Thursday, November 27, 2003
From This Week's Onion

(Scroll down to the bottom)

" 'Mr. Falafel' Owner Does Not Actually Like Being Addressed As Mr. Falafel"

Ha! Here in the land of the Jews, all the falafel owners are either titled royalty or else have advanced university degrees (King of Falafel, Professor Falafel, Doctor Falafel...).

Feliz Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey Day to my American pals. I've been out here so long that most years I completely forget about the holiday until the day comes and Lileks makes some mention of it.

Which is a shame, since Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays. There's something warm and mellow about it. It's a low-key, relaxing holiday which doesn't ask that much of you, unless you happen to be the one cooking the turkey.

Unfortunately, I never seem to get out to the States at this time of year anymore. In fact, the last Thanksgiving I celebrated was back in 1992. Which, for you kids out there, was just a few weeks after Bill Clinton had been elected and back before most people had heard of the Internet.

My dad is here for a visit. He's been talking about trying to arrange a Thanksgiving dinner here in Tel Aviv. Which would be a nice idea if any of us had the time and energy to deal with a turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc. Not much in the realm of the feasible when you have a newborn in the house. I'm pretty sure that some restaurant or caterer here does this kind of thing, but I haven't been able to locate any.

I wonder if turkey shawarma might make an acceptable substitute.

Creeping Fatigue

Having a bit of a hard time finding the energy to write today.

I'm still getting used to my sleep time being cut down fairly drastically. The little one has settled into a routine where she has one feed around half past midnight and another one at around half past four. My wife gets up for the second shift every night, and we sort of trade off the first shift.

On the whole, it doesn't sound so bad. That is until Lia gets into one of her fussy, fidgety moods and then there's no getting her to sleep before 2 a.m. Which was last night. I get up around 7 a.m. to go to work. You do the math. It's a good thing I love her as much as I do. Even in the middle of the night, with me about to drop from fatigue and frustration, all she has to do is give me one of those quizzical looks as though to say, "You're not mad at me are you?" and all is forgiven.

Anyway, pardon the light blogging today.

It doesn't help that it's a kind of slow news day. Which I probably shouldn't write, since that only invites the Evil Eye. The strike negotiations are still on. Sharon and Abu Ala still have to meet. There hasn't been anything particularly anti-Semitic coming out of Europe today. And the Health Ministry says it's safe to eat fish again.

Even Tom Friedman is doing his standard shtick. Friedman writes a memo to George Bush in the voice of Saddam Hussein in which "Saddam" basically repeats the same points Friedman made in his last four columns. Except it's different this time, coz it's Saddam. Get it?

I suppose I should simply enjoy this mini-cucumber season for what it is, which is to say a brief moment of quiet. Now, if I could just arrange a little nap...

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
The Enemy of My Enemy

Ha'aretz has an article today which ties the visit of Gianfranco Fini with reports that an EU racism commission buried a report on European anti-Semitism for risk of offending European Muslims. The two news items both point to Israel's increasingly problematic relationship with Europe. While official Europe increasingly scorns us, there is a tendency to reach out to whatever groups and political parties are willing to extend a hand, even in cases where the parties themselves are politically questionable.

Last weekend's Ha'aretz Magazine explored this issue in even starker relief, by focusing on the situation in Belgium. In a fascinating article the paper reported on the increasingly friendly political relationships between Antwerp's Jewish community and the right-wing Vlaams Blok party.

Antwerp's Jews have a problem with the city's growing Muslim population. Jews are routinely harrassed and attacked. Muslim youths throw molotov cocktails at synagogues and torch cars belonging to Jews. In Jewish neighborhoods which border Muslim ones, the Jews have stopped walking around outside for fear of being assaulted. The Belgian authorities have reacted to all this by shrugging their shoulders. In their opinion (which is echoed throughout Europe), these attacks aren't anti-Semitism or anything. They are just instances of Muslim youths expressing their dissatisfaction with Israel's policies. What are you going to do?

