endanger the chance for future legislation that will not happen in our lifetimes, and were it to happen would tear us apart.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gaza, Goldstone, Guardian

Israel has published yet another interim report about its investigations into events during the Gaza operation last year. It's 40 pages - not that long - and you can read it here. I only found the time to skim over it, but even what I saw was quite interesting. Parts of it are the usual hyperbole: legalese, diplomatese, the sort of stuff that's inevitable in such documents. A larger part tells about things Israel is learning for future use, the most interesting being the decision to attach a Humanitarian Law officer to every combat brigade. I expect there may be such institutions in other fighting armies, but I've never heard of them.

The bulkiest part of the report tells about specific allegations and how the investigations into them are progressing. In a few cases criminal proceedings have been instigated. In a few the Palestinian witnesses refused to give legally binding testimony, so the investigations have floundered. In quite a few cases, however, the investigations found differing degrees of justification for the actions of the IDF, and even - hard as it may be to believe - that the allegations were simply false.

Elder of Ziyon tells of a case where someone seems to have planted incriminating evidence, Goldstone and the Guardian ran with it, but the investigation refutes the whole story.

If I had time - I don't - it would be interesting to go back to the Goldstone Report and read it case by case, while comparing its allegations with the present findings. Should anyone wish to do so, I'll be happy to host their report.

The purpose of the whole exercise is manifold. First, it teaches the IDF worthy things about what it did, what it needs to do better, and in general how to be more effective and focused.

The second thing it does is demonstrate to the officials who can be demonstrated to, i.e American officials and some European ones, that Israel takes its behavior seriously, tries to learn from its mistakes, and hopes to limit future mistakes. This is irrelevant in the world of Jew-haters and their twins the atavistic Israeli-haters, but it can be quite significant in the halls of real power.

What it doesn't do is to make any impression on the Jew haters. Take the report of the Guardian, for example. Their reporter, Harriet Sherwood, clearly took the time to download the report and scroll through it. Indeed, she tells us reasonably accurately about the lessons Israel is learning for the future, and by implication, the things the IDF did wrong. Then, at about page 16 of 40, she drowsed off, and thus managed to miss the whole part that compares previous allegations with present findings. Sad.

Since I was already at the Guardian's website, I had a glance at their report about the incident this afternoon in which Israel killed at least one (it may have been two) Islamic Jihad fighters in Gaza. According to Haaretz, IDF forces killed two Jihad men and wounded six additional ones. According to the Guardian, however, one Jihad "militant" was killed, 22-year-old Mohammad Al-Kafarneh, and seven undefined others were injured, one of them a 10-year-old girl. I'm willing to accept - should it be proved - that a little girl was wounded: Islamic Jihad fighters like to have civilians and children about them. Then the reporter (Ms. Sherwood) goes on to make the following statement:

Following the three-week war in Gaza in 2008-9, the Israelis established a 300m-wide "buffer zone" on Palestinian land abutting the hi-tech security fence that marks the border. The aim was to prevent militants from firing rockets into Israel or launching attacks on military posts. Palestinians were warned that anyone entering the buffer zone would be shot dead. The zone has swallowed 30% of Gaza's arable agricultural land, and many farmers have been forced to abandon their crops. [My italics]

30%? Thirty Percent? Really? Almost one third of the arable land in Gaza is crammed into the 300 meters along the border? Does Ms. Sherwood have any source for this astonishing allegation? I ask because when I read it I did some really snazzy, highly complex, truly sophisticated high-tech intelligence investigations, based on my many years of reading John le Carre: I used Google Earth. You can do so, too. Actually, I recommend you do so: don't take my word for it, though I will tell you my word for it: Hogwash. Which is a nicer word than "anti-Jewish lies".

Just as an addendum, about the things the media manages not to tell you, here is Khaled Abu Toameh on the parts of the Palestinian story that rarely if ever get mentioned, in the Guardian or anywhere else.

Regarding that Conversion Law

Israelis are used to the world media trumpeting stories about them which are the opposite of reality. That's the way it is.

We're less used to American Jewry doing the same. Unfortunately, as far as I can see that's what's happening right now. Important figures in American Jewry are in a major uproar over David Rotem's proposed conversion law, which, so far as I can see, doesn't say what they say it says. I'm not going to return to the subject right now, but I've collected some important links:

The bill is delayed until October at the earliest.

Alana Newhouse had an op-ed in the New York Times: The Diaspora Need Not Apply. Her magazine (she's the editor in chief of Tablet) added information here.

NPR weighs in here.

Jeffrey Goldberg says the bill is like telling American Jewry to drop dead. (Actually, he says the message is directed at all of diaspora Jewry, but that's part of the hype).

For a serious discussion of the issue from an Israeli perspective, here's a post from a blog I'd never heard of before - but in this case, they outweigh even the NYT in their understanding of the issue, so far as I can see. I suppose I could be wrong, of course, but nothing the critics are saying is informative - it's all slogans, and not very convincing ones, either.

Ah, yes: here's the law itself. I've got a feeling most of the participants in the discussion haven't read it.

Who's Interested in Palestinian Nationalism?

Danny Rubinstein is a classic Haaretz journalist (even though he's no longer there): left-of-center but essentially a knowledgeable professional. He once wrote a biography of Yasser Arafat (he didn't manage to figure out who the man was, but not for lack of trying).

