Thursday, December 30, 2010

Moshe Katsav Guilty

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was convicted today of all charges, including two counts of rape. This is a good day for justice. There's also something very sad about the whole affair. The conviction itself is not the sad part. The fact that we had a president who merited such a conviction is extremely disturbing.

We need to ask ourselves how we got here. How could we have a rapist as head of state? Sure, we didn't know he was a rapist when he was first elected, but a lot of politicians and journalists had heard rumors of his sexual misconduct. I don't know whether they thought it was consensual, like Bill Clinton's womanizing, or knew that there was a violent dimension to it.

But there's also a positive side here. Katsav was convicted, despite having been president. Even the most powerful people are not immune and cannot get away with crimes. Katsav will sit in prison just like any other convicted rapist.

The former president's sentence will be handed down at a later date. I hope he'll spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pollard Isn't Going Anywhere

Benjamin Netanyahu recently promised Jonathan Pollard's wife that he will write an official letter to President Obama asking for the spy's release. I doubt the prime minister will hurry to write the letter, and when it is finally sent, it will probably be the only action he takes. There's nothing to gain from Pollard's release. Nothing to gain for anybody, except for Pollard himself and his family.

I don't think most Israelis really care about Jonathan Pollard. They wouldn't oppose his release, but they wouldn't be dancing in the streets. We'll be elated if Gilad Shalit is released. With Pollard, most would only say "oh, that's nice", and move on. The Pollard issue has no electoral power. Nobody will decide to vote for Netanyahu because he got our American spy out of prison. Neither will anyone decide not to vote for him because he failed to do so.

Jonathan Pollard's release isn't in Barack Obama's best interest, either. Even the staunchest American friends of Israel don't want to see the guy released, and freeing him would be seen as pandering to Israel, especially at a time when its government hasn't done anything deserving of rewards. Obama actually might lose votes over Pollard, with a release probably costing him more than it would benefit him.

Maybe this analysis is skewed by the fact that I don't want Jonathan Pollard released. He's a traitor to his country who may have spied for cash rather than ideology. I'm fine with him spending the rest of his life in prison.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yellow Peppers: A New Israeli Drama About Autism

"Yellow Peppers" is a new series about a family of farmers in the Arava Desert in southeastern Israel. In the debut episode, which aired yesterday, the family is confronted with the possibility that something might be wrong with their five year old child, Omri. The boy's uncle returns from Tel-Aviv to the farm with his wife Yael, a doctor who had cheated on him. When she talks to Omri, she sees something wrong and tells her husband, who accuses her of saying this only to feel important. It is then revealed that the kid was taken to a specialist two years earlier, at Yael's suggestion, and the specialist didn't see anything wrong.

Also, when Ayelet, Omri's mother, asks his kindergarten teacher point blank whether he needs to be checked out, the teacher says yes, "but don't worry, he's adorable". Ayelet asks why she never said anything, and the teacher says that she did, she had previously said he's "special", "not like everybody else", which Ayelet had taken as compliments. Like in many cases in real life, the teacher only had the guts to speak in code, not to outright tell a parent there might be something wrong.

It is a very realistic series, based on the experiences of the show's writer as a mother of an autistic son. A lot of things reminded me of what happened in my own family when we first thought my nephew might be autistic. In the show, the grandfather gets yelled at for taking his grandson to a child development specialist without asking his daughter and son-in-law. My mother got her head bitten off when she first suggested to my sister that my nephew should be checked out.

"He's a very confusing child," says Yael when she calls a colleague to ask for the name of a specialist. That's what we've always said about my nephew. He always seemed like a genius, another word attributed repeatedly to Omri. As a two year-old he didn't speak, but he could repeat very complicated words, could spin dreidels masterfully and was fascinated by spinning things. That's also why he was obsessed with CDs. On the show, Omri is also obsessed with CDs, but for a different reason - he sings different adult songs, knows exactly what their name is, who performed them, and which album and year they're from. Most of the songs are inappropriate for his age, like a song about suicide. Despite knowing all this stuff, he doesn't seem able to hold a simple conversation.

I look forward to seeing the rest of this show. I hope it continues to be as good as its first episode, and that it gets good ratings, and Israelis will realize that autistics aren't the head-banging, screaming stereotypical menaces many believe them to be.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg is Time's Person of the Year

Okay, so I was wrong about the person Time Magazine would pick. Mark Zuckerberg wasn't on my radar. This choice seems kind of Hollywood-y to me. Yes, Zuckerberg has had an impact on the world, but was this really a more significant year for Facebook than, say, 2009, 2008 or 2007? I don't think so. The main Facebook-related event this year doesn't have much to do with anything that happened on Facebook or in the company during 2010. Would Mark Zuckerberg still be person of the year if "The Social Network" hadn't been made? My guess is probably not.

I did much better with the runner-ups. The Chilean Miners were indeed chosen, as I predicted. Julian Assange, who I thought would be POY, instead took a consolation prize. I also chose Sarah Palin, who wasn't picked by name, but she is a leader of the Tea Party, Time's first runner-up. My other two guesses were left out: John Boehner (a Republican conservative, but not quite a Tea Partier) and David Cameron.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Time's Person of the Year 2010: My Prediction

Time Magazine will announce its person of the year this Wednesday, December 15. That means it's time to guess who is going to be chosen. My top bet is Julian Assange. He has repeatedly embarrassed the United States through WikiLeaks, first with a video of a massacre in Iraq, then with the release of classified military documents, and most recently, the diplomatic cables. His activity has not just made headlines in the closing weeks of 2010 but throughout the year. The only thing working against him is the fact that Time had a cover story about him very recently. Would they want to write about him extensively in two issues just a couple of weeks apart?

If it won't be Assange, I guess it will be one of the following four (I'm sure at least one or two of these will be named as runners-up):

1. John Boehner: The next Speaker of the House of Representatives has dealt President Obama and the Democrats quite a blow when he successfully lead the Republicans to significant victories in the mid-term elections. The question is how much he is responsible for this and how much was just the result of dissatisfaction with Obama.

2. Sarah Palin: She seems to be everywhere, despite not holding any office. Along with Fox News's Glenn Beck, she brought thousands to the National Mall in Washington, DC. Her daughter was a Dancing With the Stars finalist, her books are bestsellers, and she has quite a Twitter following. One thing working against her is the same thing that's working against Assange: Palin has a cover story in Time this week, so the chances that she's Person of the Year are slim.

3. David Cameron: The new British prime minister has formed the first coalition government in the UK in decades and has already started implementing reforms. Some have them resulted in riots. But has he impacted the world so much? Probably not more than other world leaders.

4. The Chilean Miners: Did they change the world? No, but Time Magazine likes heartwarming stories, and the miners definitely provided the world with nail-biting real-life drama with a happy ending.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Fire the Racist Municipal Rabbis

Fifty Israeli rabbis, most of them chief rabbis of different municipalities, have signed a letter in which they say Jews should not sell or rent houses to non-Jews, and that those who dare to sell or rent to Goyim should be ostracised. President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Minority Affairs Avishai Braverman have all condemned this declaration. However, this is not enough. At the very least, the municipal rabbis - state employees - should be fired immediatly. They should also be investigated for incitement of violence and racial hatred.

One of the most perverse aspects of this declaration is the use of economic reasoning: selling to non-Jews (meaning, of course, Arabs) devalues the price of houses in the neighborhood, and so, it hurts the (Jewish) neighbors when they try to rent or sell their own houses. It's sad that Arab neighbors probably really do devalue houses, since many Jews don't want to live near them. There's something infuriating about how these rabbis present the devaluation itself as the main problem, and not the anti-Arab bias that causes it. Also, they're using the language of the free market to justify racism. Jews' economic rights are more important to them than the Arabs' human rights.

If God really existed, He wouldn't tolerate rabbis like these.

Friday, December 03, 2010

A Glimmer of Hope Amid the Fire

Israel is battling its worst ecological and non-conflict related disaster. A huge forest fire on Mount Carmel near Haifa in northern Israel is raging, with no end in sight. 41 people were killed yesterday. They were mostly prison service officer trainees on their way to evacuating a prison when their bus was engulfed in flames.

There is one glimmer of hope from all of this. Israel has asked for assistance and has received it, not only from countries like the UK and France, but also from our neighbors Jordan and Egypt. Even Turkey, with whom we've had strained relations lately, sent help (unsolicited, since Netanyahu foolishly decided not to ask the Turks for it). This is a sign of normalcy, a normalcy we can have with other Arab and Muslim countries, including the future State of Palestine.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kings, Queens, Princes and Peers

The engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the "commoner", reminded me of how weird the United Kingdom is. On the one hand, it is the home of some of the greatest liberal thinkers in modern times. On the other, it has two of the most archaic institutions in the world - the monarchy and the peerage. As a citizen of two republics, I don't understand why Brits have no problem with their head of state being a hereditary position, rather than someone elected every few years by the people or by its representatives in parliament. I mean, Prince William will definitely be king, unless he dies before his father, even though he doesn't have too many accomplishments under his belt (I'm the same age as he is, and I dare to say I've accomplished more in my life than he has) - and he would've been king even with less.

