A collections of my thoughts on Israel, Judaism, Politics and other stuff
Friday, December 28, 2007
Crude, Rude, and Embarrassing
What kind of crude person would tell Condoleezza Rice that "it has always been my wet dream to address the secretary of state?" Who, when expressing the legitimate view that the U.S. should excerpt more pressure on Israel to compromise with the Palestinians, would say to Rice that "Israel wants to be raped" by the Americans? David Landau, editor in chief of the Israeli paper Haaretz - thats who!
Ehud Ya'ari, an Israeli TV commentator, who was present at the meeting between Landau and Rice, said it was "embarrassing." No kidding !
When asked, Landau said Rice was "completely unfazed" by his remarks. Yeh, as a black woman growing up in the American south, she is no doubt used to crude sexist remarks thrown at her by crackers of all kinds. Feh!! Made me feel sorry for Condi.
Who do they think they are fooling? Earlier this month Israel announced new construction in Har Homa (see picture above) and Ma'aleh Adumim. Both areas disputed between Israel and the PA. This quickly became a sticking point in the naissant peace negotiations. The PA immediately said it would not talk about anything else until this new construction was halted. The U.S. sided with the Palestinians, reminding Israel that it had promised to halt new settlement activity while the negotiations where ongoing. Many - including myself, in this earlier blog item - accused Israel of deliberately sabotaging in the peace talks.
Now Olmert is trying to make it look like it was all an innocent mistake. According to an article in Haaretz, he was meeting with his housing minister, Ze'ev Boim, when the issue of this new construction just happened to "come up." This, after it had been headline news for two weeks, and after protests from both the PA and the U.S. Olmert "it was revealed" told Boim that from "now on" he wanted new construction to be based on "rational political decisions, and not be the result of a bureaucrat's action" (Oh those stupid bureaucrats! Its so hard to get good help these days.) This, after Boim had explicitly defended the construction only a week before. (See "Housing Min. rejects Rice warning against E. J'lem construction")
Olmert further is reported as saying: "he wanted to be involved in any building expansion plan in order to ensure that it does not contradict Israel's Road Map commitments or understandings reportedly reached with United States' President George Bush. The sources announced their intention to approve building only if we see that it does not detriment chances of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians."
Since Israel promised the U.S. to halt all new construction in the settlements, and since it is obvious the PA will not agree to the creation of "facts on the ground" precisely in the area it wished to negotiate about, what is there to decide? What building plans need to be considered?
Mark my words. We will see continued construction in the territories in 2008, despite the promised "peace talks." For Olmert, this is all about plausible deniability. Though, at this point, its hardly plausible.
One of my favourite blogs, the Magnes Zionist, has recently posted two excellent articles. I could try to summarize them fully here, but its better to go read the originals. Follow the links below. And the comments are interesting too - including mine (pardon my shamelessness.)
The first item explores the "morality" of peoples at war, and how intellectuals and jurists totally lose perspective, and can be made to justify anything. This problem is particularly acute in Israel. The article ends by stating that
[people] use self-serving justifications for doing what is evil and illegal. This is what happens to the moral judgment of people when states are at war. Look at what has happened to the US during the Bush presidency. The problem is that Israel has been at war for over sixty years. Imagine what the US would be like in such a situation.
The second item looks at who was "responsible" for the second Intifada. It attacks the premise that Arafat planned the whole thing. It concludes that Israel is at least as guilty as the Palestinians for starting and escalating the violence. It looks at how the security establishment's predictions, based on worst case scenario planning, can become self fulfilling prophecies. The article bases itself largely on new testimony from the former CO of the IDF's Southern Command.
The most insightful quote, IMO:
"I think that throughout all the years and all the wars, we have pushed ourselves into a situation of no choice, because that is what we know how to get out of best. Maybe we are waiting for a Qassam [rocket] to hit a kindergarten and kill 10 children so the operation will be enabled - the neighborhood bully who tells everyone to stop him, so he can beat people up. So we are telling the whole world, 'Restrain us,' and looking for a reason to beat up others."
