Thursday, December 12, 2002
Election Update: Shas

In yet another interesting political development, Shas finalized its list of candidates for the elections. All the MKs associated with Shas' former chairman Aryeh Deri have been effectively kicked out.

Some background for those less familiar with the local politics: Shas is an ultra-orthodox political party of Mizrahi Jews, those of Middle Eastern descent. Over the last 20 years it has increasingly grown in Knesset representation and power. Its strength has come from two factors: its network of religious kindergartens and primary schools which challenge the state school system in many of the country's poorer regions; and the resentment of many Mizrahi Jews at the system which they feel discriminates against them, much in the way that many African-Americans feel the system discriminates against them.

Overseeing the growth of the party and its increasing political power was Aryeh Deri, a brilliant politician and manipulator par excellence, who became arguably the most important figure in Israeli politics throughout the '90s. The weak electoral system in Israel gives enormous power to small parties who can make or break coalitions. Deri used this position to its fullest, siding first with Rabin, then Netanyahu, then Barak.

In 1999 Deri was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to a 3-year stint. His trial and conviction served as the main theme of Shas' 1999 campaign, when the party garnered nearly 20 seats in the Knesset. He was released a few months ago and is currently keeping a low profile. There was a lot of speculation whether or not he would campaign in favor of the party, which has become split between his loyalists and those of current chairman Eli Yishai.

The developments today make it likelier that Deri will withhold his support for Shas. This leaves the party without one of its strongest cards. It is hopeful news for those like myself who see Shas as one of the most corrupting elements in Israeli politics and society and are relishing the prospect of the party's representation being halved.


Even with everything else going on around us -- the war, the elections, and what have you -- the tragic case of Hodaya Pimstein-Kedem has the country fairly well gripped. After three days of intensive searching, her body was found buried in a forest outside of Jerusalem. Police arrested her father, who confessed yesterday to drowning the 22-month old and burying her, then concocting a story that she wandered away from the house. The whole case has left people shaking their heads and wondering how a man can murder his child like that.

As I mentioned before, the case holds more than the usual interest for me. In 1995 I got a job at the Open University in Jerusalem teaching a course on the Internet. Among my co-workers was a bald, potbellied system administrator and network guy named Eli Pimstein. As far as I remember, Eli was a fairly affable guy. Not that I knew him all that well.

Today, it's safe to say that Eli Pimstein is the most hated man in this country.

I can't imagine what could go on in his head to plan and carry out the murder of a toddler not yet two years old. Neither can I imagine what Hodaya's mother, Roni, and her family (and, for that matter, Eli's family) must be going through. Apparently, the Kedem family has been receiving a stream of visitors at the shiva, total strangers coming from different parts of the country who have been moved by this story.

By next week, this week's events will have been subsumed by the next terrorist attack or political development. For now, it's touching to see the country coming together for something, even if it is a small tragedy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Let the Games Begin

Ah, 'tis been a good week for the spectacle which is Israeli politics. Most of the major parties running in the upcoming elections decided their lists of candidates this week, in various and sundry ways.

Labor held a straight primary in which all registered party members could vote.

The Likud had a sort of electoral congress, where party members voted on 2,900 "electors" who then vote on the candidates.

Meretz, being touchy-feely good white liberals, held a kind of affirmative action primary where almost all the top spots were reserved for one stripe of the rainbow: a woman, and Arab, a handicapped person, etc.

Over at Shas and UTJ the rabbis decided everything, of course.

And finally we have Amir Peretz's "worker's party" wherein the party chief, true to Bolshevik form, draws up the list single handedly.

The big story migrated from party to party. On Monday, the big story was that Likud voters had elected a slate of Netanyahu-friendly candidates, much to Sharon's chagrin. Yesterday the story was the same about Labor's list, a group of people who on the whole are a lot more hawkish than Labor chairman Amram Mitzna. In fact, the most visible members of Labor's ultra-dovish wing -- Tzali Reshef, Yael Dayan, and Yossi Beilin -- were effectively bumped out of the party.

Today, Beilin and Dayan decided to leave Labor and join the Meretz list. Beilin is one of the architects of the Oslo plan and probably the last person who will concede that it was an abject failure from start to finish. Meretz is his natural home, though he only gets the number 11 spot, after the women, the Arabs, the handicapped, etc.

So, the pieces are now on the board for next month's elections. The Likud has gone from center-right to right-right extreme. Labor has gone much more center-right than would have been expected after they chose the dovish Mitzna to head the party. By losing its ultra-left wing, Labor can take up a comfortable center position between Meretz and the conservative-centrist-secular Shinui party. It also means that the chances for another national unity government after the elections have increased.

Of course, anything can and probably will happen in the next month and a half, but at least it's gearing up to be an interesting show.

