Monday, September 29, 2008
The taxi driver asked me - "where to?" - and I said, "the Yarkon Park for the Paul McCartney concert." But he's 900 years old!" exclaimed the driver. "He's so pompous and full of himself, and those prices – 490 shekels to sit on the grass, and 1,500 shekels for a seat - no way! But, if it was John Lennon, I'd pay $1,000 to see him!".
Since I'm a contemporary of McCartney I let the age issue pass. But I have to admit that when it was announced that McCartney was coming, I told friends that if it was Lennon, I wouldn't hesitate. But McCartney? I wasn't sure, but after long deliberation, decided to go.
After all, in a way it was poetic justice. My uncle Dov Barnir was the youngest member of the first Knesset, a member of the Mapam/United Workers party, the leftwing party that had 19 seats, making it the second strongest faction in the Knesset after Ben-Gurion's Mapai. In 1965, he was appointed to a committee headed by then IDF chief education officer Mordechai (Morele) Bar-On, to decide whether to issue a permit for the Beatles to perform in Israel. They resolved that a visit by John, Paul, George and Ringo would "corrupt Israeli youth," so a permit was denied the impresario who had been negotiating to bring them.
Bar-On, who had been an aide to legendary general Moshe Dayan, went on to become a leading spokesperson for the Peace Now movement. He later apologized for his attitude towards the Beatles, and on a desert-island-discs-like radio program he said that he would take a Beatles record. I don't know if my uncle ever apologized for his part in the decision, but I decided to make amends for him by going to the concert.
Although I originally considered the Beatles a pale imitation of the real thing, they eventually became part of the soundtrack of my life, as for so many others of my generation.
As for the concert itself, it could have been a reflection of a tension between "Give Peace a Chance" - which he sang with gusto together with the crowd with a big peace symbol filling the screen - the only time he mentioned John - and "Live and Let Die," filled with images of fire, brimstone with dramatic fireworks rising above the stage. But it wasn't. This was Paul McCartney after all, and thus it was mainly love songs, his forte. He also shouted to the crowd that "we're really gonna rock tonight in Tel Aviv," mainly via lively versions of "Back in the USSR," "Get Back," and a delightful pounding version of "She was Just 17." ...
He [McCartney] could have said, "make love, not war," but all he said in Tel Aviv was "make love, but not here, not now."
To his credit, he did make a point of being inclusive – wishing the crowd both a Shana Tova and a Ramadan Karim. ... [Greetings which we wish to share with our readers as well-- ed.]
Click here to read the rest at the Guardian’s Website.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Corruption has been a problem for Israeli politicians for decades. It has discouraged new leadership from presenting itself and is fatiguing the people of Israel. If Israel is to continue to be successful, it needs to drastically change its system of governance to one that does away with corruptive and unethical behavior and allows for the nation to grow.
Israel has been re-using politicians for decades with an elite few who have been able to maintain their status as the central figures of the tiny nation. The time has come for these leaders to step aside and allow a younger, more energetic generation to start handling the reins. Some might say that this is naïve and that these older, more seasoned politicians understand the dilemmas of the region better. After all, they fought in the Six-Day and Yom-Kippur Wars. However, times are changing and the need for savvy, fresh thinkers should be a top priority for Israeli political parties as well as Israeli citizens. Figures such as Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Olmert have proven that they cannot provide Israel with what it really needs- rejuvenation. Furthermore, each of the last four Prime Ministers has been investigated on suspicions of corruption. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that there is something wrong with the system that is electing these people to office.
Of course, the problems exist not just in the Prime Minister's position, but among Knesset members and other officials as well. To recall some recent incidents, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was forced to resign after having been accused by ten women of sexual harassment. Likewise, Haim Ramon was convicted for sexual harassment after he supposedly forced a female IDF officer to kiss him. Money has also given Israeli politicians trouble. Katsav's predecessor, Ezer Weizman, was removed from office for a scandal involving a French millionaire and illegal 'gifts'. Other politicians that have been either suspected of or found guilty of handling money illegally are Omri Sharon, son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Tzachi Hanegbi, current Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, and of course current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. No wonder Yossi Sarid, former leader of the Israeli political party Meretz, told The New York Times that, “Israelis envied those Americans who are pinning hopes on Barack Obama as representing a new generation of leaders; Israel, he said, is stuck with the same leaders who never go away.”
