Monday, November 06, 2006

Predicting Tomorrow's Results

I hope Democrats win big in tomorrow's congressional elections, but I don't expect them to win the Senate. Here are some of my predictions, just for the heck of it. Only the next few days will tell how far off I am.

The Senate: 52 Republicans, 48 Democrats (including the Democratic-leaning independent from Vermont).

The following Republicans will hold on to their seats: Conrad Burns of Montana, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island and George Allan of Virginia. The "democratically Independent" Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey will be re-elected as well. Republican Bob Corker will also win in Tennessee.

Senator James Talent will lose to Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania will also lose to Democrats.

The House: 226 Democrats, 209 Republicans.

Democrat Tammy Duckworth will take over Henry Hyde's old district in Illinois. Mark Foley's Florida district will also go to the Democrats. Christopher Shays of Connecticut will lose his seat.

Governors: 29 Democrats, 21 Republicans.

PS: I know nobody cares what my predictions are, this is mainly for my own use.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Presidential Rape

It is a disgrace that Moshe Katsav is the president of Israel. Who would have ever thought that the head of our state would be a suspected rapist?!? Back in 2000, I was very sorry he was elected president, defeating Shimon Peres - I just thought he was nothing more than a petty politicians without the stature needed to serve as president.

It's hard to believe, but now even former Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, a horrible choice, would be an improvement. I hope that someone who isn't a member of the Knesset is elected president next: someone like writers Eli Amir or Amos Oz, or former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar.

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Autism Politics

I've only seen clips of Comedy Central's "Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Benefit for Autism Education", hosted live by Jon Stewart. They didn't talk much about autism in the footage I've watched, and I wonder how they represented it in the whole show. Anyone care to opine on it?

A charity event for autism sounds great, doesn't it? Well, it's more complicated than that. I doubt that any of the stars in Sunday's show even know about this complexity.

Other than the whole debate about whether or not vaccines are to blame for this condition, there's a debate between those who want to find a cure and those who advocate the acceptance of autistics as they are. This debate is about almost every aspect of autism:

  • Should autism be cured? Or if autism is just an alternative form of neurological wiring, maybe there should only be intervention and treatment to make autistics' lives easier, like speech therapy and teaching certain social skills.
  • What do you call autism? Many would find "disease" to be offensive. Even the term "developmental disorder", which I think is the most accurate, is unacceptable to some of those who see autism as part of humanity's "neurodiversity". According to this view, autism is different, but there is nothing wrong with it. "Condition" is probably the least controversial description.
  • People with autism or autistics? Both terms seem the same to me, but there are certain groups who have a preference. By the way, on this issue, the divide is not always along the neurodiversity/cure line.
  • Who should speak for autism? Parents of autistics or the autistics themselves? Yes, indeed, some autistics can speak for themselves, whether verbally or through writing. Autism Speaks, one of the organizations receiving money from the show, claims to speak for autism despite the fact that they aren't autistics themselves. Autism Speaks has distributed a video that pretty much shows autism as hell. I'm not sure people with autism would appreciate that.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Say No to Lieberman (Avigdor, Not Joe)

The Labor Party must block the entrance of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beytenu (Israel Our Home) into Ehud Olmert's coalition government. Lieberman, who has different ideas with the underlying intent of taking away Israeli Arabs' citizenship, is the Israeli equivalent of Austria's Jurg Heider and France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. If Labor sits in the same government with him, it means the party only cares about its seats and not its principles.

Lieberman also wants to change Israel's parliamentary system into a presidential system. That would be a bad idea. We certainly need reforms in our government, but we should strengthen our parliamentary democracy. This can be done by doubling or tripling the size of the Knesset, raising the electoral threshold for entering Parliament, as well as possibly creating a second legislative house, among other things.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Investigating What Went Wrong

Now that the war is over, all the Israeli media is talking about is the need for an investigation into what went wrong. The two main options are a commission led by a supreme court justice or a parliamentary commission. Both have their flaws. The former focuses on legal matters and the latter would just become a stage for politicians to make themselves heard.

Journalist and historian Tom Segev of Haaretz says there should be a committee of historians who will investigate the matter. He says it is first and foremost a social and cultural issue more than a military issue. I agree with him, but I don't think historians are enough. This commission needs to have political scientists, sociologists, psychologists and experts from other relevant social sciences, as well as military experts.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Conflict Resolution

Israel needs its leaders to have conflict resolution advisors, not just military advisors. They need someone who can relate to the other side and who will understand the consequences of actions not militarily, but on the human level. This way, not only will leaders enter less battles, but also when there is a war, our leaders will speak and act in ways that will open up opportunities for negotiations. We should not insult Arab leaders, not even the ones we are trying to kill, and must minimize the amount of hatred our actions instill in Arab populations.

Here's an article from today's Haaretz on this subject. I agree with the central premise but not with all parts of the op-ed.

Thinking in terms of the other side
By Yitzhak Laor

The Israel Defense Forces is not only the biggest local player in the economy and the economy of images, but it also has learned over the years how to become the Israeli "ego ideal." Thus, the army is not only "just like us," like the neighbor across the way, whose intentions are good and who takes his dog out once a day; it is also our best, what we would like to be if we were really good. Not only is it ready to sacrifice its life; it thinks rationally, intellectually, logically, efficiently, and most of all, it has the rare ability to predict the future.

In fact, if not for the army, we wouldn't be what we are. It cannot be that it is waging war for no reason and bombing villages in which people and babies are hiding in basements, and destroying the economy of the north and perhaps the whole economy, just because its honor has been tarnished. After all, it is our very self, flesh of our flesh. And we would not endanger our lives for the sake of extraneous interests.

When this image goes awry, we move on, as if there is no difference, to the "ordinary soldier." He too is part of the "ego ideal." Injured, sweating, rescuing his comrade from the battlefield, the eternal David fighting the Shiite Goliath. Thus the army takes upon itself - with the assistance of the media (the behavior of most of whom raises the suspicion that they could also serve a totalitarian regime) - the roles of both hero and victim. Anyone listening closely to the broadcasts can discern the grammar immediately: only "we, "us" and "ours." The enemy has no faces or names, except of course for Nasrallah.

Thus, we are the victims and we are the heroes. That is the meaning of unilateralism, Israel's battlefield password for many years. Never mind what's happening around us, we have the power: we will fence; we will close; we will block; we will bomb. Otherwise we have no chance. During wartime this national egotism, beyond its moral implications, becomes part of the process of the spectacular suicide of the State of Israel.

That is the great trap of military thinking, the Israelis' only way of thought regarding the conflict: not only belief in the need to be superior, right or wrong, able or not able, but especially the inability to think in terms of the other side, not as an object translated and interpreted by the Intelligence Corps, but as human beings. In the army the other side is understood in terms of "war games" (in the day-to-day racist jargon, it sounds like this: "This is the Middle East, here they understand only force").

But what, in the end, does the military logic say? We are an army, they are the enemy. They want to kill us; meaning, we must kill them. An army cannot think otherwise. It exists to think of the enemy as to be killed. Therefore, given the chance, it will fulfill its own prophecy. Casualties on the home front or the battlefield only "affirm the expectations," the intelligence predictions. The rain of Katyushas on the north following the bombing of Lebanon, after the kidnapping? We told you so, the military thinking says. They are dangerous. Good thing we went to this war; better late than never.

From this perspective, military thinking is Israel's real trap. Everything moves within it in a circle. There is no way out, except in a fantasy of total destruction and killing all around. "After all, they want to annihilate us."

