Friday, February 25, 2011

Farewell to the Brotherly Leader of Libya

The ruthless ruler of Libya, His Insane Highness Muammar al-Gadhafi,  the African King of Kings, is sticking to his guns, quite literally. In this situation, where the Libyan people and much of the security apparatus have turned against him, I don't see how this does not end with Gadhafi's death. He is a crazy son of a bitch who will fight to the bitter end.

Now, the big question is not so much whether he'll be killed by his opponents, but whether or not we'll see him die on television. There's a vindictive side of me that wants to see the life come out of him on a live broadcast. I have a feeling that won't be the case. His body might be shown after the fact, but his life will end chaotically, in a situation where cameras cannot be brought in easily. He will not undergo a trial, like Saddam Hussein. Rather, he'll be lynched or shot the moment his opponents get the opportunity. Perhaps one of his guards will decide the unrest is bad for Libya, and will decide to take him out herself (Gaddafi has an all-female bodyguard unit).

Unlike the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the end of Gadhafi's rule can only be a good thing. Even if the Islamists take over Libya, they can't be worse than Col. Crazy. Sure, oil prices may slightly rise and Libya's cooperation in stopping African refugees from reaching Europe's shores might end, but those are risks worth taking.

Monday, February 21, 2011

McCarthyist Initiative Tanks in Israel

Two investigative Knesset committees intended to look into the funding and conduct of certain Israeli left wing organizations are now very unlikely to see the light of day. The Likud reversed course and decided to allow its Knesset members to vote as they wish in the final stage needed to approve the establishment of the committees. Yisrael Beitenu decided to indefinitely postpone the roll-call scheduled for next Monday, since Avigdor Lieberman now knows that the proposal has more opponents in the Knesset than supporters.

This is probably the worst Knesset we've ever had, with a long list of horrible bills and resolutions. Fortunately, most of those don't become law in the end. Unfortunately, people abroad tend to hear about the negative initiatives, and not about their ultimate failure.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Zochrot at Gaza-Sderot

A controversial 4-day  conference took place last week at Sapir College in Sderot, the often bombarded town near the border with Gaza. The theme was "moving from crisis to sustainability", from war to peace, which is a general concept most people would agree on. The question is how to reach it. That's where the controversy starts. Right wing groups tried to call off the conference, and tried to persuade different people to boycott it, criticizing the fact that groups they see as anti-Israel, such as Zochrot, UNRWA and Doctors for Human Rights, were participating. The mayor of Sderot was the only official who boycotted the conference.

Perhaps the most controversial participant was Zochrot, whose representatives spoke about implementing the right of return. Unfortunately, I could not attend, but I've heard from people who attended their panel. There's a saying in Hebrew - "they convinced the convinced". In other words, people didn't change their minds after hearing them.

The people of Zochrot did not answer the difficult questions about ethnic strife and avoided the question of how many people would return by claiming that is a racist question. Apparently, anything but the full right of return would not be enough, with any agreement capping the number of returnees being a joke. Also, they contradicted themselves. They said the return of refugees would not require Israelis to leave their homes, but who owns houses that existed before 1948 would have to be worked out.

The panel wasn't one-sided, though. The panel chair said she wasn't sure about the right of return, and another lecturer, who spoke about effective dialogue, said that she is threatened by all the points on the map where Arab villages once existed and to which refugees want to return. She said it is important for patriotic Zionist Israelis to speak with Palestinians. I think she meant the Zionist left should not leave Jewish-Palestinian interaction to Anti-Zionists.

If I had been there, I would have asked the Zochrot people a question inspired by the events in Egypt: You claim Israel should be a democracy, with complete equal rights for all, but how can you guarantee that a post-return Israel would be at least as much a liberal democracy as it is now? Most of the refugees don't live in democratic and/or liberal countries. Why would they care to make sure the rights of their former enemies (which some may see as current enemies) are not taken away?

Zochrot's participation is not a "boycottable" offense. In fact, it is better for them to be heard in the general public, so they can be confronted with the difficult questions they tend to avoid when they only meet with like-minded people, and so people who hear them can see that they don't have good answers to the agruments that don't fit their agenda.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Israel's Egypt Policy: Does It Really Matter?

