Thursday, February 05, 2004
Boot Camp

Here's an interesting new blog: Jeremy Hall is a kid from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who recently enlisted in the US Army and is going through basic training. He sends letters home, and his family posts them on his blog.

It's fun to compare American basic training to the kind most Israeli males go through at age 18 (or older, if you happen to be a returning citizen or new immigrant like yours truly who went through it at age 22).

From the entries so far, it seems like American basic is a lot cleaner. Hall writes about their drill sergeant ordering them to make sure the latrines were spotless. By comparison, at your average IDF training base, you're lucky if someone goes over the latrines with a bucket of water once a day. During my time at basic, something went wrong with the camp's water supply, and we didn't have running water for a couple of days. It got to the point where you really didn't want to go anywhere near there. Somehow I can't imagine this happening at Fort Benning.

More Thoughts on the Withdrawal Plan

Sure, there are pros and cons to the thing. The pros are pretty obvious: we pull back to more defensible lines, we don't have to expend a tremendous amount of manpower defending a small number of fanatics. We'll also win a little bit of international praise for a change. The cons: the Palestinians will interpret this withdrawal as a vindication of their terrorism; Hamas will emerge as the masters of Gaza.

There is the human dimension to consider here. The Gaza settlers are largely a bunch of right-wing nuts, but a lot of them have been living there for 20 years. Some of the Gaza settlers came there from Yamit, an Israeli town in the Sinai peninsula which was evacuated as part of the peace treaty with Egypt. It's unpleasant to have to uproot someone, and even more so when you're uprooting them for the second time.

Clearly it would have been better to withdraw within the framework of some kind of agreement. But that doesn't mean we need to stay mired forever. The trick is to manage the withdrawal a lot better than we did when we left South Lebanon. What we don't need is another hasty, disorganized retreat under the cover of night.

Personally, I wonder about the timing. Sharon could have proposed this plan a year ago as a gesture to the Abu Mazen government. It might have strengthened Abu Mazen and helped him stand up to Arafat. Now, we're leaving without getting anything at all in return. What changed since last summer that Sharon now thinks evacuating Gaza is a good idea? It's like everything else with this government -- the security fence, the hostage exchange; Sharon stonewalls doing these things in order to buy himself time. In the meanwhile, he misses out on the prime opportunity to do it.

So we end up doing it anyway, except that it costs a lot more than it would have and we get a lot less in return.

Another New Old Bad Idea

Sharon wants to hold a national referendum on his plan to withdraw from Gaza. This shouldn't surprise anyone. The idea of holding a national referendum has come up almost every time a major move vis a vis the Palestinians comes up. Throughout the '90s, various parties in the Knesset tried to pass laws making any deals involving territorial concessions to the Palis of the Syrians contingent on a popular referendum. Ehud Barak, in the waning days of his government, hoped to sell a last-minute agreement with Arafat by promising the same thing.

(Apparently, the idea of deciding things by referenda here actually goes back to the '50s.)

Also, not surprisingly, the settlers are screaming. Zvi Hendel, a National Union MK, was on the radio this morning denouncing the idea of a referendum, saying it would be stacked against the settlers. He claims that the public has been brainwashed for years against the Gaza settlements (as if it takes Yossi Beilin to convince the general public that 7,000 Israelis living in the middle of a million violently hostile Palestinians is not such a great idea). Hendel said the settlers would only agree to the idea of a referendum if the government funded a massive, long-term PR campaign that would let them present their side of the case.

Yeah, whatever. I suspect this call for a national referendum will go the same route as all the others, namely nowhere. For one thing, it hardly seems necessary. Israelis may be divided on some things, but pulling out of Gaza isn't one of them. Opinion polls have long showed 60 percent support for the movement, much higher, for instance, than support for pulling out of the West Bank.

Besides that, we live in a representative democracy. There's no reason to have a national referendum on specific issues. We have one every couple of years; it's called elections.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004
Israel Prize Art Flap. Again

For the second year in a row, there's a flap over the Israel Prize in the arts category. Last year, the prize committee wanted to award the prize, Israel's top honor, to painter Moshe Gershuni. Gershuni -- a strident lefty -- declared that he would refuse to attend the award ceremony because of his opposition to Arik Sharon and because he did not want to share a stage with right-wing former MK Geula Cohen. However, he did demand the prize money.

The committee then decided to give the prize to someone else, and Gershuni screamed that the government was censoring him.