The tragedy of Israeli society is that it has no other organized way of thinking. The impotence comes to the fore in the lack of ability to answer the question posed to opponents of the war: "So what do you propose?" That question implies another: "What do you propose now that the war has started?" There is of course only one answer: Stop immediately. Any other answer allows the army to continue using its blank check. Any other answer means "right now there is an enemy and a response must be dictated to him from a position of superiority. Later on, we'll see." Later on never comes, because when everything is all right, everything is, after all, all right.

While our lives - and not only the lives of the Lebanese - are being destroyed, we must not speak because there are funerals, or bombings, and worst of all, heaven forbid, Nasrallah will have a propaganda achievement. And that would really be suicide. And as for power of deterrence: What kind of deterrent power will Israel have left after this war, even if it wipes Lebanon out?

As long as the army is not suspected of being an interested party, one of many in the region and the country, as long as it is not suspected of preferring the military option because that is its purpose, as long as the peace movement is ad hoc and not an opposition to the Israeli way of life and thinking, we have no chance of extricating ourselves from the vicious cycle of bloodshed into which we bring forth our children.
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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Kidnapper Nabbed


The Israeli army has arrested one of the Hizbullah operatives who was involved in the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on July 12. If it doesn't help in finding the soldiers, it at least will help Israeli morale.

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Autism Speaks Petition

I signed this a while back: Autism Speaks: Don't Speak For Me


Unpatriotic Thoughts

This war has made me reconsider my future here in Israel. I always thought I would spend most of my life in Israel. I'd perhaps live a few years in the States, and later return to my place of birth. But now I'm pissed at my government. It does not seem to be able to protect its citizens. Soon enough the Hizbullah missiles will reach my area too, and I am not willing to live in fear.

I am still an avid Zionist, but I am also avid in my belief that a country exists for its citizens and not the citizens for their country. If Israel will not be able to protect my family and myself, I will not stay here. Do I want to live in a shelter for unending days? Do I want to live in a country where at some point, I will have to send my children off to the army?

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not packing my bags yet. I still believe we can win this war (or at least not lose it) and achieve some kind of peace with our neighbors. But in a way, the State of Israel is on probation.

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Don't Give Shabaa to Hizbullah

The Shabaa Farms are of no value to Israel. No strategic value. No sentimental value. Nothing. Despite this, we must not hand this territory over to Lebanon. Not yet, anyway. Doing so would allow Hizbullah to claim victory - their fifth defeat of Israel (the other four being kicking Israel out of Southern Lebanon, the kidnapping of 3 soldiers in October 2000, the deal to return their dead bodies and an Israeli criminal to Israel, and the kidnapping on July 12).

After a period of calm, we should start direct negotiations with Lebanon to hand over the Farms. I don't care that Syria claims they are their own. We should get rid of Hizbullah's last excuse for existing, and let Syria and Lebanon argue about the area amongst themselves.

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The Draft Resolution

The new American-French draft ceasefire resolution is full of holes, but it's still worth taking into consideration. I doubt Hizbullah will accept it. UNIFIL, which will stick around till a new international force arrives in the probably very distant future, isn't going to be any more effective or useful than it has been. Eventually hostilities will re-ignite.

The biggest question is whether an international force will be able to disarm Hizbullah, or at least prevent it from receiving new arms from Syria and Iran. If the ceasefire will only allow the re-arming of this terrorist organization then it will be a grave mistake for both Israel and Lebanon.

UNITED NATIONS - Following is the text of a draft UN resolution on the Middle East conflict negotiated by the United States and France and presented to the full 15-nation Security Council Saturday.

The Security Council

PP1. Recalling all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, in particular resolutions 425 (1978), 426 (1978), 520 (1982), 1559 (2004), 1655 (2006) and 1680 (2006), as well as the statements of its President on the situation in Lebanon, in particular the statements of 18 June 2000(S/PRST/2000/21), of 19 October 2004 (S/PRST/2004/36), of 4 May 2005 (S/PRST/2005/17) of 23 January 2006 (S/PRST/2006/3) and of 30 July 2006(S/PRST/2006/35), Advertisement

PP2. Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hezbollah's attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons,

PP3. Emphasizing the need for an end of violence, but at the same time emphasizing the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers,

PP4: Mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners and encouraging the efforts aimed at settling the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel,

OP1. Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;

OP2. Reiterates its strong support for full respect for the Blue Line

OP3. Also reiterates its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders, as contemplated by the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement of 23 March 1949;

OP4. Calls on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through facilitating the safe return of displaced persons and, under the authority of the Government of Lebanon, reopening airports and harbours for verifiably and purely civilian purposes, and calls on it also to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon;

OP5. Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty and authority;

OP6. Calls for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the following principles and elements:- strict respect by all parties for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Israel and Lebanon;- full respect for the Blue Line by both parties;- delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including in the Shebaa farms area;- security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed and security forces and of UN mandated international forces deployed in this area;- full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006) that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state;- deployment of an international force in Lebanon, consistent with paragraph 10 below;- establishment of an international embargo on the sale or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its government;- elimination of foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government;- provision to the United Nations of remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel's possession;

OP7: Invites the Secretary General to support efforts to secure agreements in principle from the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel to the principles and elements for a long-term solution as set forth in paragraph 6 above;

OP8: Requests the Secretary General to develop, in liaison with key international actors and the concerned parties, proposals to implement the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), including disarmament, and for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms, and to present those proposals to the Security Council within thirty days;

OP9. Calls on all parties to cooperate during this period with the Security Council and to refrain from any action contrary to paragraph 1 above that might adversely affect the search for a long-term solution, humanitarian access to civilian populations, or the safe return of displaced persons, and requests the Secretary General to keep the Council informed in this regard;

OP10. Expresses its intention, upon confirmation to the Security Council that the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel have agreed in principle to the principles and elements for a long-term solution as set forth in paragraph 6 above, and subject to their approval, to authorize in a further resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter the deployment of a UN mandated international force to support the Lebanese armed forces and government in providing a secure environment and contribute to the implementation of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution;

OP11. Requests UNIFIL, upon cessation of hostilities, to monitor its implementation and to extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the safe return of displaced persons;

OP12. Calls upon the Government of Lebanon to ensure arms or related materiel are not imported into Lebanon without its consent and requests UNIFIL, conditions permitting, to assist the Government of Lebanon at its request;

OP13. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council within one week on the implementation of this resolution and to provide any relevant information in light of the Council's intention to adopt, consistent with paragraph 10 above, a further resolution;

OP14. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Where is Lebanon's Government?

The Israeli government has repeatedly said that our war is not with Lebanon, only with Hizbullah. At first, I thought this was correct and that it was important to emphasize that. But maybe I was wrong.

This is a weird war we are fighting. We are inside Lebanon, but its government is just a bystander. It makes all kinds of statements, but takes no real action. In that respect, it is exactly the same as the UN, France, Italy or any other outside party. As retired Major General Giora Island, former head of Israel's National Security Council, said today: the world should make Lebanon take responsibility for what's going on. It must decide: who is the sovereign - the Lebanese government or Hizbullah? If the government decides that it is the sovereign, it must take immediate action against Hizbullah - and if it can't, it must ask for assistance. If it recognizes its own lack of power and the sovereignty of Hizbullah, than the war is an all-out war between the two countries.

The question of sovereignty must be made clear so it will be known who is accountable on each side.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Civilian Death Toll

Six Israeli civilians have died today as a result of Hizbullah rocket attacks aimed to kill innocent civilians.. This follows the death yesterday of a man who was just riding his bicycle with his dog in a Kibbutz. So far, 25 Israeli civilians have died. Hizbullah is very sorry about that - 25 isn't enough for them.

