Articles which have caught my interest. Mostly Israel stuff and other nubbins from the ongoing holy war.
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Yet More on the Geneva Accords
Ari Shavit tears the authors of the Geneva Accords a new one in today's Ha'aretz:
And still they went to Geneva. After everything they'd said in the past few years about the need to persuade Sderot and Ofakim, they still couldn't withstand the temptation. After everything they said, and said again, when they drafted the document of understandings at the Dead Sea, they nevertheless opted for the international community over the Israeli community. In going to Geneva, the peace yuppies did it once more: They forced through an irreversible diplomatic factUp until now, I haven't been too concerned about the Geneva Accords, which I think are a non-starter among both the Israelis and the Palestinians. I am, however, beginning to see how they could be used by all sorts of international groups against the government here, which does make them a danger.
Good job, Beilin & co.
The Seattle branch of the Independent Media Center announced that it is shutting down. What started out as one of these great fuzzy-headed ideas to create an alternate information center during the first WTO riots in 1999 has devolved over the years into a digital soapbox for every far-left whack job and his/her pet conspiracy theory.
Or, as the article in Seattle Weekly describes it:
The Seattle IMC Web site aspired to be a credible local news source, but in practice it was open publishing, meaning that anyone could send in a story and it would run untouched. The policy was, in theory, the ultimate in media democracy. But it also left readers to sort out for themselves the solid, well-researched, well-presented stories from the jargon-laden, factually incorrect anarco-leftist rants.
Over at LGF, a site which has been at war with Indymedia for a long time now, Charles Johnson's minions are celebrating a victory.
I can't say I'll be too sad to see them go myself, either.
Back to the Routine
What was I saying yesterday about not being able to get angry?
The IDF and Shin Bet managed to foil a massive double-suicide attack yesterday up north. An Islamic Jihad cell was planning to blow up a high school in Yokneam and simultaneously carry out an attack in Beit She'an. The security services were tipped off to the Beit She'an attack and apprehended the would-be bomber. This helped point them to the other group. After a massive manhunt, which blocked up the traffic in the north for hours, they nabbed the second bomber and his handler. In addition, they carried out a sweep in the West Bank which led to the capture of 17 Islamic Jihad members and another explosives belt.
Had this attack -- God forbid -- not been stopped, who knows how many teenagers and other innocents would have been murdered? The only downside to this (which thoroughly pales in comparison to the relief we feel that the attack didn't go through, but still) is that as far as the outside world is concerned, the situation around here remains "calm."
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Speaking out of Both Sides of the Accord
I love how Ha'aretz won't let anything get in the way of its googley-eyed support of the Geneva Accords, not even the opinions of its own senior analysts. Today's lead editorial continues to make the same specious points that we've seen on the editorial page all week.
The relatively high level of support for it - 31 percent - and the relatively low level of objection - 38 percent - that emerged from a public opinion poll published in Haaretz early this week, and the emotional and hopeful involvement of people from all walks of life - authors, artists and social activists - are encouraging and raise expectations for what is yet to come.OK, quick fisk.
Thirty one percent and 38 percent adds up to 69 percent. Which means that 31 percent of the population still hasn't formulated an opinion. If we are charitable and split the difference (and I suspect that I really am being charitable), then you'll find that 46.5 percent support the measure while 53.5 percent oppose it. Which means that any way you look at it, the Israeli public isn't biting.
Now, as far as those "people from all walks of life", this is a serious bit of prevarication. The people behind this Accord and the people pushing for it are the same group of middle-aged, middle-class, dovish Ashkenazi intellectuals who make up the bulk of what remains of the Israeli peace camp. I'm sorry, but Yossi Beilin, Avrum Burg, David Grossman, Aviv Geffen, and A.B. Yehoshua don't exactly make for a representative cross-section of Israeli society.