One group which has leapt to the defense of the Jewish community is the Vlaams Blok, who have pressured Antwerp's police to step up patrols of the city's Jewish areas. The VB is also vehemently pro-Israel in a political climate which castigates Israel's policies while poo-pooing Palestinian terrorism. As a result, a fair-size minority of the Jewish vote (an estimated 10 percent) has turned in favor of the VB in local elections.

All of which would be fine, except for the fact that the Vlaams Blok is the political heir of the Belgian groups that once collaborated with the Nazis. It vehemently opposes the non-European foreigners who have been flowing into Belgium over the last decades. You begin to suspect that VB's support for Israel and Antwerp's Jews comes less from feelings of genuine philosemitism than it does a shared hatred for Muslim immigrants.

It's a complicated situation. The Jewish community feels genuinely threatened by the Muslims. The authorities not only don't want to deal with the problem but, as evidenced by the EU anti-Semitism report, don't even want to admit that there is a problem. And, on the other hand, the VB sees the problem and wants to lend a hand. Is it right to overlook their unpleasant past?

In effect, this nascent political alliance is the reverse of the allignment from hell between European leftists and Islamic fascists. (Another article in the magazine deals with the growing movement to boycott Israel in European academe.) There again you have two groups who don't agree on much other than the fact that they both hate Israel (and, although they don't like to admit this openly, the Jews as well).

Worrying stuff.

European anti-Semitism? What European anti-Semitism? Pt. deux

A big round of applause for British cartoonist Dave Brown, who was just awarded the British Political Cartoon Society's Cartoon of the Year prize. Brown's winning entry is a subtle, nuanced piece about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict which really gets behind the cliches to the reality of the situation.

Actually, I'm kidding. Brown's cartoon is a crude piece of anti-Semitism which shows Ariel Sharon devouring a Palestinian baby. It would not look out of place had it been printed as an illustration for a medieval blood libel tract or in the pages of Der Sturmer in the 1930s.

I'd like to see the British newspaper that prints a cartoon showing a beady-eyed Palestinian about to murder Jews, much less the national society that would give it an award.

UPDATE: Stefan Sharkansky points out what actually tends to happen to Arab babies here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
European anti-Semitism? What European anti-Semitism?

Just when I thought the Europeans couldn't piss me off more than they had. A couple of days ago, a story surfaced in the Financial Times that the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), an EU watchdog group, had commissioned a survey about anti-Semitism in Europe and then decided to bury it once the results were in.

The survey found, unsurprisingly, that a majority of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe are carried out by Muslims.

Now, the head researcher on the survey is blasting the EUMC for killing the survey for politically correct motives. And then they wonder why we hate them.

Idiot Hour

Here's some more proof that the political spectrum is shaped like a U, and that the opposite extremes tend to be closer to each other than they are in the middle.

Among the myriad plans floating around at the moment -- the Road Map, the Geneva Initiative, the Ayalon-Nusseibah thing, and Sharon's recent declarations of unilateral concessions towards a transitional Palestinian state -- we can add a new one, this time from the settlers.

Their great idea: a bi-national state.

If the article in today's Post is true, then some settler leaders are looking towards a plan closer in practice to Edward Said's worldview than the majority of the Israeli population. The plan would offer Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians and would dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

But, wait. What about the demographic problem? No problem! We'll just divide the Palestinian areas into cantons and make sure we limit their voting rights. We'll also make it that the Prime Minister must be a Jew and his deputy an Arab.

This may sound familiar to those of you out there with a background in Middle Eastern history. This was the same setup Lebanon had for many years. And look how well that turned out.

Ted Rall Smack-Down Time

So, Ted Rall is in the news today. Well, not exactly in the news, but he has become one of the main chattering points around the blogosphere.

Rall, for those of you who don't know him, is a fringe-left cartoonist/syndicated writer whose Bush hatred and opposition to the war are boundless. He's a hero among the Angry Left and a goat amongst the hawks.

The big news came from Rall's recent column in support of Howard Dean's presidential campaign. The Deanies, for their part, look like they might embrace Rall enthusiastically. I hope for their sake that they take a look at the guy's work before they do.