The Lebanese government has said that so far 900 civilians have died in Lebanon. That is a startling, tragic number. While I'm sure we aren't targeting civilians, there is something horribly wrong with the way we are conducting the war. Some of the Lebanese civilians have been killed because Hizbullah operates from residential areas, but that cannot be the only explanation for the high toll. Our military must be much more careful than it is.

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Renew the Saudi Initiative

After the Hizbullah is pushed away from the border and an international force with actual power comes to Southern Lebanon, it will be time for a new strategy. Ehud Olmert seems to have locked on to unilateralism, since he doesn't see any Palestinian partner for peace. That would be a horrible mistake. In that respect, he'll indeed be following Ariel Sharon's legacy.

Sharon turned down peace talks with Syria and declined to talk about the Saudi Initiative, which called for peace between Israel and all Arab countries in return for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem at its capital, returning the Golan heights to Syria and recognizing the Palestinian right of return. Though we cannot accept the right of return and have qualms regarding other elements of the proposal, it is a good starting point. After all, negotiations don't begin at a place of agreement, but if they succeed, that's where they lead.

Negotiating peace with the Arab world will be long and hard, but it's necessary. Yes, there will always be those who claim that not all grievances have been settled, as Hizbullah is doing now over the Shaba Farms, but that's no excuse for perpetual stalemate (or worse, perpetual war).

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mel Gibson's Penance

An old Jew walks by another old Jew and is shocked to see he is reading the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer. "Moishe, why are your reading this filth?!", he asks with disgust. "Oh, in the Jewish papers there's poverty, illness, war and suffering. But in Der Sturmer we control the world!"

I was reminded of this joke by the recent arrest of Mel Gibson, during which he accused the Jews of causing all the wars in the world. Now he has given Jews the role of Roman Catholic priest. He has come into our confession booth (the media, you know, we control it, just like we control wars worldwide and the weather) and asked for us to give him penance and absolve him of his sin. Maureen Dowd asked Leon Wieseltier for his favored punishment and here is his amusing answer:

"He has been a very bad goy," Leon said.

"It is really rich to behold Gibson asking Jews to behave like Christians. Has he forgotten how bellicose and wrathful and unforgiving we are? Why would a people who start all the wars make a peace? Perhaps he's feeling a little like Jesus, hoping that the Jews don't do their worst and preparing himself for more evidence of their disappointing behavior.

"I have always wondered why people who believe that we control the world do not have more respect for us. Take that cop who arrested Gibson. Do you think it was a coincidence that he was a Jew? We have been following Gibson's every move since he released that movie. The other night, when our uniformed brother spotted him bobbing and weaving in his star car, we saw an opportunity and we took it. Don't blame us. It's what Yahweh would do.

"When Officer Mee busted him, we all busted him.

"Moreover, it is the elders' considered view that whereas alcoholism may require a process of recovery, anti-Semitism is a more intractable and less chic failing. This was not a moment of insanity, even if Gibson is insane. His hatred of Jews was plain in his movie and in his twisted defense of it, which was made when he was sober under the influence of his primitive world view. Perhaps he thinks that all he needs to do is spend a few months in AA - Anti-Semites Anonymous - and find some celebrity sponsor and run for absolution to Larry Zeiger, I mean Larry King, where he can say with perfect sincerity that the Holocaust was a terrible thing and gut yontif.

"But the elders have instructed Larry to be strict with the uncircumcised offender. He is to appear only opposite "American Idol" and in the company of David Gest.

"We understand that Gibson cannot do it alone. But why do we have to do it with him? We would find it hard to be in a room with him unless, of course, he wants to count some money with us. Why doesn't he turn to the vast number of his Christian brothers and sisters who show no trace of anything resembling his disgusting prejudice?

"Mad Max is making Max mad, and Murray, and Irving, and Mort, and Marty, and Abe. But weÂ’re not completely heartless. If he wants to do Shylock at dinner theater, fine. If he agrees to fill his swimming pool with Kabbalah water, fine."

Then Leon was just too aggravated to speak. He mumbled something in Aramaic and hung up.
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Monday, July 31, 2006

The Anti-Semitic Memo

I do not equate being anti-Israel and/or anti-Zionist with anti-semitism. In fact, I think that accusing non-racists who disagree with Israel of being anti-Semites is morally wrong. It also backfires in the form of the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome. Now when there really is someone antisemitic if we point to him, people will not listen. But I'll try anyway.

Victorino de la Vega's Middle East Memo is full of antisemitic references. He has a big picture of a beast eating a child, calls the deaths in Qana Israel's "massacre feast" (Matza from children's blood, anyone?), calls a Saudi cleric who opposes Hezbollah Pontius Pilate (read: he won't stop the Jews from killing the Lebanese just like Pilate didn't stop the Jews from killing Jesus). He keeps calling Israel's leaders Yahweh's sicaries, as if this is some religious war, where the Jews (or Jewsies, as someone said on the Memo's comment section) are the bloodthirsty villains.

Criticism is fine, even necessary. Phrases like Bushmert and Tex-Aviv are fine. I may not like them or agree with them, but it's legitimate. The anti-Semitic overtones are not acceptable.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Four Mothers

In 1997, following a helicopter crash which killed 74 soldiers on their way to Lebanon, a new organization was formed to pressure the Israeli government to leave Lebanon as quickly as possible. It was called Arba Imahot, Four Mothers in Hebrew, the term used for the four matriarchs of Judaism: Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. Their pressure worked. In 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak promised to leave Lebanon within a year of the formation of his new government. He delivered on May 25, 2000.

Six years later, as Israel is once again at war in Lebanon, Haaretz Magazine asks four of the former leaders of Four Mothers what they think about the current situation and whether they were right to demand a unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon:

This war is different by Ari Shavit

The absent mother by Esti Ahronovitz

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What would count as success

From Haaretz:

By Avner Cohen

Both from a moral perspective and from the perspective of the decision-making process, this campaign is far from being the model for a just and moral war, or for a no-choice war. The massive use of air power that nightly churns up the Shi'ite slums of south Beirut seems a lot more like venting feelings of fury and vengeance against Hezbollah's supporters than real fighting against the organization's military infrastructure.

The use of air power against the civilian quarters in which Hezbollah leaders were living blatantly violates the requirements for proportion and discerning use of military might that a just war poses. Nor do such bombings contribute much to the military or even political eradication of Hezbollah. The organization's leaders hide and survive, whereas the hard-working residents of the Shi'ite quarters lose what little they had. Anyone with the slightest human sensitivity cannot but feel uncomfortable at the sight of the tremendous destruction this war is wreaking in Lebanon.

It is also clear the initial decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - with the backing of the defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff - to respond immediately and belligerently to Hezbollah's provocation was made impulsively, without a rigorous consideration of alternatives, military and diplomatic. That decision certainly did not reflect a situation of lack of choice.

It is not clear to what extent Olmert was even aware of the limitations of air power and the military difficulty of defeating Hezbollah, or to what degree the government understood that its immediate decisions would lead Israel into a war in every sense, whose political and military results are far from being certain. Olmert could have maintained the path of restraint taken by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon and deal with Hezbollah in a manner that would not require going to war.

But these shadows cannot alter the realization that Olmert's instinctively belligerent decision to strike Hezbollah was correct, and first and foremost for reasons having to do with Iran's place in this battle. I do not mean only the significance of its tremendous involvement in Hezbollah's actions that led to the outbreak of war, but rather, and especially, what could have occured in the not-distant future had Iran continued to operate Hezbollah according to its own needs.

