Saturday, December 13, 2003
David Perlov, 1930-2003

David Perlov, who was one of Israel's most important filmmakers died Saturday at the age of 73.

Perlov didn't have a particularly long filmography, and his renown comes mainly on the strength of one film, Yoman, ("Diary"). I saw the film about 10 years ago, when it was first broadcast on cable, and fell in love with it. Yoman is exactly as advertised, a film diary. He films the minutiae of his and his family's day-to-day life. But from these small bits, he builds up a broad picture of life in Israel in the '70s and '80s. It's a long, somewhat slow, but deeply rewarding and personal work, one of the few masterpieces of Israeli cinema.

Perlov taught film at Tel Aviv University and helped teach a generation of budding Israeli filmmakers that the medium could be used for more than lowbrow comedies and government documentaries. He encouraged his students to do their own video diaries, quite a few of which are also really good.

He will be missed.

Thursday, December 11, 2003
More Underworld Violence

The local mobsters have ratcheted up the level of violence to a new level. A car bomb went off this afternoon outside the office of a money lender in downtown Tel Aviv. Two or three people are reported dead (depending on which news site you read) and dozens have been injured. Although at first there were fears it was a terrorist attack, the police now suspect that it was an underworld assassination attempt.

The target may have been none other than Ze'ev Rosenstein, the police's number one most wanted mob boss, who was just released from custody a few days ago. The police picked up Rosenstein last week and charged him with ordering the murder of one of his underworld rivals. Unfortunately, the police's case fell apart when it became clear that their star witness against Rosenstein is a pathological liar. Rosenstein was seen entering the money lender's office shortly before the explosion.

If Rosenstein was the target, then this is the sixth or so assassination attempt he's managed to survive. The last one was not too far from my apartment.

This isn't the first time this year that a mafia assassination attempt has gone wrong and killed innocent civilians. A few months ago, a woman was killed in a bomb attack meant to take out a major loan shark. Two or three weeks ago, a couple was killed at a used car dealership when somebody lobbed a grenade into the lot; the grenade was meant to kill the owner of the car lot.

Although, there was some public outcry after both these events, it was fairly muted. I think, however, after today's bit of violence there will be a lot of pressure on the police to start going after these thugs in a big way. I would expect a big roundup of the usual suspects -- Rosenstein, the Abergils, the Alperons, and all the rest -- in the next couple of days. After all, things are bad enough around here worrying about some Palestinian nut coming and blowing himself up. The last thing we need is to worry about getting caught in the crossfire when one penny ante hoodlum decides to go after another one.

Interesting side note: I noticed that this story initially got the full splashy top-of-the-page treatment at the New York Times site. Then, an hour later and after it became clear that the Palestinians weren't behind it, it got relegated to a more modest position in the AP feed scroll on the side.

Oom Shmoom, cont'd.

(For those not familiar with the reference, click here.)

The latest round in the never-ending soap opera of Israel, the Palestinians, and the UN. The UN committee which deals with the credentials of member countries is convening today. The Palestinian delegation is planning on challenging Israel's credentials. Doubtlessly, they'll get the backing of all the Arab states, plus a good chunk of the rest of the Third World dictatorships (oops, "non-aligned states") that make up the UN's general assembly.

Granted, this is an old-school trick which the Palis used to do regularly back in the '70s. No one actually expects Israel's credentials to be revokes. After all, if the Palestinian delegation were to tender a resolution accusing Israel of having plans to colonize Mars, they would probably find a majority in the General Council. Still, coming in the same week that the Palestinian delegation managed to get the UN to turn over the issue of the West Bank security fence to the International Criminal Court, there's a feeling that they're using the Oom to batter Israel in the eyes of international opinion.

And then they wonder why we dislike the UN so damned much here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003
The Spanish Oriana Fallaci

I read through the EU report on anti-Semitism. It was pretty much what you'd expect: Lotsa anti-Semitism, which comes from all sorts of different directions: the far right, Muslim youths, the Church, the anti-globalization left, and the media and culture elite.

Via Roger L. Simon's site, I found this interview with Pilar Rahola, a former member of the Spanish parliament, who has written outspoken articles criticizing the rampant Jew-hatred found in the European left in general, and in Spain in particular.

