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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