Thursday, July 17, 2003
The Latest Bit of Guardian Anti-Semitism

This story has been kicking around the blogsphere for a couple of days.

In a commentary piece for The Guardian last Sunday, columnist Richard Ingrams made an interesting admission:
I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it.

Too few people in this modern world are prepared to declare an interest when it comes to this kind of thing. It would be enormously helpful, for example, if those clerics and journalists who have been defending Canon Jeffrey John, the so-called gay bishop, were to tell us whether they themselves are gay. Some do, but more don't.

The issue arises partly because, in both cases, these people are often accusing the other side of being prejudiced and biased - we are either homophobes or anti-Semites.
Ingrams used this as a weird jumping-off point to attack journalist Barbara Amiel for daring to point out the BBC's ludicrously anti-Israeli reporting.

(The Beeb's animosity towards Israel is well-known and goes back decades. Just recently, there was a kerfuffle over a BBC show on alleged Israeli WMDs which did nothing more than regurgitate ridiculous Palestinian claims about uranium bullets and the like which have been debunked for years; the result of the flap was a decision by the Israeli government press office to declare the Beeb officially non grata around here).

It's no secret that the UK media, especially as one moves toward its lefthand side, has a real hatred for Israel. But such clear a clear display of undadulterated anti-Semitism is unusual, even for The Guardian. (It's also unusual for a journalist to so breezily admit to being a closed-minded idiot, but that's another matter). The amusing thing about Ingrams' article is -- as Eugene Volokh points out -- in his obnoxious attempt to preemptorily defend himself against charges of anti-Semitism, Ingrams resorts to anti-Semitism.

In the States, Ingrams would be doubtlessly be called to task by readers, if not by his bosses. In England, however, this will probably pass without too much incident, written off as just another bit of distaste for Jews.

My wife is originally British. Over the last years -- generally when the security or economic situation got particularly hairy -- we've occasionally discussed the possibility of moving back to the UK, like a lot of our English-speaking friends over here have. So far, nothing's ever come of it, but the issue remains open. One of the things that gives me especial pause is the thought of living and raising kids in a country that, for all its benefits, still seems to have a fair degree of socially acceptable anti-Semitism.

More on the Gurel Rescue

I know, I know. The IDF operation which rescued Eliyahu Gurel was a fairly cut-and-dry affair and it may not warrant a second-day recap. However, Gurel's account is fairly engaging. Also, I'm having a hard time letting the story go. The rescue helped fill just about everyone in the country with the kind of warm, happy feeling we haven't felt in a long, long time. (I'd compare it to Ilan Ramon's space shuttle mission, but we all know how that ended up). As someone on the news pointed out, it's really sad that the only true joy we get around here is when a kidnapping victim comes home safely instead of turning up dead in a drainage ditch.

But on a wider note, we can start looking at the hudna with a bit of perspective. The Gurel kidnapping was one of four violent incidents we've had with the neighbors since the cease-fire went into effect. Aside from the kidnapping, in the last month and a half the neighbors have perpetuated: one sniper attack which killed Krastyu Radkov, a foreign worker from Bulgaria; a suicide bombing inside a residential house which killed Azal Mafari, a 65-year-old grandmother; and a knifing attack where Amir Simhon, a 24-year-old was murdered while defending his girlfriend.

What seems fairly clear is that the attacks we've seen recently are small scale. They seem to be the work of amateurs, freelance bozos looking to curry favor with the terroristic elements of Palestinian society. We've been lucky so far that the attackers have either been disorganized (no one is sure why the suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of Azal Mafari's living room), low-tech (knives have returned as the weapon of choice for attacks), or both.

The group that kidnapped Gurel were smart enough to use a woman and child as accomplices in order to allay Gurel's suspicions when he stopped to pick them up in his cab. However, they didn't seem to have a clear idea just why they had kidnapped him (one day they demanded money, the next a release of prisoners). The Israeli intelligence services managed to locate them without any help from the PA. And they were captured and Gurel rescued with barely a shot being fired.

It would be tempting to take comfort from the fact that the terror pros have decided to stick to their summer holiday. It's also tempting to write off the current attacks as small ones, especially when compared to the mass casualties in the bus bombings. Go tell that to Mazal Asfari's husband or Amir Simhon's parents.

Disorganized terrorism might not be as bloody as organized terrorism, but the real test will be to see if the PA starts doing something about it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Good News At Last

It's nice to wake up in the morning, turn on the news and get a dose of pure, undadulterated happy news. After being held hostage for 4 days, Eliyahu Gurel was rescued by IDF commandos last night and was reunited with his family in Ramat Gan. Gurel, a cabdriver, was kidnapped by a Palestinian group on Friday and held in a warehouse in the village of Bitouniyeh, near Ramallah.

The group apparently wanted to use Gurel as a bargaining chip in their demand for money and a release of Palestinian prisoners.

Since Friday, the country has been following the search after the missing cabdriver with no small degree of trepidation. In the past, these kinds of kidnappings -- a signature operation of Hamas -- usually ended with the hostage being murdered. In one memorable case in 1994, Hamas kidnapped IDF soldier Nachson Wachsman. The IDF attempted a rescue, which ended up badly with Wachsman and the head of the rescue squad both killed in the process.