Rihola does not mince her words. In this interview, and in an article she wrote in defense of Israel, she takes members of the European intelligentsia and the news media to task for their unquestioning support of the Palestinians and reflexive demonization of Israel. She sees in it manifestations of Europe's historical obsession with and hatred of its Jewish population:
If Europe can be explained by its Jewish component and by its hatred of the Jews, as if they were two sides of the same coin, Palestinian identity can essentially be explained only by its anti-Jewish component. It is for this reason that the Palestinians have such difficulty putting an end to their violence.

If the Palestinians renounced their hatred of the Jews, they would at the same time lose a significant part of their identity. To get beyond this violence, they would have to get beyond the hatred and thus change their identity. In other words, they would have to reinvent themselves. It is on the basis of this hatred that the Palestinian meets and agrees with the European. Often, this takes place with people of the left, which is a veritable calamity for people like myself, as we are of the left. We are Europeans, but we do not accept Judeophobia, just as we do not accept the anti-Zionism that justifies and nourishes the anti-Semitism of the Spanish left today.
She also has a few tart things to say about the unholy alliance between leftist anti-globalists and Islamic fascists:
The most absurd thing is to watch leaders of the left today greet and celebrate Arab leaders, even when they are fundamentalists. For example, in the debates that followed the attacks of September 11, we heard an anti-American discourse here, pooh-poohing the victims, something which is in and of itself terrible ! And there were those who tried to downgrade—with that tawdry third-worldism which characterizes some circles of the left—the danger embodied in individuals like Bin Laden, who is, in fact, an authentic fascist. I believe that for the moment the world remains blind to the biggest totalitarianism of the twenty-first century, which is Islamic fundamentalism.
There's a lot more in there. As they say, read the whole thing.

News Junkies

(Hebrew Link, second item)

Interesting fact: the highest rated television program in Israel is the Channel 2 nightly news. It outdraws all the locally produced sitcoms, telenovellas, game shows, and talk shows, not to mention the news broadcasts of the other two stations. It's such a ratings magnet, in fact, that the head of Channel 2's news division wants to expand the nightly broadcast from 30 to 45 minutes.

Is this healthy? I often wonder why we're all news junkies around here. It's not like there's ever anything happy on. It's either bad news about the security situation or bad news about the economic situation, with the occasional horrific traffic accident or drubbing of the national football team thrown in for good measure. And yet, a good many of us reflexively turn up the radio when the news report comes on at the top of the hour.

Makes you wonder.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Turns out the police did manage to nab the would-be suicide bomber yesterday with the massive roadblock operation around here. The roadblocks put off the suicide bomber, and he returned to Nablus along with his guide and a woman who was helping them. Security forces later arrested the three.

Good to know the huge traffic jams in this area yesterday served a good purpose.

This bears pointing out: the woman who was helping the suicide bomber is a mother of seven. She helped smuggle in the explosive belt which was to be used in the operation. Had that belt gone off by accident, there would be seven children with a dead mother. As it is, she'll only be in jail for a few years.

Insert your own Palestinian-regard-for-the-health-and-welfare-of-their-children remark here.

Monday, December 08, 2003
Chomsky Answers the Readers at Home

"America's most important intellectual" (in the words of his moonie-like supporters) recently participated in a Q&A in the Independent, where he purported to answer readers' questions.

A lot of the reaction to the Q&A focuses on Chomsky's response to the question "Is anti-Semitism on the increase?" According to the great man:
In the West, fortunately, it scarcely exists now, though it did in the past. There is, of course, what the Anti-Defamation League calls "the real anti-Semitism", more dangerous than the old-fashioned kind: criticism of policies of the state of Israel and US support for them, opposition to a vast US military budget, etc. In contrast, anti-Arab racism is rampant. The manifestations are shocking, in elite intellectual circles as well, but arouse little concern because they are considered legitimate: the most extreme form of racism.
This, of course, raised a lot of ire, especially since I've got a 100+ page report from the EU which says otherwise. However, this is just Chomsky resorting to one of his favorite debate techniques: the completely self-contained definition.

