Monday, April 30, 2007

Nobody Remembers How to Fight a Real War

Israel's Winograd Committee looking in to the Second Lebanon War has released it interim report, and as expected it damns pretty much the entire Israeli leadership for both the strategic and tactical errors of the war. It is puts primary blame however on Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz and ex Chief of Staff Halutz. Any one who follows Israeli news will be aware of all this, and of the fact that Olmert and Peretz - despite bing singled out as at fault and incompetent by the report have no intention of resigning voluntarily. (Halutz had the decency to resign last fall)

Click here for the full unclassified report.

One section of the report caught my eye in particular.

18. Let us add a few final comments: It took the government till March 2007 to name the events of the summer of 2006 "The Second Lebanon War". After 25 years without a war, Israel experienced a war of a different kind. The war thus brought back to center stage some critical questions that parts of Israeli society preferred to avoid.

19. The IDF was not ready for this war. Among the many reasons for this we can mention a few: Some of the political and military elites in Israel have reached the conclusion that Israel is beyond the era of wars. It had enough military might and superiority to deter others from declaring war against her; these would also be sufficient to send a painful reminder to anyone who seemed to be undeterred; since Israel did not intend to initiate a war, the conclusion was that the main challenge facing the land forces would be low intensity asymmetrical conflicts.

20. Given these assumptions, the IDF did not need to be prepared for 'real' war. There was also no urgent need to update in a systematic and sophisticated way Israel\s overall security strategy and to consider how to mobilize and combine all its resources and sources of strength - political, economic, social, military, spiritual. cultural and scientific - to address the totality of the challenges it face.

In other words, nobody in the Israeli Army remembers how to fight a real war !! The last classic war Israel fought - capturing or defending territory against a "real" enemy army - was the 1982 First Lebanon War. Since most career Israeli Army officers retire from the IDF at about age 50 - in order to still have time to pursue a lucrative private career - there are few remaining officers who where much older than 30 during the First Lebanon War. At that point the most senior would not have commanded more than a brigade - perhaps 500 men. None would have had experience coordinating larger forces, worrying about major logistic issues, or dealing with strategy as opposed to tactics. Furthermore the IDF has been so concerned with its occupation duties these past 20 years, that it has not found time to seriously study or practice for a "real war".

One may be tempted to think that the real justification for the Second Lebanon War was to give the IDF practice. But that is too cynical, even for the most jaded.

On a more serious note however, Israel still lives in a rough neck of the woods, and this news should worry anyone who cares for Israel's future.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

McCarthyism in the Holy Land

It is now official. Former member of the Israeli Knesset Azmi Bisahara is under investigation for passing information to Hizbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

Bishara, who resigned from the Knesset last week, has denied the accusations, but it is unclear whether he will return to Israel any time soon to face his accusers and possibly stand trial. In the meantime the right wing in Israel has begun the feeding frenzy. Various Knesset members are calling to have Bishara's pension revoked, to have him immediately arrested, and are using this case to label all Israeli Arabs as traitors, and to treat them accordingly.

Several MKs, as well as the Gideon Sharon the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, are renewing the call for the revocation of the citizenship of most Israeli Arabs !!

Whether the accusations turn out to be true or not, it is clear that the sense of hysteria is approaching McCarthyist proportions. Just as America's fear of Communism made it focus on myriad supposed traitors at home, rather than on the bigger issues of global strategy and social injustice that where the real sources of any Communist strength and appeal, so too Israel's fears in light of last summer's war and the perceived "demographic threat" are causing it to look in all the wrong places for a a quick fix.

And of course everyone seems to have forgotten that - as yet - Bishara has not even been charged, let alone convicted, of anything.

Hopefully calmer heads will prevail. If the investigation warrants, let Bishara be charged and tried. And if he is convicted (and that's still a big IF in my opinion) lets not assume that the behavior of one person represents that of an entire people. If it did, then all U.S. Jews should be disenfranchised because of Jonathan Pollard.

See here, and here for news article about this, and here for a previous article in this blog.