But, let's put all that aside. Ha'aretz (and the Geneva Accord initiators) have a mantra:
Hopefully, the understandings will develop broad and consistent support among Israelis and Palestinians, who will influence their leaderships not to ignore the clear message that arrived from Geneva - there is someone to talk to on the other side.I'll admit I was wrong in thinking there's no one on the other side to talk to. Unfortunately, fact remains that there's no one on the other side to talk to who can actually make any kind of difference. And anyone who continues to buy into the fantasy that Yasser Abed Rabo will be able to make any kind of impact on the Palestinian "street" should read Bradley Burston's analysis piece also from today's Ha'aretz.
Burston basically lays out the one salient fact about the other side:
It is the only power that Yasser Arafat has left. But it can be deadly in accuracy and effect.As long as his miserable presence on this earth continues to plague us, the leering ghoul will have the final say about any peace initiative. And Arafat will have no compunction hanging Beilin out to dry or turning Abed Rabo over to the Palestinian mobs baying for his blood.
We Israelis are a hopeful lot. If we thought that this Geneva Accord would lead anywhere, then the political pressure on Sharon to make the necessary concessions would soon become overwhelming. The same cannot be said for the other side. And this is why I'm convinced the Geneva Accords will join the rest of the failed programs and plans in the great conceptual trashcan.
Things you See From There that you don't See From Here
I sense a general feeling of extended blah-ness settling over the Israeli corner of the blogosphere, especially when it comes to writing about the latest developments with the neighbors. Imshin
says she's tired of writing about The Situation. So is Rinat. Gil Shterzer says he has a case of blogger's block in general.
I'm also feeling a bit like this. Yes, we have this Geneva thing, which in better days would provide me with enough blog fodder for weeks. But it doesn't. I don't know, maybe it's an end-of-year thing. Maybe it's the change in the weather. Maybe we're all worn out from this feeling like we're spinning our wheels around here.
Now, compare and contrast with Meryl Yourish's attack on the UN from the other day. It's been months since I've had the energy and inspiration to get that worked up about anything. And I agree with just about everything she wrote.
The IDF is about to celebrate the induction of its first Eskimo.
Eva Ben Sira will join the army tomorrow. She and her twin brother Jimmy were born in Alaska to an Inuit mother and Native American father. The siblings were adopted when they were five years old by an Israeli family and brought to Israel. Now, Eva is about to start her army service like most 18-year-olds around here.
This is a cute story which serves to remind us how diverse the country can be, especially the IDF which serves as the common denominator for most of Israeli society.
Ben Sira's story reminded me of another example of interesting diversity in the army. In the late '70s, Israel took in several hundred Vietnamese boat people. The Begin government helped settle these refugee families in various places in the country and they became permanent residents.
Around the time I was doing my army service in the early '90s, the first wave of children from these families were inducted into the IDF. Having grown up in Israel, they were as Israeli as anyone else and a lot of them ended up in the Border Patrol. People who served with them in the West Bank said that they used to freak out the Palestinians. The Palestinians would see an oriental guy chasing after them and screaming at them in Vietnamese and wouldn't know what to make of it.
Now we should wait for the induction of the first soldier of Aboriginal Australian heritage to the IDF. It'll happen some day.
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Slow News Day at AP?
Can someone tell me why this is news?
I just found this on the AP news wire:
An Israeli cat has been banned from circulating freely in the stairwell of a suburban Tel Aviv apartment building, apparently because its jet black color was frightening the residents.Have we reached a point where there's no interesting news coming out of this place and no one told me?
Underworld Fun 'n' Games
And the police score a point in their war against organized crime. Police officers yesterday arrested Ze'ev Rosenstein, a local gambling kingpin, who was on their most wanted list. Rosenstein is being questioned under the suspicion that he ordered a hit on two of his underworld rivals, the Abergil brothers.
The case against Rosenstein is based on the word of a hitman named David Attias, who claims Rosenstein tried to recruit him to whack Ya'akov and Meir Abergil. Attias is associated with the Kakoun family from Haifa.
Rosenstein himself has been the target of a couple of assassination attempts, the most recent of which happened a couple of months ago not far from my apartment. In that incident, someone set up a car bomb which went off (and rattled the hell out of our windows) but did not injure Rosenstein.