Let's say the Brits are keeping the monarchy for old times' sake. Why the hell are they keeping the peerage? Most of Europe's remaining constitutional monarchies have done away with aristocracy a long time ago. Why are the people of the United Kingdom putting up with the fact that some men and women are born with the prefix "the honourable", rather than having to earn the honor? Even worse, how are they not bothered by the fact that they have one house of parliament, the House of Lords, that the general population has no say in its composition? Sure, it isn't as powerful as it used to be and can't veto legislation by the House of Commons, but they're still an unelected bunch of people with considerable legislative power.

Why the hell do I care? I'm not a citizen of the United Kingdom. Or should I say, "not Her Majesty's subject"?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

60% of Palestinians Support 2-States as a Step Toward 1-State

Here's a poll every Israeli should see, most importantly on the left. Every international negotiator trying to help Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace deal should see it, too. According to the poll, reported in Haaretz (English or Hebrew, the Hebrew being more detailed), 60% of Palestinians support a two-state solution as a temporary solution until one state in all of Palestine is created. Only 30% support a permanent two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine existing side by side forever without merging into one entity.

Right wingers may see this as a reason never to end the occupation. That's the wrong conclusion.

I think this poll means we must be extra-vigilant about making sure that any agreement creating a Palestinian State would include an end to all claims and security provisions that would make it impossible for Palestine to try to create a unified state by force. It's also a sign that anything unilateral would be a disaster. If we decide to pull out of the West Bank, or parts of it, without an agreement, we'll keep ourselves open to the threat of more demands. Also, if we allow things to get to a point where the Palestinians unilaterally declare independence and the United Nations recognizes them, we'll be facing a hostile entity on our borders with more demands it never had to renounce.

In other words, make peace and follow the two-state solution, but don't be naive about who we're dealing with.

Arutz Sheva Admits Mistake: Wrong Religious Freedom Report

As I wrote here in my previous post, Arutz Sheva, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Jerusalem Post, which ran with the JTA's story, all mistakenly reported about the United States State Department's 2009 religious freedom report as if it was the 2010 edition released last Wednesday. They claimed Israel was lumped in with countries like China and Iran in the category of most serious violators, which had indeed happened a year ago, but not in the 2010 report.

The JTA still has a prominent link to this false story on its main page, and I coouldn't find a retraction on the Jerusalem Post's website. Arutz Sheva is surprisingly the most responisble of the media outlets involved in this screw-up. Today it published a correction, stating that Israel has been removed for this category. It has some analysis of the report that I don't entirely agree with (like the claim that the Emanuel Hasidic school affair was not really a racist issue, which is just bullshit), but at least they're dealing with the correct report this time!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bad Journalism: Jerusalm Post Claims Year-Old Religious Freedom Report as New

The Jerusalem Post, a usually respectable newspaper, has published an article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) about a new international religious freedom report released by the United States State Department yesterday which, the Post says, puts Israel in the same category as such horrible violators of religious freedom as Sudan, China and Afghanistan. The less respectable settler media outlet Arutz Sheva says the same thing.

Yes, the State Department has placed Israel in the same category as rights violators in one of its reports, and yes, it published a new report yesterday. The problem is, that contrary to the claims of Arutz Sheva and the JTA, the former and the latter are two different reports. They claim yesterday's report is about 2009, but they both link to the document released in October 2009 which covers July 2008 to June 2009, not the one released in November 2010 and covering July 2009 to June 2010.

Even more ridiculous is the fact that today's Arutz Sheva article links to its own report from last year. So two years in a row Arutz Sheva discusses the same document (the 2009 report), the only difference being that last year they only looked at the section about Israel, rather than the executive summary, so they missed the awful category Israel was put in. This year, though, we aren't in that category anymore (and rightfully so). It is kind of odd to bash a year-old report for something that has already been corrected in the newest edition.

I think someone was sloppy. A JTA reporter looked for yesterday's report and found the one from last year, and without double-checking, reported it as new. Then the Jerusalem Post printed the article, and Arutz Sheva copied it as well (either that, or this idiotic mistake happened twice). Now the blogosphere is full of enraged posts about the so-called new report about how Israel is being likened to Iran and Afghanistan. Chill out, fellow bloggers, we're not in the Heinous Violators category anymore!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Obama-Netanyahu $3 Billion Deal

What the hell is President Barack Obama thinking? Yes, it is very important that Israel freeze construction in West Bank settlements, but Obama's way of getting this done is just foolish. His administration offered Israel a package worth $3 billion, which includes 20 state of the art fighter jets in exchange for an additional 3-month freeze. Why just three months? Because during this time, according to Obama's expectations, Israel and the Palestinians will reach an agreement about final borders, which would mean that it would be clear where Israel can build and where it can't.

Has Obama not seen how negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have gone over the last decade or two? Has he not seen that Netanyahu (and Abbas, to some extent) isn't very serious about moving forward? It will be a surprise if, at the end of three months, any progress will be made at all, let alone an agreement on borders. So, if the situation won't be as rose-colored as Obama expects, when settlement construction resumes a new crisis will arise. More accurately, the current crisis will be resumed after some postponement.

My main problem here isn't just the fact that the freeze is too short, but that the price the United States is paying for it is too high, especially at a time of a recession and when the US is dealing with a huge federal deficit. Sure, $3B is tiny compared to the deficit's hundreds of trillions of dollars, but still, spending such an amount just for a temporary solution that probably isn't going to bring results?

In effect, Obama is rewarding Netanyahu for being stubborn, instead of actually rewarding him for achieving real milestones. It's kind of like his own Nobel Prize in 2009 - awarded for nothing but false hope. This is moronic and sophmoric, and is just one little part of President Obama's horrible foreign policy.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What Democrats Should Do

I was very disappointed by last week's congressional elections in the United States. I hoped both houses would remain Democratic. Alas, the House swung to the Republicans and the Senate's Democratic majority has been reduced.

Despite expectations to the contrary, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced she'd run for minority leader, and the rest of the Democratic House leadership seems to want to stay put as well. They should be booted. Don't get me wrong - they've done some excellent things over the last four years, but politics consists of 50% results and 50% perception. These leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Hary Reid, are not very popular, mainly because they were horrible at marketing their successes. Democrats need great communicators, great spokespeople. They need their own version of the likes of Republican  House Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor, who has been doing an excellent job in recent television interviews.

Yes, it is sad that accomplishments are not enough, but that's reality. Find people who can get things done and sell their policies and deeds to the public.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

At the End of the Rally

Watching the Rally to Restore Sanity on Comedy Central's website, the connection was very slow so I refreshed the page. Apparently, that made me miss about half an hour, because it changed from Kidd Rock's song to Jon Stewart's too serious, unfunny speech at the end.

On the New York Times's Rally post Charles Homans of Foreign Policy is quoted as saying: "I'm so far back in this crowd I can't even see Jon Stewart jump the shark." That isn't fair. This rally isn't a sign that the people of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are out of good ideas. It just shows that they should stick to doing what they do best - writing a late-night satirical show on television, not producing mass fake political rallies. After all, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who bombed badly today, are both still excellent on their shows.

Take a look at my previous impressions of the rally here.

The Rally So Far

Okay, we're about two-thirds into the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Any one of the news organizations that just got Stephen Colbert's Medal of Fear for not allowing their employees to participate in the rally were wrong to be worried that it would be political. There hasn't been any politics in here, really. Sadly, though, there haven't been many laughs either. They're really trying to be funny and mostly falling flat. I found only two things amusing so far: Sam Waterson's reading of Stephen Colbert's "Greatest Poem Ever Written" and the way Colbert came up to the stage like a Chilean miner.

This rally is too heavy on music (40 minutes of the Roots, really?). And that thing with Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne was just not funny. Besides, is Stevens, now known as Youssef, really a symbol of sanity? He's quite a controversial figure. And the religious roll call with the fake Father Guido Sarduci? He didn't have anything funny to say about those religions other than the fact that both Muslims and Jews aren't allowed to eat pork. It was just a time filler.

Update: My final impressions about the rally are here.

The Rally to Restore Sanity

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear is just six hours away. Pundits all over the internet and on television are asking: Is Stewart finally going into politics? No, he isn't. I expect this to be a funny comedy show. It won't be a political rally, but rather a parody and a satire of political rallies. Sure, there's something somewhat political about it, but no more than any other kind of satire, which by definition can't be apolitical. After all, if you don't criticize somethings, or at least imply criticism, it ain't satire.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert may have a problem on their hands, though. Not only does the media seem to want this to be political, so do many of the people coming to the rally or supporting it. Look at the rally's companion website, Sane or Not, where people upload rally signs and vote on their sanity, or lack thereof. The site is supposed to be funny, with signs parodying real political slogans, or laughing at the gap between the idea of quiet moderates and the idea of carrying huge political banners. Unfortunately, many of the signs are just plain political, usually liberal. There are plenty of pro-marijuana legalization signs (not that there's anything wrong with that). I have a feeling that the crowd would cheer at the name of any Democrat and boo any Republican.

