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.