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.