Friday, December 31, 2010

Moshe Katzav, Israel's Democracy and the Far Left

This morning a court in Tel Aviv headed by an Arab judge accompanied by two women judges convicted former president Moshe Katzav of rape and other sexual crimes. Much might be said about this, and even more has been said. In all the torrent of verbiage, however, it's reasonable to include the observation that Israel's legal system came through with high grades, and this is an indication of a type of strength. Something to be proud of.

So I've just taken a short tour of the Twitter feeds of the tiny part of Israeli society which spends its time compulsively documenting how bad Israel is, and how shaky and beleaguered its democracy. You might expect these folks would at least note that sometimes part of the Israeli system get things right; actually, given the size of the event (the Head of State convicted of rape and soon to go to jail), it might at least be worth pondering if this in any way balances the endless stream of horror stories.

I have included in the list only people who tweeted today. People who may be on vacation and in any case didn't tweet, get the benefit of the doubt.

Hagai El-Ad, the boss of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI): Nothing.

Rabbis for Human Rights: No tweets of their own, but one retweet of someone in Boston who seems to be doubting that the case can be construed as a sign of democratic strength.

+972 Magazine: Nothing.Though they did name Anat Kamm as their 2nd choice for person of the year in 2010 for defying the evil Israeli system.

Jessica Montell, the boss of B'Tselem: She initially responded to the verdict by commenting that "Israel had a President who was a serial rapist". Then, responding to a follower, she clarified: "I was not focusing on the man, but on what it means for us as a society." This can be read in various ways, but it seems to me she's mostly criticizing Israeli society for having had such a president.

The NIF tweeted about a press release of theirs, which says the conviction is a win for women's rights and the rule of law,and emphasizing the role played by the NIF in making it happen. (Here's the press release). Personally I think their role was rather minor, but given that they've got to live off fund-raising, trumpeting their contribution is reasonable. And they noted the salient points, unlike some of their grantees.

Mondoweiss missed the story entirely - though to be honest, the Mondoweiss gang aren't Israeli, and aren't interested in Israel unless it disappears. (Ditto for Richard Silverstein).

Didi Remez: oops! Missed the story.

Rachel Shabi, of Guardian fame: Missed it.

Lisa Goldman (an active blogger and twitterer off on Israel's left): Why did it take more than four years?

Ran Cohen, boss of Physicians for Human Rights, gets it right,  (in Hebrew). Likewise Naama Carmi, a former Chair of ACRI, also in Hebrew. Though Carmi's departure from ACRI, at the height of the 2nd Intifada, may have indicated that she was a bit too Zionist to survive in that corner of society.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chattering and Doing

A Hamas Biggie has said what all Hamas people think: there's no room for Israel. Meanwhile, having lifted most of the barriers to Gazan imports, Israel is now opening the channels for Gazan exports. Someday there will be another round of large-scale violence between Israel and Hamas, at which point the Hamas-applogists worldwide will construct and broadcast a story of consistent Israeli perfidy and abject Palestinian victimhood; the links above will never be mentioned, as if they never happened.

Meanwhile, Israel continues its slow, tortuous but inexorable advance towards greening its energy infrastructure. In a country which has a southern half too dry for significant human residence and 350 days of strong sunlight annually, it's hard to know why this is taking so long, but the point is that it is happening. Hamas can chatter, the world can tut-tut, and the Jews eventually get their act together. This is the story of Zionism these past 120 years.

I'll be offline for most of the week. If you'd like intelligent and cogent appraisals of how the world works, the New York Review of Books will infallibly confuse you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Powerful Jordanian Lobby

If I'm reading this story correctly, the Powerful Jordanian Lobby may be able to have unwanted comments removed from the New York Times website. If not that, what is going on? Surely the NYT isn't pre-emptively self-censoring?

Jesus, the First Aryan Palestinian

The Nazis had a problem with Jesus. Though their movement was more pagan than Christian, many of the Germans it wished to attract were believing Christians, not to mention the many Christian cultural roots that fed into Nazism, most notably in some of its Jew hatred. Unsurprisingly, therefore, some Nazi apologists claimed that Jesus had been a blond Aryan, persecuted by the Jews of his day just as modern Germans were suffering from Jewish machinations.

That was then. The Nazis, fortunately, are gone. Yet the motivation to identify with Jesus even while hating the Jews and denying Jewish history is very much alive. So on this December 24th, as the Christians of the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Palestine Media Watch documents how the Palestinians are busy turning Jesus into the earliest Palestinian shahid.

I wrote about a soft version of this trend, much acclaimed in Western literary circles, here.

Anyway, here's wishing a good Christmas to all my Christian readers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives

I spent part of the afternoon with Doug Merlino and his wife. Doug's book The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White just came out this week, so we talked about it. It's the story of a school basketball team in Seattle in which comfortable white students played with poor black ones; years later Doug went back to see what had happened to them all and found that the experience had played out differently for the members of each group.