Liberals Against Saddam

An interesting and somewhat surprising piece from the NYTimes, considering how the paper routinely sides with the softer side of the anti-War movement. The article profiles "liberal hawks," guys like Leon Wieseltier, Paul Berman, and especially Christopher Hitchens who have a solid CV of liberal (and, in Hitchens' case, Trotskyist) political activism and opposition to Vietnam back in the day who have come out in favor of getting rid of Saddam.

The turning point for a lot of these guys, it seems, was the US involvement in the Bosnia crisis in the mid-'90s. Suddenly the paradigm shifted from Vietnam (Western imperialist interference turns into a quagmire) to WWII (the good guys come in and kick the bad guy's ass).

Recently Channel One here broadcast the deeply depressing BBC miniseries Warriors, which follows the story of a group of British soldiers sent on a mission UN Peacekeepers in Bosnia in the early '90s. Stuck in the middle of the conflict, the soldiers are constantly being ordered not to interfere as Bosnians are massacred by Serbs and Croats. They are not supposed to "help the ethnic cleansing" by evacuating Bosnians.

At one point they try to rescue a young wounded Bosnian and try to brin him back to the UN compound. They are stopped by Serbian forces who demand they hand over the boy. The peacekeepers refuse, but the UN officials in charge of the mission order them to do so. They stand and watch helplessly as the Serbians march him away.

The series is a parable for all that is wrong with the European/UN approach to conflict management. I've said it before and I'll say it again and again: the principle of peaceful conflict resolution and international governing bodies is a noble ideal. In reality, however, it is useless in dealing with the world's crisis points. Worse than useless, actually, since more ofthen than not UN intervention only helps facilitate the slaughter of one group by another group (as in Rwanda and Bosnia) or else provides dictators with useful diplomatic cover (as can be seen throughout the Iraqi weapons inspection farce).

If the US had not intervened in Bosnia in 1995 the Serbs would doubtlessly still be butchering Croats and Bosnians, and vice versa. And, doubtlessly as well, we'd see Jimmy Carter standing side by side with Kofi Anan calling on Slobodan Milosevic to heed UN resolutions.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Missing Girl Found Dead

This story has gripped the country for the last couple of days and unfortunately it ends tragically.

On a really creepy note, I realized this morning that I know the girl's father, whom the police arrested this afternoon. I used to work with him at the Open University 6 or 7 years ago. He seemed like an OK guy back then.

Having Fun with the Anti-War Crowd

Or, what happens when a hawkish smartass meets some humor-free Not in Our Name Types:

"Hey, did I miss the protest?"


"Do you know where any other pro-Saddam things are going on?"

"No I don't. I'm not sure if I understand you. Do you mean pro-Saddam or antiwar?"

"Either. I mean, same crowd, right?"

"I suppose . . ." He thinks for a second. "I don't much care for your generation. You've got the message all wrong. This is all so stupid."

"Where do you get your signs printed up? I want to make a sign that reads 'Kill Kurds, not Mumia.' How much do you think that would cost?"

Sunday, December 08, 2002
Other People's Problems

One of the best things about England is their news. Over here, you turn on the news or pick up the paper and read about bombings, threats of bombings, unemployment, political instability and the like.

In the UK, however, most of the news last week concerned a Royal butler who was on trial for something and the trial fell apart for lack of evidence. Or somethings. It didn't interest me enough to read about the details, other than the fact that the palace and the police are pointing fingers at each other. Towards the end of the week, the main news focus switched to Cherie Blair, the PM's wife, and her dealings with a con man.

Oh, to have these problems here.

A slightly more tangible problem appears to be Ken Livingston, London's mayor. I heard a lot of people bitching about "Red Ken" and his recent attempts to monkey with the traffic in London. Livingston, who as his nickname would suggest is more or less an olde-timey, unreconstructed believer in building a socialist paradise, wants to drive people to use London's public transportation system more. Fair enough.

However, instead of giving people positive incentive to use London Transport, he's opted for a carrot-and-stick approach. Or rather a stick-and-stick approach. First, drivers will soon have to pay a fee to enter central London. At the same time, Livingston has apparently started to mess with the traffic lights in order to increase congestion to an intolerable level.

All of this would be somehow understandable if he were offering an alternative. However, London's public transportation system is overcrowded as it is. People are predicting a total collapse once the congestion charges come into effect. At any rate, the congestion charge is one more problem for small businessmen who are already having problems.

I'm baaack

There's nothing like spending a week and a half outside this pressure cooker of a country to put the wind back into your sails. We spent the last 9 days in London doing the usual touristy and shopping-y stuff. And mostly trying to avoid news of home. (Vicky's family is quite passionate about Israel, so we weren't able to avoid things completely).

Now I'm back and we're in the middle of campaign season around here. The two major parties are holding their primaries today and tomorrow, which should provide some amusement. Then there's that 12,000-page load of horseshit that Saddam delivered to the UN.

More to come...