Thursday, February 28, 2008

222 to 4 !

222 to 4.

That the score in the Gaza border war since the end of the Annapolis "peace" conference.

Since November, Israel has killed 222 Palestinians. The Palestinians have killed 4 Israelis.

In the last two days, the score has been 31 to 1. At least 11, and probably more, of the Palestinians killed, have been innocent civilians. So has the lone Israeli.

Who started it?

Who cares !!!

The goal should be to stop it. But neither side seems really interested in that.

The Israelis could agree to negotiate with Hamas. To do a prisoner exchange to get back private Shalit. To include them in the peace talks with Abbas. To sign a separate Hudnah (armistice), which Hamas has loudly hinted it is willing to do.

What Hamas wants at this point is respect. They want to be in the game; not shunted aside, as Israel, the U.S. and Abbas hope. That they don't give a sh*t about the (short term) lives of ordinary Gazan's is shown by their determination to counter every Israeli move with an escalation of rockets. They seem to be determined to force Israel to negotiate with them, or die trying. Or to get Israel to re-invade Gaza, so they can give up responsibility for the miserable lives of the people, and at the same time start killing more Israeli soldiers. So far the people in Gaza seem to be going along. Pride is a powerful emotion.

Today, Hamas escalated the the game yet again. For the first time it fired medium range Iranian made Grad missiles into Ashkelon. These are not the homemade, very short range Qassam rockets they have used till now. And Ashkelon with 125,000 people, is not Sderot with 15,000 people.

Predictably Israel responded with heavy aerial bombing. 18 Palestinians were killed. Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai promised the Gazan's a Shoah (holocaust) if they continued rocketing into Israel. Tomorrow, no doubt, Hamas will increase its rockets into Israel.

We know what Hamas wants to achieve in this border war. But what does Israel want? It seems it wants to break Hamas completely. To force them to just give up. Or maybe it is hoping the Gazan people will become so miserable that they will rise up against Hamas and overthrow them. But miserable people do not rise up. They brood and hate. And their hate is more likely directed at Israel than Hamas.

Maybe if Israel would settle for peace and quiet along the border, a deal could be done.

But Israel does not believe in talking to "terrorists" (Or so it says this week.)

So the escalation will ramp up dangerously over the next days and weeks.

Oh, and by the way, you can kiss that Annapolis "peace" deal between Israel and Abbas goodbye. No one will seriously negotiate a long term peace while this is going on. But that's probably just hunky-dory with both Hamas and the current Israeli leadership. Both would rather stand on "principles".

For more background see this story from Reuters.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Israeli Democrats Back Clinton

Barak Obama swept the global primary held by Democrats abroad. Gloabally Obama beat Clinton 66% to 33%. He took Japan with 79% of the vote; Indonesia with 76%

The only countries that Hillary won where the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and (you guessed it) Israel. So, not only are Israelis in general out of sync with the American mood (Israel is the only country in the world where President Bush is more popular than he is in America itself.) Israeli Democrats seem to be out of touch with the mood of other Democrats, especially ex-pat Democrats.

I have no idea why or what it means (and I am open to hearing any reasonable explanation.) Maybe those rumours about Obama being a secret Muslim got some traction in Israel.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Justified, But Not Wise

A recent internet poll in Haaretz asked:

The killing of Hezbollah's deputy leader Imad Mughniyah was:
a. Justified and Wise
b. Justified but Not Wise
c. Targeted Killings Can Never Be Justified
Option (a) won, with over 60% of the votes. Option (c) came second with 28%. And option (b) came last, with just 12% of the votes.

I voted for the least popular (and whats new about that) - Justified but Not Wise.

Justified, because who can argue that a fellow like Mughniyah deserved to be punished with the harshest penalty available. If anyone deserved a death penalty this man did. This is the man who masterminded the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires. An anti-Semitic murderer if there ever was one.

But was it wise? Is Israel's security or the security of Jews everywhere increased or decreased by this assassination. Or is this just an act of revenge. Cathartic, and oh so clever.

Time will tell, but I assume that Mughnityah is replaceable in the Hizballah hierarchy. And by striking in Syria, does that increase or decrease Syria's willingness to come to terms with Israel. It certainly isn't likely to make Assad feel very positive about his peace feelers to Israel last summer.

