December 2003 Archives

Happy New Year!


Well, that's about it for 2003. An interesting year, to say the least.

Wishing you and yours all the best for 2004. Ready or not, here it comes.

GE responds, you decide


The background is here. But, briefly, in case you missed it: radio commentator Paul Harvey made a statement about Islam a few weeks ago that raised the hackles of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which immediately called for a boycott of his program. Harvey quickly backpedaled, big time. Nonetheless, either in response to CAIR's pressure tactics appeal or perhaps out of concern for some of its more lucrative contracts in the Gulf, GE withdrew its advertising and said it would "look into the matter further."

Since I happen to own a miniscule sliver of GE, I thought they might be interested in my opinion on the matter. Needless to say, they weren't. Here's the (likely) canned reply I received earlier this week:

Thank you for your recent inquiry on GE Consumer Products has been advertising on Paul Harvey's broadcasts on the ABC Radio Network since 4th Quarter 2002. As a sponsor of his program we found Mr. Harvey's remarks on December 4 regarding the Islam religion to be inappropriate. As a result, we suspended advertising until the issue was resolved. Mr. Harvey subsequently issued a statement addressing this matter. Given Mr. Harvey's response, GE Consumer Products will resume advertising on Paul Harvey's broadcasts beginning in the New Year.

Thank you for your interest in GE.

GE Corporate Feedback Team

Daniel Pipes also got a reply indicating that GE will resume its sponsorship now that Harvey has displayed sufficient contrition. His conclusion:

The moral of this little story would seem to be this: when Islamists start the pressure game, anti-Islamists can win it.

I can't agree. Harvey capitulated. He as much as regurgitated the CAIR party line that Islam is "a religion of peace." And he still got strung out for weeks while the world's largest conglomerate kissed CAIR's ass. The anti-Islamists didn't win this game. Not by a long shot.

Dumb criminal stories


Heard this one on the radio this morning. Now here's a guy who was just begging for a free ride to jail.

Unruly Motel Guest Leads Police to Drug Lab

A call to police by a Montgomery County motel manager over a guest's refusal to pay his bill has netted them a fully operational drug lab inside the guest's room.

Police in Towamencin Township say they were called by the night manager to the Days Inn on Sumneytown Pike in the Kulpsville section because a guest refused to pay and refused to leave.

When local and state police responded, they found a fully operational drug lab inside the guest room. Chemical tests will determine whether the man was manufacturing methamphetamines.

The motel guest was taken into custody and charged with numerous offenses. The investigation is continuing.

The investigation being a futile search for a single active brain cell in the "guest's" head. My guess is they'll come up empty.

On the other hand, maybe he was just playing with the chemistry set he got for Christmas.

Last light

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Caroline Glick on Intellectual Bondage.

"How could you report the war in Iraq if you sided with the Americans?"

"How can you say that George Bush is better than Saddam Hussein?"

These are some of the milder questions I received from an audience of some 150 undergraduate students from Tel Aviv University's Political Science Department. The occasion was a guest lecture I gave last month on my experiences as an embedded reporter with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division during the Iraq war.

Many of the students were visibly jolted by my assertion that the patriotism of American soldiers was inspirational. The vocal ones among them were appalled when I argued that journalists must be able to make moral distinctions between good and evil, when such distinctions exist, if they wish to provide their readership with an accurate picture of the events they describe in their reports.

"Who are you to make moral judgments? What you say is good may well be bad for someone else."

It's hard to imagine how we can hope to achieve some sort of balance in the views presented on American campuses if this sort of myopia prevails even in Israel's institutions of higher learning. There's no doubt that it does. Consider this:

When the show was over, and the students began shuffling out of the lecture hall, a young woman approached me.

"Excuse me," she said with a heavy Russian accent.
"How can you say that democracy is better than dictatorial rule?"

"Because it is better to be free than to be a slave," I answered.

Undeterred, she pressed on, "How can you support America when the US is a totalitarian state?"
"Did you learn that in Russia?" I asked.
"No, here," she said.