In all Western capitals there is consensus that the timing of the abduction of IDF soldiers was intended to serve Iranian strategic goals. The kidnapping took place exactly on the eve of the summit of industrialized nations in St. Petersburg, and right before the debate on the Iranian nuclear issue was supposed to be refered back to the Security Council. The abduction of the soldiers was meant to hijack the world order, which was inconvenient for Iran, create another focus for world attention and thereby give the Iranian nuclear program more time.

Still more troubling is the thought of what might have happened in the future were Hezbollah's military strength to remain as it was. As far as Iran and Hezbollah's leaders are concerned, the organization's missile power is an integral part of the Iranian deterrence system, one of whose main goals is to protect Iran's nuclear program.

Hezbollah's missile arsenal, designed to cover all of Israel, was supposed to lend credibility to the Iranian message of deterrence, according to which any military strike on its nuclear program, no matter by whom, will automatically elicit a painful response against Israel. Hezbollah's massive missile presence expressed the fact that Iran poses a tangible and direct strategic threat to Israel, that it can deal a substantial blow to Israel and perhaps even cause it lengthy economic paralysis - without even having to launch missiles from its own soil. Under certain conditions it might even be possible to equip Hezbollah's long-range missiles with unconventional warheads.

If at the end of the war Hezbollah can no longer serve as a switch that Iranians can flip as they please, it will be possible to view it as an Israeli strategic success. This is a minimal realistic goal and it must be achieved at any cost.

The writer is the author of the books "Israel and the Bomb" and "Israel's Last Taboo."

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Monday, July 24, 2006

A Smarter War

The war against Hizbullah is an important one. The organization's capability to attack Israel must be diminished significantly, if not completely. On the other hand, the killing of hundreds of Lebanese civilians is unacceptable, unless it is proven that the vast majority of them were helping Hizbullah or living in buildings that housed weapons. It seems to me the IDF is more concentrated on showing that it is acting than actually bringing in real results.

I'm not calling for an immediate ceasefire. One that comes too soon and without the proper arrangements to protect Israel can be disastrous. I'm just saying the army needs to pick its targets more wisely.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Murderous Children? Hardly...

The blogosphere is going crazy over pictures taken by AP photographer Sebastian Scheiner, which show little Israeli girls writing on missiles about to be launched across the border. Bloggers have been quick to say these pictures show that Israeli children are being taught to hate Arabs and compare the pictures to photos of the Hitler Youth in 1930's Germany.

It turns out the bloggers were too quick to draw conclusions, ignorant of, or ignoring, the context. Lisa Goldman puts things in perspective: those are girls from Kiryat Shmona, an Israeli border town, who came out of their shelters for the first time in days. Their parents are the ones who wrote messages on the missiles, none addressed to the Lebanese people but rather to Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah and the Hizbullah. The girls later added drawings of things like Israeli flags.

I think letting kids write on rockets is wrong for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I expect parents to keep their children as far away from live ammo as possible. But besides the safety issue, we shouldn't glorify weaponry in the eyes of little children.

Having said that, it is still a far cry from the hysterical "Zionist killing machine" reaction from bloggers. If any WWII analogy is appropriate here, it isn't the Hitler Youth one, but a hypothetical picture of British children signing bombs meant for Nazi air bases during the Blitzkrieg.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Cool Off the World War Rhetoric

A lot of people are saying the war against Hezbollah is the beginning of World War III. Newt Gingrich is one of them. It isn't. Though it is a part of the general worldwide battle against Islamo-Fascist fundamentalism, this struggle is far from being anything like a world war. Every terrorist hotspot has a different kind of solution, though there are similarities between the different solutions. The current crisis can be resolved fairly quickly.

In other words: don't be so hysterical!

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No Shit

George W. Bush has been caught using an expletive, though I wouldn't regard "shit" as really being a curse word. "See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over," the president said to Tony Blair.

Focusing on the four letter word is silly. What is important is what he actually said: he says Syria should order Hezbollah to stop the rockets. Enough pressure on Assad can achieve that, but that isn't what Israel will accept. We need Hezbollah not only to stop now and stay in a position to start firing again when they want, but to leave the south, as Condoleezza Rice has said. We need Syria to tell them to go north, but that will never happen. Disarming them would be best, but that may be beyond our current abilities.

Tony Blair and Kofi Annan have suggested sending an international peacekeeping force to Southern Lebanon. For this idea to work, this force needs to have the authority to fight Hizbollah. Otherwise it will be as useless as the current UN force is Lebanon, UNIFIL.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Yes to Ceasefire

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has offered to deploy the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon in exchange for a ceasefire. According to Israeli news sites, Ehud Olmert is rejecting the offer, claiming two other objectives must be achieved: the disarmament of Hezbollah and the return of the two kidnapped soldiers. Saying no is just plain stupid. If Lebanon's army takes over, Hezbollah's power will diminish at least in part. Instead of trying to disarm them we should use a new, more focused tactic. Whenever a Hezbollah post is detected near the border, or even a certain distance, it should be destroyed.

We shouldn't continue the current military campaign just for the sake of releasing the soldiers either. Two soldiers aren't worth making millions of people's lives miserable in Israel and Lebanon.

So Olmert, say yes to Siniora's offer. But if the Lebanese army doesn't come down to the border within a few days, forget about the ceasefire.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Oleh Girl: Awake and On Edge

I couldn't have said it better:

Awake and On Edge
But is anyone asleep in this region? Night-time is definitely the worst, not least because this is when the biggest things seem to happen. Those hours as the night creeps toward dawn and everyone's mind and body are at their weakest seem to be prime time for actions. Ours. Theirs. The other Theirs. The Other Other Theirs...

Watching the news of course and thinking about our innocent citizens in the North crowded into bomb shelters and pacing the floors of their homes. I'm thinking of innocent people in Lebanon wondering what the hell might hit them. I'm thinking of the innocent people in Gaza who, no doubt, want to corner Meshal and Nasralla and beat them into a pulp. I'm thinking of our young soldiers, boys and girls, Jews, Arab-Israelis, Bedouins, and Druze; of our reservists pulled away from their studies, their wives, their children. I'm thinking of children in three countries who will endure lasting trauma. I'm thinking of all of those who lost innocent loved ones. I'm thinking of all these and my heart aches and feels like a stone is tied around it.

I'm thinking of Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria and Iran and I'm gnashing my teeth and filled with rage.

I'm thinking of 8 Palestinians who have died on the Egyptian border and nearly 3,000 more stranded there with inadequate food, water and shelter because their own government will not allow them to cross back into their territory for needed medical care. We, Israel, have been offering to let them cross, to escort them or allow the Red Cross to do so via either of two different crossings since they began arriving at the border but their government will not allow it.

I'm thinking of the leaflets and flyers our forces have been dropping into the populated areas that we plan to attack --since this fiasco began -- warning civilians to please leave the area because an attack will be coming. We do this to try to avoid killing innocent civilians. We do this despite the fact that it alerts many of the terrorists we would like to target so that they also can leave beforehand. We do this despite the fact that it endangers our own troops by giving the militants a clear signal of where we will be striking and where they can thus strike our forces. I cannot think of any other country that has ever ever taken such steps to warn an opposing civilian population. Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the five million smaller terrorist groups certainly don't return the favour. No, they actively target our civilians.

I am thinking of what Hamas, led by Meshal, and Hezbollah, led by Nasrallah, and both backed by Syria and Iran have done, what suffering they have caused and are causing to Israelis, yes, but to Palestinians and Lebanese too --in theory to their own people--and I am really beyond words. They do not have the interest of their people in mind. They have power and power of a very personal nature in mind. They should be very glad that we are acting with restraint. They should be very glad that we take more precautions on behalf of "their" people than they would ever deign to.

