Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why Israelis Feel Threatened

Historian Benny Morris (of "Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem" fame) has an excellent op-ed piece in today's New York Times about why Israel feels threatened. He outlines two general sources and four specific causes of Jewish Israelis' anxieties.

The first general source is the fact that the Arab and Muslim world have never accepted Israel and still oppose its existence. Generally, he's right about this, but the Saudi Initiative is a glimmer of hope in this regard. On the other hand, the Arabs don't seem to be willing to give up the right of return, so I'm not very optimistic.

The second general source is the deminishing Western public support for Israel. I think this can be countered at least in part by taking steps toward a peace deal that would end the occupation, but there are many bleeding hearts in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States, that will always blame Israel for everything, and as long as the right of return isn't implemented, they'll still see Israel as owing the Palestinians something.

The four specific causes of Israel's sense of threat are Iran's nuclear program coupled with their leaders' desire to see a world without a Zionist state, Hezbullah's large arsenal of long-range weaponry and control of South Lebanon, Hamas's control of Gaza and the radicalisation of the Arab citizens of Israel.

As Morris points out, these are all unconventional threats. The first one is a potentially nuclear armed country, two are radical Islamist terrorist groups who reject the existence of Israel, and the fourth is one fifth of our own citizens.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Office Pool, 2009

In my previous post I checked out how well I predicted the events of 2008. Now, I'll predict the events of 2009, again using William Safire's annual column in the New York Times. My reasons for making these choices are in italics.

1. In Demo-dominated D.C., post-postpartisan tension will pit:
(c) Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel against United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, a Zbigniew Brzezinski acolyte, over Mideast policy (Emanuel, the son of an Israeli, is likely to clash with the not-so-Israel-friendly Brzezinski school of thought).

2. Springtime for G.M. will lead to: none of the above. (I'm no expert, but I dare say that excessive industrial bailouts and mergers with Toyota or any other foreign car company won't happen. The third option won't happen either).

3. Toughest foreign affairs challenge will come if:
(a) Afghanistan becomes “Obama’s War” or “Obama’s Retreat” (I doubt the US will retreat from Iraq during 2009. It can still be quite a quagmire, but the trouble won't come from a withdrawal. Ukraine is no Georgia, so Russia won't mess with it, even if Putin needs something to distract Russians from the economic depression. An India-Pakistan war is a serious danger, too, but there is a good chance it can be avoided. Which leaves Afghanistan as the toughest challenge. I'd also add the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the list).

4. Oil selling below $50 a barrel will:
(a) threaten President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s June election in Iran (he ain't that popular as it is, but with the economy in the toilet he's even worse off, and hopefully, he'll lose in June. Oil prices have nothing to do with popular support for Hamas, though it may reduce the money Hamas gets from oil producing countries. Anyway, if Tzippi Livni defeats Netanyahu in Feb., it won't be the indirect result of oil prices, but the direct result of the current operation in Gaza).

5. Best-picture Oscar goes to:
(d) “Gran Torino” (I haven't seen any of these films, but I know the Academy loves Clint Eastwood. I'd put my money on two other films not on Safire's list: WALL-E, which I haven't seen yet, or "The Dark Knight", which I've seen and liked, but don't think deserves the honor).

6. The non-fiction sleeper will be:
(e) “Ponzi Shmonzi: The Bernie Madoff Story,” crash-published by a dozen houses (Just a guess, but I think some of those who lost all their savings because of the son of a bitch can regain some of their money by writing books about him).

7. The don’t-ask deficit at year’s end will be:
(c) $1,393,665,042,198 and no cents. (Or more generally, I think the deficit will grow and be more than a trillion, but less than 2 trillion. I say this, of course, despite my complete ignorance of economic affairs, so I'm probably very wrong).

8. In Congress:
(c) among Senate Democrats, Judiciary chairman Pat Leahy’s influence will rise because Supreme Court nominations will take center stage, while Harry Reid’s clout dissipates because of home-state weakness (I suppose Supreme Court nominations are coming up, so Leahy's clout will grow. I'm not sure it will come at the expense of Harry Reid, though).