He has a very interesting article in Dissent, forwarded to me by a reader, about the state of Palestinian nationalism. His theses, in a nutshell, is that it's declining. The Palestinians are less and less interested, and in spite of Salam Fayad's efforts, a growing number are turning towards a one-state solution.

One fascinating tidbit he has dug up is that ever more of the Arabs of East Jerusalem are acquiring Israeli citizenship - perhaps 12,000 of them in the past two years.

While Rubinstein's descriptions and analysis are worth your time, his conclusions about the rise of the single-state option are less convincing to my mind. First, because Gaza is out of the equation. In spite of all the chatter about an ongoing Israeli occupation there, Israel doesn't rule Gaza, and the more time passes, the greater the number of Gazans and Israelis who will have no memory of the days it did. There's a recognized border, there's no Israeli presence in Gaza, and there's no likely scenario I can think of that will change that.

A similar dynamic is developing on the West Bank. First, there's a practical border: the fence. Much of it runs along the Green Line, and most of the rest is close nearby. Settlers can be found on both sides, and IDF troops, but a very large majority of Israelis don't cross the fence, and have written off whatever is beyond it. On the other side are Palestinians, who are effectively moving away from Israel. In the old days of the 1970s and 1980s large numbers of them worked inside Israel, spoke some Hebrew, knew Israelis, and of course they all traveled freely throughout the land. But those days are long since gone. The Palestinians beyond the fence and the Israelis behind it are becoming ever less familiar to each other, not more so.

It's true that the presence of the settlers muddies the clarity - but life is often muddy. The logic of the situation is that the present dynamics will somehow reinforce themselves, not that they'll get rolled back and keep on rolling all the way to disbandment of Israel. Sometimes muddy realities stay muddy for centuries without ever clearing up.

Finally, there's Jerusalem. The fact that the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not enthusiastic about losing all the advantages of living in Israel in order to be part of Palestine is one of the best kept secrets in the world, though it's simple human nature. What happens, however, if significant numbers of them really do acquire Israeli citizenship: can't Israel then claim that the majority even of East Jerusalem is populated by Israelis, and thus must remain united?

If it were up to me, I'd find a way to dismantle the settlements beyond the fence, or at least the smaller and further-flung among them; I'd lope off the parts of East Jerusalem that could easily be renamed as Ramallah South; I'd encourage the uprooted settlers to move to East Jerusalem; and yes, I'd enable the remaining Jerusalem Palestinians to acquire Israeli citizenship. But, as I often say, that's just me.

American Turnabout?

The translators at Haaretz work under pressure, which may be the reason that many of their translated articles read as if they're still in Hebrew. Still, the point generally gets across. And the point in these two offerings from today's edition is that the Obama administration has significantly changed tack on Israel. Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel read the entrails of a recent speech by a high-ranking mandarin:
What became clear was that Obama had decided to change tactics, not to say his entire strategy. After the cold and rough attitude he displayed toward the prime minister during their previous meeting, and the widely reported crisis surrounding Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel in March, the American president did a complete 180 in his public attitude toward Netanyahu. In the place of a chill came a hug. Different analysts have offered varying explanations for the change in Obama's approach. It is possible that the American cabinet decided that the original approach had failed and that a warmer approach would prompt Netanyahu to advance peace talks. It is also possible that fear of an adverse effect of tense relations with Israel on Jewish Democratic Party donors, especially ahead of congressional elections, played a role. What remains unclear is what Netanyahu promised Obama in exchange for the hug he received.
Aluf Benn, meanwhile, describes a fundamental cynicism in the way American administrations run foreign relations:

When the Americans needed China against the Soviet Union, they ignored both Mao's human rights violations and Taiwan. When China was perceived as an economic threat, the United States announced that it was selling arms to Taiwan, officially hosted the Dalai Lama, and acknowledged that there was censorship in Beijing and opponents of the regime were being persecuted. In relations with Israel, the settlements play the role that Taiwan and Tibet play in relations with China - a permanent problem that is emphasized or ignored depending on need. Are they angry with the prime minister? They remember Sheikh Jarrah and Yitzhar. Do they need Israel, or do they want to caress it because of yet another bit of pseudo-progress in the peace process? They back off the Judea and Samaria planning committee.

In spite of the basic cynicism, however, Benn thinks the turnabout is more substantial than mere posturing in the run-up to November's mid-term elections:

When Obama came into office he assessed that the United States had been weakened in the Middle East and hoped to reach an agreement on sharing influence with the regional power, Iran. So he cooled toward Israel and pulled out of the closet the well-worn club called settlements. But that didn't work. The Iranians waved off Obama's goodwill gesture, and the Arab states ignored the Palestinian issue and made it clear that blocking Iran was more important. As the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington said at a conference last week: "A military attack on Iran by whomever would be a disaster, but Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster."
Cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces has become closer and the Americans have opted to emphasize it, unlike their tendency in the past of playing it down. Israel has become a hit in Washington to the point where Shapiro, who praised the defense relationship, went as far as to mention two presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, for supporting a Jewish homeland decades before Herzl. Zionism was born at the White House, and we had no idea.
What is the lesson of all this? As some readers may recollect, I have been saying all along that it takes two years to learn the job of American president. As Obama passes his 18th month in office, he may finally be learning. (Here's hoping). The second comment is that after being a disastrous prime minister first time around (1996-99), Netanyahu seems to have learned his job, too. He understood better than Obama how things might go, and he mostly stood his ground until reality trumped vacuous idealism.