And will Hizballah take this lying down, or will it renew efforts to strike against Israel and Jews around the world. Judging by the increased security warnings, it seems Israel and world Jewry are taking this threat seriously. Will we feel so smart and smug when an Israeli embassy or a Jewish centre is blown up as a revenge for our act of revenge.

So remind me again. Why this was necessary or wise?

For thoughts along similar lines see these articles in Haartez. One by Shmuel Rosner and the second by Gideon Levy.

On the other hand maybe Israel didn't do it at all! Maybe it was the CIA. ... Given their track record lately they would have blown up the wrong guy.

Time to Negotiate with Hamas?

I was disappointing to see that even the usually dovish Haaretz, this week came out in favour of a strong military response to rocket attacks from Hamas controlled Gaza.

The daily rocket barrages are "driving Israel's nuts", says Haaretz. The death of two Israeli brothers last week certainly raised the temperature. It had Israeli citizens - rightfully - demanding that their governmnet do something - anything - to address their security concerns. But why must all problem be addressed militarily? Indeed, it is pretty clear that the rockets cannot be stopped militarily - at least not in the short run. (There are some high tech anti rocket solutions on the horizon. They may work. But if they do, we can safely assume, the Palestinian radicals will find some other way to make Israelis' lives miserable.)

Everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten (or chosen to ignore or belittle) Hamas' offer for a long term cease fire - or Hudnah. Hamas has spoken of 20 years or longer. What's so bad about that. A long term cease fire - an Armistice - is, in fact, exactly what Israel signed with its Arab enemies in 1949. It gave Israel many years of relative peace and quiet.

Stopping the daily tit for tat violence is a pre-requisite for any hope of normalization and eventual peace. Why not try it? The military "solution" may be what Israel is comfortable with: it has tried it so many times before. But, at best, it brings a short term emotional catharsis. In the long term - as far as dealing with the Palestinians is concerned - it only creates more problems. It has proven over and over that it is no solution at all.

Why don't we try negotiations?

Kosovo Declares Independance

Kosovo, the breakaway province of Sebia, declared independence today. Germany, England, and France are expected to annoiunce recognition within 48 hours, and the rest of the Europan Union to follow suit. The U.S. is leaning to recognition, but has made no official decsion.

Kosovo — a predominantly Muslim, poor, landlocked territory of two million -- has been a United Nations protectorate since 1999, policed by 16,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops. In the civil war of the 1998-99 an estimated 10,000 civilians were killed most of them Albanians, while 1,500 Serbs perished in revenge killings that followed. Another 5,000 people were reported missing, of which half were never found.

In some ways, Kosovo reminds me of the West Bank, and the Kosovo Albanians of the Palestineans. The Israeli's, of course, are then cast in the role of the Serbs. Serbia views Kosovo as its historic heartland. Serbs have great emotional attachment to Kosovo's hills and historic sites. Unfortunately for the Serbs however, they long ago migrated north and west, and the majority of Kosovo residence today are ethnic Albanians and Muslims to boot. Serb identity was largely forged by their struggles against the Muslim Turks in the 13th and 14th centuries.

But despite fierce Serb opposition, backed by their ally Russia, it looks like the Kosovars will gate away with this. Serbia has, wisely IMO, said it will not use military force to re-integrate Kosovo. I suspect that Kosovo independence will be a blessing in disguise for Serbia. If Serbs learn to let go, than in 10 or 20 years, the may find themselves integrated into the EU, and there economy growing again. The Kosovo issue just kept them mired in the past, focused on the wring issues for success in the modern world, and outcasts from Europe.

Is there a lesson here for Israel and Palestine? Perhaps. Its something to think about.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Obama's Secret Jewish Connection Revealed

Sometimes Barak Obama seems to be running a religious revival more than a political campaign.

And there seems to be a secret Jewish connection. In his victory speech last night, he ended with words. "You and I, together, we can change the world." - words reminiscent of the 1980's Israeli pop hit "Ani v Ata" [nishaneh et haolam] ("I and you will change the world.") He has laced his speeches of late with the phrase "repair the world" - a direct translation of the Hebrew kabalistic phrase "Tikkun Olam". And in the video above the language is English (and American Sign Language) except for two phrase - you guessed it - in Hebrew. (Look for the Jewish looking woman who twice sings ken anu y'cholim at 1:08 and 1:43.)