9. Post-honeymoon journalists and bloody-minded bloggers will dig into:
(a) the jailhouse singing by Chicago’s felonious fixer, Tony (“Who You Callin’ ‘Boneheaded’?”) Rezko, to Dewey-eyed prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to reduce his six-year sentence (Naturally, the guy who has some kind of connection to the new president, as weak as the connection is, is bound to interest the media. Besides, Chicago's corruption has always been fascinating).

10. The Supreme Court will decide:
(a) in nipple exposure or “fleeting expletives” on live TV, that the F.C.C. exceeded its authority in fining Fox for indecency
(b) that the Federal Election Commission was wrong to censure a moviemaker whose “biopic” was hostile to Hillary Clinton during her campaign
(c) that the appearance of impropriety in financial dealings of a West Virginia judge disqualified him from sitting in a coal-company dispute
(d) that Attorney General John Ashcroft and F.B.I. director Robert Mueller had a “qualified immunity” from being sued for racial profiling in imprisoning suspected terrorists
(e) that in al-Marri v. Pucciarelli, a legal U.S. resident cannot be held indefinitely at Guantánamo (sounds safe enough to guess that all of these will come true).

11. Obama philosophy will be regarded as:
(b) determinedly centrist on health care, immigration and protectionism (I think Obama will tread carefully on all issues).

12. Year-end presidential approval rating will be:
(c) sinking but 30 points higher than that of Congress and the news media (and much higher than Bush's approval rating. The euphoria will end so Obama's approval will drop somewhat, but there is a good chance it will still be high).

I wonder, has anyone stuck around to read all my predictions?

2008: I Didn't See That Coming

In my first post of the year, I made predictions about 2008, based on William Safire's annual Office Pool column in the New York Times. Today, the Times published the 2009 edition, which starts out with Safire pointing out that he predicted the Dow Jones would break 15,000 points this year. I made the same foolish wild guess.

So I decided to go back to my predictions and see how I did. I discovered that on many issues I have no idea what actually happened. I'd be happy if Safire also published an "And the winner of the office pool is" column, where he'd give the correct answers, according to what ended up happening. I do know how some things turned out, and I didn't do too well with those, though I wasn't entirely wrong either.

I said that "There Will Be Blood" will win the Oscar. Even though "No Country For Old Men" was the actual winner, I was kind of right. "Blood" was the only film Safire gave as an option that even got nominated in the best film category.

I was right about the Supreme Court: it did indeed rule that gun rights belong to the individual, states can require photo ID to vote, and lethal injection is not cruel and unusual punishment. I'm not a legal expert, so I'm not sure whether or not they ruled habeas corpus applies to Guantanamo detainees, or whether military commissions for detainees were declared illegal on different grounds.

I was pretty much wrong about all the political and diplomatic issues, except that I think I was right about Fidel Castro leaving the world stage, and America is indeed going leftward with a Democratic Congress, though it's with Obama as president, not Hillary Clinton.

Hamas Kills and Injures Fellow Arabs

After Qassam rockets killed two Palestinian girls in Gaza last week, and injured a Palestinian man, the indiscriminate nature of Hamas's weapons has been demonstrated once again today. Missiles launched by the terrorist group hit a construction site in Ashkelon, killing Hani al-Mahdi, 27, and injuring 10 other workers, all of them Palestinian citizens of Israel. Will Hamas now declare this innocent victim a Shaheed?

In related news, Israel destroyed about 40 tunnels in the Rafah area. This will substantially reduce Hamas's capability to re-arm itself. So far, the operation has been going very well.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Good Job, IAF!

One of the most frustrating things about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the solution is very clear to most people, but that's still not enough to end the violence. The only way out of this quagmire is the two state solution, with Israel and Palestine side by side, and no return of Palestinians into Israel. This very sensible solution is rejected by Hamas, who would rather keep fighting Israel until all of this "holly Muslim land" is "liberated". It even seems to be rejected by Fatah, who still calls for the return of Palestinian refugees into Israel.