Not that either or both side won't do lots of stupid things from here on, mind you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yvet the Sober

Yoel Markus, an old-time center-left journalist at Haaretz, has a surprising evaluation of Avigdor Liebermann:
In the public eye, he has crafted a double image, neither Bibi's buddy Yvet nor a Rasputin who controls the prime minister. On the one hand he is a force strengthening the Likud, and on the other hand he is virtually the only statesman with a sober, long-range view. He approaches the Palestinian problem not with aspiration for a Greater Israel but with a desire to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict in a way that leaves as few Arabs as possible under Israeli control.
I certainly didn't vote for him, but the fact of the matter is that while his form is often inappropriate, the essence of his positions often is, or at least, his positions are well-informed and plausible.

Things You Can See in Vienna

I was just in Vienna on family-related matters. But I tried to keep my eyes and ears open. Here a some fragments I collected.

Walking through the halls of the University of Vienna I noticed an English-language sign about an international conference titled something like "Exploring alternatives to warfare". Academia in the service of a Weltanschauung, if you ask me, but maybe I'm too sensitive. After all, what could be bad about averting wars?

The entire city was preparing excitedly for Life Ball 2010, an extravaganza for the benefit of AIDS research and the promotion of nice feelings. Come Saturday night part of the show was disrupted by a thunder storm (the police said they were afraid of lightning), but before the disruption the audience was introduced to some groups of children musicians brought from all over the world, to demonstrate that we're all the same and shouldn't squabble. There were girls from the Ukraine dressed as Ukrainian girls do, some South African kids with war paint as is customary in South Africa, and a few other stereotypes. The penny fell when one of the hosts identified a Sari-clad girl with "you must be from India!" Not, mind you, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka: the organizers had cleared safely away from bringing children from complicated places. It might have sullied their message.

These things aren't evil, of course - but they are silly.

When I first lived in Vienna, in 1981, I was struck by the omnipresence of Franz Josef, the Kaiser who had been dead 65 years at the time. Festooned with his outlandish sideburns, his picture was everywhere: on posters, postcards, and of course he was the driving force of the tourist shops (tourism is a very big thing in Vienna). This time it eventually occurred to me I wasn't seeing him much. I can only assume that capitalism is functioning well, and the purveyors of endless trinkets have noticed that Korean and Japanese tourists - or even American ones, for that matter- have never heard of the Kaiser and care even less. I even heard a young local tour guide spend 45 minutes talking about the Opera House; while she repeatedly mentioned the generic "emperor", the words Franz Josef never passed her lips.

Meanwhile, however, some things don't change. On the inner door of a synagogue there's a list of Does-and-Don't-Does: Don't loiter in front of the synagogue. Stay away from anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish demonstrations. If you're confronted or abused by anti-Israeli or Anti-Jewish demonstrators don't respond to them, move away as quickly as possible, and if you must, call attention to your predicament for example by screaming.

Finally, a story related to me by some friends. A business woman was on the phone with a potential supplier whom she had never met. They chatted for some 15-20 minutes, at which point my friend made a comment which indicated she might be Jewish. There was a silence on the line, then her interlocutor said : "Yes, I knew I recognized your upper-class (ober beurgerlich) Jewish High-German". The woman was convinced this was related to anti-semitism; her husband poo-poohed. Yet later in the discussion he was amazed, totally incredulous, by my assertion that American Jews can choose to be American, or Jewish, or both, or neither. "Being a Jew isn't something one can choose! If you are, it's impossible not to be, and even if you wished it the rest of society would never allow it!"

The Plumbing of Israeli Democracy: Tibi Wings It

Here's a hilarious snippet from the Knesset. MK Ahmad Tibi is presiding over a mostly empty chamber, in his capacity as Deputy Speaker. Then it's his turn to speak as a regular MK, but alas, he can't stop presiding since there's no other Deputy Speaker around. Here's the ensuing discussion:
-MK Tibi requests permission of the Deputy Speaker Tibi to address the chamber, in a unique case, from the Speaker's chair.
-Deputy Speaker Tibi authorizes MK Tibi to speak from the Speaker's Chair.
-MK Tibi requests the chamber to listen to his words as if they were being said from the lectern, even tho they aren't.
-Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman: Isn't your honor in conflict of interest?
MK Tibi (or is it Deputy Speaker Tibi? Hard to tell): Yes, I am. We considered adjourning the session, but that would cause a delay, and since there's a semi-final game (this was two week ago) and we wouldn't wish anyone to get home too late we've chosen this option.
-MK Tibi begins his speech: Honorable Speaker, that's me, Honorable Minister, Honorable Chamber....
-MK Nachman Shai (grinning): Time! You have to allocate yourself time (points at the clock).
-Deputy Speaker Tibi: You're right. I'll call myself to order if I speak longer than permitted.