There are a couple of crime families operating in central Israel. The Abergils are allied with the infamous Alperon family against Rosenstein, who is allied with the Abutbul family from Lod. These clowns have been trying (and occasionally succeeding) to kill each other for years now.
Just yesterday, Nissim Alperon survived the fourth attempt on his life in the last three years. Someone drove up to the apartment of Alperon's girlfriend and opened fire when Nissim came out. They missed. Not three months ago, Alperon was wounded in a shooting attack in Givat Shmuel. None of this would be so problematic, save for the fact that civilians often get hurt in these gangland wars.
The police admit that it will be hard to make the charges against Rosenstein stick. After all, the alleged hit on the Abergils never went off and their key witness is a hitman. I was especially amused to see Rosenstein's lawyer making the rounds of all the news and radio stations declaring that his client is a legitimate businessman who is being hounded unfairly by the police. However, they say it's a start and an indication that they're serious about putting him behind bars.
That EU Report (Cont'd)
As expected, someone finally leaked the EU report on anti-Semitism in Europe. The Jerusalem Post has it today (the full thing can be found here). If I have the time, I'll comment more on it in the next few days.
Monday, December 01, 2003
Today marks the official start of the Geneva Accords. Or something like that.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have gathered in Geneva in the presence of international luminaries like Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, and, um, Richard Dreyfus, for what they're describing as the "launch" of the Geneva Accords. The two sides have strenuously avoided calling today's ceremony a "signing", since this would imply that the Geneva Accords have some kind of official currency. They don't, of course.
I'll stick to my original position on the Accords: it's an interesting idea with many positive points, none of which is enough to make up for the fact that it's a bit of freelance diplomacy put together by dovish intellectuals who lack any kind of political or popular backing. I doubt it will go anywhere.
And if I was at any point thinking to change my mind, yesterday's little show from the Palestinian side quickly brought me back to reality. Up until last night it wasn't clear whether the Palestinian negotiators would even attend today's non-signing ceremony. Arafat was waffling on giving his official approval. The negotiators received a variety of death threats from a variety of different Palestinian factions. Eventually, Mr. Head Terrorist gave a verbal (though emphatically not a written) okay for the negotiators to go to Geneva, stopping short of actually supporting the Accords.
This is hardly great PR for a peace agreement which, in the words of head Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin, is supposed to prove to the Israelis that we have someone to talk to on the other side. I'd say it proves that we have someone to talk to, but that someone has no power and will most likely get killed by his own people for talking to us. When push comes to shove, whichever Palestinian negotiators face Israel, they'll be lined up like little ducks behind Arafat, who won't do anything contrary to Palestinian popular opinion.
Ha'aretz disagrees with me. But, then again, they've consistently pushed for the Accords since they were announced 6 weeks ago. The paper commissioned a survey which found that 31 percent of the population supports the Accords, 39 percent opposes it, 20 percent hasn't made up its mind, and 10 percent don't know about it (which is kind of pathetic, considering that the Accord's backers supposedly mailed a copy of it to everyone in the country).
The paper paints the results in the rosiest of hues by focusing on the fact that the gap between support and opposition to the Accords is growing. I'd point out that the support is still only 30 percent and that it isn't significantly higher than in surveys conducted in the days after the Accords were first announced.
But, hey, now I'm just being a stick in the mud. Just because I've seen too many ceremonies for agreements that went nowhere doesn't mean the kids shouldn't enjoy their fun day in Switzerland.
Regime Change for Everyone!
Speaking of Baby Assad, if Mark Steyn had his way, Bashar's Ba'athist regime would soon join the neighboring Ba'athist regime in the dustbin of history.
Steyn points to five countries which are require a regime change if the war on terrorism is to be effective:
[T]errorism’s most brazen patron (Syria), its ideological inspiration (the prototype Islamic Republic of Iran), its principal paymaster (Saudi Arabia), a critical source of manpower (Sudan) and its most potentially dangerous weapons supplier (North Korea)Strictly speaking, I agree with Steyn completely. Unfortunately, I'm a realist, and given the way things are going in Iraq, I think GWB at this point has to secure the situation there before embarking on any new nation-building around here. Without doing that, he'll be hard pressed to muster support for any more regime change, no matter how odious or threatening the countries involved.