This time around, however, the rescue went off flawlessly with nobody being killed on either side.

Judging from his appearances on the news this morning, Gurel appears to be none the worse for wear from his experience. It's really, really nice when these things have a happy ending.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
The British: Still Giving Arafat da Love

Ariel Sharon is currently in England on a kind of fence-mending visit to Tony Blair. Among his requests to the British government, Sharon is trying to get them to stop dealing with Yasser. Sharon's point is this: In order for the peace process to succeed, Arafat must be taken out of the equation. Every visit, every photo-op, every phone conversation strengthens the evil ghoul and helps him undermine Abu Mazen (something which Arafat has been very active about in the last week).

The British are not having any of it. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw told Sharon that Her Majesty's Government continues to regard Arafat as a legitimate leader and will continue to prop the old terrorist up. According to straw, Arafat is the legitimate elected ruler of his people (which he is, if you also accept the legitimacy of Saddam as his country's elected ruler).

Straw once again reaffirms the wonderful European policy of giving soft support to terrorists. Continuing to back Arafat as "a legitimate elected leader" falls into the same category as continuing to fund Hamas (or not doing anything to block the funding of Hamas), on the grounds that it is a "legitimate social organization."

Straw opened his meeting with Sharon by declaring that "We know the huge amount of work you have been doing to help, in very great difficulties, the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. We commend you for that."

Yes, we commend you for your efforts and will do what we can to make sure that they are as difficult as possible.

The Latest Violence

A Palestinian went on a rampage in Jaffa last night, killing one Israeli and wounding another before being wounded and captured by bystanders. The attacker claimed he belonged to the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, but at the moment they are denying any involvement.

Yet another glitch in hudna-land. The big question here is whether this was an organized attack by one of the terror groups or the case of a couple of pinheads who decided to do some freelance Jew-killing. The fact that the attacker went old-school and used a knife does seem to indicate the latter. (When I moved back here 10 years ago -- in the days immediately before Oslo, and about a year and a half before the first bus bombing -- the general M.O. for Palestinian attacks was knifing.)

It's a lot easier (not easy, but easier) to deal with organized terrorism than it is to deal with the disorganized kind.

Bibi vs. the Single Mothers, round 2

Over the last week or so, our Finance Minister has faced a deluge of single moms who have marched on his offices from all over the country and set up a protest camp nearby. The mothers have become media darlings with their demands that cuts in social welfare benefits be reinstated. In an attempt to shore up the conflict while still sticking to the principles of the economic plan, Netanyahu came up with a compromise solution: The straight-up government handouts will remain cut, but single parents will receive additional benefits directly proportional to the amount they work. A single mother who earns more will also have increased government benefits.

The compromise helps fix a particularly painful loophole in the current social welfare system. As it stands today, social benefits fall dramatically once a person starts working past a certain minimal amount. If their income level rises above this point, their net earnigns actually drop because the loss of benefits does not cover the minor rise in income. In effect, the current system actually discourages single mothers from working past a certain minimal amount. This will change under Bibi's new proposal.

But the mothers aren't having any of it. Vikki Knafo, the woman who helped spark the current social protest, has rejected the offer out of hand. She and the other mothers are demanding that the government reinstate their benefits. Period.

I suspect that this will be the turning point where the single mothers' protest starts losing the goodwill of large parts of the public who have supported it so far. Using the listener call-in shows as my indication of the public mood, I've noticed that the callers are split into two camps: the one who supports Knafo and yells at the government for being corrupt idiots and the ones that accept Netanyahu's argument that the current situation -- where you earn more from unemployment benefits than you would from going out and getting a job -- is ridiculous. The latter are also likely to point out that while many of these mothers scream that their children are starving for bread they continue to support a heavy (and expensive) smoking habit.

Two weeks ago, the majority of the callers were pro-Knafo. Now, I'd say it's drawn about even.

Monday, July 14, 2003
Beating the Messenger

And in today's Palestinian news:

Dr. Khalil Shikaki, head of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, comes out with the surprising results of a survey showing that over 90 percent of the Palestinians polled would be willing to forego the right of return to Israel. Shikaki polled Palestinians in the Territories, Jordan, and Lebanon and found that the majority expressed interest in settling in a Palestinian state or receiving some sort of compensation, or both, but that less than 10 percent wanted to be citizens of Israel.

In response, an angry mob attacked Shikaki's office, pelting him with eggs and ripping the place apart. The mob screamed that the right of return is sacred and nothing that Shikaki or anyone else says can take that away from them.

Every now and then we get a little spark of hope that the Palestinians are becoming a bit more rational. And then they quickly rush out to remind us that, no not to worry, they're still a bunch of raving lunatics.

Sunday, July 13, 2003
Cabdriver Drama

We've been on the edge of our seats for two days now waiting for news about Eliyahu Gurel. Gurel, a cabdriver, drove a fare to Jerusalem Friday afternoon and hasn't been seen since. His cab was discovered on Friday in an Arab village north of Jerusalem with the keys still inside. Other than a brief call to his family saying he was okay (a call which was abruptly cut off), there's been no word of him.