Anyway, I look forward to watching the rally on Comedy Central's website. It should be a good show.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Yorkers Abroad and the 2010 Elections

I got an e-mail informing me that the Board of Elections in New York City, as well as a few other counties upstate, has failed to send out absentee ballots to military personnel and civilians living abroad. According to the recently passed MOVE Act, the ballots were supposed to be sent 45 days before the election, but New York received an extension until October 1, which it also missed. As of three days ago, the city still has not mailed the ballots.

I'm a "special federal voter" in New York, one of those whose ballots have not been sent. I can still vote using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB), but many people may not be aware of this option. People in the military, especially, might not have access to the FWAB. This is irritating and some people on the elections board should lose their jobs. Also, New York should consider moving its primary to an earlier date, to widen the window between the end of counting primary votes and the time the general election ballots are supposed to be mailed.

In truth, I don't know if I'll vote at all this year. It doesn't seem like my vote will matter, since all three races I'm eligible to vote in this year seem like slam dunks for the Democrats (who I would vote for anyway). Even Kirsten Gillibrand seems sure to win by a double-digit margin. So why even bother to pay the postage?

Update (Oct. 13): My ballot has arrived in the mail, postmarked October 8.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jon Stewart vs. Autism

The other day I watched one of my favorite shows, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Actress Naomi Watts was on the show and they discussed "A Night of Too Many Stars", an event to raise money and awareness for autism education, hosted by Jon Stewart. Watts said that at first all she knew about the benefit was that its goal was "to raise money for autism", to which Stewart responded that it's really "money against autism, not money for autism. That would be a cause where you would say that seems cruel".

In a way, he's right. Education and social services for people with autism are supposed to mitigate the effects of autism so autistics will be able to function as normally and as independently as possible. Having said that, Jon Stewart's statement seems insensitive to autistic people who may understand the phrase "against autism" as meaning "against autistics". I'm sure that was not his intent. He probably sees autism in much the same way as people see cancer - which is how I used to see it as well. When you're fighting cancer, of course you're not fighting cancer patients. But the two aren't quite the same. For one thing, autism is not a disease, but more importantly, many autistics see it as a part of their personality, without which they would be completely different people.

I wouldn't really expect Jon Stewart to know this. When he was asked to host the first event for autism education he probably did research about autism itself and not about what actual people with autism think about themselves. If I didn't have an autistic nephew, I'd probably do the same as Stewart.

Anyway, after the jump you can watch the interview:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Predicting the Nobel Prizes 2010

It is well into Nobel Week, with the Nobel Prizes in medicine and chemistry already having been announced. Today, the winner of the physics prize will be announced, and tomorrow and on Friday the non-scientific laureates will be declared. These two, the literature and peace categories, are what interest me the most. People are guessing who will win, and I'll join the game, even though there is a 99.9% of being wrong.

And my nominees for the Nobel Prize in Literature are:

1. Amos Oz - he's mentioned every year, and he is one of the most respected authors in the world. I read somewhere that all kinds of bookies have his chances listed as being very low this year, compared with very high chances in 2009. They say this might mean that information leaked that Oz wasn't even on the shortlist. I'm hoping that's wrong.

2. David Grossman - he's both a great author and a bereaved father through whom the Nobel Committee can send an anti-war message.

3. Margaret Atwood - novelist, poet and essayist all in one.

4. Etgar Keret - he's too young to win, but one can still hope that one of my favorite authors will win. Not this year, I guess, but in 2030 perhaps?

5. Art Spiegelman - will the Nobel Committee have the guts to award the prize to one of the first people to prove that comics are a respectable genre?

And my nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize are:

1. One or more of the Afghan women leading the fight for equal rights in the war-torn country.

2. Parents Circle - Bereaved Families - this year no Israeli or Palestinian leader deserves the prize, but maybe the Committee will award a grassroots effort by those hurt the most by the conflict.

3. Bill Clinton - Two US presidents year after year? Slim chance, but I'd like my favorite leader to win for his Clinton Global Initiative and other efforts.

4. The International Committee of the Red Cross - the Nobel Committee can always go with a safe choice and award the ICRC with a fourth Peace Prize, which it last won back in the Mad Men era, 1963.

5. Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident - he seems like the top candidate on the lists of other bloggers and pundits, so I'll mention the possibility, too, just to be on the safe side.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Return of the Original Refugees

Robbie Sabel and Oded Eran have an interesting solution for the Palestinian refugee problem. In an op-ed piece (no English translation is currently available) in today's Haaretz they say that Israel should agree to the return of those refugees who were physically present in what is now Israel and became refugees during 1947-1948. Their descendents would not be allowed to come with them, since they were never here, but rather were born elsewhere.

Repatriation of the original refugees would mean that Israel abides by Resolution 194, readmitting those who left or were driven out and are now willing to live in peace within Israel. According to Sabel and Eran, there are currently about 42,000 original refugees, and it is not known how many of them would want to return.

Sabel and Eran correctly argue that even if we agree to take in refugees, we must not call it an implementation of the right of return. Saying that such a right exists for this smaller group (and it really doesn't) may strengthen calls for the right of return of the generations born after 1948 as well.

In addition to the repatriation of older Palestinians, some form of compensation and reparations for loss of property would also be paid.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

For the Millionth Time, Fire Avigdor Lieberman!

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a speech at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly today. He was speaking as the official representative of the State of Israel, of course, and so should have spoken about the Israeli government's official policy. That isn't what he did. Instead, he pushed his own agenda, saying peace with the Palestinians isn't possible in the next few years and that any peace deal would have to include not only land swaps but swaps of the populations on that land (meaning that technically, the people would stay put, only the border would move and, in the case of Israeli Arabs, their citizenship would change). So now, despite Benjamin Netanyahu distancing himself from Lieberman's words, this speech is now taken as the official policy of Israel by many countries. I can't blame them. After all, a foreign minister addressing the UN General Assembly is always assumed to be speaking for his country. That's part of diplomacy - when the president, prime minister or foreign minister of a country says something, it has has official significance.

Avigdor Lieberman has always been a loose cannon. Appointing him to be Israel's top diplomat was one of the most irresponsible things Netanyahu ever did. This speech at the UN should have been the final straw. In a normal country, a foreign minister who strays from official foreign policy at such an important international forum would be fired. That's what should happen in this case. I have no illusions. I know Bibi is too dependent on Yisrael Beitenu to keep his coalition together, and not losing the prime minister's seat is more important to him than Israel's standing in the world.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Settlement Defrost

Tomorrow, Sept. 26, the settlement freeze is scheduled to end. It shouldn't. Benjamin Netanyahu should continue the ban on new construction, not just to avoid derailing the new negotiations, but also because it is in the best interest of Israel not to have more buildings we'll eventually need to evacuate. Of course, Netanyahu will not do this. Not only is he too scared of his coalition partners, he himself doesn't truly believe in giving up settlements.

It is a bit ironic that the freeze ends in the middle of Sukkot, a Jewish holiday in which temporary hut-like structures are built in families' back yards. After a week, the Sukka is taken down. Any construction to be resumed now is going to be temporary just like a Sukka, though for a longer term. In a few years, these houses will probably be torn down.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Happy New Year 5771!

It's the eve of Rosh Ha'Shana tonight. 5770 is about to end and 5771 is about to begin. It has not been a very good year in Israel, which has seen a rise in right-wing extremism, both in the form of religious fanaticism and secular semi-facism. Let's hope that this year will be much better. Let's hope Benjamin Netanyahu does the unexpected and brings peace. Let's hope the grip of the religious establishment, which would like us to be a Jewish Iran, will not be allowed to tighten.

In general, let's hope it will be a happy and healthy new year!

Israelis, Peace and the Time Magazine Piece

Now that I've read the whole Time Magazine article that claims Israelis don't care about peace and had some more time to think about it, I've changed my mind a bit. While I still think the article exaggerates the matter, it is true that Israelis care a lot less about peace and the conflict than they used to. It's a kind of defense mechanism against false hope. The word that describes Israelis best is "disillusioned" - not just by peace, but by politics and politicians in general. We've come to the realization that our leaders talk a lot but do very little to improve our situation.

Still, I'd say the phrasing that "Israelis don't care about peace" is untrue. Maybe Israelis won't keep up with the news about new negotiations as much as they did during the Oslo years, but most of them will hope for their success. Also, I predict that if the talks show significant progress (and, unfortunately, I doubt that they will), Israelis will show an interest once more. The average Israeli just doesn't believe the Palestinians.

On that note, it is interesting to note a new advertising campaign here in Israel. The Geneva Accord, a non-profit organisation promoting a peace deal, has new ads in newspapers, billboards and the Internet, where Palestinian leaders ask you to be their partner, in a Facebook Friend Request-like graphic. Now, this is just one of the dumbest campaigns I've seen. Apparently, the people who came up with it think everybody is like them and would be happy to be friends with these people. Well, no, that's not the case. I'm a left-leaning pro-peace person with a few Palestinian friends (in Facebook and in reality), but Jibril Rajoub and Saeb Erekat don't exactly make me warm and fuzzy inside. If you're trying to make Israelis like the Palestinian leadership better, don't do something that requires that people like them in the first place so they'll respond well to the ads!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Israelis Do Care About Peace

Time Magazine's September 13 issue has a cover story titled "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace". It doesn't ask whether Israelis care or not, it just takes for granted that they don't and sets out to explain why. Right now, only a truncated on-line version is available and it doesn't convince me one bit that Israelis don't give a damn. Will the full article in the print edition have more proof that would change my mind? We'll have to wait until Monday to see.