This year's nominee, Yigal Tumarkin, is more than happy to receive the prize. In fact, he's been quoted as saying that in any normal society he would have already received three of them.

Despite his megalomania, he's probably right. Tumarkin is one of the country's highest-profile and most visible artists and has been for the last 40 or 50 years. His work, which is often assembled from pieces of scrap and junk, is very visceral and often extremely unsettling. But the man is an extremely talented artist.

Unfortunately, Tumarkin is also extremely unpleasant human being. Over the years, he has made all sorts of vile public remarks about women, Mizrahim, and the religious. (One notorious example: "When I look at these haredim, I understand the Nazis.")

Not surprisingly, a number of groups -- Shas being among them -- are trying to torpedo Tumarkin's nomination. Education Minister Limor Livnat, whose ministry is responsible for awarding the prize, asked the prize committee yesterday to have a closer look at Tumarkin before making their final decision. She said that a lot of people have complained, sending in other obnoxious statements as well as reports that he had hit his wife.

(Tumarkin was on the radio this morning defending himself against the wife-beating allegations. I would have been a lot more amenable to his defense if his first reaction hadn't been, "What, you're telling me that none of these Shas guys beats his wife?")

So, we're back in tricky question territory: Does the prize honor the man or his work? If it's the latter, then Tumarkin's obnoxious personality shouldn't be a factor. On the other hand, Israel would be the first to scream if some German artist had made the same statements.

Zie Gezunt, Joe

Sadly, Joe Lieberman bowed out of the presidential race last night. After coming in fourth or fifth in all the primaries so far, He finally came to terms with the fact that "Joe-mentum" wasn't getting him anywhere and bowed to reality with a classy concession speech.

It's too bad. While I don't realy have a dog in the US presidential race, Lieberman's politics were closest to my own and I'm sad to see him go.

News analysts will probably chew on the whole Jew thing and wonder whether it hurt Lieberman or not. I'm not sure it was a factor, at least not directly. I'm sticking to my own theory, that Lieberman's main problem is that he doesn't look or sound like a US president.

I know it's a little shallow, but I think a lot of people vote for someone not only because of their politics but also based on whether they seem right for the role. I mean, let's face it, Kerry looks like a president; Dennis Kucinich doesn't. This is one of the reasons why I find the West Wing so unrealistic. I can almost be persuaded that America might somehow vote a Northeastern paleoliberal know-it-all to the White House, but I can't be persuaded that they'd vote for one who was also as short as Martin Sheen.

I don't see Americans having a problem voting for a Jew (or an African-American or a Hispanic) for President. However, I think it would help a lot if that person is tall with a thick head of hair.

The Eternal Leader

Proving once again that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary solution, the Labor party yesterday extended Shimon Peres' tenure as temporary party chief until December 2005.

If memory serves me correctly, Peres has not been the official and undisputed head of Labor since Ehud Barak beat him in 1997. Since then we've seen the swift rise and fall of Barak, Fuad Ben-Eliezer, and Amram Mitzna as Labor chairman. Each time one of these guys fell in disgrace, Peres took over as caretaker chief. So you kind of get the feeling that he's always been the head, except for a couple of brief periods.

Labor has woken up to the fact that their party's leading light dates back from the Eisenhower era. They want to try and block Peres from running for chairman when his temporary tenure ends (and when the man will be nearing 83).

Good luck to them. Peres, still feisty as ever, is already threatening to keep going as long as he can.

The World According to...

This is a fun little exercise: Color a map of the world with all the countries you've visited. Mine looks like this:

Not as impressive as I'd hoped. On the other hand, my map of the USA is a bit more fleshed out:

For comparison's sake, check out Imshin's map or create your own.

Refuseniks? Don't Think So

When a group of IAF pilots or members of the IDF's special ops team signs a petition saying they refuse to serve in the territories, the media jumps on it. Israel's opponents in the world gleefully point to it as a sign of the IDF's demoralization. On the other hand, I've argued that these are nothing more than fringe phenomena and have little bearing on either Israeli public opinion or the IDF's willingness to do its job.

And it turns out the numbers back me up.
There has been a dramatic fall in the number of soldiers refusing to serve in the territories, the head of the Israel Defense Forces' Manpower division told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday. Major General Gil Regev said that in 2002, 100 reservists and 29 officers were jailed for refusing to serve in the territories. In comparison, in 2003, just 18 reserve soldiers and 8 officers were imprisoned.
I read these numbers as an indication of the increased steadfastness of Israelis in the face of the Palestinians' terror war. And this steadfastness exists despite any other political views they may hold.