I'm awake, pacing the floor and thinking. I'm watching the news.

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The Common Enemy

I truly believe Israel and Lebanon have a common enemy: Hezbullah. Make that a plural - and add Syria and Iran to the mix. I don't expect to see the Lebanese act against those two countries, but I do think they can, somehow, rein in Hezbollah.

Here is what some Lebanese bloggers are saying (compiled by Tao of Defiance).

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Anti-Israel Jews

Other than Israelis of the far-left who always blame Israel for everything that's wrong with the Middle East, I find anti-Israel, anti-Zionist non-Israeli Jews the most irritating. It drives me absolutely nuts. They have every right to their opinions. They have every right to express those opinions anywhere they want. Just because they are Jews doesn't mean they have to support Israel. But it still angers me, though I have no right to be angry.

I'm not talking about dovish Jews who criticize the government. I do that too. The Jews who see Israel as some kind of Satan are the ones who piss me off, especially the ones who think Israel has no right to exist (though that pisses me off almost as much coming from non-Jews).

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Too Little Information

What is going on in Southern Lebanon and in Northern Israel? All I know is that Israel and Hezbollah are bombarding each other and civilians are getting killed. Yesterday, Israeli television was focused all day on the events, with a lot of info about where rockets hit in Israel, but I still don't know enough about the targets in Lebanon. I've heard names of places, I know about the airport - but I don't really know what's going on there. Is it a Hezbollah stronghold or not? CNN, BBC and other foreign news sources haven't given me enough information either.

I do not have the ability to say whether or not my government is acting wisely. On the face of it, it looks like Israel is going over the top, bombing civilian infrastructure. Officials are saying we are only targeting Hezbollah. I hope that's the case. We have to hit the terrorist organization hard, but not harm the Lebanese factions who are sick and tired of them and their de facto sovereignty over the southern portion of Lebanon.

Hezbollah presence along the border must be crippled, if not totally destroyed. The Fouad Siniora government must not.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nonviolence Does Not Beget Nonviolence

We are now paying for unilateralism. The fact that we are no longer in Gaza and Southern Lebanon (or, at least, that we haven't been there until recently) is very positive. But our unilateral withdrawals were big mistakes. They empowered terrorist organizations, instead of moderate governments with whom we could have tried to negotiate.

Unilateralism isn't the only mistake that got us into the current quagmire. One mistake was allowing Hezbollah to take over Southern Lebanon and not demanding that the Lebanese army take charge. We shouldn't have put up with Hezbollah outposts right at our borders.

The prisoner swap two years ago, in which Israel released 400 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for one corrupt businessman and the bodies of three dead soldiers was a terrible mistake. It showed Hezbollah that attacking and kidnapping Israeli soldiers from within Israel would not only go unpunished, but would be rewarded.

One may argue that the attack on a tank near the Gaza border is legitimate resistance against the occupation of Gaza. I don't quite agree, but I can understand the logic of such an argument. On the other hand, the attack on the Israeli-Lebanese border is completely and utterly illegitimate. We are no longer in Lebanon, and are not in an active conflict with that country.

So what are we to do now? I really don't know. Bombing the hell out of Lebanon is the gut reaction, but will it do any good? Sitting still won't help either. After all, though violence usually begets violence, when it comes to terrorists, nonviolence does not beget nonviolence. Attacking Hezbollah's outposts while avoiding civilian targets and calling for international action against Lebanon, Syria and Iran if the soldiers are not returned may be the best solution, though international pressure is unlikely to change Sheikh Nassrallah's mind.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Viva Italia!

Yay! I've been on Italy's side from this tournament's start. I'm not a big football fan, and I know nothing about how good the teams are. If I like the country, I like the team. Israel wasn't in the world cup, and the United States sure as hell wasn't going to get too far. So I decided to temporarily become an Italy fan.

I must admit that I found today's game pretty boring. The semi-final between Italy and Germany was the only game I found interesting. The final's most interesting moment, other than the penalty shots, was Zinadine Zidane's head meeting the Italian player's chest. The guy is 34 years old! You'd expect him to know to keep his cool. But I guess you can't expect too much from a football player...

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Announcing the Blurb Contest!

Have you ever wondered whether the critics' blurbs on book covers and film ads were taken out of context? Maybe you've seen a play because your favorite theater critic was quoted as saying it was "Absolutely wonderful!", only to discover later that the actual review said the play was "so absolutely horrible that someone screaming "fire!" in the crowded theater would have been wonderful".

Inspired by the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest and a piece in the NY Times about "the blurb wars", I have decided to create the Blurb Contest and dedicate a whole new blog to it, separate from my main blog.

There are four categories:

1. Total Fiction: Make up a product (book, movie, hair spray, anything), make up a line or two of a bad review and write the blurb. For example - The "Absolutely wonderful" blurb above.

2. Semi Fiction: Take an actual product (let's say "Superman Returns" or that play Julia Roberts was in), make up a bad review and write the blurb.

3. Critical Fiction: Take an actual bad review and make up a positive blurb based on it.

4. Real Fiction: The least creative category. Just find real blurbs that are distorting bad reviews.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

I Told You So

Following the return to Gaza and former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon's claim that Ariel Sharon orchestrated the disengagement plan only to deflect the spotlight from criminal investigations, I searched my blog for my posts on the Gaza pullout. It's frustrating that our leadership (and world leaders) could not predict what I, just a humble blogger, saw coming almost two years ago. Allow me to quote myself:

Disengagement a Very Bad Plan (October 15, 2004):

After thinking it over for months, I have come to the conclusion that it is a disastrous plan. Pulling out without an agreement just makes things worse, and it will convince the Palestinians that violence works, just like the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 may have encouraged the Intifada that started a few months later.

The far-right settlers oppose the disengagement plan because they want Israel to keep control over Gaza and the West Bank. I oppose the disengagement plan for the exact opposite reason - because I want to leave the territories, but in a safe and secure manner. If we leave unilaterally, Hamas will take over. Nobody will be able to stop their terrorist activities and we'll end up having to send our military there.

Lose-Lose Situation (March 31, 2005):
The sane voices who are against disengagement for practical reasons are not being heard. The fanatics who, mostly for religious reasons more than nationalistic reasons, oppose ever giving any land to the Palestinians have completely hijacked the whole anti-unilateral pullout discourse. People like me, who believe that we should give up lands for the future State of Palestine but only through negotiation, are silent. We don't want to align ourselves with the "Complete Land of Israel" folks in any way. We're cowards.

Yes, I was a coward. What did I do against the disastrous disengagement plan? Nothing. I only wrote about it in a blog with a very limited readership (and that's an understatement).

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Terror in the Knesset

A bill going through the Knesset, Israel's parliament, would allow the Knesset to expel from its ranks Knesset members who express support for terror or terrorist organizations. According to the bill, any such expulsion would require the consent of the Supreme Court. Though any law threatening to ban politicians for expressing themselves is problematic, I think this bill is a step in the right direction. Some Arab MK's have crossed the line. These are people like Ahmed Tibi, who was once Arafat's advisor, and Azmi Bishara, who has expressed support for Hezbollah and armed resistance (and attended the same rally as arch-terrorist and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nassralla). They do not belong in the Knesset.