I do not have any suggestions for the revolutionary figure I envision for Israel. The only reasonable suggestion I can give to help the process along in finding the “savior” is changing the intense proportional representation system of government that Israel currently uses. Adjunct professor at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, Amotz Asa-El, told on-line newspaper The Age, “The problem at its heart is the electoral system, and unless we change it, the state of deterioration we are suffering now will only get worse.”
Under the current method, voters vote for the party of their choice, after each party has put together a list of candidates it would like to see in office. The amount of votes that are cast for a party (it must be above 2% to qualify for seats in the Knesset) will dictate the amount of seats in the Knesset awarded to it. The list is pre-ranked, so if a party is awarded ten seats, the first ten names on the list become Knesset members. Plain and simple, this is a weak system that produces government in-fighting making it hard for anything concrete to get done. Keeping together coalitions has become an occupation of its own and it is hurting the country's collective interests. Smaller parties have also become intensely powerful due to the need to maintain a coalition. The anxiety that is inevitable from this way of government has ‘forced’ politicians to put their own futures before the nation’s. Most importantly the Members of Knesset are not individually chosen by the people.
France was once faced with a similar set of circumstances. At the end of World War II, a government based on intense proportional representation was established, called the Fourth Republic (1946-1958). This Republic, despite some differences, shared many of the same qualities that Israel has. The government regularly was unable to find a party with the ability to capture the majority in an election. This led the Republic to turn to unstable coalitions that were more focused on staying in power than helping the country. Just like in Israel, the constant instability of the Fourth Republic, 26 governments in 12 years, led to rampant corruption. The ability to find worthy leaders was nearly impossible as new personalities were repelled by the lack of moral and ethical conscience of the governing elite.
Furthermore, the figures that were responsible for leading were unable to do so, as the political challenges of maintaining the coalition dominated their attention, leaving little time for national issues. Additionally, the problems France was facing with its imperial conquests, including Algeria, were creating turmoil and becoming almost impossible to control – something to which Israel can relate. The economy of the Fourth Republic ironically experienced economic success even in the face of instability, much the same way Israel has.
Eventually, it was realized that the Fourth Republic of France could not produce the power desired by French politicians and the stability needed by their constituents. Reform was the only option. In 1959, the Fifth Republic, which is the one that exists today, was created and led by President Charles de Gaulle. Under the new constitution, the President is elected directly by the people and given a greater amount of power to parallel that of the Parliament. The Parliament is bi-cameral, with a National Assembly directly elected by a candidate’s local constituency, and a Senate, which is elected by an electoral college of about 145,000 local officials. Coalitions can still be necessary for parliament. However, there have been two major coalitions, one representing the views of the left and the other of the right, that have never been seriously challenged since the Fifth Republic’s creation. These reforms taken on by France have transformed it into one of the world’s leading nations.
By allowing its citizens to directly elect the President as well as the members of the National Assembly, local politicians and innovative characters are able to climb the ladder into the upper echelons of France’s political system. More importantly, there is a stronger system of checks and balances which keeps corruption low and ethics a priority. The Fifth Republic is also able to get things done: one of the first things the French were able to relieve themselves of, following the structural change, was the oppression they were forcing on the Algerians.
Israel could take a very important lesson from the French. If it’s broken, then fix it. Israel is in great need of political reform and the transformation that France underwent in order to better itself seems like a path that Israel should consider taking. Israel needs new politicians, a stronger executive branch, and a government that is stable enough to live out its term, and it needs to alleviate itself of the Palestinian crisis. The only way of doing this is by changing the way things are run. A change in governmental structure should help reduce corruption, which in turn will lead to stronger government and the emergence of stronger leaders.