"Here at Tel Aviv University?"
"Yes, that is what my professors say," she said.

And this:

In the mid-1990s, a Tel Aviv University graduate student conducted a survey of the political views of university professors.

The student discovered that not only were the professors overwhelmingly self-identified with far left and Arab political parties, most also expressed absolute intolerance for the notion that professors with right-wing or even centrist views should be allowed to teach in their departments. "Over my dead body," said one.

All of this is well known. Yet knowing of the professors' radicalism, and seeing the effects of such dogmatic views on university students, are different things.

It's beyond puzzling. And Glick makes too many good points to adequately summarize here.

Eighth (and last) light tonight.

Shabbat Shalom.

Chag sameach.

Musings on Meryl's menorah


Has anyone else noticed that Meryl has arranged the exact same colors in each of the cups on her virtual menorah on every single night of Chanukah Hanukkah? I'm impressed. This is rather tricky to manage with a single box of candles, but given enough time and either trial runs or mathematical skill, I imagine it can be done. If you have more than one box, it's easier. Some might consider this just a wee bit anal. Others might consider my noticing it (let alone writing about it) in the first place more than a wee bit odd.

What I'm really wondering right now is: what color will her eighth candle be tomorrow night? My guess is green. Or yellow.

Yep, there's definitely something wrong with me. Must be that holiday cheer thing again. Too many cookies. (Actually, I think I'm just jealous. I simplified my life this year and got just two colors: blue and white. Nice, but not as much fun.)


Update: YES! GREEN!!!!

Holiday wishes


I woke up rather late this morning, having partaken of way too much holiday cheer last night, to a whole bunch of not-so-cheerful news.

Another attempt on the life of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He escaped unharmed, but fourteen people died in the suicide bomb attack and many more were injured.

A plane crash off Benin in West Africa in which dozens were killed. The plane was on its way to Beirut.

An Israeli helicopter gunship took out the head of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip along with two of his buddies, but also killed two civilians in the process.

At least two Three Four dead so far and several wounded in a suicide bombing near Petach Tikvah (a suburb of Tel Aviv). Recently relaxed security measures have been re-imposed in the territories.

And last, as well as least, from the footage shown this morning on television, it appears that two men had a great deal of trouble arranging the kafiyya intended to represent Chairman Arafat on his empty chair at Midnight Mass in Bethlehem. And Ha'aretz has a particularly clueless piece of piffle on this subject today. Yes, it's time for the annual whine-fest over how Israel stole Christmas in Bethlehem.

Not much peace on earth or good will on display today. At least not in the news. But to all of you who are celebrating Christmas and working to kindle the spark of those worthy sentiments in your lives and homes and families, I wish you a healthy, happy, peaceful and bright holiday.



I missed this when it came out a few weeks ago. So it's old news in more ways than one. Yes, many of us already knew that Shimon Peres was delusional. But maybe we hadn't realized quite how bad the situation was getting.

In an Op-Ed piece in the Jerusalem Post back on December 4th, Peres waxed nostalgic about the peace-that-might-have-been. If only Israel had avoided its "two greatest mistakes."

At the memorial service for David Ben-Gurion a few days ago I thought to myself that with Ben-Gurion at the helm those two mistakes would have been avoided. What were they?

One is that we did not turn the military victory into a political gain. I am not referring to our declarations of willingness to make peace with the Arab countries based on the international borders. Those were lifeless words. Freight cars of words without a real engine. Had we invested the necessary energy in making peace with Egypt after Nasser's death, and with Egypt before the Yom Kippur War, we would probably have avoided that war and might have achieved a different kind of peace accord than we got at Camp David.

Ben-Gurion, who said that for real peace he would have given back most of the territories, was not at the helm. His words were heard, but as the words of a statesman, not as the commitment of a leader. Peace with Egypt would have led to peace with Jordan. And King Hussein would have been the one to manage the Palestinian issue . . .

THE SECOND mistake was falling in love, without bounds, without demographic considerations, with the territories. I could not believe it when I heard Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declare at Ben-Gurion's memorial service, "A Jewish state without the integrity of the land is better than the integrity of the land without a Jewish state." And this, he says, is on behalf of the prime minister.

