Thursday, January 02, 2003
A Big Blumen Mess

Today's Hebrew word of the day is "balagan". This word means "mess" as in the sentence "The situation in the Likud today is utter balagan."

A month ago, polls showed the Likud getting some 41 seats in the upcoming Knesset. Today's polls show them slipping to 31 seats. This follows three weeks of scandal at the ruling party which began with the corruption-fest which decided its slate of candidates.

What's worse, the slide continues despite Sharon's efforts to show that he is trying to clean up the party's act. First, the Likud's representative for gangland affairs, Moussa Alperon decided to be a man of honor and resigned from his position as head of the party's branch in Givat Shmuel. Also resigning was a highly shady character named Shlomi Oz, an associate of Alperon's who may have used his party connections to win a large government tender for a security comany he, Oz, runs.

But the biggest Likud party news this week concerned the Deputy Infrastructure Minister, Naomi Blumenthal. Blumenthal was one of the candidates targeted by the police for investigation on corruption charges. It's a complicated tale, but basically they found a money trail running from Blumenthal's driver to a vote contractor who paid for weekend suites at a swank hotel for Likud Central Committee activists. The police suspect the driver acted under direct orders from Blumenthal.

When police took Blumenthal in for questioning, she invoked her right to remain silent. As a result, Sharon fired her. The Prime Minister explained this act by saying that public figures must cooperate with the police and shouldn't remain silent.

A very noble stance, except it turns out that Sharon's son, Omri, himself a Likud candidate, is also under investigation by the police and also invoked the right to remain silent. It all smacks of hypocrisy and a feeling that Blumenthal has been scapegoated.

The worst aspect of all this sleaziness is less the corruption than the missed opportunity. When the Likud stood at 41 seats it could have become a strong leading party in the Knesset and helped end a lot of the fractiousness in Israeli politics. Now the polls show a return to the exact situation we are in now, with no party strong enough to lead a comfortable ruling coalition.

The speed at which the Likud managed to piss away their advantage truly boggles the mind.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003
Democracy, Shmemocracy

New year, same old crap with the political system. This week's new, fun, developments come to us courtesy of the Central Elections Committee, the official body which has the power to bar political parties and/or candidates from standing for election. First, the committee okayed the candidacy of Baruch Marzel, former right-hand man to Meir Kahane (whose Kach party was barred from running in 1988 on charges of extreme racism), who currently holds the number 2 spot for the extreme-right Herut party.

Then, the committee decided to bar the candidacy of Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi, who serves as an advisor to Yasser Arafat, and Azmi Bishara, an extreme Arab nationalist who has openly called for ending Israel as a Jewish state and merrily cavorts with representatives of Hizbullah.

All these moves came despite the opposition of Committee Chairman Michael Cheshin, a fairly respected Supreme Court Justice. In effect, the party flacks who make up the bulk of the Committee decided to flip Cheshin the bird. In fact, one of the Shas MKs on the committee was quoted openly as saying about the Chairman "we don't give a crap what you think."

Parties and candidates in Israel can be disqualified if they call for ending Israel as a Jewish or democratic country, if they support terror, or if they are racist. This itself is a problematic situation, which is supposed to safeguard democracy but only seems to pertain to relatively small parties on the very fringes of the political spectrum. I tend to agree with Ha'aretz that Israel has a strong enough democracy that it doesn't need to be disqualifying parties.

In any case, it should at least follow its own internal rules and judge Jewish and Arab candidates using the same yardstick. While it is strange that an Israeli MK is advising a man who harbors dreams of destroying Israel, no one has presented hard evidence that Tibi supports terrorism. Bishara has supported terrorist organizations tacitly and less-than-tacitly in the past and openly works to undermine Israel as the Jewish national home. Therefore a case could probably be made for disqualifying him. Marzel is a clear-cut racist with a semi-terroristic past who has not openly renounced his former beliefs. He should have been disqualified along with Bishara.