The Art of Successful Tweeting

Here's a chap (I assume it's a he) who has 56,517 followers on twitter, while he himself (perhaps she?) follows no-one. (via Norm-tweet).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ninth of Av

I'm back, and will soon renew blogging, at least for a while. My thanks to the folks who ran some very interesting comment threads in my absence - those of you who don't read the comments sections of this blog are missing out.

In the meantime, we're a few hours into Tisha BeAv, the Ninth Day of Av, on which we commemorate the destruction of two temples and diverse other catastrophes. For those of you who weren't around last year, here's what I ruminated a year ago: The End of Israel?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Offline, Leaving You with Friends

I shall be resolutely offline from now until next Monday or Tuesday. Here are a bunch of nice things to think about in my absence:

Queen Rania of Jordan has published a wildly successful children book about learning to live with people who are different. She is refusing to have it published in Hebrew. Jordan is at peace with Israel since 1994.

Norm has a story about the vitality of Jew Hatred in UK's polite elite society. I'd say it's quite a doozy, except it probably isn't: it actually sounds banal. The UK is at peace with Israel since 1948.

Finally, should you feel bored, you're welcome to visit the blog of Antony Loewenstein, an Australian Jew who fits easily into the Mondoweiss mold. I'm tempted to say that Israel has been at peace with Australia since 1948, but I don't think there's anything particularly typical Australian about Antony. He actually fits better into the tradition of Jews who can't stand Jews, and that's been going on for millennia.

The Fourth and Final Twice Prophetic Song

There have been, and still are, many important creators of shirim Ivri'im, men and women whose names appear over and over in the annals of these songs. None are as central as Naomi Shemer. My thesis in this short series has been that unlike anyone else, she had the ability to offer us a shir around which we could come together at traumatic moments, even though she couldn't have known they were about to come. Yerushalayim Shel Zahav was the first and historically the most astonishing; Lu Yehi was the most healing at one of our moments of greatest need; Al Kol Ele offered a common place to weep when most of us agreed on the need but on little else.

Were I to hazard a guess I'd say the first is the one most likely to last, either because it will reverberate long after peace comes to Jerusalem, or because it will express regret for the second tearing apart of the city once that happens. The two probably contradict each other.

Naomi Shemer's final prophetic song took a quarter of a century to germinate, and became both a prophetic personal elegy and an expression of Israel's never-ending war for its existence. It was written long ago, in 1979, apparently at a moment when Shemer thought she might be dying, and it mourns a death that happens in the month of Tamuz, or early summer. It is sad to die in the month of Tamuz, when the peaches are plentiful - but in Tamuz I will die.

She didn't, fortunately. But eventually, in 2004, she did, just as she had said; that's when her cancer took her. The shir had been around all the intervening years, of course, but now it was suddenly true: she had known.

Then in 2006, again in the summer, we had another war, and the song about dying in Tamuz was so obviously right: just right. Four years ago this month.

Hebrew words
English words
It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz
summer flags are carried to and fro
on the ship's mast, noisy line and it won't stop
for on your summer and harvest, hurrahs fell

It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz
exactly when the peaches are plentiful
and just as all the fruit laughs in the basket
and on your summer and harvest, hurrahs fell

It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz
but/now in mid-Tammuz I shall die
to the fruit gardens that were orphaned
hurrahs afer hurrahs will surely fall
and on your summer and harvest and on everything

It's sad to die in mid-Tammuz

Here's a recording by Nurit Galron, the song's original and most famous singer; the images are all of Naomi Shemer or of her beloved kibbutz of Kineret, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Draft Conversion Law

Bryan asks me if there's anything to tell about MK David Rotem's proposed law to sort out the issues of conversion to Judaism in Israel. This is a fiendishly complicated story that has been festering since the early 1950s at latest, and will continue to fester well beyond the late 2050s, there's no doubt about it. The story is an expression of the unresolved issue of Jewish identity: an issue which has been open since the 18th century won't go away because the Knesset passes a law.

Yair Ettinger, a competent journalist at Haaretz (there are some of those) has a good summary of the issue here. For those of you who haven't been following the story these past 50-some years, Ettinger's article will probably be only mildly helpful, but it's not a bad place to start.

My two bits about the story are as follows:
1. David Rotem is from the mostly anti-Orthodox Israel Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman's party). He's an unlikely person and it's an unlikely party to get American Jewry in an uproar - but that's what seems to be happening.
2. The problem Rotem wishes to solve is the 300,000 non-Jews who have moved to Israel since about 1990, mostly from the former Soviet Union, along with their Jewish family members. They are culturally Israeli Jews, but not halachically, and this causes problems.
3. The direction Rotem suggests going in to resolve the matter is - more or less - to enhance the ability of the state- rabbinate to do conversions. His reasonable assumption is that if lots of state-employed rabbis will have the authority to do conversions, most of them local, municipal rabbis, they will, and the problem will go away. At the moment, only a limited number of rabbis can do conversions.
4. The impediment Rotem is trying to get rid of is the Haredi rabbis, who are not interested in lots of secular Russian Israelis becoming secular Jewish Israelis. Don't ask.
5. It is fascinating, and very revealing, that Rotem's constituents wish the rabbinate to convert them. After all, they could just as easily have chosen to campaign for Reform and (American-style) Conservative rabbis to do so: but they didn't. For whatever reason, they have accepted the position of secular Israelis, that the synagogue they don't go to (because they're secular) is an orthodox synagogue. Fascinating, not obvious, and worthy of additional investigation.
6. In spite of the context, America's Jews or at least their spokespeople are in an uproar: by vesting the authority to do conversions solidly on the state-employed rabbis, a step meant to push the haredi rabbis out of the picture, Reform and Conservitive rabbis will also be pushed out. Funny, isn't it? I expect no-one ever foresaw Reform and Haredi rabbis uniting against the (sort of) modern orthodox ones. But as I said, the Jewish world is a tricky place, and never ever boring.
7. The whole thing probably isn't worth the effort. Netanyahu has apparently stopped the process, and it may well stay stuck for the next generation or three.