I don't follow Rall work anywhere near as obsessively as some other bloggers. To a large extent, criticizing him from this end of the political spectrum is a pointless exercise. He wants criticism from people like me, he thrives on it. So, why bother? Well, because the guy is a cumulative irritant and I feel the need to air him out of my system.

Let's start with the obvious criticism: His politics are pure fantasyland. His writing is tiresome. His draftsmanship is incredibly crude (James Lileks recently described him as someone who appears to draw with his thumb). I can imagine that Rall does not see this as criticism at all. No, the guy considers himself an "edgy" artist who wears his radical politics on his sleeve and constantly stays on-message.

Fine, whatever. We move on to some other points:
  • Rall is a bore. He has one theme and one theme only: the government of the United States was taken over in a coup d'etat in 2000 by Bush and the Supreme Court. Therefore, everything Bush does is prima facie illegitimate. Whatever Bush is for, we must be against. Rall churns out several comics and an editorial, every week, all on this basic subject. After 3 years of the Bush administration, you can only imagine how played this has become.

  • Rall's has fallen off the edge of the moral map. This is a result of the first point taken to its logical extreme. He opposes Bush and so opposes the war. And not only the war, but the "brutal occupation" of Iraq by U.S. troops. Which leads him to support the "brave Iraqi resistance" currently murdering U.S. soldiers, U.N. and Red Cross officials, and ordinary Iraqi civillians. Rall corssed the line a while ago and went from opposing an administration he disagrees with politically to actively supporting fascist dictatorships.

    Rall made his case, writing in a supposedly ironic voice as a recruiter for the Iraqi resistance, in a recent column published on Veteran's Day:
    Dear Recruit:

    Thank you for joining the Iraqi resistance forces. You have been issued an AK-47 rifle, rocket-propelled grenade launcher and an address where you can pick up supplies of bombs and remote-controlled mines. Please let your cell leader know if you require additional materiel for use against the Americans.
    Ho, ho, ho. Funny stuff.

    Rall, will argue that he is merely using satire to make his point. However, given what we've seen in the past, a lot of the sentiment here is more sincere than ironic. To quote Lileks again, "These people aren’t the loyal opposition anymore; they’re just the opposition."

  • Rall is mean-spirited. I think this is the most damning argument against the guy, and one that I don't see made often enough.

    Take the Veteran's Day article. I can just imagine the reaction of families of servicemen killed in Iraq to a dickhead like Rall comparing their dead sons and daughters to Nazis. But in Rall's particularly twisted worldview, killing U.S. soldiers is justified.

    Okay, but what lack of basic decency leads you to attack women who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks?

    I refer to Rall's infamous "Terror Widows" strip which he published less than six months after 9/11. Rall, of course, claims he wasn't after all 9/11 widows, just the ones signing book deals. But, of course, it hurt and offended a lot of widows (and widowers) who hadn't signed book deals. One such Terror Widow famously wrote Rall to say "I have asked my dead husband to haunt you for the rest of your miserable days. Shame on you for making our lives just a little bit harder with your ignorant little rant."

    I'm not saying Rall had no right to publish a cartoon making fun of a media bandwagon. I am saying that if he had even a little bit of compassion he might have realized that the pain it would cause would greatly eclipse whatever banal point he was trying to make.

So, that's Ted Rall in a nutshell for ya. Now, I'll go and wash my hands.

Word to the Dean campaign: By all means embrace the guy. You'll just make Karl Rove's job all that much easier.

Our Italian Friends?

Gianfranco Fini, Italy's Deputy PM, came to visit yesterday. Fini did all the usual visiting-statesman stuff, including the obligatory visit to Yad Vashem. There he made a speech declaring that Italy had to atone for her fascist past:
"We have to condemn the shameful chapters in the history of our people and to try to understand why complacency, collaboration and fear caused no reaction from many Italians in 1938 to the disgraceful, fascist race laws," he said. "We have to do this not only to settle accounts with the past, but to prepare for the future. We have to do this so it is clear to all today, in 2003, with the racism and anti-Semitism, so no one can say `I am not connected, it has nothing to do with me, it is not my place to respond'."
Nice to hear, especially considering recent polls suggesting that a lot of Italians don't care for Israel, question the loyalty of Italian Jews, and that a disturbingly large minority (10%) regard the Holocaust as a fabrication.