What a tragic missed opportunity. Had the Likud and its leaders accepted Ben-Gurion's view 25 years ago, the whole country would look, and live, differently.

Fortunately, I don't have to try to craft a meaningful and devastating response to this nonsense. It's already been done. Masterfully. Consider this:

However, according to his own public statements, it is clear that one of the greatest opponents to Ben-Gurion's supposed largesse would have been none other than Shimon Peres himself.

Consider the following quotation made several years after the Yom Kippur War. In a detailed programmatic book entitled Tomorrow is Now (Keter, 1978), Peres blatantly rejects the Sadat "peace proposal" that Ben-Gurion would have allegedly accepted prior to 1973: "Now Sadat proposes a peace treaty in this generation. However, it may be the present generation of Arabs is not able to live in the full harmony of peace with the people of Israel; this is something that cannot be ignored. Perhaps the present Arab generation can do no more than reach an interim agreement; but such an agreement cannot involve a return to the 1967 borders or the establishment of a Palestinian state" (p. 232 – all translations are mine).

Indeed, Peres was quite explicit in his opposition to a Palestinian state, declaring in a chillingly accurate prophesy: "The establishment of such a state means the inflow of combat-ready Palestinian forces (more than 25,000 men under arms) into Judea and Samaria; this force, together with the local youth, will double itself in a short time.

And this:

But who was among the chief architects of the settlements and one of their most ardent advocates? Again, Shimon Peres.

In the same 1978 book Peres wrote: "[Israel needs] to create a continuous stretch of new settlements; to bolster Jerusalem and the surrounding hills, from the north, from the east, and from the south and from the west, by means of the establishment of townships, suburbs and villages – Ma'aleh Adumim, Ofra, Gilo, Beit El, Givon and Nahal outposts – to ensure that the capital and its flanks are secured and underpinned by urban and rural settlements.

These settlements will be connected to the coastal plain and Jordan Valley by new lateral axis roads; the settlements along the Jordan River are intended to establish the Jordan River as [Israel's] de facto security border; however, it is the settlements on the western slopes of the hills of Samaria and Judea which will deliver us from the curse of Israel's 'narrow waist'" (p. 48).

Fascinating. Peres? Meet Peres. The most direct and effective arguments against Peres' 20/200 hindsight come from Peres himself. Kudos to Martin Sherman for this entertaining and informative piece. You really should go read the whole thing, but I'll quote his concluding knock-out punch here.

Accordingly, if Peres is right in what he diagnoses as Israel's greatest mistakes, then he is undeniably among the chief perpetrators and instigators of these historic blunders. If he is wrong, then he is guilty of abandoning those who, at his behest, established their homes in the territories across the 1967 borders.

Either way, some humility would seem to be in order from a leader who has demonstrated a lack of foresight, staggering historical amnesia, or both.

You can say that again.

I confess


When I first heard about yesterday's attack on Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in "the Old City of Jerusalem," I felt a little sick. I momentarily assumed the attackers were Israeli zealots. I really should have known better, shouldn't I.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher was assaulted by scores of Palestinian rioters during a visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount late Monday afternoon.

Maher, 68, who was lightly wounded in the attack, was quickly surrounded by his Egyptian security men, who rushed him from the site via the Mugrabi Gate.

Ok, but still. How could Israeli security let this happen? Oh.

By previous arrangement with Maher's Egyptian security team, Jerusalem police, who are charged with security at the site, walked with the minister up to the mosque and, in keeping with tradition, remained outside the site as the Egyptian entourage entered.

Of course. I forgot. "In keeping with tradition," my foot. It's the law. No Jews are allowed in the mosque, right? But wait.

He received first aid by Magen David Adom medics at the Western Wall plaza, and after complaining of shortness of breath was then taken – by armored vehicle – to Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Hospital at Ein Kerem, where he was kept under observation for three hours before being released.

Now isn't that lovely? The nice Jewish doctors obviously took good care of him.