I can tell you this much: Israelis care very much about the conflict. We're constantly worried about missiles from Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and Iran, and most of us realize that in order to reduce the threat, we need peace. However, many Israelis are also disillusioned, which is why they put other matters first on their list of priorities. Let's deal with things we can fix first, not things that just won't move forward - that seems to be the logic.

Also, the fact that our economy is strong makes us even more aware of what we have to lose in case of war. The Second Intifadah brought with it not just blood but an economic slump, and a third Intifadah certainly would, too. Considering the state of the world economy, an Israeli recession would probably be even worse than it was in the early 2000's.

Anyway, I'll probably have another post up about the subject after I read the full article.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Hijacking of the Word "Zionism"

I couldn't have said it better:

Distorted Zionism (Hebrew here)

Im Tirtzu will hand out 'Zionist' tags to those who think as they do, and will silence everyone else.

By Avirama Golan, Haaretz, September 1, 2010 

I almost began this opinion piece by ceremoniously declaring, "The undersigned is a Zionist," but then I realized that this is exactly the kind of self-justification that those in the ideological camp of Im Tirtzu and the Institute for Zionist Strategies are hoping for, and gave up on the idea. If Zionism means blind extreme nationalism that is disconnected from all historical, humanitarian and universal contexts, then the undersigned is not a Zionist.

Both the institute and Im Tirtzu are the vanguard of a new orientation, one that carries out a brutal rape of the concept of Zionism. The concept has never before sounded so trite, shallow, frightened and aggressive. In effect, the "Zionism" of the "new patriots" consists of nothing besides the coarse division into "post-Zionists" (that is, deserters, draft-dodgers, Tel Avivans, those who are disloyal and "Arab-loving" leftists who are against the occupation ), and "Zionists" (that is, loyalists, patriots, preferably settlers, and anyone who is outraged by the slightest hint of criticism of the state and the army in particular, and Jews in general ).

What a tragicomic reversal this is. Precisely the two communities that battled against Zionism as conceived by Herzl and realized by Israel's founding generation (each in its own time and manner ) are now demanding to be recognized as the real Zionists, and anyone else is a traitor worthy of denunciation.

The first group is the Haredim. Many, albeit not all, of them have in recent years been showing clear signs of extreme nationalism: a burning hatred of Arabs, of course, but also adulation for the army (the Hasidic newspaper Hamodia covered the Gaza flotilla incident as if the finest sons of its readers served in Shayetet 13, the naval commando unit that boarded the Turkish ship ), and the use of the terms "enthusiastic Zionist" and "good Jew" as if they were synonymous.

To grasp the extent to which the Zionist idea has been distorted it's enough to simply scroll through readers' comments on the Opinions page of the Haaretz website: Among those who insult the commentators with remarks like "Go live in Gaza, you're not a Jew or a Zionist anyway," it seems to me that there are more than a few Jewish-American Haredim.

The second group is the settlers. After more than 40 years it may be difficult to explain just how ironic it is that Israel Harel, one of the leaders of Gush Emunim, has become the oracle of the "Zionist strategy." He and the institute he heads dictate the standards for who is a Zionist. If there is anything that is antithetical to the spirit of Zionism, the settlements are its embodiment. Zionism is a secular national movement that sought to sever the Jewish people from the ahistorical messianic religious elements, to create a normal national home that would join the family of nations as an equal member.

It's no coincidence that the most virulent opponents of the state (the non-Zionist national religious, as Rabbi Chaim Navon dubbed them ) grow on the hills of Judea and Samaria. That is what gave rise to the deadly marriage between messianic Judaism and racist extreme nationalism. An extreme example of this is the abomination known as the book "Torat Hamelekh" (The King's Torah" ), many of whose Haredi-religious Zionist fans define themselves as good "Jews and Zionists" and claim that the "leftists" are neither of these.

The purpose of nationalist movements is to liberate peoples from subjugation and to give them independence and a national identity. When this mission is completed, the movements are supposed to silently disappear into the pages of history and clear the stage for the vital phase of creating a normal society, for which the state is merely a tool. But Israel, which for 62 years has been mired in a struggle for self-definition (democratic, Jewish - where's the democracy, where's the Judaism? ), also mired Zionism.

The secular and the sane traditional religious public (the "silent majority" ) have long since been ready for the next stage, but the abovementioned two groups, and especially their leaders (and above all politicians from and to the right of Likud who know which way the bad winds are blowing ) won't let them. They will hand out "Zionist" tags to those who think as they do, and will silence everyone else.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ariel Cultural Center: To Boycott or Not

I was not happy to hear that a new cultural center is about to open in the city of Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. I never like it when new buildings are constructed in the occupied territories. In the long term, they will be very costly to the Israeli treasury and to me as a taxpayer, when we will eventually exit the West Bank. Many Israelis think that Ariel would be one of the settlement blocs that would remain a part of Israel in a future deal with the Palestinians, even though it is quite a distance away from the Green Line, but there is no reason to believe Palestinians would agree to that. Even if they did, it would be unwise of us to have such a long and narrow corridor surrounded by the Palestinian state and to give so much territory from inside Israel proper in exchange for Ariel.

Now, having said that, I'm not quite sure what I think about the events of the last few days. Israeli theater companies, who travel away from their home theaters to other cities regularly, have announced that they will add Ariel to the list of places where they'll stage their plays. Various actors, directors and playwrights declared that, for political and conscientious reasons, they will not perform there. University professors and other public intellectuals, including such authors as A. B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz, have signed declarations in support of these theater people. On the other hand, the Israeli Union of Performing Artists has condemned them.

I'm not a fan of boycotts. I rarely join one, and usually vehemently oppose them. With settlements, though, I neither support or oppose a boycott. If someone doesn't want to participate in what he sees as support or normalisation of the occupation, I won't try to convince him otherwise, but I won't join in. That's the same with Ariel. I have no problem with Israeli theaters performing in Ariel, but neither do I think any member of the cast or crew should be forced to go there. I wouldn't have signed either one of the petitions for or against the actors' boycott. But I'm not sure what I'd say to an actor who is having trouble deciding whether to perform in Ariel or not. It is a tough decision, and either action - going there or staying home - is a sort of public political statement. Either action can also be construed as a different statement than what the actor intended.

Ariel is not the same as Be'er-Sheva, as Treasury Minister Yuval Steinitz was quoted as saying this week. Ariel is not a part of Israel and does not have the same legitimacy as Be'er-Sheva. But on the other hand, neither is Ariel the same as Kiryat Arba or Bat-Ayin, two of the most radical settlements in the territories. Most residents of Ariel are just normal, moderate people who would comply peacefully with a government decision to evacuate them. This, too, should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to perform there.

Ayatollah Abdallah Yussef

Imagine a senior Iranian or Palestinian cleric wishing for the death of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and all Israelis or all Jews. There would be an uproar.

On Saturday night, Ovadia Yossef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Shas party and a former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, wished for the deaths of Abu-Mazen and the Palestinian people. Instead of denouncing Yossef forcefully and saying he's a despicable racist, Prime Minister Netanyahu only said that the rabbi's views don't reflect the government's views. The US administration forcefully condemned the Shas leader's statement. Even the Anti-Defamation League, which recently shamefully joined the opposition to an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero, did the right thing this time and condemned the rabbi.

Ovadia Yossef has said some outrageous stuff over the years. For someone supposed to be a man of God, he sure does has a filthy and hateful mouth. In the past he has attacked secular Jews, Arabs, gays and other political rivals in unacceptable ways that go beyond criticism of political views or ways of life. However, it seems to me as if he has gone farther than ever before.

I can understand that Netanyahu needs Shas in order for his government not to fall apart, but he needs to find a way to condemn Yossef's words (and not just lamely distancing himself from them) without creating a crisis in the coalition. The Labor Party, if it had any backbone, would have forced him to condemn this call for genocide, albeit a genocide at the hands of God and not man.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Boycotting an Israeli Qualitative Researcher

A letter forwarded today to the Israeli higher education forum mailing list has revealed something few people have been aware of. Apparently, there have been recent calls to boycott the 7th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, scheduled to take place in May 2011 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, because one of its keynote speakers is Israeli. All I have is the letter denouncing the calls for a boycott and not the actual debate that took place in a health psychology mailing list exchange, so I don't know what exactly happened, but whatever it was, doesn't look like I would have approved. Did they demand that the Israeli's keynote address be cancelled before declaring a boycott? Doesn't matter. Whether they boycott the lecturer individually or the whole conference because of an Israeli's presence, both options are just vile.

I looked the conference up and found that the Israeli keynote speaker in question is Dr. Michal Krumer-Nevo, the director of the Israeli Center for Qualitative Research of Peoples and Societies (ICQM) and a lecturer at the Department of Social Work at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The conference website seems to suggest that there was a call to boycott BGU specifically rather than all Israeli universities. "It is not appropriate to hold one person responsible for the reprehensible actions of their university administration," declares the site. I'm assuming they are referring to Prof. Rivka Carmi's denunciation of Neve Gordon's call for a boycott against Israeli institutions, but again, I didn't see the debate itself so I don't know for sure. Poor BGU is getting hit from all sides now, from the right wing McCarthytites "Im Tirtzu" to the international left-wing bleeding hearts.