Baby Assad Complains
Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to the New York Times in which he complains that the Bush vision for a new Middle East doesn't include Syria. We haven't heard a whole lot from Syria since the end of the Iraq war. Boy Assad has been maintaning an understandably low profile in the hopes that the US won't realize that his regime is almost as bad as the one next door which got overthrown.
But now Assad has decided to speak and he wants the US to pressure Israel into resuming the peace negotiations with Syria that stalled out a few years back.
A bit of backstory: Israel last negotiated with Bashar's pappy during the days of the Barak government. The two countries made some progress at the time, with the main issue being where to draw the boundary line. According to leaked reports, Barak was willing to give back the Golan Heights but insisted that Israel maintain full control of the Sea of Galilee at the base of the Heights. Assad Sr., however, insisted on a toehold on one of the shores.
The negotiations stalled when Barak realized that he had no backing, either in his government or in the general public, to cut a deal along these lines. That was about four years ago.
Now Bashar wants to start talking again from the point where daddy left off. Which is nice and all, but things have changed in the last few years. The negotiations with Syria in the late '90s were based upon a clear, if quiet, quid pro quo: Israel was mired in southern Lebanon, fighting Hizbullah, Syria's pet terrorists. According to the logic of the deal, Israel would trade the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for Syria clamping down on Hizbullah and allowing its Lebanese client government to conclude a peace deal. This would allow Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon with dignity after 15 years and hundreds of casualties.
However, following the collapse of the talks, Israel withdrew from Lebanon unilaterally. This means that the major rationale for cutting a deal with Syria has disappeared from Israel's perspective.
In effect, Bashar wants Israel to give up the Golan Heights -- a key strategic and agricultural asset -- in exchange for a cold peace with a failing regime which no longer poses a direct threat from Israel. Oh, yes, he also promises to shut down terrorist operations in his territories. Of course, he told the Americans that he already did this and then Israel went and bombed a terrorist training camp well within Syrian territory.
Baby Assad can whine all he wants to, but negotiations with Syria in the format we saw in the late '90s are a no-go politically. Sorry, old chap. Wrong side of history and all that.
Another Defense of Israel in the Guardian
For the second time in two days, the editorial page of England's most reliably anti-Israel newspaper features an article defending Israel and attacking the anti-Semitism of her attackers.
Today's commentary by Emanuele Ottolenghi is a calmly argued, beautifully reasoned piece which confronts the hoariest of left wing cliches, "I'm not anti-Semitic, I'm anti-Zionist". Ottolenghi shows how the distinction between the two has increasingly become blurry-to-nonexistent, especially when Israel gets singled out for a variety of reasons and when the criticism uses classic anti-Semitic motifs (cf. that repulsive cartoon of Sharon eating Palestinian babies which recently won the British cartoon society award).
I'll gladly sign off on every paragraph in Ottolenghi's column. I'm not going to pull quotes, because there are too many. Please read the whole thing.
Gosh, what's next for the Guardian? At this rate, their Israel reportage may soon evolve beyond printing Palestinian lies wholesale. They might even criticize Palestinian terrorist attacks. Who knows?
When Mafia Regimes Negotiate
In the waning days of his regime, Saddam got fouled up in a missile deal with North Korea. The New York Times today has a fascinating story which shows what happens when regimes run by gangsters try to cut deals with each other.
According to the Times story, in the last few years Saddam paid Kim Jong Il some $10 million in exchange for North Korean long-range Rodong missiles. Intelligence analysts say that the money appears to have been a down payment for setting up missile production facilities in Iraq (in strict violation of UN resolutions, it should be reminded).
But the North Koreans burned the Iraqis. Kim didn't provide the goods, making various excuses. Saddam was still trying to get the missiles or his money back up until he was overthrown.