Since the book only just came out I can't pretend I've read it, but it seems interesting, and Doug had interesting things to tell about it, so it may well be something you'll want to look at. Or at least visit the website and see if it interests you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Poverty, Terrorism, and the Banished "I"-Word

I expect most regular readers of this blog will purse their lips with a tad of irritation when reading this:
“EXTREMELY poor societies…provide optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism and conflict.” So said Barack Obama, arguing in favour of more development aid to poor countries. Mr Obama is not alone in regarding economic development as a weapon against terrorism. Hillary Clinton, America’s secretary of state, has called development “an integral part of America’s national security policy”. The idea that poverty could be associated with terrorism is not implausible. If acts of terror are committed by people with little to lose, then it is reasonable to expect them to be carried out disproportionately by poor, ill-educated people with dismal economic prospects. 
Surely that canard should have been laid to rest by now? The Economist looks at a number of studies where researchers crunched lots of numbers, and concludes that
There are many reasons to promote economic development in poor countries but the elimination of terror is not a good one. The research on terrorists’ national origins suggested that countries which give their citizens fewer civil and political rights tend to produce more terrorists. Politics, not economics, is likely to be a more fruitful weapon in the fight against terror.
As they describe the matter, it's not that the canard has absolutely no truth to it - societies able to produce terrorists will produce better educated and thus more efficient ones at times of economic woes, for example - but by and large, terrorism doesn't happen because of economics.

Just as any reasonable observer not blinded by a political agenda would have recognized many years ago.
 Alas, however, the good sense at The Economsit goes only so far. While sensibly setting out the case for not expecting economics to motivate terrorism, they don't say what does. Most conspicuously, in the entire worthy article the word "Islamist" doesn't appear once, as far as I can see. Nor any variant of it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Youth is Becoming Israeli

This morning I was at a seminar on the history of Arab Jerusalem. Much of the focus was on the 6-9th centuries, though we then raced forward to look at the Mamelukes.

A number of the participants were themselves Arab. At one point late in the day I asked the Arab sitting next to me how common it is if for Arabs to know the minutiae sort of things he and his friends were demonstrating command of, since I don't think secular Israelis would necessarily know as much about their own traditions. Well, he said to me, people from our generation (40-50) mostly probably know this stuff. The youth, however, at least in my town (in the Galilee) probably don't know. They're Israelis, and don't care about this stuff anymore.

This is an anecdote, and may not prove anything. But it's an interesting anecdote.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hatred and Destruction Can be Erotic

It's enough to skim over the stories about the Swedish police investigation against Julian Assange and his sexual antics to see that his aura of heroic campaigner for truth and justice serves as a potent aphrodisiac for some women who think that's what he is. It seems reasonable that women who think he's a megalomaniac hater of America may be less attracted to him.

It's not only Julian, however. Here's Annie, an impressionable woman who writes at Mondoweiss, rhapsodizing over Omar Barghouti, the Israeli Arab graduate student at Tel Aviv University who is a leading figure in the attempt to boycott Israeli universities now and dismantle Israel later on.
I first heard Omar speak at the End the Occupation Conference in Chicago last year. I sat in the very first row with Medea, Nancy and Ann. Spellbound, directly in front of the podium. Omar had just arrived from Palestine and informed us he hadn't slept. Helllooo, what difference did that make? This man who moves mountains, does he ever sleep? I simply do not have the skills to express my gratitude for the life he has blown into this honorable movement for freedom and equality in Palestine/Israel. This beautiful man is a Giant and the honor it gives me to announce he has offered to judge our entries, your entries...along with the amazing Susan Abulhawa and the rest out our outstanding panel of judges, excites me no end.

Should I mention Omar has an incredible biting dry wit? Of course you already know that if you've ever met him.
Can you feel the excitement? Is it conceivable there's any hypothetical set of facts, say, that would make Annie rethink her positions? She's not engaging in thoughtful analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She's operating on a totally different plane of existence, where activism towards abolishing the national state of the Jews engenders sexual appeal.

Destroying Israel as sexual foreplay.

Haaretz Sort Of Recognizes a Mistake

Amos Schoken, publisher of Haaretz, is sending out a personal letter to the people who canceled their subscriptions last April at the height of the Anat-Kam-Uri-Blau story, and have since then resisted the pleas of the paper to return. (I wrote about this repeatedly at the time, for example here). The letter itself says nothing of importance, and is full of the usual bla-bla; I would be surprised if it convinces many people to re-subscribe. The interesting thing about it is that it got written and sent. Apparently the revulsion towards the paper was significant, and hurt. Still hurts.

On a vaguely similar topic, I hope no-one's missed the absolutely delicious story about how Julian Assange's lawyers are peeved that someone leaked the Swedish police report about his sexual escapades.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

China and Jerusalem

As you'll have noticed, I'm not finding the time for blogging these days. Maybe things will improve, assuming we know what would pose an improvement.

