Friday, January 10, 2003
The Story Gets Weirder and Weirder

Alongside the bombing in Tel Aviv, the week's biggest story involved a possibly illegal $1.5 million loan that Ariel Sharon's sons received from a wealthy South African pal of their dad's. The loan helped the Prime Minister received to cover costs from his 1999 campaign to become Likud chairman. The story is a bit more complicated than that (you can read the original report in Ha'aretz here) and involve all sorts of allegations of bribery and fraud directed at the Prime Minister and his sons.

The story broke mid-week and helped keep Sharon's doberman-like media advisor, Eyal Arad, busy going from news show to news show attacking the media for hounding the Prime Minister. Whether or not the story has any meat on it probably won't be decided until after the elections. However, it is another scandal to add to the list of scandals already plaguing the Likud. Surveys before the Likud's central committee two months ago showed them getting 40 seats or above. Last week's polls have them dropping to between 27 and 30 seats.

A scandal involving the Prime Minister and his sons, especially Omri Sharon who is a candidate on the Likud slate, is especially dangerous, since it completely unravels the PM's attempts at damage control over the last few weeks and makes him look bad personally. Last night, he took to the airwaves in an attempt to explain the story of the South African loan.

However, shortly into his speech, Sharon began attacking the Labor party for playing up the scandal. At this point, Justice Michael Cheshin, the head of the Central Election Committee decided that this constituted political campaigning. According to Israeli law, political campaigning in the weeks leading up to the elections can only be broadcast at set times designated for campaign commercials. (We get a 30-50 minute block of these things every night now). As such, he ordered the TV and radio stations to cut away from the press conference, which they did. As a result, Israeli audiences had to turn to CNN to hear the Prime Minister's speech.

All I can say of this story -- the scandal, the accusations, and the botched press conference -- Only In Israel.

Thursday, January 09, 2003
Supreme Court to CEC: Drop Dead

And so Israel's Supreme Court rides in once again to save the country from itself. in a 7-4 majority, the court decided to overturn the ruling of the Central Election Committee and allow Arab MKs Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi to run for Knesset. The court also let stand the decision to let Baruch Marzel, Meir Kahane's former right hand man, run.

I think it was a good decision and one that does a lot to ease possible Arab-Jewish tensions in the run-up to the election. As always, it's a pity that it takes the Supreme Court -- which sometimes seems like the only rational body in Israeli government -- to keep the political system from spilling over into stupid-land.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003
The Lord of Reading Too Much Subtext into Movies

NRO's Jonah Goldberg has a typically snarky take on those movie critics (mainly of the Left persuasion, sadly) who insist on reading a lot of current-events subtext into The Two Towers. Specifically, he takes The Guardian's John Yatt to task for a self-righteous review of the film wherein Yatt complains that the Orcs represent blacks and Asians:
One is tempted to ask who is the real racist here? On the one hand we have people — like me — who see horrific, flesh-eating, dull-witted creatures with jagged feral teeth, venomous mouths, pointed devilish ears, and reptilian skin, and say, "Cool, Orcs!" On the other hand we have people, like Mr. Yatt, who see the same repugnant creatures and righteously exclaim "black people!" Maybe he should spend less time vetting movies for signs of racism and more time vetting himself if, that is, he free-associates black people with these subhuman monsters.
Personally, Yatt's review seems to me representative of the type of typically sour, humorless cultural criticism that you often get with people involved in The Movement. If anything, it reminded me of the wonderful review of The Phantom Menace that appeared on the World Socialist Web Site a few years back. It's main complaint (emphasis mine):
It is without depth, without complexity, without a critical thought or impulse. Whatever the conscious motives of its creators, which are by no means entirely above board, The Phantom Menace will function to encourage masses of people not to think about the critical issues in their lives.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003
The Burdens of the American Empire

A longish piece by Michael Ignatieff in the NYTimes Magazine, but well worth the effort. Ignatieff analyzes America's expanded role in making the world a better place, including the costs and risks. His analysis is sober and quite wise.

Monday, January 06, 2003
22 Dead

I actually heard one of the bombs go off yesterday evening. Around here, though, you hear the sound of a crack and you don't know whether it's thunder, a car backfiring, gunshots, or something worse. This time it was something worse. Way worse.

Back in March, when the suicide attacks were coming at a rate of one a day, I felt as if we'd gotten inured to the horror somehow. It's funny how quickly that wears off the moment things calm down a bit. We haven't had a major attack in something like a month and a half. Some of us had already started to forget what the Palestinians were capable of, wrapped up as we were in the upcoming elections and the war against Saddam.

So, two guys from the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade -- which I will tiresomely point out is a part of the Fatah movement headed by Yasser Arafat -- made their way to south Tel Aviv to a crowded pedestrian mall, one at each end of the street. One of the terrorists blew himself up. Then, when people went running to the other end of the street, the second one set off his bomb to get them. The murderous scumbags have used this "double whammy" tactic a couple of times. It is so loathsome and cowardly that it literally gets me spitting mad.

Twenty-two people are dead and some 40 are still hospitalized. Quite a few of the dead and wounded were foreign workers, since the neighborhood is home to thousands of Romanians, Filipinos, Chinese and Nigerians, many of whom are here illegally.

This fact helped complicate matters greatly. On the one hand, paramedics and hospital crews had to scramble to find translators so that they could communicate with some of the injured. On the other hand, some foreign workers did not want to get medical attention (or else fled the hospital as soon as they had been bandaged up) for fear that the authorities would deport them.

So, now comes the inevitable reaction (another part of the tango of death that I'd conveniently put out of my mind recently): a night helicopter raid in Gaza, the shutdown of some Palestinian universities, and a clampdown on the movement of Palestinian VIPs. The last component will also include preventing Palestinian delegates from travelling to London for a conference on reforms within the Palestinian Authority.

On the whole, Israel's hands are tied by the need to keep things chill for Gulf War II. We'll get a lot of criticism for essentially shutting down the PA reform conference, but I think the move is justified. It basically says that the Palestinian Authority cannot continue its business as usual -- which includes the big sham about reforms -- while their own militias butcher Israeli civilians. Bottom line is that no reforms are possible while Arafat remains breathing.

Now Sharon faces a shitstorm from two directions: On the one hand he has his right wing, who will call for Arafat's expulsion. On the other he has Tony Blair, who helped organize the London conference and will now probably complain to Unca George.

It will be interesting to see what Bush does if he has to come between two of America's closest allies with the war against Saddam looming.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Just when you forget in which country you're living comes a massive suicide bombing to remind you. This one's a bad one, with 20 reported dead so far.

I'm pretty under the weather today, so I'll have more to say tomorrow.