Friday, July 29, 2011

The Tent Commandments

For the first time in years, Israelis are riled up over social and economic issues, rather than war and peace. It started with Facebook and one man's war against the price of cottage cheese and continued with the Tent Cities, protesting housing prices and the general cost of living in this country.

Will these protests bring down Netanyahu? I wish, but I doubt it. Can they actually bring about change? Perhaps. To achieve something significant, here are some rules that I think are essential:

  • Don't let politicians take advantage of the protests. Tent dwellers have already rebuffed attempts by the National Left movement to take over, and they should do so also with Ofer Eini, the head of the country's largest labor organization.
  • Don't break up into factions. This should be a unified protest by the middle class, not several different protests belonging to different interests groups: students, young families, doctors etc. 
  • Don't choose certain middle class interest groups over others. Include them all. This isn't asking too much, because a systemic solution is required.
  • No bullshit solutions. Don't accept anything that won't help in significant ways.
  • Don't choose a leadership. The fact that this is decentralized is part of the Tent Cities' beauty and power. Also, when there are leaders, there are factions, and as I've already said, you don't want that.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

In Favor of the Death Penalty

Twenty one years - that is the maximum sentence mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik can get for killing about one hundred people in Oslo and Utoya Island under Norwegian law. Since he is only 32 years old, his chances of becoming a free man one day are very high. This vile domestic terrorist should spend the rest of his life in prison, at the very least. In fact, he deserves to be executed.

The death penalty is very problematic, and should rarely be used. Some say the government shouldn't kill people, no matter who they are. Others are worried about executing the wrong person. I disagree with the former argument. As for mistakes - only those who are murderers without any doubt should be sentenced to death. If you are only 99.9% sure someone is guilty, send him to life in prison.

There is absolutely no doubt that Breivik committed the murders, at least the ones at the youth camp. Too bad he won't be given the same treatment as Timothy McVeigh.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

McCarthyist Initiative Tanks Again

The Knesset has resoundingly rejected two resolutions meant to set up investigative committees that would have looked into the conduct of human rights organizations and other left-wing groups. Back in February, these resolutions were withdrawn when it was clear that they would not pass. Now, when the Likud successfully passed the anti-boycott law, Avigdor Lieberman wanted to prove he was real right-winger in the government, so he brought back the issue of investigative committees.

Prime Minister Netanyahu voted against the resolution, as did many other Likud ministers and MKs. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was also a vocal opponent, having also criticized the anti-boycott bill.

For some reason, many on the left saw the anti-boycott bill as the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy, and saw the invesigative committees as the next step towards fascism. The truth is that nothing has fundamentally changed. Israel is still a vibrant yet flawed democracy. We still have free speech - and even on the question of boycotts, we haven't seen yet how judges will interpret the law. Fortunately, it seems that the Supreme Court will address the issue even before the lower courts do, and even if it doesn't strike it down, it will probably instruct judges to implement the law in a way that balances freedom of speech with the economic rights of the targets of the boycott.

Ehud Barak has come up with a good idea, though I wish he would have thought of it sooner. He has proposed an amendment to the anti-boycott law, that would cut out the part about suing individuals, and would only keep the parts about government contracts and tax benefits. That is very sensible, and I hope it passes.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Palestinians Oppose Two-State Solution, (Another) Poll Finds

Recent polls from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority show that both sides support talks between the parties, but when asked about the actual solution, there is quite a lot of resistance.

Let's start with the Palestinians, where a two-state solution meets the most opposition. From Haaretz's report:

"In another measure of the Palestinian mood, an opinion poll commissioned by the group The Israel Project, which dispenses information to journalists and others about Israel and the Middle East, showed that about 65 percent of Palestinians polled said they thought now was the time for diplomatic contacts, while 30 percent saw the current period as the time for violent resistance. On the other hand, only 34 percent favored a two-state solution involving a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state. Furthermore, 66 percent favored a two-state solution as only a first step to be followed by a Palestinian state replacing Israel."

Lovely. They want to talk to us so they can eventually bring about our destruction? That's certainly how it seems. It is hard to read such a poll and stay an Israeli peacenik.

