Thursday, September 25, 2003
Rosh Hashana 5764

I'm heading up north to Rosh Pina for the holiday weekend. As I did last year I've made a list of things to be thankful for as the new year begins:

  1. We still win gold medals, at least in sports like windsufing.

  2. Idi Amin will not be joining us for apples and honey anymore. Neither will Uday and Qusay.

  3. Neal Stephenson finally got his act together and wrote a followup to Cryptonomicon.

  4. Despite everything, most of us are reasonably happy.

  5. And, on a personal note, a lot of simches happening and on their way: a 90th birthday party, a wedding, a birth.

Happy New Year to everyone. Back on Monday.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Vox Populi

With evereything that goes on around here -- which this week includes continuing disputes about the budget, hostage negotiations with Hizbullah, and the High Holidays starting this weekend -- it never fails to amaze me what people actually get riled up about.

The most contentious topic of conversation on the "Center Stage" radio call-in show today is, wait for it, Pere's birthday party. Yes, the party ended two days ago and people are still bitching about it. "How can you throw yourself a lavish party when people are hungry?" one guy called in to yell.

I heard a number of variations on this theme, along with the usual conspiracy theories that the whole event was financed by the Palestinian Authority. There were also a number of people standing up for Peres, pointing out that the funding for his party came from overseas donations and that it brought in a bit of much-needed tourism to the country.

Amazing. If Arik Sharon or Bibi threw himself a big birthday party, you wouldn't hear anything near this level of screaming. And it certainly wouldn't drag on for a week. All this, of course, just goes to remind you how unpopular Shimon Peres is with large segments of the general population.

Belgium Throws Out Sharon Case

And so it appears to be final: Belgium has dropped its war crimes case against Arik Sharon for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres in 1982.

Let's recap: Belgium has finally dismissed a suit wherein Palestinians sued an Israeli for an attack committed by Lebanese Christians in Lebanon. Sanity is restored to the world of international law.

Q and A Time

Sometimes it's fun to see Ha'aretz fly its true colors proudly. This week's Q&A session features Daniel Ben Simon, who normally writes about social. Ben Simon dislikes Arik Sharon deeply and isn't ashamed to show it. And I think a lot of the people writing in to ask Ben Simon questions know this.

The result is that the askers and the answerers end up forming a mutual support society. Check out some of the questions Ben Simon answers:

"Do you think that 'the sheer stupidity' of this government (to use a term that recently appeared in Haaretz) is putting the existence of Israel in danger?"

"Haaretz editorials depict the blunders, spin, and dysfunctional decision-making of Sharon's government. Why does Haaretz's perception not ignite Israeli students, liberals and patriots to take to the streets and protest, as we did with our authoritarian regime in Chile during the eighties?"

"When Israel assassinates a Palestinian militant, not only does it inflame Palestinian anger, but the leader will ultimately be replaced by about 10 more people with the same ideas. Shouldn't Israel, find a more moderate way to retaliate? It would be an effective way to repair Israel's reputation as well as set an example."

If this were an episode of Law & Order, I'd expect Sam Waterson to jump up at this point and yell "Objection! Counsel is leading the witness."

Next week on Ha'aretz Q&A: Gideon Levy answers the question "So, when did Sharon stop beating his children?"

Pretend Quiet

Ze'ev Schiff has a fairly commonsense editorial in today's Ha'aretz regarding Arafat's calls for a cease-fire.

Things here have been pretty quiet for the last two weeks, which creates the temptation to regard Arafat's cease-fire offers. Schiff points out, rightly, that Arafat has offered one of these things after every horrific terrorist attack. Also, the terrorist groups use these cease-fires to reorganize and re-arm. In other words, Arafat's cease fire offer is the worst kind of pig in a poke.

Having said that, Schiff does have some suggestions what to do with the cease fire ideas:
Nevertheless, there are two things that Israel has to do. One is a "Thou shalt not." So long as the quiet persists, in spite of the numerous warnings of planned terror attacks, Israel must not initiate targeted assassination raids against the Hamas and Jihad leadership. Although the targets are identified, even in
their new hiding places, it would be best to avoid action during a period of quiet, and especially while Qureia is trying to set up a government. Targeted assassinations should only be employed only in the event of an obvious "ticking bomb."