However, Fini heads up the National Alliance, which is one of those parties often associated with the racist right of Le Pen in France and Haider in Austria. And this makes me a little uneasy about his visit here. Fini appears to be a genuine friend of Israel (as is Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, BTW), and has reportedly worked for years to move his party away from its fascist/racist roots.

If this effort is heartfelt, then all I can say is shalom and welcome. On the other hand, if Fini turns out to be a slicker version of Le Pen, then this state visit will basically let him make the argument that "Some of my best friends are Jews."

The Jpost today argues that we should give Fini the benefit of the doubt. With the growing anti-Semitism in Europe, it's certainly tempting to reach out to anyone who wants to be friends with you. A similar thing happened in the '80s with apartheid-era South Africa. That didn't do much for Israel's standing in the world. I think we need to be extra cautious here.

Bad Fish! Bad!

Now what the hey?

We barely have time to recover from the big baby food scandal and all of a sudden they tell us not to eat fish either. "They" being the Ministry of Health and the fish in question being any trout, carp, red mullet, and a couple of other varieties which have been farm-raised.

Apparently, a couple of fish farmers were using a disinfectant called malachite green. This malachite green is potentially carcinogenic and its use has been banned in Israel. Nonetheless, this being a country where "banned by the government" is often regarded as more of a suggestion than a prohibition, a number of fish farmers in the north continued to use the stuff. The fish from these farms, marketed by Tnuva, were tested and shown to have high levels of malachite green.

As a result, the Health Ministry has pulled all the farmed fish from store freezers and counters until they can conduct more widespread testing of the country's 2,000-plus fish farms.

Bad news for everyone. Consumers are going to hit the panic buttons and avoid all kinds of fish for a while. The same thing happened last summer. Back then, local authorities were dumping huge amounts of raw sewage into the sea. The Health Ministry stepped in and declared the locally fished fish unsafe for consumption. As a result, people stopped eating every kind of fish, including both freshwater and farmed varieties. You can bet this will happen again.

This, of course, is bad news for owners of fish restaurants and fish farmers alike. The latter may not generally be to blame for the malachite green thing. There's no indication that the continued use of the disinfectant is all that widespread. A couple of bozos are disregarding the law, and as a result screwing up the whole industry.

It's also bad news for the Health Ministry. We're hearing a chorus of criticism that the ministry jumped too quickly to code red in this case. This is seen as a reaction to being caught with their pants down during the whole Remedia scandal.

There's a good case to be made here for setting up some kind of Food and Drug Authority like they have in the States. In the meantime, I guess I'll stick with red meat for the moment.

Monday, November 24, 2003
Shevardnadze Bye Bye

The revolution in Georgia was both quick and bloodless. President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned quietly, two days after protesters stormed the Georgian parliament, and after he had declared a state of emergency. This comes less than a week after Shevardnadze's party declared victory in a fraud-ridden election.

I still remember Shevardnadze from when he was the Foreign Minister in Gorbachev's crumbling USSR. In those days, and in the early days of his presidency, he seemed like a solid statesman and intellectual, the kind of guy trying bravely to hold together a country rent by all sorts of ethnic divisions.

It's a shame to see how far he slid into corruption and petty dictatorship. An object lesson might be found here, I suppose.

By the way, does anyone have any idea why we saw Georgian protesters waving Israeli flags?

Strikes. Again

I'm sure I'm boring the hell out of my non-Israeli readers with yet another post about a strike here, but what can I do. This country has become a world superpower when it comes to national labor unrest in the last couple of months.

Yesterday, the union of baggage handlers called a wildcat strike at Ben Gurion airport, shutting down the check in procedure for several hours and leaving passengers stranded. In addition, all national hospitals have declared sanctions and have intermittently shut down this week.

In the background, of course, is the Netanyahu's fight with the Histadrut over just about everything. Now it looks like Bibi has decided to ratchet up the fight to a new level. According to leaked reports, the Finance Ministry has been working on a draft of legislature that would curb the ability of unions to call strikes and would outlaw unauthorized strikes like the one we saw yesterday.