Independence Day, Jerusalem 2007

This graffiti, at Jerusalem's Davidka square, reads: Lesbians Against Weapons or equally Lesbians Against Penises.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Strange Case of MK Bishara

Israeli Arab Member of the Knesset (MK) Azmi Bishara has long been a thorn in the side of the Israeli government and most of the Israeli public. He - and his party, Balad - are not reconciled to Israel as a "Jewish State", and have openly campaigned to have Israel undergo "de-Zionization", to treat Arab and Jewish citizens exactly alike, to repeal the Law of Return which allows Jews from anywhere to move to Israel and automatically acquire Isreali citizenship, to cede all the occupied territories and recognize a Palestinean State, to allow for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper, etc. He calls for Israeli Arabs to identify with the larger "Arab Nation" and vociferously objected to Israel's war policy in Lebanon last summer, and openly "rooted" for Hezbollah to "teach the Israeli government a lesson."

All of this is legal in Israel, but clearly pushes the limits of public tolerance. And the Israeli Security Services (Shin Bet) have acknowledged that they are "watching" Bishara and his Balad party as a "threatening organization", despite the fact that the courts have ruled them a legal party.

Now Bishara is somewhere outside of Israel travelling, and rumours are flying that: he is going to resign his Knesset seat; he is never returning to Israel; he is under some sort of Shin Bet investigation.

What is known for sure is, that there is an investigation, and that there is a gag order about the content of that investigation. (Until today there was a gag order on the existence of the gag order!)

Bishara himself, in an article in Haaretz, claims he is being hounded from Israel, that he is being framed, though a week earlier he said he was considering resigning from the Knesset only because he found he could do nothing more useful there.

Rumours - supposedly substantiated - on Israeli blogs - mostly right wing - say Bishara is being investigated for spying for Syria.

If he in fact did so, who can support him?

On the other hand, who can support gag orders about such high profile investigations. And it is certainly not inconceivable that a person with Bishara's opinions and standing would be deliberately targeted and framed by the Shin Bet.

On the third hand, Bishara himself has now announced that he may delay his resignation from the Knesset in order to avoid prosecution, since MKs are immune from prosecution in Israel. But since spying is specifically not covered by a Knesset Member's immunity from prosecution - maybe the alleged charges are something else.

And on the forth hand, it could be that what the Shin Bet calls "spying" is another persons "friendly discussions" . Bishara openly travelled to Syria, and held "friendly discussions" (his words) with government officials there. (This is something that would be illegal for an ordinary Israeli, but is specifically covered by a MKs immunity privileges.) But what did Bishara tell the Syrians? If it was the detailed location or nature of Israeli military facilities, then that's spying in anyone's book. If it was his evaluation of the political forces in the Knesset, or the mood of the Israeli Arab "street", or his evaluation of the Israeli public's opinion on war and peace - is that spying? No. But that may not interest the Shin Bet.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Worshipping False God's

In his insightful article in Haaretz, Ari Shavit points out that the Israel Defence Forces need to be rehabilitated, but they cannot, until Israeli society is rehabilitated too.

“The reason for that is simple: It is not the IDF that is responsible for the ills that gripped it. It is not the IDF that is responsible for the fact that for the past 40 years its primary mission has been occupation, and that for 20 years the state has been denying it its best sons and most of its resources. It is not the IDF that is responsible for the fact that diplomatic folly and political rifts have eroded it; that the right has exploited it and the left has attacked it; that Tel Aviv's hedonism has withdrawn from it.

It is not the IDF that is responsible for the fact that an escapist Israeli society expects the army to protect it from the historical reality in which it finds itself, without placing at its disposal the material, human and conceptual means that will enable it to do so. …

The new ethos of Israeli society is characterized by extreme individualism, rampant capitalism and nihilism. This ethos, which is totally divorced both from the Middle East and from the Zionist continuum, is destroying social solidarity and the sense of a common national fate, corrupting politics and causing the public to collapse. This ethos is preventing a people's army like the IDF from continuing to function properly.

So that now, when the IDF is beginning the difficult campaign of rehabilitation, Israeli society must lend a hand. It must once again examine the ethos that has caused its moral disintegration and the moral crisis of its army. Israeli society must understand that in this place it is impossible to survive without comprehending the importance of partnership and a spirit of recruitment to the cause.”

What Shavit fails to drive home sufficiently though, is that the lack of social cohesion in Israel, is a direct result of the redefinition of the “national mission” that started in 1948, accelerated after 1967, and was solidified in the 1980s and then again in the late 1990s.