In the meantime, however, Victor has been watching Al-Jazeera in Arabic, more elbow power to him, I'd say. He recently came across a story there about how the Chinese are edging toward a position on Jerusalem that would dismay Europeans and the Obama administration if only they, too, were watching Al-Jazeera in Arabic. Says Victor: the Chinese are no longer willing to agree with the Arab states that it's important to condemn Israel over its policies in Jerusalem.

I don't know what the story really was, and even less what it means, if it means anything at all. I do find it plausible that as China and India rise, they may forge their own narratives about the world; since neither place has any deep-rooted traditions relating to the Jews, this may turn out to be a good thing.

I also know that my older son is studying Mandarin at Tel Aviv University, and he tells me he's got hundreds of classmates; apparently, many young Israelis are preparing careers predicated on going eastwards rather than westwards. This can't be a bad thing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Barabasi on Everything

If you're the kind of person who's intrigued by mathematical things, but for the life of you couldn't cope with a simple equation that has mathematical symbols in it, this is a book for you: Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means, by Albert-Lazslo Barabasi. Not only does he show how microscopic cells and Facebook are exactly the same, along with lots of other things; he also shows how different scientists discovered the similarities, mostly over the past decade, even if the book starts off with an 18th century mathematician. There are no Israelis-Palestinians-diplomats-or-terrorists anywhere in the book, though there are a surprising number of Hungarians of many nationalities.

I warmly recommend if it's snowing outside and you'd prefer to stay warm.

Wieseltier on Richard Holbrooke - and on America

Leon Wieseltier has a moving obituary for his friend Richard Holbrooke, America's top-notch diplomat who died suddenly this week.

Wiesetlier's description of Holbrooke evokes what some of us still think of America itself, at least when it strives for its best. So: Rest in peace, Richard Holbrooke; and strive for your best, America.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What they Tell About Hamas

Haaretz, today, leads with what most interests Israelis:
Hamas will never recognize Israel, Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday at a rally to mark the 23rd anniversary of the militant group's founding.

"We say it with confidence as we said it five years ago when we formed our government, and we say it today: We will never recognize Israel," Haniyeh told a crowd in Gaza City numbering tens of thousands.

Given that no non-expert in the world knows anything about which party won which election in Azerbaijan, Bolivia or Croatia, and the only reason they do know anything about Hamas is because of its relationship to Israel, this is arguably the part of the story that ought to interest non-Israeli media outlets, too.

But no.

The Washington Post simply downloaded the story filed by AP, about the size of the Hamas rally and how popular the party may be. At the very end of the item we learn that Hamas gave out a press release:
In a message distributed to media Tuesday morning, Hamas said it remains committed to destroying Israel, bringing back Palestinian refugees and seizing control of Jerusalem's holy sites.
"Anyone who gives up these rights is a traitor," it said - an apparent dig at Hamas' rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who favors a peace agreement with Israel.
According to Haaretz this was the message of the main speech at the rally, given by the Hamas Prime Minsiter Ismail Haniyeh, not some press release. So which was it? It's a significant difference, one might think.

According to the BBC, Haniyeh said it at the rally. However, the BBC also tucks this in at the end of the item, after carefully insinuating that Hamas merely doesn't like the Israeli occupation of the West Bank
"Today, on the anniversary of its establishment, Hamas stresses that it is committed to the principle of reconciliation," Mr Haniya told throngs of supporters who filled the streets of Gaza City, waving green banners.
"Reconciliation is a must so that the Palestinian people recover their unity in confronting the occupation," he said.

Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Middle East war. It withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but heightened its blockade on the territory after Hamas came to power in 2007.
No mention of the well known fact that in Arabic, the occupation can easily mean any Jewish sovereignty anywhere in what the Palestinians regard as their land in its entirety. If this isn't such a case, how does the BBC know? And if they know, don't we deserve to know how they know? 

The Guardian simply doesn't report on the event. Nothing. Tens of thousands of Gazans demonstrating in the middle of town, speeches, a major spectacle - not newsworthy.

Sadly, the New York Times comes off worst in this little experiment. Not only is there no mention of the event, when I wrote "Hamas" into their search engine the most recent item I was offered was about a fairy tale. About two weeks ago Ismail Haniyeh apparently told some foreign reporters that if there's ever a referendum about a peace deal with Israel among all the Palestinians world-wide, and the result isn't to the liking of Hamas, Hamas will accept the verdict. Of course, there's no reason to expect millions of Palestinians with limited civil rights scattered over various Arab states to vote for an agreement that will leave them there with no Right of Return, so one might expect a reasonable reporter to spell out that Haniyeh isn't risking much with his statement; but in the meantime he's just said what he really thinks, in Arabic, before a large rally, and the NYT doesn't find it newsworthy.

The Unadulterated Joy of Beethhoven

No words I might add would make it any better.

Monday, December 13, 2010

More on the Wrong-headed Rabbis

A few days ago I condemned the group of rabbis who wrote that it's religiously forbidden to rent or sell apartments to Palestinians. At the time I pointed out that the entire secular political spectrum had immediately and unanimously condemned their position, but that the religious politicians had shamefully remained silent.

