Thursday, December 31, 2009

Description of the Decade: Shitty

2009 was a shitty year. In some respects in was even shittier than 2008, in others, it was better. In both my countries, the United States and Israel, one shitty chief executive was replaced by another shitty chief executive. Barack Obama is far less shitty than George W. Bush ever was, but this year he has proven what I thought about him last year, that he is ill-equipped for the job of president. In Israel, I'm having a hard time deciding who the hell is shittier, Benjamin Shitinyahu or Ehud Ol-merde (read as in French).

The whole decade was shitty. First, the Second Intifadah started. Then Dubya was elected  president. Then 9/11 and then you know all the shit that followed. I supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but now I think that Iraq shouldn't have been touched, and that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban should have been bombed without an invasion. Airline and border security are the best ways to maintain our safety.

I'd like to say that the shittiness ends tonight, that 2010 and the rest of the Twenty Teens will be much better. Unfortunately, the shittiness is going to spill into the next decade. I don't see any peace deals, or even negotiations, between Israel and the Palestinians or any other Arab neighbors any time soon. The US is still knee deep in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever happens with Iran, it won't be good (seems like the two main options there are either a war or them obtaining nukes, and I don't see the protesters prevailing). The economy is still shitty, even if it's better than before.

I must say the year and decade were shitty politically, but they were pretty good to me personally. The beginning of the decade wasn't that great, especially the boredom of my military service and when my nephew was diagnosed as autistic. But as the decade ends, my nephew is doing great, I'm a graduate student enjoying my life, and my family and friends are all happy.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Kadima, Stay Out!

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered Tzippi Livni, the head of the opposition and chairwoman of the Kadima Party, to join his government. She hasn't ruled it out. I think it is very important that Kadima stays in the opposition. Hopefully, the threat of many Kadima MKs to change parties and Shaul Mofaz's demand for new elections for the chairmanship of Kadima won't lead Livni to the wrong decision.

Netanyahu is one of the worst prime ministers Israel has ever had. Despite this, there is no real opposition against him other than radical settlers. The parties in the parliamentary opposition are too diverse to form a cohesive counterbalance to the government, and even Kadima is oddly silent on its failings. What needs to be done is for Kadima to be united somehow and for more criticism to be lodged against the government, not to join it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Israelis Don't Hate Obama

According to popular wisdom, Israelis are very hostile towards Barack Obama. I have to admit that I bought into that notion myself. Most of my friends have a positive attitude towards Obama, or mixed feelings, but I had a feeling that the social circle I belong to isn't very representative of Israeli society. And indeed, whenever I talked to other people, let's call them non-academic types, they tended to hate Obama, or at the very least, they were suspicious of him. This seemed to be supported by a now discredited poll that claimed only 4% of Israelis support Obama.

A new poll shows I was wrong. Obama's approval ratings in Israel are quite similar to his approval ratings at home. When compared to Rasmussen's Dec. 11 poll, Obama's approval rating in Israel is just six percentage points lower than his approval rating in the States, but even more interesting is the fact that a higher percentage of Americans disapprove of his performance than Israelis: 51% compared to just 37%.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has a higher approval rating among Israelis than is widely believed, undercutting arguments he has lost Israeli public support for new peace efforts, a poll said on Thursday.

The poll by the Washington-based New America Foundation found that 41 percent of Israelis had a favorable rating of Obama against 37 percent who rated him unfavorably.

Despite this, 55 percent of Israelis polled said they thought Obama did not support Israel against 42 percent who said he did -- a reflection of the "complexity of views" about the U.S. leader as he presses both Israel and the Palestinians to resume stalled peace talks.

"They genuinely admire and like him ... but at the same time they also want to feel that he is in their corner, and they have concerns over this," pollster Jim Gerstein said in an email message.

Gerstein said that, in contrast to widespread media reports of low Israeli public support for Obama, the poll of 1,000 Israelis showed more support and solid backing for a possible future U.S.-brokered peace deal with the Palestinians.

"Israelis believe peace is necessary, but they currently do not feel a sense of urgency to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians," Gerstein said in his report, adding that Obama had a chance now to persuade Israelis it was time to reach an agreement.

"There are real opportunities for the president and his team to speak directly and convincingly to the Israeli people," the report said.

Predicting Time's Person of the Year 2009

Time Magazine likes putting President Barack Obama on its cover, but I think it is safe to say that he won't be Time's Person of the Year for a second year in row. Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize, he hasn't done enough to merit the title. He deserves to be first runner-up, at the most.

Will it be Angela Merkel, who won re-election as Germany's chancellor this year and has become one of the most influential European leaders?  It's very possible.

Will it be Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to the Israeli Prime Minister's office after 10 years and has already managed to anger the Palestinians, settlers, the Israeli left and the Obama administration? No, it won't be him.

Will it be Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is credited by many as the person responsible for curbing the financial crisis? I think he's the top candidate. The economy has been the number one issue worldwide this year, so someone who has something to do with it is likely to be named POY. It could also be that the companies that got bailout money will be chosen, if Time Magazine decides to go with something other than a person.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ahmadinejad: "US Trying to Prevent the Mahdi's Return"

Yossi Melman reports in today's Haaretz (in Hebrew, no English version) that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told families who lost loved ones in the Iran-Iraq War that the main purpose of the American invasion of Iraq was to prevent the return of the Mahdi, the Shi'ite messiah. He quotes Iranian news agency Tabnak, which reported Ahmadinijad said the following:

"It is true that the forces of arrogance (the Americans) have their eyes on the [Iraqi] nation's oil and other treasures, but behind all this there is a hidden reasoning and they are working in accordance with it, although they would never admit to it in public. However, we have obtained documents of theirs. They came up with this plan (the invasion and occupation of Iraq) to prevent the coming of the hidden imam, and they also know that the Iranian nation is preparing for this event and will be his ally when he appears." (Note: I'm translating from Hebrew, which itself is a translation, and probably a translation of a translation).
Melman points out that Ahmedinijad is a follower of Masbah Yazdi, who believes Muslims must pave the way for the Mahdi's return. This is a view the Iranian Ayatollahs see as heresy.

Some experts believe that Ahmedinijad's belief in the return of the Mahdi is the main reason he wants to have nuclear weapons. Messianic Shi'ites believe that when he returns there will be a bloody war between the Shi'ites and their enemies. Sounds pretty much like the Christian Armageddon.

Scary stuff.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Jews and the Kingdom

I don't know anything about being Jewish in Great Britain. I've never lived there, or even visited. I know quite a few British Jews, mostly those who moved to Israel, but we've never discussed the topic of how it is to be Jewish in the United Kingdom. Two interesting opinion pieces were published recently about just that. David Newman of the Jerusalem Post and Roger Cohen of the New York Times write from different perspectives, about different aspects of "Anglo-Judaism", and are each prompted to write about the issue for very different reasons.

You can go to the links above or read the articles below.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tom Friedman: The Narrative

America vs. The Narrative by Thomas L. Friedman, NY Times

What should we make of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who apparently killed 13 innocent people at Fort Hood?

Here’s my take: Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam,” and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.”

What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.

Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders.

The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that.

It’s working. As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: “This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the U.S. and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned — mostly from the Gulf.”

This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people’s grievances over why their countries are falling behind. And it suits Al Qaeda, which doesn’t need much organization anymore — just push out The Narrative over the Web and satellite TV, let it heat up humiliated, frustrated or socially alienated Muslim males, and one or two will open fire on their own. See: Major Hasan.

“Liberal Arabs like me are as angry as a terrorist and as determined to change the status quo,” said my Jordanian friend. The only difference “is that while we choose education, knowledge and success to bring about change, a terrorist, having bought into the narrative, has a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which are inculcated in us from childhood, that lead him to believe that there is only one way, and that is violence.”

What to do? Many Arab Muslims know that what ails their societies is more than the West, and that The Narrative is just an escape from looking honestly at themselves. But none of their leaders dare or care to open that discussion. In his Cairo speech last June, President Obama effectively built a connection with the Muslim mainstream. Maybe he could spark the debate by asking that same audience this question:

“Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, ‘This is not Islam.’ I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn’t. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us — and to yourselves.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Supposed Situation, In a False Nutshell

Mondoweiss has this picture of Anna Baltzer and Haithem El-Zabri under the erroneous title "The situation, in a nutshell".

The sign Baltzer is holding is pretty accurate, except for the assertion that Israel is situated on El-Zabri's land. El-Zabri's sign, on the other hand, is just untruthful.

A Google search brought me to the discovery that he was born in the States. That means he's from the United States, not Palestine. His parents are from Palestine. There's a difference. So to recap, both people in this picture are from Austin, Texas, not just Baltzer.

The next two lines of El-Zabri's sign state "I cannot return to my land". Now, that's not true. This picture was taken in your land, Goddammit. If you'll leave the United States you'll certainly be able to return. You are an American citizen, after all. El-Zabri is saying that what is now Israel is his land. It isn't. Just like Poland isn't my land, even though my mother spent her early childhood there, and just like Ireland or Italy aren't the lands of second- and third-generation Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans. When the State of Palestine is established, if they decide to give El-Zabri the right of return and citizenship, then Palestine will be his land.

