Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obama Just Earned His Nobel

Although I voted for Barack Obama, I wasn't too crazy about him. I thought he wasn't prepared to lead the United States. When he won his Nobel Prize for peace, I thought it was ridiculous, and still think he shouldn't have won in 2009. Obama has proved me wrong about his preparedness for the job, at least when it comes to domestic issues. What he has done with his health insurance reform is huge. That alone now makes him worthy, in my opinion, of a peace prize. He may not have resolved international conflicts, but  his actions will bring about an improvement in the health of millions of Americans and will prevent the deaths of countless people who currently can't afford care for their curable diseases. This will save no less lives than bringing an end to a bloody war.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Question About Ambassador Oren

Here's an issue I've been thinking about for quite a while but never blogged about. Ever since Michael B. Oren's appointment as Israel's ambassodor to the United States was announced last year I've been thinking that this is a problematic choice. I have nothing against Oren himself. He's a right-winger, but not a nut, and has proved himself to be quite a capable diplomat, even though he was an academic before he was chosen for the post. What bothers me about him is what some might see as a technicality, and others will see as a major problem.

Michael Oren was born in the United States, and from the time he immigrated to Israel and until his appointment as ambassador he was a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. The United States does not allow its own citizens to serve as a foreign county's representatives in the States, and so, Oren had to renounce his American citizenship to be accepted by the United States as Israel's ambassador.

People in Prime Minister Netanyahu's office said that the fact that Oren is American makes him understand American politics and diplomacy better, and so he's better equipped to serve Israel's interests in America. That might be true. But wouldn't such an appointment also offend many Americans priding themselves as patriots, who would see the new ambassador's renunciation of his American citizenship, and thus his American identity, in favor of serving a foreign government, as an act of treason on his part?

Ambassador Oren has been in office since the summer of 2009. I haven't heard of any American officials expressing their discomfort with his status as a former American. Still, the question remains whether there are people whose support Israel needs who are quietly offended by this.

Obama and Israelis: The Myth of Hostility

Long before Barack Obama was elected president, this notion arose out of nowhere that Israelis didn't like the guy. Maybe people expected Israelis to dislike anybody with "Hussein" in his name, even though King Hussein of Jordan was quite popular here. Yes, Israelis preferred Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill is still probably the most popular former American president in Israel, and John McCain. But time and again we see that Israelis aren't as hostile towards Obama as people think. In the Democratic primary in 2008, Americans in Israel gave Obama 45% of their votes.

The recent crisis between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government is an excellent opportunity to check the pulse of Israelis' attitudes towards Obama. According to a poll published by Haaretz yesterday, Obama may not be as popular as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but Israelis don't show hostility towards him either.

When asked how Obama relates to Israel, 51% said he is fair, 18% said friendly, and 21% said hostile. With the two previous presidents, the vast majority would have said they're friendly. But according to the hostility myth, you'd expect to see at least 80% of respondents saying Obama is hostile. That just isn't the case.

One thing Obama should be worried about if he cares about Israeli public opinion is the question of anti-Semitism. While the majority, 56%, don't think he's anti-Semitic, more than a quarter (27%) said that he is. That's a much higher number than previous presidents would get, and it is also ridiculous, considering the fact that his most trusted advisors are Jewish.

For furthur analysis of the Haaretz poll and other weekend polls, here's Daneil Levy's take in Foreign Policy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Obama vs. Netanyahu

I usually don't like it when my two countries' relations with each other get strained. Now, though, I'm just elated about the mini-crisis we're in following the East Jerusalem construction announcement that came out while Vice President Joe Biden was here. Biden publicly censured the Israeli government, and voiced his disapproval in private meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a 40-minute phone conversation with Netanyahu in which she reprimanded him. The PM has apologized, saying the timing was off and that he plans to make sure such announcements are never made without his say-so. He doesn't seem to understand that the timing is the minor issue here. The problem is the construction itself, which isn't just a slap in the Americans' and Palestinians' faces but also against Israel's interests. Even more worrying is the fact that even some Labor Party ministers don't understand what the big deal is.

