Sunday, April 30, 2006

"The Plot Against America"

The thesis of the book, "The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth, is frightening! What if instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt winning the Presidency in 1940, the Republican candidate was Charles A. Lindbergh, a well-known supporter of Adolf Hitler, who won by a landslide? His policy would have been isolationism, the opposite to FDR, and people would have voted for him in order to save their sons and family members from having to go to Europe and fight Nazi Germany. At that time 2/5 of the white male population in America was a member of a right wing organization, either the KKK, or the John Birch society or a corresponding Catholic organization (the virulently anti-Semitic Father Coughlin was the most popular radio speaker in America).
Lindbergh was a very popular and attractive figure in the US, having been the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927 (in fact two Brits, Alcock and Brown, did the first aerial crossing in 1919), having barnstormed his way around the US, and having had his baby son kidnapped and killed in 1932. This event gave the Lindberghs a groundswell of public sympathy, and after the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant, for the murder, they opted to move to England to get away from the inevitable publicity. From there, Lindbergh visited Germany several times and met with Hitler, and subsequently upon his return to the US spoke out approvingly of Hitler and his policies. And there were many others, such as Henry Ford, who bankrolled notoriously anti-Semitic publications, such as Burton K. Wheeler, Montana Senator and arch-isolationist, such as Fritz Kuhn, who founded the German-America Bund, and hoped one day to be Fuhrer of America.
This much is fact. The most impressive aspect of this book is that Philip Roth, an experienced and professional writer, takes these and other facts and makes a plot of them that is both plausible and persuasive.
The book is written in a conventional, descriptive manner from the perspective of a boy, incidentally named Philip Roth. Of course, at first he does not understand what is happening, and so we, the audience, are taken aback by his innocence. Yet nevertheless, as a Jew he feels the sense of dread that is gradually increasing as Lindbergh wins the Presidency and as the situation of the Jews starts to deteriorate in stages. He recounts incidents of petty anti-Semitism that his family experiences, typical of those that all Jews suffered in those times (and again today), in restaurants and in public.
One very noticeable thing about this book is that notwithstanding the growing anti-Semitism, the author and the narrator share the same positive view of America, that all will be alright in the end. In fact, the very title gives this attitude away, namely the "plot" is "against" America, not as a pro-fascist might have seen it as a "plot for America." And we the readers share this optimism, since we know that things didn't happen that way, that the US did enter the war after Pearl Harbor and did fight against the Nazis and did rescue Europe and the world from German domination. But, it could have been very different.
In order to square his plot with reality Roth has the Lindbergh Presidency end abruptly before Pearl Harbor, with a surprising turn, the assumption that the Lindbergh baby was not actually killed by Bruno Hauptmann, but was actually whisked away to Nazi Germany, where the Nazis used their control of him to blackmail his parents to do their bidding, and that was why they periodically visited Germany and that was why Lindbergh, against his original intentions, ran for President, and why his policies were essentially directed from Germany. But, finally the Lindberghs could no longer stand this deterioration of the national situation as a result of their personal fate and so they withdrew from public life, just in time for FDR to run again and this time win!
Two other aspects of the plot warrant consideration. One is the presence of a "court Jew" the respected and popular Rabbi Bengelsdorf, who marries Philip's aunt, and who acts as Lindbergh's representative to the Jews, in persuading them that he and his followers really mean the Jews no harm. So they should submit to the policies that are being promulgated, including the "transfer" of the Jews by train to the center of the country, a program called innocently "Homestead 42," this to deliberately break up the coherent Jewish community and to render the Jews defenseless. In time, if pursued to its logical conclusion, this could have lead to concentration camps, much like those into which the Japanese were forced on the West Coast, and possibly then to mass murder as in Europe.
The other aspect was the fate of those Jews who went via Canada to fight in Europe against the Nazis prior to the US entering the war. One of them was Philip's cousin, and the fact that he returned without a leg, is a symbol of the defenselessness of the American Jews in response to the gathering anti-Semitic menace. Thank God it didn't happen there!

Is it demography?

In a very interesting and wide ranging article entitled, "It's the demography, stupid," Mark Steyn concludes that Western liberal democracy as we know it is doomed to be swept away, not by Islamist attacks, but by immigrants from within. Here is the source of the original article that I highly recommend (thanks to Zeev Silverman for drawing this article to my attention) - but since it is a very long article I summarize its main conclusions here:
1. The birthrate in many Western democracies is so low that it is way below the replacement rate (2.1 children per couple) and so the native populations of these societies are in decline, and to ensure the population required for efficient working of these societies it is necessary to import cheap labor from the underdeveloped world. For example, Belgium has the lowest birthrate 1.3 children per couple!
2. The liberal PC attitudes of the secular majority has blinded them to the fact that there are many enemies of liberal democracy that are entering their countries, and that the harm that they intend to do to the very fabric of these societies is not recognized and is not being fought. For example, in the UK, each weekend more people go to Mosque than to Church.
3. That liberal immigration policies has allowed these countries to be virtually overwhelmed by foreign and particularly Muslim immigrants. For example, in Belgium and Holland the situation is dire, with 20-30% of the population already Muslim. In Europe as a whole the population of Muslims has grown to 30 million in a decade!!
This leads to the prediction that the EU will become EUrabia within 20-50 years and now there is almost no way to prevent it. In the US, the current situation is not as bad, but going in the same direction.
However, there are two major difficulties I see with his argument. First, everything in his argument depends on quantity (i.e. demographics), but what about quality? One thing Israel has shown over and over again is that in the modern world quality will beat quantity every time! It used to be possible to overwhelm another nation by waves of human sacrifices (Germany and Russia did this), but with technological weapons the situation changed drastically. Now not only are the soldiers considered to be individuals (this was one difference that Gen. Montgomery who fought in WWI and WWII noted) but they have to be able to read the instructions on their weapons and use them accordingly.
Second, this kind of scary "foreign wave" has been a feature of Western society since time immemorial. It used to be the "foreign Jews" who would take over and control society. Then there was the "Yellow Peril," the Chinese and/or Japanese wave overtaking the West. Then it was the Fascists (nearly did) and the Communists (they tried hard). And now we have the Islamists. Well, most Muslims are in fact quiet, well-behaved members of their societies, who like the Blacks want nothing more than to be like the whites. Certainly there are many wealthy Muslims who can buy skyscrapers (instead of destroying them), but there are also many wealthy Westerners. In the long term, an equilibrium between western and immigrant populations will be reached, and it may have no effect whatsoever on the prevalent secular society, that everyone is clamoring to join. In fact, California is now more than 50% "minority" (i.e. Hispanic and Black), yet its basic culture has not changed during that transition!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Arab on Arab Terror