However, the current bill still isn't good enough. Though it gives the Supreme Court a final say on whether or not a member will be expelled from the Knesset, the decision to start the impeachment process is in the hands of his fellow politicians. I think it should be in the hands of the courts. MKs are legally required to resign when they are convicted of a crime. Expression of support for terrorism by an MK should be treated the same way and prosecuted by professional state's attorneys, not politicians.

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An Independent Democrat?

Senator Joe Lieberman has been criticized for announcing he would run for the Senate as an "independent Democrat" if he loses the Democratic nomination. Some people say it shows disloyalty to the Democratic party. Well, okay, that's true, but why is that bad? A politician should be loyal to the citizens and to his principals. The party is a device used to get elected. It isn't something to be loyal to.

Another claim is that running independently shows disregard for the democratic process. This reasoning says that whatever voters decide in the primary must be adhered to. I don't think that Lieberman running against his opponent, Ned Lamont, in the general election is undemocratic. If he loses the primary yet still becomes the Democratic nominee, without Lamont in the running - that would be undemocratic. But since only part of the electorate participate in primaries, and in the general elections all citizens would be free to choose between Lieberman, Lamont and other candidates, and are again free to vote against Lieberman, democracy isn't hurt one bit.

Joe Lieberman is too conservative in my taste. I don't know enough about Lamont to say which is the lesser of two evils. I'm not a Connecticut voter, so I don't have to pick between them. Makes my life just a little easier :) .

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Gay Pride in Jerusalem

At first, when I heard a gay pride parade would take place in Jerusalem I thought it's just a senseless provocation. Though I totally support gay rights and am not religious, I could understand why religious Jews, Christians and Muslims would be offended by homosexuals marching through the streets of Jerusalem, a city they consider holy. But then I changed my mind. Jerusalem isn't just a holy city, it is Israel's capital. As such, every citizen has a right to march in it for his rights. The parade should stay away from holy sites to avoid unnecessary provocation and religious insult, but just as religious people's rights and feelings should be protected, gay people's rights and feelings should be equally protected.

Israel should be proud that its capital will host the World Pride Parade next month, only the second to take place (the first one was in Rome in 2000 - another holy city/capital). I'd say our leaders should attend, though I know they won't. But then again, maybe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Lesbian daughter will talk him into it...

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Gaza Mess

Israeli forces are in Gaza again. If making Gazans' lives a living hell will convince Corporal Gilad Shalit's captors to give him back to Israel alive and well, then it is the right thing to do. The problem is that it only makes the Palestinians angrier and more steadfast in their unreasonable demands. However, going into Gaza to stop the Kassam rockets was long overdue. The F-16's over Syrian President Bashar Assad's head was pure foolishness. The only good move Israel has done has been the arrest of Hamas leaders on terrorism charges. That's even greater pressure than taking out Gaza's electricity (and if it doesn't get the soldier back - they're in prison, which is good in itself).

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Satan's Blog

Today is the third anniversary of this blog. It falls on the day "Devil Merchandising Inc." is cashing in on. Does that make my blog satanic? Do I have to sell my soul for more visitors? Or maybe I am Satan himself. I wish I were Satan. He has so much fun (well, if you like S&M).

Disclaimer: Satan©, The Devil© and 666™ and all related indicia are the property of God & Associates, Ltd.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

America - a Burden on Israel?

There's an interesting op-ed piece by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz today. He basically says that the current relationship between the United States and Israel hurts both countries. I agree. The combination of the wrongheaded policies of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon (and now Olmert) is a recipe for disaster:

Is America a strategic liability?
By Akiva Eldar

Generations of academics and commentators have made a living from dealing with the question of whether Israel represents a strategic asset or a burden to the United States. However, the question of whether the superpower is a strategic asset or burden to Israel seems almost fantastical. The Bush administration's wholesale support for Ariel Sharon's government and the warm welcome given to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by the Congress prove that Israel can count on the White House and the Capitol. The president's road map will continue to protect us from the threat of negotiating with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, while the law that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) pushed through Congress guarantees that PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will not be a partner - even when it comes to cooperating to combat avian flu.

Fortunately, on the issue that is considered critical to Israel's existence - Iran's nuclear capabilities - the United States is likely to be an asset to Israel, but that is an exception, one in which the Americans refuse to be drawn into making another strategic mistake. It is an exception that does not prove the rule.

Dr. Haggai Ram of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, author of "Reading Iran in Israel: The Self and the Other, Religion and Modernity," notes that during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami, there were increasing calls in Iran for a "just" and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Ram, after 9/11, and particularly after the invasion of Afghanistan, there was a "window of opportunity" for a rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Ram attributes the failure of contacts toward this end to Israeli efforts to present Iran as a dominant factor in the conflict and to internationalize the conflict in order to present it as an integral part of the "war against terror."

Flint Leverett, formerly a senior figure in the U.S. National Security Council and the State Department, disclosed to the Council on Foreign Relations - the director of which is appointed by the president - that in May 2003, in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran passed along an Iranian offer to negotiate with the United States on the nuclear issue. In addition, the document expressed Iran's willingness to adopt the Arab League's resolution to recognize Israel and stop supporting Palestinian terror organizations operating outside of the territories.

Leverett claims that the Bush administration ignored the latter offer, too, keeping instead to its policy of destroying the "axis of evil" and bringing about the "democratization of the Middle East." The end is well known: The "democratization," which conceals American economic interests and messianic tendencies, continues to undermine stability in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood challenges moderate Arab regimes, and Iraq has brought the ills of Afghanistan into the heart of the Sunni world. Al-Qaida is making itself felt in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine. Iran has become a regional power that threatens the entire area, from the Persian Gulf to the western Mediterranean. And the United States, Israel's patron, is losing its powers of deterrence.

Even the conservative Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, whose appointment to the U.S. Institute of Peace was forced by Bush on Congress, wrote in The New York Sun that the administration's policy in Iraq "makes it easier for the regime's enemies to garner support for their insurgency."

Natan Sharansky, whom Bush has called his "soul mate," argues that it was inappropriate for the United States to pressure the Palestinians into holding elections. In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Sharansky wrote that Bush's misreading of the democratization process paved the way for the creation of a Hamas-run entity next to Israel.

When Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, "the architect of the Oslo agreement," was asked why he was supporting the policy of Ariel Sharon, he shrugged his shoulders and responded: "How can I object to a policy that the president of the United States supports?" That "policy" of "there's no partner for peace" is what gave rise to the unilateralism that continues to chip away at what is left of the pragmatic Palestinian camp and to continue to reduce the chances of ending the occupation.

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of that strategic burden. If our older brother was truly a strategic asset, he would have gotten us out of there long ago.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Presidential Race 2007 (Israel)

President Moshe Katsav's 7-year term will end in the summer of 2007. At that time, the 120-member Knesset will elect his successor. Talk of who that will be has already started. Three names have come up so far and I oppose all of them. One is former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin. I oppose him on account of him being a pure jackass. Another candidate, who says he will not run, is Shimon Peres. I think he's too old.

The third is Meir Israel Lau, former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel. As a secular Israeli I think he was a great Chief Rabbi. He never made any covert political messages wrapped in theological coating and never had any scandals - unlike the two current chief rabbies (the Ashkenazi one is suspected of receiving bribes from a hotel; the Sephardic one's son kidnapped and tortured a guy who was courting his sister). After all, the office of chief rabbi is mainly for the ultra-orthodox, so I don't expect much of the office holders.

But I can't see him as the ceremonial head of Israel. He doesn't represent me. He has a very strict orthodox view on who is Jewish and on the question of state and religion. He opposes civil marriages and non-orthodox currents of Judaism (i.e. Reform and Conservative Judaism - or in other words, most of world Jewry). He does not recognize the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as Jews, even if they were raised Jewish all their lives. He also sees homosexuality as a perversion, and thinks Jews should be more religious. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi during Lau's term, Bakshi Doron, is much more liberal than him.