The Law of Return for Jews is an internal matter. It is an immigration policy. Most countries, if not all, have discriminatory immigration policies, and each country may choose which groups to prefer and confer the political right of immigration upon.

So-called "peace activists" promoting the Palestinian Right of Return will achieve neither peace nor justice. Insisting on this will only push peace beyond reach (and it is a distant prospect as it is).  Israelis would never, in their right minds, decide to become a minority in their own country. The only solution is the two-state solution, which can achieve both peace and the greatest degree of justice possible for both sides.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A New Book By an Autistic Kid's Mother

Yediot Aharonot's "7 Days" section has an interesting interview this weekend with Galit Distel Etebaryan, who wrote a novel based on her experiences as the mother of an autistic kid. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it on-line in either Hebrew or English, but here's a review of her book from Ha'aretz in Hebrew and in English.

In the interview, Etebaryan calls her son "formerly autistic", although he still has some problems. I'd say this is misleading. He's still autistic, but very high functioning.

It's interesting that the European psychiatrist who told her that her son is autistic blamed her for his condition. Apparently not everybody has parted with the notion of refrigerator mothers. I'd like to hope that had her son been diagnosed in Israel, that wouldn't have happened (she was in Europe - Greece in the novel, I don't know if it was Greece in real life, too - because her husband was working there at the time).

She also says honestly that she isn't glad she has a child with special needs. She says that hearing other parents saying their special kids made them better people makes her laugh. I can understand her feelings. Most people would rather have normal children, though I do think having children with special needs makes their parents (and other relatives) more sensitive and more understanding.

One last observation: the book review says the child in the novel never spoke a word before he was diagnosed, while Etebaryan says in her interview that her son spoke fluently until he started regressing at the age of two, although she also describes him as rejecting her and avoiding physical contact as a little baby, which would suggest he was autistic from the beginning. I find this interesting, because I always wondered if kids really did regress, or maybe the parents were in denial. Anyway, it's perfectly possible that there are different forms of autism, some with regression, some without.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Israeli SC: No to Private Prisons

The Israeli Supreme Court struck down the Private Prisons Act yesterday, in an 8-1 decision. The justices in the majority said that it is unconstitional to transfer the right to use force against prisoners from the state to private companies. They said this would violate the Human Dignity and Liberty Basic Law. This is an international precedent. I wonder if it will encourage people in other countries to fight the privatization of prisons, especially in the States.

This is the right decision. There are certain government services that should not be privatized, especially those where the use of force is part of the package. I'm glad this ruling came down before the prison had any inmates in it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Freedom of Religion in Israel

Shahar Ilan has an interesting blog post (in Hebrew) he wrote after the release of the latest report by the US State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (you can read about it in Hebrew and in English). Ilan writes that not only is the treatment of religious minorities troubling, the treatment of secular Jews, which just might be the largest group in the country, is absurd. He mentions the fact that Israelis who want to marry in Israel have to go through the Orthodox Rabbinate, where grooms will be told that women are like clay that must be molded by their husbands and that women who aren't flattered are like fish out of water. If you don't want to go through this and would rather go the Reform, Conservative or civil marriage way, you better get married abroad.

Ilan says that, unfortunately, things will just get worse. Demographically, the illiberal sections of Israeli society, mostly the ultra-orthodox, are only growing. If we don't act now, he says, it will be too late to undo the discrimination against non-Jews, women and secular people. I agree with him.

Michael Moore's Sicko

I recently watched Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, "Sicko", about the health-care system in the United States and other countries. It's a very entertaining film, but not a very good source of information.

I totally agree with Moore when it comes to the American health-care system: it's broken and has to be fixed. I support government-funded universal healthcare. Moore's health insurance horror stories, though, were not very surprising. The media has shown such cases numerous times. Of course, I don't live in the States, but I'm quite sure the source of most reports I've seen on the subject is the US mainstream media.

My main problem with the film is the rosy depiction of other health-care systems. As someone who lives in a country with socialized medicine, I know that the system we have here is better than the market-based system in the States, but that our system, too, has problems. There are a lot of problems with the systems in Canada, Britain and France. I've seen quite a few reports on BBC World and Sky News about calls to reform the National Health Service.

The scenes in France were particularly annoying. Moore focuses at length on the many social benefits the French government bestows upon citizens and residents, much of it excessive, and asks how the French aren't drowning in taxes. How does he prove that they aren't? He goes to one (yes, that is one [1]) family and shows that they're living the good life. Other than a mortgage, they aren't in any debt! They fly off to some other place in the world once every year! So what? That doesn't really prove much, other than the fact that I'd like to punch that couple in their faces. You can find people like that in pretty much every Western country, under any health-care and tax system.

The most problematic part of the documentary, of course, is when Moore takes a group of 9/11 rescue workers and other under-insured sick people to Cuba. At first, he claims he only wants to go to Guantanamo Bay, where detainees get free health insurance (a scene that might have inspired a similar scene in an Israeli docu-activist show, where journalists Orly Vilnai and Guy Meroz visit an Israeli prison where prisoners get free dental care, which isn't covered by Israel's national health insurance). Then, Moore takes his group to a Cuban hospital. Everything is presented as wonderful. Everything is free. It's first-class medicine. Does everybody get this kind of treatment in Castro's Cuba, or just the wealthy and the camera-wielding? We don't really know. Besides, even if Cuban healthcare is truly open to all citizens, would you rather live in Cuba or the States?

Friday, November 06, 2009


Mahmoud Abbas has declared he won't run for re-election as president of the Palestinian Authority in January. This could be a very good thing, or a very bad thing. Abbas is a horrible leader for Palestinians, and prospects for peace under his leadership are very dim. He just wants to sit on his ass and wait for the world to impose his preferred solution on Israel.

If whoever replaces Abu-Mazen is someone who is truly willing to negotiate and reach a deal, things will be better. Yes, Netanyahu doesn't seem like he'd actually sign any treaties with the Palestinians, but if he is pushed to the corner and forced to prove that his support for the two state solution is not just lip service, he might budge. Alternatively, if Israelis see someone on the Palestinian side who is a real partner for peace, and they see Netanyahu is the stubborn one, they just might vote for someone more willing to sign peace deals when the next election comes around.

If whoever replaces Abu-Mazen is more of a hard-liner, like any Hamasnik or Marwan Barghouti, the Middle East will be in trouble. Both Israelis and Palestinians will be screwed.

I'd be happy to see someone like Sari Nusseibeh or Mustafa Barghouti get elected, but I have no idea what their chances are.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Bereaved Mother and Her Son's Killer

In September, Haaretz published an article (available in English and in Hebrew) about Robi Damelin, a member of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization. Her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper seven years ago. The sniper, Ta'er Hamad, is now in an Israeli jail, and Damelin decided to publicly forgive him. She wrote him and his family the following letter:

"This for me is one of the most difficult letters I will ever have to write. My name is Robi Damelin, I am the mother of David who was killed by your son. I know he did not kill David because he was David, if he had known him he could never have done such a thing. David was 28 years old, he was a student at Tel Aviv University doing his masters in the philosophy of education. David was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the occupied territories. He had compassion for all people and understood the suffering of the Palestinians. He treated all around him with dignity. David was part of the movement of the officers who did not want to serve in the occupied territories, but nevertheless for many reasons he went to serve when he was called up for reserve duty.

What makes our children do what they do, they do not understand the pain they are causing your son by now having to be in jail for many years and mine who I will never be able to hold or see again or see him married, or have a grandchild from. I cannot describe to you the pain I feel since his death and the pain of his brother and girlfriend, and all who knew and loved him.

I understand that your son is considered a hero by many within the Palestinian people. He is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent, viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another is not the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a nonviolent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace... Our lives as two nations are so intertwined, each of us will have to give up on our dreams for the future of the children who are our responsibility... I do not know what your reaction will be, it is a risk for me, but I believe that you will understand, as it comes from the most honest place within me. I hope that you will show the letter to your son, and that maybe in the future we can meet."

Hamad recently responded to this letter in a very negative and militant manner, saying that violence is the only way to end the occupation and that he will continue on this path until Palestine is liberated. He refused to address Damelin directly, and of course, refused to meet her, because he "cannot meet our land's occupier on the same land". You can read the response in Hebrew here. The Ma'an News Agency probably has the original letter in Arabic. I couldn't find an English version.

Well, at least one good thing came out of all this: we now know Ta'er Hamad shouldn't be included in any prisoner swap deals, since he hasn't changed his mind about violence.

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Negotiations, No Solution

An American diplomat is quoted in today's Yediot Ahronot as saying that the difference between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas is that the Israeli prime minister wants negotiations without a solution to the conflict, while the Palestinian president wants a solution without negotiations. Sounds like an accurate assessment to me.