With the prospect of a nuclear Iran and the possibility that the peace process is reaching an all time low, the time is now to find the leaders who can 'bring us to the promised land.' Israel’s supporters are very grateful for the leaders who have kept Israel safe up until this point. Let’s face it, many people back in the 1950s never thought it would make it this far. Israel is 60 years old and if the country plans on making it to the 120 mark Israelis must realize the need for political reform.
Robert Lattin interned at Meretz USA for the summer of 2008. He has returned to the University of Arizona to complete his B.A. in Near Eastern studies.
We're proud that Israel is the most democratic state in the Middle East. But we also know it might not stay that way if Israel's supporters take that for granted!
Recent incidents of religious extremism and intolerance towards women have made many Israelis anxious that a process of "fundamentalization" is endangering their country.
By clicking here, you can send a message to Israel's Knesset Speaker, Dalia Itzik, that American Jews are troubled by the threat to Israel's standing as an open, liberal, tolerant society.
Israel's ultra-orthodox community has been using its muscle to deprive women of their rightful role in the public sphere. Just this summer, ultra-orthodox pressure caused the Knesset to silence women's voices, when the female members of the Knesset choir were banned from singing their own national anthem, HaTikva!
The Israel Women's Network protested this "expulsion of women", and called on Dalia Itzik to make sure this would never happen again.
Please take a moment to add your name to a letter to Dalia Itzik, protesting the attempt to impose ultra-orthodox norms on all of Israeli society.
Segregation between men and women has become a growing practice on Israel's state-licensed and publicly-funded buses. On more and more routes, women are forced to enter and sit at the back of the bus, and have been verbally and physically abused when they refuse to comply, or insist on dressing "immodestly".
Meretz Knesset member Zehava Galon has called this situation "degrading to women" and "crass discrimination".
If gender segregation doesn't mesh with your vision of a modern Israel, please click here and let the Knesset Speaker know how you feel.
Only Israelis can decide how their country is run. But as friends of Israel, who care deeply about the country's future and who stand for equality, we need to let Israel know where we stand.
If you support the promise made by Israel's Declaration of Independence - complete equality irrespective of religion, race or sex - click here now and ask the Speaker of Israel's Parliament to help defend women's rights.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
But, truth be told, the real story is what awaits us should Ms. Livni become Israel's chief executive. The real story will be: Down what path will Livni choose to lead the State of Israel?
Notwithstanding the favorable comparisons of Livni to her defeated rival, Sha'ul Mofaz, made by some in the peace camp, the new Kadima leader is clearly not a ‘card-carrying member' of Meretz or Peace Now. She is ‘lapsed Likudnik' (if you will), who, like Ehud Olmert before her, has woken up and realized that the dream of Greater Israel in reality is a nightmare of a binational state - if not worse.
More to the point, perhaps, Livni and Kadima, the party created by and for Ariel Sharon, aspire to lead Israel by identifying with neither the right nor the left, but from "the center".
Centrism is often a laudable political approach, especially when it promotes dialogue and compromise between rivaling political interests - take social democracy as a centrist alternative to the Marxian concept of class warfare, for example. Centrism can also be a humanizing approach, since it tends to focus on practical outcomes, rather than hewing to the dictates of ideological purism and dogma.
On the other hand (you knew that was coming, didn't you!), centrism, in some contexts, can also be a synonym for fence-sitting, indecisiveness, hesitancy, do-nothingness. And that kind of centrism is something the State of Israel can ill afford.
Sixty years after the Yishuv's decision to accept the partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine, the State of Israel, due to the ironies of history, is now forced to do it all over again.
Israel, its government, its Prime Minister will need to choose between 78% of the Land of Israel, the area defined by the 1967 Green Line borders, and 100% Greater Israel. They'll need to choose between a commitment to continued construction in the West Bank and a redoubled commitment to the peace process. They'll have to pick a side between the rule of law and the appeasement of hooligans, who defy the government in their ‘settlement outposts', violently attack Israeli police and troops, and terrorize the Palestinians who live in their midst.
Tzipi Livni, the rightist-turned-centrist, will have to make choices. Because the path down which she needs to lead Israel is approaching a fork in the road.