The other thing that Israel must do is draw up an itemized list of Palestinian actions to be taken before a cease-fire agreement can be reached. After Israel's bad experience with the first hudna, the Palestinian government must start taking action. Pronouncement can come at the end. The Americans presented this itemized list better than Israel (which remained silent) when Qureia was asked to replace Abbas as prime minister. First, they said, he has to unite the various security agencies under one commander (and not Arafat). This did not happen. Second, to start disarming the terror groups and collecting their weapons. This, too, did not happen. Third, to stop the weapons smuggling -
and that didn't happen, either. Fourth, to implement the reforms in the Palestinian Authority.
This, he thinks might be the basis of a workable cease fire.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Colombian Hostage Update

OK, so now they say that FARC is in fact responsible for abducting the 8 hostages. Last week FARC denied it and the authorities blamed ELN. I need a scorecard.

The Colombians say they've caught some of the FARC guerillas and that they've sealed off the area, preventing the kidnappers from getting too far with their hostages. Let's keep our fingers crossed

Good News, Pt. 2

Speaking of Palestinian whining, if I only had a nickel for every time the word "apartheid" was bandied about. However, those who have some experience with what the real apartheid was all about don't seem to concur with the analogy:
South Africa's minister for home affairs rejects calling the Israeli occupation and its treatment of Palestinians "apartheid," as do Palestinian leaders and their supporters in the European left and the Third World.

"The Israeli regime is not apartheid. It is a unique case of democracy," he said in an interview with Haaretz yesterday between debates in the conference marking Shimon Peres' 80th birthday.
As with the settlements/fighting terrorism thing, I don't expect that this will have much of an impact. Still, it's nice to know that someone gets it.

Good News Pt. 1

For the last few weeks we've heard the Palestinians whine repeatedly that they can't possibly do anything about the terror until Israel starts dismantling settlements. This is the mother of all bogus arguments and it looks like Secretary of State Powell agrees.

Powell has weighed in on the side of the Israeli view which says that the Palestinians need to start doing something about the terrorism before Israel starts making territorial concessions:
It is very difficult if not impossible for the prime minister [Sharon] ... in the face of activity that seems to be tolerated by the governmental authorities on the other say to his people that he is yielding to pressure from the Americans or anyone else," Powell said on the televised Charlie Rose Show.

Palestinians accuse Israel of not fulfilling their obligations according to the US-backed road map peace plan by expanding settlements throughout the West Bank.

"They [the Israelis] will respond, in my judgment, when it can be demonstrated that the Palestinian side is doing something about the bombing, the terror," Powell said.
Please to remember that Abu Mazen repeatedly declared that he had no intention of confronting the Palestinian terror groups and instead went with the failed tactic of trying to co-opt them politically.

Not that this will stop the Palestinians from complaining. Except now they'll probably focus more on complaining to the UN.


The birthday extravaganza for Shimon Peres wrapped up yesterday. The main event Sunday night was a shmaltzy love fest featuring birthday wishes from luminaries such as Jerry Seinfeld and Kathleen Turner, along with a host of other foreign dignitaries and much of Israel's political elite. The highlight came when a choir of Arab and Jewish children sang John Lennon's "Imagine" along with Bill Clinton. It struck the perfect balance between heartfelt emotion and political kitsch.

Then, yesterday, the birthday festivities included an all-day seminar about issues of peace at Tel Aviv University. Peres created a stir by defending the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Yasser Arafat (alongside Yitzhak Rabin and Peres himself) in 1994.

"I want to be honest and I don't care what they say," Peres told an international peace symposium held as part of his 80th birthday celebrations. "I believe ... it was right to give him the Nobel Prize."

Arafat, he said, broke ground by publicly recognizing Israel, declaring he would "go out of terror to the domain of negotiations" and saying a Palestinian state should be formed in the West Bank and Gaza rather than inside Israeli territory.
Of course, Peres has no comment about how all of Arafat's declarations were lies and how the old ghoul consistently supported terrorism against Israel throughout the Oslo years.

I might be a bit cynical here, but I suspect that Peres was defending his own Nobel prize more than Arafat's. The Oslo process for which he won the award is widely considered to be a disaster and there have been repeated cries that Peres should return the prize in recognition of this fact.