Radicalism must be crippled on both sides. Right now we're working on crippling Hamas. When we're done with that, we should reign in the rogue settlers. But that will be later. Now Hamas is the enemy and I wish all their members nothing but the worst.

I'm one angry Israeli, and the longer the range of Hamas's rockets, the angrier I get. Don't screw with Israel!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Airstrikes Against Hamas in Gaza

I'm on the peaceful side of the Israeli political spectrum, but even I think that there is a time for peace and a time for fighting. Israel was right to attack Hamas in Gaza. It isn't attacking civilian targets and civilian casualties are very low among the 200-odd dead and 200 or so wounded.

The ball is in Hamas's hands now. If it stops attacking Israel, Israel will stop attacking Hamas. Eventually, even the border crossings may open.

When even dovish people like Amos Oz and Meretz leader Haim Oron support action against Hamas in Gaza, it means Hamas has really crossed a line. The terrorist organization has been raining scores of rockets a day on Israeli towns over the last week. Even during the so-called ceasefire, Palestinian rockets hit Israel.

Just yesterday, two Palestinian girls were killed by a Qassam rocket which misfired. Also yesterday, a Palestinian man who was injured by a Qassam, which he may or may not have been trying to launch at Israel, was transferred to an Israeli hospital for medical treatment.

The Qassams only hurt the Palestinians. Without them, the lives of Gazans would be much better and the prospect of an independent Palestinian state would be much closer to reality.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sharia Law in Gaza

According to Al-Hayat, the Hamas government in Gaza has passed a new law detailing the punishments for various crimes, based on Islamic Sharia law. Not surprisingly, whoever cooperates with Israel is sentenced to death. I don't support this, but at least this part is somehow understandable. Now here are some of the scarier Iranian/Saudi Arabian/Taliban-style punishments:

  • For drinking, owning or producing wine - 40 whips.
  • For gambling, hurting religious sensibilities, cursing, humiliating people and hurting the public's feelings - you'll get whipped.
  • For stealing - amputation of the right hand.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time's People of the Year

Is there any doubt whatsoever that President-elect Barack Obama is the man of the year? Whether you like him or not, the first African-American President beat off more experienced candidates and made history. Do Time Magazine editors even have to think this through? They seemed to support him during the election, so if they won't select him, it would just be a lame attempt to prove they aren't big fans of his.

The bigger question is who the runners up will be. Clinton? Palin? Tina Fey? I'd choose Hillary Clinton as 1st runner up, since she was very close to becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major party and ended the year getting nominated for Secretary of State. Second runner up will probably be the president of China, and a European leader (Brown of the UK, Merkel of Germany or Sarkozy of France) will be 3rd.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Senate Seat For Sale

Wow, this is absolutely incredible. Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, who has the power to appoint Barack Obama's successor in the Senate, has been arrested for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat to whoever had the most lucrative offer for him (either cash or a high paying job for himself or his wife). He was recorded on a wiretap saying that if nobody offers him something good enough he'll just appoint himself. This sounds like one of the worst, and most blatant, cases of corruption in US history since the end of New York's Tammany Hall days.

Ehud Olmert must feel sorry for the governor.

Channel 1's Weird Likud Primary Coverage

Because of long lines and problems with voting machines, polls closed only at 1 a.m. in the Likud primaries. Polls are still open in the West Bank. Because of this, results are expected at 2:30, instead of midnight. Nobody is still covering this election, except for Channel 1, the public (government-owned) channel.

Newscasters Geula Even and Oded Shahar, along with political commentator Yaron Dekel, are joking around with the guests in the studio and Ayala Hason-Nesher,the reporter at Likud HQ. Hason-Nesher even asked Even and Shahar how long they have to stay on the air and killing time. They keep joking about not falling asleep. They are acting so silly that when they interviewed Limor Livnat, Even fake-complimented her on her looks and brains, "in case you become the minister in charge of public broadcasting."