The latest news - that Livni has opened talks with Meretz leader Haim Oron about the party's possible participation in the government - is a cause for optimism, but not euphoria. Preliminary discussions do not a deal make, and, as Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan told a Meretz USA gathering this week, Livni seems to have almost no chance of putting together a center-left coalition.
What's more, no one knows for sure yet whether Livni's call on Meretz is for real, or just a political "flirt" - a tactic to drive down the demands of the other potential coalition partners, like the ultra-orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.
Hackneyed and noncommittal though it is, the expression "time will tell" is a legitimate reading of the situation.
Monday, September 22, 2008
But can we count on Livni to do the right thing, to sit down and negotiate a peace that will be acceptable to both sides – a two-state solution that shares Jerusalem as the capital, a just and viable scenario for the Palestinian refugees, an equitable distribution of water resources,
investment in the development of Palestine to ensure its economic viability?
Tzipi Livni is not Mother Teresa nor the Dalai Lama. She probably more closely resembles Alfred Nobel himself, once called a "merchant of death" for inventing and commercializing dynamite. Livni, too, served the military establishment in Israel until she left it for a law career. What made her leave? Rumors abound, but Livni is reticent about this as in other areas. Will she, like Nobel, also seek a place in history by making up for years of feeding the war machine?
Livni will have many obstacles, the first being to forge a government coalition that will include partners who are not on her side. Then she will have to overcome the deeply rooted existential fear of Israelis, which peace-making evokes. Finally, she will have to take risks of substance,
facing down the Israeli war makers, standing up to settlers with their implied threat of a divisive and bloody civil war.
Two years ago, Livni was the only Israeli cabinet member who spoke out against launching an all-out war in Lebanon at a moment when a frenzy of vengeance and nationalism gripped the entire nation. Can we expect more such political and moral courage? Dare we be hopeful?....
Read this entire posting at the "Personal Website" of Gila Svirsky, the Jerusalem-based feminist peace activist.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Abu is skeptical about Livni because he sees her as too cautious to really deliver progress toward peace. A case in point, he reports, is that Livni did nothing in favor of the Knesset bill he is co-sponsoring with Colette Avital for the government to offer to buy the homes of thousands of settlers living in West Bank settlements beyond the security/separation barrier. He knows that a good 40,000 or more of these 80,000 settlers (those east of the barrier) are desperate to leave the West Bank if they can retrieve enough equity from their homes to buy new domiciles in Israel proper. As it is now, their locations in front of the fence/wall has rendered their properties nearly worthless on the open market, leaving these families without the economic means to return to Israel.
Livni has indicated to Abu that she would support such a measure after an agreement with the Palestinians, but this misses the point: Abu and Avital’s bill would facilitate negotiations by easing tensions and peacefully dismantling settlements.
The vicissitudes of Israeli politics are such that he speculated that (unless he is indicted) Ehud Olmert could remain as caretaker prime minister until as late as May. Complications would emerge if Livni cannot pull together a new coalition within 42 days (not counting the High Holy Days and Sukkot), meaning that an election would be scheduled in the following three months – probably in March – and then another 42 days (perhaps interrupted by Passover) for the winner to put together his or her coalition.
Going against the grain, he argued that – since the disastrous conduct of the Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006 – Olmert has actually been a fairly good prime minister in moving the peace process forward on the Palestinian and Syrian fronts. (Knowing Abu, I’m sure he deplores the settlement activities planned for East Jerusalem and environs in recent months.)
When asked, Abu reminded the audience that Israel has no real military option against Iran’s nuclear program, because Iran’s program is distributed among about 60 sites, requiring a sustained air campaign that Israel does not have the capacity to mount. He estimated that Israel would need an air force ten times larger than it has. He also believes that Israel should not be so confrontational regarding Iran; he sees this issue as an international problem requiring international efforts at a solution. Livni’s main and now defeated competitor in Kadima, Mofaz (born in Iran) has been especially hawkish in his utterances, while Livni has been quoted as saying that Israel can live with a nuclear Iran. Abu acknowledges that Israel could benefit from Livni’s moderate impulses regarding the employment of Israel’s military.