Turns out that there's going to be a public forum about boycotting academics, with Krumer-Nevo's participation. If I understand correctly, this wasn't originally planned to be part of the conference but was added as a response to the calls for a boycott. If I were Krumer-Nevo, I would not agree to take part in such a forum aimed at appeasing those who don't want her there, but it is her right to react differently than I would. It probably will not be fun for her, though.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Im Tirtzu vs. BGU

After targeting the New Israel Fund, "Im Tirtzu" ("If You Will It") is now taking aim at the political science department at Ben-Gurion University. It claims that a majority of its faculty members are left wing extremists and it has sent a letter to Prof. Rivka Carmi, the BGU president, saying that if steps aren't taken to make sure that the faculty and course content will be more balanced, Im Tirtzu will discourage students from studying there and will ask donors to stop the flow of cash. Since "balancing" the faculty without firing anyone would cost a lot of money by adding several new lecturers,  Im Tirtzu is actually calling for the firing of faculty members they don't like. They were careful not to actually use the word "fire". They must have been thinking of another word - "deniability" - when they wrote the letter. "You're calling us McCarthyites? But we never said anything about black-listing or terminating anyone's job!"

I don't know how Im Tirtzu came to the conclusion that a majority of the faculty members are extremists (9 of 11, they claim). I find this doubtful. Yes, this is the same department headed by Neve Gordon, who supports a boycott of Israel, and there probably is a vast majority of left-wingers among the faculty members, but not a majority of extreme leftists. Besides, what is important isn't their views but whether they abuse their roles as teachers and researchers to advance their agenda. If there's evidence of such conduct it's worthy of further scrutiny. If there isn't, it's just an attempt to shut up people whose views "Im Tirtzu" doesn't like.

Gabriel and I Debate on JSF (Six Months Ago)

This may be old, but it's news to me. I just found out that a debate I had in the comment section of one post on "Jews sans frontieres" in January was reproduced in another post a month later. I don't know whether to see this as a compliment or an insult. Did Gabriel see this as an interesting debate with someone who has interesting arguments that make for fertile discussion despite his disagreement with me, or is he using me as an example for Zionist ignorance and racism? I'd like to think it's the former.

I find one this curious (emphasis mine):

"When [the video] was published on JSF, I was challenged by Emmanuel Shiff, apparently a student from the Hebrew (colonial) University, about my criticism of the Israeli peace movement."
Why would he assume (wrongly, by the way) that I'm from Hebrew University? There are, after all, seven universities in Israel, five of them with political science departments.

Though it isn't my university, I'll defend it anyway. Yes, the Mount Scopus Campus of Hebrew U is in East Jerusalem, but the campus was founded in 1925, before the 1948 War, and remained Israeli territory even between 1949 and 1967, when it was an Israeli enclave sorrounded by Jordanian-controlled territory.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Keyword Mystery: Who Googles Amish Sperm

What do you get when you mix together a post about autism among the Amish and a post comparing two TV shows, which includes a reference to sperm donation? The result is that people who search for "Amish sperm donation" find my blog on Google. I first noticed this oddity three years ago, though back then it was a one-time thing. Lately, I've been getting hits from people searching for variants of the Amish+sperm combination almost every week. Why the hell are people regularly searching for this? Is there something I'm missing? A new documentary about Amish mating habits or fertility? Is the Amish population shrinking? What's going on here?!?

Please, if you got to this post while looking for ways to donate sperm to the Amish (or to receive a donation from them), leave a comment and explain yourself.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jewish and Democratic

On Monday, poet and translator Salman Masalha, an Arab citizen of Israel, wrote an opinion piece in Ha'aretz where he wrote that a "Jewish and Democratic" state cannot exist:

"There is no such thing as a Jewish democratic state, just as there is no Muslim democratic state. Religion and democracy can never dwell under one roof." (Read the whole article here in English or in Hebrew)

This prompted lots of angry letters to the editor, and today political science professor Shlomo Avineri, a regular Ha'aretz contributor, wrote his own rebuttal:

"In the standard Arab view, "Jews" are comparable to "Christians" or "Muslims." In other words, they are a religious group, not a nation. And it is not only Arabs who think this way: There is no doubt that for hundreds of years, Jewish identity was perceived by Jews and non-Jews alike primarily as a religious identity, and some still think so.

But the essence of the Zionist revolution is the view that the Jews are a nation, and as such, they have the right to national self-determination in a political framework. This principle was accepted by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, in its decision to partition British Mandatory Palestine into two states - Jewish and Arab (not Jewish and Muslim-Christian )."

Later in the article he writes:

"One of the problems that complicates attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is this very issue - the fact that the Arab side has difficulty recognizing that Jews in the state of Israel view themselves as a nation. Identity is a matter of self-definition, not external definition. Just as Jews are not the ones who will determine whether the Palestinians are a people or not (there are more than a few of us who have yet to be reconciled with the existence of the Palestinian people ), Salman Masalha cannot determine whether the Jews are a people or not. It is a question of self-determination." (Read the whole article in English or the original Hebrew)

Needless to say, I'm on Avineri's side here.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Two Types of Criticism

Thomas Friedman's op-ed today is about Shlomi Eldar's documentary "Precious Life", a film I haven't seen yet, but would like to. It follows the story of a baby from Gaza who gets treatment for a rare illness at Tel HaShomer Hospital in Israel. 

Friedman's description of the film is a segueway into a discussion of two ways of criticizing Israel - constructive and destructive:

"Constructive criticism starts by making clear: “I know what world you are living in.” I know the Middle East is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognize Israel. I know all of that. But Israel’s behavior, at times, only makes matters worse — for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they’re living in, and then criticize, they’ll listen.

Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?

How about everybody take a deep breath, pop a copy of “Precious Life” into your DVD players, watch this documentary about the real Middle East, and if you still want to be a critic (as I do), be a constructive one. A lot more Israelis and Palestinians will listen to you."
I agree that there is constructive and destructive criticism, though my approach isn't exactly the same as Friedman's. First of all, to be constructive you don't have to start every criticism of Israel with "I know the Arabs are bad too, but..." - that would just be a waste of time. That just sounds too apologetic, as if you have to be much more careful when criticizing Israel than when you're criticizing any other country.

Second of all, you can usually (but not always) understand from the criticism itself, without any "contextualizing introductions", if the critic sees a complex picture or sees everything as Israel's fault.

Thirdly, I'd also use the same standards regarding critcism of Arabs. Just like there are some who see everything as Israel's fault, there are those who see everything as Israel's enemies' fault. That is no more helpful or less destructive than blind criticism of Israel. When you call out either side, be constructive.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

After the Skirmish: Israeli Stupidity

Following this week's deadly border skirmish between Israel and Lebanon, the Israeli government is now demanding that the officer in charge of the Lebanese unit involved in the shooting be fired. If no steps are taken against him, my genius government says, Israel will treat the Lebanese Army as an enemy army.

First of all, aren't we already treating it like an enemy? After all, it is. We may prefer the Lebanese Army to control Southern Lebanon rather than Hizbullah, but Lebanon is still our enemy, just like Syria. It doesn't mean we should attack them or go to war, but it means we should be much more vigilant on their border than on the borders with Egypt and Jordan, with whom we have peace agreements. Hopefully, one day we'll have peace with Lebanon as well, but until then, it is our enemy.

Second of all, does anybody in their right mind think Lebanon will do something just because Israel demands it? In fact, if Israel wants the Lebanese to do something and says so publicly, the chances of our wishes being fullfilled is much lower than if we had kept our mouths shut. We'd never fire one of our own officers if Lebanon demanded it. We probably wouldn't do it even if it was our closest ally, the United States, that made the request. Why should we expect the Lebanese to be any different?

So, in this case, is the government just stupid or belligerent (or both)? If they realize nobody on the other side is going to fire the officer, then this demand is tantamount to a declaration of the Lebanese Army is our enemy. As I said before, I think it's our enemy anyway, but making a special declaration about it just sounds like a needless and dangerous provocation. The international tribunal investingating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's murder is expected to announce indictments against top Hizbullah operatives next week. Do we really want to give Hizbullah a way to avoid the internal turmoil that would stem from the charges by providing them with some external turmoil instead?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Letter S: A Poem

Beware, what follows can only be described as silly, stupid and substandard. Blame Plinky, not me!

Quill and ink well at the State House
Sing sad songs,

So sad, so sad.

Spread sillyness,

Sad sillyness.

Somber sillyness.

Students study soulful Sylabi.

Sacred saints,

Sordid songs.

Shower singing.



Singing sensations.

Spearhead spirituality!

Save souls!

Save shoeless soles.

Sacred sanctuary.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Lebanese Skirmish

What was that yesterday? Was Hezbullah trying to start a war through Shi'ites in the Lebanese Army? Was it just a big misunderstanding?