In the few days since I haven't had time for blogging, but it does seem important to point out that in the interval the rabbis' letter has been condemned by the Rav Elyashiv, perhaps the most important living rabbi in the Haredi world, and by the Rav Yosef, the most important Sephardi rabbi and perhaps second only to the Rav Elyashiv. Now the condemnations are finally also beginning to come in from the National Religious camp, the religious home of the original signatories. Here's an interview with the Rav Rafi Feuerstein.

Saeb Erekat Tells it as it Isn't

Bataween has a fine post about UN resolution 194, and the dishonest way the Palestinians are spinning it. If you're not familiar with this material, it's a fine introduction.

Erekat is often held up by hopeful observers trying to convince us peace could be just around the corner. It has always seemed to me he's rather an example for why it isn't.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Judaism and the State

The other day we had a fascinating public discussion at our synagogue. Prof. Danny Schwartz is doubtful of the direction the Rav Benny Lau is taking us in, of ever greater communal engagement and national expression. A shul, says Danny, is a shul, for religious services; all the other stuff should happen elsewhere. Within the discussion of principles he's particularly troubled by the specifics of having a flag flying in front of the synagogue, and the singing of Hatikva at the end of the services of Yom Kippur. He expressed his sentiments in a riveting lecture about Judaism, nationalism, ancient history and Hannukah. Other members of the community then responded, and the rav summed it up.

The video of the event is here. It's long - almost two hours - but worth every minute (it gets better as it goes).

The one problem might be that it's in Hebrew. But in what language should it be?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Decline of a Dynasty

David Remez (1886-1951) was a prominent member of the generation of giants who forced Jewish history onto a new track. Arriving in Ottoman Israel in 1913 with his wife, they were among the last members of the Second Aliya, the founding fathers of modern Israel. The comparison with the Mayflower generation is plausible, for all the different historical contexts. The near-maniacal determination to create a new world was probably similar.

In the mid 1920s he had an affair with a young divorcee, one Golda Meir, though this may not have been common knowledge until their letters were published a few years ago. In the public realm he held a series of important positions in the pre-state Yishuv, and he was one of the signers of Israel's Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the first government, and at the time of his death in 1951 he was Minister of Education.

Aharon Remez (1919-1994) was a prominent member of the first generation of Sabras. Not the first Jews born in Erez Israel, of course, since Jews were being born here all along, but the first generation of children born into the growing Zionist enterprise. He was a prominent member of the group that created and commanded the Hagana and prepared it to become the IDF and to win the War of Independence - men such as Moshe Dayan, Yigal Alon, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, and Shimon Peres, (alone of them all, still active in his late 80s.) Remez was one of the founders of the Israel Airforce, and its second commander. After his father's death he was elected to the Knesset, but was more of a doer than a politician, and filled various prominent positions until the 1980s.

His son Gideon Remez may well still be alive, at least I haven't heard otherwise. Gideon was a journalist, and for many years he was the top "world politics" expert at the IBA, Israel Broadcasting Authority. For many years he ran a mid-afternoon radio program about the events of the world, which was famous for his connections. Whatever the event was, Remez would have a live interview with some knowledgeable local; it was always a pleasure to listen to his program, though you'll note that by this generation the family was reporting, not being reported on.

Didi Remez, so far as I can tell, is the current public figure in the family. I assume Didi derives from David, but see how far the family has come in four generations. Didi may define himself as an Israeli patriot, but if so he has a very unusual way of demonstrating it, by being very active in the narrow corner of the radical left that not only focuses incessantly on what Israel does wrong, but does so in English, so the rest of the world will know. That's what his website, Coteret, is all about.

I'm telling this tale not so as to attack Didi Remez personally. The man is entitled to whatever opinions he wishes to hold. It's an interesting story for its broader implication: that the segment of society which invented this country has faded, and new segments have risen to take their place; also, for the question as to whether the fading in any way fuels the animosity, as in "the new guys have betrayed what our guys were trying to do".

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Israeli Crazies

A few months ago I defended the Rav Yosef as a talk he had given was caricatured and damned the world over. My line at the time was that the reports of his talk were fueled by total ignorance and a large dose of malice.

I don't always defend rabbis, however. This week we've got the case of the group of rabbis who wrote a letter forbidding the rental or sale of apartments to non-Jews (by which they mean Arabs; they have no problem with non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, of whom there are a few hundred thousand in Israel). This position is stupid, wrong, idiotic, and, yes, evil. Fortunately the entire secular majority of politicians, left to right, have strongly rejected it, with Netanyahu and Shimon Peres leading the charge. The religious politicians have remained silent, more their shame.

One of the stranger offshoots of Zionism is the way some on the fringes lose their marbles. The far-left radicals who are growing ever louder in their erasing of Jewish history are an example I've written about repeatedly here; the religious figures who pretend Jews are intended to be some sort of master race in their land are just as pernicious on the other end of the political spectrum.

