Thursday, March 30, 2006

The coalition battles begin

Today in the Jerusalem Post there was a page of opinions on what the results
of the elections mean, and the contributions varied all over the place, from
this was the first really "social" election in our history, to this gives a
mandate to Olmert to unilaterally withdraw, to this wasn't enough of a
mandate to do anything really serious, to this represents a defeat for the
right, to this represents the apathy of the electorate.
The right received less seats than usual, a total of 32 (Israel Beiteinu 12,
Likud 11, NU-NRP 9), but the far left did poorly too, with Meretz getting
only 4 seats as opposed to 8 in the last Knesset, and the Arab parties got 10
seats altogether. The left's policy of engagement with the Palestinians and
an emphasis on negotiations was also definitely rejected.
Whereas in the US there are only 2 parties and in the UK there are 3, in
Israel there will be 12 parties in the Knesset, and with Kadima's majority
quite small, and with 5 parties with a moderate number of seats: Shas (13),
Israel Beiteinu (12), Likud (11), NU-NRP (9), Gil (Pensioners)(7), it makes
the outcome almost impossible to predict. This highlights the problem of the
Israeli proportional representation system, it is more democratic but we end
up being ruled by party functionaries, not local representatives. We need a
new system, but how to get it?
Olmert has started coalition talks with Labor, and there is already a dispute
over who will get the Finance Ministry. Since Olmert is basically a
conservative (remember that he was in Likud for 30 years) and Peretz is a
socialist, this is not unexpected. Olmert knows that if he turns over the
economy to Peretz, then he will undo all the good things that Netanyahu has
done for the economy (for which he was punished by the electorate), and
reverse the improved economic situation. The markets will fall, we will have
increased inflation, and the poor won't be helped as much as they should be.
A Kadima spokesperson said that turning over the Treasury to Peretz would
be equivalent to turning over the Defense Ministry to Lieberman, it simply
won't happen. There is a report that the socioeconomic parties, Labor, Shas
and the Pensioners (with a total of 40 mandates) will negotiate with Olmert
as a 'social bloc' in order to take control of all the social ministries
(Interior, Health, Social affairs, Education, Trade and Labor). But, there is
a remote possibility that Olmert could form a coalition without Labor. In
that case he would definitely need Shas and Israel Beitenu. The latter is
problematic, because although Lieberman has stated that he wants to be in
the coalition, he is opposed to all withdrawals, including the so-called
"convergence plan" that Olmert has floated. That would close down all the
illegal and some legal settlements, and concentrate all the settlers into
the major settlement blocs, Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim, and Etzion, and then
annex those to Israel.
This period is like a chess game with many players, and Olmert holding most
of the pieces. But, he'll have to give up a lot of them and that is hard to
do. Its especially hard when some of the parties, such as the Pensioners, have
no idea what they want. The question is whether or not their representatives
with an average age well up into the seventies will survive the next four

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The election results

The election for the 17th Israeli Knesset is over. The projected election results have many implications, for the future, here are some interpretations:
- The turnout was the lowest in Israeli history, only 63% voted, compared to 68% last time. However, this is still higher than most western nations, including the USA. It was thought that a low turnout would help the right, but this doesn't seem to have transpired.
- This election represents a watershed, in that for the first time the majority of Israelis have apparently decided that there is no point trying to make peace with the Palestinians. Israelis want to disengage from them and do what is in Israel's interest to bring about as peaceful a life as possible. They haven't given up totally on the two state solution, but they have delayed it indefinitely, Both sides will now be mutually disengaged from each other. This attitude has also allowed some Israelis to focus on domestic issues.
- Kadima won, but with a lower majority than expected, instead of up to 45 seats under Sharon, they are projected to receive 28, quite a come down. The question is, does this reduced majority give Ehud Olmert enough of a mandate to pursue his stated intention of unilateral disengagement from the West Bank and can he form a strong enough coalition on this basis?
- Most of Kadima's votes came from Likud, that is practically crushed as a party with only 11 seats in the next Knesset, down to fifth place. Although Bibi gave a defiant speech, he may well face a strong challenge from Silvan Shalom for leadership of the party. The irony is that if Bibi had not challenged Sharon for control of Likud, causing him to split away, he might well have been Sharon's inheritor in place of Olmert. As it is, Likud will be in the opposition.
- Labor did well under Peretz to obtain 20 seats, the same as they had in the previous Knesset. Peretz' emphasis on social issues may well have saved the Party. Most likely they will form a Kadima-Labor coalition with a bloc of 48 seats.
- Shas with 13 seats came third in the race. If Shas and United Torah Judaism (6) join the coalition as expected that will bring it to a core total of 67 (61 is the minimum requirement).
- The two most surprising results were that Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel our home") under Avigdor Lieberman came fourth with 13 seats and the Pensioner's Party (Gil or "age"), that was hardly heard from before, won 7. If Gil join the Kadima-Labor-Shas-UTJ coalition this raises the total number of seats to 74, more than enough to govern with. Olmert may prefer a Center-Left coalition with Meretz (5 seats), reaching 72. A Center-Left coalition with Gil will give 79.
- Note that IB is a right wing party, principally made up of Russian immigrants, so the idea that the right as a whole was trounced is untrue. In order to join the coalition Government as Lieberman wants (raising the total to a possible 92!) IB will have to agree to accept Olmert's policies.
- But, each party in the coalition requires its own set of Ministerial positions, so Olmert is faced with a series of delicate negotiations. On the other hand he is in a strong position. He has 45 days in which to form his coalition once he is invited to do so by President Katsav.
Not being a supporter of Kadima, I listened to Olmert's victory speech with some reservations. But, I found it a good speech, that laid out the options quite clearly, much more specifically than Sharon usually expressed. Olmert emphasized the need for domestic unity. He said he would prefer to negotiate with the PA Government, but If there is no Palestinian partner on the other side, Israel will decide its final borders unilaterally. This will require some movement of Israeli settlers into major blocs and their incorporation into Israel. Economically the country is split between rich and poor and social distinctions must be tackled seriously. Overall Olmert is committed to a Jewish and democratic state. Let's hope from here on things will go smoothly for our beloved country.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Lessons of the Rwandan Genocide

Last night we watched a movie on TV called "Sometimes in April." The title
is not very informative, since it does not tell you that this is about the
massacres in Rwanda. It tells the story through a family of two Hutu
brothers, one a soldier married to a Tutsi woman with three children, and the
other a member of the RTLF radio station that was used by the extreme
Hutu party to give information about when and where to capture and kill
The UN withdrew under pressure just before the massacres started in April
1993, so it is disingenuous of them to say that they did not know what was
planned. The trigger for the massacres was the assassination of the moderate
Hutu President Habyalmana, when his plane was shot down by a missile because
the extremists had decided he had given too many concessions at peace talks
with the Tutsi Rwandan Liberation Front.
It is often difficult to tell the difference between Hutu and Tutsi, but the
Tutsis tend to be taller and have Somali type looks while the Hutus are more
negroid. The modern antagonism between the tribes was exacerbated when
the Belgians starting in the early 1900's chose the Tutsis (only 10% of the
population) to be their administrators, while the Hutus were reserved for
manual work. After the Belgians left in 1962, the Hutus took power and
persecuted the Tutsis. As a result the Tutsi-led resistance RLF movement
was established.
But, this time the Hutus had decided to rid the country of Tutsis altogether,
by using a program of genocide! They referred to Tutsis as "cockroaches,"
as a way to dehumanize them. The murders were well organized, the Army
and extremist militias had lists of people, including any Hutus who were
suspected of being supportive of the Tutsis. In the case in the movie, which
seemed very authentic and accurate, the family of the soldier is targeted, and
his brother tries to get them out of Kigali, but they are stopped at numerous
checkpoints and the two boys are killed. The mother is badly wounded and
takes refuge in a church, but that doesn't save her. The daughter is in a
girl's school, and when the girls refuse to be separated, the Army kills all
of them, hundreds are machine gunned.
Eventually the RLF invaded and defeated the Rwandan Hutu Army and the
militias and took control. Most of the guilty Hutu, who murdered their
neighbors and former friends in a killing frenzy, left for the Congo where
they lived in camps, until they were repatriated. The brother is later
captured and tried for conspiracy to murder. But, too few were captured and
the trials dragged on.
The similarities to the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis in Europe are very
compelling. The slogan of "never again" is just that. Maybe it was because
they were black, and Rwanda is not a strategic area. But, the same things
happened in the Balkans a few years later, with the Serbs massacring the
Bosnian Muslims and vice versa. It can happen anytime, anywhere. The fact
that the Tutsis were unarmed civilians left them defenseless, nearly 1 million
were murdered in the space of a year.
If the Iran-backed, Hamas-led Government of the PA were able to invade
Israel there is no doubt in my mind that they would go on a similar genocidal
killing spree here!
By contrast, I have no doubt that our IDF would NOT do the same, since we
"occupied" Gaza and the West Bank, containing ca. 2.5 million Palestinians,
for 30 years and hardly a few thousand have been killed, and those mainly
terrorists. Also, 20% of the Israeli population are Arabs, and they live
safely here. In fact, a meeting in Umm-al-Fahm, a large Arab town nearby,
yesterday protested the policy of the Israel Beitanu (Israel Our Home) Party
of Avigdor Lieberman, that favors transferring Israeli Arabs to Palestine.
The Israeli Arabs want to remain in Israel and stay part of this country.
That must prove something.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Winning stratagem