Personally, I'd say that any Israeli who lives here speaks Hebrew serves in the army and pays taxes, should be given a little slip of paper saying they're Jews. I've got 2nd cousins in the USA who know nothing from nothing about Judaism and care less, but they're Jews, and these folks aren't? Huh? But that's just me.

The Malice of Haaretz

The Lozowick family canceled its subscription to Haaretz during the Gaza operation of January 2009, feeling silly for paying for hatred. Six months later, however, we were offered a really good deal, and the aggravation had receded a bit, so we renewed.

In April this year we canceled again. The behavior of the paper during the Anat Kamm case was so blatantly beyond the pale that we saw no possibility of continuing our support. The main problem we had was technical: the lines to the subscription department were busy because hundreds (or more) of similarly minded folks were competing with us.

Then began the comic part. Although we had canceled and were no longer paying, the paper kept on arriving at our doorstep at 5:45 every morning. We called in, then called in again, to point out that we really meant it and would they please stop delivering. This went on for another month or two, until eventually they got their act together.

This morning they called: according to their records we've been reading their paper for a long time (I've been reading it since the late 1960s, but I doubt they know that), for whatever reason we seemed recently to have stopped, it's still a fine newspaper, and perhaps we'd like to fix the mistake and renew our subscription. We had the following conversation:
- Haaretz: long tme subscribers etc
- Yaacov: Is that fellow back from London?
- Haaretz: huh?
- Yaacov: the fellow who was staying in London and refusing to come back.
- Haaretz: No, he's still there.
- Yaacov: OK then, that's my answer.
- Haaretz: But...
- Yaacov: If you insist, you can call me one year after he gets back.
- Haaretz: Really? Can I write that in the system? We'll call you a year after he gets back?
- Yaacov: On second thought, no. Don't call us at all.
- Haaretz: But it's such a fine paper. You've been reading it for years, you know how good it is.
- Yaacov: I've been reading it far longer than you think, and indeed it was a fine newspaper. It certainly isn't anymore.
- Haaretz: So you really don't want us to call again?
- Yaacov. Really. Have a good day.

On Moving Behind Internationally Recognized Borders

The deligitimizers of Israel are now launching an attack on Israel's legal system. Not on the IDF, not on settlements, but on the world-class legal system inside Israel. The reason has to do with Israel's withdrawal to the internationally recognized border with Gaza, in 2005.

The 1990s tested the proposition that if Israel recognized the Palestinians and negotiated with them towards a mutually acceptable partition, this would lead to peace. Well, that didn't work, did it.

The Naughts (is that what they were?) tested the proposition that if Israel unilaterally moved back to internationally recognized borders facing Lebanon and Gaza, this would bolster Israel's legitimacy, undermine allegations about its colonial and aggressive policies, garner it international good will and generally strengthen its position. Well, that didn't work, did it.

Rational people generally accept the proposition about causes and effects, measurable means of testing, and accepting their results. Non rational actors wave away all uncomfortable results, invent ways to explain them away even if they contradict previous assumptions, and stick to their positions regardless of facts. I try to be rational, but maybe that's just me.

Naomi Shemer: The Third Prophetic Song

A while ago I wrote about Naomi Shemer's first prophetic song, and then I followed up with a post about her second prophetic song. Tomorrow I hope to write about the fourth prophetic song, but for that I ought first to tell about the third.

In 1967 Shemer foresaw the liberation of Jerusalem. In 1973 she wrote what became the anthem of the Yom Kippur War. In 1980 she did it again, perhaps this time slightly consciously, with Al Kol Ele, For All These Things, another elegaic shir about life and how it can slip away.

There was no way she could have foreseen the events of 1967, or 1973. The events of early 1982, however, were planned in advance: Israel was to uproot thousands of settlers in the Yamit area to the west of Gaza, and a few hundred near the southern tip of Sinai, so that those areas would revert to Egyptian control as part of the peace treaty signed in 1978, and re-affirmed in the elections of 1981. Al Kol Ele never mentions the approaching disbanding - yea, destruction - of the settlements, but she may have had them in mind when she wrote
Save the houses that we live in
The small fences and the wall
From the sudden war-like thunder
May you save them all.

For those of us who dreaded the moment of destruction but felt it had to happen, there was of course a profound irony in the refrain she chose: Don't uproot what has been planted, al na ta'akor natua, since it's a direct allusion to Ecclesiastes chapter 2, which of course says the opposite:
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Still, in the run-up to the destruction of Yamit, Noami Shemer's shir was the rallying cry of those who didn't want it to happen, and a reminder to those of us who did, that peace would come at a real price, especially to those who would be uprooted - a sentiment that's hard to imagine today: can anyone conceive of our present day left empathizing with settlers as they leave their settlements? On that level, Shemer's shir has long lost its prophetic power.