Now we have the negative half of each one of the leaders' wishes: no negotiations and no solution. Isn't that just great? Both leaders are unwilling to copromise. Netanyahu wants talks that will lead nowhere and to no concessions on Israel's part. Abbas just wants the world community to adopt the Palestinians' favored solution (all of East Jerusalem, including the Wailing Wall, as Palestine's capital; return exactly to the 1967 borders; and the right of return for Palestinian refugees) and to impose it on Israel.

With leaders like these, things will go downhill very quickly.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Origins of Stupidity

After the jump is a YouTube video in response to a video starring Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains fame. Cameron's video was an ad for a special edition of The Origins of Species with a 50-page anti-evolution introduction.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Committe Wrong, Obama Right

Yesterday, I wrote here that President Barack Obama should not have won the Nobel Peace Prize. I still think so, but I liked Obama's speech reacting to the award. He said himself that he did not feel deserving, since he has not yet achieved enough. He seemed genuinely uncomfortable. He was right to say that he would accept the prize for those who believe in a world of dialogue. He was also right that this is meant to encourage him to continue with his international policies, rather than to acknowledge his work till now.

So, Obama should not have been chosen by the Nobel Committee, but I don't hold it against him. I hold it against the committee.

Friday, October 09, 2009

An Israeli Wins a Nobel

A few days ago, an Israeli chemist, Prof. Ada E. Yonath of the Weitzman Institute, won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, together with two Americans. She is the first woman to win the chemistry prize in 40 years. I'm very happy whenever an Israeli wins, but this also reminds me of the fact that Israeli academia is seriously underfunded. Israel needs to give universities more resources in order for today's students and young researchers to one day be able to win another scientific Nobel Prize.

Obama Cult of Personality Reaches Oslo

I voted for Barack Obama, and I'm glad he's the president, rather than a Republican. I support many of his policies. Still, I see absolutely no reason why he is worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize so early into his presidency, especially since he certainly never did anything significant before he was elected president. Though he has lofty goals, he has not achieved them yet. He is repairing the damage left by George W. Bush in the international arena, but he has a lot of work left. The world hasn't suddenly fallen in love with America because of Obama, at least not the third world. He has brought some change, but not a revolution.

Two previous sitting presidents won the Nobel Prize. Teddy Roosevelt was five years into his presidency when he was honored with the prize. Woodrow Wilson had been president for seven years. A third US president, Jimmy Carter, won decades after leaving office. And Obama? He was just 9 months into the job. I've heard a report that he was nominated just two weeks after taking the oath of office.

There are many who see Barack Obama as some kind of political messiah. All the political art he inspired during the campaign, and all the enthusiasm he generated among young Americans who are interested more in celebrities than politics, the zillion Time magazine covers (I'm sure they'll be happy for the excuse to put Obama on the cover again) - it looked quite a bit like a cult of personality. Now, the Nobel Committee has joined in.

Giving Obama the prize now is a mistake. The Norwegians should have waited a few years to see if he actually earns it. I have to say, though, that compared to the egregious mistakes of some of the previous years, this year's choice is just misguided, but not totally outrageous.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The "Tape for Prisoners" Deal

The Israeli government has agreed to release twenty female Palestinian prisoners, aged 15 to 42, in exchange for a recent one-minute video recording of Sgt. Gilad Shalit, proving he's alive and showing what his physical and mental health status is, more or less. Hopefully, this is the first stage before a deal with Hamas where Shalit himself is exchanged for prisoners, and not just a recording of him.

I have mixed feelings about releasing prisoners for a tape. On the one hand, I believe Palestinian prisoners should be exchanged for live Israeli prisoners, and not just for a sign of life. If these 20 prisoners are counted as a down payment for the release of Shalit, then this will be less of a negative precedent.

There is also a question of how dangerous these prisoners are. Remember, women can be as dangerous as men. What they have done to land them in prison worries me less than what they might still do. In fact, some of those who have only attempted to murder Israelis may want to try again more than those who have already killed people. Unfortunately, I am unable to make such assessments on my own.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Word: Backups

Just writing to remind any readers of mine who might have valuable files on their computer(s) to back them up in as many ways as possible. Send them to yourself on Gmail, save them on CDs, DVDs and external hard drives.

A computer in the Schiff household just had a near-death experience and one computer technician kept very important documents and years of work from going down the drain.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Justice for Roman Polanski?

Yes, Roman Polanski is a wonderful filmmaker. Yes, the then-13 year old girl he had sex with in the 70's has since forgiven him and expressed her wishes that Polanski not be punished. Yes, the crime was committed more than thirty years ago.

And yes, Roman Polanski should be extradited to California from Switzerland and face time in prison. The man admitted he had sex with a minor and then ran to Europe when it seemed like he would have to serve jail time. Not punishing him would send the wrong message. If you are powerful enough and evade the law long enough, you can get away with criminal behavior even after you're finally caught.

Aspie Racer

After the previous season of The Amazing Race included a team of a deaf man and his mother, the current season, which had its debut last night in the States, includes Zev, a guy with Asperger's Syndrome who is racing with his best friend Justin. Since I live in Israel, I haven't seen anything from the current season, but I'm very curious about it.

Lately, it seems there's a spike in the entertainment industry's interest in autism, mostly in its Aspie form. Films such as "Adam" and shows such as "Boston Legal" and "Grey's Anatomy" have featured characters with Asperger's. The Amazing Race, as far as I know, is the first show to actually feature a real autistic person, and not just an actor playing one.

Good luck, Zev & Justin!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Arab Initiative and Hamas

It has long been my view that Israel should have responded favorably to the Saudi Initiative, not by agreeing to all its details but by starting negotiations with the Arab League, with the Initiative recognized as the Arabs' starting point. As it turns out, that wasn't Saudi Arabia's intent. In an op-ed in the New York Times on September 12, Prince Turki Al-Faisal summarized the Saudi stance in the title, "Land First, Then Peace". The Arab demands are not negotiable. They are preconditions.

I had read the op-ed piece when it came out, and was reminded of it again when Shlomo Avineri wrote a critical op-ed piece about it in yesterday's Ha'aretz (here in English or Hebrew). Here is his final paragraph, which I agree with:

"The initiative should not be ignored, because it includes an Arab declaration of willingness for peace, but its meaning should not be mistaken. At this stage it is not calling for negotiations, but rather unconditional acceptance of the Arab position, and that is also its main stumbling block."

This reminded me of the discussion I've been having over at Gert's blog surrounding a recent interview Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, conducted with Khaled Meshal in The New Statesman. Hamas's stance towards peace negotiations with Israel is strikingly similar, if not absolutely identical, to the one Al-Faisal presents in his op-ed as Saudi Arabia's position, and indeed the whole Arab League's. First, leave all territories captured in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and only then will we talk about peace. So, Hamas and Saudi Arabia have the same basic ideas about peace with Israel, yet the former is considered radical and the latter is considered moderate?

Hamas and the rest of the Arab world have to understand that withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian state is the final step of the peace process. There can be no further claims after this.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy New Year!

Rosh Ha'Shana starts tonight, and with it begins the year Ha'Tasha, which is 5770. I hope it will be a year of peace, but with Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Avigdor Lieberman at the helm, I'll settle for a year of quiet. I hope it will be a year of health, happiness and prosperity.

This also marks the beginning of a new Jewish decade, just three and a half months before the new decade AD (the Twenty Teens, fun to say). It's a good opportunity to think about my long-term expectations. What would I like to achieve before the 5770's (and the Twenty Teens) are out?

I'd like to be a successful young university lecturer with at least moderate success as a fiction writer. I'd like to be happily married with kids, who I hope will be close to their cousins, despite age differences.

I hope my nephew, who would be 19 in 2020, will be an independent young university student, and will not be a soldier, because by that time service will not be mandatory rather than because he'll get an exemption as an autistic person. I hope my 15 year old niece will be a successful high-school student. I hope my sisters and their families won't live too far away from me and my family and that we'll see each other on a regular basis. Maybe one or both of them will be working on something that would get them a Nobel Prize a few years later.

I hope my parents will be healthy in their 70's, happily enjoying their retirement together. I'm sure my mother won't be entirely retired, though, still keeping busy with interesting projects.

Anyway, that's about it. Shana tova! Assor tov!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tragedy Strikes Twice

Lt. Assaf Ramon, whose father Ilan died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, was killed in a training accident today. His plane crashed to the ground for unknown reasons.

Ilan Ramon was Israel's first, and so far only, astronaut. The Columbia disaster was seen as a national tragedy here in Israel, and several places have been named after Ramon, who among other things, also participated in the bombing of Iraq's nuclear facility in 1981. After his death, his son Assaf was determined to follow his footsteps and become a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. As a pilot's widow, Rona Ramon had a right not to allow her son to enter the pilot training program, but she did not stand in his way. I can't even imagine how she and the whole Ramon family are feeling right now. It's just too horrible.