Once Zionism and the Israeli society conceived of itself as being devoted to building an enlightened, rational, and egalitarian society: a light to the nations and the fulfillment of the best of the Jewish prophetic tradition – and on this foundation to establish a creative and vibrant Jewish civilization. Settling the land – with all its problematics – was seen as a means to an end.

Then the leadership decided to become “normal”. Chauvinism, defence considerations and territory took precedent over a vision of national hope and an ethical society. Excessive personal wealth was not only tolerated, but promoted over the common good. (Did anyone in the 60’s or 70’s ever question why and how Moshe Dayan, a career military man and later politician, managed to support his luxurious homes, hobbies, and lifestyle? Or how Ariel Sharon, with a similar career, ended up owning the largest private ranch in Israel?) The past few years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Thacherite economics have completed this process. Personal wealth – and damn the consequences – are now the norms for ambitious and talented Israelis. Let the weak sink if they cannot swim. Grab what you can – else you are sucker. And all this is not only tolerated, it is promoted as good!

After 1967, and accelerating until today, came the craze of settling the land for the sake of settling the land. A combination of mystical messianism – divorced from ethical considerations –, a longing for the “pioneering spirit” of self sacrifice and collective enterprise that was slowing being leached from “secular” Israeli society, and the economic benefits of cheap land, water and labour, brought the settler movement many troops, as well as the grudging admiration of the majority of Israelis. After all, “at least they are idealistic.”

A country like Canada can survive without a strong unifying sense of common purpose. But even here it helps to have one. Israel probably cannot – or at least it cannot thrive under such conditions. Supporting the army requires sacrifices. Living in a pressure cooker requires resolve.

Israeli society needs to find a common ennobling sense of purpose. One that will give it the physical, intellectual, and emotional strength it needs to change, and to grow, and to thrive. To give its people a vision of hope based on ethics. It also needs this, if it expects the outside world – including Diaspora Jews – to keep supporting it.

And it can’t do that by worshipping the false God’s of chavanism, personal riches and territorial greed, that it has been chasing these past several decades.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Passover 2007

Here are some readings I compiled for use at my Seder's this year. I have to admit that they are a bit "heavy". People definitely needed to read along and pay attention to "get" them. But they did lead to some interesting discussions.

For next year I promise to do less French philosophy.

From the diaries of Moredechai Kaplan

Saturday Night, April 3, 1915

Last night I spoke at the YMHA services. The audience though far from filling the auditorium was fairly large so I was told. …

As introduction I took the passage from the Haggadah “In every generation [a person is obliged to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.] to point out the need of celebrating Passover not in the spirit of commemorating a past event but of noting an ever present truth. Passover gives us the opportunity of learning what God is. It tells us that God is the power that makes for freedom … God as the power that makes for freedom is … [neither] abstract or remote. It is a God each one can experience. “Taste and see how good the Lord is” [Ps 34:9], because each one of us has an immediate awareness of the inward striving to liberate [themselves] from the besetting forces of earth and temptation. [People] are not born free and equal, but are born to become free and equal. It is the goal of social endeavour to make [people] free. The tendency to retroject onto the past that which we hope to achieve in the … future is a common one. The … Garden of Eden … and the Passover story are cases in point. A thoughtful, responsible, freedom, which is the reflection of God’s own nature, is the freedom that is synonymous with personality, character. [intellect], and will.

The realization of true freedom is even more difficult in the aggregate of human beings, than in the individual. The mob mind is even more of a slave to the heredity and blind impulses of human nature, and knows even less of self-consciousness than the individual. The Jews, as a self-conscious group, have proved to be an exception to the law of the crowd, because in them, the God who makes for freedom has made himself felt. It was this self-mastery that gave The Jewish People exemption from fear of mortality or the angel of death. Having that freedom – national personality –, the Jewish people was never totally bereft of that power of initiative and reflection which saved it from losing itself to its environment.

* * *
And so, on this Passover let us reflect, and plan our next initiative.

From “Judaism and the Feminine” Emanuel Levinas

We may well ask whether ideas that cannot break through to the masses and cannot be transformed in to techniques can still determine the progress of the world, and whether Christianity was not the last and only entry of Judaism into World History. But this would be to scorn in advance the intrinsic values of truth; which is not to acknowledge any universality in it other than what it receives from the consensus of all. This would, and above all, be to think that revealed idea lives exclusively in the history in which it is revealed. This would be to deny it a profound life and abrupt irruptions into history. This would involve misunderstanding the volcanic existence of spirit and, in short, the very possibility of the revolutionary phenomenon.