Something stinks about the Lebanese actions. Even UNIFIL says that the Israeli soldiers were entirely within Israeli territory doing routine work - cutting off a tree near the border, to maximize visibility and avoid Hezbullah ambushes from setting up there. Instead, they got into what seemed like a Lebanse Army ambush. The oddest thing is that the shots weren't even fired at the soldiers operating right near the border, but at officers watching a few feet away. Half an hour later, RPGs were fired at an Israeli tank that was well within Israeli territory.

Sounds to me like the Lebanese were picking a fight. We shouldn't play into their hands. A war with Lebanon would be good for nobody but Hezbullah, and perhaps for Iran, too. The skirmish is over, let's keep it that way.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

American Weddings and Rehearsal Dinners

Chelsea Clinton's nuptials got me thinking about the many differences between wedding traditions in Israel and the United States. The whole idea of an extended Wedding Party (as in the official participants in the ceremony, not the celebration itself) is very foreign to Israelis. We don't have a maid of honor, bridesmaids, best man or flower girl. Until recently, neither did we have any of the silly "who's next to marry" kinds of idiocies. Some Israeli brides do toss the bouquet nowadays, or some other variant of that is performed (like pulling strings out of a cake, one of which has a ring on it - a tradition imported from Argentina), but thankfully, I've never seen the very strange garter-tossing ceremony in any wedding I've ever been to in Israel. Weddings are also usually evening/night events in Israel, unlike American weddings, that are usually during the day.

But the strangest wedding tradition of all is the rehearsal dinner. First of all, what's there to rehearse in a wedding? And even if you do need to rehearse your vows, why have guests come to hear it before it's perfect? Well, I guess the answer is in the fact that the rehearsal itself is just an excuse and not the real focus of the event. The main attraction is the long series of toasts and roasts by family and close friends. This doesn't sound like fun for anyone. Being toasted (and/or roasted) is quite awkward for the bride and groom, unless they're megalomaniacs, and it's just boring for everybody else. Hey, even in the otherwise excellent film "Rachel Getting Married" the rehearsal dinner scene was extremely boring and should have been cut shorter. On the other hand, I've never actually been to a real-life rehearsal dinner so who knows, maybe it's actually fun. But I doubt it, based on speeches I've heard at weddings. The toasts were actually interesting to hear maybe five percent of the time.

It's nice to ramble on about something totally unimportant once in a while. :)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Afghan Dilemma

The recent revelation of secret material about the state of war in Afghanistan was both astonishing and unsurprising. That WikiLeaks could obtain 92,000 classified documents is absolutely jaw-dropping. Apparently, there's a huge problem with information security in the United States military.

What isn't surprising is the contents of the documents. Everybody knows that the situation is dire. The Afghan Army isn't anywhere near functional, President Karzai and his government are corrupt, and Pakistan is playing a double game, both aiding the United States and Taliban simultaneously. Normally, I'd say there's not much America and its allies can do there, and that troops should be pulled out, with each country focusing its anti-terror efforts on its own gates - seaports, airports and border crossings on land. But the situation isn't normal. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban again, nuclear-armed Pakistan will quickly follow. Nuclear arms cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of terrorists.

The two Talibans of Afghanistan and Pakistan are not the same, though they're linked. The Afghan Taliban is only concerned with Afghanistan itself. Their Pakistani counterparts, on the other hand, have a much more global outlook. Imagine these international Jihadists with nuclear weapons. They'd be a much greater danger than even a nuclear Iran could ever be.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

One Staters on the Right

Haaretz's weekend magazine had an interesting, long article about people who believe in the one state solution, but are on the right, not the left (original Hebrew article here). The main differences between them and the supporters of binationalism is that according to the right-wingers, the One State will still be Jewish, with Jewish national symbols (like the Star of David on the flag, the Menorah on our State Emblem and Ha'Tikvah as our anthem), a Jewish majority, and a right of return for Jews but not for Palestinians.
All my objections to this proposal appear in the article in the form of the journalist's questions. None of the answers convince me that this is in any remote way a good idea. Neither One State solution, the Isratine model and the Greater Israel model, will work. Quite frankly, I don't know which version is worse. Actually, they're quite the same, just with the Jews becoming a minority within a different timeframe in each model. In Isratine, it would happen immediately.  The right-wingers don't realize that in a Greater Israel, the Palestinians would be a majority within a few decades and then they'd turn it into an Isratine, if not a straight out Palestine.

The only good thing that might come of this is if the sane left, sane right and sane center all get freaked out by the various One Staters out there and decide to get more serious with implementing the Two State Solution.

More Islamic Rules in Gaza

Hamas has banned women from smoking nargilas (hookahs/water pipes). This is a new addition to existing rules against women:

"Gaza women are forbidden from riding motorcycles with their husbands; women are forbidden from getting haircuts at male hair salons; women are forbidden from walking on the beach without a male family member's accompaniment; and they must wear the hijab and full-length dresses to courthouses, schools, universities."

Does anybody still really believe that Hamas isn't as much an Islamic fundamentalist organization as Israelis think it is?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Settlements and the American Tax Code

The New York Times has an interesting and troubling article about American tax-exempt charities used to strengthen settlement building in the West Bank. These right-wingers successfully circumvent both Israeli and American law: Israel-based charities are not allowed to finance activity in settlements that are illegal under Israeli law; donations to foreign charities aren't tax-exempt in the United States; and US-based charities aren't allowed to serve as front groups for foreign charities. Yet, even though these organizations seem to be violating all these things, they are free to operate and not pay a dime to the United States Treasury.

If the United States Congress really cares about Israel, it should change the tax code so that groups would not be allowed to promote illegal settlement building, or at the very least will have to pay taxes, thereby reducing their available money. These outposts are an obstacle to peace, and are not only unjust to Palestinians, but their existence is also against Israel's interests.

Unfortunately, I don't see Congress acting, especially not before the mid-term elections.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Gilad Shalit and Bowe Bergdahl

Sometimes, visiting blogs I don't agree with can bring up interesting information. On a visit to Mondoweiss, I learned that Congress has passed a resolution calling for the release of Gilad Shalit. The writer of the post, Jeffrey Blankfort, asks when was the last time Congress passed a resolution referring to an American soldier. He has a point.

Congress is trying to show support for Israel by calling for Gilad Shalit's release, and I have no problem with the resolution. But Congress should have also called for the release of captive American and allied servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One commenter on Mondoweiss had this to say:

How about someone important publicly asking Mike Oren, with an eye toward embarassing that robo-likudist, if the Israeli Knessett has any plans to introduce a resolution calling upon the Talibanists in Afghanistan to release PFC Bowe Bergdahl?

That's actually not a bad idea at all. The Knesset should thank Congress by reciprocating and calling for the release of all captured US soldiers. Sure, the Taliban won't listen to Israel, but neither is Hamas listening to Congress. These would be American and Israeli unhelpful (but unharmful) non-binding resolutions in support of each other's captive soldiers.

In a way, I think the US's approach towards its M.I.A's is much healthier than Israel's. Here people call 23-year old Gilad Shalit "the child of us all" and press the government to agree to all of Hamas's demands, including the release of the worst, most dangerous terrorists who are certain to return to plotting attacks against civilians. "What if it were your son being held captive?" supporters of the deal ask Prime Minister Netanyahu (one could just as well ask "What if it were your son killed by a terrorist released in the deal?") Civilians are willing to risk dying at the hands of a released murderer in exchange for Shalit, forgetting that it is the job of soldiers to protect civilians, not the other way around.

Americans don't know who Bowe Bergdahl is. He is being held captive by the Taliban. Nobody is thinking of swapping hundreds and thousands of Taliban terrorists for him. If the Taliban wants to gain something from his capture, its demands need to be modest, or they will not be met by the Obama administration. In the Shalit case, though, Hamas knows it can increase its demands because it just might get its way thanks to public pressure. Netanyahu's steadfastness on this issue is one of the very few policies of his that I support.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Positive Signs in the West Bank

It is well-known that there is an economic boom in the West Bank. Unfortunately, our government isn't going to seize this opportunity - having a peaceful, stable and moderate Palestinian society with something lose if violence breaks out again - to come any closer to peace.

Thomas Friedman writes about the Palestinian economy in today's op-ed in the New York Times. I think the most significant paragraph is this one:

The most important thing President Obama can do when he meets Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, on July 6 is to nudge him to begin gradually ceding control of major West Bank Palestinian cities to the Palestinian Authority so that Fayyad can show his people, as he puts it, that what he is building is an independent state “not an exercise in adapting to the permanence of occupation” — and so that Israel can test if the new Palestinian security forces really can keep the peace without Israel making nighttime raids. Nothing would strengthen Fayyadism more than that.

Would Netanyahu do such a thing as an interim step? I don't think so, but one hopes Obama might convince him.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Let's Return to Pre-1967 Zionism

Here's an interesting opinion piece from today's Haaretz:

Before and after 1967 (source in Hebrew and in English):

The wrongs committed after 1967 threaten the justice of Zionism in its entirety, while pre-'67 wrongs were wrongs of particular moves in the realization of Zionism.