In the meantime, Abu identifies Iran as funding the tunnels from Egypt, where arms and explosives, as well as some civilian goods, are being smuggled into the Gaza Strip. His remedy would be for Israel to settle things diplomatically with Syria, and for Syria to disengage from its alliance with Iran and to stop supporting Hamas’s armed wing as part of an arrangement with Israel.
I asked Abu about his opinion on reforming the electoral system to eliminate the bad effects of Israel’s extreme form of proportional representation (PR). He said that he favors an increase in the vote threshold to "2.5%" or the number of votes needed to elect at least three MKs instead of the current two (actually, not a precise figure, because votes for party lists that don’t exceed the threshold are discounted). He also said that PR represents a core value of Israeli democracy because it allows every sector of Israeli society to have a voice. Moreover, raising the threshold further would endanger Agudat Yisrael – the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox and also the Arabs. He's more concerned about the three Arab parties, because a threshold of 4-5% could wipe them out. In his opinion, there are too many differences among the Arab parties for them to combine into a single list.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
MK's are elected by votes for national party or electoral lists, not for individual candidates. The country is one undivided constituency district, with seats awarded in proportion to a list's total of the votes cast, with adjustments for lists that fail to win the required threshold – not a fixed number, but a proportion sufficient to win two seats (somewhat in excess of two percent of all votes cast). The president then appoints the head of the list with the most MK's elected to try to pull together a stable coalition, hopefully with majority support in the Knesset.
The Knesset's current 120 members represent 12 competing electoral blocs, including even more distinct political parties, some of which share a common list. The ruling Kadima party has a historically weak representation of 29 members, currently allying with three others for its majority, including the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox "Shas" party that was blackmailing Olmert to expand housing in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The second largest party in the coalition and the Knesset is Labor, with a mere 19 seats. The opposition Likud commands 12 seats.
The most telling instance of how the electoral system undermined peace was in 1999-2000, during Ehud Barak's year and a half at the head of a Labor-led coalition. Barak won 56 percent of the direct vote for prime minister in '99 but was plagued by an unstable coalition with right-wing elements. He was elected in the second of three contests under a short-term reform, repealed in 2001, by which the prime minister was elected through a separate ballot from that for the Knesset. If Barak had broken with tradition and included in his government one or more of the three predominantly Arab parties, he need not have incorporated the pro-settler National Religious Party, which then worked to expand settler housing in the West Bank.
As I write this, the Kadima party is about to hold an all-important primary election to select its new leader. If it is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the odds are about 50-50 that she will become Israel’s second female prime minister and, with a lot of luck and pluck, an Israeli leader who makes significant strides toward peace. But a very wise observer of Israeli society, Bernard Avishai, believes that "the only leadership that can make a difference now is the one being elected in Washington." I don't know that I agree, but it's possible that he's correct.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Dan has just blogged about Ethan Bronner’s article in last Friday’s NY Times, which reports on a new level of cooperation between the Gilboa region of Israel and its neighbor, the West Bank city of Jenin. Bronner reports that Jenin is recovering economically and enjoying a new level of security due to international and Israeli interactions with local Palestinians. This cooperation is spearheaded by the efforts of Israeli Palestinians (Arab citizens of Israel) and marked by social relations as well as economic and security measures. For example, there is a photograph of Jewish and Arab dancers performing together at a festival held in Israel for a competition testing knowledge of the Bible and the Koran.
Dan felt that it might be too much detail to add Danny Rubinstein’s insights to this story, but he readily agrees that they dovetail nicely. Rubinstein also reports a surprising growth in economic prosperity in the West Bank, but still against the backdrop of bitter Palestinian disappointments on the political level.
Rubinstein has found that many prominent Palestinians have left their political careers with the Palestinian Authority in disgust. For example, Jabril Rajoub is now head of the Palestinian soccer association, and another he mentioned is a vice chancellor at Bir Zeit University. At the same time, there are hardly any professional-level positions in the Palestinian territories. Engineering jobs, for example, are basically to be had in the booming oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf – educated Palestinians are now flocking to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. One source of the new prosperity in the West Bank are remittances home from these people in the Gulf.