The video was produced by Jesse Dylan, Jewish. Coincidence? I think not!


No One Will be Charged for Killing 13 Israeli Arabs.

The lives of Arabs in Israel are cheap. We know this by the casual way in which Israel accepts "collateral damage" in its attacks on Palestinian military, political, and terrorist targets. Overall the kill rate is about 4 collateral deaths for each successful assassination.

And now we know this true not only of Palestinians in the territories, who are at fault for living close to and "likely supporting" "legitimate targets", but also regrading Israeli citizens of Arab ethnicity. In October 2000, Israeli Arabs where demonstrating against the huge casualties inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians in the first days of the 2nd intifada. (In the first four days of the Second Intifada 3 Israelis where killed - 2 soldiers in the West Bank - and and 35 Palestinians where killed! By the end of October 2000 the score was 11 Israelis - 8 soldiers - and 115 Palestinians civilians killed. There had yet to be any bombings.) Israeli Arabs demanded an end to heavy handed crackdown, and an end to the occupation. Both legitimate opinions for Israeli citizens, and opinions shared by a significant number of Israeli Jews. The demonstration turned in to a minor riot. But the Israel Police called in a heavy duty response, and 13 Israeli citizens, all Arabs where shot dead by Israeli police. None was armed.

The government formed a public inquiry commission. The Orr commission reported back in no uncertain terms that the riot was fueled in large part by years of discrimination against Israel's Arab minority, and that the police response was inappropriate, excessive and fueled in large part by racism. It recommended that charges and disciplinary actions be laid against appropriate police officers.

Since then the police have been investigating themselves. One senior officer involved in the orders to shoot has retired early. And now the police have decided to close the case. No one will be charged and no one will be disciplined.

And almost no one in Israel cares or is making a stink. Thirteen citizens shot, and no one is at fault, no one is to blame , no one will be punished. Arabs life in Israel is cheap, and Jews should not be surprised when more and more Israeli Arabs find it hard to support a "Jewish Democratic State". They have seen just how "fair" such a state can be.

Below is a statement by Givat Haviva. It is remarkable mostly for its restraint.

Givat Haviva and the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace view with much
concern the decision of the Attorney General, Mr. Meni Mazouz, to
end the investigation of police officers who were involved in the
killing of 13 Israeli Arab citizens during the events of October
2000. The decision not to charge any of those responsible for these
tragic consequences is in direct opposition to the recommendations
of the Orr Commission, encourages discrimination on an ethnic basis
and damages the essential fabric of relations between the sectors of
Israeli society, Jews and Arabs.

We view this decision as a blow against democracy and damage to the
shared moral infrastructure of Israeli society. We are worried at
the delegitimacy that this decision causes to the Arab public and
the distancing and tensions that it creates between Arabs and Jews
and between the Arab community and governmental bodies.

We call upon the decision makers, on the Arab leadership and on the
media to take upon themselves the responsibility to bring this
matter before Israeli society and to handle it in a responsible and
professional manner with no incitement or racist overtones. The
media especially must serve as a civic tool to provide service to
all citizens of the state and not to provide a stage to those who
would deny Israeli Arabs' legitimacy and citizenship. We believe
that no society can accept such an injury to its citizens without
finding those responsible and bringing them to justice - this we
will continue to pursue.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Obama Deemed Kosher

Despite attempts by conservatives and right wingers to paint Barak Obama as anti-Israel, anti-semitic, and even (heaven forfend!) a secret Muslim , it turns out that many Jews voted for him in the recent Super Tuesday primaries. Obama got the majority of the Jewish vote in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and split the Jewish vote in California, while Hilary Clinton got the majority of the Jewish vote in New York, New Jersey, and Florida.

What is more significant than absolute numbers however, is that in virtually every state, Obama got a larger percentage of of the Jewish vote than he did of either whites in general, or high income earners in general, or the college educated in general. In other words, Obama's has Jews voting for him in greater numbers than their non-Jewish neighbors with the same demographic characteristics.