As Maher made his way into the mosque, scores of Palestinians, shouting Allahu Akbar ("God is great") converged on him and began berating him for his meetings with Israeli leaders.

"Traitor! Collaborator!" they screamed at him, with some of them pelting him with their shoes, both inside and outside the mosque.

"I'm going to choke, I'm going to choke," a panicked-looking Maher was heard saying, according to witnesses, as one of the shoes – which by Muslim tradition are taken off at the entrance to mosques – apparently hit him in the face.
Striking someone with a shoe is considered a great sign of Muslim insult.

Here it comes. . .

At this point, Jerusalem police rushed into the mosque and helped the Egyptian bodyguards extradite Maher from the compound, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.

Oh, so it's ok for Jews to enter the mosque if they're needed to rescue a foreign Muslim dignitary (and his apparently less-than-effective bodyguards) from physical assault and other indignities by other Muslims. Hmmm.

Anyway, the palestinian authorities are furious. Mortified. They will get to the bottom of this atrocity.

Some PA officials first claimed that the attack was instigated by Israel to drive a wedge between the Palestinians and Egypt. But when pictures of Maher being assaulted by scores of Palestinians were aired, there was great embarrassment among senior PA officials.

According to these officials, an investigation was under way to determine who was behind the attack. "Those responsible for this attack will be severely punished," said one official. "We have already taken some measures in this regard."

And I'll bet they have.

The official expressed deep concern that Monday's humiliation of the visiting minister would seriously harm relations with Cairo.

(S. has reminded me that Arafat's "relations with Cairo" have not been too good for quite some time.)



Seems like some other people are drawing comparisons between the Chanukah story and the liberation of Iraq.

A menorah (chanukiah) in Saddam's throne room. Gotta love it.

(Thanks to Judith Weiss for the links)



Two of my younger nieces were singing the most lovely Chanukah songs in the back seat of the car most of the way from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport last week. One of them was born the day before Chanukah, so for her they're sort of birthday songs as well. I'm going to carry the warm memory of those sweet little voices all through the holiday, though I didn't learn any of the melodies well enough to remember them very well.

In Israel, in addition to latkes, they eat a lot of jelly doughnuts (sufganiot) at this time of year. The connection is the same. Oil. As in the one-day supply that burned for eight days in the Temple until more could be brought -- the miracle of Chanukah.

Chanukah is our second festival of freedom (the first, of course, being Passover). The redundancy speaks volumes about the importance of freedom in our tradition. Freedom from oppression, both political and religious. Freedom to determine our own destiny, to use our own language, to worship our own God, to celebrate our own achievements and mourn our own failures.

Throughout our history, the Jewish people have also joined in the struggle for the freedom of others. It's part of what we're taught, from a very early age, as a basic Jewish, and human, value. If you know Jewish history, you know that we have a deep aversion to oppression. It's simply an intolerable evil. And it's this aversion that, for better or worse, to our benefit or to our detriment, is ultimately going to lead to some sort of resolution of Israel's dispute with the palestinians. It's one of our great strengths but also one of our great weaknesses, as it's all too easy to exploit.

This year, the Iraqi people are celebrating their own miracle of freedom, still in progress. Let's hope it won't be as short-lived as our Chanukah miracle turned out to be and that they'll continue to celebrate it, in peace, for many years to come.

Shabbat Shalom.

Chanukah sameach.

Rainy Day Harry

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Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end.
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again.
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car.
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar.
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

-- Bob Dylan (in case you didn't know)

No way am I trying to make light of this incident. It's quite serious. Thankfully, they missed.

As a matter of fact, re-reading the lyrics to this song, it strikes me just how accurately they all seem to describe Israel's predicament in the world today.

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good,
They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would.
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home.

Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone.

Yeah, right. Ain't that the truth.


Update: OceanGuy points out that Dylan, in his (relatively) later years, has penned some much more direct and intentional references to the same dilemma.



Some interesting statistics from an article in last week's Israel Insider by Gary Fitleberg entitled "Palestinians deserve better."