From “A Religion For Adults” Emanuel Levinas
The [Jew] discovers man before discovering landscapes and towns [and ] is at home in society before being so in a house. [Hence the mythical formative years of the national existence -wandering in the desert. The Feast of Passover, the Feast of the Giving of the Law, and the Feast of Booths all precedes having a home. ] [The Jew] understand the world based on the Other rather than the whole of Being functioning in relation to land. [The Jew] is in a sense exiled on this earth as the Psalmists say, and finds meaning to the earth on the basis of human society. …

From this existence – free with regard to landscapes and architecture and all those heavy sedentary things that one is tempted to prefer in man, Judaism recalls that … its is rooted in the countryside … Freedom from sedentary forms of existence is perhaps the way to be human in this world. For Judaism, the world becomes intelligible before a human face and not, as for a great contemporary philosopher who sums up an important aspect of the West, through houses, temples, and bridges – culture. …

This freedom is not the least bit pathological, or strained or heartrending. It relegates the values to do with roots; and institutes other forms of responsibility. Man is after all not a tree, and humanity not a forest. Freedom promotes more human forms, and they pre-suppose conscious commitment; freer forms, for they allow us to glimpse a human society vaster than the village where we are born.

Is it not these consciously willed and freely accepted links … which constitute modern nations; defined more by the decision to work in common, than by dark voices of heredity? Are these accepted links less solid than roots? In one circumstance they certainly are: when the states formed by them cease to correspond to the moral values in the name of which they were formed. [We must] accord to people the right to judge, in the name of moral conscience, the history to which [they] belong. A freedom in regard to history, in the name of morality, justice above culture (ancestral land, architecture, arts) – these are finally the terms that describe the way in the Jews encountered God.

From Judaism
Emanuel Levinas

What does the voice of Israel say? … One must follow the Most High God and be faithful to God and His Law alone. One must be wary of the myth that leads to the fait accompli, the constraints of customs or locale, and the Machiavellian State and its reasons of State. One follows the Most High God, above all by drawing near to one’s fellow man, and showing concern for ‘the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the beggar’, an approach that must not be made ‘with empty hands.’ It is therefore on earth, amongst men, that spirit’s adventure unfolds.

The traumatic experience of my slavery in Egypt constitutes my very humanity, a fact that immediately allies me to the workers, the wretched, the persecuted peoples of the world. My uniqueness lies in the responsibility I display to Others. … [Humanity] can do what it must do; [it] can master the hostile forces of history by helping to bring the messianic reign, a reign of justice …

This is the extreme humanism of a God who demands much of [people] – some would say He demands too much! [But it is rituals like The Passover that train the mind, discipline the spirit, and encourage the soul to rise to the task, to accept the yoke of Heaven.]


A student asked: “Since God and Israel love each other why was Israel sent to Egypt to undergo serfdom? R. Haninah said: “It was measure for measure. Before the sons of Israel went into Egypt, we find tha the sons of Rachel and Leah disliked the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and called then sons of serfs. God was distressed at this and cried out” ‘Thou My bride are completely noble!’ And God said: ‘I shall bring all of them down to Egypt and they will all become serfs, and when they are redeemed and celebrate at the Passover meal, they shall say “All of us alike were serfs unto Pharaoh.”’”

Mekiltah d’R. Isshmael Bo 9
R. Josiah said: Just as you must not allow matzah to rise, ferment or sour by lack of promptness in its baking, so you must not let a mitzvah sour by dealing its performance, by letting it wait.

V-E day Poem May 1945 Norman Corwin
Lord God of trajectory and blast
Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the Just to see,
Sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it,
And assist in the preparation of the ploughshare.

Lord God of fresh bread and tranquil mornings,
Who walks in the circuit of heaven among the worthy,
Deliver notice to the fallen young men
That tokens of orange juice and a whole egg appear now before the hungry children;

That night again falls cooling on the earth as quietly as when it leaves your hand;

That Freedom has withstood the tyrant like a Malta in a hostile sea,
And that the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol which goes down hard
then leaps from ruin quickly.