Lebanon Through Israeli Movie Cameras

The first Lebanon War was a disaster when it took place in 1982, and then when it lead to an Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon and a war of attrition with Hezbollah and other local groups. In the latter half of this current decade, though, the misadventures in Lebanon have led traumatized Israeli filmmakers to make excellent, award-winning movies about the war. It wasn't the Second Lebanon War that prompted directors and writers to look back at Israel's Vietnam, since 2007's Beaufort and 2008's Waltz with Bashir were already long in the making. I wonder what was.

A new Israeli film, "Lebanon" won the Golden Lion (first prize) at the Venice Film Festival yesterday. I haven't seen it, and hope to have an opportunity soon. Director Samuel Maoz recounts his own experiences as part of a tank crew in the 1982 invasion.

I must admit that the first time I heard about "Lebanon" I thought to myself, "Oh, no, not another one." Then I thought of the fact that I actually liked the previous Israeli war movies, and if the new one is good, there is no reason not to see it.

Now I wonder if for the third year in a row, an Israeli movie about Lebanon will be nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. If it is, it will be weird when they announce "From Israel: Lebanon".

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Celebrity Dead Ringers

So, I'm watching a Season 6 episode of CSI: Miami, and there's a guest actress there who I was sure is the same one who plays Sarah Newlin on True Blood. She looks exactly the same, only slightly younger. Turns out, the actress from CSI is Jessy Schram, while the True Blood actress is Anna Camp.

Compare for yourselves:

Left: Anna Camp; Right: Jessy Schram

Friday, August 28, 2009

Self-Boycotting Jew

On August 20, Prof. Neve Gordon, chairman of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University, published an article in the Los Angeles Times, supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel. The university president has announced she is checking into possible sanctions against Gordon, and has called him to resign, or at the very least, leave his post as department chair. It seems that legally she can't really do anything against him. Others have also called him to resign, while others have jumped to his defense and denounced the president's response.

Gordon did not mention an academic boycott in his article. He mentioned a boycott that is sensitive to circumstances and context, and gradual. He doesn't want to boycott all Israeli institutions and companies, but only those who participate in, or gain from, the occupation. One could easily find a reason to say that Gordon's own institution, Ben Gurion University, is participating in the occupation and so it should be boycotted. After all, it practically has a mini-campus at Hazerim Air Force Base, where BGU professors teach pilot trainees.

Prof. Gordon should be allowed to continue teaching at Ben-Gurion. His call for a boycott may be outrageous, and in my opinion anti-democratic and anti-peace, but it is his right as a citizen in general, and in particular as a professor whose field of expertise is the study of the occupation. However, I don't think he should continue serving as chairman of the political science department. The chairman needs to promote his department's cooperation with foreign universities and international organizations. He can't honestly do that while calling for a boycott.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crazy Orly Taitz

Moldovan-Israeli-American Orly Taitz, Commander-in-chief of the lunatic birther squad, made the rounds on American TV stations last month. Now it's Israel's turn. About a week or two ago she was interviewed on Channel 10 News, where she said Benjamin Netanyahu was now her Facebook friend (umm, Orly, I hate to say it, but it certainly ain't really Bibi, and you're an idiot for thinking that it is). The next day she appeared on another Channel 10 show, "London and Kirshenbaum", where she was interviewed by veteran journalists Yaron London and Moti Kirshenbaum, who subtly mocked her. Taitz seemed pleased, as if she thought she had convinced the duo.

Last night, Taitz appeared on Channel 2's "Mo'adon Layla" ("Night Club"), a comedy panel show. She was first asked a few questions and traded barbs with the comedians. This was the part where she not only compared Obama to Hitler, but said Obama was worse, which prompted panelist Ido Rosenblum to jump up from his chair and ask to "turn this thing off", meaning Taitz's satellite feed. She kind of seemed to storm off, though it wasn't entirely clear if she didn't just think her segment was over. After the interview, the comedians joked about her insanity.

Here's the clip, which, by the way, appears on the show's website under the title "Mo'adon Layla Supports Obama". It's in Hebrew without an English translation. Sorry about that:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rooting For Hamas

I never thought I'd ever side with Hamas on anything, but that's just what happened this weekend. The Muslim terrorist organization which controls Gaza confronted an Al Quaeda-linked group, Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of God's Companions), after the group's leader declared Gaza an Islamic emirate under his control. Hamas killed this leader, Abdul-Latif Moussa, and other members of the fringe group.

Had Jund Ansar Allah not existed, Hamas would have to invent it. It's a great way to show the world that everything is relative. Sure, Hamas is a group of radical Islamic terrorists, but compared to Al Quaeda, they're like Switzerland.

Okay, not quite Switzerland...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Free Country

Alexander Jacobson has a great piece in Haaretz today, which for some reason doesn't appear in the English version. I'll translate a few parts.

He starts out by recalling something he experienced during the peace rally on November 4, 1995, the one that ended with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was in the crowd, and next to him were two religious teenagers who were arguing with those attending the rally. They accused the left of not allowing dissent. "I thought to myself, you [the religious teenagers] have a lot of confidence in the tolerance and non-violence of the Israeli left. You're standing in a sea of leftists and arguing with them without fear, and even accusing them of silencing dissent. Would any of us dare to venture into a crowd of right-wing protestors and open our mouths?", he writes.

Then he tells the story of the annual memorial service for the victims of the 2002 terrorist attack at the Hebrew University. The ceremony ended with the singing of "HaTikvah", the Israeli national anthem. One of the lecturers stayed put in his seat. He doesn't name him, but says it's a leftist Jewish lecturer who isn't even much of an extreme leftist. Jacobson says this was quite rude, but nobody said anything. This made Jacobson proud.

"[The lecturer] doesn't even think of appreciating the freedom he enjoys - he's Israeli, and freedom runs through his veins. He doesn't even think of fearing state or university authorities - and really, where has it been heard of that a brave dissident in a brutal apartheid state (one whose anthem is worthy of contempt) needs to fear the authorities?"

Thursday, August 06, 2009

How Many Posts Per Page?

I just changed my blog's settings so it will display ten days' worth of posts on the main page, instead of five. Only days I post on are counted, which is why right now there are posts from as far back as June and not just from the last ten calendar days.

Do you have any preferences? Is it taking any longer to load now (though I don't see why it should, since I rarely add videos and pictures to my posts)? I'm open to feedback from all my avid readers. Yes, both of you.

Update (August 28, 2009): I've switched back to five days' worth of posts. I've shortened the list of labels, so a shorter first page is more suitable, in my opinion.

Israel Killed Arafat, Fatah Says

The Fatah Party Conference today decided unanimously to declare that Israel is responsible for the death of Yasser Arafat and to open an investigation into what they see as his assassination. Fatah asked for international aid in getting to the truth.

Oh, come on. The guy got sick and died. His own doctor said he had AIDS, though he blamed Israel for injecting him with the virus (how, with an AIDS rocket? Israelis weren't in physical contact with him during the Second Intifada, except for a few far left wing activists, who I wouldn't see as prime suspects).

How is this resolution blaming Israel and calling for an investigation constructive in any way? This won't bring peace to anyone. It will not even give the Palestinians peace of mind regarding the death of Arafat, since they will not except any conclusion other than the one they've already come to.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Murderous Homophobia in Tel-Aviv

A gunman opened fire at a gay and lesbian youth center in Tel-Aviv yesterday, killing two people. The man escaped and has not yet been apprehended.

Israelis were shocked by this terrible hate crime. Many of my friends on Facebook have changed their profile picture to the gay pride flag with a memorial candle or black stripe as a sign of protest and identification with the gay community. Accusations are flying against the leaders of Shas, the ultra-Orthodox party, who have in the past condemned homosexuality as a perversion that must be treated. Politicians from Shas have condemned yesterday's murders.

I think that while Shas's homophobic words and policies are horrible, it is too early to lay blame on them for what happened. We don't know who the shooter is and whether he's a Shasnik, or even religious. Unfortunately, there are plenty of possible sources for this intolerance.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Issue of Settlements

Yes indeed, the settlements
By Tzvia Greenfield [from Ha'aretz, available in English or the original Hebrew]

Of all the strange things that have happened this peculiar summer, the strangest is the way that oddly assorted elements have lined up to explain to U.S. President Barack Obama why pressure regarding freezing the Jewish settlements in the territories is not the best way to deal with Israel's evasion of implementing the two-state solution.

Beyond the urgent need to internalize that the establishment of a Palestinian state will ensure Israel's salvation as a Jewish and democratic state, it would seem that two facts should be clear to every sensible person. One is that Obama seems to have irrevocably made up his mind that a Palestinian state will be established, even at the price of serious pressure on Israel. The other is that of all the promises he made on the eve of his election, it is most convenient to deal with this one immediately, especially because dealing with it consists at the moment only of pressure on Israel.

It has, after all, become completely clear that it is very difficult to deal with the economic crisis; it is almost impossible to arrive at results regarding Iran; and North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are not child's play either. Obama can be trusted to act in accordance with his political interests without being frightened by Israel's threats.

The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not understood these basic facts is leading to his inevitable defeat, unless he comes to his senses and brings opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni of Kadima into his government. In the inevitable clash with the United States to which the prime minister and his cabinet are leading us, the result has to be clear in advance: It's the Titanic that will sink, not the iceberg.