Under Israeli jurisdiction, 1967-93
Economic prosperity. Israeli investment in Palestinian business, industry, and infrastructure helped the PA GNP grow 13% annually between 1967 and 1980; per capita income grew tenfold; unemployment dropped from 40% to below 5%. Employment opportunities: Except during terrorist upsurges, Israel employs about 120,000 Palestinians from the disputed territories. Their earnings accounted for 43% of the West Bank's overall income.

Educational development. Israel built 6 universities and 20 community colleges for the Palestinians. Illiteracy dropped from 50% to 30% between 1967 and 1980. Standards of living soared. Health gains: Israel built 166 clinics, provided universal life insurance and medical programs for Palestinians. The morality rate plummeted by two thirds (1970-1990). Israel built hospitals and schools. Israel also expanded water, sewage, and electric systems.

Freedom of the Press. This basic right was extended even for press with anti-Israel opinions. Other civil and political freedoms. Freedom of association, trade unions, civic organizations and opposition parties permitted. Voting rights extended to poorer classes and to women for local elections for the first time in the Palestinian Arabs' history.

Fitleberg then compares this progress to the regression the palestinians have suffered under the rule of the PA since Oslo. It's not a pretty picture.

His conclusion:

Israel does not want to govern the Palestinians. It has tried repeatedly to negotiate a realistic solution that recognizes the Palestinian's right to self-determination. In the interim, Israel has tried to help them.

The Palestinians deserve better. The Palestinians deserve economic prosperity, employment opportunities, educational development, a higher standard of living, freedom of the press, and political and civil freedoms.

Are the Palestinians better off under the jurisdiction of the Israelis or under the Palestinian Authority? You be the judge.

Personally, I wouldn't be so quick to suggest what the palestinians do or do not "deserve," but, by the same token, it was an American Revolutionary War general (and a lot of New Hampshirites) who proclaimed "Live free or die." Clearly, the palestinians would be better off under the jurisdiction of a competent, non-corrupt, accountable leadership of their own people committed to living at peace with all its neighbors. But Fitleberg's statistics reinforce the point that many of the phantom "horrors" of the "occupation" dissolve into dust when exposed to the light of day.

One more quick post


And then I'll (probably) shut up for the rest of the night, at least. I don't know what's gotten into me suddenly. Semi-rational exuberance, perhaps?

Anyway, among the many notable responses peppering the blogosphere today, a special mention goes to Meryl's exclusive scoop on the Saddam interview. She picks up where Time left off and, well, be sure to swallow before reading.

And Imshin celebrated by posting an actual photo of herself and Bish over at Not a Fish. (It's a lovely photo, but it really doesn't do her justice.)


The word is out


Lots of folks have been publishing palestinian reactions to today's news. (Yes, despite the apparent reluctance of their media to report on it, they seem to be getting up to speed.) This is one of my favorites:

Khairiyeh Said, 43, a high-school teacher, said she wept when she watched Saddam in captivity. "I was sitting with my friends when we heard the bad news," she added. "We all started crying because we love Saddam and we hate [US President George W.] Bush and [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon. This is a big victory for Bush and Sharon and all the enemies of the Palestinian people. We hope the Iraqi resistance will now teach the American dogs a good lesson."

Yes, this is a high-school teacher talking. Imagine what lovely images she plants in the heads of her poor, unsuspecting little pupils. Imagine the rocks, the guns, the explosive belts, the virgins.

But then there was this, as well:

Michael Hanna a 28-year-old engineer was one of the few Palestinians who said they were happy that Saddam was captured by the Americans. "Saddam is responsible for the killing of thousands of his own people and he deserves to die," he said. "I have no sympathy for him or other Arab dictators. I hope he will be put on trial and executed. This should be a lesson for other corrupt and tyrant Arab leaders. I hope the Iraqi people will now be able to live in peace because they have suffered for a long time under Saddam and his sons."

A ray of light pierces the darkness, perhaps.

Fairy tales

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I normally agree with most of Dr. Aaron Lerner's opinions and observations, but this statement is just plain nonsense.