You can infer from Chomsky's answer that his definition of anti-Semitism is completely disconnected from the context of Israel. If Israel figures into the context somehow (as is the case, by definition, of any attack by European Muslims on Jews), then it's no longer anti-Semitism but anti-Zionism of one form or another. He then, of course, changes the subject to anti-Arab racism, which he claims is "rampant" without offering any particular proof.

The Q&A is actually a fun sampler of Chomsky's different tricks. In another question, he is asked "Where is the "silent genocide" you predicted would happen in Afghanistan if the US intervened there in 2001?"Chomsky answers:
That is an interesting fabrication, which gives a good deal of insight into the prevailing moral and intellectual culture. First, the facts: I predicted nothing. Rather, I reported the grim warnings from virtually every knowledgeable source that the attack might lead to an awesome humanitarian catastrophe, and the bland announcements in the press that Washington had ordered Pakistan to eliminate "truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population".

All of this is precisely accurate and entirely appropriate. The warnings remain accurate as well, a truism that should be unnecessary to explain. Unfortunately, it is apparently necessary to add a moral truism: actions are evaluated in terms of the range of anticipated consequences.
This is his oft-used "I never said that" defense. Chomsky, of course, did in fact predict a "silent genocide" in Afghanistan, on numerous occasions and he knows it. He counts on the fact that his followers usually take his denials at face value and don't actually check them. In the event that someone does dig up his old speeches, however, he still has two defenses to fall back on: arguing about the definition of the word "predict" and then claiming that it still might happen, so the prediction hasn't been disproved.

My favorite bit was Chomsky's response to the question "Do you think the Iraqi people would be better off if Saddam Hussein was still in power?" Take it away, Professor C:
Certainly not. That is why I have opposed US-UK policies since they began their strong support for the murderous thug 25 years ago, continuing long after his worst atrocities were well-known. They returned to support for Saddam in 1991 when he crushed a rebellion that might have overthrown him, because they held the "strikingly unanimous view [that] whatever the sins of the Iraqi leader, he offered the West and the region a better hope for his country's stability than did those who have suffered his repression"
Beautiful. First off, even if his conspiracy theory is true and the US did return to support Saddam after the first Gulf War, Chomsky still doesn't bother to explain how or why the younger Bush decided to get rid of him 12 years later. Instead, he waves
around a big conspiracy theory to distract from the gaping hole in his logic.

This answer also illustrates Chomsky's moral obtuseness: he doesn't think the Iraqis would be better off with Saddam and claims to have opposed US support for him as early as 25 years ago. And yet, he also opposes (bitterly) the operation to get rid of Saddam. And if you push him on the question of how the Iraqi people were supposed to get rid of Saddam by themselves he'll go mute.

Actually, he doesn't want to delve into the issue of judging Saddam at all. This is also one of Chomsky's signature tricks. (Blogger Oliver Kamm, who has a lot more patience for the good professor's blatherings than I do, picks him apart artfully on this point).

Chomsky's public standing never fails to amaze me. After all, what kind of insight gleaned from his training in linguistics makes him an expert on foreign affairs? And yet, he has a cult-like following of people, generally of college-age, who I guess are lured by his supposed moral clarity and lack the critical tools to see their guru for what he is.

More Anti-Anti-Semitism at the Guardian

Everybody and their dog is linking to the second part of Julie Burchill's goodbye-to-the-Guardian-cum-attack-on-anti-Semitism, so I thought I'd get in on the act as well. (Part one can be found here.)

Burchill says it all, and I don't have much to add. Read the whole thing.

Another Day, Another Terror Alert

The Police locked down the area around my office park again this morning. They were tipped off that a Palestinian terrorist might have infiltrated the Rosh Ha'ayin/Petah Tikva area and set up roadblocks at every exit on the highway. As usual, traffic came to a standstill for about an hour and a half.

Thankfully I got to the office early this morning, and so missed out on all the fun of sitting idly in my car waiting for things to move. I got in at around 8:15. By around 10:30 I began to notice that nobody else had arrived yet, which made me realize that something was up. (This was the third or fourth major roadblock action in this area since September).

Unfortunately, it looks like the bastard is still at large. The police, however, did catch some poor shmuck trying to transport five kilos of marijuana into Qafr Qasem. Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.


OK, rant time here.

The subject for today: our government. More specifically: our government's handling of things lately.