Claude Lanzmann's Shoah

Claude Lanzmann's nine-hour film Shoah is by far the best film ever made about the Holocaust, and it's better than most of the books on the subject, too. I used to screen it regularly to courses I taught, and no matter how many times I saw it, I always learned something new from each screening. Apparently it is now being re-screened in various American venues, so if you have the chance, go see it. If you've got to make the choice, see the second half. If you're looking for some other trade-off to make the time, cut 18 hours of blog reading, including this one.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Decision Makers Know Better

One of the interesting aspects about the Wikileaks revelations is how it demonstrates that in many areas, decision makers are a lot better informed than mere readers of newspapers (or blogs). Given how clueless much of the media and commentariat often is, this is mildly reassuring. Here are some random examples:

Al Jazeera isn't, actually, independent at all. It spouts what the Qataris want it to spout.

Hezbollah has an Iranian-built fiber-optic communications network of its own, that makes it even more independent of the rest of Lebanon than previously published. Lots of the player in the area don't like this.

The Americans operate spy planes over Lebanon. The British aren't happy about this, but don't get asked. Keep this in mind the next time you (inevitably) read about how pernicious the Israelis are for flying over Lebanon to keep updated.

Christopher Hitchens, meanwhile, explains how destructive Julian Assange is. Evelyn Gordon, following Henry Kissinger, explains that what decision makers know can be irrelevant, when their paradigm for understanding it is all wrong (h/t Barry). And an Egyptian official demonstrates that it's possible to blame the Jews (Israelis, in this case), when no conceivable facts exist to support one's silliness. Dutch officials will pay for the most repulsive anti-Israeli lies, if they're cloaked with some politically correct bauble-words.

Finally, an American tourist in Israel noticed an enormous opportunity the Israelis were inexplicably missing, so he set about rectifying, thereby probably becoming much richer, but also demonstrating that much of the chatter about and around Israel is less important than facts on the ground, so to speak (really, on the ground).

Philanthropy and Zionism

I see from the discussion about philanthropy in the aftermath of the Carmel fire that there's need for a clarification of the guiding principles - so here's a stab at it.

The idea that Jews from afar need to support the economy at the center is not new. Some of the tithes commanded in the Bible were geared to encourage economic activity in Jerusalem, since they could be consumed only there. That was thousands of years ago. For most of the recent centuries prior to Zionism many of the Jews in the land of Israel lived off philanthropy from wealthy Jews abroad. The deal was simple: every Jew should live in Israel but most don't, can't or won't, so the many outside need to support the few inside for representing them all. This line of reasoning was strengthened by the reality that Ottoman-ruled Israel was a dreary economic, political and cultural backwater, and no-one living there could reasonably expect to achieve much wealth even if they tried, whereas this was possible elsewhere.

Ironically, early Zionism didn't much change the pattern. True, the early Zionists did hope one day to achieve better conditions, so in a way they were asking for investments not philanthropy, but at any given moment between 1897 and the late 1950s this was a nice hope, not a practicality. Even into the 1970s, I can remember discussions about how regrettable it was that wealthy Jews abroad were willing to donate but not invest.

Eventually this changed. I think it's safe to say that investing in Israel today is probably a better business proposition than putting your money in the $ or Euro zones, which is the main reason the Bank of Israel has been forcefully trying to depress the soaring Shekel for the past few years (even before the world economic crisis).

Parallel to this development, the size of Israel's economy and the slowly changing focus of America's Jews inwards have meant that financial support from Israel's friends abroad, wherever they are, plays only a minor role in Israel's economic condition. Exports to India are probably more important.

This is not to say such support has no importance. It does, on two levels. The first is that it strengthens Jewish solidarity, just as it has since Biblical times. Earlier this year I reviewed a fascinating book which goes so far as to claim that the loss of the 2nd Temple and its demand of philanthropic support detached the Jews of Europe from the rest of the nation, and they effectively drifted away for the next ten centuries, some of them never to return.

The second level is the precisely focused philanthropy. Most universities in the US (but not Europe) live largely off philanthropy; this is partially true also in Israel. The same goes for hospitals, cultural institutions, NGOs and many other institutions. This isn't about Zionism and shnor, it's about society being broader than the state, and about significant parts of society which need solidarity to function because the state doesn't - and shouldn't - support them, while they can't support themselves because there's no possible road to profitability.

You're never going to move to Israel, but wish to support the Jewish state? Good. We appreciate it. Come visit and spend money, or invest. If you prefer philanthropy to investment, figure out what part of Israeli civil society you'd like to support. If I had my druthers I'd recommend you invest in fishing-rod things, not fishes, perhaps even in fishing rods that may have universal returns such as education or research, or national returns such as Jewish culture or identity - but those are my preferences peeking through. The point is, there's a give and take, just as there always is when one engages in philanthropy. We're not the poor cousins who need charity anymore, we're partners who offer real value for your input.

And, alas, knowing what I know about the state, simply dumping funds into its bureaucracy probably won't give you the biggest bang for your buck.