Nevertheless, some consolation can be found in the current situation: Obama, after all, is being kind to us. Of all the means at his disposal to push Israel to the negotiating table, the only one that cannot really hurt it in any way is the discussion surrounding construction in the settlements. And would it be better for us if the United States decided to harm Israel's security interests? Is it preferable that the profound relations of friendship and trust between the two countries be damaged?

Of all the issues that Israel insists are important, expanding Jewish settlement in the territories is the only one that has no objective justification apart from the hallucinatory agenda of the settlers and their supporters. On the contrary, stopping it can only be beneficial to advancing peace.

Why then should the Obama administration not pressure Netanyahu on precisely this issue? Only because the right refuses to touch its sacred cows, even though they are harming the interests of us all? After all, the settlements are the excess we will have to get rid of to reach an agreement. Obama is serving our interests in that he is trying to limit the damage we are bringing on ourselves.

And precisely because the settlements really are not important, as many claim, it is in our interest that they, and not more serious issues, bear the price of getting the peace process started.

The United States, with justification and wisely, is not giving in to Israel on this issue, and it appears the Obama administration understands correctly that the real and perhaps only test of Netanyahu's seriousness regarding the two-state plan will be his willingness to end the expansion of the settlements.

If Netanyahu, despite all his speeches, is not able to fulfill this simple requirement - which as noted does no real damage to Israel - it is a sign that it is not in our interest to keep discussing a Palestinian state with him. And it really isn't in our interest for Obama to reach this conclusion.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bibi and Self-Hating Jews

Rahm Emanuel can't get a break. Palestinians and their supporters see him as a Zionist mole inside the White House. The Israeli right-wing, on the other hand, sees him as a traitor. More on how Netanyahu sees Emanuel and fellow Obama advisor David Axelrod in this excellent op-ed from today's Ha'aretz:

What Netanyahu wants from Obama's 'self-hating Jews'
By Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz [English, Hebrew]

Who is to blame for the latest dispute with the United States over the new neighborhood going up in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah area? Mayor Nir Barkat? Certainly not. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood behind him? Ridiculous. Any child knows that everything is the fault of other Jews: Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, two American administration officials who are inciting President Barack Obama against their own people.

This is not the first time that "self-hating Jews" have given us trouble. In negotiations over the separation of forces agreement in the 1970s, U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the scion of a family of Jewish refugees who had escaped from Nazi Germany, earned the anti-Semitic epithet "Jewboy" in Israel. At the end of the 1980s, when president George H.W. Bush dared to argue that the peace process does not jibe with settlement expansion, the Shamir government instigated a campaign against "the 'Jewboy' trio": Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller and Dan Kurtzer. Now it is the turn of Obama's Jewish confidantes to be the scapegoats.

It is easy to imagine what an uproar there would be in Jerusalem if an Arab leader or newspaper dared to claim that an American president was favorable to Israel because of the influence of a Jewish adviser. Netanyahu, who spent many years in the United States, knows very well the extent to which Jewish administration officials in key positions are sensitive to the slightest hint of dual loyalty - to their birthplace and their historic homeland. It turns out that for him, politics bends the iron-clad rule that "all Jews are responsible for one another."

To satisfy the settlers, he permits himself to hurt people whose only sin is that they are trying to promote the goals enshrined in the platform of his senior coalition partner - the Labor Party.

We want our Jews in the administration to be blind to the settlements and deaf to the complaints of the Arabs. Take Elliott Abrams, for example, who was in charge of Middle East affairs in the Bush administration. Abrams, who is identified with the neo-conservative right, made an important contribution to legitimizing a good many dubious Israeli acts. He was an excellent salesman for the "no partner" theory, and the guiding spirit behind the indulgent policy toward the flourishing of settlements. He recently publicly criticized the two-state vision of the president who had hired him, among other things, to promote that vision.

Back during his election campaign Obama made it clear that he did not have to join Likud to be a friend of Israel. Opinion polls in the United States revealed that the views of most Jews are closer to the attitudes of organizations like the Reform movement, American Friends of Peace Now and J Street, which support a two-state solution and eschew Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's doctrine - and above all, largely object to the settlements.

The conversation Obama held with representatives of the Jewish community last week confirms that Netanyahu is drafting them for the wrong war. Even his oldest supporters did not attack the president's position on the settlements, and made do with a complaint about the high profile given to disputes over the issue of natural growth in the settlements. One of the guests at that meeting said that history showed that exposing the differences between the U.S. and Israel does not help to advance peace.

"This was not my reading of the lessons of the last eight years," Obama responded without flinching. Moreover, he said he would not shy away from a willingness to pressure all parties, including Israel, if that is in the best interests of the United States and Israel. Obama did not hesitate to tell his Jewish interlocutors that beyond the special commitment to Israel's security, his policy would be completely even-handed. If it became necessary, Obama said, he would speak to Israelis, as he had done to the Arab and Muslim world, to help them to achieve some kind of self-reflection.

Obama has internalized what his predecessors refused to understand: the traditional supporters of the Israeli right are growing old, or losing their relevance. They are giving way to younger, liberal forces who identify with Obama's values. In the "best" case, Netanyahu's incitement against the "self-hating Jews" will do to them what his whispered comment in the ear of Rabbi Kaduri "those leftists are not Jews" did to Israelis a decade ago - it turned them against him.

In the Interest of Wine and View

"[Israel has to keep the Golan] for strategic, military and land-settlement reasons. Needs of water, wine and view." - Uzi Arad, Benjamin Netanyahu's national security advisor in an interview with Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz.

This is old news already, I know. The interview was published the weekend before last, but I felt I had to mention how ridiculous, dangerous and weird this statement is. It's no better in the original Hebrew ("מסיבות אסטרטגיות, צבאיות והתיישבותיות. צורכי מים, נוף ויין").

I disagree with his assessment that Israel needs the Golan Heights for strategic and military purposes, but I accept it as a legitimate consideration. We'd be safer if we had peace with Syria and no Golan, in my opinion, but those who either don't trust the Syrian regime or don't believe it will last long have some good arguments. Water needs are also an important issue, though I'm sure we can come to a satisfying settlement on this with Syria.

Land-settlement. Now that's where things start to get problematic. Sure, Israel is a small country, but it has plenty of uninhabited lands in the nearby Galilee and especially down south in the Negev. The Golan may be more fertile than the Negev, but since we aren't an agrarian society, it doesn't really matter.

And now for the really outrageous reasons to stay on the Golan. Wine and view. Excuse me? Yes, you heard correctly. Wine and view are more important to Uzi Arad than the lives that may potentially be lost in a future war with Syria. Never mind that peace may also prevent future clashes with Hezbollah. We want out tasty wines and beautiful views!

The Golan is breathtaking and its wines are of high quality. Still, it isn't like Israel proper is an ugly, wineless piece of territory. We'll make do with the wineries of Mount Carmel and the scenery of the rest of Israel, in exchange for peace. Or at least we should. The government and most Israelis seem to disagree with me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Max Blumenthal: Tel-Aviv Edition

Max Blumenthal is at it again, cherry picking who gets into his clip to make sure no reasonable Jewish Israeli makes it on screen, so that Israel can look like a racist Little Satan. Here's the clip, titled "Feeling the Hate in Tel-Aviv", and right below it is the comment to Max I posted on Mondoweiss:

You say yourself that all but two of the Jewish students you interviewed at Tel-Aviv University were part of a counter-protest in support of the Nakbah Law. Sounds like the kind of thing "Im Tirtzu" ("If You Will It"), a right-wing student organization, would arrange. Were any of them by any chance wearing shirts with pictures of early Zionist leaders? They're not exactly a representative bunch.

Also, the date you shot your video is important. When people watch the clip now, after the Iranian people's protests following the June 12 elections, they think the Israelis interviewed are actually talking about regular Iranians. On May 27, the context was completely different. When someone said he didn't like the Iranians, he probably had Ahmadinijad and the Ayatollahs in mind.

I also find it interesting that you found only three "Iran-haters" and two racists at the White Night event. How many Israelis who didn't say anything hateful remain on your cutting room floor?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Forcing Peace

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said Saturday that if Israel and the Palestinians don't reach an agreement on their own by a certain deadline, then the United Nations Security Council should recognize the Palestinian state without Israel's consent. This is a horrible idea. As unhappy as I am with the lack of progress in the peace process, I think the international community can only nudge and push, but it must not impose a solution. Such a solution would be doomed to fail, and I fear it would lead to more bloodshed.

Also, what Palestinian State would the UN recognize? What would be its borders, its capital? What about the Palestinian refugees? Would the international community adopt one side's position on these issues or would it go with something in the middle? How would such a decision be implemented? Would an international force be sent in to drive Israel out of the newly recognized Palestine?

Which Palestinian faction would the United Nations recognize as Palestine's legitimate government? I doubt they'd go with the terrorist group Hamas, so if they recognize Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, what would be the status of Gaza?