Adib Salim, paralyzed on his right side, sold lupini beans. When the IDF conducted one of its raids on Nablus he dared to stick his head out. The soldiers killed him. The IDF Spokesman claimed that he threatened to shoot at the soldiers, but the paralyzed bean seller was totally incapable of doing so.
Abdel Wazir, the 71-year-old cousin of the legendary Abu Jihad, was a retired accountant. He spent a terrifying night in his home: for hours the soldiers fired next to his window, while he sat with his wife on the sofa, both of them incapacitated by fear. When the order to go outside was heard, he left his house and was immediately shot dead.
Jihad Shaar, 19, was making his way from his village, Tekua, in order to register for university. Soldiers killed him for an unexplained reason with cudgel blows and kicks, while he was waiting at the bus stop. The IDF Spokesman said that the soldiers "behaved appropriately."
Mohammed Salah was a Palestinian policeman, after years of working as a tiler in the settlements. On duty, he stopped a suspicious Palestinian commercial van, which had tried to avoid the Palestinian checkpoint in Bethlehem. Salah opened the door, suspecting that the van was carrying stolen merchandise, and the IDF undercover soldiers inside shot him to death. The IDF Spokesman claimed that he tried to shoot at the soldiers, but all the eyewitnesses have rejected this version out of hand.
Firas Kaskas went for a nature hike near Ramallah, accompanied by his brother and his brother-in-law. When they noticed a herd of gazelles running down to the wadi, they stood to watch. The soldiers who suddenly appeared shot him from afar, without warning. The IDF Spokesman claimed that the soldiers thought that he was placing an explosive device in the heart of the nature reserve.
All these people were killed by the IDF in recent weeks, for no reason. Add to them Mohammed Askar from Saida, who was shot at close range during riots at Ketziot Prison; Kamela Kabha of Bartaa, an elderly woman whose son tried to rush her to the hospital in Jenin and was delayed at the Reihan checkpoint for three hours, until she died in his arms, and other incidents of killing, and you will get the true picture of Israel's "peace efforts."
And we haven't even mentioned the construction in the settlements.
The story of the recent killings in the West Bank is not on our agenda, because so far the Palestinians there have not responded with attacks in retaliation for these deaths. But it is not certain that this quiet will continue.
JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli scientists have inscribed the entire Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible onto a space less than half the size of grain of sugar. The nanotechnology experts at the Technion institute in Haifa say the text measures less than 0.5 square millimeter (0.01 square inch) surface. ... "It took us about an hour to etch the 300,000 words of the Bible onto a tiny silicon surface," Ohad Zohar, the university's scientific adviser for educational programs, told the Associated Press.
Looks like we all may need stronger eye-glasses. Have they invented those yet?
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday rejected Hamas' offer of a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, saying the government would not hold talks with the Islamist group until it recognizes Israel.
Olmert's comments came as three Qassam rockets fired by Palestinian militants struck the western Negev, causing no damage or injuries.
So how does the Israeli government hope to stop the Qassam attacks on Sderot and the surrounding area? Military measures have not worked for years now. An economic blockade isn't working either. And no-one serious believes a total peace deal can be worked out with Abbas either, given that Israel is unwilling to put a stop to, let alone roll back, settlement activity in the West Bank.
Israeli policy towards Hamas (and Abbas too for that matter) is hopelessly confused. They still dream of a total military victory: an unconditional Palestinian surrender ala the allies defeat of Germany and Japan in WWII. But the history of the last 30 years has proven that this cannot happen. It is a pipe dream.
On the other hand, Israel refuses to take the far reaching steps that might - just might, I should add - strengthen the hands of moderate Palestinians enough to undercut popular support Hamas and its allies.
And finally, when Hamas itself shows signs of moderation, offering a long term cease fire - an armistice in fact, similar to that worked out between Israel and its neighbours in 1949 - Israel turns that down too.
It seems that the Israeli government (and the people too, I fear) have gotten used to the "low level" ongoing conflict. Of course Palestinians suffer much more from it than Israelis. The government would rather take a chance on escalation than peace. It would rather be self righteous, than save lives. It would rather war where they can blame the other guy, than peace where they must compromise.