I had a French friend who once told me an interesting story about how his
uncle had become the youngest Professor of Chemistry in France, where
it used to be notorious that Professors remained in office until they were
carried out. When he was a graduate student, to decide where to go to do his
equivalent to Assistant Professor, his uncle did a small research project. He
analyzed the median age of all the Professors in all the Chemistry Departments
in France, and then he went to the one with the oldest mean age. By doing
this he expected to be able to replace one of the oldest when he either died
or was forced to retire. The stratagem worked, he went to a small city in
northeast France, not one of the most desirable, but the one with the highest
median age, and he became full professor at the young age of 32. Because of
his young age he became famous, and so was then able to transfer to the most
prestigious University in France, the Sorbonne in Paris (this is a true story,
I met him some years ago).
I thought of this story when I saw Acting PM Olmert in recent ads and
news stories, gazing across the West Bank, looking towards the future. All
politicians are opportunists to a degree. Olmert went from being Mayor of
Jerusalem, to be PM Sharon's "yes" man and trial balloon artist. He lost any
real credibility he had himself when he became Sharon's shadow, his creature.
But, it was a great career move, because Sharon at the age of 82, running for
office again, was definitely on the downward turn of his life's curve.
So Olmert made a clever career move, although he may not have realized
himself that hitching his planet to a dying solar system might catapult him
into the star position so quickly, but his stratagem was a success.
Failing a very unexpected upset in the election next Tuesday, Olmert will
become PM, and will set Israel on a new course, whereby there is no
Palestinian partner to deal with, because Hamas is so extreme, and the
Israeli public are fed up with and want to be disengaged from the
Palestinians. It is an attractive concept, but we cannot know in the long
run whether or not it can be carried out successfully or whether Olmert is
capable of seeing it through.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The terrorist chase

On Tues March 21, a high speed chase occurred on the main highway (Route 1)
between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A white van drove at high speed through two
temporary checkpoints, set up by the IDF because of a high security threat of
a suicide bombing. Both a helicopter and police cars gave chase and the van
was stopped about halfway on the way to Tel Aviv, near where the new
railroad bridge is being built.
The police were surprised to find ten Palestinians in the van, and a bag
containing an explosive of 7 kg, enough to cause significant damage. They
arrested and stripped all of the occupants and identified the one who was
supposed to blow himself up in Tel Aviv. He is a 20 year old member of
Islamic Jihad from the village of Yamoun near Nablus on the West Bank.
Last week an attempt by the Border Police to capture a terrorist in Yamoun
failed. There was an exchange of gunfire, but the terrorist being sought
escaped, and unfortunately a 10 year old girl was killed in the crossfire. An
enquiry is proceeding into her death. Although she may have been killed by
Palestinian gunfire, which is notoriously inaccurate, supposedly this planned
suicide attack was an attempt at revenge.
This incident shows that Islamic Jihad is trying very hard to carry out a
bombing before the election, hence the high threat level. Since we were in
Jerusalem that day we missed the terrible hold-up that took hours to clear.
Noone ever mentions the inconvenience to Israelis of these checkpoints forced
on us by the necessity to check for Palestinian terrorists. In this case the
checkpoints worked and the bomber was caught before he could detonate
himself in a crowd. Hopefully some useful information was also gathered.
On Wednesday, another attack was foiled when an IDF force captured a terrorist
and two accomplices in Ramallah. This upsurge of terrorist activity is related
to a payment of m$1.8 from Iran to the West Bank to support actions to
disrupt the Israeli elections. Although the West Bank is officially closed,
nevertheless some people are allowed in, and there are gaps in the Jerusalem
fence that are not fully policed.
On Thursday, another gang of three terrorists were detected near the Gaza
border fence and were hit with tank and aerial rockets. They were killed
and their explosive of 50 kg (enough to destroy a tank) was detonated. We
can expect further daily attempts at least until the election next Tuesday.
For previous messages see:

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cincinnatus and Drybones

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman Senator and General ca. 500 bce
who was reputed to be a most honest citizen. On two occasions he was
called from his farm and made dictator to take up the defense of Rome, once
against the barbarians and once from a plebeian uprising. On each occasion he
defeated the enemy and then resigned his dictatorship and retired back to his
farm, taking nothing for himself.
This selfless patriotism earned him the reputation of an honest politician and
a model citizen. An organization of American officers and patriots was
founded in 1783 named The Society of the Cincinnati. The city of Cincinnati
was named after them.
I mention this example when confronted by the agonizing choice that we here
are faced with now. A few days ago we heard Yaakov Kirschen, the humorist
who draws the "Drybones" cartoons in the Jerusalem Post, speak at the AACI.
He said that if Ariel Sharon woke up from his coma today he would have a
heart attack, seeing Olmert in his place. He said Kadima is like a tail
without the dog.
He didn't like the other choices either, he made some derogatory comments
about Peretz and Netanyahu. So he accepted an invitation to lecture in the
US on Election day, so that he won't have to make the difficult choice and
vote for someone he doesn't like.
He told some amusing stories about travel in the US, how he once flew on an
airline called Kiwi, and how the plane backed into a truck. They fixed the
damage with a screwdriver and then took off. He said that now that he has
lived in Israel since 1971 he no longer can communicate with American Jews.
He finds it impossible to understand them, first they complain about how the
IDF mistreats poor Palestinians at checkpoints, and then about building this
terrible apartheid separation wall, and if he mentions suicide bombers they
seem to have a block at understanding him. So he's stuck, he can't go back,
but he can't vote for a good leader here either.
The juxtaposition of Cincinnatus and Drybones is a very unlikely one, but if
only we had an Israeli equivalent so that Kirschen would want to stay here to
Correction: About my message entitled "Finding lost Jews" on 15/3/6:
1. Gloria Mound, Director of the Center for Marrano-Anusim Studies,
Gan Yavne, wishes me to make clear that she did not give me permission
to describe the AGM that I attended there.
2. She was never in Puerto Rico, but met the couple from there in Israel.
3. She initially presented their case at the Chief Rabbinate.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