UPDATE You gotta love Ha'aretz. On the same day they publish an item that the number of soldiers refusing to serve in the army is going down, they publish a feature which tries to argue the opposite.

I take issue with everything in this feature: pacifists and refuseniks are still a fringe phenomenon, the overwhelming majority of high schoolers will choose to serve in the army, and those who don't will still draw the deep scorn and ire of the general public. Refusal to serve is no more accepted today than it was 20 years ago.

Way to wear your ideology on your sleeve, guys.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Little Green Footballs' current poll asks about the plan to evaluate the Gaza Strip. Given that LGF tends to draw a lot of people who are, um, strident in their views on Arabs and Muslims, you'd think the poll results would run strongly against the plan. It turns out the opposite is true. At the moment, 80% of LGF readers support the plan.

On the other hand, you can always count on the good ol' Jerusalem Post. The same poll there finds 60% opposed to the plan, 40% in favor. This is a mirror image of public opinion in Israel, highlighting both the political orientation of the Jpost reader base along with the salient difference between people who live in Israel and people who live overseas.

George is Coming

Jason Alexander is the latest celeb who wants to come here and try to fix the situation. The former Seinfeld star will be coming to Israel at the end of the month to push something called the One Voice ballot. Other celebrity supporters of this initiative include Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.

To which I say "Welcome, welcome". Beyond that, I don't really know what to say. Alexander gave an interview to Channel 2 a couple of weeks ago. He seems like a sweet guy and someone who is interested in Israel and wants to help. Unfortunately, the whole issue smacks of celebrity dilletantism. I suspect that the levels of hatred between Israelis and Palestinians have reached a point where not even Brad Pitt can bring us together.

But it doesn't hurt to try. If nothing else, it's always nice to get a celebrity visit here to remind us that we're not entirely cut off from the rest of the world.

Israeli Lefties and the WSF

More schadenfreude, this time about Israeli lefties.

The Jpost has an amusing/alarming report from the World Social Forum. This is the antiglobalist moonbat answer to the World Economic Forum at Davos. The WSF gives brings together the antiglobalist movement's motley varieties of commies, anarchists, and people still in love with the idea of violent Third World Resistance. Their common denominator: a hatred of capitalism and America, along with an obsession with Zionism bordering on the deranged.

So far, this is nothing new. After all, the antiglobalist movement is well known as a place where non-bathing crunchies from Seattle can hang with German marxists and middle class Egyptian Islamists to talk about how much they hate the Jews. The rub, at least as far as the WSF goes, is that the whole enterprise is bankrolled by a Brazilian Jew, Oded Graje. Not only that, the recent WSF meeting in Mumbai was filled with Jewish and Israeli leftists coming to supplicate themselves in front of the Noble Suffering Palestinians.

However, the supplicating Israeli lefties are beginning to understand that while they consider the Palestinians to be noble and oppressed, the Palestinians consider them to be just another bunch of Jews to be killed. And this holds even in the case of those Israelis who are more left wing than the left wing:
Israeli Michael Warschawski called [the Geneva Accords] "a huge diversion from the real struggle against the wall." But Warschawski was derided as "a so-called Israeli." A Palestinian doctor told Warschawski that "the struggle against Israel is not for a Palestinian state but for the defeat of the Zionist project. Israel is illegitimate, not since 1967, but since 1948. We would resist it even if it were on the other side of the Mediterranean."
And this:
An Israeli backpacker added: "I am a good Israeli. I accept the Palestinian right to violent resistance." He was crushed by the response of Faisal from Tullkarm: "I know better Israelis; they are dead.
In the words of the immortal Nelson Muntz, HA-ha!

The phenomena of well-intentioned Jewish and Israeli leftists bending over backwards to support the Palis is nothing new. When I was in college, we had a running joke that every college campus in the States had a Palestinian Solidarity Committee invariably be co-chaired by someone called Jessica Steinberg. However, it's still funny when these bleeding hearts discover the hard way who they're actually dealing with and what these people really think of them.

Bombshell Time Again

The Prime Minister is back with his dramatic announcements.

Yesterday Sharon announced that he had ordered the army to draw up plans to evacuate 17 settlements in the Gaza Strip within a year or two. And by 17, he means all of them. The news has caused all sorts of flutters within the political system. The right wing of Sharon's coalition, the National Religious Party and the National Union, along with the more hawkish members of the Likud have been screaming and threatening to walk out of the government. Labor is now considering whether or not to join the coalition if the right wing parties bolt. And the PM only narrowly survived a no-confidence vote last night.