Hason-Nesher to Even after Even successfully guessed Moshe Yaalon is in 7th place, according to the unofficial list Hason-Nesher got: "You're not just beautiful, you've got brains".

It doesn't seem like they think anyone is actually watching them.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Likud Moderates vs. Feiglins: Who Should I Root For?

Tomorrow the Likud holds its primaries to elect its list for the Knesset. Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping that right-wing extremist Moshe Feiglin and his supporters, known as "the Feiglins", will not do very well. He fears that if they make it into high places on the list it will cost the party a significant amount of votes. I'm sure he's right. A radical Likud Knesset list would definitely hurt Netanyahu in his race against Tzipi Livni.

I have mixed feelings about the results I'd like to see coming out of tomorrow's vote. A part of me would like to see the extremists win, so that Likud will lose to Kadima in the general election. However, as an Israeli, I don't really want these dangerous nuts in my parliament. I'd rather see moderates like Dan Meridor, Asaf Hefetz and Uzi Dayan get into the Knesset than Moshe Feiglin.

I've come to the conclusion that I'd like to see the moderates in the top 20, spots considered safe, and I don't want the Feiglins to be in completely unrealistic spots, like 40 and up, but rather places that are on the brink - mid-20's to mid-30's, places where people will say to themselves, "if my vote is the one giving Likud a 26th (or 30th) seat and putting that guy in the Knesset, I'd rather vote for a different party."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Labor's Knesset List

I have mixed feelings about the primary election's results. On the one hand, most of the candidates I support are at the top of the list (Braverman, Yechimovich and Pines), while another, Daniel Ben-Simon, is in 11th place, which just might get him into the next Knesset. On the other hand, the entire second fivesome ("hamishya", places 6-10, not including 7, which was reserved) is made up of people I hoped would be pushed out of the Knesset - Matan Vilnai, Yuli Tamir, Amir Peretz and Fuad Ben-Eliezer, while one of the people who were pushed out was Colette Avital, one of the finest Knesset Members Israel has.

I'm also not happy about Yoram Martziano winning the seat reserved for struggling neighborhoods. Martziano is a thug whose main contribution to Israeli legislation was to overturn a desicion to remove huge billboards from buildings along a busy highway. Transportation experts said the billboards, which usualy have scantily clad models on them, distract drivers and cause accidents, but Martziano came out in defense of the advertising companies. He also got into a fistfight at a nightclub and was accused of sexual harassment. The good news is that Martziano is only in 17th place, and the way it looks now, Labor will get only about ten seats.

Anyway, here's how the Labor Party's Knesset list will look (top 19):

1. Ehud Barak, party chairman
2. Yitzhak Herzog (1st place in primaries)
3. Ofir Pines (2nd)
4. Avishai Braverman (3rd)
5. Shelly Yechimovich (4th)
6. Matan Vilnai (5th)
7. Eitan Cabel, reserved as secretary-general
8. Fuad Ben Eliezer (6th)
9. Yuli Tamir (8th, bumped up one seat due to reservation for women)
10. Amir Peretz (7th)
11. Daniel Ben-Simon (9th)
12. Shalom Simhon (seat reserved for Moshavim)
13. Orit Noked (seat reserved for Kibbutzim)
14. Einat Wilf (10th place in national primary)
15. Ghaleb Majadla (seat reserved for Arabs)
16. Shekeev Shanan (seat reserved for Druze candidate)
17. Yoram Martziano (seat reserved for struggling neighborhoods)
18. Leon Litinsky (seat reserved for Olim, new immigrants)
19. Colette Avital (12th place in national primary, bumped up due to reservation for women)

All Is Quiet On the Hebron Front (For Now)

Israeli forces evacuated 250 settlers illegally occupying a house in Hebron yesterday. It was over within an hour and went just about perfectly, as the evacuees were caught by surprise. They thought negotiations with the government may still produce an agreement that would allow them to stay there.