G&S satire

Tues night in Jerusalem we went to the opening of "HMS Pinafore,"
one of Gilbert & Sullivan's most successful plays. It was put on by the
Jerusalem English Speaking Theater (JEST), an amateur group, and the
Jerusalem G&S Society. It was very well done, the principal players had
excellent voices and the whole thing was a lot of fun. We went to their
production of "Pirates of Penzance" two years ago, and I wrote about that
The object this time is to point out the difference between G&S and most
American musicals. G&S were definitely making stinging social comment,
while most American musicals are purely for entertainment value. Not that
that's necessarily against them, they have become classics, such musicals as
"Oklahoma," "Carousel" and this year's LOGON presentation, Cole Porter's
"Anything goes," could hardly be called satirical. But, in G&S they
lambasted the Victorian powers-that-be in a way rarely equaled since. For
example, one of my favorites: "I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee,"
When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
As office boy I made such a mark
That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.
I served the writs with a smile so bland,
And I copied all the letters in a big round hand—
I copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
In serving writs I made such a name
That an articled clerk I soon became;
I wore clean collars and a brand-new suit
For the pass examination at the Institute,
And that pass examination did so well for me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.
But that kind of ship so suited me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule—
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!
Now if you were a Lord of the British Admiralty I doubt you would find this
quite so funny.
In pursuing their satire of Victorian mores and hypocrisy, G&S managed to
savage most "holy cows." For example, once I took a Japanese friend to a
presentation of "The Mikado," not a conspicuously intelligent thing to do.
But, I explained to him that in those days criticism of the Monarchy and the
Royal Family was unacceptable, so they did it by satirizing the Japanese
Royal family as a substitute. This is a common stratagem of playwrights,
Shakespeare used it to satirize Queen Elizabeth, which if he had done so
directly it would have been "off with his head!" Mikhail Bulgakov in "The
Master and Margharita" managed to satirize Stalin and get away with it.
So I recommend G&S, not only for their likeable tunes, but for their role
in satirizing Victorian England and helping to bring them down to size.

The coming oil crisis?

A few weeks ago a minor news item flashed across our screens, and was then
lost in the electronic noise. But, it could have had major implications.
On Friday Feb 24, a car and a truck rolled up to the gate of the Abqaiq oil
refinery complex, the largest such facility in the world. The alert Saudi
guards were suspicious and fired on them, and they exploded, killing the
occupants and two guards. No damage was done to the refinery, yet in New York
the price of oil jumped $2 per barrel as a result of this unsuccessful attack.
The attack was claimed by al Qaeda on a website often used by them. Industry
experts calculated that had the attack been successful in halting production
at this "jugular" of the world's oil supply, where 7% of the world's
production is located, the price would have risen from ca. $60 to at least $80
per barrel.
A CNN program entitled, "We were warned: tomorrow's energy crisis," had an
interesting scenario: suppose a large storm similar to Katrina hits the Texas
coast around Houston, where a large proportion of the US oil refinery capacity
is located, and knocks out production, and shortly thereafter, al Qaeda mounts
a successful attack at Abqaiq, halting its production, then an energy crisis
would ensue that would result in a doubling of the crude oil price to ca. $150
per barrel. The price of gasoline in the US would triple, trucks would stop
running, airplanes would practically stop flying, and people would stop using
their cars because of the overall energy bill. Life as we know it would be
The reason why this combination of events would have such a drastic effect is
that there is no current alternative that could alleviate the impact of such a
crisis. The US oil reserve would be opened and crude oil would flood the US
market, but without refinery capacity it would be useless. No new refineries
have been built in the US in 30 years, and with the bulk of them around the
Gulf damaged, there would be no spare capacity to process the crude oil
Various alternative energy sources of oil have been proposed. First amongst
these is the oil shales in Western Canada, the main Athabasca deposit in
Alberta, which is the second largest oil deposit in the world after Saudi
Arabia. But production there, while huge, is still in its infancy and
certainly not sufficient by an order of magnitude to cope with such an oil
deficit. It will probably take at least ten years before the production there
reaches that level.
Another alternative is ethanol production that is booming in such places as
Brazil, where huge areas are given over to growing sugar cane that is then
processed to sugar and eventually to ethanol. Many areas of Brazil use a
mixture of gasoline and ethanol. But, even though huge areas of land are
under sugar cane cultivation, it is still nowhere nearly enough to ameliorate
a drastic world downturn in oil supply. Other alternatives, such as wind
mills and tidal energy production are miniscule by comparison and some are
still in the research phase.
So what would we be able to do? In the short term the answer is nothing! We
hope our Governments and their experts are aware of this potential energy/oil
crisis. One well aimed blow at the jugular of oil production in Saudi Arabia
could be al Qaeda's follow-up to 9/11. Not so many people would be killed in
such a dramatic way, but our way of life could be altered forever.
Many of us don't like or trust the Saudis. But, one must admit that on this
score their interests and ours coincide. They certainly don't want to see
their oil production capacity halted, with the consequences for their own
income and investments. Even though they were responsible for indoctrinating
most of the world's Muslims to the extreme Wahhabi version of Islam, they are
definitely the enemies of al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden would like nothing more
than to overthrow the Saudis and throw all Westerners out of Arabia. It is
the American responsibility to see that Saudi Arabia remains stable and intact
and that the world's oil supply flows without restriction. How the situation
in Iraq will impact on the future stability of Saudi Arabia is a major
question for American foreign policy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Although the US and EU have remained steadfast in refusing to deal directly
with a Hamas-led Government in the PA, they have opted for the alternative of
supplying "humanitarian aid." What exactly is "humanitarian aid"? Aid is
fungible, it can easily be transferred without detection to other purposes
than that for which it is intended.
Some of the aid will now be passed thru the UN Relief and Welfare Agency
(UNRWA). UNRWA funds are used for the indoctrination of children in
anti-Israel polemic in schools run by UNRWA, the glorification of martyrs,
after whom some of the schools are named, and for the support of terrorist
training camps in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Lebanon, Jordan and
Syria, where other UNRWA camps are located.
The Palestinians get aid far beyond the amount of any other group in the world
(ca. b$1 per year for ca. 2.5 million people in the PA), and UNRWA is not
bound by the usual rules of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
that deals with all other refugees. For example, UNHCR recognizes only
refugees as those who actually leave their country, NOT descendents, while
Palestinians have been refugees for three generations!
The name of UNRWA should more accurately be "The UN Palestinian
Struggle Support Organization." And it is supported principally by
Western countries (your tax dollars!), that Hamas and most Palestinians
bitterly oppose. Let the Muslim countries support their Palestinian brothers
with aid if they agree with their aims and their tactics. UNRWA exists
principally to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee situation. The best chances
for a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict is to close UNRWA
A letter on this topic was published in the J'sam Post 3/10/6
For previous blogs see:

Monday, March 20, 2006


With just eight days to go before the crucial Israeli election, I cannot think
of anything to write that hasn't already been said. In this election we have
the largest proportion of "undecideds" than we have ever had before, 22%.
Why is that? Well, probably because we have a new party leading the polls,
and people are relatively undecided what to do about it.
Do they abandon their traditional parties, Likud and Labor, and follow the
"centrists" to Kadima, or do they remain with them? Do they transfer to one
of the smaller parties that represent special interests, such as the religious
(Ashkenazi or Sephardi), or anti-religious (the remains of Shinui), or the
greens (environmentalists), or the greenleafs (pot smokers), or the right
(National Union-NRP) or do they stick with one of the three main parties?
I must say that of the three main parties, only one seems to have no guiding
principles, namely Kadima. That is because it is centrist, and it's main
raison d'etre is that it is neither right nor left. At least Peretz is
definitely left, he is prepared to give up everything to the Palestinians as
long as they give him enough time to give away the government's money to
the poor.
Netanyahu is definitely right, he will neither yield territory nor advantage
to a Hamas Government in the PA, period. Olmert is prepared to risk
further unilateral moves, over the next four years, and see what happens.
Khalid Mashaal, the Hamas leader in Syria, stated explicitly that the
main task of Hamas is to destroy the State of Israel. No ifs ands or buts.
For my vote, I require someone who will be steadfast in opposing this
imminent threat. Olmert scored some points with the right by carrying out
the attack on the Jericho jail, and successfully capturing the murderers of
Minister Ze'evi, but in effect that was an 'no brainer.' The IDF had
been on alert for the British and American monitors leaving their posts for
some time, so the operation was well planned in advance. Any Israeli
Government, even Labor, would probably have gone ahead with it. No,
we need someone more serious than Olmert, who has the will and the
capability to face off with Hamas, and so far the only alternative is
It was not without careful analysis that the initial Likud ads showed
Netanyahu playing chess with his father. Playing chess is a way of saying
that he would be prepared to play the political game and make the clever
moves, and also it should endear him to the Russians, who love chess.
But, as things go now, it appears that Kadima will win with around 40 seats,
Labor and Likud will roughly tie with 15-18, and then there will be three
parties, National Union-NRP, Shas and Israel Beitenu each with 10. If you
are a God-fearing person, best vote for Shas, if you don't one of their
Rabbis announced that all who vote for secular parties will be cursed!
The real fun will start after the election when most likely Olmert will try to
form a coalition, and we'll see whether or not Peretz and Netanyahu survive.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ireland in Israel

