Thursday, February 09, 2006

Autistic vs. Education Experts: Success Is Punished

My sister is getting ready to put her son in first grade next year. That means she's fighting the city and education department again. My nephew is doing so well, the so-called experts are recommending that he'll get less special assistance next year, if he'll get any at all. The problem is that he definitely needs as much help as possible. He is a wonderful, cute, brilliant kid, but he'll regress if he is put into a new environment without proper help.

The good thing is that my sister has good lawyers from non-profit organizations helping her. One is from Alut, an organization for autistic people, and the other is from Bizchut, an organization fighting for the rights of people with disabilities. Hopefully, my nephew's success won't be punished and he'll keep getting the help he deserves.

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Just Blame It On the Jews

Haaretz Cartoon
I haven't said anything about the cartoon riots yet. I guess it's about time. I see it as two hypocritical sides clashing with one another. Both sides are a little bit right and very much wrong. Yes, I see both sides negatively, pretty much. More on that later. First, how we Jews get screwed from all this.

We aren't part of this, but somehow we still get hurt. The Danes have cancelled a soccer match in Israel because of the riots. The idiots don't know that with our tight security they'd be safer here than they are in Denmark. Also, the Muslims are firing back at the anti-Muslim cartoon with anti-Jewish cartoons. These are coming from Iran, the Arab European League and others. How about anti-Christian cartoons? Or anti-liberal cartoons? After all, the original cartoonist and his main supporters are those.

Now back to the Muhammad cartoons themselves: The Europeans are a bit right because freedom of speech is important. The Muslims are right because religious tolerance is no less important.

The Europeans are very wrong because those cartoons didn't criticize anything in particular. They had no purpose other than insulting Islam. Freedom of speech has its limits - limits that should not be regulated (or forced by violence), but a kind of moral self-control. You can mock public figures in your cartoons, but you shouldn't use stereotypes or mock a whole religion.

Now, the Muslims are very wrong too. The riots are outrageous, of course. What kind of message do you send out if you violently protest against your portrayal as a violent religion? But even the more moderate Muslims who aren't rioting don't protest when Arab cartoonists portray the Jews and the Israelis as Nazi vampires. It is okay to attack the Jews and not the Muslims?

Above: Haaretz Cartoon by Amos Biderman, Feb. 6, 2006.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Nuclear Differences Between Israel and Iran

Avner Cohen, whose research into Israeli nuclear weapons created quite an uproar and controversy in Israel a few years ago, has an interesting op-ed in Haaretz today. The piece, titled "Why Israel can and Iran Can't" in the Hebrew version, answers all those who claim the attitude towards Israeli and Iranian nukes represents a double standard. He also says Israel should let go of its nuclear ambiguity, so it can answer its critics. I'm not that sure about that part. Ambiguity has its pros and cons.

Here's the English version:

Time to come clean on the bomb
By Avner Cohen

Every time the subject of the Iranian nuclear issue comes up in international forums - as happened over the weekend when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided to transfer the issue to the United Nations Security Council - there is someone who raises the issue of the exceptional Israeli nuclear issue. Every time Iran suffers condemnation for its nuclear conduct, its spokesmen accuse the Western world of a double standard: How is it that the West, according to them, turns a blind eye and permits Israel to develop nuclear weaponry whereas Iran - a country that only wants to realize its legitimate right to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes - is not left alone?

Among the Arab states as well, including those that truly do oppose and are afraid of the Iranian atom, this double standard argument also comes up. Why is the West dealing only with the Iranian atom and ignoring the Israeli atom, ask the Egyptians. Softer versions of this line of thinking are also common in Europe, where many argue that only anti-nuclear norms that apply to the entire region, including Israel, will prevent a nuclearized Middle East.