The current spate of terrorism in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq is not happening
by chance. More Arab on Arab violence is occurring because of the fact
that the US and Israeli domestic environments are harder nuts to crack. As
part of their ideology al Qaeda have always intended to target the Arab
regimes, in order to undermine them and eventually replace them with a new
Caliphate ruled by sharia law. Since the West is a more difficult target they
are attempting to carry out this phase now.
While there has been no major terrorist attack in the USA since 9/11,
there have been thousands in Iraq, many in Egypt, and a few in Jordan.
Overall thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the chaos of Iraq, and this
is the current prime target of al Qaeda terrorism. Now that the Iraqi
Government has selected its new Prime Minister, in his latest video Abu Musab
al Zarqawi has come out into the open appealing to Sunni Arabs as the leader
of the insurgency. But, it will become less popular to choose the
murderous terrorists bent on civil war now that the government is in place.
In Egypt, the Mukhabarat secret service, although they have a fierce
reputation, are obviously not up to the challenge. The latest explosions in
Dahab that killed 20 Egyptians and 3 tourists are the work of an Egyptian
cell, probably sponsored by al Qaeda, that is working mainly to bring down the
Egyptian Government. They want to do this by frightening away tourists, since
tourist income is one of the main sources of foreign currency, particularly in
Sinai. The Beduin face a contradiction, as ardent Muslims they undoubtedly
resent the influx of many tourists to their pristine and isolated land.
Having visited Dahab in 1977, when it was still under Israeli control, I can
vouch for the fact that it was beautiful and isolated then, and the Beduin
were quite friendly and fascinated by these strange Westerners. Now
they depend on them for their livelihood. The general opinion is that the
local Beduin would not do this, and in fact the three suicide bombers are
reported to have been computer students from northern Sinai. Once again
the idea of poor, uneducated, starving peasants being the suicides is proven
Today there were reports of two suicide bombings in northern Sinai targeting
officials of the Egypt-Israel armistice commission. No doubt most people have
forgotten that there is still a UN (mainly US) force that monitors the treaty
between Israel and Egypt to ensure that the Sinai remains demilitarized.
However, in these cases the suicides were unsuccessful and apparently only
killed themselves.
In Jordan, the corresponding Mukhabarat is much more efficient and not only
did they find a cache of weapons stored by Hamas, presumably to support an
insurgency against the monarchy, but they also intercepted an order from the
head of the military wing of Hamas in Syria to terrorists in Jordan to target
the Royal family. Now a Lebanese paper has reported that they have evidence
that the original order came from Khaled Mashaal, the Head of Hamas in Syria,
who once lived in Jordan, and whose life was saved by King Hussein's
intervention when the Israelis tried to assassinate him. This situation has
caused friction between Jordan and Syria, that is not an unusual occurrence.
Although there has been at least one major bombing at a Hotel wedding in
Amman, that was attributed to al Qaeda, and Zarqawi in particular, Hamas
has not so far been active in carrying out terrorist acts in Jordan. But,
since they currently have a self-imposed ceasefire with Israel, that is in
their own interests, perhaps they decided to focus on Jordan instead.
Meanwhile, as Hamas is intent on undermining Jordan, and may have a hand in
the terrorist activities from Gaza to Egypt, many Europeans are intent on
rewarding them for being the responsible democratically elected government of
the PA. I wonder if Norway will be so free to meet with Hamas representatives
now that Jordan and not only Israel is under threat of attack by them.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Can democracy survive?

The workings of democracy in the Middle East have called into question the
validity of this system of Government, and might turn others off this
much-touted Western method of organizing society.
Take for example the elections in the Palestine Authority. What have they
produced? Because of a split within the Fatah movement between the old
guard (mainly those who came with Arafat from Tunisia) and the new younger
members (mostly those indigenous to the territories), there were at one time
two Fatah lists, which were then merged in order to avoid a complete split.
Marwan Barhghouti, who is jailed for murder in Israel, was head of both lists,
and became the head of the combined list. But, nevertheless in many
constituencies new younger members stood as candidates against the old guard.
The effect of this was to split the Fatah vote, so although Fatah overall got
57% of the vote, Hamas won the election with only 43% because they had one
list of candidates. Is this democracy?
Also, the election has thrown up for the first time a terrorist organization
as a functioning Government, that has discomfited many established regimes in
the Arab world. King Abdullah of Jordan is especially worried, because he has
a majority (ca. 70%) of west Palestinians in his country. Mubarak of Egypt is
also worried because Hamas is the ally of his fervent opposition, the Muslim
Brotherhood, that is banned in Egypt, but won nearly 40% of the vote under
another guise in the recent elections, in which opponent candidates were
allowed to run for the first time. If the Muslim Brotherhood were able to take
over Egypt, or a similar Palestinian party to Hamas were able to take over
Jordan, this would be a disaster for the West and for the Arabs themselves.
It would be akin to the disaster when the West stood by and allowed the Shah
to be replaced by the infinitely worse, from a humanitarian and political
point of view, anti-Western clerical Shi'ite Khomeneist regime.
Meanwhile in Israel, although the Labor Party ran on a much-touted social
program, and many voted for parties with a socioeconomic agenda, such as
Shas, the Pensioner's Party and even Israel Beiteinu (mainly Russians), what
has actually happened is that the largest number of cabinet members in
history, 27, are about to be appointed (this up from an original number of
15!) Not only will this add much increased costs to running this Government
(salaries, offices, cars and drivers, etc.), but some of the appointments are
contrary to the platform of the parties involved. For example, Amir Peretz,
the former Histadrut Union leader, who has no experience whatsoever, is
slated to be the Defense Minister, while he ran on a platform of social
reform. This is a slap in the face for his electorate who voted for him and
his party depending on them to take action in order to improve their
socioeconomic standing. This election was the lowest percentage of voting
in Israeli history mainly because so many voters have become disillusioned
with the democratic process. Who can blame them?
And in Iraq, after 5 months bickering they finally announced the appointment
of a compromise candidate for PM, a member of the Shi'ite majority, and now he
has to form a Government that has to effectively put down the insurgency that
has been growing during this time. One wonders if democracy can survive these