The Peace Conundrum

The terrorists in Northern Ireland are inching back, apparently. This is important, as it demonstrates the resiliency of hatred which fuels violence which feeds discontent. It's been almost a generation since peace came to Northern Ireland, and there are still people willing to murder for the old ideas.

One of the fallacies engendered by the European story of the 20th century is that stories have endings. The Europeans had an absolutely ghastly 35 years starting in 1914, but then it was over and the world was mended. This teaches us that no matter how awful a conflict, it can be brought to an end and everyone will live happily ever after.

It does work that way, sometimes. But often it doesn't. The fear and hatred of Iran which we've been hearing is pervasive in Arab capitals has to do with all sorts of immediate considerations - and also with wounds which have been festering since the 7th century, or perhaps earlier.

Benny Morris thinks peace with the Palestinians is not possible, since the Palestinians mostly wish the Israelis gone, and even if it's only a sizable minority of them (which he doubts) the result will be the same: real peace will be unattainable.

I am not talking about the tactical problem posed by continued or discontinued Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, which will probably be resolved, after some bumps and hesitations. I am speaking of a basic, strategic impasse which, unfortunately, is far more cogent and telling than the ongoing “negotiations,” which are unlikely to lead to a peace treaty or even a “framework” agreement for a future peace accord. This unlikelihood stems from a set of obstacles that I see as insurmountable, given current political-ideological mindsets.
The first, the one that American and European officials never express and—if impolitely mentioned in their presence—turn away from in distaste, is that Palestinian political elites, of both the so-called “secular” and Islamist varieties, are dead set against partitioning the Land of Israel/Palestine with the Jews. They regard all of Palestine as their patrimony and believe that it will eventually be theirs. History, because of demography and the steady empowerment of the Arab and Islamic worlds and the West’s growing alienation from Israel, and because of Allah’s wishes, is, they believe, on their side. They do not want a permanent two-state solution, with a Palestinian Arab state co-existing alongside a (larger) Jewish state; they will not compromise on this core belief and do not believe, on moral or practical grounds, that they should.
This basic Palestinian rejectionism, amounting to a Weltanschauung, is routinely ignored or denied by most Western commentators and officials. To grant it means to admit that the Israeli-Arab conflict has no resolution apart from the complete victory of one side or the other (with the corollary of expulsion, or annihilation, by one side of the other)—which leaves leaders like President Barack Obama with nowhere realistic to go with regard to the conflict.
Yehezkel Dror, in his early 80s perhaps the dean of Israel's political scientists, is less glum than Morris - marginally. While he thinks true peace with the Palestinians just might work, most of the scenarios he enumerates explain why it's not likely.

The Economist offers a fine analysis of the lack of democracy in the Arab world. One might wonder if it's a good thing or bad, the making of peace with non-democratic governments which lack popular legitimacy.

Bottom line: Israel needs to do what's good for Israel. Ruling over millions of Palestinians isn't good, so far as I can see, and maintaining a few hundred small Jewish settlements throughout territories even we know are not going to stay under our control forever is equally bad. Yet the reasonable assumption that no Palestinian leader can deliver true peace, even if he wished to do so, means that Israel cannot be generous and relaxed in what it's willing to give the Palestinians; it must maintain some assets the Palestinians cannot agree to our maintaining. Which means the possibility of reaching an agreement are even more limited than if we could expect true peace.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Carmel Fire: the Unspeakable Story

Over the past day or two I've talked to a number of people connected to the official efforts of dealing with the Carmel fire catastrophe.They are unanimous in telling that the state's response has largely been effective and smooth. As I explained in the previous post, this is not about the tragic death of 42 people (Ahuva Tomer, the chief of the Haifa police, died from her burns this morning); rather, it's about the ability to evacuate large numbers of people, feed them, send them back home as soon as possible, and deal with the aftermath and the large damages caused by the fire. The lessons of 2006 seem to have been learned, and the responding agencies mostly have their act together.

I can't link to such a story however, since so far as I can see, no-one is telling it. State agencies doing their job well? That's not a story for respectable media outlets.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fire on the Carmel - Followup

Ever heard of California? Australia? Greece? Russia? I ask because they all spring to mind when talking about gigantic fires which rage uncontrolled for weeks, causing loss of life and enormous economic damage. Nature is often greater than Man's ability to control it.

The public recriminations in Israel are already starting, and can be expected to get worse. Harshly lambasting the government is a national pastime. There's probably a lot of truth to the allegations that the fire-fighters are underfunded, under-equipped, lack a national command structure, and generally were near the back of the line of issues crying out for government funding. Moreover, if the political fallout includes some harm to Eli Yishai, the head of Shass and perhaps the Neandethal-in-Chief of the present coalition, who's going to complain.
Yet having said all that, I doubt there's much connection between the complaints and what just happened. Look at the four snapshots taken by Dan Oren, a coincidental observer to the worst part of the story, the incident in which 41 people died, pole-vaulting the fire to an international story and calamity.
Flames that size can't be stopped, not by any force humans can wield; if you follow the entire sequence, taken within seconds, you'll see the speed with which the fire raced forward.

