Thursday, January 22, 2004

Haaretz today has a series of articles looking back on the first year of Sharon's second administration. Unsurprisingly, they don't have much of anything good to report. Now, even if we factor out the paper's knee-jerk anti-Sharonism, they make a couple of good points. The main problem with our PM is that he spends all his time buying time. This means that he constantly tries to placate either the left or right side of his coalition or the Americans. And as a result, he doesn't do much of anything. He manages to get away with it because of the overwhelming anger we have towards the Palestinians, and because their head ghoul ensures that the situation never calms down for progress to be made.

Now Sharon may face indictments on bribery charges. He has declared that he won't resign even if he is indicted, but the feeling is that if the police do decide to charge him, he will become completely paralyzed politically.

There's this whole blah feeling going on here at the moment. Things aren't good and there's no hope or solution on the horizon. Every day we get some new story about corruption in government, both big and small. The other night, for instance, there was a piece on the news about Likud Central Committee members -- a bunch of building contractors, small-time hustlers, and occasionally outright mobsters -- coming and going as they please in the Knesset. It turns out that special interest groups pay them to influence Knesset members. Although this sounds like standard lobbying, there's one key difference: In this case, the lobbyists also get to determine who the Knesset members will be.

Is there a public outcry? You're making me laugh. There's barely any outcry that our PM might have been given kickbacks in a shady land deal.

I wish I had more energy to write about this, but I don't. It's all too depressing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Sarid Looks at Fence, Gazes at Navel

Former Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid has a particularly pedantic and disingenouse editorial about the security fence in today's Ha'aretz. After listing all the good reasons to put up the fence, he then attacks it using the standard overblown left-wing terminology: "apartheid", "crime against humanity" etc.

So far, so standard. What riles me is Sarid's clincher:
Without a doubt, on the basis of the concepts that I know and accept, Sharon's fence is a crime against humanity. There is no other way to define it. I will not make my way to the International Court in The Hague, due to the "disease of patriotism" from which we are unable to cure ourselves. But this is the written affidavit of a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a former minister of education in the State of Israel, a Zionist without "post." My testimony is translated in this newspaper into English (an unpatriotic act), and if it is brought before the judges, I would not change it one iota. Maybe I will first bring it before the justices of our High Court of Justice. To this I sign my name.
"Ooh, I'm so patriotic that I won't go to Hague." However, Mr. Patriotism has no problem publishing an article which by tomorrow will be splashed on a thousand web sites, right next to the cute animated gif of the Star of David morphing into a swastika.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not challenging Sarid's right to publish what he wants. Last time I checked, we're still the only country in the Middle East with a free press and I'd like to keep it that way. I am, however, challenging this bogus humility. The guy would love nothing more than to go to Hague and denounce Sharon but he knows what that would do to the image of the Israeli peace camp. So, instead, we get a bunch of bogus piety.

Amusing Parrot Story of the Week

The oldest bird in Britain is apparently a 104-year old blue and gold macaw named Charlie. This normally wouldn't be that interesting a story (even with the fact that Charlie is a she), except for the fact that the parrot used to be owned by Winston Churchill. Churchill had the bird with him in the war room during WWII, where she amused him by learning to say "F**k the Nazis" and "F**k Hitler".

Amusingly enough, the parrot continued to do this long after the war and after Churchill passed away in 1965, although her owners say she's mellowed with age.

New Kid on the Blog

We have a newcomer to the small but exclusive group of English-language Israeli bloggers. So I thought I'd roll out the welcome wagon here and say hello to Ashley, a.k.a Mr. Anglosaxy, a Brit now living here in the Promised Land.

Check out Ashley's list of signs you've been in Israel too long.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Stockholm Art, Cont'd

Amnon Rubinstein has a fairly commonsense article about art and censorship in today's Ha'aretz about the controversial installation piece in Stockholm.
First, no right guaranteed by law is unlimited. The Supreme Court has several times explained that freedom of expression, important and lofty as it may be, is not absolute, and in some cases may be set aside in favor of other considerations of the public good - public order, the individual's dignity and good name, independence of the courts, state security and religious sensitivities.