Last night we went to a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the local pub. I kid
you not! It was held on March 18, in deference to Israeli realities, since
March 17 evening fell on Shabbat. 'Le Pub' at the nearby Carmel Hotel held
its annual St. Patrick's Day celebration, organized by the Israel Ireland
Friendship Association. It was replete with an Irish band, named "Emerald",
authentic Irish dancing, and the new Irish Ambassador to Israel, Michael
Forbes, who came and sat down and talked to us, he was most friendly and
gracious. Contrary to rumor there was no kosher green beer.
Of course, there were a lot of Irish immigrants present, Netanya seems to be
their center. The band, which was very good, was made up of a mixture of
Irish Jewish immigrants to Israel and others, notably Israeli-born and
American immigrants. The dancing was done by a group from a local dancing
school, that specifically learned an Irish dance for the occasion. They and
their teacher were all Russian Jewish immigrants to Israel, so it was quite a
melting pot. The other dancers who were Israelis were really authentic,
calling themselves Rince (Gaelic for dance) two Israeli men and a girl, who
has a diploma in Caille dancing (I suppose its the soft shoe form) from a
school in Dublin. They also did jigs and tap dances.
The President of the IIFA said that he was going to talk to his counterpart in
Ireland, and try to organize an exchange, so that the Irish group would visit
Israel and the Israeli group would visit Ireland in complementary exchanges.
The Ambassador spoke briefly (it was a noisy bar) about the common features of
Irish and Jewish Diaspora, and how Jews had played a role in Irish
independence, including the family of former President Herzog of Israel, whose
father had been the Chief Rabbi of Ireland. The Ambassador admitted that
relations between Israel and Ireland had not been as friendly as they should
be (mainly because Ireland has taken a decidedly pro-Palestinian position in
recent years). But, as I pointed out to him later, now that Ireland is a rich
country (its GDP per capita was $34,280 in 2004, while Israel's was $17,380)
it is hardly appropriate for it to have a third world foreign policy. There
have also been some prominent Irish supporters of Israel, such as Conor Cruise
O'Brien, former UN representative of Ireland and author of the excellent book,
"The Siege: the Saga of Israel and Zionism."
Many years ago we had an Irish friend who marveled at how Israel had managed
to resuscitate its own ancient language, Hebrew, while Ireland had not managed
to do the same with Gaelic. Of course, there are reasons for this, including
the fact that Jewish immigrants came to Israel from 90 countries speaking many
languages, and so needed a lingua franca.
Ireland and Israel have much in common, including size and relative stage of
development. The amount of goodwill for Ireland evidenced at last night's
celebration should be a basis on which to build, but not a one-way street.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Jericho jail capture

The action by the IDF in capturing the jail in Jericho, and taking captive the
five prisoners who were incarcerated there for the murder of Israeli Tourism
Minister Rehavam Ze'evi, was highly justified. It was also very timely,
because with the election of the new Hamas Government of the PA, the prison
came under their control. As a result, the monitors from Britain and the US,
who were there as part of a signed agreement from 2002 with the PA
and Israel, felt that their lives were in danger, and the day before the
attack they abandoned their posts. As a result it was clear that the
prisoners would be imminently released, as stated by both Hamas leader
Walid Mashaal in Europe and by Pres. Mahmud Abbas of the PA. In order
to forestall their release and to ensure their future imprisonment, Israel
took the drastic action of sending in the IDF to capture them.
The killers and the planners of the assassination of Ze'evi in a Jerusalem
Hotel in 2001 were originally being protected by Arafat in his compound in
Ramallah. Israel threatened to go in and capture them there unless they were
put on trial and incarcerated. They included Ahmed Sa'adat, Head of the PFLP,
four other conspirators and a sixth man Fuad Shubaki, who was responsible for
trying to smuggle a boatload of heavy weapons from Iran into Gaza aboard the
Karin A. The agreement to hold them in Jericho was because the PA refused to
hand them over to Israeli justice, as required by the Oslo Accords agreements
that Yasir Arafat signed for the PA. Therefore, they were "tried" in the PA,
but Israel insisted that there be Western monitors to ensure that they actually
stayed in jail rather than be allowed to leave according to the "revolving
door" policy that Arafat had used in relation to other Palestinian prisoners.
Both London and Washington had warned the PA that some action must be
taken if their monitors were to be able to perform their duties safely. While
in jail in Jericho, a relatively quiet location, it is known that Sa'adat
continued to run the PFLP from his prison "office". The PFLP is reported to
be one of the parties that might join a coalition with Hamas to form the newly
anticipated PA Government.
Now that the murderers have been captured they will be put on trial in Israel
and be subjected to Israeli justice. Of course, they will receive a fair
trial according to Israel's independent judicial system. A serious crime such
as the assassination of a Minister of the Government cannot be allowed to
go unpunished. Their Israeli lawyers, who have all along claimed they are
innocent, have been making outrageous statements about Israeli breaking
international law, and Abbas has called the attack and capture of the Jericho
jail "a serious crime." But, Israel is on firm legal ground, since the signed
agreement was abrogated once the PA refused to provide the international
monitors with sufficient security and they left their posts. There is also
going to be an inquiry in the PA as to why it was so easy for the IDF to
capture the jail, which they began to systematically destroy until the armed
fugitives gave themselves up. Note that even though they were prisoners,
they were fully armed. The IDF captured another 120 prisoners from the jail,
all of whom were taken for interrogation, and some will be released today.
Note also that the IDF preferred to capture the terrorists rather than kill
them, both for humanitarian and intelligence purposes. So it is untrue, as
claimed by some supposed humanitarian pro-Palestinian groups, that the IDF
deliberately kills all captives, on the contrary! Now hopefully Israel will
learn more about the intentions and actions of their organizations from this
trove of captured terrorists.
For previous blogs go to:

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Finding lost Jews

Two weeks ago we went down to the Annual General Meeting of the Casa Shalom,
Center for Marrano-Anusim Studies, near Ashdod, at a place called Gan Yavne.
It was tucked away down some lanes, and behind a sprawling house there was the
new office complex. It is very small, but functional, and crammed with books
and papers. Several universities have made bids to take it over and
incorporate it, but ironically they want to be paid for the honor of doing
that rather than vice versa.
One of the highlights of the meeting was being introduced to a charming couple
with four children who came from Jerusalem especially for the meeting. This
couple came originally from Puerto Rico and so spoke English and Spanish.
Apparently when Gloria Mound, the Director of the Center, was in Puerto Rico
and gave a talk on Marranos, or as they prefer to be called crypto-Jews, this
couple heard about her talk and attended. Afterwards they approached her and
told her that they believed they were Jews. They had all the tell-tale signs,
including mothers who lit candles secretly on shabbat, etc. They lived up in
the hills in Puerto Rico, in an isolated place. Their surname was Cruz
('cross' in Spanish), but the husband's original family names was Migdal ('tower'
in Hebrew). One thing led to another, and they expressed their desire to become
practicing Jews and to make aliyah, to move to Israel.
I don't know all the details of the process, but at some point, in order to be
accepted as Israelis under the Law of Return, they have to establish that they
are Jews. Of course, being secret Jews for generations, they had no such
papers, no Jewish marriage certificate, no birth certificate stating that they
are Jews.
Gloria helped them find a lawyer, who decided instead of arguing their case
before the Rabbinate as one for conversion, he argued it as that they were
already Jews, that in their families there had been a pact to only marry
secret Jews like themselves, and that the documentation of his original family
name meant that the husband was Jewish. As usually happens with the
Rabbinate, months went by and nothing happened, and finally the lawyer was
told that they could not accept them as Jewish without proper documentation.
Then the lawyer threatened to take the case to the Supreme Court of Israel,
and to establish a precedent. This so frightened the Rabbinate, because the
Court is known for its liberal tendencies, that they capitulated, and gave
them the required certificates accepting them as Jews, so that they could
become Israeli citizens. Then they were re-married as Jews.
This "coming out of the closet" of secret Jews is fairly common among Spanish
speaking Jews, who were the true "marranos," who were forcibly converted to
Catholicism, and now that they have freedom, some are choosing to convert
back, sometimes hundreds of years later. But, of course this is a very small
number. There are probably millions of Spaniards and Portuguese who are
descended partly from Jews who were conversos, but don't expect any mass
conversion back any time soon.
On the BBC, I saw an item about Poles in Krakow, who have discovered that
they were Jewish, whose identity was hidden from them when they were children
during WWII. Krakow was a large center of Jewish population and culture.
Some of these people have re-discovered their roots, and are now, often
without their original parents and without documentation, are also coming "out
of the closet." There is now an active shool and a Rabbi in Krakow and his
flock is growing. There are now about a dozen men and women who have
re-identified as Jews, and are learning about Judaism and how to live as Jews.
This is a strange legacy of German and Polish anti-Semitism. Slowly some of
the remnants are returning to the fold.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Not 'orange' enough

At a meeting at which Natan Sharansky spoke last night in Ra'anana, which
I helped to organize, he described how the policies of several Israeli
Governments conspired to help bring about the current situation. First, the
US forced Israel to make agreements with the PA, when it was still an Arafat
dictatorship, and they specifically undermined Israel's position by persuading
Israel to "empower" Arafat, and not to do anything to weaken him, while he was
to their knowledge using terrorism against Israeli civilians. They didn't
want him to be weakened in case Hamas took over, but that is precisely what
they got by supporting Arafat and not the small democratic opposition to him.
Sharansky, who is no. 10 on the Likud list, was very critical of Olmert's plan
for the Kadima Government, of phased withdrawals from the West Bank over
the next four years. He said that Hamas won the election in the PA by
claiming that 1,000 Jewish casualties forced Israel to give up Gaza, so that
was a disaster for Israel, and that was why he resigned from the Sharon
Now Hamas claim that 2-3,000 dead Jews will get them the West Bank, but
they don't even have to do that, because Olmert will give it to them
unilaterally, on a plate. Then they claim that 3-5,000 dead Jews will be
enough to get them Jerusalem and cause the whole Israeli State to collapse
altogether. Make no mistake this is their intended policy.
In a recent article, Sharansky wrote that an election doesn't make a
democracy, and that he had previously proposed a three to five year lag
between starting to develop a democratic system in the PA and any subsequent
election of a Government. His rationale was that the degree of brainwashing
in the PA for support of violence and terrorism to solve their problems
requires time for re-education before any election could be meaningful. But,
there are some who are skeptical that even such a period of re-education and
re-programming could now bring about such a change. The culture of the
Palestinian Arabs is saturated with the idea of "armed struggle" and martyrdom
Consider the argument used by the two suicide bombers in the film "Paradise
Now," and by the leader of the 7/7 bombers in London, that persuades
them to become murderers of Israelis. The Israelis have tanks, the
Palestinians have no tanks, therefore they have to use their bodies as
weapons. But, this presupposes first that armed struggle is worthwhile and
will gain them something, and second that their deaths will in some way be
meaningful. Whatever happened to dialog, negotiations and compromise as
a means of solving problems. In fact, after killing 1,600 Israelis and losing
ca. 3,500 themselves the Palestinians are no further ahead than they were, in
fact they have gone backward, because Hamas, one of the most dedicated
terrorist organizations, is now in charge of the whole PA. Abbas is not even
a shadow of an opposition to Hamas. So we can expect more of the same, or
worse. There is no way that terrorism can be combined with a peaceful
democratic system in the PA.
Under the circumstances, the outcome of the democratic elections is not likely
to improve anything. Time is simply not the issue, what is needed is a
change of heart. How did things in fact change in authoritarian countries,
ranging from dictatorships, such as the Marcos' Philippines, to the Communist
countries, such as the USSR, Ukraine, etc. What happened is that a large
group of people, not necessarily a majority, put their lives on the line to
demand a change to democracy.
In the Philippines, there was the "people power" movement in which ca. 1
million people stayed in the streets and faced down tanks, until Marcos was
forced to flee the country, and only then could free and fair elections be
held. The same thing happened in Romania, when the Ceaucescus were nabbed
in their flight and executed, and in Russia, when Yeltsin finally used force
to break the control of the Communist forces, and in Ukraine, when a million
people in the "orange revolution" braved intense cold to stay in the streets
and caused the overthrow of the Communist based Government. In perhaps
one of the first such counter-revolutions in modern times, the Polish Army
when ordered to fire on the Solidarity demonstrators refused. This also nearly
happened in China 20 years ago, but the regime there had no qualms about
ordering the so-called "People's Army" to fire on the unarmed demonstrators
in Tiananmen Square, and the Army obeyed.
So this is the lesson, if you want to overthrow a dictatorial regime of any
kind, the first requirement is that there is a large core of dedicated
citizens who are prepared to die to bring about this fundamental change, and
the second requirement is that either the Government decides not to order
the Army to fire on the unarmed demonstrators or the Army refuses to obey
such an unlawful order. This is the lesson of modern times, played out over
and over again around the world.
So what is the problem in the Arab/Muslim world? The fact is that sadly there
is not a solid and large enough core of people who are committed to democracy
and freedom of choice to go out and demonstrate, and they know that the
Armies of the rulers will not hesitate to fire upon them and kill them. I
have to amend this statement somewhat, such a thing is possible, and it
happened recently in Lebanon, where the population were finally incensed by
the assassination by Syrian agents of the very popular former PM Rafik Hariri.
Crowds of people of most ethnic groups challenged the status quo and with
international support, forced the Syrian Government to withdraw its forces
from Lebanon, thus leaving it free to have democratic elections. However,
one must note that this Arab country is the only one with a large Christian
minority, that undoubtedly fueled this reaction. Notably absent from the
anti-Syrian demonstrations were the minority Shi'ites from south Lebanon.
In most Muslim countries, specifically including the PA, the chance of such
an "orange" movement is highly unlikely. There is in addition to the reasons
given above, of insufficient devotees to democracy and tendency to violence
of armed forces, a third reason, the nature of Islamic society that requires
"submission" to the religious/ political authorities, and this militates
against any internal upheaval and overthrow of the prevailing system. So
what is needed is not merely a period of re-education, but a basic change
in culture of the people. Unfortunately in Iraq there is no such large scale
public commitment to democracy, and so the insurgency and sectarianism
are growing.
It is unlikely that we shall see any real internal movement for democracy
anywhere in the Arab world in our lifetimes. Meanwhile women continue
to be second class citizens and almost the whole Arab/Muslim world
remains backward.
For previous blogs go to:

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sufficient and defensible

Which countries in the world, beside Israel, have more than 1% of Jews? The
answer is three: USA (2%), Canada (1.2%) and France (1%). Russia and the
UK have 0.5%, after that the percentages fall rapidly. Its amazing of course,
how much of a contribution this small percentage of Jews makes to each of
their countries and the world. It's also amazing how much of a threat vast
numbers of Muslims, Christians and liberals still see us Jews. Its vastly out
of proportion to our numbers.
I made a decision long ago that I no longer want to live among them, even
though many of them are tolerant and even supportive. They may be friendly
now, but as we have seen time and time again, they may become deadly in a
generation or two. I don't want my descendents to have to suffer again what
was suffered so constantly in the past. Weakness invites persecution.
Before WWII there were nearly m18 Jews in the world, then the Holocaust
came and we were down to m12. Sixty years later now we are up to m14,
but not increasing much in numbers. It is doubtful that we will ever reach
m18 again. That's why Israel is so important. At least here our numbers are
increasing, both by natural reproduction and by immigration.
I become impatient with those who say that the demographics mean that Israel
has no future. One can never predict the future. Noone predicted that Pres.
Sadat of Egypt would visit Jerusalem and make peace with us, noone predicted
that the USSR would release all its Jews and then collapse. Things have a way
of happening, and chance favors the prepared. We must be prepared to take
risks to ensure our survival and our presence here in Israel. Let the Arabs
increase in numbers, that doesn't mean that we must give up or even give them
all the land. We must ensure that the land we have is sufficient and
defensible for our future!
The Muslims claim all the land and regard our mere presence here as a
dishonor. Ask them what they mean by "occupation" and you will get two
answers, one is the West Bank, and the other is all of Palestine! That's why
the Iranian clerical regime is preparing to destroy us, that's why the
Palestinians elected Hamas, the most extreme regime they could find. Of
course, we have internal problems, not enough money, too many poor, not
enough education, a defective electoral system. But, the priority must be
security, the assurance that we will survive and defeat these enemies. I fear
there will be significant challenges in the future, but I am confidant that we
will be able to handle them and once again come out on top. It seems to go
on for ever, but eventually even they will recognize that they cannot destroy
The upcoming elections will be vitally important to see which way the Israeli
population chooses. As long as we elect a responsible and strong
leadership, I have confidence in the future.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Gil Hoffman's election analysis

Gil Hoffman, the political correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, spoke at a
meeting in Netanya Weds night. Gil comes from Chicago, although his father
had lived in Netanya many years before and he had regularly visited his
grandparents here. He was fresh from interviewing Acting PM Olmert that
afternoon, and he has interviewed the other major candidates within the past
weeks. He emphasized that the voters have a real choice between three quite
distinct views of the future for Israel, left, center and right.
He was present when Olmert received the news, reported by an Italian news
organization, that Pres. Abbas of the PA endorsed him for PM, saying that he
could work with him. Olmert said that he was not sure this was good for him.
Netanyahu immediately issued a statement criticizing Olmert for being cozy
with Abbas, and Peretz criticized Abbas for endorsing Olmert and not himself,
especially since he had gone out of his way to meet him only a few days before
(the only candidate who has). Today Abbas denied that he had endorsed
Olmert, and said that the Italian reporter had misquoted him.
Gil described how many setbacks Kadima has received, most notably Sharon's
major stroke, yet they still have a commanding lead in the polls. This is
quite strange, although they are now slowly losing votes. He attributed this
to the reality setting in that "Olmert is not Sharon," a Likud slogan. Olmert
has been known as a somewhat aggressive person with a tendency to attack
others, and now that the influence of Sharon's presence is wearing off, Olmert
is being seen for what he is, a not very experienced or pleasant leader of a
not very coherent party. The sooner the election the better off Olmert would
Netanyahu is well known, but not well liked by many. It is common to
regard him as self-absorbed, more concerned with his own interests than
those of the country, and somewhat untrustworthy. The Kadima ads show
him as perspiring under pressure and being shifty-eyed. But, this is standard
election fare. Gil's evaluation of Peretz was more scathing, he found him
amateurish and uninformed in the security area, and they ended up talking
about secondary issues.
So much for the candidates for PM, but Israelis vote for a party, and what do
the parties stand for. On the left, Labor would give up all of the West Bank
(all of it) to the PA. This would require moving tens of thousands of
citizens, many of whom are unwilling to move, yet they seem to have no plan
for how to do this, nor do they seem to realize, even after the Gaza
disengagement, how traumatic this would be. Their focus is almost entirely on
improving the social and economic conditions for the poor and the middle class
(children, retirees). They don't seem to have a specific plan for where all
the money for this will come from, but they would drastically reduce the
defense budget (forget about Hamas and Iran).
On the right, Likud will not give up "one inch" of territory until there is a
reciprocal partner on the other side. They endorse the eventual need for a
road map plan and a two-state solution, but not when Hamas is in power in the
PA. They are especially concerned because of the danger of rockets being fired
from the West Bank down onto Route 1 (the main J'sam-Tel Aviv Highway),
BG airport, and the whole of the Sharon region (from Bat Yam to Netanya).
If they are elected they will pass a law to modify the route of the Security
Fence from where it has been forced westwards by legal decisions, back to
its original militarily defined security route in order to prevent this
imminent danger.
In the center, Kadima stands for a compromise position, unilaterally
disengaging from the Palestinians, setting our own borders and moving to
them, including evacuating all illegal and many legal settlements, although
incorporating the major settlement blocs of Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel and Etzion
into Israel. At first, the settlers would be replaced by the IDF so that the
settlements would in effect become military camps, then these would be
consolidated, so that a defensive line would be formed, until such time as
these could also be withdrawn.
There are of course other parties, a total of 31 altogether, although only 11
of these are likely to receive enough votes to be elected to the 17th Knesset.
Among these are the Sephardic Orthodox party Shas, the combined right wing
National Union party , the ghost of Shinui and the Arab parties. There are
three Arab parties, each quite distinct, Balad which is nationalist (and would
replace Israel with a Palestinian State), the Arab Union which is Islamist
(and would replace Israel and the Arab countries with a new Caliphate) and
Hadash which is communist (and would replace Israel with a binational state).
Given the requirement for 2% of the vote and two mandates, some of these
might not be represented, yet it is a measure of Israel's democracy that all
of them are running.
Gil also mentioned the need for electoral reform and suggested that now was
the time to try to influence the parties to endorse it. Some of them have
platforms including reform, but its hard for them to do it once in office
because they might abolish their own jobs. Netanyahu's version of reform is
ironically very much like that of the PA system, half the votes determined by
parties, as now, and half by locality.
In the final analysis, any party receiving a majority would have to form a
coalition, and it is possible that Kadima would form one without Labor, or
Likud could put one together on the right. President Katsav has the
responsibility to choose who he thinks could form the most stable Government.
In just three weeks we'll know the outcome!
Gil ended by saying that he had tried his best to remain neutral so that he
hoped noone could in fact determine what his own personal preferences are.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Election campaign

The official election campaign began last night, with the airing on TV of the ads of the major parties. The differences between them were quite interesting. The Labor one came first, with a mini-bio of Amir Peretz, because people don't know him well, showing him in the Army, where he was wounded, married with kids, and then sitting in a big office looking managerial. Then he was with his "team", smiling a lot. The main message was the economy, and they promised to introduce a minimum wage, like the US and UK.
Then came Likud, in which Netanyahu spoke of the danger of the new Hamas victory in the PA to Israel, the formation of a mini-Iran on our borders. The message came across loud and clear, only Likud could deal effectively with this danger, and then showing Olmert and the slogan "don't put the state in his hands" . Finally Bibi was shown in smiling mode, playing chess (very significant) with his father (a famous historian). There were also some words from former generals.
The Kadima ad started with the history of the state, from Ben Gurion to Sharon and the slogan "going forward," emphasizing continuity. Then there was a chat from the PM's office with Olmert, who smiled a lot, as if to put us at our ease. There were a few shots of the disengagement from Gaza, showing solicitous soldiers. Then shots of his "team" especially focusing on the generals. Peres appeared for a second.
The differences between these ads was great, Labor emphasized social issues, Likud the security danger of the new Hamas win to Israel, and Kadima that the State would be in good hands with Olmert. Only Likud showed the Hamas marching in the PA and related it directly to terror in Israel, the other two conspicuously avoided that. You might say that Likud was trying to frighten us into voting for them, but I think we should be afraid, very afraid.