So, why am I happy about this controversy? Netanyahu deserves a good whooping. The opposition is too fragmented to forcefully and effectively speak out against the current government's policies. The Labor Party, which claimed to join the coalition in order to be a moderating force, is being dragged rightward rather than dragging Netanyahu leftward. The electorate may not be crazy about Netanyahu, but according to polls, if the elections were held today the Likud would have an even larger delegation in the Knesset. Nothing much is really threatening Netanyahu into action. Perhaps some kind of ultimatum from Obama is the only way to convince Bibi to prove that he really does support the two state solution.

I'm against an imposed solution, but some prodding in the right direction can be helpful.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Livni Warns Against Fascism

I really don't understand how this didn't make headlines: Head of the opposition and Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni warned in an interview aired last night on "Uvda" ("Fact") with Ilana Dayan that the policies of the current government may lead to either anarchy or the desire for a strong, fascist leader. She accused the leaders of the three main coalition parties, Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak, of joining forces with her party's number 2, Shaul Mofaz, in an attempt to break up Kadima, thus eliminating any serious opposition within the Knesset.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Contempt of Court

A former deputy attorney general recently prepared a report listing several cases in which the powers that be - either Israel's government and its agencies or local authorities - have ignored the rulings of the supreme court and lower courts. I'd say it is time for the judges to send people to jail for contempt of court. I don't know if the law allows jailing in such cases, but it certainly should.

Eli Reifman, a businessman, has been repeatedly sent to jail this last year for contempt of court when he refused to transfer his shares in a high-tech company, Emblaze, to a court-appointed special manager. Just like private citizens get fined or jailed when they defy the judges, so should public officials. Start by fining mayors and officials in the government ministries responsible for the lack of implementation of judicial orders. Then, if that doesn't work, start giving out jail time.

Perhaps Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat would be the first public official to be sent to jail for contempt of court. He seems determined not to comply with supreme court decisions, and he's too rich to be hurt by heavy fines.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Finding Roots on Television

My previous post was about a new NBC show, "Parenthood", which reminded me of another new show about to debut on that much-maligned network on Friday, March 5. Every episode of "Who Do You Think You Are", a documentary series based on a British show of the same name, takes a different celebrity on a journey to find their roots and uncover unknown facts about their ancestors. Several international versions of this show have been produced in different countries, including in Israel.

I've been fascinated with the Israeli version, where every episode and every celebrity's story and reactions have been very different, even in cases when there were similar family histories (two stories included ancestors serving in the Hungarian Labor Battalions, and in all four episodes that have aired so far, the story of at least one side of the family involved the Holocaust). The episode with comedian Tal Friedman was laugh-out-loud funny, while other celebrities were more somber. Friedman retraced his mother's steps as a young child running across the French-Swiss border alone, only with an even younger boy by her side. Actor Ohad Knoler discovered that one of the scenes in "Munich", a film he appeared in, was filmed in a building designed by his own great-uncle and once owned by his family. Journalist Gabby Gazit discovered the horrible conditions both his parents lived through during the Holocaust. Writer Shifra Horn discovered she was descended from the Moroccan rabbi who re-awakened the Jewish community in Buchara, Uzbekistan. Each one of these celebrities discovered much more information about their families.

Two episodes are left. The promo for Thursday's episode promises actress and TV presenter Michal Yanay will discover a horrible secret. Then a week later, TV psychoanalyst Yoram Yuval, will explore his own roots as well.

The celebrities on the American version will be Lisa Kudrow, who also serves as producer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields and Emmitt Smith.

Asperger's and Autism on TV

"Parenthood", a new NBC show based on the 1989 Steve Martin film, will feature a child with Asperger's Syndrome. The pilot episode will depict the child being diagnosed and how his parents deal with this. I'm curious to see how well the show portrays Asperger's. Alan Sepinwall, TV critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, has an interesting article about Aspie characters on TV.

It seems to me that of all the autism spectrum disorders, Asperger's Syndrome is way over-represented. When it comes to high-functioning autism, there is nothing but AS on television and in films these days, at least among those with autistic traits who are declared as autistic and not just hinted as such. Even clearly non-Asperger characters such as the heart surgeon on "Grey's Anatomy" and the lawyer from Boston Legal, both mentioned in Sepinwall's article, are called Aspies. The surgeon seems like she has a different kind of autism, but the lawyer seems to have an assortment of mental problems that don't have much to do with autism, including David E. Kelly's favorite whacky disorder, Tourette's Syndrome.