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.