With the capture of Hussein Mr. Bush no longer needs a Palestinian-Israeli photo op for his re-election campaign. The capture may also change America's need to sacrifice Israel to Arab "allies".

I don't believe Washington's posture in the Arab-Israeli conflict is fueled by the re-election campaign. But even if it was, this noteworthy coup will only play for so long. As Moe Freedman so aptly put it last week in another context, "counting on the memory of the American voter is not a worthwhile strategy" and President Bush knows that all too well.

It hardly needs pointing out that Washington's pressure on Israel didn't begin with the war on Saddam. It didn't even begin with G.W. Bush. It's been around for quite a while now, and it seems that the only thing capable of damping it down (temporarily) is the interjection of some inconvenient terrorist atrocity that results in the deaths of lots of innocent people. Concessions and sacrifices by Israel, on the other hand, generally haven't served to relieve the pressure but rather to increase it.

Anyone thinking that the capture of Saddam will or even should make a difference on that score has, as they say, another think coming (unless it somehow serves to undermine State Department influence? Unlikely.) It's easy to understand Dr. Lerner's frustration, though. As he pointed out earlier today, before the big news hit,

With Israel facing pressure from the Bush Administration to ease security measures protecting the Jewish State from Palestinian terror attacks, Israel Radio reported this morning that despite the 42 specific known unresolved active known terror attack threats (one such known threat against the Greater Tel Aviv area was successfully thwarted on Saturday), Israel will not stiffen security measures against the Palestinians.

In the past such measures were taken to prevent Palestinian terrorists from successfully completing their missions. The measures were not taken in the past when Israel felt it necessary not to protect itself because of American pressure.

Historically, such "gestures" to make Washington happy ended in the murder of Israelis in successful terrorist attacks.

Where is Salam?


One would think that the famous Baghdad blogger would have a comment or two this morning, no? No? Maybe later.

Just curious.



On this morning's Fox News Sunday [sic]*, Bill Kristol suggested that we shouldn't be too quick to gloat. The capture of Saddam alive presents the very real prospect of some frightening "rescue" attempts by his supporters. Something to keep in mind.

*(Sorry, I miss Tony, and I've never been able to stomach Chris Wallace. He's simpy and smirky and he rarely missed an opportunity in his Nightline sub appearances to take gratuitous cheap shots at Israel. What the hell was Fox thinking?)

Where's Waldo?


A quick glance at today's headlines on the home page of the Palestine Media Center reveals a rather glaring omission. Guess what story they aren't reporting?

In all fairness, though, this very informative item currently leads the "International Headlines" crawl at the top of the page: "BBC: Blair confirms arrest of Saddam Hussein alive."

Not a word here yet, either.

Or here.

Not to worry. I'm sure they're very busy trying to figure out how to spin the humiliating capture of their former benefactor and his abject failure to properly martyr himself in the process. What a poor example Saddam has turned out to be for all those little shahids-in-waiting!

Ding dong!


The bastard is busted!

And without a single shot fired. What wonderful news to wake up to on a snowy Sunday morning.

A lift is in order


It's really late, but I hate to leave such a depressing post at the top of the page for Shabbat.

So here's a link to the website of the Jerusalem Archeological Park. The website is amazing and the Park is even more so. More on that next week.

Shabbat Shalom.

Beyond the pale


It doesn't get much more offensive than this.

Jewish cemetery at Auschwitz vandalized

Vandals wrecked sixteen tombstones at the Jewish cemetery at Auschwitz, the local Jewish cultural center said on Wednesday.

Days before, someone painted two large swastikas on the cemetery's wall, which municipal police quickly removed, the center told Reuters news agency.

"It's difficult to say who did it. This cemetery is frequented usually once or twice a day. We noticed the desecration on Wednesday," said Artur Szyndler of the Jewish Centre in Oswiecim, known as Auschwitz in German.

In Jerusalem, Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky, responsible for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, has condemned the vandalism.

"Those who have damaged the cemetery at Auschwitz intended to hurt the sacred memory of the Holocaust. This is in reality a shocking demonstration of the incendiary hatred on the extreme fringes of Europe, a hatred which threatens not only the Jewish people but the entire world."