Lord God of the overcoat and the living wage
Who has furred the fox against the time of winter
And stored provender of bees in summer's brightest places,
Do bring sweet influences to bear upon the assembly line:
Accept the smoke of the mill town among the accredited clouds of the sky:
Fend from the wind with a house and hedge, him whom you made in your image,
And permit him to pick of the tree and the flock
That he may eat today without fear of tomorrow
And clothe himself with dignity in December.

Lord God of test-tube and blueprint
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father's color
or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream
as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples
through expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer
than posterities can see ahead,

That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.

From The Jerusalem Post

March 27, 2007

Every Sunday school student knows Pessah for its ban on food that rises, but a growing number of Jews are asking whether the holiday also precludes them from getting high.

Hemp has increasingly been spotted on the list of kitniyot, or legumes, that Ashkenazi Jews abstain from eating during Pessah, according to several influential rabbinical Web sites, including But not everyone agrees that hemp qualifies for the ban, and the debate has led many to question the definition of kitniyot.

While hemp isn't a kitchen staple for most people, hemp oil can be found in a number of hygiene products and in some alternative baked goods. But it's hemp's more notorious cousin, commonly known as marijuana, that has set the sparks flying. As debate over the kitniyot tradition has gathered steam among rabbinic circles, many are looking at hemp as a case in point of why the practice of abstention needs to be reexamined.

The ban on kitniyot during Pessah began because rabbis were concerned that certain legumes would come into contact with the grains forbidden during the holiday. Farmers often grew wheat and rice in adjacent fields, and families frequently stored all of their grains and legumes in the same containers. The kitniyot tradition only applies to Jews of Ashkenazi descent, since Sephardic Jewry never adopted the practice.

Of the dozen rabbis whom The Jerusalem Post questioned on this issue, none offered a conclusive statement about how hemp should be classified for Pessah. As Rabbi Daniel Kohn of Bat Ayin explained, the issue ultimately boils down to an individual decision by each rabbi about whether hemp seeds themselves could be considered edible. If a rabbi decides that the seeds are edible, then hemp - and, by extension, marijuana - would not be considered permissible for Pessah.

Israel's Green Leaf Party ("Aleh Yarok") said it was not taking any chances. Following an inquiry by the Post, a spokeswoman for the party said the group was sending out an e-mail to members warning them about hemp's possible kashrut problems.

"We are warning our people not to eat anything with hemp products if they follow the practice of kitniyot on Pessah," said party spokeswoman Michelle Levine. "We are considering announcing a ban on everything containing hemp just to be on the safe side. We are going with the rabbis on this. People should remove all cannabis and hemp from their homes."

Levine said one of the party's main arguments for cannabis legalization was biblical references to it.

"We would like to ask people... if it's listed as not kosher 'for Pessah,' [doesn't] that mean it must be kosher the rest of the year?" said Levine.

Hemp's tricky Pessah status has caused the first marital rift for Daniel and Sarah, who recently moved to Jerusalem from Chicago. The newlyweds, who asked not to use their last name, said they had just finished their Pessah cleaning when a friend asked them if he could buy the rest of their marijuana.

"We just had no idea what he meant. It turns out he was buying it from a lot of his observant friends so that they wouldn't have it in the house, [like] hametz," said Sarah. "We aren't habitual users, but we certainly smoke in our house, and we really aren't sure what our pipe may have come in contact with. It has caused a big crisis for us."

In the end, the two decided to quietly get rid of the rest of their marijuana (not by selling it to a friend, since it was kitniyot, and not hametz, they explained), and give their home one more cleaning before the holiday.

"There is no problem with hemp clothing, and of course, anything that is taken for medicinal purposes would be fine," said Kohn. "Many would look at it like cottonseed oil. There are a variety of opinions. If one considered it edible, then it is included in kitniyot."

On Monday, the religious court of the Shilo Institute issued a ruling that permits all Jews to consume kitniyot during Pessah. Rabbi David Bar-Hayim wrote the ruling, with Rabbis Yehoshua Buch and Chaim Wasserman co-signing.

The move is seen as a direct attack on the kitniyot tradition, as Bar-Hayim wrote that the current explanations for the custom were "unconvincing." ...