Monday, April 24, 2006

Clashes in the PA

The appointment of Jamal abu Samahadaneh by Hamas Interior Minister Said
Siam to head a new security force has sparked a crisis in the PA and has also
hardened negative reactions to the Hamas Government by Israel, the US and
others. This is because Samahadaneh is leader of the Popular Resistance
Committees, and as such is a leading terrorist. The PRCs are a coordinating
organization that facilitates the actions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al
Aksa Martyrs Brigades on a local level to ensure cooperation between all
terrorist groups. Samahadaneh is on Israel's most wanted terrorist list. His
appointment has created a crisis in the PA.
Israel stated that his appointment will not protect him from ongoing attempts
to arrest or kill him. Then, Pres. Abbas of the PA wrote a letter to PM
Haniyeh refusing to confirm his appointment. This is because the
establishment of a new security service is obviously intended to try to
outflank the control by Abbas over the existing security services. Then
Khalid Mashaal the foreign leader of Hamas, made a speech in Syria in
which he accused Abbas of conspiring with Israel and the US to prevent
Hamas from exercising its legitimate authority in the PA.
This caused riots over the past two days in which Fatah forces attacked
Hamas in various locations around the PA. Gunfights occurred and ca.
200 people were injured. Whether or not this crisis can be averted
or will spin out of control into a civil war is uncertain. At the moment both
sides are holding their positions. A mass rally and march of Fatah forces in
Ramallah was called off at the last minute with Egyptian mediation.
Meanwhile, the US has stated that such an appointment shows that Hamas has
no interest in cooperating with the international community and has frozen all
payments to the PA. Yesterday a Hamas official stated that they are unable
even to obtain money (m$50) sent by the Arab League, since the Banks cannot
process such transfers because of US opposition. This leaves the PA in a
state of virtual bankruptcy, although this is largely because of the
corruption and misuse of previous funding.
Today Pres. Ahmedinejad of Iran sent a message to Hamas PM Haniyeh
expressing his support for the Palestinian people. So now the clash between
Abbas and Haniyeh in the PA has expanded into an international situation, with
the US, EU and Israel on one side and Iran and Syria on the other. Abbas has
called the terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv last week that killed 9 Israelis a
"heinous terrorist attack" (note that most Western media still call it a
"militant" attack) and this has resulted in a strong protest by Islamic Jihad
justifying its actions.
Israeli forces did not react to the terrorist incident in Tel Aviv, on the
advice of Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni. Perhaps she is right, since any
such major counter-action might have caused the Palestinian factions to
unite against Israel, but under the current situation they are barely able to
prevent direct clashes of their forces and the situation is one of open
hostility between Fatah and Hamas. The appointment of Samahadaneh
is merely an excuse in the power play that is ongoing between them.
Meanwhile, on the Israeli side, PM Olmert continues to negotiate the
establishment of his coalition with Labor, that now has 7 Ministries,
including Amir Peretz as the new Defense Minister!

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Thursday eve we went to a batmitzvah near a little settlement called Allon,
close to Ma'ale Adumim on the West Bank. It was in a magnificent location
with a view of the desolate desert mountains. To get there we drove past
Jerusalem, past Ma'ale Adumim on the road to the Dead Sea, and then turned
left onto the Allon Road. This was built by Yigal Allon when he was Deputy
Prime Minister after the Six Day War of 1967 along the crest of the hills
between the cities from Jerusalem to Ramallah and Nablus on the West
and the Jordan Valley to the East as a means of maintaining communication
and control.
Just along the road was the location of the event called "Eretz Berashit"
literally translated as "Beginning Country" or "Land of Genesis" as they
called it. It was located on a promontory that jutted out into a valley with a
view into the distance. At night it was possible to see cars traveling along
a main road in the distance and the lights of a city. We thought it might be
Ramallah, but we were not sure, since the road twists and turns so much
getting there that you couldn't be sure which way you were facing. The
weather was hot (28 deg C = ca 86 deg F), and in the evening there was
a pleasant cool breeze.
There are two roads to take to bypass Jerusalem, either route 443 that goes
through Modi'in or the main route 1 and then the by-pass roads to the
north through the French Hill junction. Unfortunately, there was a major
accident on route 443 that held people up because the road was closed. A
bus, a garbage truck and several cars crashed into each other and two people
were killed. This is not unusual in Israel. Luckily we chose to go on route 6
and then route 1, so that we avoided the problem and got there in less than 2
The batmitzvah party was wonderful and we got to see our old friends the
Churgins (I won't go into detail about the hosts etc. since that gets too
personal). But, the batmitzvah girl spoke movingly about her experience
serving poor people in a soup kitchen set up as a restaurant. We ate in a tent
called "Abraham's Tent" and the food was excellent.
One of the topics of conversation was that it would be a shame if our
Government gives this little piece of our Land to the Palestinians. Since it
is so close to Ma'ale Adumim, just 5 mins drive, it should be incorporated
into the Adumim block. Ma'ale Adumim literally means Red Heights, and the
city really rears up high as you drive along the valley road next to it. I
remember my cousin taking me there to see it when to was first being built
on Government land in the late 1970's. Now it is a city of ca. 30,000 people,
and will certainly be incorporated into Israel as part of the final borders.
This may be Sharon's lasting legacy, he engineered the situation whereby,
because Israel gave up Gaza, we in turn have earned the right to retain and
incorporate those densely populated Jewish areas of the West Bank, such as
Ma'ale Adumim.
The road back at night was an interesting drive, particularly since we went
through a maze of tunnels that I did not know existed, through the hills into
Jerusalem, which we then skirted to the north and came out onto routes 443.
We stopped in Modi'in to drop off some friends. This is another city that
has grown incredibly since it was also founded maybe 30 years ago. It is
situated in an ideal location, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, very
central, and on the heights so it is cool. It is on Israeli territory, not
the West Bank, and is reputed to be (near to) the place where the Maccabis
lived and where they fought against the Syrian Greeks, in the story of
Anyway it was a very pleasant and interesting outing, and we got home late,
exhausted but happy.

Friday, April 21, 2006


This letter was published as edited in the J'sam Post on April 10:

Dear Sir:
The advent of special interest parties, such as the Pensioner's Party, has
made me realize that anyone can have political ambitions in Israel. For the
next election I intend to found the Children's Party, surely the young deserve
as much attention and cash as the aged, and my party will certainly get all
the children's votes (as well as some mothers and fathers).
The platform of my Party will be that Children deserve to have fun, and to
be paid for doing so. If anyone can seriously suggest making Amir Peretz
the Defense Minister of Israel, when we have challenges from Hamas in
the PA and Iran, then anything is possible! So remember, as things get
worse, to escape the consequences of reality next time vote for the
Children's Party, our slogan is: gooh, gooh, gooh!
Jack Cohen

This one was not published!

Dear Editor:
Does your stomach drop like mine each time you see the collection of
"jokers" that we now have as our esteemed Government-in-formation? There
are politicians who failed to get anywhere in Likud, so they went to the top
in Kadima. Likewise, Labor Party rejects, and some old codgers (the
Pensioners) who may have to be helped up to the podium. By the way, is
Shimon Peres a member of Kadima or a stalking horse for the Pensioners Party?
Our supposed Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, is going to organize a strike in
the Defense Department. And Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beiteinu, has
already changed his principles just to get some power. They remind me of the
"not quite ready for prime time politicians." At least the satirists will
have more work.
Jack Cohen