At any rate, Peres proved once again that he is this country's pre-eminent statesman, at least in the eyes of the world. Unfortunately, this admiration has never translated into votes back home. I fear that instead of quietly basking in the glow of his celebrations, Peres will only be inspired to run for Prime Minister again and prove that, in Israeli politics, he is the country's pre-eminent loser.

My Brief Run-In With the Peres Festivities

We held a party last night celebrating my brother's upcoming wedding, for the benefit of friends and family who won't be able to attend the ceremony next month in the States. The party was held at a place called the Green House, a lovely little venue located on the campus of Tel Aviv University.

Also located on the campus of TAU was Peres' birthday conference yesterday. As a result, when our taxi drove up to the venue we saw that the roads leading up to it were all blocked off by security personnel. Apparently, no one had told them we were supposed to arrive. The guard manning the roadblock said that he hadn't heard about any event which was supposed to take place at the Green House.

After a brief flurry of phone calls between the Green House and the coordinator of security, we managed to get the situation sorted out and agreed to let us and our guests through.

By that time, however, the taxi had left and we had to schlep from the roadblock to the venue. Along the way we saw dozens of police, bodyguards, border patrol soldiers, and security guards.

When we first organized the party, my brother's fiance had expressed a bit of concern about the security arrangements that would be in place for the party. As it turned out, it ended up being the most secure place in Tel Aviv that night.

Monday, September 22, 2003
Light Blogging Today

I'm in the middle of a week of family events here. Apologies for the light blogging.

Sunday, September 21, 2003
UN Votes on Arafat

I don't have a lot more to add about the vote in the UN General Assembly condemning Israel the other day. It was like a repeat of all the stupid UN anti-Israel votes from the '70s, although I daresay we brought it on ourselves this time. We managed to shift the focus away from Arafat and on the boneheaded idea of forcibly getting rid of Arafat. At least we know that Micronesia is still with us.

All of this is a shame, since Arafat is his peoples' own worst enemy and the sooner he goes the better.

One quick thought about all this: Over the weekend, I heard one Palestinian spokesman after the other repeat the cliche that no one will tell the Palestinians who their leader should be. To which I say, fair enough, although I think we have the right to tell them that they've chosen a really, really bad leader.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Peres

Shimon Peres celebrated his 80th birthday last month. This weekend, he gets a big shindig thrown in his honor.

We've been hearing about what journalists have termed the "Festi-Peres" (I prefer to think of it as "Shimopolooza") for a couple of weeks now. Foreign diplomats, intellectuals, and high rollers will join such celebs as Barbra Streisand, Bill Clinton, and Mikhail Gorbachev to sing "Happy Birthday" to Peres at an official party at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. There will also be a symposium on peace.

The guests will be feted and shown the greatest opulence Israel has to offer. Babs, Bill, Gorby and the rest will receive the red-carpet treatment on arrival at Ben Gurion airport. Having been at the airport yesterday I can report that even the non-celebs get an official greeting by a representative of the Peres Center who looks like she doubles as a model.

Everyone stays in plush digs at the Dan hotel on Tel Aviv's seaside and they will be treated to dinners at Tel Aviv's finest restaurants.

The thing is being set up by the Peres Center and financed by private contributions. The celebs are paying their own way to get here and attend the birthday festivities.

And, of course, a lot of people are complaining. People are sniffing that given the tough economic times in the country, it seems insensitive to throw such a large and ostentatious party. Doubly so seeing how the festivities celebrate in part the Oslo process which Peres helped push along but which is now widely regarded as a disaster.

I don't begrudge Peres his party. He says he had nothing to do with the planning and, officially at least, plays the part of someone who is embarrassed that other people are making such a fuss about him. I suspect this is at least a little disingenuous, that Peres loves playing the part of revered world statesman and thinks that it can't hurt his political prospects here. Still, the man has done a tremendous number of things in his 80 years and deserves our respect.

However, speaking as a Tel Avivi I can grumble about the traffic snarls that will doubtlessly result from the security measures at the event. I drove by Mann Auditorium this morning and it looked like they were cordoning off all the blocks around it. Word has it that guests to tonight's party (save for Bubba Clinton who will be coming direct from the airport) have to arrive two hours ahead of time for security checks.

This can only mean that you shouldn't try to go anywhere near downtonw Tel Aviv tonight. Grrr.