By Chaim Gans

The members of a bizarre coalition of pro-settlement right-wingers (for example, the late Yosef Ben-Shlomo, and Israel Harel, long may he live) and the anti-Zionist left (recently, Yehouda Shenhav) are united in one claim. They hold that the Zionist left's support for the pre-1967 borders, and its sharp opposition to the settlements since, are hypocritical and inconsistent. The inconsistency, they say, is that Zionism has been settling at the Arab's expense since it began - not only since 1967.

In addition, they claim that even if the post-'67 settlements are the basis of unjust acts, Zionism committed many more injustices in 1948 and the following decade. At that time it not only settled on private land belonging to Palestinians, it also uprooted masses of people from their homes and refused to allow them to return.

But the position of the Zionist left is far from inconsistent. There is a huge gap between the post-'67 settlements and the injustices perpetrated by Zionism until then; the wrongs committed after 1967 threaten the justice of Zionism in its entirety, while pre-'67 wrongs were wrongs of particular moves in the realization of Zionism.

The source of this distinction is of course the well-known distinction between the jus ad bellum and jus in bello. There is no contradiction between the claim that Britain's bombing of Dresden during World War II was a criminal act and the claim that this criminality represented a step taken in a just war - even a sublimely just war, the war against Nazism.

We must acknowledge the great injustices committed by Zionism up to 1967. We have to take responsibility for them (via reparations ) - mainly for the expulsion of refugees. We must also acknowledge the high price the Palestinians paid for the realization of Zionism, even when Zionism did not commit injustices against them. But none of these admissions undermines the justice of Zionism in the least. For in 1948, Zionism realized the right of Jews to self-determination - after a history of persecution that created a necessity to implement the right to a historic homeland. The justice of this Zionism is sublime, even though crimes were committed during its realization.

The post-'67 settlements (in contrast to just an Israeli military presence in the territories ) cannot be justified on the basis of the needs of a persecuted nation. The settlements are the bases for the continuing injustices committed by a powerful state. These wrongs are being carried out many decades after the persecution of the Jews ended. They are in effect acts of persecution committed by Jews against Arabs with the backing of the Jewish state. So the Zionism in whose name they are carried out cannot be considered just.

Zionism cannot be just if it is a proprietary movement representing the so-called "generations of the Jewish people" to acquire the deed to the entire Land of Israel and Jerusalem - the way the right wing justifies the settlements and its opposition to the construction freeze in the territories and Jerusalem. Zionism can be just only if it is an existential movement of Jews interested as individuals in maintaining their culture and living in their homeland without being persecuted. This justification supports the Zionism that existed before 1967. But not after. The settlements are therefore criminal not only in isolation. They deny Zionism of its justice as a whole.

They deny not only the justice of its present and future, they also deny the justice of its past. The acts that were committed by Zionism up to 1967 - including its criminal acts - do not have these implications. Therefore, we must return to 1967. Not because of demographics. For the sake of justice.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Extremist Kenneth O'Keefe

BBC's HARDtalk just introduced me to one of the world's most bizzare characters. Tattooed, crazy-eyed ex-US Marine (and ex-US citizen) Kenneth O'Keefe was interviewed about the events onboard the Mavi Marmara, which he witnessed first hand as one of the pro-Palestinian passengers. [Update: video available after the jump]. The guy is mad as hell at Israel and the world at large.

O'Keefe is a one-stater who dismisses Qasam and Grad rockets as "glorified firecrackers". He said he's willing to die for his cause. He's so extreme he renounced his American citizenship. In the interview, he said he did so because the United States violated human rights, so I assumed this came after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to O'Keefe's website, this is not the case. He renounced his citizenship six months before 9/11, and accepted "Hawaiian [Kingdom] citizenship" (which, of course, does not exist), as part of his battle for Hawaiian independence, an idea which I doubt most Hawaiians support. He also believes the United States is engaged in genocide against native Hawaiians.

On a different front, O'Keefe organized "Human Shield Action to Iraq", which was meant to prevent the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many criticized it as protecting Saddam Hussein's regime rather than Iraqi civilians.

The more interviews this aggressive nut gives, the better for Israel. He's not likeable at all, in contrast with some of the softer-spoken pro-Palestinian activists such as Huwaida Arraf. I don't think he convinced a lot of people who aren't die-hard anti-Israel/anti-Western activists as it is.

A self-proclaimed anti-Imperialism activist who is an ex-Marine: doesn't that sound like a James Bond villain?

Reminder: Ken O'Keefe's interview on BBC's HARDtalk after the jump (video via the blog Jews sans frontieres, which takes the exact opposite view from me on this). Judge for yourselves.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stop the Lebanese Flotilla

A new flotilla is about to set sail for Gaza from Lebanon. Another one might come soon from Iran. These are terrorist-harboring nations, the very people we Israelis don't want Hamas to be able to be in contact with for fear of arms smuggling. Iranian and Lebanese ships must not be allowed to reach Gaza.

These flotillas are very different from last month's Turkish flotilla. Then, there were hundreds of naive peace activists onboard and a few dozen violent provocation activists. Here, the ships will be manned solely by provocateurs and chances are higher that there will be Hamas-bound weapons as part of the cargo. Had we dealt with the previous flotilla in a smarter way, avoided casualties and an international outcry, the Lebanese and Iranians maybe wouldn't have even thought of sending their own "aid".

Some fear that intercepting enemy ships (and this time, that is exactly what they are) might start a war with Lebanon and Iran. I doubt that will be the case. Neither of them have any interest in a war. That is especially true about Iran, who knows that declaring war on Israel and firing missiles on it would give a green light to Israel, and possibly the United States, to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. After all, if fear of being bombed by Iran is what keeps us from taking action, we'll have no reason not to do it anymore.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saudi Arabian Searches for Jewish Genome "Hoax"

I'm sometimes very happy to have my Lijit Widget (see it on the left). It shows me how people reached my blog and from where on the globe, and sometimes I have interesting visitors. One of my latest readers hails from Riyad, Saudi Arabia and reached this site by searching for "hoax the genome-wide structure of the Jewish people". I shouldn't reach conclusions based on one internet user, but I must say I'm not surprised that the recent studies showing a genetic link between different Jewish communities around the world would automatically be seen as hoaxes by certain people in the Arab world.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Take This, Shlomo Sand!

Two new studies published in Nature and in the American Journal of Human Genetics prove that Jews worldwide are related to each other and are of Middle Eastern origins. Except for Jews from Ethiopia, Georgia, and certain communities in India, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews are much more similar to each other and to Middle Eastern populations than to local non-Jewish populations.

Read about it in the New York Times, or read the abstracts and articles themselves:

"The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people" in Nature:

Contemporary Jews comprise an aggregate of ethno-religious communities whose worldwide members identify with each other through various shared religious, historical and cultural traditions. Historical evidence suggests common origins in the Middle East, followed by migrations leading to the establishment of communities of Jews in Europe, Africa and Asia, in what is termed the Jewish Diaspora. This complex demographic history imposes special challenges in attempting to address the genetic structure of the Jewish people. Although many genetic studies have shed light on Jewish origins and on diseases prevalent among Jewish communities, including studies focusing on uniparentally and biparentally inherited markers, genome-wide patterns of variation across the vast geographic span of Jewish Diaspora communities and their respective neighbours have yet to be addressed. Here we use high-density bead arrays to genotype individuals from 14 Jewish Diaspora communities and compare these patterns of genome-wide diversity with those from 69 Old World non-Jewish populations, of which 25 have not previously been reported. These samples were carefully chosen to provide comprehensive comparisons between Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the Diaspora, as well as with non-Jewish populations from the Middle East and north Africa. Principal component and structure-like analyses identify previously unrecognized genetic substructure within the Middle East. Most Jewish samples form a remarkably tight subcluster that overlies Druze and Cypriot samples but not samples from other Levantine populations or paired Diaspora host populations. In contrast, Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and Indian Jews (Bene Israel and Cochini) cluster with neighbouring autochthonous populations in Ethiopia and western India, respectively, despite a clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and the Levant. These results cast light on the variegated genetic architecture of the Middle East, and trace the origins of most Jewish Diaspora communities to the Levant.

"Abraham's Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry" in the American Journal of Human Genetics:

For more than a century, Jews and non-Jews alike have tried to define the relatedness of contemporary Jewish people. Previous genetic studies of blood group and serum markers suggested that Jewish groups had Middle Eastern origin with greater genetic similarity between paired Jewish populations. However, these and successor studies of monoallelic Y chromosomal and mitochondrial genetic markers did not resolve the issues of within and between-group Jewish genetic identity. Here, genome-wide analysis of seven Jewish groups (Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, and Ashkenazi) and comparison with non-Jewish groups demonstrated distinctive Jewish population clusters, each with shared Middle Eastern ancestry, proximity to contemporary Middle Eastern populations, and variable degrees of European and North African admixture. Two major groups were identified by principal component, phylogenetic, and identity by descent (IBD) analysis: Middle Eastern Jews and European/Syrian Jews. The IBD segment sharing and the proximity of European Jews to each other and to southern European populations suggested similar origins for European Jewry and refuted large-scale genetic contributions of Central and Eastern European and Slavic populations to the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry. Rapid decay of IBD in Ashkenazi Jewish genomes was consistent with a severe bottleneck followed by large expansion, such as occurred with the so-called demographic miracle of population expansion from 50,000 people at the beginning of the 15th century to 5,000,000 people at the beginning of the 19th century. Thus, this study demonstrates that European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters woven together by shared IBD genetic threads.