Thursday, April 20, 2006


In the Haggadah it is written that "in every generation an evil one arises to
destroy us." In this generation it is undoubtedly Ahmedinejad and his Shi'ite
Islamist Iran. Israel has defeated attacks by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon,
Jordan and Iraq, in various combinations in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973
and 1982. Now it seems to be Iran leading the charge. They have
announced that they have enriched uranium to the level required for energy
generation purposes (3.5%), and that their intentions are purely peaceful.
Hands up all who believe them? Just as I thought, not too many hands.
The problem is that once you have enriched uranium to that extent it is merely
a question of scale to go to the much higher values, say 90%, required for an
atomic bomb! Natural uranium (processed to 'yellow cake') consists of two
main isotopes, U238 (99%) and U235 (1%), each with a different size and
mass. Bequerel in Paris in 1896 discovered that pitchblende, an ore of
uranium, emitted strong rays, that turned out to be due to the spontaneous
decay of U235. This is radioactivity, the process of nuclear fission that
produces two smaller isotopes from one U235 atom. But, while this process
causes some heat, the presence of a majority of nonfissionable U238 prevents
the process from getting out of control. It is only when the U235 is enriched
to a critical level that the decay, that produces several neutrons, causes the
rapid efficient production of energy that results in an explosion.
Although it is only a matter of scale, it is nontrivial to go from the few
hundred centrifuges required to separate the U235 isotope (in the form of
its volatile hexaflouride) for energy production, to the ten thousand or so
centrifuges required for weapons enrichment. Iran is at this stage now.
Some experts think that it is too late to be able to stop Iran by military
means and that only sanctions will work. Others think that sanctions are
useless, since it will give Iran more time to develop the centrifuge process,
and therefore only military means can work, not to destroy all nuclear
capability, but at least to slow the process down. Now may be premature,
maybe its better to wait until the process is more advanced and then strike.
All this is a matter of great risk, because attacks on protected and buried
facilities are not easy, and Iran could recover from such an attack and still
succeed, and as well you have the possibility of military responses. Iran has
announced that 40,000 suicide bombers are being trained to hit the West
and Israel should there be any attack on Iran. While this is probably said
mainly to intimidate, such reactions must be taken seriously.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Liechtenstein or Kuwait?

Why does the country of Liechtenstein exist? It is a historical anomaly, like
Luxembourg, San Marino and Andorra. Should they be wiped off the face of
the earth? If you are a big country with a strong army and a violent belief
system, you could threaten one or more of them, and even possibly try to
destroy them.
In the world, out of 191 countries at the UN, there are 98 like Israel with
a population of 6 million people, or less. Among these other countries are
Paraguay, Laos, Slovakia, Denmark, Libya, Jordan, Finland, Nicaragua,
Norway, New Zealand, Ireland, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Lithuania, Armenia,
Uruguay, Georgia, Kuwait, etc...But, only one of them, Israel, is actually
threatened with extinction by a big strong, powerful country, in this case
Iran with a population of 62 million, ten times as big. Can you imagine if any
one of these countries was threatened with extinction what the international
community would do. Would they just sit by and let it happen? Probably!
Except if they have oil, like Kuwait, and then they would go to war over the
principle of supporting the rights of small countries to exist.
If the international order means anything it should mean that big countries
cannot threaten to destroy small countries with nuclear or conventional
weapons. Yet, that is what the elected President of Iran has done over
and over again. This is no chance comment, no off the cuff remark, this
is intentional national policy. It sounds ludicrous, but that is what they
intend to do. So what are we waiting for?
Oh yes, a small matter of verification. We must be sure that they can
actually destroy us, before we could actually take any action. Or rather we
should leave it to the big boys (bigger than Iran) to take care of it
diplomatically. Except that everyone knows that diplomacy will never work
in this case.
They said that Saddam Hussein had WMD, and they were wrong, they said
he had contacts with terrorists, and they were wrong, so there is a finite
possibility that they are wrong in this case. But, we know without a shadow
of doubt that Iran has developed uranium enrichment capability, because they
just announced it and celebrated. We are sure that they support terrorist
organizations, because they have been funding Hizbollah in Lebanon, Islamic
Jihad and also Hamas in the PA for years and just announced a m$50
payment to the Hamas-led PA. We know they have missile delivery
capability, because they have tested their Shihab missiles. So what are we
waiting for?
We are waiting to see if the US will indeed uphold the charter of the UN
and in order to preserve the peace, prevent the little matter of a sovereign
member of the UN being wiped out (together with a goodly number of
Muslims) by nuclear warheads Let's hope they don't wait to see if Israel
is actually going to be incinerated. Well, I suppose like last time, when we
lost 6 million Jews during WWII, we should sit and wait for it to happen to
know that they really mean business.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Suicide bombing in Tel Aviv

The suicide bombing in Tel Aviv yesterday killed 9 and injured 36, of whom 7
are critically injured. It was anticipated that eventually a bomber would be
successful, since the number of threats had risen drastically over Pesach, and
it is impossible to thwart all of them. The pattern is the same as before,
they kill our civilians randomly and in return we target their terrorists.
But, there are two unusual features of this bombing, first the video released
by the Islamic Jihad shows a child as the bomber. Although they claimed that
he is 20 years old it is evident that he is about 16. This is another feature
of their continuing attempts to thwart the security forces, they have used
women, men dressed as chassidic Jews and now a child. A second unusual
feature is that they bombed the same place as last January, a felafel stand
called "Rosh ha'ir" in the old bus station Neve Sha'anan district. The new
bus station is protected by high security at all entrances, while the old area
is now a crowded market district. Among the dead are two foreign workers
from Romania as well as the security guard who was seen questioning the
terrorist before he detonated himself and a 16 year old US tourist was
critically wounded.
The attack marred the ceremonies for the opening of the new 17th Knesset
that were taking place in Jerusalem at the same time. The Defense Ministry
spokesman said that the statements emanating from Iran and Syria supporting
such terrorist acts were a "declaration of war" against Israel. Statements by
left wing politicians such as Beilin that this shows that we need to be
negotiating with the Palestinians are ludicrous, because they are clearly not
interested in negotiating with us. That's why they elected an extremist
terrorist Government. While the spokesman for Pres Abbas of the PA, Saeb
Erekat, as usual condemned the bombing and said it was "against the interests
of the Palestinian people," the Hamas spokesman justified the attack and
blamed the "occupation," although Israel no longer occupies any of Gaza, and
would be happy to negotiate a withdrawal from the West Bank.
PM Olmert said that Israel would know how to react, but he has said things
like this before. Since this is the first successful suicide bombing in a
year, the previous one was in Tel Aviv in February 2005, when 4 were killed,
it represents the beginning of the new wave of aggression marked by the
accession to power of Hamas and their support for all forms of terrorism
against Israel. In that respect this is a new situation and perhaps a far more
dangerous and understandable one for those who have had reservations about
Israel's military actions to protect itself in the past.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The fifth question?

