Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pillar of Cloud

Nothing like a new war between Hamas and Israel to wake me from my blumber (blogging slumber).

Like a majority of people, I want the violence between Hamas and Israel to end. However, a ceasefire now won't necessarily achieve that goal. I don't know what will. If the current operation ends with a return to the previous status quo, where Israeli towns near Gaza would regularly be attacked without Israel doing anything about it, we might as well reach a so-called ceasefire immediately, so at least less people will be at risk in the short run.

However, if the operation can cripple Hamas and other terrorist organizations badly enough that their ability to fire at Israel is greatly reduced, and if Hamas's ability to import weapons is also crippled, the operation should continue until those goals are met. After that, a ceasefire should be reached, and every single violation of it - every shelling of a kibbutz on the border, every Qassam on Sderot, etc. - should result in significant response by Israel, and not just shooting back at the specific squad responsible. However, together with that stick, Israel should offer a carrot of restricting the blockade on Gaza to weaponry and things that are likely to be used to manufacture weapons, letting everything else in.

Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 was a failure because it ended with a return to the situation that existed before. We should not let Operation Pillar of Defense (or as it is called in Hebrew, Operation Pillar of Cloud) end the same way.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Threatening Opinions

Ladies and gentlemen, look at the calendar. It is Friday the 13th. Now that the sun is down, Passover is also over (at least in Israel - in other countries it continues for an 8th day). It is time to take out the bread and cakes, and think about all the things we find scary. The first thing that comes to mind is people's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This isn't just a difference of opinions. Opinions that are very different from our own would become existential threats if implemented - that's how we see it.

Take me, for example. I'm a moderate left-winger who supports the two state solution. People to the far right and far left of me support things that I believe will destroy my country. Right-wingers who oppose the establishment the of the State of Palestine will lead to a country in constant war with its neighbors, and quite possibly one that is no longer democratic. Far left-wingers who support a one-state solution would destroy the Jewish State, bring in our enemies into our country, and create a state united in name only, and which would erupt into civil war in no time.

These two groups, on the other hand, see my own views as a threat. The right wing thinks a free State of Palestine would be able to fight Israel and try to take over the rest of what they lost in 1948. I can't blame them. I worry about that myself sometimes. Some of them even think my solution threatens religious salvation (a concern to which I am much less sympathetic). The far left is afraid that the two-state solution would just be another step in the subjugation of Arabs, both inside Israel and in the new state (not a baseless concern, but one that can be alleviated with certain measures to guarantee minority rights, true Palestinian independence, etc).

So, what does this tell us? Well, nothing positive. It just tells us that internal Israeli negotiations are just as difficult as negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and perhaps just as fruitless. I assume that internal Palestinian negotiations are the same.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flightilla 2012

Apparently, pro-Palestinian activists are planning to arrive in droves at Ben-Gurion Airport on April 15 (to celebrate US tax day?). They say they want to go from there to the West Bank, where they plan on protesting against the occupation. I'm no supporter of the occupation, but neither am I a fan of the idea of hundreds of anti-Israel protesters making a scene at the airport, marching inside Israel and clashing with soldiers in the West Bank.

Israel was quite successful in dealing with last year's "flightilla". Most of the activists couldn't even board their flights, so they didn't reach Israel at all. That should be the strategy again this year.

Monday, February 06, 2012

PennBDS Bans Yet Another Journalist

After banning Martin Himel, whose removal might have been justified due to alleged misrepresentation, PennBDS also revoked Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent's press pass. The crime? Writing stuff they didn't like, such as this article here.

Not surprising. After all, at least in part, BDS is about revoking the rights of Israelis and Zionists, including freedom of speech. If you don't support all Palestinian demands, you will not have a right to be heard anywhere (academic and cultural boycott) or to make a living (economic boycott).

PennBDS organizers claimed they welcome dissenting voices to their conference. Yeah, just don't dissent too much or you'll be kicked out.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

PennBDS Bans Journalist

According to Mondoweiss, journalist and documentary filmmaker Martin Himel has been banned from interviewing participants at the Pro-BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania. They used a technicality, saying he did not register as a journalist and was interviewing participants under false pretenses. Really? I think the problem is the fact that he's pro-Israel.

I've never heard of Martin Himel before, but from what I've read, it seems the PennBDS organizers are afraid he'll interview people who don't know who he is, will then edit his footage to pick the worst things people say and then portray the BDS conference-goers as anti-Semites. Indeed, despicable tactics that I do not endorse. However, these are tactics the pro-Palestinian side has endorsed in the form of faux journalist Max Blumenthal's propaganda pieces against Israel.