Here is an exchange of views that might be considered typical of debates going on between Israelis:
From Stuart West (immigrant from England):
Dear Jack:
Friends that we are, I must nevertheless differ from you on your politics. Personally, I can think of no worse outcome to the Israeli General Election than Netanyahu and the Likud coming to power, so much so, that I would have second thoughts about continuing to live here - if that were practical (which it is not). Apart from his zig-zagging record - particularly on his Gaza withdrawal record - he is man whose only interest is Netanyahu and not Israel. Furthermore, many people today are below the poverty line because of his financial policy in government.
The Likud dreams of a greater Israel are just not pragmatic. What we need is to set our boundaries - by ourselves, if there is no partner with whom to negotiate - so that we can ensure a solid Jewish majority in the State and not have to rule over Palestinian Arabs. Apart from the Jewish population centers, it makes no sense demographically to retain those parts of the West Bank where the Arabs are in the majority. Kadima would retain Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, as well as Kiryat Arba, the Jewish areas of Hebron, the Ofra block and the Jordan Valley. What more do you want? Of course, Jerusalem is the big issue, but that city is already de facto divided, so there is no reason why the Arab areas should not become the capital of a Palestinian state. Olmert is now working on gaining international support for another unilateral withdrawal from the other parts of the West Bank within the next four years. He is being both pragmatic and diplomatic. Follow the Likud line and Israel would soon be back to being a pariah state again. Olmert's pragmatism will ensure a Jewish state within internationally recognized borders. For me there is no question - a vote for Kadima is the only sensible vote to cast. Possibly even Labor has attractive policies, not so different from Kadima, but I could not trust Peretz. However, someone like Braverman with his years of experience at the World Bank is obviously an ideal candidate for Finance Minister. So, perhaps we may achieve an outcome with Kadima and Labor in coalition. No room for Likud, whose rebels have all but destroyed the party. Likud simply cannot be trusted. A vote for Likud is not only a wasted vote - it is also a vote against Israel's best interests, both at home and abroad.
And here is my reply:
Dear Stuart:
Reasonable men may differ in their political views. But, I can think of a worse outcome than Netanyahu/Likud being elected and that would be having Peretz/Labor winning. But, even if Kadima wins they are likely to form a coalition with Peretz, and this would be almost as bad. Further, you castigate Netanyahu for his zig-zag record regarding the Gaza disengagement, but Sharon reversed himself completely, and this was far worse. I went along with the Gaza disengagement, mainly because I, like many others, trusted Sharon (as I would not have trusted Barak or Mitzna), but nevertheless one must admit that he implemented their left-wing policy.
Bibi, like all politicians tried to maximize his power while maintaining credibility. I see nothing wrong with this, especially since he had an excellent excuse, he was reversing the socialist trends (or increasing the market trends) in the Israeli economy (e.g. by selling off nationalized companies). It's true that many Israelis at the lower economic level will suffer from reduced government spending, but all experts agree that that is what is necessary for a healthy Israeli economy. Now we have 5.5% growth and the economy is stronger than it was, because of Bibi's reforms. Just as Thatcher reformed the British economy and Reagan the American one, so Bibi did here. He should be applauded for that. A Kadima-Labor coalition will reverse these necessary reforms! Incidentally, my son-in-law has worked closely with Braverman in BGU, and thinks he is an arrogant opportunist, who is untrustworthy and indecisive.
I do not see Likud as "expansionist." I am sure that in the final analysis Likud like Kadima will be prepared to withdraw from most of the West Bank. But, the question is when and how. Kadima, or Olmert, is too intent on quickly showing that he is following Sharon in this, and he has already announced such withdrawals. But, this is not recognizing the changed situation with Hamas in power in the PA. I prefer that there be no further withdrawals or talk of them while Hamas refuses to recognize us, etc. Likud adheres to the principles of the Road Map, even though to all intents and purposes it is dead without a Palestinian partner. But we should not announce our withdrawals or our future borders now. As the EU Foreign Minister already stated, they will become the starting point for future negotiations, this is self-defeating. I'd rather we keep military hold on everything, pending a Hamas defeat or reversal. Why give away either our starting position (what we think as final) now, or give them any more land from which they can launch rockets at us. If Olmert does indeed withdraw as he has said he will then Bibi is right, BG airport and most of the Sharon will be within their rocket range and it will be a disaster. Bibi has stated he will not relinquish that land pending reciprocal arrangements/ negotiations with the PA.
Finally, Kadima has collected most of the corrupt politicians from Likud. Omri Sharon and Tzahi Hanegbi, who were in Likud, moved to Kadima. Olmert is not so pure (what about his house). I work from the assumption that all Israeli politicians (and maybe all in the world) are corrupt to a degree, apart from a select few (Sharansky, Edelstein Steinitz - all Likud). But, at least Bibi has experience as PM, FM and Finance Minister. He is also a far superior spokesman than any of the other candidates. I am sure that like all previous attempts at forming centrist parties (Rafi, Dash, Shinui, The Center Party), Kadima will be a transient phenomenon. How can a party be stable with extreme left and right wing politicians in it together, unless all of them have no principles. Israel is stabler with a strong right wing government and a left wing opposition, and that's what I want. So don't waste your vote on Kadima, without Sharon its a flash in the pan.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Secularism vs. sectarianism

The clashes going on around the world between the forces of Islamic
terrorism and Western civilization, can be regarded in several different ways.
One of the most popular is that of a "clash of civilizations," or of Islamic
expansionism vs. Western imperialism (under the guise of 'globalization').
Another is a political clash between Islamic authoritarianism and Western
democracy. Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychologist, said it best on Al
Jazeera TV last week that the clash is between Western civilization and Muslim
backwardness. (see attachment).
The problem is not "occupation" of Muslim lands, but Muslim backwardness
that makes them weak and vulnerable, something they instinctively realize but
cannot quickly change. You can see this also in the readiness with which
Sunni and Shia Muslims attack and kill each other in Iraq. This is a general
case of primitive sectarianism, something that the Christian West, for all its
barbarous reversion during WWII, has gradually overcome. It is the growth
and power of secularism, based on a scientific culture that has given the West
the power and the affluence it has, that is the hallmark of Western
civilization, that is lacking in the Dar al Islam.
Democracy is not simply the result of a vote, as Hamas keeps emphasizing, it
is the liberal protection of minority sects and peoples, as well as adherence
to laws of conduct that include human rights and the ability to dissent.
These ideas are simply foreign to the Arab/Muslim peoples. In the final
analysis it is not Christianity or Judaism that the Islamists are most afraid
of, but secular society that would allow freedom of speech as well as action.
Sectarianism is well represented by the situation in Iraq, where the Sunni,
Shia and Kurds are practically in a civil war, with the American-sponsored
Iraqi Government trying to hold the secular line. India is a good example
where democratic secularism has helped a fractious country to hold together.
But, in the Muslim world there are a lot of sectarian schisms, for example in
Lebanon, where the four main groups, Christian, Sunni, Shia and Druse, are
currently trying to hold together in the wake of the Syrian withdrawal.
There are very few countries on earth that do not have a history of sectarian
strife and do not have minorities of different ethnic language or origin.
Incorporating these distinct groups together in a new sovereign nation can
only effectively be done when they have rights, as in a secular democratic
society. This is the lesson of Western history and one that the Muslims will
have to learn, but at some cost.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Attack at the Basilica