The trouble came later, when Jewish settlers attacked Palestinians all over Hebron. Settlers shot at Palestinians, burned their laundrey and tried to burn their houses. The police and army did nothing to stop them. This is a disgrace. The security forces should have treated rioting Jews as if they were rioting Palestinians. All those who participated in criminal acts against innocent Palestinian civilians must be brought to justice.

It is now quiet in Hebron. It is hard to know how long this will last.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Labor Primaries Postponed Mid-Voting

I waited two hours today at my polling place to vote in the Labor Party's primary election. The voting system crashed and so we had to wait for it to come back up again. Once in a while it came back up, two or three people managed to vote and then the system crashed again. The poll workers said there were problems all over Israel and that the company running the system had only two tech support guys for the whole country. It was ridiculous. In the end I didn't vote at all.

Turns out that the party has decided to stop today's elections and postpone them to December 10. This was the Labor Party's first attempt at electronic voting, and during the re-vote they'll go back to the old system of paper ballots. I think they should have had paper ballots available today as backup in case the system fails.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Labor List Prediction

Other than Ehud Barack and Eitan Cabel, who have the 1st and 7th places on the Labor list reserved, as well as a few people running unopposed for seats reserved for specific geographic and demographic districts, all other people who want to get into the party's list have to succeed in tomorrow's primaries. Here's how I predict the top 10 will look:

1. Ehud Barack (Reserved, as party chairman)
2. Ofir Pines (1st place in primaries)
3. Shelly Yechimovich (2nd)
4. Avishay Braverman (3rd)
5. Yitzhak Herzog (4th)
6. Daniel Ben-Simon (5th)
7. Eitan Cabel (Reserved, as party secretary-general)
8. Colette Avital (6th)
9. Amir Peretz (7th)
10. Einat Wilf (8th)

Coming in at 9th place and getting the 11th spot on the list will be Fouad Ben Eliezer. 10th place, who will get to be no. 14, after the two spots reserved for Moshavim (Shalom Simhon, running unopposed) and Kibbutzim (where Orit Noked will probably win), will be Yuli Tamir.

I'm predicting that 4 women will be among the ten people with the most votes, and three of them will also make it to the Knesset list's top 10. They don't even need the places reserved for women (5th, if no woman is elected to places 1-4; 9th, if no woman is elected to places 6-8; and 14, if no woman is elected to places 11-13). I may be too optimistic here.

Polls close at 22:00 (3 PM Eastern), and voting is electronic, so results should not take too long to be tallied and announced.

My Labor Votes

The Israeli Labor Party selects its Knesset list tomorrow. Each party member chooses five to eight of the 19 general candidates plus votes for district candidates. As a (not so proud) member, I'll have the right to vote as well. I'll be voting for Avishay Braverman (a brilliant economist), Ofir Pines (a sane moderate on social and national security issues), Shelly Yechimovich (an excellent legislator who used to be extremely leftist in her previous journalism career, but who has become a moderate), Colette Avital (excellent legislator and former diplomat) and Daniel Ben-Simon (a former Ha'aretz journalist who has entered politics recently). I might also vote for Shimon Sheetrit, a law and political science prefessor and former cabinet member, and Dr. Einat Wilf, a young academic with interesting ideas about education.

You may notice I'm not voting for any generals. I have no idea what good Fouad Ben-Eliezer, a retired Brigadier General, has ever done for this country in all his years in government. He's been good to members of strong labor unions, but not to the general population. Matan Vilnai, a retired Major General who I used to like, has had some very odd security proposals recently.

Neither will I be voting for Yuli Tamir, the Minister of Education. She has let the Ministry of the Treasury run negotiations with teachers' and university professors' unions and , and she has led the awful Ofek Hadash (New Horizon) reform plan, which gives teachers slightly more pay for a lot more work (meaning that per hour, their pay was cut), among other problems.

I will not vote for the inept Amir Peretz or the bleeding-heart Peace Now chairman Yariv Oppenheimer. I will also vote against the Ars (thug) Yoram Martziano, who is running in the "neighborhoods" district (where only residents of poor neighborhoods can run but all party members can vote).