Blumenthal's usual MO is to go to all kinds of places, stick a camera and microphone in the faces of people who don't know who he is, ask questions, take only the worst quotes to make Israelis/Jewish Americans/whatever look bad and give no context (for instance, one of his videos was from the right-wing group "Im Tirtzu"'s demonstration, but he didn't mention that fact). When Blumenthal or any other anti-Israel filmmaker does this to make Israelis look bad, then it is okay, but when it is done to your side it isn't?

Jewish State: Who Decides

At a pro-BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania yesterday, the founder of Electronic Intifiada (a word which most Israelis and many Americans associate with terrorism) Ali Abunimah had a whole lecture about what it means for Israel to be a Jewish State. "Let's ask that question", he said. Well, it isn't his question to ask.

The biggest problem I have with Israeli demands that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is that it invites the Palestinians into the debate over what a Jewish state, or Jewish and democratic state, means. They have a point when they say that they need to know the definition of the term before agreeing to it. But the thing is that this is an internal Israeli issue, an issue only Israelis - Jews, Arabs and others - can debate. The Jewish State is a very general concept, in constant flux. Some Israelis see it as a state for the Jewish people, others see it as a state based on Jewish law - and those are just two of the various possible definitions. It is a vital discussion for Israeli citizens to have, but it isn't the business of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora.

Of course, Abunimah might have discussed the Jewish State concept anyway, even without the wrongheaded Israeli demands. After all, he is a one-stater, right of return activist who would like to see Israel vanish in favor of a State of Palestine with a Jewish minority. He has also defended terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. But then again, Israel's demand to be recognized as Jewish legitimizes his intervention in this domestic issue.

Paul Auster and Turkey

Paul Auster recently decided to cancel a trip to Turkey in protest of the plight of Turkish journalists and writers. This prompted an angry response from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accused him of a double standard regarding Israel and Turkey. Auster's criticism of Turkey is accurate, as is his response to Erdogan regarding Israeli freedom of the press. However, his decision to boycott the country is not the answer.

Just like I oppose the BDS movement against Israel, I believe that other countries should not be boycotted. Action can be taken against the government and military, but civil society should not be targeted. Paul Auster would have done much more for Turkish writers had he voiced his criticism while in the country. I'm sure he would have gotten a lot more Turks to listen. Right now, they're probably to angry to hear what he says, just as I don't have patience for whatever someone who boycotts me and my country has to say.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Joseph Cedar Returns to the Acaedemy Awards

I'm a bit late with this news, but it's worth noting on my blog anyway: "Footnote", an Israeli film directed by Joseph Cedar, is nominated for a Best Foreign Film Award at the upcoming Oscar ceremony. This is an excellent film, which tells a universal tale of father-son rivalry and workplace politics. It's nice to have an Israeli film about something other than the conflict get recognized for its excellence.

The press tended to focus on the fact that one of the other four films in this category is an Iranian film, "A Separation". They call it the Israeli-Iranian war by proxy, or a cultural battle. Bullshit. Israelis know to separate between politics and culture, between leaders and artists. In fact, "A Separation" is being shown in theaters in Israel. Israeli authorities have no problem with that. Iranian authorities, however, allowed the film to be distributed in Israel only after European countries pressured them into it. You'd never see "Footnote" in an Iranian theater.

I'm rooting for "Footnote", because it is an excellent Israeli film (and the only one in the category that I've seen), not because of some hatred for Iran or any other country in the running. I also hope that the second time's a charm for Cedar, who was nominated in 2008 with "Beaufort".

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oskar Schell Goes to the Movies

I read Jonathan Safran Foer's novel "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" four and a half years ago. I absolutely loved it. I even posted a review on this blog (which I don't remember ever doing with other books), and discussed the question of whether or not Oskar is autistic (I said no, most commenters said yes). For some reason, the latter post is the most popular one on my blog, with people reaching it through Google searches every day. Apparently, the question is on the minds of many (though it seems like often it has been assigned to them for a school paper).

Now there's a movie adaptation out, which is even nominated for a Best Film Oscar. I have only seen a couple of trailers, since the movie itself hasn't opened in Israel yet. The reviews are mixed, with some critics saying it is a manipulative weepy.