Not so different from how we usually think of Hamas.
A number of interesting observations. First, religion matters even to "sophisticated world leaders" like Blair. Second, Blair, who has been flirting with Catholicsims for many years, waited until after he resigned as PM to officially convert. He sensed, correctly in my opinion, that he would be unlikely to be elected as a Catholic, and that a Catholic PM would arouse all sorts of latent English anti-Catholicism. (After all, the British monarch is, is by law, not allowed to be or to marry a Catholic.)
Finally, anti-Catholic bigotry is just under the surface of much of the Protestant world, even here in Canada. Us Jews needn't feel so special! The Globe and Mail article sited above has elicited 87 comments so far - many more then any other article in the online G&M. And many are openly anti-Catholic. A representative list includes these gems:
Another empty seat at the next screening of the Golden Compass.
Once upon a time this would have been considered treason.
Blair's IRA sympathies have been known for a long time.
Is Tony shooting for a management position at the Vatican?
So now Tony has to disregard The Theory of Evolution, start believing that the Universe is 6000 years old, and only Catholics go to Heaven?
I wonder if Tony and Ratzinger discussed the plight of all those victims of Roman Catholic child molesters...?
Another failure in judgment...they keep adding up.
I'm sure that Guy Fawkes is pleased with this news.
But maybe Tony is attracted to old-school Catholicism, as in the Albigensian Crusade massacre of Cathars in the French town of Beziers. 'Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.' - Abbot of Citeaux to Pope Innocent III, 1209.
Sacha Baron Cohen has told The Daily Telegraph that he is retiring the clueless Kazakh journalist, as well as his alter ego, aspiring rapper Ali G.
"When I was being Ali G and Borat I was in character sometimes 14 hours a day and I came to love them, so admitting I am never going to play them again is quite a sad thing," the 36-year-old actor-comedian says in the British newspaper's Friday edition.
"It is like saying goodbye to a loved one. It is hard, and the problem with success, although it's fantastic, is that every new person who sees the Borat movie is one less person I 'get' with Borat again, so it's a kind of self-defeating form, really."
For many years I have subscribed to two daily newspapers. Partly its because I am a news junky. Partly, its so Sheryl and I don't have to fight over the paper at breakfast. But mostly, its because I realized years ago, that each newspaper has its biases, and I wanted to, as much as possible, see past those and know the truth.
While I have since despaired at ever 100% knowing the truth, I have been struck very often by how the editors of a paper can slant a headline or a story to fit their own biases. Some days I can read the about the same event in my two newspapers, and - if I didn't know otherwise - I would think these where two entirely different events.
Today I noticed the same thing - but in a single paper!!
At 9:00 AM I looked at the online Ha'artez and saw a story headlined:
Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch says Holy Land is not Only Jewish
The text of the article began:
Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch criticized Israel on Wednesday for insisting Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state and said God made the Holy Land for Muslims and Christians too.
At 11:17 AM I returned to the online Ha'artez and noticed that the story had been re-written. The headline now read:
Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch rejects Israel's Jewish identity
This time the article begins with:
Israel's identity as a Jewish state discriminates against non-Jews, the Holy Land's top Roman Catholic clergyman said in a pre-Christmas address on Wednesday.
Obviously, someone at Ha'artez decided to re-spin this story.
As to the "facts" themselves, I would say that both versions of the opening text are prima facia true.
I really liked it. I think it elucidates a great Jewish principle. One with major consequences for who we live our lives. (And sets a standards that is, admittedly, hard to live up to.)
Below is and an excerpt. I particularly liked the last paragraph.
You can’t make God’s image; you can only be God’s image. The Genesis account begins with two words for what we call “the image of God.” Tselem is “image” in a representational sense, and it clearly originally referred to the human form, both body and face. Some versions of the early Aramaic translation of the Torah render the word by the Greek “icon;” every human being is God’s icon. An icon, well known in the Christian art that by the fourth century was part of the dominant culture amid which Jews lived, is a depiction of God, a saint, or a holy scene that comes to bear within it the presence of that holy being, and hence is revered in itself.