It is therefore impossible to argue that freedom of expression may be restricted in all realms, and that freedom of expression becomes unlimited only when an artist translates his worldview into politics. Would those on the left who favor unlimited artistic freedom be willing to have it apply to installations created by Kahane supporters or members of the Ku Klux Klan?
As to that last point, the left would of course say yes until they actually encountered such a piece in which case they would scream racism.

Rubinstein's kicker:
A Greek gallery in Athens exhibited a work of art in the shape of an explosives belt made of macrame, of a Palestinian female terrorist wishing to kill Israelis. Only against Israel are these sorts of masterpieces exhibited - never against other countries, never out of an understanding for suicide bombers who murder civilians that are not Israelis. There is no macrame for Chechnyans. There is no installation in Sweden that understands the suicide bombers in Riyadh. If this is not racism, it is unclear what is.

How not to Conduct Secret Negotiations

Israelis in general and Israeli politicians in particular suffer from a condition known locally as patpetet, the tendency to run off at the mouth. In the realms of politics and diplomacy, it's gotten to a point where you can't do anything without it being leaked to the press instantly. This is bad enough, but when you're dealing with talks involving hostile foreign governments it can be downright disastrous.

A few weeks ago, the newspapers here ran big headlines about secret meetings between Israelis and representatives from Libya. The Libyans quickly denied the reports. Whether the meetings took place or not is unclear, but what is clear is that for all the new rhetoric coming out of Tripoli, Libya has not reached a place where it can openly admit talking to Israel.

This morning we had a repeat of the Libya incident, this time involving Pakistan. Our Agriculture Minister, Likud MK Yisrael Katz, ran to all the morning talk shows and announced that he had been invited as part of a special UN delegation to go to Pakistan. There, he said he would meet with Pakistani officials about setting up some kind of ties between the two countries.

Now, I heard this on the way to work today and groaned. Of all people in Israeli politics, Katz --a bullnecked, boorish, tactless fool -- would be among the last people I'd choose for any kind of diplomatic mission, especially a delicate one. Also, I realized that the leak would only harm the mission.

Now, of course, the Pakistanis are denying everything. Pakistan, like Libya, is still radically Muslim despite its openness to the US and the West. Given this, if they want to talk to the Jewish state without causing riots, they need to do it discreetly.

If there are burgeoning ties between us and Pakistan, Yisrael Katz and his big mouth haven't helped them. Note to Israeli politicians: the minor publicity boost you get by trumpeting each and every move more often than not isn't worth the damage it does.

Monday, January 19, 2004
Prison Nuptials?

Yigal Amir wants to get married. He recently met a nice lady, a recent immigrant from the former Soviet Union. She's divorced with four kids, but that shouldn't be a problem.

What might be a problem is the fact that Amir murdered Yitzhak Rabin and has been in solitary confinement in Ayalon Prison since 1995. Also the fact that he is arguably the single most loathed individual in this country.

Channel 2 broke the story yesterday evening. Amir and his bride-to-be, one Larissa Trimbobler, have been pen pals for a while now. Trimbobler, who is ultra-orthodox and presumably ultra right-wing, felt that Israeli society was out to get Amir (funny that) and initially contacted him to express her sympathy. Recently, the two were allowed to meet, love flowered, and now they want to wed.

Although Amir still hasn't submitted an official request to the prison authorities, the story has already caused a political storm. The head of the Prison Authority announced that he won't permit the wedding. Politicians of various stripes have been voicing their opinion either for or (mostly) against Amir being allowed to get married. Shimon Peres and others have suggested that the Knesset actually pass a law against it.

I understand where they're coming from. I still remember the 4th of November, as the bumper sticker goes. Yigal Amir, this wretched little toad, stepped up and coldly shot one of this country's greatest leaders in cold blood. He has shown no remorse at all, and spent most of his trial grinning smugly and expressing pride in his actions. There was a real feeling then (as now) that he should rot in jail forever.

There's a real fear that allowing Amir to get married will be the first step in his eventual rehabilitation. If he gets married, the reasoning goes, pretty soon he'll be lobbying for expanded visitation rights. Then he'll demand furloughs. After a few years, he might even be paroled. But there's a deeper gut reaction at work here. Peres said it best when he said that this wretched murderer who took the life of a Prime Minister and the hopes of millions should not be allowed to gain immortality by having children.

