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.