To call each person an icon of God is to say that each human both resembles and contains the divine form. Each person is to be held aloft, revered, and kissed, as we have seen the Christians do with their icons. No wonder we have no icons in the synagogue! The synagogue is filled with icons as soon as we walk in!
On this last day of Hannukah 5748, I thought I would reflect on the Hannukah song/prayer "Maoz Tzur"
Frankly most of my friends mumble the Hebrew words as they sing it. Particularly the third line. Good thing too. They would be aghast of they knew what it really means. Here is a, more or less, literal translation of the first verse (of five), from www.ou.org the web site of the Orthodox Union.
O mighty stronghold of my salvation, to praise You is a delight. Restore my House of Prayer and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering. When You will have prepared the slaughter for the blaspheming foe, Then I shall complete with a song of hymn the dedication of the Altar.
Peace, love, tolerance, and religious freedom ?
Thank God, Maoz Tzur is a not the "official" interpretation of Hannukah's meaning, and in fact, while written in the 12th or 13th century, it was not used outside of home ceremonies until the 19th century. The lyrics call for vengeance was no doubt influenced by the 11th-13th century Crusades, and the massacres of Jews by Christians that they brought on. The original lyrics even had a reference to Friedrich Barbarossa, (Holy Roman Emperor) and call on God to save the Jews from his persecution.
In more recent times, English speaking Jews have taken to singing the song in English - using more poetic and non literal "translations". These shift the message from Hannukah from vengeance to freedom and peace. Two versions written right after World War II, eschew vengeance (despite the Holocaust) and tied Jewish liberation to universal freedom and justice.
This one from United Synagogue of America, 1947, is the better known.
Rock of Ages, let our song Praise Thy saving power; Thou amidst the raging foes, Wast our shelt'ring tower. Furious they assailed us, But Thy arm availed us, And Thy word Broke their sword When our own strength failed us;
Children of the martyr-race, Whether free of fettered, Wake the echoes of the songs Where ye may be scattered. Yours the message cheering That the time is nearing Which will see All men free, Tyrants disappearing.
But I like this one better. From the Sabbath Prayer Book, Reconstructionist Press 1945, it more explicitly sees Jewish redemption as part of world redemption, and puts the universal message in the first rather than second verse.
Oh God, to Thee our praises ring Thou Rock of our salvation Accept the thanks our people bring On this Feast of Dedication When the force of hate is demolished, And war at last abolished, We then will greet with joy complete Thine altar's consecration.
When the Maccabees to the Temple came, Having saved their nation, To light again the Menorah's flame, With song and jubilation, Of pure oil there was none, Save one small flask alone; Its holy light, shone pure and bright, In eight-day celebration.
In a previous entry in this blog (Strange Time For War Talk?), I predicted that if the Annapolis talks actually achieved any progress the Israeli army would begin heating things up in Gaza.
Well Annapolis did not accomplish much. But it did commit the sides to begin negotiations a final status peace, and to try to complete those negotiations by the end of 2008. Most observers have been pretty skeptical about the chances for real progress at these talks, but one has to suppose that where there is negotiations there is hope. However, even that faint hope for an agreed peace was apparently too much for the war faction within Israel.
The scheduled talks began today, and true to my prediction, yesterday the Israeli army upped the ante in Gaza and mounted a mini-invasion: its largest foray into Gaza since it unilateral withdrawal two years ago. According to a story in the Globe and Mail:
At least eight Palestinians were killed and dozens of others injured yesterday as columns of Israeli tanks attacked deep into the Gaza Strip, casting a cloud over the scheduled start of final status peace talks today in Jerusalem. A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas alleged that the incursion, ... was the largest by Israel since the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of Gaza six months ago.
Coincidence? I think not.