Now here is a new definition of hypocrisy, a deranged man and his family
explode firecrackers in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and
Christians and Muslim Arabs march with signs saying "Death to the Jews." This
is their way of showing their dedication to freedom of religion and
Also, Arab MKs, most of them Muslims, explained that this attack happened
because of the "swamp" of anti-Christian and anti-Muslim prejudice held by
Israeli Jews! Khaled Mashaal and the Hamas leadership said essentially the
same thing in Moscow. Never mind the facts, ignore the actual situation, but
they know that the Jews are prejudiced, and they are, of course, not!
So what actually happened, a Jewish man from Jerusalem, Eliyahu Havivi, who
if not mentally retarded is definitely disturbed, who is married to a
Christian woman, decided to draw attention to his social plight by attacking
the major Church in Israel. He entered the Basilica with his wife and daughter
20 years old) with a baby carriage (with no baby in it!) and then proceeded to
set off firecrackers. His reason was that he wanted to protest that his three
younger children had been taken away from him by social services and as a
welfare recipient he doesn't have enough income. Once before, in 1999 he had
gone to Ramallah and requested political asylum from Yasir Arafat (!), and he
was rejected (how low do you have to be for that to happen!).
He was attacked by the crowd in the Basilica, but was rescued by the police
and held in the Church while a mob rioted outside. Two police cars were burnt
and ca. 20 rioters and the same no. of police were injured. Luckily this was
not a terrorist attempt, because it showed the lamentable state of security
there, with a big crowd inside, where many could have been killed if Havivi
had been mad enough to use bombs instead of firecrackers. At his arraignment
last night in Tiberias he said that he has nothing against Christians and he
apologized for his actions. The police have said that he does not belong to
any organization.
As it was, the police managed to handle the situation well, and after a march
today of ca. 1,300 the situation hopefully will return to normal. The FM
contacted the Vatican to assure them that there was no Israeli involvement in
this attack and that freedom of worship would not be affected. Acting PM
Olmert used the occasion of the Cabinet meeting today to criticize the Muslim
Council for using the incident to attack Israel and Jews in general, when
there was no basis for this.
Immediately today Amir Peretz and his whole Labor crew rushed to Nazareth to
meet with the Catholic Archbishop Sabah to sympathize with the Christians over
the attack. I find this to be a disgusting example of political exploitation
of an incident that doesn't deserve the kind of attention and publicity that
it got, and that Labor felt they could benefit from (they must be desperate).
Hopefully this kind of attack won't happen again if the police and security
services take the message that they need to greatly improve security at all
places of worship and especially at major ones such as the Basilica.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Anglos in Israel

On Weds Feb 15, I went to a meeting at the Likud Central offices in Tel Aviv,
(impossible to find parking!) in order to discuss the participation of Anglos
in the election of the Likud candidate Bibi Netanyahu. "Anglos" are all the
English-speaking immigrants, from the UK, US, Australia, South Africa, etc.
Although there are 11 main parties in the election list, there are only three
candidates for PM, Bibi of Likud on the right, Olmert of Kadima in the
center, and Peretz of Labor on the left. This is certainly a choice.
Let me start out by saying that Peretz has no real chance of winning. I say
this for four reasons, 1. He is an unknown quantity as far as top political
leadership is concerned, his main claim to fame is that he was the leader of
the Histadrut Union and lead several national strikes, that did not enamour
him to the general Israeli public. 2. He has run a poor campaign with
conspicuous absence of policy, except for a smiling presence. 3. His English
is poor and so he does not project onto the international stage. 4. His main
focus has been social and economic policy, but at present (and as usual)
security is the main issue in Israeli politics.
So the election comes down to a battle between Bibi and Ehud. At present
Kadima is still given 38 seats in most polls, but is declining, down from
45 a few weeks ago, while Likud is the main recipient, now up to 17-18 seats
from ca. 10-12, depending on whose polls you believe. But, that may be an
insurmountable majority, so Olmert is likely to be the next PM. If Bibi
doesn't get a higher vote, say 20 for Likud, his political career may be over.
When every vote counts, the parties try to attract the "ethnic" votes,
Russian, Ethiopian and Anglo. There are only about 50-100,000 native
English-speakers in the country, but as someone said "they are the Jews of
Israel," meaning that Anglos take politics seriously and vote in higher
proportions than other groups. The J'sam Post had an article last Friday by
Gil Hoffman entitled "Angling for Anglos," detailing the activities of each of
the parties to attract Anglo voters (Gil will also speak in Netanya next
The meeting I went to at Likud was one of those attempts, although it was a
small meeting. Yuli Edelstein was the speaker. He was a supporter of
Sharansky and followed him into Likud. He is a competent and honest MK, one
of the few. I agreed to help to obtain Anglo votes for Likud in Netanya. So
far Likud has made the major attempt to attract Anglos. We are having two
meetings with Sharansky in high Anglo areas (Hashmonaim/Modiin and
Ra'anana/Netanya) and a big meeting in J'sam which Bibi himself will address
in English. How it will help him remains to be seen.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The last Hashemite?

Gen. Yair Naveh, Head of Israel's Central Command, caused a media storm last
week by inferring in a briefing that the future of the Kingdom of Jordan is
insecure. When this was reported, King Abdullah of Jordan was aggrieved and
threatened to break off relations with Israel. The Israeli Government
disowned the General's comments and issued an apology: "Israel sees Jordan
as a strong and stable country with a glorious tradition and promising future.
Israel wishes to express respect and appreciation for the Hashemite Kingdom's
vital contributions to the stability and peace in the region." Why is it such
a touchy subject? Because it's probably true, but no-one wants to admit it.
King Abdullah may be the last of the Hashemites, former rulers of Mecca and
Medina and descendents of Mohammed. They were considered too westernized
and insufficiently pious by the followers of ibn al Wahhab who lived out in
the Arabian desert, who in 1929 in alliance with ibn Saud, leader of the Saudi
tribe, invaded Mecca and Medina, threw out the Hashemites and in 1932
established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While there had been four Hashemite
Kingdoms at one time, Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Transjordan, Arabia was lost,
Syrian control was transitory, and Iraq lasted for a few years before the
Hashemite King was assassinated. That leaves one! And everyone knows that
the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan hangs by a thread but is protected only by
Israel. In 1974 Syria threatened to invade Jordan and the threat of an
Israeli counter-attack caused them to withdraw their army.
So irony of ironies, the throne of the last ruling descendent of Mohammed is
guaranteed (informally) by the Jewish State. Who seeks to overthrow the
Hashemite monarchy? First, the Palestinians, who constitute ca. 70% of
Jordan's population; the rest are Bedouin who are loyal to the Hashemites.
Second, the radicals in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, who see King Abdullah as no
more than a tool of the Israelis and Americans. Thirdly, al Qaeda, as shown
recently by the blowing up of a wedding party in Amman by suicide bombers
sent by al Zarqawi, Jordanian Palestinian who is the al Qaeda chief in Iraq.
So the General was asking a realistic question, with enemies like these how
long can King Abdullah hope to survive? Will he be succeeded by one of his
descendents? Since King Abdullah and the ruling elite in Jordan are
pro-Western, and since they have a signed peace treaty with Israel, it is
definitely in Israel's interest that they maintain their hold on power. It
would be a great loss if a radical regime were to take power in Jordan, or in
Saudi Arabia (which also has all the oil). So while the US protects the
Saudis, Israel protects the Hashemites. If any third Arab State's army
entered Jordan with a view to overthrowing the Hashemites and attacking
Israel, it would be considered a causus belli by Israel. So even though the
Hashemites have many enemies, they might be around for a while.