From the trailer and other things I've read, the movie has done away with any ambiguity about autism/Asperger's, and even mentions that Oskar was assessed for Asperger's but the diagnosis was inconclusive. I'm not too happy about that. I think it would have been better to let moviegoers decide for themselves, just like the novels lets readers decide for themselves. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether or not that hurts the film.

I'll certainly write about the movie again after I see it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newt Gingrich: America's Netanyahu

Conventional wisdom about the presidential elections looks like it may be wrong again, just like it was wrong in 2008. Newt Gingrich just might end up being the Republican nominee, rather than Mitt Romney. Even scarier, the guy might get himself elected president.

If this happens, my two countries, Israel and the United States, will have chief executives who are each other's clones. Politically, they're both on the extremely conservative side (though in Netanyahu's case, that's mainly true about economics and hawkishness, and less about social issues). That's probably why both of them are backed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson: Adelson has given millions to a pro-Gingrich SuperPAC and owns a free Israeli daily, "Yisrael Hayom", which many consider Netanyahu's unofficial spokesman.

The differences don't stop there. Netanyahu and Gingrich are both married to their third wives. Gingrich cheated on Wife No. 1 with Wife No. 2, and then on Wife No. 2 with Wife No. 3. As far as I know, Netanyahu was already divorced when he met Wife No. 3, Sarah, but in the early 90's he admitted to cheating on her when he thought a sex tape was about to be made public (in an interview with Sarah, which everybody compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton's famous interview).

In today's New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about many of Gingrich's negative character traits. When I read the article, all I could think of was the fact that it almost sounded like Bruni was talking about Netanyahu. Gingrich and Netanyahu like to falsely insert themselves into important events of the late 20th century (for example, Netanyahu once reminisced about Rehavam Ze'evi's time in his cabinet, even though Ze'evi never joined Bibi's government; other times, he claimed his first government proposed all kinds of initiatives that were actually started under other prime ministers). Also, Netanyahu and Gingrich regularly attack the elites, and just as Bruni can't find a definition of "elite" where Gingrich isn't part of it, I can't find a definition of the word that doesn't include Netanyahu.

As Bruni notes, Gingrich trumpets his Roman Catholicism and attacks secularists, despite having had a six-year affair with his current wife. Netanyahu, too, has whispered in the ears of rabbis that the left has "forgotten how to be Jewish", although he himself is far from being a righteous religious Jew.

I could go on: their animosity toward the media, except when it helps them; their love of deregulation; their de-facto opposition to the two-state solution, and much much more.

Oh, and there's one more similarity: I really would like neither one to be in government.

Hacker Wars

In today's Haaretz (Hebrew edition only), Assaf Ronel criticizes the Israeli hackers who published the credit card details of innocent Saudi civilians in retaliation for a Saudi hacker revealing innocent Israelis' credit card information. He also argues that Israeli police should investigate the Israeli hackers.

Ronel is absolutely right. Responding to criminal acts with criminal acts of our own should not be our way. The police should arrest and prosecute those who hacked into Saudi websites and stole credit card numbers.

There is a lot of idiocy in this whole affair. Calling hacking Cyberterrorism, as our genius Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has, is just stupid. It's a nuisance, a crime and might cost credit card companies money, but it isn't terrorism. You don't fear for your life, and there are very easy ways to avoid falling prey to hackers (like using PayPal, for instance, or only very trustworthy Israeli websites). So chill, Ayalon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"The West Wing" Holy Land Map

A Palestinian friend of mine linked to the clip above on Facebook, and I later saw it pop up on various anti-Israel sites. In case the video disappears due to copyright infringement, here's a description: The clip shows the fictional President Bartlett of "The West Wing" receiving a 1709 map of what is now Israel, which is titled "Palestine/Canaan/Holy Land", but does not mention Israel. The president loves the gift and wants to put it up on the wall, but his staff members are afraid of the political and diplomatic fall-out.

The anti-Israel crowd seems to love this clip. I love this clip, too, but not for the same reason. Anti-Zionists might see this clip as suggesting that the area doesn't belong to the Jews, because Israel didn't exist before 1948, but the geographical designation "Palestine" did. Also, they might see it as suggesting that the Israel Lobby is so powerful that the president can't put up such a benign map.