This is a horrible, unconstructive idea. I have a feeling even Solana doesn't believe in it and is using it more as a threat against Israel, and Israel alone. It doesn't threaten the Palestinians. No matter what they do and whether they negotiate with Israel or not, they'll end up with a state and probably almost all of their demands will be met by the UN. In fact, Solana inadvertently encourages Palestinian negotiators to stall.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Feature

I just added a new feature to my blog. It's the Lijit Search widget (or wijit, as they called it). It'll display the search terms that people used to find this site, as well as where in the world people are coming from. You can also search my blog with Lijit, and if you click on "Surprise Me" it'll bring you to a random post.

They say it may take some time before the widget is really effective, because it takes time to collect all the data about all my posts.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Netanyahu's Speech

Well, the room was smaller and the applause pathetic compared to Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech as Bar-Ilan University has important ramifications. On the one hand, he finally accepted the idea of a Palestinian State, and called for negotiations with Arab countries. On the other, he refused to stop settlement expansion, declared Jerusalem will never be divided and demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, something they will never agree to.

The most interesting idea in his speech is his call for a demilitarized Palestinian State. He's absolutely right to demand that. Palestinians will always keep wishing Israel never existed. The only way to make sure Palestine won't try to retake what it sees as its rightful territory is by making sure it is disarmed. The new state must not look like Gaza does now. I don't support Israeli control of Palestine's airspace, though. While the proximity of Gaza and the West Bank to Tel-Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport poses a risk, I am sure there are ways to deal with the problem.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The End of the Islamic Republic?

I know this is probably wishful thinking, but I sure would be happy if the protests in Iran against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmedinijad would lead to the overthrow of the Ayatollahs. I have no idea whether or not the results were rigged, but they certainly are suspicious. Ahmadinejad and Mir Hussein Moussavi were in a tight race, according to polls, and in the end, Mr. Ratface wins over 60% of the votes?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Writers' Haaretz

It took me two days to finish reading Wednesday's special edition of Ha'aretz. To celebrate the annual Hebrew Book Week, the entire news section of the paper, an op-ed piece, the weather report and the "letters to the editor", were written by Israeli writers and poets. Two pieces were written by Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk (translated from The New Yorker) and Italian author and philosopher Umberto Eco (an amusing essay about taxi drivers originally written 20 years ago).

It was the first time I've read the entire news section cover to cover and I enjoyed every single one of the articles (except for Shimon Adaf's over-technical report about quantum physics). The different writers wrote beautifully and from very special perspectives. I especially liked Etgar Keret's interview with Ehud Barak (Hebrew here), David Grossman's report from a rehab center for youth (Hebrew here) and Nurit Gertz's observations about the disconnect between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the staff of his ministry (Hebrew here).

To see all the articles in Hebrew click here. For the articles in English click here and choose June 10 from the drop down menu on the left (sorry, there doesn't seem to be a static URL for the English edition of the writers' table of contents).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Haaretz's Poetic License

Ha'aretz will conduct an interesting experiment tomorrow, in honor of the annual Hebrew Book Week, a nationwide celebration of literature. The paper's usual journalists will have the day off, and instead, the entire newspaper - news, opinions, features and even the weather report - will be written by 35 prose writers and poets, "through their own experience" (whatever that means).

Yes, it's mostly a publicity stunt (though not a very good one - since I only know about it because I read today's print edition - the website has nothing about it and I haven't seen any commercials about it either), and writing subjectively about the news by people who usually write literature is very un-journalistic. I don't see the New York Times, Washington Post or Le Monde handing over their news pages to non-journalists. I really don't care about all that, though. Since it is just a one time thing, I don't see this as an insult to the idea of objective, professional reporters covering the issues in as balanced a way as possible.

So, if any of you notice new bylines and offbeat reports tomorrow on Ha'aretz's website, don't be surprised.

Expect more on this tomorrow, after I read the special edition.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Amendment Amendment

Don't get me wrong, I have better things to do, but for some reason, after finding an old copy of the United States Constitution (old enough to be missing the 27th amendment), I just felt like writing an amendment to the method of proposing and ratifying amendments. Here it is, and any Senator or Representative can feel free to submit it to Congress (not that I have delusions that anything like that is going to happen):

Section 1. (1) Proposed amendments to this constitution may be proposed either by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by a Constitutional Convention called by Congress.

(2) A Constitutional Convention shall be called whenever the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states shall submit applications to Congress regarding a specific issue within three years of each other.

(3) The number of Delegates to the Constitutional Convention from each state shall be the same as the number each state in entitled to have in the House of Representatives and shall be elected by the same method as representatives by the people of each state. The qualifications to serve as Delegate shall be identical to the qualifications to serve as a Representative, as shall be the compensation each shall receive for their service. However, no senator, representative or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall serve as Delegate.

(4) The term of a Constitutional Convention shall not exceed two years. The Convention may dissolve itself earlier if, after proposing at least one amendment to the Constitution, a majority of Delegates so decides. If, after two years, a Convention fails to propose amendments, Congress may call a new convention, even without the application of the state legislatures. This right of Congress shall expire six months after the end of the Convention's term.

Section 2. (1) Amendments proposed by either method mentioned in Section 1 shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures, conventions, or the people of three-fourths of the several states, as whichever of these three modes the proposing body may direct, provided that no more than seven years shall pass from the date of proposal to the date of ratification, unless the proposing body shall specify otherwise when proposing the amendment; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

(2) Whenever conventions shall be chosen as the mode of ratification, the delegates thereof shall be specially elected for that purpose, by whichever method each state shall by law provide. No state delegate shall simultaneously serve in a state legislature, Congress, or any federal or state executive office.

Section 3. All amendments proposed to the several states more than seven years before the ratification of this article and which have not yet been ratified, shall expire one year after the ratification of this article.

Section 4. The Congress and the several states shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 5. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several states, as previously provided in Article V of the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Goodbye Avoda

The Labor Party is finally going to split up. It's about time. Under Ehud Barak's leadership the party has lost its way. Barak takes any crap Benjamin Netanyahu throws at him.

Unfortunately, only four Knesset Members have decided to ditch Labor. Of those four, just one is a politician I like – Ofir Pines-Paz. I have mixed feelings about Eitan Cabel, who was a failure as Labor Party secretary-general but at least had the courage to quit the Olmert government after the Second Lebanon War. The other two defectors are Amir Peretz and Yuli Tamir, both of whom I dislike just as much as I dislike Ehud Barak. Peretz is the incompetent fool who botched the Lebanon War as Defense Minister. He's nothing more than a petty wheeler and dealer. Yuli Tamir, who I used to like, was a terrible Minister of Education who promoted the horrid "Ofek Hadash" (New Horizon) reform plan, which gave teachers a very slight raise in salary in exchange for a lot more hours of work, in effect cutting their per-hour salary.

There are three MKs the defectors need in order for me to support them: Minister for Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman, Labor caucus chairman Daniel Ben-Simon, and Shelly Yechimovich. I voted for all three in the Knesset primaries (among those who ended up in the Knesset, Ofir Pines is the fourth person I voted for). If at least one of them joins, the chances of my vote going in their direction will be higher.

In any case, my association with the Labor Party is over. Unless they make major changes, I'm not going to vote for them ever again. Since I've already paid my membership dues for the year, I'll stay on as a party member in case leadership primaries are held during the time I've already paid for anyway. I will not renew my membership after that.

Six Years of Blogging

Just wanted to mention that today is the blog's sixth anniversary. It is also Emmanuel Schiff's sixth birthday as a pseudonym. On Friday, June 6, 2003, I lost my bloginity (blog virginity).

In 2006, when the date was 06/06/06 (666) I joked that my blog is satanic. Not that it's 06/06 again and the 6th anniversary, should I repeat the same joke?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Bibi and Dudu

Here's a hilarious cartoon from today's Ha'aretz:

Prime Minister Netanyahu asks: "What will we do with this Obama guy?" and one of his ministers answers "Let's consult Dudu [Topaz]".

If you don't know who Topaz is - well, to make a long story short, he is a former television star who, as revealed this week, responded disproportionately and violently to the decline of his career and to perceived threats to his prospects for renewed success.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Nakba In the Classroom

Ha'aretz reports today that Zochrot has been disseminating an educational kit about the Nakba to school teachers, and some teachers have used it. The kit includes units about Palestinian communities before 1948, personal stories of refugees, events of the 1947-1948 conflict, a discussion of the right of return and a tour of a destroyed village.

Zochrot, whose name is the feminine form of "[we] remember" in Hebrew, is an anti-Zionist organization dedicated to remembering the Palestinian villages destroyed during Israel's War of Independence, the return of Palestinian refugees and the one state solution. It is mostly made up of Jews rather than Palestinians, which makes it all the more irritating. I have no problem with Palestinians wanting to commemorate their own heritage, but far-left Jewish Israelis whining about how evil we are just piss me off. These are not the people I'd like to see teaching Israel's children.