Israelis aren't that crazy about a two-state solution, either, but they are much more open to it than Palestinians, according to the Israeli Democracy Institute's June Peace Index poll:

"This month, we checked the extent to which the Jewish public is currently prepared for an evacuation of the territories. It emerges that the critical question concerns the “terms of the deal.” If one talks about a permanent peace agreement in return for evacuating all of the territories, only 25% of Jewish respondents express support. When one offers those who oppose a deal on such terms the possibility of leaving the large settlement blocs in Israel’s hands, the rate of support rises considerably to half of the Jewish public. If those who also oppose this formula are offered two more “benefits”—Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and a declaration of the end of the conflict—the rate of support for the whole package rises to 62%."
So, most Palestinians only agree to a two-state solution if it will lead to a one-state solution, while most Israelis only agree to a two-state solution if all their demands are met, though the Israeli side isn't as extreme as the Palestinians - after all, while I don't agree that we should demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State (it is a Jewish State and will continue to be - we don't need their approval for this), I don't see it as a crazy demand.

A note to those who read the Peace Index's data file: I read it and thought we're in big trouble. At first glance, it seemed like a vast majority of Israelis opposed a peace deal, even with recognition of a Jewish state. The data file omits the very important fact, which only appears in the more detailed report, that the second question (where settlement blocs remained in Israel) was only asked of those who opposed a full withdrawal, and the third question (with recognition of Israel as a Jewish State) was only asked of those who opposed withdrawal while keeping settlement blocs.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Extremes, Calm the Fuck Down!

A mind-boggling hysteria has taken over Israel, esepcially its extreme left and extreme right. These two opposites feed on each other like symbiotic parasites. The nationalists fear the left's activities, and so they pass laws against boycotts and commemorating the Nakba, which, in turn, only makes people more aware of boycotts and the Nakba. The far left, fearful of these new laws, starts screaming hysterically and prematurely about the end of Israeli democracy, making the fascists seem even stronger than they really are.

Both sides need to understand that their tactics are counterproductive. They need to act more level-headedly. Of course, it's ridiculous to say this to the extremists. After all, if they listen, they'd become moderates.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Anti-Boycott Law

If you call for the economic, cultural and/or academic boycott of Israel and the settlements, you may soon be civilly liable. A controversial bill, scheduled for a final approval vote today, would grant pretty much anyone the right to sue boycott advocates and demand compensation without the need to prove direct damages. It isn't clear whether the vote will go forward or be delayed by one week in order to avoid embarrassment when the Quartet convenes today to adopt President Obama's parameters for peace.

I've never supported any kind of BDS, not against the settlements and certainly not against Israel proper. I find the concept of a boycott of Israel vile, one sided and counterproductive. However, I can understand Israelis and foreigners who boycott products of the settlements, even if I don't engage in it myself.

Having said that, I think this bill is just plain wrong and undemocratic. Even if it only addressed the issue of boycotts against Israel, rather than the settlements, I still would have opposed it. Choosing what to buy is every person's right. Calling for boycotts should be protected speech, even when it is absolutely disgusting. Nobody should be sued for it, especially not when no direct damage has to be proven, and theoretically, hundreds of different people and companies can sue the same person for millions each.

The only part of this bill that makes sense is the part about not allowing people and organizations who support a boycott against Israel to participate in government bids (though I would allow those who only support a boycott of the settlements, not of Israel, to participate). After all, by supporting a boycott of Israel, you lost your right to do business with it. You might think it doesn't make sense that someone who is pro-BDS would even want to get an Israeli government contract. That would be true with regard to foreigners, but there are Israelis who support boycott against themselves, but still want to take Israel's money for business ventures or non-profit projects.

I hope this bill does not pass the Knesset. I hope enough MKs will come to their senses. If they don't, I hope the Supreme Court will strike it down.