I don't think the clip is necessarily suggesting any of that. It's brilliant because it shows how politically charged history and geography can be. The way you teach history and the way you draw maps (both in how you label them and the boundaries you mark) is bound to piss someone off. It could have been a map of the UK, showing all of Ireland as part of it, or a map labeling present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as one united India, or any other explosive situation. Perhaps they chose Israel as the best-known example, or because it would make sense for a Christian to want to put up a map of the Holy Land, but not of another foreign region of the world.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

1948 vs. 1967

Prof. Asher Susser of Tel-Aviv University was interviewed on the news show "London and Kirschenbaum" last week. He said interesting things that are worth repeating. The gist of it was that there are two "cases" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the Case of 1948 and the Case of 1967. The latter is easier to resolve, and indeed, the two sides have come closer on '67-related issues over the years: the two-state solution, borders, and even the question of Jerusalem. The Case of 1948, however, seems harder to resolve, if it is even possible at all. Over the last few years the gaps have even widened over the issues stemming from the very birth of the State of Israel: Palestinian refugees, the Jewish character of Israel, the question of Israeli responsibility for the Nakba, etc.

So if we realize that this is the reality, what is to be done? Susser suggested in the interview that Israel should withdraw unilaterally from most of the West Bank, except for the large settlement blocs just on the green line. I strongly disagree with this solution. I opposed the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and in hindsight, I was absolutely right. Unilateralism is a disaster that awards and encourages terrorism like the rocket fire from the Strip.

It is exactly this inability to resolve the Case of 1948 that makes unilateralism dangerous.  If we leave the West Bank and semi-solve some of the 1967 problems without any agreement, the Palestinians will be encouraged to keep fighting for 1948. We need an agreement - not because it will absolutely prevent Palestinians from reigniting the flames of conflict, but because it will be our insurance in case they do. If Palestinians violate the agreement, the world will hold them responsible.

So what's the solution? That's the million dollar question and I don't have an answer.

Since the interview was in Hebrew, I looked for a similar link in English. Here is a lecture Prof. Susser gave at a conference at Tel-Aviv University a few months ago, where he pretty much discusses the same issue. It's almost 20 minutes long, but it is worth it. He talks more specifically about 1948 vs. 1967 near the end, at the 1 hour 7 minute mark, if you don't want to hear the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tel-Aviv: Gay Capital of the World

Those who like to scream "pinkwashing" (i.e., using gay rights to cover up Israel's human rights violations) are going to blow a gasket. Tel-Aviv has won a competition for best gay city in the world. The contest was run by American Airlines. Congrats Tel-Aviv!

Is it the most homosexual-friendly place in the world? Probably not, but it is one of the top, and though I am neither gay or live in Tel-Aviv, I assume it is the best, most accepting place in Israel and in the Middle East in general.

Those who claim this is pinkwashing don't seem to understand that Israel is a complicated country. We have both positive and negative sides, and talking about the positive doesn't excuse the negative.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Predicting 2012

The first week of January is almost over, and I haven't done the futile annual ritual of trying to predict the future. Let me guess what might happen, some of it wishful thinking, some of it I hope won't come true (you figure out which is which):

  • Israel's Attorney General will make a final decision to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman will resign from the cabinet, but will stay chairman of Yisrael Beitenu and will not resign from the Knesset. Faina Kirschenbaum will become Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in his place. Lieberman will decide to stay in the coalition instead of bringing about early elections.
  • It will be Ehud Barak's last full year as a member of the government. That will be the case for all ministers from his Atzmaut (Independence) Party.
  • Benjamin Netanyahu will win the Likud leadership elections, since he won't have any serious opposition. In Kadima, Tzippi Livni will be forced to have leadership elections, which she will lose to Shaul Mofaz. Livni will leave Kadima with a few other MKs and form a new party. And here's a prediction for 2013: this split will lead to neither Kadima or Livni's new party winning any seats in the 19th Knesset.
  • In the United States, Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee. He will pick Mike Huckabee as his running-mate (Romney-Huckabee was also my erroneous prediction in 2008). They will lose to the Obama-Biden ticket, but Republicans will gain control of the Senate and retain a majority in the House of Representatives.
  • Iran will develop a nuclear warhead. Nobody attacks them before or after this happens.
  • The new elected president of Egypt will put the peace treaty with Israel to a referendum, scheduled for around the same time as Mubarak's execution. The people will decide to declare the treaty null and void. The United States will halt all aid to Egypt, while Avigdor Lieberman, now the former Foreign Minister, will threaten that Israel will conquer the Sinai Peninsula for a third time in history.
  • Syria's civil war will drag on all year with no foreign intervention and no end in sight.