At the Seder there were the requisite four questions from the children. I had
an additional fifth question trying to bring the ritual up-to-date: "Why is
this DNA different from all other DNAs?"
The basis of the question is that the Jews are the distinct "chosen people"
and as such must be distinguished by a distinct set of DNA. We now know that
DNA not only codes for proteins required for biochemical processes, but also
codes for such human traits as behavior, risk-taking and alcoholism. There
has been speculation that there are genes that run in families that also
determine degree of religiosity. If so, then why not a proclivity for a
particular religious behavior? The experience of repeating the Seder year
after year for millennia must have imprinted itself in our DNA. So we can't
help it anymore, we have to go through with it all, the removal of chametz,
the eating of matzo, the questioning. Has this made us brighter or better?
Probably not, but I wish at least that the genes for digesting matzo had
enabled us to adapt better.
There were the usual debates (Jewish euphemism for arguments) that erupted. I
had one with my friend and relative by marriage Zeev Silverman, and his two
ultra-Orthodox daughters (the products of extensive "brainwashing"). I
mentioned that I have a friend, who is writing an interesting book on
"mistakes" and "contradictions" in the Torah/Bible. Whereupon I was
informed by the righteous sisters that there are no mistakes in the Bible, it
is "perfect," since it is the word of God. Of course, I disputed this, since
first the Bible as we know it was undoubtedly written down by humans some
millennia ago, and second it has been copied over the years by scribes, any of
whom could have made a mistake that is repeated. Once Zeev admitted this,
then the opening made my point that mistakes could have crept in, although in
the Orthodox concept the original as "dictated" by God must be considered to
have been perfect.
There are also differences in rabbinical analysis and interpretation.
Different Rabbis at different times have made interpretations of apparently
contradictory statements that do appear in the Bible. I quoted a major source
of my friend's analysis, namely books written by the greatest living authority
on Biblical exegesis or textual analysis, Richard E. Friedman of UCSD. His
two books "Who wrote the Bible" (1997) and "The Bible with sources revealed"
(2003) are considered to be authoritative. Zeev countered that he could not
be compared to the Rambam who considered the Bible as it is to be "perfect"
and there must be other experts who disagree with Friedman's analysis. No
doubt, but his is the most authoritative and up-to-date analysis that we have.
I find it a strength of Judaism that commentary and interpretation can still
occur, and it is a mistake of the ultra-Orthodox to regard the text as
immutable and perfect. This point was vividly demonstrated by this discussion
at the Seder table.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mutual Disengagement

It is more than just coincidental that both the Palestinians and the
Israelis have elected Governments that have no interest in negotiating with
each other. Its as if after the five years of the fiasco of the intifada,
when ca. 5,000 people were killed, for no apparent advantage, that both
sides decided on a policy of separation. All one can say is that the
aggressive policy of the intifada has not worked for the Palestinians, they
remain poverty stricken and their terrorists are being killed at a record rate
(last weekend 14 terrorists were killed in Gaza alone).
Now even Hamas, as extreme as it is, has imposed a unilateral ceasefire.
Israel however, does not recognize this ceasefire, since other groups
(Islamic Jihad, Fatah al Aksa) continue to fire rockets into Israel and
continue bombing attacks. The number of threats received by the security
services has risen to ca. 70 per day, 10 of them serious threats. Every day
terrorists are captured or killed. This is not a PA ceasefire but a selective
temporary Hamas ceasefire, and it does little good.
Meanwhile Hamas is distracted, busy learning how to actually govern. The
first order of business is money, you can't run a Government without it. They
are now learning that policies and actions do matter, and so after the US, EU
and others have withdrawn payment of funds (why were all the Palestinian
expenses paid for by the Western world anyway?) they are going cap in
hand to the Arab/Muslim world asking for help. There is no way that they
will receive the ca. m$300 they are short, the other Arabs don't really
support the Palestinians, even when the chips are down, they prefer for the
West to pay.
It's noticeable that even as the price of oil has gone up, the relative wealth
of the Arab countries have gone down. On the list of countries in the world
the Arab countries have slipped an average of 5 places downwards in the
past year. Bahrain is a good example, since its oil has all but run out, and
now it is learning that to maintain itself (it can't depend on handouts like
the Palestinians) it must attract foreign investment, including immigration of
trained foreign workers, and training of its own young men, and women (!)
Qatar has managed this transition without noticeable friction and suffering.
In a way they are the real enemy of al Qaeda, since they have accepted
westernization as a means to adapt and prosper int his world. Why can't the
Palestinians be expected to do the same (that's a mystery)? Even Iran,
their staunch supporter, is in financial straits, yet is busy developing
nuclear capability. But, this time, it finally looks as if the Palestinians
aren't going to be bailed out, or rescued from their own extremism (although
the Russians may help them). A price should be paid for openly supporting
terrorism, glorifying the use of violence to solve problems, and refusing to
honor agreements previously arrived at. It might be that many Palestinians
voted for Hamas as a protest, an alternative, to the corrupt Fatah Arafatian
clique that ran the PA from its inception. But, they also got the Hamas
Islamist government, that wants to do away with cinemas and public
entertainment, and wants all women to be covered from head to toe in
public. Even Hanan Ashrawi raises her eyebrows at that. There is a
fundamental conflict between Fatah, headed by Pres. Abbas, whose
power is nonexistent, and Hamas, and noone knows where it will lead. Its
not clear that after this democratic election there will ever be another in
the PA.
Meanwhile on the Israeli side we are a few years only from a program of
unilateral disengagement on the West Bank, if it is possible. If it was so
hard to resettle 8,000 Jews from Gaza, how could they resettle 60,000 Jews
from the West Bank. And as some will argue, why not resettle some of the
Arabs to make a fair compromise. Then let them live on their side and we'll
live on our side. Its not an agreement, but it is a mutual disengagement, at
least for a while. But then, it won't be long before the Hamas forces decide
its time they carried out their program of military destruction of Israel.
For previous articles see:

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Coalition

The Coalition Government finally chosen by Ehud Olmert consists of Kadima
(29), with Labor (19), Gil (Pensioners, 7), Shas (12), UTJ (6), and Israel
Beiteinu (11), for a total of 84 seats, a handy majority. This blends the
center left with two religious and one right wing party. Note that the
extreme left wing party Meretz (5) and the Arab Parties (9) are outside
the Coalition and the right wing opposition is lead by Likud (12) with
UT-NRP (9).
There are three factors that may spell problems in the future. First, is that
in dealing out Ministries, one of the top three had to go to Peretz of Labor,
and he is being appointed Defense Minister. This makes no real sense since
first, he made a point of avoiding all security/defense issues in his campaign
and stuck to social matters that are his forte. Second, he has no background
or experience in the Defense field. He served in the IDF and was invalided
out, but has never held any position or experience related to Defense. Since
Defense is a matter of prime importance in Israel, one might have expected
someone with more of a military or security background to be given this
portfolio. It may be that Olmert hopes that Peretz will be such a failure at
Defense that he will have to be removed or replaced. But, another view is
that because of his lack of experience the military will run rings around him
and do just what they like, so that the Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, has
actually supported the appointment of a civilian to the post of Defense
The second potential problem is the inclusion of IB, a right wing party
opposed to future withdrawals from the West Bank, in the Coalition. On the
one hand, Olmert has stated that he will have no party in the Coalition unless
they accept his "convergence plan" to move many small settlements on the
West Bank closer to the main ones and then draw the borders of Israel. On
the other hand, IB's leader Avigdor Lieberman, who favors transferring Arabs
rather than territory, has already stated publicly that he will work against
the convergence plan from within the Coalition. This would seem to make
for rocky days ahead.
The third issue is related to the second, namely that with his "core"
coalition of Kadima, Labor and Gil, Olmert has less than 61 seats, not enough
for a majority. So for any security issue such as the convergence plan he
might find that he is dependent on parties outside his coalition, and he does
not want to, nor can he afford to, depend on the support of Meretz or the Arab
parties for any significant policy. This might hamper his freedom of action
and could potentially bring down his Government.
Olmert felt that he needed at least one coalition partner to his right and
the religious parties, so as to broaden the range of his coalition, so that he
could justify taking significant steps affecting the future of the State.
This he has now accomplished. But, whether or not they will all stay with
him through these difficult decisions and through the next four years is
impossible to predict.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Civil war in Iraq?