I wonder what Shlomo Sand thinks about this. His main argument in "The Invention of the Jewish People" is that modern Jews aren't related to the ancient Jews of the Kingdoms of Israel & Judea, but rather are made up of unrelated groups of peoples who converted to Judaism over the centuries, and that most Ashkenazi Jews descend from the Turkic Khazars. Sand's theory, often used by anti-Zionists to delegitimize the state of Israel, has just been proven false once again.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

"Happy" Anniversary

Today is my blog's 7th birthday. More importantly, it is the 43rd anniversary of the Six Day War (or of Day 2 of 6, to be exact). The war itself was justified, as was taking control over the territories we conquered. It was the colonization and the idea that we'll never leave that were the problem.

At the time, we didn't have any negotiating partners in the Arab world. The Arab League's summit in Khartoum in August 1967 declared "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel", and vowed to continue fighting for the destruction of the Jewish State. If the Israeli leaders of the time had been smart, they would have created a Palestinian autonomy right then and treated the people of the West Bank and Gaza much better than the Jordanians and Egyptians had treated them. They'd rebuild their lives and their economy until the Palestinians would be stable enough to have their own state.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened and we're still in control of the West Bank, and a band of terrorists is in control of Gaza. Despite everybody knowing what the solution should be, nobody seems to be honestly working toward that solution.

Will last week's flotilla fiasco push the Israeli and Palestinian governments in the right direction? I doubt it. Things will probably get much worse now. Israel is on a collision course with Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to be considering "breaking the siege" in person, with Turkish navy ships protecting him. Nothing good can come of this.

This was quite a pessimistic post, but let's end it on a lighter note:

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Raed Salah, Violent Turks and Violent Knesset Members

In a television interview today, Sheikh Raed Salakh, the radical Islamic cleric, claimed that Israeli soldiers shot one of the people onboard the Marmara because they thought it was him. Interestingly, he called his doppleganger a soldier, a "jundi" in Arabic. Would he call a peace activist, or even an unarmed pro-Gaza activist, a "soldier"? A few of the other passengers on the ship talked about becoming Shaheeds, martyrs. One even expressed regret for surviving.

Foolishly, all the Turkish citizens arrested on the flotilla were sent back to Turkey. We should have deported only those not involved in violence. Those who attacked our soldiers will now be able to join the Irish ship named after Rachel Corrie, which is currently docked in Turkey, and unless some kind of agreement between Israel, Ireland, the Free Gaza Movement and the crew of the Rachel Corrie is reached, they'll be able to attempt a repeat of the events of the Marmara.

I have to say that this whole flotilla thing is one case where I'm mad as hell at almost everyone involved, from the Israeli government to the anti-Israel "provocation activists". Yesterday, a few of our Knesset Members joined the list of people who piss me off. Yossi Sarid's reaction to the near-brawl and all the cursing was just perfect (the English version, unfortunately, dropped Sarid's lament in the end against the nationalism taking over the Knesset, by both Jews and Arabs).

Alleviate the Gaza Blockade, Don't Lift It

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was too defiant in his public statement yesterday, but he certainly was right about one thing - letting ships sail to Gaza freely would create an Iranian port on the Mediterranean Sea. Do all those demanding that Israel lift the blackade not realize that such a move would amount to giving Hamas a free pass to arm itself with thousands of missiles a day, or do they just not care?

Much of our policy is foolish. While we already do transport a lot of stuff into Gaza,  the list of items we don't allow into the territory seems quite random. Supplies without any military purposes should be allowed in, as should people who are not suspected terrorists. This isn't a free flow of people and goods, but it is a freer flow.

And by the way, Israel took the cargo from the "freedom flotilla" and loaded it on trucks. They're now stuck at the border with Gaza, because Hamas is the one who won't let it in. What the hell is up with that?

Israel Must Investigate Itself

Israel should not submit to an international investigation of the Gaza flotilla fiasco. It should conduct its own investigation. It should be a National Investigative Committee (ועדת חקירה ממלכתית), the highest, most independent sort of investigation, in which the government is the one who decides to establish it, but it is the chief justice of the Supreme Court who appoints its members. It can even have international observers, but the Israelis will be the ones conducting the investigation.

Investigations of lower stature are not enough. An investigation by the military won't have international credibility, and most importantly, wouldn't have the authority to look into the government ministers' decision-making process. A government-appointed committee wouldn't cut it either, unless it has exactly the same authority as a National Investigative Committee and its members can be trusted to be independent (this might be what happens in the end, if the law doesn't allow for a National Investigative Committee to have international observers).

It now seems that some cabinet members support a high-ranking investigation. Even Avigdor Lieberman is on board, so I'm pretty confident it won't be too long before the government decides to act.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Nobody Takes Responsibility

Today's Ha'aretz is the second annual Author's Edition, in which fiction writers and poets take over the newspaper for one day and report the (real) news. Etgar Keret's piece about trying to find someone to interview who would take responsibility for the flotilla fiasco is quite telling. In a normal country, at least one top ranking official would resign over such a fatal failure, but not in Israel.

With officials mum, journalists are told: Just watch the faces (source: English/Hebrew)
By Etgar Keret

At 7 A.M. yesterday, the newspaper called to tell me I would be its diplomatic correspondent for the day. They apologized for the early hour, but "after all, it's going to be a long day, not to say critical. We have nine killed, dozens wounded, denunciations from the whole world .... And today is the day when someone will have to take responsibility for this snafu."

They promised to set up an interview for me by 9 A.M. By 11 A.M., they still hadn't called back, so I called to see what was happening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still overseas, they explained; we're trying to get you an interview with another member of the forum of seven ministers that approved the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

Another hour passed; still no word. I called again.

"Not for attribution, those guys from the septet are blaming the whole thing on the military," my editor said. "But none of them is willing to be interviewed by you" - except maybe Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon. But maybe, he suggested, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor would agree to talk if you called him yourself.

So I called Meridor. He said he would love to talk to me, but his daughter was getting married that day. He didn't even plan to attend the meeting of the inner cabinet.

I told my editor. It's okay, he said, we have another idea: If the army is to blame, maybe it's better that you speak to a senior officer. "Give us 10 minutes and we'll get back to you."

An hour later I still hadn't heard back, so I called again.

"It's complicated," the editor said. "On the scene, they're saying that the military is furious at [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, that he's the one who forced them to board the ship without Kalashnikovs. But we checked, and none of them has the courage to talk to the media, they're all afraid."

But don't worry, he added, we've had a brilliant idea: We'll arrange an interview with Ami Ayalon. As a former commander of both the navy and the naval commandos, he can comment knowledgeably on the military aspect, and as a former Labor Party minister and Knesset member, he knows all about party chairman Ehud Barak's tricks. And he's a leftist, so he won't be afraid to take on the government.

An hour later, when I hadn't heard back from the paper, I called again. Unfortunately, they said, Ayalon is abroad. So maybe it will have to be Ya'alon after all.

"But we're not wild about it," the editor added. "For an incident of this magnitude, it would be better for you to talk with someone a little more ... well, it's not important. But you know what? We have a new angle. We'll arrange an interview for you with one of the naval commandos who was there. One of them could give you the most authentic angle, from the field. If he can't tell you who's guilty, who can?"

Again, I waited an hour. Nothing. I called again. They said the interview with the commando wasn't going to happen. But Netanyahu is going to give a press conference, they said. It isn't definite yet, but really, he has no choice. "Give us just a few minutes to find out when exactly it's happening."

This time, they actually got back to me - and quickly.

"Netanyahu won't hold a press conference," my editor said. "The issues he could be asked about are critical to the country's future, and it's not appropriate for him to answer them off the cuff like that, still jet-lagged."

But don't worry, he added, we've thought of something else: We spoke to the defense minister's aide, and he said Barak would be willing to take you with him in his helicopter from Jerusalem to the naval commando base at Atlit. But you'll have to vanish as soon as you arrive, because the base is top secret.

"And during the flight he'll agree to answer questions?" I asked.

"Well, the thing is," the editor responded, "he'd love to answer, but it's impossible because there's noise in the helicopter .... But his aide says you can write down your impressions. You know, of the view, his facial expressions. We understand this isn't a lot, but it's still information. You can observe and interpret for our readers whether he looks more determined or more guilty."

"Enough!" I roared. "I've had it with all this nonsense. I don't want to look at Barak. I want to ask someone questions and get answers. And if only Bogey [Ya'alon] is prepared to talk, I want to talk with Bogey. The man is in the septet forum and he replaced Netanyahu as acting premier when he was abroad. He's ready to talk? Then I want to listen."

"Well, that's the thing," my editor said, sounding embarrassed. "It seems that even Bogey isn't willing to be interviewed today. It's strange. It's very unlike him."

"So what do you suggest I do?" I asked.

"Good question," he responded. "So we thought, why not leverage this? Stop running after them; we'll leave a few blank columns on the side and the readers can guess for themselves who's to blame for this screw-up."