So who should it be? I'd be happy to see someone like Eli Amir or Amos Oz as president. An author from the center-right, like Eyal Meged, would be good too. Avishay Braverman would be great for the job as well, but I'd rather see him as prime minister.

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Amir Peretz's Iron Grip

Amir Peretz is purging the Labor Party and Labor-controlled ministries of non-loyalists. He has just gotten the party's legal counsel, Barak supporter Eldad Yaniv, booted from his post. The deed was done during a meeting of the Secretariat, attended by 3 of its 5 members, without any prior notice that the issue would even be brought up for debate.

Last week, a Laborite ally of Peretz, Shmuel Abuab was appointed general director of the Education ministry, instead of Acting GD Amira Haim. I've heard unofficial reports that minister of Education Yuli Tamir, another ally of Peretz, actually wanted to keep Haim on as director, but Peretz shoved Abuab down her throat.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Palestinian Right of Return

Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian blogger, wrote a post last week titled "Either return..or return", where she basically says there's no other option other than the return of Palestinian refugees. Unfortunately, I have a feeling most Palestinians agree with her. An overwhelming majority of Israelis, myself included, would never let the refugees back into Israel, thus turning Israel into Palestine.

Yes, Israel has some responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem, but so do Arab countries. Over the last six decades, they have made sure the Palestinians would live in the worst conditions in refugee camps, and not be absorbed and given citizenship in the countries in which they currently reside. These countries wish to get rid of the Palestinians, but at the same time they want to still be able to use them to deflect criticism from themselves to the Evil Zionist Entity.

Israel can't recognize the right of return, not even a symbolic one. But as compromise, it can admit partial responsibility for the plight of refugees. It can compensate them and help resettle them in the Palestinian state, and those who decide to stay in their current countries should also be resettled and receive citizenship there (though the Arab states may not agree to that).

But the refugees cannot return to Israel proper. The Palestinians have been educated for the last 58 years to hate the "colonizing Jews". We can coexist wonderfully with the Palestinians who have been citizens of Israel since its establishment, but not with returning refugees. It would be like Kosovo here.

Would the Palestinians ever agree to compensation? I hope so, but I also doubt it. If they don't, this ain't gonna end soon.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Brooklyn's Racial Race

An interesting Democratic primary will take place in New York City this September. Representative major R. Owens is retiring after 22 years in Congress and five Democrats are vying for his seat. Since the district is something like 90% Democratic - whoever wins the primary is expected to win in November.

Currently, four African-Americans are running for the seat: Chris Owens, the incumbent's son, State Sen. Carl Andrews, City Councilwoman Yvette Clark and State Assemblyman Nick Perry. The fifth candidate is white City Councilman David Yassky. Rep. Owens, who supports his son's bid, has attacked Yassky for even running in a voting rights district, which, as he sees it, should be represented by a black congressman. Many share this view.

Now I wonder whether the following scenario is possible: Yassky wins the primary by a small margin, and another party, maybe the Working Families Party, nominates one of the black candidates (maybe Carl Andrews). And then the 11th congressional district will have its first competitive November election in decades. It's purely hypothetical, though. It just might be legally impossible.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

5.5 in 1,000 Children Autistic

A new nationwide study in the United States shows that 1 in 182 children is autistic, if my calculation is correct. That isn't that far from the disputed 1 in 166 statistic from a study in California a few years ago. What does it mean? I have no idea. It doesn't necessarily show a rise in autism cases, it may just show a rise in diagnosis. I have a feeling the Mercury poisoning theory might get a boost by these new numbers, though they are far from being any proof of the theory's validity.

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Ethnic Cleansing in the Knesset

Knesset Member Avigdor Lieberman of the right-wing Israel Beytenu (Israel Our Home) party called yesterday for the execution of Arab Knesset members who met with Hamas leaders. "The Second World War ended with the Nuremberg trials and the execution of the Nazi leadership. Not only them, but also those who collaborated with them. I hope that will also be the fate of the collaborators in this house [the Knesset]", he said.

Though I see meeting and expressing support for Hamas leaders as disloyalty to Israel, calling for the MKs' deaths is dangerous incitement and way beyond legitimate parliamentary debate.

Maybe the Arab MKs who met Hamas leaders should be kicked out of the Knesset, but so should Lieberman for criminal incitement.

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Is Israel the Only Place for Jews?

Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua caused quite a stir at the American Jewish Committee's Centennial symposium, when he argued that the only way to be a Jew is to live in Israel. Yehoshua was very blunt. He said Jews outside Israel are playing with their identity, "Plug & Play Jews". He even went as far as to say American Jews would leave the States and move to China if it surpassed the US economically. Now that's anti-Semitic - the greedy disloyal Jews looking for the best place to make money.

This is an old, classical Zionist position, which was once necessary for the State of Israel back when it relied on immigration for its demographic survival as a Jewish state. I think his views are shared by a majority of Israelis, who truly don't understand how any Jew can stay in the diaspora. This is a narrowminded, provincial view. These people haven't seen thriving Jewish communities abroad. They don't know that non-Israeli Jews can have great lives, without having to constantly worry about antisemitism.

I think the Hebrew word for diaspora, Gola (from Galut, exile), should be thrown out the window. The Gola is very small now - since, as I see it, it is a place outside Israel where the local Jews feel they are in exile. Happy American, Canadian, British and other Jews who feel at home in their countries are not in the Gola. They are not in exile. Of course, this is a secular interpretation of the word. That isn't to say Israel should stop trying to bring new Jewish Olim to Israel, but it should do that by making Israel a better place to live in, not by rebuking those who stay abroad.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Happy Birthday Israel

Yom Atzmaut Sameach! Happy Independence Day, Israel!

For one day, forget about all the crap in this country. Focus on the positive. We're a strong country whose existence is not threatened anymore. We are a state with some of the best minds the world has ever seen in the fields of economics and technology (less so in the field of politics and diplomacy). We have some of the world's best authors - Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua, David Grossman and Eli Amir, just to name a few. Despite being a small country, we have lots of different landscapes - from the desert in the south to the green fields of the north. The people may not have British manners, but they're extremely friendly, always (well, usually) willing to help out a stranger on the street.

There's more good stuff, but I don't want to overdose on the patriotism.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Who Will Remember?

It is Holocaust Remembrance Day today. As I see the old survivors speaking at ceremonies and in documentaries, I can't help but think that in a few years there will be no more holocaust survivors. Who will act as witnesses at ceremonies and public discussions? As the people who remember the horrible experiences fade away, will the "public memory" fade as well?

We will never forget the holocaust, but it may become something more of a historical fact than an actual scar on humanity. Young Germans, Austrians, Poles and others already see it as distant history rather than something that has anything to do with them. I can't blame them. They aren't responsible for what their parents and grandparents did.

On the other hand, for most young Jews (at least in Israel), the holocaust is still a part of life. It isn't something that's always present, like an obsession, but it is part of their background. Our parents' and grandparents' lives were changed by it. We know survivors, we know people who have lost relatives. Unlike those who only hear tales of survival through documentaries, we have heard thousands of stories from people near and dear to us - an aunt who survived the camps, a neighbor raised by nuns until his mother could return to take him, those who fled in time but lost entire families, and many more. So we remember, but will our children? Will the next generations be interested in the stories retold by those who did not experience them?