Ruth Gavison: No to Solidarity March

In yesterday's Haaretz (Hebrew/English), Prof. Ruth Gavison explained why she will not join the march in support of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian Statehood, despite the fact that she supports a two-state solution. I couldn't have said it better:

From the time I became politically aware I have supported the "two states for two peoples" solution, for both diplomatic and ethical reasons. Still, I won't join the solidarity march in support of the Palestinian demand to declare independence. Not because I have more important things to do, or because I don't understand the voice of history, or because I'm a captive of fear or hatred, as Yael Sternhell claims. And not because I'm afraid that my participation will seem patronizing - a fear allayed by Talmudic studies professor Ishay Rosen Zvi. It's because I feel that a unilateral declaration at present represents more of a danger to the chance of implementing a two-state solution than a way to promote it.

I'm not very optimistic about the chance of implementing this solution in the foreseeable future, but I don't want to do anything that will weaken it even further.

The solidarity march is the answer of those of us who believe that the side that bears the main responsibility for the failure to implement the two-state vision so far is Israel, which is ruled by a right-wing government and the settlers. Making it clear that there are Jewish Israelis who support this agreement, and trying to greatly increase their number and specific gravity, is supposed to change this situation and put greater pressure on the government - as opposed to the diplomatic activities of the Palestinians themselves. According to this approach, there is no need to build incentives that will cause the Palestinians, too, to change their views, as a precondition for a just and stable agreement.

I don't accept this analysis. Alongside viewpoints of certain elements in the Israeli public that are strongly represented in the Israeli government and that really do want to prevent any chance of progress toward a division of sovereignty between the river and the sea, Israel has a large majority ready for a stable compromise agreement. Moreover, the present Israeli government, as right-wing as it may be, is officially committed to a two-state solution.

On the other hand, along with Palestinians who declare that they are ready for a solution involving a division of the land, significant groups clearly declare that as far as they are concerned, the goal is Palestinian sovereignty over the entire area. Just as important, the entire Palestinian leadership, including its most moderate elements, is apparently unable to declare that it understands that the two-state vision means waiving recognition of the "right" of the refugees and their descendants to return to their homes in the State of Israel.

The dead end in the negotiations is based on the Palestinians' positions no less than those of Israeli opponents of partition. Therefore, a proper process of progress toward implementing the two-state vision must include clear and consistent Israeli and international activity to create political, economic, social and ethical incentives that will convince the two sides to accept the "painful concessions" required.

Although the unilateral step in the United Nations, and particularly outside support for it from the international community and Jews in Israel, puts pressure on Israel to do what is necessary to achieve a solution, there is no element of similar pressure on the Palestinians. On the contrary. Such processes only reinforce the feeling among the Palestinians that someone else is doing the work for them and that they are likely to see their just demands met without committing to the necessary painful concessions.

I hope that history really is on the side of the two-state solution. To help it along, supporters of this solution in Israel and worldwide must show a greater effort than that reflected by taking part in the solidarity march.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Israel's "Flightilla" Strategy Worked

I thought the Israeli government was reacting hysterically when it decided to bar pro-Palestinian activists from entering Israel when they landed at Ben Gurion Airport. Apparently, I was wrong. The strategy seemed to work. Most of the activists were not even allowed on the flights, and a few dozen who did manage to reach Israel were detained without too much of a scene, and now await deportation.

World public opinion doesn't seem to care. From what I've seen, international news outlets don't seem to care much for this story, since the Great Chaos never came. Also, activists may have miscalculated the timing, with the establishment of South Sudan and the events in Syria being at the top of foreign news. That, and there may be flotilla-fatigue: after so much attention given to the boats stuck in Greece, the pro-Palestinian "breaking the siege" gimmicks are getting old.

In the end, as much as I hate complementing Netanyahu, I must admit it seems to have been wise not to let the activists in. We don't need Europeans and North Americans confronting the IDF and other Israeli authrorities in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and in places inside Israel, like the Bedouin villages in the Negev. Such clashes would have generated much more bad PR for Israel than the strategy Netanyahu chose, and much more work for our police officers and soldiers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Pro-Palestinian Activists at Ben-Gurion Airport

Israel is planning to deport hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists who have announced they will be visiting the West Bank via Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport on and around July 8. Five such French and Belgian activists have already been sent back to their countries of origin.

Israel should not treat these activists the same way as it treats the participants of the Gaza-bound flotillas. The West Bank is not Gaza. We have not imposed a blockade on it, and it is controlled by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, not by Hamas or any other terrorist organization. There is no reason for us not to allow foreigners to visit the West Bank, especially since they are not planning on participating in confrontations with Israelis.