Even in the United States there are those who argue that only if Israel is brought into the Iranian equation in some way is there a chance of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And indeed, the United States has made possible the introduction of a connection in this spirit, though softer and diluted, into the IAEA decision of this weekend, which also included a mention of the commitment to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The attempt to put Israel and Iran on the same level, or even to create a concrete political connection between them, is ignorant, unfair and biased. First of all, from the point of view of international law: whereas Iran is a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and is committed to comply with it, Israel, like India and Pakistan, is not a signatory to the treaty and therefore is not beholden to a formal commitment. Whereas Iran has been caught in flagrant breach of its international commitments, Israel has not broken such commitments. In other words, like the seven other nuclear states in the world, and in stark contrast to Iran, Israel has never relinquished the right to develop nuclear weaponry.

However, beyond the formal plane there is a profound historical difference between Israel and Iran. Israel began its nuclear program in a world in which there were not yet explicit international norms against the possession of atomic weapons. When - according to foreign publications - Israel completed the first phase of the research and development of its nuclear activity around 1966, the NPT had not yet been completed. Had Israel decided at that time to realize its nuclear potential, and not to elect a policy of ambiguity, its nuclear status would be no different today from the status of the five other recognized nuclear states.

Beyond these differences there is also a profound difference between the two countries at the existential level. According to foreign reports, Israel began to develop its Samson option in the 1950s, while it was establishing a state for a people still in the shadow of conflagration, in a hostile geopolitical environment that was opposed to its very existence. It found itself committed to the creation of an insurance policy within the pre-1967 borders, without external guarantees for its existence. In the political climate of that time, a decade after the Holocaust, Israel had perhaps the strongest strategic and moral justification for turning to the nuclear option, certainly no less than France or China, which also began the atomic journey at that time.

Not only is Iran not under existential threat - its nuclear aspirations are an issue that puts it on a collision course with the world. Even the leaders of North Korea are not daring to declare their aspirations to wipe countries off the map, as the president of Iran has declared with respect to Israel.

From the Israeli perspective, it is essential not to leave the charge of double standard unanswered, but official Israel finds it difficult to answer the Iranian argument that it is permitted what Iran is forbidden. Official Israel finds it difficult to tell the world that its right to the atom is no less than that of France or India. The reason for this difficulty lies in the constraints of the policy of ambiguity that it has created of its own volition, a policy that traps it into not being able to clean up its nuclear position. Ambiguity is perceived in the world, with a certain amount of justice, as international deviation, as something sinful.

Israel's prime ministers have always refused to reopen the question of the exceptional nature of Israel's nuclear policy. The bureaucratic and diplomatic convenience of the ambiguity and the vast consensus behind its success have afforded Israeli prime ministers the luxury of not entering the atomic paradise. But the price of this exceptionalism is that the issue remains taboo, not arranged in an orderly manner, at home and abroad.

The need to deal with the Iranian nuclear capability strengthens the notion that the time has come for the state of Israel to find intelligent ways to clean up its nuclear status, at home and abroad.

Israel's nuclear policy was created as part of a chain of improvisations in the 1960s and the 1970s. But over the years the ambiguity has become a deviant anachronism, a kind of Israeli wink. Perhaps a fresh prime minister, who is open to innovative thinking, will be able to deal with the complex challenge of formulating a more transparent and democratic Israeli nuclear policy appropriate to the 21st century.

The writer, author of Israel and the Bomb and The Last Taboo, is a senior researcher at the University of Maryland.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pro-Pollard Group Has Mock Kadima Site

I wanted to check out Kadima's list of Knesset candidates on their website. I should have typed in but I made a mistake. I typed in and found this:

It's a website that attacks Kadima, claiming it abandoned Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel and is now serving a life sentence in the United States. It says "the Kadima Party is letting Pollard rot in jail", and "Kadima - you want our vote? We want Pollard!". The website calls for people to send e-mails to Ehud Olmert to ask why Olmert hasn't fulfilled the Knesset decision from November 22, according to which he must officially ask the president of the United States to release Pollard. In the background, Kadima's logo is shown with the slogan "Kadima (forward) without Pollard".