The Nakba is a fact and should be addressed in high schools. Zochrot's way is not the way, though. Teaching children that we are the bad guys is no less simplistic than teaching them we're the good guys. Let's not teach the anti-Zionist narrative instead of the Zionist one. Show them both, side by side, analyze the differences and think about the Israeli and Palestinian versions critically.

Do it the PRIME way, not the Zochrot way.

Obama's Cairo Speech

I was very impressed by President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world. I disagreed with almost nothing he said. Cooperation with Muslims is a positive thing. The belligerence of the Bush years only created hostility and hindered progress for both the United States and Muslim countries.

I agreed with Obama's words about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the general Israeli-Arab situation. The two-state solution is crucial. Israel has to stop settlement activity while Israelis, Palestinians and Arab countries work toward building the infrastructure of the future Palestinian state. I also agree with his demand that Hamas must renounce violence and recognize Israel in order to be part of the peace process.

The only part of his speech I disagree with is his vision of a nuclear-free world. I'd love nothing more than to see all nukes destroyed, never to be seen again. However, I don't believe that is how things will play out. A "nuclear-free world" would, in reality, mean a situation where rogue countries would have nukes and international law-abiding nations wouldn't. What deterrent would the rogues have against nuking their enemies? Just imagine a world where nobody has WMD except for North Korea.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Loyalty Oath Defeated

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation resoundingly rejected the proposed bill that would have demanded an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state and military or community service in exchange for citizenship. All the members on the committee, except for three ministers from Yisrael Beitenu, voted against the bill. Without the support of the coalition, the bill's chances of being approved by the Knesset are nearly non-existent.

Finally, the government does something right. I'm glad Avigdor Lieberman was unable to pressure Likud ministers into voting in favor of this repugnant proposal.

In related news, politicians are negotiating a compromise over the so-called "Nakba Law". In its original form, the bill would make it illegal to commemorate the Nakba and mourn the creation of the State of Israel. The revised version would not make it illegal for private citizens to commemorate the Palestinians' catastrophe, but would make it illegal to use public funds (taxpayers' money) for mourning Israel's independence. This would mostly mean that Arab municipalities, whose budgets rely more on government money than local taxes, would be barred from funding Nakba-related events.

This sounds like a reasonable compromise to me. Palestinian citizens of Israel should be allowed to express their negative feelings towards Israel, but it would be ridiculous to expect Israel to fund events and materials decrying its own existence. I don't want my taxes to be spent on the Nakba. The Arabs can find other sources to fund these activities.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weird Search Terms: May 2009 Edition

I checked which keywords people used to reach my site and I got a few odd results.

  • I got two hits from Venezuela, three days apart, from someone(s) who looked up "rape fantasy ingrid betancourt". Each one used a different browser, but I'm pretty sure it is the same person. How many sick bastards are there?
  • One person from California looked up "fuck Shimon Peres", and reached my site, despite the fact that I never cursed President Peres.
  • Someone at the office of the United States Senate Sargeant-at-Arms looked up "Schumer and Israel and concert" and reached my post about the settler rally. Why is the Senate's chief law enforcement officer searching for information about senators or reactions to the senators' activities?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Settlements, Nakba, Culture and Netanyahu-Leiberman

The Netanyahu government has made so many bad decisions since its inception, and these last few days particularly, that it's hard to decide where to start criticizing it. I'll try, anyway.
  • Netanyahu has declared that construction in the settlements will not be halted. He claims it doesn't make sense not to allow for "natural growth". I'd say that if a family has a new baby and doesn't have enough room for him, or a new couple gets married, they should do something crazy like buy a house within the green line. What's so bad about the Galilee or the Sharon area?
  • A government panel has approved a bill banning the commemoration of the Nakba. Ministers from the Labor Party have appealed the decision, so the question will come before the whole cabinet prior to a vote in the Knesset. If this becomes law it will do nothing but incite violence and radicalize Israel's Arab population. Who proposed this bill? It's MK Alex Miller, of Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party. Ehud Barak, meanwhile, has avoided voicing an opinion on the matter, saying people should be dealing with "more serious issues". This powder keg is not a serious issue?
  • Another Liebermanite, Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich, ordered the police to disrupt an international Palestinian literary fair in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority has declared Jerusalem as the Palestinian center of culture, and the Israeli government is scared shitless that this tag may stick. What does Israel gain by disrupting cultural events? It just ends up looking like a bully.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Schumer, Weiner and the Settler Rally

Sen. Chuck Schumer and potential NYC mayoral candidate Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, are scheduled to speak at The Israel Day Concert, a radical right-wing rally. They should cancel their participation. As an Israeli and American citizen with voting rights in federal elections in New York, I plan on letting these guys know of my dissatisfaction. You can, too. Contact Schumer here and Weiner here.

I wonder if Schumer and Weiner knew what exactly they were getting into. If you take a look at the fine print of the poster, you'll see that the event is dedicated, among other things, to:

  • The "eternal" unity of Jerusalem, West and East.
  • The far-right wing Ateret Cohanim organization, which specializes in taking over Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and handing it over to Jewish settlers.
  • The "heroic front line families" in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, who endanger Israel's security, not to mention their children's, by being there and who get preferential treatment over us Israelis living within the green line.
  • The "displaced families" from Gush Katif in the Gaza strip.
  • Here's my favorite line: "The more than 3,000 victims of Oslo since September 13, 1993".

They also say no to the division of Jerusalem, giving up any part of the land, the expulsion of settlers, and no to "a PLO/Fatah/Hamas Terrorist State" (when you put it this way, I agree, but there is an option of a PLO non-terrorist state, you know).

Schumer and Weiner, you sure you want to participate in this nuttiness? Is this what supporting Israel means to you? Israel and the settlers aren't the same thing. Hell, they don't even live in Israel!

HT: Jewschool

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Eurotrash 2009

The Eurovision Song Contest will take place in half an hour. I'll just watch the beginning to see Israel's Noa (Achinoam Nini) and Mira Awad perform, and if I'll still be up, I'll tune in again about two hours into the broadcast (midnight Israel time) to see the point allocation.

I wonder how Noa and Awad will fair. I've seen at least a few seconds of about half the songs in the contest and most of them are horrid. "There Must Be Another Way", Israel's entry, is one of just a handful of relatively good songs, but it may still suffer for political reasons. Voters in other countries might punish Israel for the operation in Gaza and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu. On the other hand, it is a song about co-existence between Jews and Arabs, so some might want to reward Israel for that. And maybe there are some who will vote for the song just because they like it.

By the way, what's with the Czech guy in a superhero suit who looks a little like Mahmoud Ahmedinijad?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Israelis Unhappy With Netanyahu

Haaretz published a public opinion poll today with some interesting results (in Hebrew here, and in English here). A majority of Israelis (52%) are not satisfied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's performance, while just 28% are satisfied. Ha'aretz notes that these are worse approval ratings than Ehud Olmert had after the botched Second Lebanon War. When asked whether Netanyahu is better than Olmert or not, a plurality of 31% said Netanyahu is worse, 28% said they are both the same, and 27% said Netanyahu is better. Considering how hated Olmert was, this is really striking.

I'm not sure how I'd answer that question. On the one hand, Netanyahu is extremely right wing in all areas of policy, while Olmert was supposedly a centrist leader. On the other, Olmert just gave lip service to peace without bringing about results, and his social and economic policies were just as conservative as Netanyahu's. On the peace front, at least we know where Bibi stands. Is it worse to openly oppose the two-state solution than to publicly embrace the idea without doing anything substantial to make it happen?

Speaking of the two-state solution, it is alive and well in the minds of the Israeli public. 57% of respondents in this poll said Netanyahu should tell Obama he accepts the idea of a Palestinian state. 35% say he shouldn't.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I Like Keyboards. Do you?

Plinky asks: Do you prefer writing on paper or a keyboard?

Worker using a non ergonomic keyboard

There's nothing like being able to instantly edit whatever you are writing. You suddenly think of something you should have written between two sentences or noticed a typo? No, problem. Just go back and fix it!

I have no problem with writing on paper, but writing stuff up on the computer is much better.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Israeli Independence Day!

Israel's 61st Independence Day began at 8 PM tonight and will continue tomorrow. My family will celebrate with a "mangal", a BBQ, but unlike most Israelis, we'll do it in our own yard instead of in a public park.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Social Scientists Behaving Badly

I sure am glad I joined the "Social Science-IL" mailing list. A fascinating and hypocrisy-ridden debate is raging there between university professors from the left and right accusing each other of stifling freedom of speech, McCarthyism, and the destruction of Israeli higher education.

It all started when Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, a psychologist from Tel-Aviv University, published a reasonable call to fight "Campus Watch"-type organizations and not to allow letters using unacceptable language against ideological opponents to be sent to the mailing list. What followed was a debate where about half the e-mails wouldn't have been published had Bar-Tal's suggestion been implemented.