This week's shenanigans were clearly political in nature. By giving a kosher stamp to an odious figure like Marzel while disqualifying Tibi and Bishara, the CEC seems to be sending a very bad message to Israel's Arabs.

As with so many things related to Israeli democracy, this issue will now be turned over to the Supreme Court for a final decision. What a mess.

Happy Sylvester, Everyone!

Well, it's 2003. As I mentioned yesterday, the "Civil New Year" as it's known around is not recognized as an official holiday. In fact, a lot of religious types get really grouchy when people say "happy new year" on Jan. 1. They argue that we Jews already have our own New Year at Rosh Hashana and that celebrating on the evening of Dec. 31 should be left to the goys.

Actually, they don't call it New Year's Eve here at all. The local term is "Sylvester". It turns out that St. Sylvester's day falls on Jan. 1. At some point in recent history, this got conflated with New Year's. As a result, and despite (or perhaps because) the fact that Israel is one of the very few countries which officially ignores the Gregorial New Year, some locals have turned it into a Christian holiday. Go figure.

Personally, I hate the damned holiday. The social pressure to go out and have fun is such that you rarely ever have fun. In fact, this year the Missus and I celebrated Sylvester by catching a 21:00 screening of The Two Towers. The film ended almost exactly on the stroke of midnight.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Bye Bye 2002

I don't know about the rest of you, but as we move into the next year all I can say about 2002 is "good riddance to bad rubbish."

The conflicts, the crappy economic situation, the terrorist attacks, my joblessness and I could go on and on and on. Rationally, I know that tomorrow is just another day. In fact, New Year's isn't an official holiday here and everybody (well, those who have jobs) goes to work tomorrow. Still, psychologically it feels like a new beginning.

So, here's to a much, much better 2003.

Monday, December 30, 2002
David Mamet's Israel Experience

What can I say, I'm a sucker for celebrities who have nice things to say about this country. I suppose it's a result of all the bad publicity we've gotten lately.

Anyway, here's a little travelogue by David Mamet, who visited Jerusalem this summer as a guest of the Jerusalem Film Festival. Which actually makes him a little braver than myself, since at about the same time my brother and his girlfriend (now fiancee - congratulations!) came to visit and I decided that not to take them to Jerusalem. If anything happened, I didn't want it on my conscience.

Mamet notes the raw deal Israel has gotten in the eyes of the world with some sourness and a great deal of wit:
All of us moviegoers, who awarded ourselves the mantle of humanity for our tears at "The Diary of Anne Frank" — we owe a debt to the Jews. We do not owe this debt out of any "Unwritten Ordinance of Humanitarianism" but from a personal accountability. Having eaten the dessert, cheap sentiment, it is time to eat the broccoli. If you love the Jews as victims, but detest our right to statehood, might you not ask yourself "why?" That is your debt to the Jews. Here is your debt to the Jewish state. Had Israel not in 1981 bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, some scant weeks away from production of nuclear bomb material, all New York (God forbid) might have been Ground Zero.

For the record, I thought Heist was cracking good fun.

Carter's Latest Award

The good folks over at Little Green Footballs are holding an "Idiotarian of the Year" poll to decide who is the most egregious political/media figure or organization to emerge on the wrong side of the West's current conflict. Choices include Noam Chomsky and the U.N.

At the moment, it looks like Jimmy Carter will be able to add this acolade to his long list of other achievements - President of the U.S., Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, admirer of such enlightened regimes as Cuba's and North Korea's, not to mention the guy who brought such terms as "stagflation" and "misery index" to the American political lexicon. Michael Moore is in second place but the race is still up for grabs.

Personally, my vote goes to Carter. Moore is a smug, unctious fuck who preaches to his choir but otherwise has little worldwide influence. Carter, on the other hand, openly meddles in the affairs of sitting presidents and helps legitimize some truly evil dictators by bathing them in his saintly glow.

Voting ends tomorrow at noon PST, so vote soon.