Another source (but only temporary) is that this was the shmitta (sabbatical) year in Israel – in which religious Jews are not supposed to grow their crops or buy food from Jewish farmers. This has caused a boom in the West Bank’s agricultural sector.
Moreover, Rubinstein reports that the security barrier has not prevented an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Palestinians from working illegally in Israel. He sees the barrier as being of some limited value in preventing terrorism (it makes it more difficult for attackers to cross), but points out that since so many illegals are making it across, it is not a total protection.
He credits Tony Blair and the international community to some extent in helping the West Bank economy boom as an object lesson to the people of Gaza that their lives can improve if they are no longer under Hamas rule. Still, Rubinstein sees Hamas as a permanent actor in Palestinian politics and says that its success in clamping down on attacks on Israel to keep the ceasefire going is a sign that Hamas wants to be taken seriously as a political player.
According to Rubinstein, the popularity of Hamas is a result of the secular nationalists of Fatah having failed to deliver a free and sovereign state for their people. He sees the weakness in most of the Arab world being that when the secular nationalists fail, the religious fundamentalists come to the fore because these are the only organized opposition ready to assume power. Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement; the Gaza Strip is the only place where the Muslim Brotherhood actually rules.
Rubinstein shares the opinion of most observers that the governments of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are too weak to come to an enforceable agreement in the near term. He sees a coalition government of Hamas and Fatah as the only viable way in which the Palestinians can move forward to an agreement with Israel that would stick.
He does not see Marwan Barghouti as a "savior" but does see his release from an Israeli prison as necessary and a positive step. Rubinstein would agree with the opinion advanced in the Bronner article in the NY Times that people to people projects are a way to make progress on the ground, building peace from the ground up.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
A few years ago, I made a rough calculation of the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Using the approximate start date of June 22, 1941, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, for its beginning — the Einsatzgruppen began their mass shootings at this time — I calculated that an average of over 29,000 Jews were murdered each week until the war ended on May 8, 1945. This was over 4,000 per day; in other words, the European Jewish population of 11 million suffered the equivalent of more than one and a third 9/11 size catastrophes everyday for three years and ten months.
Still, there’s no gainsaying that the somewhat smaller number of people murdered in this country on Sept. 11, 2001 has had a singular effect on the world since that day. This links to my remembrance of that historic day, after experiencing the horror, in the company of my visiting Israeli cousin, from my Manhattan apartment about six and a half miles above the World Trade Center.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The man responsible for the radio station, for the “pirate ship” from which it broadcast “from somewhere in the Mediterranean” (in reality, just outside Israel’s territorial waters, near Tel Aviv), and for the message of peace that it aired between 1973 and 1993 was Abie Nathan.
On August 27th, Abie Nathan passed away at the age of 81.
Abie Nathan was a peace activist and lifelong maverick, who made a career of pushing the envelope. He advocated positions when they weren’t popular and waited for the rest of Israeli society to play catch-up. He employed controversial methods that most of his fellow countrymen thought “uncouth”. He exposed himself to harsh criticism and even put his own safety and health on the line in order to challenge the stagnant normative refrain of Israeli society: “There is no Arab partner for peace”.
Monday, September 08, 2008
... As Prime Minister Barak admitted to the Jerusalem Post in 1999, "Every attempt to keep hold of this area as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic state or a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don't vote, it is an apartheid state that might then become another Belfast or Bosnia."
Ha'aretz columnist Gideon Levy makes the point that the solution to the Iranian crisis is the same as the solution to most of the rest of Israel's security problems. "Imagine peace with the Palestinians, the Syrians and most of the Arab world," Levy writes. "Would Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dare threaten Israel then, too? On what pretext? Imagine that Israel announces it will not attack Iran until all other means have been exhausted, simultaneously calling on the West to talk to Iran about security guarantees. Does it sound unreal? Will we not contribute more this way to reduce the danger?"
As Moshe Halbertal [a politically liberal, albeit religiously Orthodox, Israeli professor of philosophy and law] notes, Israel "tried to get a peace agreement and that failed. Next we tried a unilateral withdrawal and that turned into a base for radical Islam to launch attacks on us."