And for good measure the Israeli government chose earlier this week to announce a new 300 unit development project in the disputed Jerusalem suburb of Har Homa. Since the status of East Jerusalem is one of the major nubs of the "peace talks", Israel's creating new facts on the ground while the talks go on, can hardly be a sign of good faith. And this is hardly my thought alone:
Israel drew condemnation from both United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when it announced last week that it would build more than 300 new homes in Har Homa, a Jewish settlement just north of Bethlehem. Ms. Rice said the settlement expansion could harm the nascent peace efforts.
The Palestinians are justifiably concerned that these "peace talks" will drag on and on, and at the same time Israel will tighten and expand its hold on the West Bank. This is, after all, exactly what happened during the "Oslo years" from 1994 through 2000. And it is inconceivable that Israeli decision makers did not realize this is how there actions would be understood when they made the decsion to announce the Har Homa project of the eve of the talks.
A generous view, might be that the Israeli government might have "merely" wished to show whose boss, prior to the talks. A more realist view, in my opinion, and one supported by the evidence of the incursion into Gaza, is that the Israeli government (or at least powerful factions within it) wishes the talks to fail, but want the Palestinians - not themselves - to be the one's who walk out. So they are doing everything they can to make the atmosphere - and facts on the ground - as difficult as possible.
Some Jews view it as a celebration of military victory, or even revenge on the "goyim".
But the Talmudic Rabbis who chose the Haftarah portion for Shabbat Hannukah had other ideas. They chose verses from the prophet Zechariah, prophesying to the people and leadership of the generation who returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.
This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel [leader of the returning Jews], saying, Not by armies, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
And later Zechariah makes his meaning more plain.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for the fullness of days. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ... Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness. ... For there shall be the seed of peace; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her produce, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And it shall come to pass, that as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Do not fear, but let your hands be strong. ... and these are the things that you shall do; Speak every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates; And let none of you plot evil in your hearts against his neighbor; do not love false oaths; for all these are things that I hate, said the Lord.
These are the lessons that our sages wished us to learn from Hannukah.
Mike Gravel, the feisty former Democratic Senator from Alaska has been banned from recent MSNBC and CNN debates among Democratic presidential candidates. They say he has not raised enough money to be a viable candidate!
In the earlier debates - South Carolina and New Hampshire - Gravel really shook up the crowd. He presented something completely different. And he and got a lot of positive response, if post-debate polls and news stories are to be believed.
Gravel, of course is not folding his tent. The video clip above is part of his continuing campaign: now with one more issue - freedom of speech and media domination of American politics.
Does Gravel have a chance of winning? Probably not. But then neither do any of the Democratic hopefuls except Clinton and Obama. So why ban Gravel?
Maybe because he takes the American promise of freedom at its word. Maybe his ideas are just too different: too tempting, to be allowed respectability. Here is a short list taken from his web site:
The National Initiative for Democracy Mike fully supports the National Initiative for Democracy. The NI4D is a way to bring legislative power back to the people. In many states, citizens can put measures on the ballot and Mike believes as citizens of the United States we should all have that power. Read More about The National InitiativeThe "War on Terror" Senator Gravel believes that there is no such thing on the war on terror and that it is fabricated in order to prepetuate the interests of his political opponents. Senator Gravel believes that the "war on terror" should be stopped and that no more lives should be taken in its name. For more information click here. Iran and Syria Senator Gravel opposes a military confrontation with Iran and Syria and advocates a diplomatic solution to the current situation. More information available here, here, and here. Global Warming/Climate Change Senator Gravel believes that global climate change is a matter of national security and survivability of the planet. As President, he will act swiftly to reduce America's carbon footprint in the world by initiating legislation to tax carbon at the source and cap carbon emissions. he will also initiate a massive scientific effort, integrating the world's scientific and engineering community, to end energy dependence on oil and integrate the world's scientific community in this task. For more information go here, here, and here. Healthcare Senator Gravel advocates a universal healthcare system that provides equal medical services to all citizens, paid for by a retail sales tax (a portion of the Progressive Fair tax). Citizens would pay nothing for health benefits. For more information go here and here. LGBT Rights Senator Gravel supports same-sex marriage and opposes the Defense of Marriage Act. He also strongly opposes the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" legislation on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Education Senator Gravel supports re-ordering national budget priorities in order to improve the American education system. He supports government funding of education from pre-kindergarten to higher education. The War on Drugs The War on Drugs has been a failure. It is time to end prohibition and start treating addiction as a public health problem. Human Rights Senator Gravel is adamantly opposed to torture, indefinite detention, and the deprivation of lawyers/speedy trials. He opposes the Military Commissions Act, flagrant ignorance of the Geneva convention, and Guantanamo.