Hebrew words

English translation

Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.

Keep, oh Lord, the fire burning
Through the night and through the day
For the man who is returning
from so far away. Chorus:
Don't uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.

For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

Save the houses that we live in
The small fences and the wall
From the sudden war-like thunder
May you save them all.

Guard what little I’ve been given
Guard the hill my child might climb
Let the fruit that’s yet to ripen
Not be plucked before its time.


As the wind makes rustling night sounds
And a star falls in its arc
All my dreams and my desires
Form crystal shapes out of the dark.

Guard for me, oh Lord, these treasures
All my friends keep safe and strong,
Guard the stillness, guard the weeping,
And above all, guard this song. Chorus:
For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet. Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.

The song has been recorded at least 16 times since 1980. Here's the first,and most famous recording, by Yossie Bannai (1932-2006)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why There Won't Be Peace Anytime Soon

The Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs (JCPA) has a new book about Israel's security needs. You can download it, or view various other materials, films, maps and so on, here. Or you can read Lee Smith's summary, as published at Tablet Magazine, here.

I recommend spending some time looking at their materials. By and large they are right about Israel's security needs, and the more people understand this, the better.

They are also wrong. Their conditions for peace are so far from anything the Palestinians will ever accept as to be effectively non-starters; indeed, they don't seem particularly interested in how their positions will impact a future Palestinian state. This is the reason Ehud Barak departed from the positions of his predecessors exactly ten years ago, in July 2000 at Camp David. He thought he was approaching the end of the negotiations, he expected to reach an agreement with the Palestinians to end the conflict, to partition the joint homeland, and to live in peace. This peace, he felt, would override many of the security imperatives which had informed Israel's positions until that moment.

There was an important precedent for Barak's gamble, his willingness to abandon long-held security considerations in the hope that this would enable a peace that would nullify them: The abandonment of the eastern part of the Sinai in the late 1970s. Israel went to war twice over the Tiran Straights, at the southern tip of Sinai, in 1956 and in 1967; a broad consensus of Israelis agreed that in any future peace agreement Egypt would have to accept Israel's presence at Tiran. Then, in 1978, Begin broke the mold and we've had peace with Egypt ever since. Not European-style peace, but a total lack of killing, which isn't bad. Begin accepted that peace would happen only when both sides felt they were getting an acceptable deal; the JCPA papers don't offer that to the Palestinians, so they aren't truly conditions for peace.

Yet Begin's precedent, as emulated by Ehud Barak and in 2008 by Ehud Olmert, is no longer relevant. Look at the picture used by the JCPA: a simple, stark image, which says far better than any potential set of 1000-words why there can't be peace:
That's Tel Aviv, as seen from the West Bank. Would you risk putting enemy guns on the hill the picture was taken from? And if you would, can you at least comprehend why we're not going to take your opinion very seriously, even if you're the president of the United States?

Since 1993 Israel has performed a series of concrete actions on the ground, changes in the reality, which have weakened its control over the Palestinians. Not one of them resulted in any advantage durable enough to survive two days of violence in September 2000, when the Palestinians launched the 2nd Intifada. Since 2000 the pendulum has swung both ways, with Israel reconquering the West Bank in 2002, and slowly lifting its hand since 2004; with Israel fully evacuating Gaza in 2005, then reconquering less than a third of it in 2009 and again relinquishing direct control and now, slowly, also indirect control. The wary recognition of having an independent Palestine next door, which was the expression of Rabin's position, has been replaced by a Likud prime minister publicly accepting the goal of a sovereign Palestine.

And in all that time, I dare you to find one single concrete step taken by the Palestinians to assure us they, too, are ready for partition. Not words, which can be uttered in English today and denied in Arabic today. Actions. Find me one. Because I could easily write a 10,000-word article about all the things they've done which prove the opposite; actually, I expect I could limit myself to the first half of 2010.

This is of crucial importance. Reaching peace with the Palestinians will mean Israel gives up all those essential security measures spelled out by the JCPA. It will require a gamble with our lives, in the immediate meaning that people we know will die if it goes wrong, if not we ourselves. There's nothing theoretical or hypothetical about this: it will be real people, really dead, just as it already has been. For this to happen the Palestinians need to convince us they can be trusted with our lives. At the moment, nothing comes to mind - nothing - to indicate they can be trusted.

Don't Name the Enemy (con't)

Here's an AP article about how the present American administration really is serious about not naming the enemy:

Lieberman raised the issue in a letter to the White House, saying that "the failure to identify our enemy for what it is — violent Islamist extremism — is offensive and contradicts thousands of years of accepted military and intelligence doctrine to 'know your enemy.'"

In a response to Lieberman, Brennan said the administration hasn't specifically issued any directive barring the use of specific words or phrases. But he said it is important to accurately define the enemy and assess the threat.

"In my view, using 'Islamic extremist' and other variations of that phrase does not bring us closer to this objective," Brennan said in a letter to Lieberman. "Rather, the phrase lumps a diverse set of organizations, with different motivations, goals, capabilities and justifications for their actions, into a single group in a way that may actually be counterproductive."