The situation in Iraq is teetering on the edge of a civil war between Shia and
Sunni Muslims. Every day approximately 50 Shia are being killed in terrorist
incidents, the latest one in a mosque in Baghdad that killed 70 people and
wounded hundreds. It is reported that two of the three suicide bombers
managed to get into the guarded mosque by dressing as women (or maybe
they actually were women). Normally women are not checked when they
enter mosques. Since the holy mosque in Samara was destroyed last month
in a huge bombing, the odds are on a civil war in Iraq. Until now the Shia authorities have exercised significant restraint in response to Sunni
provocations, but they cannot hold back their Shia followers forever.
The likelihood of Shia retaliation against Sunnis is very high, and many such
attacks have already occurred, although the bulk of casualties have been Shia.
Since Shia are the majority (65%) in Iraq, they hoped to obtain control thru
the ballot box, hence the orderly election that took place four months ago.
But, so far no government has been formed, and this is because of the
inability of the parties to agree on a single candidate for Premier. The
current incumbent Ibrahim al-Jaafari is a liberal Shia, not sufficiently
religious (Islamist) for the majority of Shia, and not acceptable to the
bulk of Sunnis because he is a Shia.
The visit last week by US Secty of State Condy Rice and UK FM Jack
Straw to Baghdad had a note of desperation about it, as if they were pleading
with the parties to arrive at a compromise, or else all will be lost. If no
compromise candidate is accepted by all sides soon (a few weeks) and the
carnage continues, as it is likely to do (given that the insurgents see their
opportunity now), then the US and UK Coalition Forces will not be able
to stop the internecine conflict from spiraling out of control. The sectarian
militias, instead of shrinking as they should if a democratic Iraq were
developing, instead they are growing, and becoming more powerful at the
expense of the Iraqi security forces and Army.
If a civil war does occur, then Iraq will likely break up into three parts,
and the US will not be able to stop that. The consequences are severe.
First, the Turks may invade the Kurdish area in northern Iraq to prevent the
formation of an independent Kurdish State. Second, the Shia may call for
support from their allies in Iran, and if Iranian forces enter Iraq that might
be the signal for a full Sunni - Shia war. Who can tell what the consequence
of this might be. As an Israeli I don't object to them killing each other,
rather than their focus on killing us. But, the results could be massively
destabilizing for the whole Middle East. In readiness for a wide conflict it
is reported that Iran recently conferred with its allies, Syria, Hizbollah in
Lebanon, and Hamas in the PA.
At the same time comes the report that the Bush Administration is planning a
massive bombing campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities, to prevent them
from placing nuclear tipped bombs on their recently demonstrated long range
(4,500 km) missiles. A lame duck President like Bush could afford to take this
undesirable but maybe necessary action, when no re-electable President could.
But, at least they are planning options, just in case. Never a dull moment,
and let's hope we're still here when the smoke clears.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Anti-Zionism is racism

When I was growing up in London during the 1950's I was often called
"dirty Jew" or told "go back to your own country" (this was before the
immigration of many blacks and Indians to Britain). I was insulted in
this way because I "look" Jewish, I have a long nose and dark features.
So did Gen. De Gaulle, but he wasn't traveling on London Transport.
The people who thus abused me did not know what I thought, whether or
not I believed in Judaism, so their comments were definitely racist, they
were examples of anti-Semitism.
It has become common-place to argue that modern day anti-Zionism is a
form of anti-Semitism, that people are trying to hide their racist feelings
behind criticism of Israel. They argue that it is permissible to oppose
Israeli Government positions, or IDF actions as being too severe, and in
general opposing the existence of Israel as a Jewish State, that ironically
they often call racist (or apartheid) without knowing the slightest thing
about the reality. There are two origins of this type of attitude, either
anti-Semitism or sympathy for the Palestinians, although why so many
people so strongly support the Palestinians is a mystery.
Judah Pearl, the father of the murdered journalist Danny Pearl and a
Professor at UCLA, has now written an essay in which he argues that
anti-Zionism is not only a cover for anti-Semitism, it is also racist in its
own right. Why should people argue that the Jews have no right to a country
of their own, why should Israel's actions be scrutinized to a greater extent
that those of any other country on earth, why should anyone question the
right to existence of a country of 6 million people that has been recognized
by the international community and has been a member of the UN for 56
years? This in itself is a form of racism. This is the attitude that
supported the "Zionism is racism" resolution at the UN, that took 16 years
(1975-1991) to have expunged. No Western liberal denies the right of a
country to any other distinct ethnic group, that is distinguished by its own
culture, language and religion. Even the Kurds deserve a country of their
When the USSR broke up, did these same people argue that the Baltic States
should not become three separate independent sovereign countries? When
Yugoslavia broke up did anyone (apart from the Serbs) argue that they should
not form independent sovereign countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia,
Bosnia) and this process is still on-going (Montenegro, Kossovo). If Lebanon
deserves to be independent of Syria, why not Israel? If Jordan deserves to
be independent, why not Israel? If Palestine deserves to be independent, why
not Israel? Certainly I would argue that Israel has a greater historical and
moral right to exist than any of these other countries.
Recently I saw an item in one of the media reports showing poor Palestinians
lining up at an Israeli checkpoint (what a cliche), and the correspondent said
something to the effect, "isn't it degrading for a Palestinian woman whose
family has lived here for centuries (how does she know?) to be stopped by
an Ethiopian soldier who just arrived off the boat?" That is pure racism!
First of all why pick out an Ethiopian soldier, because he's black? Maybe
it's meant to mean that he's only been here for a short time, but so have
many white, Russian immigrant soldiers. Second, the right of Jews to
immigrate to Israel is one of the reasons for needing Jewish sovereignty,
otherwise the British or the Palestinian Arabs would exclude these Jews,
so that they would continue to be subject to the racist treatment that they
experienced in their home countries, Ethiopia, Russia or Britain!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The rocket war