But maybe we've already forgotten one of the most important lessons of the holocaust. The eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day (27 of Nisan, according to the Jewish calendar) coincides this year with Genocide Remembrance Day in Armenia (March 24). I find it symbolic: we should remember that genocide is global. The Holocaust was not the first attempt at ethnic cleansing, nor was it the last. It is happening right now in Darfur. Unfortunately, just like in the 1940's, nobody cares. Nobody will do a thing against it, including Israel.

President Moshe Katzav and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used the memorial ceremony to warn the world against Iran's dreams of nuclear genocide. They should have called for intervention in Sudan.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Labor Down to 19 Knesset Members

Israel's central elections committee announced a correction today to the election results. Labor has 19 seats, not 20, while Ra'am-Ta'al, an Arab party, has 4 instead of 3. It's weird, but I'm happy Labor lost a seat even though I voted for them. The whole "social emergency Peretz government" concept pisses me off.

The original error was due to the fact that in one Arab town poll workers mistakenly listed hundreds of votes as being for Herut, a party advocating the "transfer for compensation" of Arabs, instead of Ra'am-Ta'al, which was right next to it on the voting tally form.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Prime Minister Amir Peretz?

After the 2003 elections, it took me about a year and a half until I was sorry I voted for Shinui. This time around, I'm feeling sorry about voting for Labor already. Amir Peretz is trying to get the right wing parties to support and join a government led by himself. There are so many reasons why this would be a disaster.

For one thing, all these parties have nothing in common other than the desire to keep Kadima out of government. Their views on just about every issue are so very different, which would make this a stalemate coalition. It will break up quickly, once its left-wing parties try something its right-wing parties oppose. That will either cause very early elections or the formation of a Kadima-led government after a few months of being stuck in the mud.

Also, though Kadima's election result was mediocre, winning 29 seats after earlier polls had shown them at the 30's and 40's. But it's still the largest party in parliament, almost doubling the number of members it had in the previous Knesset (the former Likud and Labor MKs who formed Kadima). On the other hand, Labor got just one more seat than they did in 2003. And back then, Amir Peretz ran with his small party Am Echad and got 3 seats, which later joined Labor with a combined 22 seats. So actually Labor lost 2 seats on March 28.

Another reason this is not a good idea is Amir Peretz himself. He is not a national leader, but a labor union leader. He would be a bad prime minister. Also, polls show very few people want him at the helm.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Confessions of a Former Bibi Admirer

I was a little kid when I first saw him. He was on CNN, being interviewed as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations. He had such perfect American English. Bibi Netanyahu became one of my favorite TV personalities. Yes, that's what he was to me back then - a TV personality. With perfect English. To this day, I have a soft spot for Israelis with perfect American English and Americans with perfect Hebrew.

I had no ideas what his political views were at the time. I doubt I really had any of my own back then. But as I became politically aware, and Bibi became head of Likud and later prime minister, even the perfect English could not compensate for his politics and horrible leadership. I really dislike him now as a politician. I even dislike him as a TV personality.

That, by the way, is his biggest failure, since he always was more of a TV star than a leader.

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Heads Will Roll

It's now time for the losing parties of the Israeli 2006 elections to consider getting rid of their leaders:
  • The Labor Party should get rid of Amir Peretz and put Avishai Braverman at its helm. If that happens, I'll definitely vote for them again next time, except I'll pick them for their leader, nor despite of him.
  • The Likud should get rid of Netanyahu. I think Silvan Shalom would be the best person to replace him. As a moderate, he can rebuild the party as a center-right, rather than radical-right, party. Still, no chance of them getting my vote next time.
  • Meretz should get rid of Yossi Beilin. He's been a disaster and nobody likes him. Knesset Members Zehava Galon and Ran Cohen have announced they'll run against him. I don't like Galon, and I doubt she'd attract voters. Cohen is the better choice here.
  • Kadima didn't lose, which means Olmert won't be replaced. Too bad. I'd rather see Tzipi Livni at the helm.

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Pollard's Mossad Handler, Castro's Business Partner

US-Israeli relations may become awkward soon. The newest party in the Knesset, the Pensioners Party, is about to join Ehud Olmert's coalition. Rafi Eitan, their 79-year old leader, will become a cabinet minister. That will be a problem for the United States, where he's probably a persona-non-grata, for two reasons: he recruited Jonathan Pollard, who spied on the Pentagon for Israel, and he's gained quite a fortune from doing business in Cuba (Israel doesn't have an embargo on Cuba, just like most of the world other than the US).

When the United States is upset with Israel, it knows how to express its feelings. Last year, Amos Yaron left his post as general director of Israel's Defense Ministry after the United States refused to have any contact with him, cancelled a few deals with Israel and delayed others. The Pentagon held him responsible for selling American military technology to China. Eitan, Pollard's boss and Castro's friend, may get the same treatment.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Exit Polls: Pensioners' Party Wins Big, Likud Crashes

Four exit polls from Israel's three main channels and Ynet are indicating a big surprise: Gill, the pension party that seemed to be hovering around the 2% threshold, got 6-8 seats. Now it's a mid-sized party, stronger than the well established Meretz. That's amazing. It seems to me that it's a form of protest vote.

Also: Likud is down to fourth place, below Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Our Home, and possibly maybe even fifth place, after Shas. Now Likud is almost a marginal party, Netanyahu is probably about to lose his leadership post, and Lieberman will become the new leader of the right wing.

I'm not surprised by numbers Labor and Kadima got in the exit poll. It's more or less what I expected. It's a bit of a disappointment for Kadima, but Labor is probably more or less content.

The most important thing is that the right wing cannot block a center-left government.

Meretz got 5 seats according to all exit polls. That means Zvia Greenfeld is not in the Knesset. I hope the real results will get her into parliament.

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I Voted for Labor

That's it. The indecision is over. I chose the Labor Party. The polling place was fairly empty. I had to wait for one person who was ahead of me, but there was nobody in line behind me. As of 2 PM, only 31% of voters came to the polls, compared with 35%-36% at the same hour in 2003 and 2001. It's the lowest turnout ever, so far.

Israelis, wake up and go vote!

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Country Counter

I just added a country counter to see where visitors are coming from. I wouldn't count on the numbers exactly since they may count the same visitor a few times, but the country distribution should be interesting.


Update (May 2, 2006): My free trial period is over. The counter is no more.

A Few Election Notes

1. I will probably vote for Labor, though I'm very unhappy with Amir Peretz. I'll vote for Laborites Braverman, Pines, Malchior, Vilnai and Tamir, despite their leader.

2. I also considered voting for the retirement/pensioners party, Gill. All of the last polls show Gill will get into the Knesset, but I don't trust the polls. I'm worried my vote may be wasted if I put their name in the envelope.

3. After tomorrow's exit polls, we'll be free of election polls for a while. However, we aren't done with this headache just yet. Now there will be at least one month of speculation in the media regarding what kind of coalition will be formed, including polls asking which coalition partners the public wants.

4. Hopefully, someone in the next Knesset will have enough brains to sponsor a bill to undo the ban on propaganda on TV and radio, outside of the specific time given to campaign ads. It's stupid that interviewers have to keep asking politicians to refrain from campaign messages, which is exactly what they are there for. The ban's intent is a good one - to give equal time to the smaller parties. But it doesn't work. Also, the one-hour concentration of campaign ads should be cancelled. Campaign ads should run during regular commercial breaks, with the same time limits on each party as exist today.

5. Goodbye, 16th Knesset. You were the worst one we've ever seen. The 17th Knesset, however flawed in may turn out to be, will certainly be of much better quality than the current one. 16th, you will not be missed!

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