Nor is the growing chatter about how predictable the whole thing was, serious. The final bout of rain last winter was early, at the end of February. Then we had the hottest summer on record, and so far, the driest and hottest autumn ever; 2010 is apparently the first year since records began in the late 19th century in which there has been no effective rain by early December. In 2006 Hezbullah shot thousands of rockets at Israel, and there were no major fires; this one seems to have been started by one campfire light by two young idiots, then fanned by unusually strong, hot and dry easterly winds, in an area which normally has westerly winds which would have blown the fire away from the forest.

In the meantime, the rescue efforts included a reasonably efficient and orderly evacuation of some 20,000 people from their homes; there have been no reports of looting; and officialdom seems confident the damage payments will be paid out fairly and soon.

I'm all in favor of learning lessons from failures so there will be fewer of them next time, or they'll happen in unexpected places. I don't see how this event could have been prevented, no matter how much preparation there had been.

I'm also not going to join the chorus of fundraisers. I appreciate people's willingness to donate money in the aftermaths of calamities, but the situation in Haiti remains vastly worse than anything we've got here; Pakistan, too, though it's not clear your well-intentioned donations will reach their targets in Pakistan. Israel is a sovereign country with a functioning state, and we'll deal with whatever needs to be dealt with. Lost lives are lost forever, but all the other parts of the story will fixed; even the charred forest will eventually recover, though it may take a generation. (Goldblog is saying the same; he's often right).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fire on the Carmel

You don't need this blog to know about the gigantic fire on the Carmel, nor do I have much to say about it.

Simple decency requires that I note the alacrity with which Turkey sent assistance (two fire-fighting planes).

A few days down the road we'll all start talking about levels of preparedness and lack of it. Our airwaves are already full of the first versions, but they seem to me informed by excitement, not by information. So I"ll refrain, for the time being.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Stuff I found here and there:

The British are moving towards ridding themselves of the idiotic law which means Israeli politicians can't travel to London. Apparently the Brits don't enjoy being out of the loop.

Someone in the Jerusalem municipality approved another stage in the process of building hundreds of apartments in East Jerusalem. In this case, Pisgat Zeev. Even according to the Geneva Initiative maps, they'll be built inside the Israeli line. So naturally, the usual suspects are all agog.

The Education Ministry would like to encourage young Arab Israelis to spend a year or two doing civil service in their communities at the age their Jewish counterparts are in the military. So they offered a higher salary to those of them who then turn to teaching. There's a public uproar, and the ministry may have to retract its decision: the Arab leadership sees this as a conspiracy against Israel's Arabs. I spoof you not.

The Turks are convinced the Wikileaks leak is an Israeli conspiracy. How else to explain that Israel isn't hurting, while the Turks are? (Hint: Israeli politicians tell American diplomats the same things they say in public).

Anne Herzberg tells how the ICC isn't good for Israel. At the bottom of her article you'll find a link to a valuable report on Lawfare. 80 pages, alas, but apparently important.

Norman has dug up an article from 1976 about the antisemitism of the Left. As the Good Book says, there's nothing new under the sun. Henryk Broder wrote a fine book about this in the mid-1980s, Der ewige Antisemit, which means The Eternal Antisemite. Alas, it doesn't seem to be in English, but if you're not Germanically-challenged, I recommend. The phenomenon did not start because of those apartments in Pisgat Zeev.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Terrorism: Glenn Greenwald vs. Michael Walzer

The comments on my post yesterday about Glenn Greenwald were interesting, and seemed to indicate a bit of confusion between different matters. So here's a quick lexicon of relevant terms:

Manslaughter: the unintended killing of a person. In all systems of law I've ever heard of, manslaughter is less serious than murder, even though the consequence for the victim is the same: death.

Murder. The intentional taking of an innocent life. It's the intention that makes the difference, not the result. In Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars I pointed out that the Sixth of the Ten Commandments is not "thou shall not kill", as often mistranslated, but rather "thou shall not murder". Judaism recognizes that killing sometimes happens, such as in self defense or in war.

Self defense. Protecting oneself may sometimes include killing. When evaluating the act, it's not the result - the death of a person - which is important, it's the intention. Of the attacker. The court or the police may decide that killing the aggressor was justified by the intention of the (dead) aggressor.

War. This is the most common way for people to kill large numbers of other people. The mere fact of being at war tells very little about morality, since some wars avert worse things, such as genocide, others promote genocide, and many wars happen for complicated reasons which do not immediately lend themselves to moral deliberation. I have written about this at greater length here.

Terrorism. Initially, this wasn't a moral category at all. It was a tactic of random murder, intended to terrorize a society into changing its behavior in a significant manner, contrary to its will, perpetrated by an otherwise small or weak group. The phenomenon first appeared in the 19th century. Then a double twist occurred.