But, for all of this, it's still deja vu all over again.

As Yossi Verter pointed outin today's Ha'aretz "Verbally, over the past three years, Sharon has established a Palestinian state, expelled Arafat and made numerous painful concessions." In other words, Sharon talks a big game but in reality we're in the same situation as we have been for the last three and a half years.

We've seen the PM make dramatic statements a number of times since he took office. In the past, he's done this in order buy himself some time with the Americans, to shake up his coalition partners, or to distract from the fact that he may well be indicted this year on bribery charges.

Personally, I'll believe we're pulling out of Gaza when I see it.

  1. So far, Sharon has avoided any real clash with his right flank. Israel has evacuated a small number of isolated and illegal settlement outposts, but these were small steps, nothing that would give the NRP or National Union -- which support the settlement enterprise wholeheartedly -- an excuse to bolt the government.

    Evacuating the Gaza settlements would do that. The moment the plan goes into operation, Sharon will face an immediate coalition crisis. Labor is still being coy about whether or not it would joing the coalition or remain in the opposition and support the government's measures.

    This is where I still don't fully believe that Sharon will go through with the deal. He values stability over everything else and I'm not sure his situation has changed to the point where he'll risk that stability. The only factor that might be in play is the possibility of an indictment hanging over his head. Possibly, Sharon now feels that he has nothing to lose. Possibly, he even feels that this move might pressure the Attorney General not to indict him for fear that such a move would destroy a historic evacuation plan.

  2. The right wing parties are in a real bind here. For one thing, 60 percent of Israelis support pulling out of Gaza according to the latest Mina Tzemach poll. NRP head Effie Eitam was on the radio this morning pooh-pooing these findings. "A majority of Israelis also supported giving arms to Arafat and look what happened," was his comment. I'd tell him to look at it from a different angle: despite our recent experience with the Palestinians and despite the fact that it could be seen as a reward for terrorism, Israelis are still in favor of pulling out of Gaza.

    If the NRP and the National Union pull out of the coalition, it won't necessarily bring down the government. Labor might join up in their place. And even if Labor stays in opposition, the right wing can only bring down the government if they can put together an alternate coalition with at least 61 votes. To do this, they'd have to get the Likud on board, possibly with Bibi Netanyahu as an alternate PM candidate. I don't see it happening.

  3. This will also put the Palestinian Authority in a bind. Once Israel completes its pullout of the Gaza Strip, Arafat and his cronies won't have anyone to blame and will have to choose whether they are going to confront Hamas or not. In this way, the evacuation of the Gaza settlement may very well be a test baloon for pulling out of the Territories behind a security fence but without an agreement with the Palestinians.

The first major test comes when Sharon meets Bush next month. If he presents GWB with the evacuation plan, then it may well be serious. Even then, the evacuation process may well drag on for a few years as the Israeli legal and political system deals with legal challenges from the Gaza settlers and figures out the issue of compensation for those who get uprooted.

Monday, February 02, 2004
David Kay Speaks

Oh, WMDs, where art thou?

According to the CIA's chief inspector, it doesn't look like they were there, at least not in anywhere near the quantities that we had imagined. David Kay, who stepped down this week, came to this conclusion after searching extensively for Saddam's WMD arsenal in postwar Iraq and coming up with bupkes. It looks like Bush will now be forced to convene a commission of enquiry to investigate the intelligence on Saddam's WMDs.

Ooh, I can already hear the indymedia fools drooling: BUSH LIED!!!! This proves it!!!!

Not so fast. On the one hand, Kay's recent statements don't look good for the Bush administration. Saddam, it turned out, was working on WMDs but wasn't close to developing nuclear weapons as we thought. On the other hand, the intel didn't show this at all. In fact, the intel showed a lot of activity on the WMD front. Coupled with the fact that Saddam had used WMDs in the past and had done everything to evade UN inspection the assumption was that he had an active WMD program. After all, unless you're Hans Blix, or French, you don't give like Saddam the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, Kay was only able to arrive at his conclusions after going through mountains of paperwork unfettered by Saddam's goons. There is no way the UN inspectors would ever have arrived at the truth.