Today, the Palestinians are calling for a vote in the UN to turn the matter of the West Bank security fence over to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The Palis enjoy an automatic majority in the UN General Assembly, so this resolution will almost doubtlessly be accepted. The actual legal parameters of going to the ICJ are unclear, but it will be yet another political setback for Israel.

This pisses me off.

In the last year and a half or so, we've seen all sorts of plans to try and end the conflict end up on the scrap heap. And over time I've begun to think that the conflict, at least at this point in time, cannot be resolved. The two sides hate each other too much, distrust each other even more, and have basic positions that just cannot be reconciled no matter how much the Geneva Accord naifs wish it were otherwise.

In the absence of a solution to the conflict, we need to transition to a mode of conflict management. And here, the fence plays a key role. In those areas where the fence has already gone up, terrorist warnings (not to mention cross-border car theft) have dropped to a minimum. The most recent attacks were in places just north or just south of the fence and just last week a major attack was foiled because the fence slowed the terrorists down enough to allow security forces to catch them.

In short, it works. If the fence were to go up properly and Palestinian terrorism were to drop inside the Green Line, then tempers here might cool down enough to start exploring other solutions.

The international community therefore should be lining up to support it. Instead, everybody buys into the Palestinian line that the fence is actually an "apartheid wall," an example of Israeli racism and colonialism. So, you begin to ask yourself why this is. Are the Palestinians so crafty with their propaganda or did the Israeli government just screw the pooch?

I'll have to go more with answer B than answer A. The Sharon government bungled the whole fence issue from the beginning and continues to do so up to the present. Had the government started putting up the fence in the first months of the intifada instead of waiting a year and a half, it would have gone up almost without anyone noticing it.

Unfortunately, the settlers opposed the fence because they did not want to be cut off from Israel proper. And so, the fence was put off and put off until it became clear that it had to go up. By that time, however, the novelty of the intifada had worn off. The news media, always on the lookout for fresh conflict, now found it in the construction of the security fence.

Again, the government could have chosen to construct the fence more or less along the Green Line. Had they done this, they could have directed the conflict over the fence to issues of a few kilometers here and there where the fence went over the line. But again, the settlers stepped in and demanded that the fence be routed in such a way to include most of the settlements inside the West Bank. So suddenly you have a fence that snakes in and out in a ridiculously circuitous manner which also takes up a lot of land the Palestinians claim is theirs. And this plays right into Palestinian propaganda. Again, we've created a situation where the issue becomes the fence itself instead of the route of the fence.

Arik Sharon has a soft spot in his heart for the settlements. He helped put up a goodly number of them during the '80s. The PM also has a tendency to manage by putting out fires. My biggest problem with Sharon is that he doesn't seem to have any kind of end game in mind for the conflict. Most of his diplomatic moves are aimed at buying time. But then he uses this time just to buy more time. His handling of the security fence is a classic example of putting short-term political considerations over saving hundreds of lives.

If Sharon was a real leader he would decide to route the fence more or less along the Green Line and declare that the safety of millions of Israelis in Israel proper is more important than the political demands of a few hundred thousand settlers. I'm pretty sure the majority of the country would back him up. Instead, he continues this game of see-saw where he pacifies the settlers just up to the point where the Bush administration starts getting pissed, then pulls back.

And in the meantime, Israel takes a drubbing in the court of world opinion, and quite soon in the International Court of Justice as well.

Cairo Talks Blow Up

So, it seems that the PA was unable to reach an agreement with the terror groups about a cease-fire. Apparently, the terror groups were willing to lay off killing Israelis inside the Green Line, but not in the Territories. Also, they made all sorts of demands on Israel to cease all its activities in the Territories.

Israel has been playing it smart. Israel does not need to involve herself in these negotiations; doing so only serves to legitimize the terrorists. Sharon declared that as long as there is quiet in the area, Israel won't feel the need to react militarily.

I am a bit torn about this whole track. On the one hand, I would appreciate another period of calm without buses and cafes blowing up. On the other hand, I realize that it's a fake calm and that the terrorist groups just use these periods of so-called cease fires to rearm and reorganize in preparation for the next round of attacks.