I'm not crazy about these activists coming en masse, and I probably don't agree with most of them. I assume many see Israel as a villain and some support BDS. However, those are not reasons to ban them. Sending them back home will only make us look bad in the media. There's nothing to lose by letting them in, either. They're pro-Palestinian as it is, so we have nothing to fear about them getting brainwashed during their stay in the West Bank.

Note (July 9): I no longer agree with this post. Banning the activists turned out to be a great success.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Environment and Autism

The New York Times reports that a new study suggests that environmental conditions in the womb and shortly after birth are the main factor in the development of autism. Researchers compared 202 sets of identical and fraternal twins, where at least one sibling was diagnosed with classical autism. They found that genetic factors are responsible for 38% of cases in the study, while environmental factors are responsible for 58% of cases.

It seems to me that this study deals a blow to those who believe vaccines cause autism. After all, it concludes that the two main causes of autism are environmental and genetic. Chemicals fetuses are exposed to in the womb are much more likely to cause autism than anything in vaccines.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Greco-Zionist Conspiracy

Greece is not allowing the ships of the so-called Freedom Flotilla II to leave its ports for Gaza. It has even dragged the American ship "The Audacity of Hope" back to shore after it attempted to leave without authorization. We owe the Greeks a debt of gratitude - better that they have to deal with this crap than we do.

There have been reports that Netanyahu has promised Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to bring in Israeli investments into Greece to help it overcome its financial crisis, in exchange for stopping the flotilla. The anti-Israel blogosphere is filling with rage. They see it as a corrupt deal. I think it is totally acceptable international politics. It is mutually benefitial, with Greece getting a boost to its economy and Israel having a few less Gaza-bound boats to worry about.

Neither is the deal hurting anyone. It isn't hurting the Palestinians in Gaza, since the flotilla wouldn't reach the Strip, anyway. Even if it did, it wouldn't really help Gazans in any way. They don't really need more aid, nor do they need a bunch of letters from sympathetic Americans. They may need media attention, and the flotilla has gotten plenty of that even without reaching Gaza or being boarded by Israeli commandos.

The only people who might get somewhat hurt by Greece's decision not to let them through are the participants of the flotilla themselves. Their loss is financial, as each day that passes they have to spend more money on hotels and meals than they expected. Who knows - maybe this whole thing is a conspiracy to infuse much needed money into the Greek tourism industry, coming directly from the pockets of flotilla members?

The activists aren't even hurt by the fact that they can't reach Gaza itself. I mean, who the hell wants to get into Gaza. Israel and Greece are saving them a trip to a shithole (although Greece itself is kind of a shitty place, too, because of the financial crisis). Are they being deprived of the action and heroism of fighting Israeli soldiers boarding them? No, they can fight Greek authorities instead, if a struggle is what they're looking for.

As "The Audacity of Hope" fades into "The Audacity of Nope", let me thank, once again, the Greek government, on behalf of myself and most of my fellow Israelis. Yassou!

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Right to Call the President a Dick

MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin has been suspended from the network for commenting on live TV that President Obama behaved like a dick at a press conference the other day. I'm not quite sure what the suspension is about. Is it the use of the word "dick", which might wound the delicate eardrums of viewers? Is it made worse by the fact that the slur was used to describe the president of the United States of America? Would it have been better if Halperin had said one of these words or phrases instead: douche, cocky, arrogant, smart aleck or smarty pants?

When it comes to free speech, America is very weird. It protects Nazis' rights to march in Jewish areas, gratuitous violence, depictions of cruelty toward animals and considers money as protected speech, yet you can't say some very basic, everyday words on network television and on basic cable. The word "dick" should not get someone suspended, even on a morning show.

Theodor Herzl and Golda Meir Interview Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman was on Comedy Central Israel's satirical show "Comeback" a few days ago. She was interviewed by Uri Gotlieb as the founding father of Zionism and Maayan Blum as Israel's only female prime minister. It was a funny, politically incorrect interview. I couldn't find a way to embed the video, so you can watch it here.