Unfortunately, we're in one of those unpleasant areas where the law says one thing and our hearts say another. By Israeli law, criminals are allowed to get married in prison. (On a side note, I've never been able to understand prison groupies. What do women see in murderers? In this case, Amir's bride-to-be seems to be a groupie/political fanatic, which helps).

Granted Amir is a special case and has fewer freedoms than most prisoners. He is kept in solitary confinement. He is allowed few guests (mainly his mother and his lawyer). And the only time he ever sees the outside world is on those rare occasions where he shows up at court on some appeal or another. Even with all this, it's unclear whether the Prison Authority can legally bar him from getting married.

If there is no legal bar on Amir's marriage, then the Knesset could theoretically pass a law like that. They've already done so once, passing a law that he can never receive amnesty. But this kind of lawmaking which targets specific individuals is really bad government. You don't know where it will lead and I personally think it should be strictly opposed, even if it means that Amir might have offspring. I foresee the courts weighing in on the matter.

The biggest downside to all of this is that we'll probably be seeing more of Yigal Amir in weeks to come. Since his trial and incarceration Amir has been pretty much invisible, which is how we all like him. The couple of times since that he has made an appearance, he came to court wearing the same smug grin that he had when he admitted murdering Rabin. That grin just amplifies the hate most of us feel for him and the less we see of it the better.

Sunday, January 18, 2004
Reactions to Morris

And while I'm piling on Ha'aretz, they published a number of reader reactions to the bomb-throwing interview with Benny Morris last week. Morris revealed a number of harsh facts about Israel's War of Independence, but then went on to justify a lot of the unpleasant actions (among them population transfer) in that war and voice his belief that the Palestinians are obsessed with exterminating Israel no lasting peace will come with them.

Ha'aretz published 11 responses. Ten of them either condemn Israel's actions in the 1948 war or attack Morris for justifying population transfer in that war. Only one response backs Morris' analysis of the Palestinians. Just in case you wondered in which direction Ha'aretz's politics point.

Blogging in Israel

A semi-interesting piece in the Ha'aretz weekend magazine about blogging in Israel. The article focuses almost entirely on the sector of bloggers who write online journals. (No word on current affairs bloggers like myself, us so-called "warbloggers" or those who blog on tech issues). Online journal writers here, it turns out, are much like those in every other country. They seem to have the same motivations (exhibitionism, therapy) and seem to be wracked with the same conflicts (the desire to reveal vs. the desire for anonymity).

I can sort of understand this last point. Friends and family sometimes ask me if I'm comfortable sharing my life with the world. I find this kind of an odd question, since I generally keep my personal life out of my blog. There are plenty of things I could write about, but I don't think they belong online. The big exception was when Lia was born, and I had to share the news with the world. I guess people I know just focus on the occasional personal tidbits.

For me, it's more a question of what I want to focus on than anything else.

Fence, Cont'd.

Unlike Allison I have no qualms being pro-fence. As I've said on numerous occasions, I'm pissed that the thing wasn't put up a long time ago and doubly pissed that the government has chosen to pander to the settler movement here which has led to our upcoming session at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. The Hague hearing might actually have a positive side, since we're hearing reports that Sharon is considering changes to the route of the fence to cleave it closer to the Green Line.

Ha'aretz Friday features section led with a piece about the parts of the fence (actually, the few parts that can actually be called a wall) going up at the moment in East Jerusalem. The piece focuses entirely on the Palestinian inhabitants of the area whose lives and livelihoods are being hurt by the wall (we are talking about Ha'aretz after all). I'm back in one of my hard-hearted/fed-up-with-Palestinians moods and I have to admit that I had to work hard to muster sympathy for these people, who do actually deserve it. I'm not happy that the wall makes it difficult for a wheelchair-bound kid to go to school or cuts off a kiosk owner from his clientelle.

That being said, the wall is not necessarily a permanent feature. It can be taken down or re-routed once the violence with the neighbors dies down. Also, with all due respect to the suffering of the half-dozen people interviewed in the article, their problems don't mean even a fraction as much to me as the buses that get blown up because some Palestinian psycho managed to sneak in through East J.