Personally, I'm kind of glad things blew up in Cairo like they did. First off, my blood still boils that the Palestinian Authority is sitting down to negotiate with these vermin instead of undertaking their supposed obligations under the road map and going after the terrorists with full force. Like I've said before, unless the Palestinians decide to have their Altalena moment, there's no way that any kind of stable Palestinian state can ever arise.

And then, think about the meaning of these negotiations. The debate right now revolves around the issue of whether or not Hamas will continue to murder children, pregnant women, heads of large families, and grandparents in the West Bank and Gaza. From their point of view, they've already made a huge concession in agreeing not to murder parents, teenage kids, and the elderly inside Israel. Kudos to them.

But the situation is the situation. And given this fact, it's better that these negotiations blow up and Israel not get dragged into any kind of negotations with Hamas and Jihad. The terrorist groups demanded US guarantees that Israel cease its activities in exchange for the cease fire. Had this gone through, then there would be some pressure on Israel to be responsible for keeping the cease fire going.

A Pragmatic Hawk?

This week's big political kerfuffle involves comments made by Trade Minister Ehud Olmert in an interview to Yediot Aharonot over the weekend. Olmert says that he favors a unilateral withdrawal from most of the Territories, including some neighborhoods bordering Jerusalem.

Interest in Olmert's statements quickly overshadowed developments in Geneva. He is not usually considered a hawk, and during the decade or so that he served as Jerusalem's mayor, he was considered a real hard-liner. (It was Olmert's who insisted that then-PM Netanyahu open up the tunnel underneath the Wailing Wall in 1996; the opening of the tunnel led to widespread rioting in the Territories and and clashes between the IDF and Palestinian police). Given this, his statements seem to come out of the blue and shocked a lot of people in his party. The right wing of the Likud and the ultranationalist parties in the coalition quickly scrambled to denounce him.

But the interest in Olmert's comments goes beyond his specific political orientation. Olmert is one of Arik Sharon's closest confidants. This means that Sharon would have likely known about Olmert's views before the interview. The PM had a number of opportunities to denounce his Trade Minister, but has so far chosen not to.

So, what's going on here? Some theories:
  • Olmert may be gearing up for the race to succeed Sharon as head of the Likud. Once Arik retires, a battle begins among some of the senior-level ministers. Netanyahu more or less has a lock as the standard bearer for the party's hawkish wing; Olmert may be trying to carve out a niche for himself as the moderate alternative, one who can reach out to centrist voters who favor withdrawal from the territories. If so, Olmert faces a real struggle in the Likud's central committee, which generally leans right.

  • Sharon may be trying to use Olmert as a stalking horse. In the last couple of weeks, Sharon has made all sorts of noises about plans to withdraw from territories unilaterally. However, no one really takes him seriously. The PM may be trying to gauge how popular this kind of plan is by seeing the reaction to Olmert's declarations.
Of course, it may be that Olmert is merely being sincere and does not have an ulterior motive. His friends claim that he's been mulling over ideas like this since he was mayor. (On the other hand, Olmert does have a history of political zigzagging.)

If the first theory is true, Olmert will have to overcome history if he is to succeed. After all, he isn't the first Likud "prince" to espouse moderate views. The ones who did so before him -- notably Roni Milo and Dan Meridor -- soon found themselves without much of a political career. On the other hand, Milo is generally considered a slimeball and an opportunist while Meridor is considered a weakling and a geek. Olmert's public image is better. Having encountered him on numerous occasions when I lived in Jerusalem (both as a journalist and as a regular civilian), I can report that Olmert can be fairly charming.

If his declarations come from heartfelt views, then he might have the makings of an attractive centrist candidate.

Friggin' Blogger

Blogger was down most of yesterday afternoon and last night. I had a couple of posts waiting to go, but nowhere to put them up. Grrr.

I'm thinking that the time has come to make the move to MT...

Sunday, December 07, 2003
Quote of the Day

[T]he gathering in Geneva had the taste of Swiss hummus: a superficial show rather than a real human encounter, a programmed display and not an emotional connection, a sound and light show rather than a genuinely uplifting experience.
-Uzi Benziman, writing in Friday's Ha'aretz and making me feel even better about my opposition to the Geneva Accords.

Seriously, guys, when even the guys at Ha'aretz don't back you or your plan you need to start asking yourself whether there isn't something you've missed.