The first was in the 1980s. At the time the most famous terrorist group was the PLO (alongside the IRA). Lots of people were reluctant to use such a pejorative word to describe Arabs killing Jews: The Arabs had oil, they were supported by the Soviets and thus also by Western Useful Idiots, the Jews were, well, Jews. So the term was dropped, replaced by the term 'militants'. So cynical was this ploy that for years the international news of the BBC called the PLO militants, while the local news of the same BBC called the IRA terrorists. (I'm not making this up). The English language lost the word to describe the people who had once been militants, but this seemed a worthy price to pay for political correctness.

Then, after 9/11, suddenly there was an urgent need for a clearly pejorative word to describe the perpetrators of random murder committed by a small group with the intention of terrorizing an entire society. At the time I remember watching the agonizing, but it didn't take long for the American media to go back to the obvious word, 'terrorist'. Once the terrorists began exploding bombs on European trains, the word was accepted worldwide. (Interestingly, this was happening parallel to a steep decrease in Palestinian terrorism, forced by the IDF and the security barrier, so the dilemma of using the word for everyone except the Jews was blunted).

Yet there was a problem: lots of people didn't like the ensuing wars, nor the regrettable fact that Western troops were now killing Muslim civilians. So they started applying the terrorist word to them, too. There was no need, of course, since armies killing civilians as a result of the messiness of war were never previously called terrorists. Armies aren't small groups; the Western ones were not randomly killing innocents so as to terrorize them. It would have been better to use a different term, one that would do what language is supposed to do, namely describe reality with useful preciseness. But preciseness was the last thing the wielders of the term were seeking; their goal was to bludgeon the political discourse in their ideological direction.

And so we've come full circle and kept on going. Not only is the word terrorism back in vogue, it's now applied with a gusto to anyone who kills non-combatants, unless they're Islamists killing Muslims, in which case they're called insurgents. (And the Palestinians are still militants).

Glenn Greenwald's argument demonstrates how radical this is. Back in 1976, when Michael Walzer published his seminal Just And Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations, a book still widely cited, he included a discussion of intentionally killing non-combatants in a non-belligerent country. The Allies had reason to believe the Germans were developing nuclear weapons, and at one point had to decide to sink a Norwegian ship which might have been transporting heavy water but was certainly carrying regular Norwegian civilians; the Norwegians, remember, were notionally on the Allies' side. Yet the danger of a Nazi nuclear bomb was so great it was decided to sacrifice random innocent Norwegians to prevent it. The fact that by the time Walzer wrote his book it was long since clear that there had in fact been no Nazi nuclear program to be thwarted was irrelevant, since the decision makers couldn't have known that and had reasonable reason to believe the opposite. After he works through the matter as philosophers do, Walzer justifies the decision.

Greenwald, facing a lesser case where someone killed an Iranian nuclear scientist without scratching any innocents at all, calls it terrorism.

More Wikileaks Fallout

Victor tears into Andrew Sullivan. Yes, Andrew has a gigantic readership and Victor doesn't, but even so Victor is right and Andrew is wrong. Truth isn't democratic, nor is it a popularity contest.

Meanwhile, Omri Ceren has a very funny video on YouTube. Yes, it's a bit black and white, but then, the actors he's poking fun at aren't very nuanced, either, in spite of being very powerful. Here, also, truth isn't democratic, and it doesn't necessarily reside in the halls of power.

The Arrogance of Ignorance

More from Wikileaks, via Haaretz: In November 2009 German diplomats were asking of the Americans for greater pressure on the Israelis to halt settlement activity in Jerusalem so as to bribe the Palestinians to negotiate a state for themselves (well, that's my way of putting it).
The German official is quoted in the telegram as saying that Germany believes that Netanyahu needed "to do more" to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. "With Palestinians in East Jerusalem getting notices from Israeli authorities that their houses will be destroyed, it would be 'suicide' for President Abbas to move under the current circumstances. Heusgen said he could not fathom why Netanyahu did not understand this," according to the telegram. (my emphasis).
Nice, isn't it. The man can't fathom, so he insists it's unfathomable, irrational, wrong, and dangerous. How typically arrogant. If the Israelis don't see the world the way we see it, they must be idiots, or worse. Never: If the Israelis see things differently from us, perhaps it might do us good to understand their perspective. Or, for that matter, the perspective of the Palestinians. Or the Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese, Salvadorians, or just about anyone in the world who may sooner or later see things differently than the way it's seen by the faraway observers who anyway have no skin in the game.

In the case of the Germans, I've been encountering this type of thought for decades: Can't you Jews see that our lessons from Nazism are that nationalism is dangerous, war is always evil and never justifiable, international law and human rights are the only tools for organizing international relations? Why don't you agree with us, you of all people? These are our lessons from the what our fathers did to yours; now that we've learned the lesson you're arguing with us about them? How can that be? What's wrong with you people?

I love it when Germans admit they can't figure us out, and then blame us for it. Though, truth be told, the Germans are not the only folks with the arrogance of ignorance syndrome.