I continue to insist that this is the rough equivalent of the Roosevelt administration insisting its enemies were "militant Germans who have hijacked their nation, chauvinist Italians who are distorting their country's history and militaristic Japanese generals who have usurped the history of their great nation".

Claude Lanzmann, Still Creative

Claude Lanzmann is the creator of the 9-hour film Shoah, a work of pure genius. I've watched it seven or ten times, and never plumbed its full depths. Each and every viewing revealed something new.

The man himself is, how to put it, a challenge. I remember when we once brought him to meet a group of ours, and all he was interested in was the drink he needed to be able to talk. A friend of mine who had seen the film as often as I commented that there was much to compare between Lanzmann and Richard Wagner - I'll let you figure that one out for yourself.

None of which detracts in the slightest from his creative genius.

The nine hours of Shoah were culled from about 200 hours; he has now taken 50 minutes that didn't make it in, and turned them into a new film, focusing on Jan Karski's meeting with Roosevelt. I haven't seen the film, but can't imagine any reason not to recommend it strongly: Roosevelt, Karski, Lanzmann: what could go wrong? That was even before reading this oh-so-typical interview:
Lanzmann notes that he does not object to fictionalized literature based on historical facts, but "on condition that it adds to the historical truth and does not limit or distort it. Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' created a fictionalized account on the basis of the Napoleonic wars, but it enriched the historical memory and did not limit it. Young authors such as Haenel think that with fiction it is possible to tell all. They write about history without having historical perspective and the result, which presumes to be history, is completely ahistorical."
"This is utter nonsense," says Lanzmann, "it was not possible to save the Jews of Europe. Do you think it was possible to save the Jews of Europe?" He turns to me with what he feels is a clearly rhetorical question. "No, it was not possible to save the Jews of Europe." Lanzmann agrees with my claim that "The Karski Report" is more than just a response to Haenel's book. At one of the most powerful moments in the film, Karski relates how after he told the Jewish judge Felix Frankfurter - who was then serving on the Supreme Court and was one of the president's closest confidantes - what was happening in Poland, the judge rose in utter shock and told him: "I don't believe it! I don't believe that you are lying, but I don't believe what you are telling me."
"I have sharp criticism for all those institutions and events that seek to preserve the memory of the Shoah, such as Yad Vashem, which has undergone a process of Americanization, or the Holocaust Museum in Washington. I also oppose the youth trips to the extermination camps in Poland, which I think contribute nothing to the preservation of the memory of the Shoah in a serious and responsible manner. I have a lot of criticism inside me and I would like to be able to express this criticism to all, but it's impossible to be everyone's critic," he says, letting out a sigh.

IHH Kaput? PA Ascendant?

Silke informs me that the German government has just banned the German branch of the IHH - remember them? The kindly peace activists massacred recently by the war-mongering Israelis?

Haaretz has the story in English here.

I'm not certain how this fits into the overall tragedy which is the story of Man, but seen on its own, it's hard to see why it would be a bad thing.

Alex, on the other hand, wants me to note that the PA authorities are cooperating with Israel to the extent that Yuval Diskin, chief of the Shabak (Shin Bet) is having full-day workshops with his Palestinian counterparts on the West Bank. Here also, I can't say what this really means in the big picture, but seen on its own it can't be bad.

The Monoweiss brigades will inevitably cast this as proof the PA is collaborating with the colonial Israelis, thus putting themselves beyond the pale. But my skepticism comes from a different direction. Back in the 1990s it just so happened that I knew an Israeli Arab who was high in our security apparatus, and worked closely with his top PA counterparts. How great then was my surprise to learn that his political positions on the Israeli spectrum were considerably to the right of where I was: this isn't likely to lead to peace, he said, in spite of they way it's being cast by our leadership. Eventually he was proved right.

Still, we can hope this time it's different, can't we?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bernard Avishai is Out of Synch

Bernard Avishai has an article in the Forward about what a peaceful two-state resolution would look like.

Theoretically, there isn't that much to disagree with him about. He's wrong about the need to sever Judaism from state - Israel isn't France, and there are better ways to achieve democratic goals - and he can't not take a swipe at Israel's democratically elected leadership. But all in all, his vision is admirable, reasonable, and worthy of striving for.

If we were back in 1998, that is. Or perhaps, once we reach 2028. Sadly, seen from 2010, he's managed to pretend the past decade is some sort of mistake of judgment that needs to be rectified as soon as possible, some inexplicable aberration caused by those chauvinistic leaders, and by an eagerness to "fetishize" Jerusalem, whatever that means.

The ability of well-meaning, educated and intelligent people to block out large chunks of reality never ceases to intrigue me.

Truth May, Eventually, be Recognized

Benzion Netanyahu's book The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain has been on my reading list for awhile now - not that that means I'll read it anytime soon. Maybe this article will move it up a few notches. Jason Epstein, who edited the book, sums up its thesis: for the first 509 years after the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492, the version of the persecutors for its origin was accepted by all: they, meaning the Inquisition, had merely been trying to combat the phenomenon of descendants of Jews who had been forced to convert returning to Judaism. Not that the original forced conversions had been excusable, but at least there was a coherence to the policy. Once you're Christian you've got to live as one, and you're subordinate to the decrees of the Inquisition.