Israeli and Palestinian security forces have been searching for Gurel. The fear is that he was kidnapped by one Palestinian group or another to be used as a bargaining chip to negotiate a mass prisoner release.

This kind of thing almost never ends up well...

Bibi vs. The Single Mothers

It started off simply enough: Vikki Knafo, a fortyish single mother from unemployment-plague town of Mitzpeh Ramon decided to protest the cuts in her government benefits by marching 200KM or so from her home in the Negev to the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem. The media quickly picked up on Knafo's trek and the unemployed former seamstress became an overnight celebrity and the darling of the social-welfare political groups.

The cuts in Knafo's benefits came as the result of Netanyahu's economic recovery plan which recently passed the Knesset. The plan calls for a reduction in the public sector and fairly substantial cuts in a lot of government benefits. Knaffo has been camped out at the Finance Ministry for a few days, refusing to meet with ministry officials until they promise ahead of time to restore benefits to single mothers. Now it turns out that other unemployed single moms have taken Knaffo's lead and are marching on Jerusalem as well.

On the macro level, Netanyahu's economic plan was necessary to keep the Israeli economy from sliding into the kind of hell that Russia and Argentina have experienced over the last decade. Unfortunately, macro issues make for boring television, especially when compared to a spunky woman marching purposefully down the highway draped in an Israeli flag.

Personally, I'm glad I'm not Netanyahu. Our poor Finance Minister is now in a bind. He's in a classic lose-lose situation. If he gives in to Knaffo's demand, then he can expect every special interest group to start setting up camp on his doorstep. If he stands firm then he risks damaging his future political career by harming the same disgruntled underclass that inexplicably makes up his core support base.

Say what you will about Netanyahu (and I have), the man knows how to stand up for his principles (as today's Jerusalem Post urges him to do). If I were the Finance Minister, I'd wait for the protest of the single mothers to burn itself out. Meretz, along with some of the other social-welfare parties, have already embraced the single mothers. This will be the albatross that drags the movement under.

The reason is this: Meretz may espouse socialist welfare-state principles, but it is mainly regarded as the linchpin of the peace movement. The underclass in Israel tends to be made up of hawkish mizrahim. Nothing will alienate them faster than a protest movement which is affiliated with people they consider to be a bunch of Arab-lovers.

The Ayalon-Nusseibeh Plan

The cover story of Ha'aretz's weekend magazine profiles Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh and their efforts to push forward a grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Ayalon is a retired admiral in the Israeli navy and the former head of the General Security Services. Nusseibeh is a scion of one of the leading Palestinian societies and an academic who runs Al-Quds university. Their plan is based on a Statement of Principles which they believe a majority of the population on both sides would back. The elements of the statement include an almost-total Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, incorporation of the largest settlement blocks in Israel in an exchange for Israeli territory of equal size being given to the Palestinians, joint sovereignty in Jerusalem, and a rejection of the Palestinian right of return to Israel.

The two have started a movement to gather support for their plan with an advertising blitz in Israel and a quiet door-to-door campaign in the Palestinian areas. Their hope is that if 300,000 Israelis and 100,000 Palestinians sign a petition in support of the plan that they can push the leadership of both sides to adopt it. It's a seductive idea: why waste time with all the painful negotiations, trust-building exercises, and coalition crises when you can just cut to the chase and push forward a deal that most of the people support anyway?

Under laboratory conditions, this makes a lot of sense. If we were living in a laboratory, however, we'd have resolved the crisis a long time ago.

Given the painfully twisted relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plah seems terribly quixotic. Among its many glaring oversights, the plan completely Ignores the security dimension. Joint sovereignty in Jerusalem is fine, but what happens when Hamas blows up another bus on King George street? Does the IDF have a right to go after the murderers in the Palestinian neighborhoods?

Similarly, the Palestinians are not going to give up the right of return without a long and painful process of accepting reality, a process that has yet to begin. In fact, Nusseibeh has gotten death threats for his stance.

The plan's biggest failing, however, is in its base conception. Yes, the majority on both sides would probably support a peace plan based on Ayalon and Nusseibah's Statement of Principles but the problem isn't the majority. The problem is the small minority in Israel which wields political influence disproportionate to its size and the much larger minority among the Palestinians which wields guns and suicide bombers. And while the Israeli minority can mostly be contained within the framework of Israeli politics, the Palestinian minority will never accept a peace agreement with Israel, and certainly not one along the lines being proposed by Ayalon and Nusseibeh.

It doesn't help that neither of the two principals is particularly representative of the mainstream of his respective group. Ayalon, who was at one point considered a political up-and-comer, has turned into an eccentric figure hovering on the edges of Israeli politics but refusing to dive in. Nusseibeh is considered to be a disconnected intellectual, an Uncle Tom of the Israelis.

Nusseibeh and Ayalon mean well, but I suspect that the road to salvation will be rockier and more twisted than either of them imagine.