Dov Shinar, a Mass Media professor, accused right wing professors of not even knowing Hebrew. David Levi-Faur, a political scientist from Hebrew University and the moderator of the list, implied that Steven Plaut was responsible for the attack against left-wing professor Zeev Sternhall a few months ago. Prof. Gerald Steinberg accused leftist professors of furthering their anti-Israel agenda instead of conducting real academic research.

Both sides are right on some points and wrong on others. On the one hand, right-wing "Israeli Academia Watch" and its sister "monitors" are disgusting organizations dedicated to smearing anyone who doesn't agree with them, often crossing the line into libel. It is entirely plausible that someone who reads these websites will be motivated to take violent action.

On the other hand, many left-wing lecturers abuse their positions to preach instead of teach. Academic freedom doesn't mean you're free to stuff your ideology down your students' throats. Also, while university hiring is officially politically neutral, candidates who are either leftists or whose views are not widely known have an easier time getting hired than right-wingers.

I would have cut and pasted the whole debate (or at least the interesting parts) if I had the time. Alas, you will miss this quite unintellectual discussion between distinguished social scientists.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

At Least They're Inconsistent

I was just about to blog about the Netanyahu government's flip-flopping when I saw this Kishkushim post:

"One day Lieberman "cannot see Syria as a real partner for any kind of settlement" (see previous post), and the next he is "willing to negotiate," albeit "without preconditions" (Ha'aretz). This is diplomatic silliness. It looks we are going to see a lot of instant reversals with this new government. If you play hard to get on Saturday, you can't suddenly drop your skirt (or pants) on Sunday. The Prime Minister's Office has been strangely silent. Maybe they are hoping that Lieberman will render himself irrelevant."
Nice to know I wasn't the only one who noticed. First, Netanyahu says he'll negotiate with the Palestinians only if they recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland. Then he drops all pre-conditions. Then Lieberman says Syria has to stop its support of terrorism before negotiations with Israel can continue, and the same day Ha'aretz publishes that comment, he takes it back.

Both these flip-flops are of the better kind. In both instances, the government moved in a positive direction. The question is, though, why start out with foolish policies that you'll have to end up modifying?

I hope Netanyahu will also flip-flop on his position opposing the two-state solution. And his position regarding the budget. And healthcare. And, well, just about all his policies.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Palestinians' Self-Determination

Israel can try to get the Palestinians to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, but should not insist. Recognition of Israel's existence and a commitment not to fight it, as well as an end to the call for the right of return, should be enough. However, any peace treaty that doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist should not recognize the Palestinians' right to self-determination. Just like the Palestinians accept Israel because that's the only way to achieve peace, that is also the only reason Israel agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Without a mutual recognition of rights, the agreement should only include mutual recognition of existence. The Palestinians can't demand that Israel will be the only party to recognize the other side's rights.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Shut Up About Ahmedinijad Already!

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day here in Israel. It seemed like current geopolitical threats were on the minds of Israel's leaders more than the genocide perpetrated by Nazis 65 years ago. I didn't listen to any of the speeches, but from the quotes I've read it seems like every single one of them mentioned Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, his Holocaust denial and the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons: President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Vice Prime Minister Sylvan Shalom and Knesset Speaker Rubi Rivlin are just a few examples.

My dear leaders, shut the fuck up! Yes, Ahmedinijad is a Holocaust denying, nuke-building son of a bitch who would like nothing more than to annihilate Israel. This is definitely a problem we have to deal with, but it shouldn't be exaggerated either. If you're whining hysterically in public, you're probably not really getting things done behind the scenes diplomatically.

Also, who the hell is Ahmedinijad to take over all of our discussions of the Holocaust? Sure, his speech at Durbin II on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day didn't help, but there are more important things to learn from the Holocaust, like how we should treat Holocaust survivors or the new survivors of the genocide in Darfur who now live in Israel as refugees.

How about asking ourselves whether "never again" only applies to Jews. The answer should be an unequivocal no. "Never again" should apply to all peoples and the genocides that have occurred before and after the Holocaust should also be addressed without minimizing the horrors of the Nazis, who ran the most efficient, meticulous, calculated and well-planned, as well as largest scale, genocide of all time. We should especially bring attention to the genocides taking place right now and the lack of international effort to stop them.

Maybe in August, around the 64th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if Ahmedinijad is re-elected president of Iran and the Obama administration doesn't seem successful in thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, Israel's leaders will speak about this favorite subject of theirs again.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Al-Zahar Doesn't Mean It

Reuters reports that Mahmoud Al-Zahar, foreign minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, came out of hiding for the first time since January:

"We cannot, we will not, and we will never recognize the enemy in any way, shape or form," Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the two leaders, said in a mosque sermon broadcast on the Islamist movement's radio station, referring to Israel.

Wow, now I'm finally convinced by all those who say that Hamas in power is no longer the irresponsible terrorist organization it used to be. It has clearly morphed into a pragmatic, peace-loving political party Israel and the world can do business with. When Al-Zahar says he will never recognize the enemy, he clearly means that as long as Israel is the enemy, they will not recognize it, but once it is no longer the enemy there will be no problem. See, interpretation is key!

Also, he doesn't recognize Israel because he hasn't seen it. How can you recognize something without seeing it first? Imagine someone telling you to give him a call if you see Israel Israelov, but you've never seen Mr. Israelov before, so how will you recognize him if you run into him? We need to arrange a tour around the country for the leaders of Hamas so they'll be able to recognize it next time around.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thomas Friedman: Age of Pirates

In the Age of Pirates
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, The New York Times

I’ve been thinking lately of starting a new school of foreign service to train U.S. diplomats. My school, though, would be very simple. It would consist of a single classroom with a desk and a chair. At the desk would be a teacher, pretending to be a foreign leader. The student would come in and have to persuade the foreign leader to do something — to pull this or that lever. At one point, the foreign leader would nod vigorously in agreement and then reach behind him and pull the lever — and it would come off the wall in his hands. Or, he would nod vigorously and say, “Yes, yes, of course, I will pull that lever,” but then would only pretend to do so.

The student would then have to figure out what to do next.

I’m wondering if President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aren’t those students, trying to deal with the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. I say that not to criticize but to sympathize. “Mama, don’t let your children grow up to be diplomats.”

This is not the great age of diplomacy.

A secretary of state can broker deals only when other states or parties are ready or able to make them. In the cold war, an age of great powers, grand bargains and reasonably solid client states, there were ample opportunities for that — whether in arms control with the Soviet Union or peacemaking between our respective client states around the globe. But this is increasingly an age of pirates, failed states, nonstate actors and nation-building — the stuff of snipers, drones and generals, not diplomats.

Hence the déjà vu all over again quality of U.S. foreign policy right now — the sense that when it comes to our major problems (Afghanistan and Pakistan and North Korea and Iran), we just go around and around, buying the same carpets from the same people, over and over, but nothing changes.

“We are dealing with states and leaders who either cannot deliver or will not deliver,” notes the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy professor Michael Mandelbaum. “The issues we have with them look less like problems that can be solved and more like conditions that we have to manage.”

The ones who can’t deliver — the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan — are the ones who promise to do all sorts of good things, and pull all sorts of levers, but at the end of the day the levers come off the wall because the governments in these countries have only limited powers. The ones who won’t deliver — Iran and North Korea — time and again tell us: “Yes, we need to talk.” But at the end of the day, their hostile relationships with America or the West are so central to the survival strategy of their regimes, so much at the core of their justifications for remaining in power, that it is not in their interest to deliver real reconciliation, but just to pretend to deliver it.

The only thing that could change this is a greater exercise of U.S. and allied power. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, that power would have to be used to actually rebuild these states from the inside into modern nations. We would literally have to build the institutions — the pulleys and wheels — so that when the leaders of these states pulled a lever something actually happened, and the lever wouldn’t just break off in their hands.

And in the case of the strong states — Iran and North Korea — we would have to generate much more effective leverage from the outside to get them to change their behavior along the lines we seek. In both cases, though, success surely would require a bigger and longer U.S. investment of money and power, not to mention allies.

Instead, I fear that we are adopting a middle-ground strategy — doing just enough to avoid collapse but not enough to solve the problems. If our goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan is nation-building, so they will have self-sustaining moderate governments, we surely don’t have enough troops or resources inside devoted to either. If our goal is changing regime behavior in Iran and North Korea, we surely have not generated enough leverage from outside. North Korea’s defiant missile launch and Iran’s continued development of its nuclear capability testify to that.

So, in sum, we have four problem countries at the heart of U.S. foreign policy today that we don’t have the will or ability to ignore but seem to lack the leverage or the allies to decisively change. The big wild card — a critical mass of people who share our aspirations inside these countries, rising up and leading the fight, which is ultimately what tipped Iraq for the better — I don’t see. As such, I fear we are sliding into commitments in Afghanistan and Pakistan without a real national debate about the ends or the means or the exits. That is a recipe for trouble.

Given all that is on his plate, you cannot blame President Obama for looking for a middle ground — not wanting to abandon progressives and women in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not wanting to get in too deeply. But history teaches that the middle ground can be a perilous place. Think of Iraq before the surge — not enough to win or lose, but just enough to be stuck.