In 2001 Netanyahu published his magnum opus proving that it hadn't been like that at all. Most of the converts lived as Christians; freed from religious restrictions they had shot to the upper echelons of Spanish society, where their over-representation caused envy, and the envy caused racism. This was about 400 years before the invention of modern racism - or perhaps we need to re-write the books about racism and recognize it was there the whole time, directed at the usual suspects but masquerading as something else.

Interestingly, while the truth took five centuries to be uncovered, it took Netanyau 90 years to publish his research. There was quite a bit of patience going on in this story.

Dancing at Auschwitz?

An Australian woman took her Holocuast survivor father and three children to Poland and they filmed themselves dancing at the sites of the Shoah.

It it art, as she says? Not that I can see, but I'm not an expert. Is it good taste? I don't know. Is it worthy of condemnation? I don't think so. It's a bit loopy, but a Holocasut survivor dancing with his grandchildren at Auschwitz, to my mind, is overall more positive than negative.

Don't See Israel!

A young woman named Leah Molayem, who seems first to have visited Israel a few years ago with a Birhtright tour, has now returned and is disappointed to learn that Israelis are pushy. Why weren't we told this, she complains.

Israelis are pushy, of course. That's why they've created such a miraculous country in the face of such resistance. It's part of the same story: it's hard to have a society that pushes against all odds for generations, without people being pushy.

Molayem's basic point however is more substantial. All these young American (and other) Jews who come on Birthright tours don't really see Israel as it is. Yet it's hard to blame Birthright for this: Israel is here, 75-80% of American Jews have never visited, and when they finally come for a short 9 days, the idea is to have them leave with great memories. Maybe someday they'll come back and see the more serious stuff (of which the pushiness isn't).

Staying at home and reading the New York Times won't do the trick. Case in point: Nicholas Kritstof's recent trip. He wrote at least three columns for his paper in one quick trip, all slanted.

First, he reported from the West Bank. A large majority of Israels actually agree with him that the settlement project is wrong and should be ended, but you'll not learn that from this column. On the contrary: there are some brave Israeli human rights activists facing down their country, lots of Palestinian victims, and that's it. Any pieces of the picture missing?

Kristof's second report was again from the West Bank, this time a paean of praise for Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis for Human Rights. Again, no real context, certainly no explanation of the fact that while there's that majority of Israelis who'd love to leave the West Bank, there are a reason or two to make them pause. Nothing. By implication, there's a Jim Crow Israeli majority, and some Freedom Riders standing up to them. (Kristof's imagery).

Finally, Kristof traveled to Gaza. There's no starvation, he found, and actually things are better than his last visit (which was when, I'm curious to know but he doesn't tell), but the Israeli siege is counter productive. It has made Hamas popular. No mention of the fact that Hamas won an election six months after Israel left Gaza entirely, when there was no blockade - that wouldn't fit the narrative, would it - nor of the fact that the last time Israel really and fully left occupied Arab territory Hezbullah filled it with rockets, then shot them at Israel, and since then has filled it again in flagrant contravention of UNSC 1701.

Kristof, unlike the Birthright kids, could have seen and talked to whomever he wished. He's a NYT columnist, no-one would have turned down the opportunity. He might have learned a bit about Israel, and then taught his readers. But no. In all his columns he never cites any of the 99% of Israelis (literally 99%, not a rhetoric exaggeration) who are to the right of B'Tselem and Rabbi Ascherman.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Economist Stuff

The folks at The Economist aren't Zionists, but at least they try to do journalism well. Here's how they report about the construction issues in Jerusalem. Do they put it as I would? No. Is it a reasonable approximation of facts and views of both sides? Yes. Would that all journalism was remotely like this.

Though of course they do inadvertently display their own subjective position, and explain why it's all wrong, in a single sentence:
Race, religion, creed and sometimes even gender are supremely relevant if the Holy City, a complex web of separate Jewish and Arab districts, is ever to be divided peaceably into the capitals of two states, Israel and Palestine.
A pretty good explanation of why it can't happen, I'd say.

Then there's this column about the Eurocrats who rule - or not - from Brussels. They're not evil people, nor is their project particularly malicious as large-scale human projects go. Yet they're deeply wary of nationalism, and skeptical of allowing the general public too much a say in the running of things, which is to say they aren't fully democratic. This description easily fits much of the left these days, certainly the far left in Israel; it also goes part way to explain why these people are fundamentally not on Israel's side: a nationalist project in which the electorate disagrees with the educated, secular, self-anointed elite.

Of course, it doesn't explain why they think Palestinian nationalism is such a fine thing.

Finally, the pundit on the UK - Bagehot - is leaving his post this week, and summarizes three years of political punditry. In his understated English way, he's mildly dismissive of how journalism works these days (bloggerism, too).

Political commentators, in other words, have concerned themselves with what will happen; what has happened; and what should happen. Few have addressed what is happening—that is, whether policies work and how the country is changing. The commentariat is mostly too cocooned to ask. Bagehot has sometimes been guilty of this myopia himself.

One reason for it is that the British newspaper business cultivates provocation rather than consideration. The crowdedness of the market means people feel a need to yell to be heard; for all their virtues, political blogs and the internet have intensified the competition and the shrillness, making analysis ever more instant and intrusive.