(Source: JTA Feb 6, 2008)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is Torture a Jewish Value?

Today, the Whitehouse admitted that the U.S has used "waterboarding" in the past and may use it in the future. Most of the world considers waterboarding torture, and it is banned by various international treaties.

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke before Congress and decided not to comment on whether he believes the interrogation technique known as waterboarding is to be considered torture.

Waterboarding, is a method of interrogation that essentially simulates drowning. A person is forced to lie face up, rag stuffed down his throat and over his head, as water is poured over the face and into the breathing passages. Even though death is not imminent, the person is made to believe that it is. Waterboarding causes extreme pain, damage to the lungs, possible brain damage, broken bones, psychological effects, and if performed incorrectly, death.

When asked by Sen. Edward Kennedy, if waterboarding would be considered torture if it were done to him, Mukasey replied, "I would feel that it was."

With Mukasey's acknowledgement of the cruel nature of the interrogation technique, it raises the question of why he would refuse to consider it illegal. Apparently, the CIA and the Pentagon stopped using the technique in 2006. However, if the Justice Department were to explicitly define waterboarding as illegal, CIA interrogators could be susceptible to legal action in either U.S. or international courts.

But that is not a consideration that an Attorney General should deal with. Especially one who is an Orthodox Jew, and claims to be guided by Jewish ethics and commitment to justice.

Not only is Mukasey's waffling, allowing criminals to get away free, his acts - or lack of them - are defacto legalizing waterboarding in the U.S. and allowing it to be used again whenever deemed necessary.
"... waterboarding's use in the past was also approved by the attorney general, meaning it was legal and not torture."
I asked, in a previous blog entry, whether the first Jewish Attorney General would be a source of pride or shame to the Jewish community. Sadly, I think, the answer is now clear. People who realize Mukasey is a religious Jew (thankfully not everyone) will ask themselves: "is torture is a Jewish value?" And that is a real Chilul Hashem!

Rabbi Bunko

The Rubashkin family really are too much !

The same family that brought us Aaron's brand - cruel but ostensibly kosher meats; the owners of Agriprocessors - one of the most awful meat packing plants in the U.S. (see my earlier blog entries on this subject), have now been fined for illegally storing toxic chemicals at a textile plant they owned. To top it off, they apparently denied owning the property, when questioned by U.S. federal officials.

Read all about it on Ha'aretz.

My favorite quote from the article:

Rubashkin's brother-in-law is the prominent Republican fundraiser Rabbi Milton Balkany, nicknamed Rabbi Bunco, due his fundraising tactics.
These guys give Shylock a bad name.

Thoughts on Super Tuesday

1. American politics are still mired in race and gender. Identity politics still trumps policy. Obama gets 90% of the black vote in Georgia. Hilary get 60% of the female vote in California. She also gets 68% of the Latino vote and 63% of the Asian vote. (Minorities typically resent blacks for hogging all the minority "victim status" and government "goodies".)

2. White men (at least Democratic and Independent white men) are supporting Obama. Either they are the only group in America to rise above identity politics, or they simply have a harder time imagining a woman as an effective president than a black man. In other words, for white men, gender is a bigger negative than race.

3. Six percent of voters for Obama admitted that gender was a factor in their voting. (The real number is likely double that. People don't like to admit their prejudices.) Nine percent of Hilary voters admitted that race was a factor in their voting decision. (Again the real number is likely double.) These numbers where among Democratic voters. They are likely even higher among the general population. This could bode ill for the Democrats in the November general election. McCain clearly has some advantages no one wants to talk about.

4. Polls show that McCain has a slight advantage over Hilary, but that Obama has a slight advantage over McCain.

5. The fact that McCain has a good chance of winning the November general election, despite his support for expanding an unpopular war, and his general lack of interest in the economy just as America is slipping into a major economic funk, only underscores how shallow and stupid American politics has become. Its 90% image and personality. McCain is likeable - and certainly more straightforward and honest than your typical politician - but he is wrong, and out of sync with the popular view, on very many issues.

6. I have no idea who I am rooting for. I'm still looking for an honest and experienced black woman war hero, who looks to the future and exudes hope.