The "rocket war" continues in the south, with Palestinian terrorists firing
rockets on a daily basis from Gaza into Israel, forty this week alone, and
the IDF retaliating in two ways. First they fire artillery at sources of
rocket firing and second they target the terrorists who are carrying out
these attacks.
Although most of the rockets cause no damage, one fell last week in a mattress
factory in the industrial zone of Ashkelon, and several people were treated
for minor injuries and shock. One also fell on a soccer pitch making a hole
in the middle of it. In retaliation the IAF dropped a bomb on a soccer pitch
in Gaza. Surprisingly, FIFA, the international football association sent an
official complaint to Israel for this, although not to the PA. Is this a case
of bias or what?
On Friday afternoon, the IDF caught a team of three rocket firers red-handed,
after they entered a car to drive away from their firing site. Their car was
blown up by a missile fired from a helicopter and they won't be firing any
more rockets into Israel, two were killed and one wounded. Later on Saturday
a senior leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (an umbrella group of
several terrorist organizations) Iyad Aynayn and 5 others were killed as his
car left a terrorist training camp in Rafah. Unfortunately, his 5 year old
child was with him in the car, although the IDF had dropped leaflets a few
days before warning civilians and children to keep away from terrorist
targets. Responses from the PA confirmed his death, and the official PA
spokesman, Abu Rodeinah, called this "an unforgivable crime," and threatened
unnamed consequences. A Hamas Government spokesman also warned that
they will not be able to restrain the terrorist organizations (not that they
have been doing so).
This comes at a difficult time for Hamas, since they have been trying to show
restraint to support their argument that they are unilaterally maintaining a
ceasefire (hudna) and therefore deserve continued funding from the EU and US.
As of Friday both of them announced a stoppage of all payments to the Hamas PA
Government, although the US doubled its payment to UNRWA to m$250 for
strictly humanitarian purposes (food, medicine, education). However, not even
the US can prevent this money from being used for other purposes (graft,
corruption, salaries and bombs). Nevertheless, it is predicted that the PA
will not be able to meet its obligations for March and will face a severe cash
flow problem. Whether or not this will cause Hamas to modify its hardline
stance of not recognizing Israel and not accepted previous PA agreements is a
matter of debate. Some think that necessity will force them to change, while
others see that this reasonable face is presented only to the West to get the
money, while to the Arabs they still insist that they are not giving up their
hardline stance of intending to destroy Israel. This situation seems vaguely
There is no doubt that if the Hamas-led PA stopped the firing of rockets into
Israel, there would be no need for IDF retaliation. The ball is in their
On a related topic, an explosion occurred in Nablus last night, wounding three
Palestinians. This was a classic "work accident" in which terrorists
preparing a bomb made a fatal error. The IDF found a secret bomb factory in
an apartment, with several bombs prepared, and proceeded to demolish it.
They will also hopefully break another terrorist ring from this intelligence.
The struggle goes on.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A country without borders

A country cannot exist indefinitely without complete borders, even if its
sovereignty is recognized. Israel is one of the few countries in the world
with this impediment. It had no recognized borders, only ceasefire lines,
until the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty was ratified in 1979, the Jordanian
peace treaty likewise in 1994, and the Lebanese border was ratified by
the UN in 2000. That leaves the Syrian and Palestinian borders that
remain to be delineated.
There is not likely to be any progress on the Syrian front while Pres. Bashar
Assad refuses to negotiate with Israel over the Golan Heights, which Israel
has annexed. So Israel is content to leave the situation as it is,
particularly since the Syrian Government is under pressure by the US for its
involvement in allowing insurgents to enter Iraq and for sheltering Saddam
Hussein loyalists and possibly WMD.
That leaves the crucial border with the Palestinians. Israel itself was
instrumental in founding the Palestine Authority in order to provide them with
an independent entity short of Statehood. Now under Pres. Bush, Israeli
Governments have endorsed the idea of a two state solution, that was the
original concept of the UN Partition Plan in 1948. But, with the election of
Hamas as the Government of the PA, an organization that has engaged in
terrorism against Israeli civilians, that is recognized as a terrorist
organization by the Quartet and many other countries in the world, the
question of the borders becomes moot. Because the Government of the
PA does not recognize Israel and is committed to a single Islamic State in
all of Palestine.
But, the question arises, if the PA does not recognize Israel and does not
endorse previous negotiated agreements (not that Arafat kept any agreements),
then what is the status of the PA itself. Its borders could be regarded as
nonexistent. But, instead of putting pressure on the PA, Ehud Olmert's Kadima
Party is preparing to establish a new Government committed to Israeli
withdrawal from the West Bank. Call it "convergence," call it "disengagement"
or call it "capitulation," by any name its a withdrawal in face of terrorist
control of the PA in the West Bank and Gaza.
When haggling in a Middle Eastern bazaar, one is advised never to reveal up
front the final terms that one is prepared to accept. But, in this respect
Israel is acting as if it is dealing with rational Western countries. Dealing
with an Arab Muslim extremist entity, committed to our destruction, there is
no reason on earth why Israel should withdraw unilaterally and give up in
any way the advantage to them, either physically or psychologically. However,
in light of the Israeli election results I am afraid that that is what the
Israeli Government will be doing. So the borders will be decided according
to our interests, but they will likely become only the starting point for
future negotiations.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Norwegian Lebensborn