As always when the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut decide to go at it, the average Israeli has to suffer for it. My gut feeling is that the Histadrut has overplayed its hand. People have gotten so tired of the strikes and the threats of strikes that a lot of them will probably support legislation to cripple the Histadrut in this field.

I know I do.

Our National Team Sucks, part LXXXV

Just in case you needed any more proof that Israel's national football team is a disgrace, check out the most recent FIFA rankings.

Israel is ranked number 47 in the world. The Saudi team beats us (number 26) as do the Iranians (number 35).

Here's the worst part: The Iraqi team is ranked 45.

Sunday, November 23, 2003
Dallas Plus 40

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of JFK's assassination. I think it kind of slipped under the radar, what with all the other more important news of the day -- the Turkey blasts, the coup attempt in Georgia, not to mention Michael Jackson. But there it was.

It brought me back to the last time JFK occupied any of my mental real estate. This was around the time of the 28th anniversary, in 1991, when Oliver Stone's movie on the subject came out. (The Stone film is still a masterpiece of gonzo filmmaking, albeit really bad history). Back then I was still an impressionable college student with a pinko orientation, and I bought into a lot of the conspiracy theories. Surely, the CIA had something to do with it.

Over the years, I've mellowed and turned into a lone-gunman-single-bullet kind of guy. At the same time, my whole relationship to Kennedy, or, more precisely, the Kennedy mythos has changed as well.

During the '80s, it felt like a lot of popular culture got hijacked by a bunch of aging baby boomers who insisted that we relive their childhoods, listen to their music, and share their memories. (cf. "The Big Chill" soundtrack. Also cf. the fact that I have a lot of friends whose prom theme was "Stand By Me" instead of a song from the time).

Quite often, we heard the grand creation myth of the Sixties: America was a simpler, more idealistic place until that day in November 1963. Kennedy's assassination, so went the story, opened up a Pandora's box of Vietnam, race riots, and the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, before partially being redeemed by Woodstock.

I was 18 years old, and angry that my own youth culture was getting short-changed by a bunch of ex-hippies. Under these circumstances, when you hear about The Day That Changed America Forever for the 50th time, your reaction becomes "Yeah, whatever, grandpa."

Which remained my basic take on the whole thing until the night of November 4, 1995. In the days and weeks following Rabin's murder, I went through a lot of the stages I'd heard about from the boomers: sadness to the point of tears, disbelief and anger, and a sense that the world had been knocked off its circuit. And, when I look back at Israel since then, I also get tempted to look at that night as the defining moment which changed the course of history here. For several years after the murder, it felt that Yigal Amir had not only assassinated a prime minister, he had also assassinated our hopes for peace.

In short, I understood exactly what the Kennedy assassination meant to the people who experienced it first hand. Suddenly, everyone around me could tell exactly where they were when they heard the news.

I think history will be much kinder to Rabin than it will to JFK, whose reputation has been plummeting for years and who is now considered an average POTUS at best. But, whether he was a good president or not, he meant something to a lot of people and we shouldn't take that for granted.

The Last Word on the London Protests

Let's give it to Mark Steyn, shall we?:
In late September 2001 Mr Inyadullah was holed up in Peshawar awaiting the call to arms against the Great Satan and offered this pithy soundbite to the Telegraph's David Blair:

"The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death."

That's it in a nutshell - or in a nut's hell. And, like Mr Inyadullah, if it's Pepsi or death, the fellows on the streets of London this week choose death - at least for the Iraqis. If it's a choice between letting some carbonated-beverage crony of Dick Cheney get a piece of the Nasariyah soft-drinks market or allowing Saddam to go on feeding his subjects feet-first into the industrial shredder for another decade or three, then the "peace" activists will take the lesser of two evils - ie, crank up the shredder. Better yet, end UN sanctions so Saddam can replace the older, less reliable shredders, the ones with too many bits of bone tissue jammed in the cogs.
Steyn analyzes the unholy matrimony between atheistic commies and Islamic fascists. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.