It's quite a smart move on the Free Pollard organization's part. A lot of people may type in this address by mistake.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Lesser of Evils

The good thing about a multi-party system, as opposed to a two-party system, is that you have a wide range of choices. The bad thing is that sometimes all those choices are bad. That's the situation in Israel during these elections. We have dozens of parties, none of which have platforms I can full heartedly endorse or a list of Knesset candidates worthy of parliament. We have three candidates for Prime Minister, none of them have the capabilities needed for the job.

So once again, I have to choose the lesser of evils. But in Israel, that isn't that simple. Which lesser evil - the best prime minister or best party? You vote for a party list, not for prime minister, though the number of seats each party gets determines who will be the prime minister.

If I make my decision according to who I support for the premiership I have to vote for either the three lists with PM candidates, or for a party who declares it will support a certain candidate. In that case, I'd vote for Kadima, since Ehud Olmert is the lesser of evils for the premiership. Sure, he was a horrible mayor of Jerusalem. He'll be a bad PM, too. But he'll be better than Benjamin Netanyahu who already proved to be a colossal failure, and Amir Peretz who is too much of a socialist and inept.

But I won't vote for Kadima. They aren't really a party. Its new Knesset candidates are mostly unknown, and those who are known have very different views from each other on every topic other than the mutual wish to be in power. I won't vote for Likud either - because they're too right wing. I won't vote for Meretz either. That party's stupid campaign is to flaunt their left-wing extremism, meaning they see themselves as in a contest with the communist and Arab parties, not with the more mainstream Labor. Most parties are either too far left or too far right or have inept members. The Labor party so far seems like the lesser of evils list-wise. They have some good people in there like Avishay Braverman, Ami Ayalon and Ofir Pines, though they have a very bad leader and a few extreme Knesset candidates such as Shelly Yechimovich.

So I guess I'll be voting Labor. I haven't made a final decision yet. One thing is certain, whichever party I vote for, I'll feel sick to my stomach when I cast my ballot.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Use Bullets Next Time

While the unilateral disengagement last summer was foolish, the evacuation of unauthorized settlements is essential. It isn't an issue between us and the Palestinians, but rather totally internal. The importance of the rule of law demands that settlements built without permission be destroyed.

On Wednesday in Amona, an illegal settlement even in the eyes of Israeli law, the whole battle was over the destruction of nine unoccupied buildings. The rebel settlers attacked the policemen sent to enforce the law with bricks and stones. This was a Jewish Intifadah in which all red lines were crossed. The police reacted violently and aggressively. Good for them. They need to teach the rebels a lesson - in Israel (and Israeli controlled areas of the West Bank) the three branches of government are the boss, not God and not the rabbis who claim to speak for him. The laws of the state govern here, not the Halachah, the laws of the religion.

Now politicians are looking for political gains from this. There's a call for a special commission to investigate police brutality towards the settlers. Though the right wing embraced this idea, they weren't the ones who came up with it. It was Yuli Tamir of the Labor Party, formerly of Peace Now. Is she just a bleeding heart or looking for votes by claiming Olmert didn't handle this as well as Sharon handled the disengagement? A little bit of both, I guess, but more of the latter than the former.

Police aggressiveness and violence is not the problem. The rebels should be happy policemen didn't use rubber bullets (or worse, regular ones) on the settlers who attacked them with deadly weapons like bricks.

Here are some hard questions that need to be answered, and not by a special commission which would be completely unnecessary:

  1. Why didn't the police block the area days before the evacuation? Destroying those nine measly houses would have been a lot easier without all those "visiting rebels".
  2. Most of the rebels were children. Where were their parents? Where were their teachers? Those who are supposed to be responsible adults need to tell these kids that they can't go, they can't miss school, and most importantly, can't brutally attack law enforcers. Maybe these parents and teachers who did not do all they could to keep the children from going to Amona should be arrested for a form of child abuse?
  3. Everybody is asking why the settler leadership hasn't done enough to prevent violence. Some of the leaders, including members of the Knesset, were in Amona and even wounded, reportedly after they refused to listen to the police. My question is this - why are these parliamentarians allowed to be active in a rebellion without being indicted like Israeli Arab parliamentarians who visit enemy states?

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