Thomas Friedman is sick and tired of the Netanyahu government. He believes that Israel should have sided with the pro-democracy protesters, and that such a stance would have created a better relationship with the Egyptian people, the leaders of what Friedman calls "the new dynamic popular trend". In hindsight, it is true that Israel sided with a dead horse (Mubarak), but it isn't at all clear that it really matters.

First of all, events are still unfolding. We have no idea what kind of regime Egypt will now have. Will it be a liberal democracy, a flawed "illiberal democracy", a theocracy or a military dictatorship? Other than the unlikely first option, the three latter options are all equally possible. The protesters have won the battle, but not yet the war. If the military retains power, the fact that Israel stuck by the regime will be a positive thing in the eyes of the new leaders.

If democracy or theocracy await Egypt, anything Israel would have done regarding Mubarak would not help the relationship with the new regime. Egyptians hate us. Despite the cold peace between the two countries, Egyptian civil society boycotts Israel. Egyptian individuals who travel to Israel get punished by their professional associations. If Israel called on Mubarak to resign, Egyptians would see it as too little too late, and might even think of it as Zionist meddling.

As Friedman said, the Egyptian revolution had nothing to do with Israel. Similarly, Egyptian hatred of Israel has little to do with Israel's policy towards Egypt. The main problem is that they still see the Jewish State as a foreign colony in the Arab Middle East, as well as their anger at the way Israel treats Palestinians.

The only way for Israel to look more favorable in the eyes of Egyptians, and Arabs in general, is to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. Even then, many would continue to hate us, but less.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Teaching Arabic in Texas

My Arabic is horrible. I studied literary Arabic from seventh to tenth grade, as do most Israelis, and I was always bad at it. I felt that I didn't need to know the language. Boy, was I wrong. I took a spoken Arabic class in college and improved my language skills a bit, but lost most of what I learned because I didn't practice enough.

Arabic usually isn't taught in American schools. A school district in Texas has made the wise decision to change that and teach Texans Arabic. Parents are angry, saying that Arabic is equal to teaching Islam. That's just stupid and ignorant. First of all, teaching about Islam along with the Arabic language would not be a bad idea at all, and would not amount to proselytization, ifdone right. Secondly, this specific program focuses only on language and culture, not religion. This is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and the more Americans know Arabic, the more the United States can engage the Arab world in the civil and public sphere.

Other than English, the three most important languages in the world are Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. People need to start learning them at as early an age as possible.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

More Celebrities Searching For Roots

An now, for the occasional non-political post on an unimportant (but interesting) subject:

I've seen three versions of the genealogy documentary series "Who Do You Think You Are": I've seen all the episodes of the Israeli version, the first season of the American version, and just one episode of the original BBC series. That one episode of the British show was about Kim Cattrall and her search for her long-lost grandfather, who had abandoned his family when her mother was a young child.

A few days ago, the American version returned to NBC for an 8-episode second season. Interestingly, Kim Cattrall is one of the subjects of this season, and according to Executive Producer Lisa Kudrow's description of Cattrall's story, it looks like they're just re-airing the two-year old episode from the BBC. My guess is that they're going to do some editing, like replacing the British narrator with an American one, and making a slightly more emotional, commercial version than the drier, more strictly documentary-like British origin.

It seems odd to me that the show is recycling an episode from the British version and claiming it as an episode of the new version. Why not announce: "And here, between seasons of the NBC show, let's show you a few episodes from the original BBC series of interest for Americans."

Friday, February 04, 2011

How Egypt Affects Gaza

Barbara Lubin, co-founder of the Middle East Children's Alliance told the New York Times that she hopes that replacing the Mubarak regime by a new one would make Israel's policies toward Gaza "more lax". Yeah, right. Keep dreaming.

Whether or not it would be the correct reaction, Israel would definitely go the exact opposite direction of what Lubin hopes. Israel would be very suspicious of a new Egyptian regime, even if it won't be an Islamist government. Netanyahu would fear that Egypt would now cooperate with Hamas, and so, he'd tighten the noose around Gaza. He might even go as far as invading Gaza to retake the Philadelphi Route, along the Gaza-Egypt border.

Hosni Mubarak said yesterday that President Obama doesn't understand Egyptian culture. Barbara Lubin doesn't understand Israeli culture, or the Israeli mindset.