If that makes me a hard-hearted colonialist, so be it.

Diplomatic Art Brouhaha

In what has to be the strangest diplomatic incident Israel has been involved in this year, we now find ourselves in a snit with Sweden over an incident in an art museum. On Friday, Zvi Mazel, Israel's ambassador to Sweden attended a function at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. Upon arriving at the museum, he encountered a piece of contemporary installation art entitled "Snow White and the Madness of Truth". The piece consists of a square pool filled with red water on top of which floats a small boat called "Snow White". Attached to the boat is a portrait of Hanadi Jaradat.

Jaradat was the young Palestinian woman who entered the Maxim restaurant in Haifa last October and detonated herself. She murdered 19 people, including several children and in two cases multiple generations of the same family.

Ambassador Mazel became enraged at what he saw as a glorification of suicide bombers and decided to do something about it. He disconnected the spotlights which illuminated the work. In the process, one of the spotlights fell into the pool. The whole thing escalated from there. The Swedes flipped out at what they saw as an act of vandalism. Despite Mazel's attempts to defend his actions, the whole thing has snowballed into a diplomatic incident. Now, Mazel is being called on the carpet by the Swedish government and Sweden's ambassador here is being invited to consultations in Jerusalem to try and smooth things over.

To add to the curious nature of the story, the piece in question is the product of artist Dror Feiler, an former Israeli who has lived in Sweden for the last 30 years and is a left-wing peace activist.

  1. I have to agree with Allison's take on this story. On a personal level I can understand Mazel's actions. The subject of suicide bombers here is a raw issue and it rankles a lot of people when the bombers are treated as anything other than the psycopathic murderers they are. However, the actions that Zvi Mazel the civillian can allow himself to take are not the same as those Zvi Mazel the diplomat. There were plenty of other ways he could have protested the artwork without making quite the same spectacle of himself.

    Israel has enough problems on the world diplomatic front at the moment. The ambassador's actions only add to these tzuris, and over a fairly trivial issue at that.

  2. Feiler, the artist of the piece in question, was on the radio earlier explaining his art. He says he is protesting against violence, that the pool represents the rivers of blood spilled in the cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. Feiler added that the piece also includes some accompanying text and music that are an integral part of the artwork, and that basically the ambassador misunderstood the point.

    I'm inclined to take him at his word (I don't think he personally meant to condone suicide bombers), but his explanation raises another problem. Feiler's piece is a fairly standard -- if not banal -- example of contemporary art. And from the standpoint of the average museumgoer, the biggest problem with a lot of artwork today is the emphasis on theory over everything else. The artist's own desire to make a political point and show off his cleverness overshadow any considerations of aesthetics or skill.

    Taken from this perspective, Feiler is right. Mazel didn't understand the piece. On the other hand, most people won't either. Although the text of the piece mentions that Jaradat murdered 19 people, it also goes on and on about her brother (an Islamic Jihad terrorist, I should add) who was killed ina clash with the IDF. This means that it could be taken as justifying her actions.

    The moment the artist has to come and personally explain the point of his artwork, the problem is the artist, not the viewers.

  3. One of the morning shows had on Yair Garbuz, one of Israel's most prominent art teachers, who was pitted against a Likud backbencher. I was kind of hoping to hear some intelligent discussion about the role of art today. And I was disappointed.

    Garbuz refused to discuss the artwork in question at all and spent the whole time comparing the ambassador to a wife beater. The Likud MK unsurprisingly supports Marzel's actions and wondered how the Swedes would feel if we put up a piece of artwork extolling the guy who murdered Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh last year. And just when I thought the debate couldn't get more moronic, the MK started prattling about Sweden's actions during the Holocaust.

    (This is an example of a local variation on Godwin's Law; Whenever someone brings up the Holocaust to make a cheap rhetorical point about some unrelated incident, the argument has officially deteriorated into nothingness.)
Presumably, this incident will blow over in a couple of days. It raises a couple of issues about freedom of speech and action, which unfortunately will also blow over without any more discussion.