The fact of the matter is that Iraq in the late '90s, "functioned like an unstaffed mental asylum." Saddam funded all sorts of weapons programs. The scientists working on these programs just pocketed the money in a lot of cases. Whether Saddam actually realized that he had no weapons is still unclear. So, either he knew he didn't have any weapons and was bluffing or else he thought he had the weapons and was evading. Take your pick. Either way, the intel points to the same thing.

While Kay's report raises questions about the quality of the intel in Iraq, at least it exonerates the Bush administration from charges of sexing up the intel. Kay has repeatedly stated that none of his inspectors were pressured to change or color their analyses.

Kay has also stated that just because Iraq didn't have WMDs that it wasn't a threat. Some of Saddam's scientists were actively doing work on WMDs and at some point in the near future they could have sold their research to terrorist organizations looking for weaponry. Another reason for taking the guy down.

Sunday, February 01, 2004
A Voice from the Left who Gets it

Paul Berman writes about how his friends and colleagues on the left side of the political spectrum have completely lost sight of what it's all about. In the form of a dialogue at a bar:
My friend said, "I'm for the UN and international law, and I think you've become a traitor to the left. A neocon!"
I said, "I'm for overthrowing tyrants, and since when did overthrowing fascism become treason to the left?"
"But isn't George Bush himself a fascist, more or less? I mean-admit it!"

My own eyes widened. "You haven't the foggiest idea what fascism is," I said. "I always figured that a keen awareness of extreme oppression was the deepest trait of a left-wing heart. Mass graves, three hundred thousand missing Iraqis, a population crushed by thirty-five years of Baathist boots stomping on their faces-that is what fascism means! And you think that a few corrupt insider contracts with Bush's cronies at Halliburton and a bit of retrograde Bible-thumping and Bush's ridiculous tax cuts and his bonanzas for the super-rich are indistinguishable from that?-indistinguishable from fascism? From a politics of slaughter? Leftism is supposed to be a reality principle. Leftism is supposed to embody an ability to take in the big picture. The traitor to the left is you, my friend . . ."
Berman is a wonderfully sane voice and one of the best examples of what can be called a liberal hawk. The piece is filled with insights like those above. Go read it now.

The Fence Won't Go Through Hague?

When it comes to the issue of the West Bank separation fence, sanity is in short supply when it comes to the world's international bodies. This is how the UN ended up passing a Palestinian resolution to put the issue of the fence in front of the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Over the weekend, however, Israel got a surprising display of support from many of the countries in the European Union, as well as the US, Russia, Canada, South Africa and Senegal, all of whom submitted petitions objecting to the hearing.

Whether or not the ICJ will cancel the hearing on the matter (scheduled for Feb. 23) is yet to be seen. However, this does send a strong signal that there is a limit to how far the world's normal countries (as opposed to the motley collection of medieval theocracies and Third World dictatorships that make up the majority in the UN General Assembly) will indulge the Palestinians' exaggerated fantasies about Israeli activities.

Even France agrees that putting up a defensive security fence, no matter what the route, does not constitute a war crime.

Jerusalem Bombing: an Eyewitness Account

The death toll from Friday's terrorist attack in Jerusalem rose to 11 over the weekend. One of the first people to arrive at the scene was Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens who lives nearby. Stephens' account of the scene in the minutes after the bus bombing are chilling:
Survivors lay on the pavement. One elderly man had flecks of human tissue on the back of his coat and scalp, but otherwise he seemed uninjured. Another man was bleeding from his ear, which had been sliced in half. A woman held her face in her hands, and everything was covered in blood.

It was still very quiet, or at least it seemed that way to me. I don't remember any police there, although surely there must have been some. The ground was covered in glass; every window of the bus had been blasted. Inside the wreckage, I could see three very still corpses and one body that rocked back and forth convulsively. Outside the bus, another three corpses were strewn on the ground, one face-up, two face-down. There was a large piece of torso ripped from its body, which I guessed was the suicide bomber's. Elsewhere on the ground, more chunks of human flesh: a leg, an arm, smaller bits, pools of blood.
Stephens makes the point that almost no one sees the immediate aftermath of one of these attacks. The news stations show the charred remains of the bus and the frenzy of activity around it, but for obvious reasons they won't show the victims dead in their seats or writhing on the ground outside. We've also become so focused on getting the scene cleaned up and moving on with our lives that a few hours after one of these attacks you wouldn't know that it happened.

I'm not saying there's a solution. The Foreign Ministry decided to circulate a fairly graphic video of Thursday's attack. But political snuff films like this can only have so much impact. Stories like Stephens' drive the point home a lot harder.