Friends of Israel and the Jewish people must understand this, but understanding is not enough. We must also help Israel look beyond the relative comfort of the present moment toward the nightmare that awaits it just down the road should it continue in its current direction. Menachem Brinker, who notes that Israel will never find a "better partner for peace than [PA President Mamoud Abbas, aka] Abu Mazen," avers that "without an element of enforcement of the international community as there was in the Balkans," most Israelis cannot even envision the possibility of peace in the near term. "We need to be forced into good sense." Many of his compatriots concur. "I have been very much disappointed with the American Jews who do not oppose settlements," explains A.B. Yehoshua. "They have been educated on liberalism and democracy. And they could see what is happening here and help us. I understand the idea of automatic solidarity, but all their good democratic values vanish when it comes to Israel." ...
Click here to read this entire article online.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
In Alaska, Much Warmth, Some Chill: Alaska’s Jews enjoy good ties to Gov. Palin, but suspicions linger.
Larry Tallman, an Alaska businessman who lives only nine miles from Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, recalls the first time he met the governor.... The meeting took place eight years ago at the groundbreaking of a small, now-defunct Conservative synagogue in Wasilla, where Palin was mayor at the time. ...
"She thanked us for doing what we were doing," said Tallman.... She also told the crowd that "it was good for everyone to have a place to worship their God, whichever God that may be," he said, paraphrasing Palin’s remarks. ...
In Anchorage, home to about half of the state’s estimated 6,000 Jews, the city’s two pulpit rabbis are both fond of the governor. Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, founder of the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska, said Palin has attended several Jewish cultural galas he helped to organize. And in the two years since she became governor, Palin has appeared twice at the city’s Reform synagogue, Beth Sholom — once for Rabbi Michael Oblath’s installation last October, and to sign legislation named for two past presidents of the congregation, a married couple killed in a traffic accident in 2002. (The legislation outlaws watching DVDs and text-messaging while driving.)
David Gottstein, the state’s chairman for the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Palin has also demonstrated an admiration for Israel and, at one point last spring, was preparing to visit the Jewish state. The visit ... had to be cancelled because of a political controversy unrelated to the trip.
Still, there are Jewish residents who, when considering Palin as a possible vice president, are troubled by her lack of experience in foreign affairs. Others object to her strongly conservative views on social issues, such as abortion rights, stem-cell research and the teaching of creationism in public schools. ... Click here for the entire article online.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Phil Weiss, our blogger "friend," reacted to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate with a succession of quick flip-flopping from an initial enthusiasm to opposition, as he learned more. During his short span of excitement for Gov. Palin, he reminded readers that he had registered Republican in 2000 to vote for McCain. (Weiss goes on to note that the Senator McCain of 2000 does not much resemble the Sen. McCain of today.)
Phil Weiss is a left-wing writer who has expressed support for, and joined forces with, elements of the right before. He has written several times for "The American Conservative" (TAC) magazine (co-founded in October 2002 by the rightist firebrand, Pat Buchanan) as have some others who identify either as liberals or on the left. The basis for this left-right alliance has to do with a common opposition to the Iraq war.
As an important thematic corollary, it is also manifested by criticism of Israel, Zionism and/or neo-conservatism as a manifestation of both. Some liberal or left writers who have contributed to TAC, like the Israel Policy Forum’s M.J. Rosenberg, are critical but not opposed to Israel (much like ourselves); others – like Phil Weiss– really are anti-Israel.
Mind you, Phil Weiss has declared in the past that he doesn’t know if he is "anti-Zionist" or just "non-Zionist." It’s clear from reading his drumbeat of attacks on Israel and Zionists that he is decidedly anti-Zionist.
He is in favor of Jewish assimilationism. This is his right as a personal preference, but it is problematic when this position is presented as the one progressive view – as against "parochial" Jews who insist on sustaining and cultivating Jewish peoplehood, culture or religion as freely-chosen values.
Reinforced by the example of his instant shoot-from-the-hip initial response to Sarah Palin, I suggest that he’s one confused dude. I’d also say, when it comes to Israel and Jewish issues, that he’s as intolerant as he is ignorant.