During WWII, the Germans conquered Norway, and found there some willing
collaborators, including the now famous Quisling, who was appointed Prime
Minister. Meanwhile the legal Government, including the Norwegian Monarchy
decamped to London. In Norway the SS found an ideal reservoir of blue-eyed,
blonde haired Aryans. It didn't take long for the German soldiers to find
Norwegian girlfriends, and the number of German-fathered babies began to grow.
Then the SS established a Norwegian branch of the Lebensborn program, that
was tasked with repopulating Eastern Europe with good Aryan stock, after the
Jews and the Slavs had been dispatched. As a result Norwegian women who
could prove that the father of their child was German were given excellent
facilities in which to give birth in Oslo. A Hospital and nurseries were
established specifically for this purpose in 1940. Nearly 10,000 babies were
born into this program, but they remained mostly in Norway, because the
fathers did not want them in Germany, where most of them had German wives
and families. The Germans typically kept excellent documentation on these
babies, each of which had a file that still exists in the Norwegian Central
Archives in Oslo, in which their racial characteristics are carefully noted.
After the war, these children and their mothers became pariahs in Norway.
Not only were the mothers considered traitresses, and had their hair cut off
and were mistreated, but the children were ostracized in Norwegian society.
The Norwegian Government tried to transfer them to Germany, but the Allies
would not allow this. Although they were Norwegian citizens, they were denied
all support by the Norwegian Government. The general opinion was that these
children would be racists like their fathers, and no-one wanted them. Some
managed to escape to Germany or to Sweden. Most, without State support,
managed to survive, but many committed suicide and many became drug
addicts and social misfits. One of them, whose mother took her to Sweden and
then died, is a member of the Abba singing group.
This is a little known footnote to WWII, that has only recently been exposed.
There is no doubt that the way the Norwegian State and people treated these
innocent children was deplorable. Yet they are certainly holier-than-thou
when it comes to giving Israel advice on how it should treat the Palestinians.
Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Isaiah Berlin, the great British Jewish philosopher, was reputed to have been
the first to suggest that every ideological movement has within it the seeds
of its own destruction. The beginning of this process seems to involve a
schism that divides a movement into two competing and opposing parts. So
it was with each of the political movements that bedeviled the 20th century.
The Communists started out as the Social Revolutionary movement in Russia,
and split into Bolsheviks (the majority) and Mensheviks (the minority).
It was Lenin's manipulative ability that enabled him to obtain a majority,
and later the Mensheviks and all their purported successors were abolished
and murdered by the Communists. One could argue that the downfall of
Communism came about eventually because it had killed off too many of
those who could have supported it "with a human face."
The Fascist movement began ostensibly in Italy and was led by Mussolini. It
started out as a syndicalist, ideological movement, but Hitler and the Nazis
transformed it into a super-nationalist, racist ideology that could not
survive without war and genocide. The downfall of Mussolini lead to the
takeover of Italy by the German Nazis, although both were eventually
defeated by the Allies.
Religious schisms are similar, Christianity split first into Catholic
(Western) and Orthodox (Eastern) sects, and then again the Western sect
split to form the Protestant Churches. Being religions they declared each
other heretical and fought each other in bitter wars, but both sides survived.
Similarly, the Muslims split into Sunni and Shia, in a classic case of a
succession conflict, that still persists to this day. Even Judaism has
divided into Orthodox and the Conservative/Reform movement,
that has its equivalent in most countries. At least this schism has not been
attended by internecine bloodshed.
In Gaza, there is a lot of internal strife, with the political division mainly
between the nationalist Fatah and the Islamist Hamas. The irony is clear,
when Fatah was in control they asked that men not carry guns in public and
Hamas rejected this request. Now that Hamas is in charge PM Ismail Haniyeh
asked the same thing, but now Fatah rejects this request. Four were killed
and sixty wounded in the worst intra-Palestinian violence so far. This was
triggered when a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, Yusuf al Kuka,
was blown up in his car on Sunday. At first this was reported to be from an
Israeli missile, but the IAF denied responsibility, and then the Palestinian
security services themselves declared that it was a nearby car bomb that had
killed him, hardly the signature of the IDF. So then the PRC and Fatah
gunmen of al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades went on a shooting rampage and took
over several Government buildings. At the moment calm has returned, but
temporarily. The big schism in Israel is between those who want to vacate
the "occupied" territories, now the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and
those who want to settle it. The former see the evacuation of this land and
its handover to the Palestinians as an inevitable process. The latter view
the evacuation of this land as treachery to Jewish destiny and the word of
God. There is not much of a bridge between these two camps, the liberals
and the nationalists, and after the violence at Amona, who can confidently
predict that this dilemma can be resolved peacefully.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Electoral causes and consequences

The right did relatively poorly in the Israeli election: combining Likud (12
seats), NU-NRP (9) and Israel Beiteinu (11), the right received a total of
only 32 seats (using the final tallies). They could be combined with the
religious parties (Shas 12, UTJ 6) to give a total of 50 seats. This can be
compared with the left of center of Kadima (29), Labor (20) and Meretz
(5) for a total of 54 seats. Actually, on the face of it, not that much
different, so one might conclude that the Israeli electorate was split down
the middle. But, the religious parties are well known to go either way, so
with Shas, UTJ, and IB, whose leader, Avigdor Lieberman, wants to taste
power in the worst way, and Gil the Pensioner's party (7 seats) Olmert
might have a possible coalition of 90 seats! To this could be added the
Arab parties (total 9 seats) that can also be counted on to support Kadima
from outside the coalition in certain votes.
Four interpretations have been advanced for the poor showing of the Likud:
1. Because many of its leaders and voters followed Kadima to the center, and
this basically gutted Likud. Remember that Likud was the leading party in
Israel for 3 decades, so one could say that in effect Sharon destroyed Likud.
2. Because the security measures taken by the Government (the Security
Barrier and the targeted assassinations) have made central Israel feel much
safer, voters were able for the first time to focus on socioeconomic issues,
for example the election of the Gil Pensioner's Party.
3. Because Netanyahu, the Head of Likud, had been the Minister of Finance
and had implemented economic programs that had severely cut Government
spending on social issues (such as pensions, child allowances, etc.).
Although these factors (and denationalization) have lead to an overall
improvement of the Israeli economy, this was a way for the poorer electors
to punish Netanyahu.
4. Because the general tenor of politics in Israel have been moving to the
left for some time, as exemplified by the (failed) Oslo Accords, the (aborted)
Geneva Plan, the (unimplemented) Road Map and the (unilateral) Gaza
Whichever explanation one prefers to believe, the implications of each are
different for the subsequent outcome. If you blame Sharon, then not
much can be done, if you blame Netanyahu then maybe he will be
replaced, if your blame the socioeconomic situation then that must be
tackled, but if you blame the leftward drift of public opinion in Israel that
is a fundamental problem, because this may have nothing to do with reality.
Meanwhile the Palestinians have been moving to the right with the second
intifada, the expansion of suicide bombings, the rocket attacks and the
election of Hamas. In a recent poll approximately 60% of Palestinians support
the use of suicide bombings against Israelis, a lowering from the high of ca.
85% a few years ago, nevertheless it is still a majority. Also, the Hamas
Government spokespeople have made it clear that they support the use of
violence and military force to remove Israel from "all Palestinian soil."
Naive liberal Westerners may be duped into believing that when they talk about
"the Zionist occupation" they mean the West Bank, but in fact they mean the
whole of Palestine! Their Minister of Foreign Policy Mohammed A-Zahar
stated in response to the terror attack on Friday that killed four Israelis in
the West Bank, that they support the use of all means as part of the "armed
struggle against Israeli occupation."
It has been noted in this election that no party mentioned the possibility of
"peace" in its platform, that outcome seems to have faded with the victory
of Hamas. Whereas the left once acted as if the Palestinians were already
our friends, and the right as if they must be defeated, now the policy towards
the Palestinians can be termed "containment."
In implementing his "convergence plan" (what some are calling his
"capitulation plan") Ehud Olmert faces many difficulties. First of all, how
does one withdraw in the face of the anticipated increase in terrorist attacks
(the number of threats has shot up)? Second, how does one persuade or
force tens of thousands of unwilling settlers to leave the West Bank, when
removing 8,000 from Gaza was so traumatic. This factor alone may render
the plan impracticable. Third, where is the money going to come from to pay
for this operation, since the funds for the Gaza disengagement have still not
been paid to most evacuees, many of whom are still living in temporary
accommodation (seeing this would anyone agree to be evacuated). Also,
the emphasis on socioeconomic issues and the coalition with the Labor Party
is going to require increased spending on social problems, that will leave
less funds for defense and expensive withdrawals.
Nevertheless, the Israeli electorate in its wisdom (or lack thereof) has
spoken, and now Olmert is empowered to try to translate their decisions into
reality. Not an easy task, and quite possibly, given the real situation, an
impossible one.