This story illustrates a banal, but important point: When you look beyond all the misery and horror that these regimes inflict(ed) on their own people, you find they are basically no different than a couple of petty street corner drug dealers trying to rip each other off.
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Julie Burchill's Parting Shot
Julie Burchill has been writing a column for the Guardian for a while now. At the end of next month, she jumps ship and starts working for the Times. In her parting shot, she takes a big swipe at the Guardian's signature attitude towards my little country:
[I]f there is one issue that has made me feel less loyal to my newspaper over the past year, it has been what I, as a non-Jew, perceive to be a quite striking bias against the state of Israel. Which, for all its faults, is the only country in that barren region that you or I, or any feminist, atheist, homosexual or trade unionist, could bear to live under.With Burchill gone, the Guardian becomes an even poorer newspaper than before. Read her whole screed, it's worth it.
Wanted: Israeli Actors for Typecast Bit Parts
Israel is crazy about the show 24, which is broadcast here on Channel 10. The show garners the highest ratings of anything on the channel, and it recently won a local emmy for "Best Imported Drama." Kiefer Sutherland himself recorded a message for the awards ceremony in which he thanked Israeli viewers for their support. (I didn't actually see the ceremony, but I can just imagine him saying toda raba Israel in that patented Kiefer-voice of his).
It turns out that 24 likes Israel as well. Or at least it likes Israeli actors for bit roles as terrorist henchmen. Our own Aki Avni appeared in two episodes in the second season. Avni is a fair-sized celebity of moderate-size talents. His fame here rests more on the fact that he married local supermodel Sandi Bar and his gig as the host of the local version of "The Bachelorete" than on his thespianic skills.
Nonetheless, people here love a "local boy makes good" story and the promos for episode 9 trumpeted the fact that Aki Avni would appear alongside Kiefer and Dennis Haysbert. The media fanfare turned out to be completely out of proportion to the size of Avni's role. He appeared briefly in two episodes, playing a Middle Eastern terrorist whose primary job is to lurk in the background menacingly and occasionally torture people. Kiefer then comes along and kills him.
As it turns out, the second season of 24 features a second Israeli actor, Mark Ivanir, who plays -- wait for it -- a terrorist henchman who lurks around in the background and participates in torture sessions. And, yes, Kiefer kills him as well. The main difference is that Avni's terrorist ("Mohsen") is specifically Middle Eastern while Ivanir's ("Trask") is not.
The other difference is the media fanfare. I hadn't heard that there was a second Israeli involved in 24 until I actually saw the episode and saw that the character lurking in the background looked familiar. (Ivanir, who is a more talented -- albeit not as pretty -- actor than Ivanir, has a recurring role on "Franko and Spector", a new Friday night coutroom drama). Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that there wasn't more hoo-ha about the second Israeli actor. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has to do with the fact that Ivanir is originally from the former Soviet Union.
At any rate, it's nice to see that Hollywood has a place in its heart -- and a specific role in mind -- for Israeli actors to play. I don't think the field has been this ripe since the days of the "Delta Force" movies in the '80s.
More on that EU Anti-Semitism Report
Someone leaked a copy of that EU report on European anti-Semitism to Ha'aretz. As you may recally, the EU decided to bury the report, which concludes that Muslims are responsible for a hefty chunk of anti-Semitic violence on the Continent. Originally, this just seemed an ass-minded piece of political correctness. As Mark Steyn pointed out in his column last week "the EU's main concern about an actual epidemic of hate crimes against Jews is that it could provoke a hypothetical epidemic of hate crimes against Muslims."
Now, Ha'aretz reports that the report not only points the finger at European Muslims but also the European left wing, whose public statements against Israel long ago crossed the line into overt anti-Semitism.
The European left anti-Semitic? But, monsieur, surely this is non possible!
A Euro-parliamentarian from France, Francois Zimre, told Haaretz that the decision by the EUMC is ridiculous. "The main reason for the decision is that the report destroys a main taboo that holds anti-Semitism to be solely theMore to come, I'm sure. It's only a matter of time before someone puts the report out on the Net.