Psychologists believe that the members of Herzl's family suffered from a disease known as familial depressive illness.
Avi Beker, a political science professor at Georgetown University, ... paid tribute to the way mental illness can be confused with genius and dreams. He told those assembled at the memorial that Herzl and Sigmund Freud had lived on the same street in Vienna, though they had never met.
"Thank God they never met," Beker said. "[Freud] would have put [Herzl] on the couch; maybe that's the end of Zionism."
Mordecai Kaplan - founder of Reconstructionist Judaism - famously defined Judaism as "the evolving civilization of the Jewish people." He also was a notorious innovator, on the "left wing" of American Judaism, and not afraid to antagonize Jews of all stripes, most certainly the Orthodox. In fact he himself was excommunicated and his first Reconstructionist Prayer Book was burnt by Orthodox Jews in NYC in 1945.
Neither Kaplan nor his Orthodox opponents where deterred from expressing their opinions by an over concern for propriety, nor were they persuaded to hide their conflicts in order to promote a false "Jewish unity" for public consumption. Though Kaplan was certainly committed to the survival of the Jewish People, he was not cowed by a call for "Ahavat Yisrael" (the Love of Israel) in either his criticism of other Jews or of the State of Israel. Neither where his Orthodox opponents.
But that is precisely what living in a civilization means. While you are steeped in its symbols, metaphors, arguments, ideas, values - you don't necessarily support them all. Indeed you fight to shape the civilization to those values you hold most dear; to have it adopt the symbols and metaphors that speak loudest to you and disown the characteristics you find most troublesome; to shape the civilization in your own image. Criticizing other members of your civilization or its institutions can in fact be the height of communal commitment. It is a sign of caring and involvement. In the Jewish context, it can be motivated, as often as not, by "Ahavat Yisrael" as by its opposite.
What should matter, to those that are worried about the survival of Jewish civilization, is that people are involved. That they know the issues, symbols, images, and care enough to discuss them passionately and to express their opinions publicly is a good thing, and should be seen as such, and encouraged.
I was brought to this insight partly by this humorous ad (click on video above). Obviously created by and for secular Israelis, it pokes fun at the ultra-orthodox, in order to sell High Definition TV to Israelis. It makes use of images and symbols that will no doubt make Hasidim cringe. It uses their very opposition to modernity as a selling feature of HD TV. The implicit assumption of the advertiser is that, for secular Israelis, if the ultra-orthodox hate it, it must be good. Some will see this as sinat yisrael - hatred of fellow Jews. And indeed it might be. There is no love lost between secular and ultra-orthodox Israelis.
But it is also a sign that the secular Israelis - both the ad makers and the target audience - are steeped in a common Jewish civilization with their haredi counterparts. Non Jews (and probably and large number of North American Jews) will not get this ad - how perfectly it plays on ultra-orthodox "mishegaas". And how perfectly it says, "This is not the Jewish civilization that we want."
Sadly many Jewish institutions feel that much criticism is outside the pale. This only serves to make Judaism seem monolithic and boring. It drives people away, and makes the continued vibrancy and indeed survival of Jewish civilization a question mark. We need more chutzpadik ads, more edgy criticism, more debate - not less.
I thought everyone knew that the "Roman Exile" was just a metaphor. That while the Romans politically subjugated the Jews, banned them from, and eventually destroyed, Jerusalem, and generally made life miserable for Jews in the Land of Israel, they did not physically exile them as the Assyrians and Babylonians did. But apparently not.
A good discussion of the this issue an be found on the blog of The Magnes Zionist. I recommend it.