The article goes on to describe several other incidents of desecration of Jewish gravestones and memorials in Europe over the past few weeks. The list is appalling.

These are not coincidences. They aren't harmless pranks. They're the manifestations of a hatred so huge and so deep that the veneer of civilization has repeatedly proved powerless to suppress it for long. And, clearly, Europe has once again forgotten its history.

Answering Olmert

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In today's Jerusalem Post, Michael Freund has a scathing response to the former mayor of Jerusalem's controversial call for a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the disputed territories. No surprise there. As I read it, I'm torn between the temptation to agree vehemently and the near certainty that such an aggressive position could never lead to a positive resolution of the situation.

But perhaps the most egregious aspect of Olmert's remarks is his insistence on inflicting upon people of Israel despondency and gloom, falsely maintaining that they will have to choose between withdrawal from the territories and withdrawal from the territories, as though there were no other possible options.

That is not leadership – it is fear-mongering and frailty. Olmert's ideas are neither revolutionary nor bold. They are little more than a repackaging of Oslo, one that will bring neither peace nor security in their wake.

It's certainly true that Olmert's proposal represents nothing new. Unilateral withdrawal has been proposed before. It was implemented in Lebanon three and a half years ago. The results are there for all to see. Sharon has made similar suggestions, musings, thinkings out loud. Labor leaders have also. It's hard to imagine a more idiotic move. Although some, many, would probably say that Freund's proposal is just that.

The fact of the matter is that there is an alternative. There is a way out of the current morass. But it is one that requires faith in the justness of our cause, something that Olmert seems to have abandoned long ago.

After 10 years of retreat, it is time to try something else. Instead of running away from the problem, as Beilin suggests, or building a wall to hide from it, as Olmert would like, Israel must at last do what it should have done long ago: reassert complete military control over Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

TOPPLE THE Palestinian Authority, arrest and try its leadership, and once and for all declare that this land is rightfully ours and we shall never again abandon it.

In other words, take it back, take it all back, and don't ever give it up again.

Sounds good to me. Unfortunately, such a step would obviously require more than "faith in the justice of our cause," a point that Freund conveniently ignores. I don't blame him. I'd like to ignore it, too. But there's this sticky matter of Israel's guardian angels (sarcasm intended) here in Washington. And all of those wonderful folks over in the EU. Their opinion can be backed up with consequences. That's a fact that can't be ignored by the people making the policies, isn't it?

For if, as Olmert himself suggests, Israel must decide unilaterally what its future borders will be, and if, as he also states, irrespective of where that border is drawn, Israel will face harsh criticism from abroad, then we have little to lose by going all the way and taking back what we should never have given up in the first place.

Yeah, but. There's harsh criticism and then there's harsh criticism. It's not just a matter of how nasty the articles in the Guardian get. But here's the barrel the Arabs seem to have us over. We can concede away enough that taking away the rest is only a matter of time and very little energy. Or we can stand firm and piss off the rest of the world to the point where they sell us out completely. The middle ground seems to be the status quo, carefully balancing our security needs against the volume of the howling at our door and shifting that balance ever so slightly to maintain our grip. (Please ignore my brazen use of the first person plural here -- it's a subjective thing.) Yeah, talk about despondency and gloom. . .

Those preaching withdrawal seem to forget that we have been there and done that, and look where it has gotten us. We turned over land to Palestinian control in the Oslo Accords, the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, Oslo II, Hebron and Wye. We have repeatedly trodden down the path of concessions, but it is a path that led only to more violence and greater bloodshed.

Those, such as Beilin and Olmert, who nevertheless insist on retreat, are asking us to believe that our neighbors' appetites will be satiated on or near the 1967 border. They are willing to displace hundreds of thousands of Jews in the territories, tear away parts of our ancestral homeland, shrink the size of the state and endanger its future, all in the dubious belief that it will bring about a possible end to the conflict.

True and true. It's hard to argue with these points. There's simply no shred of evidence that any concession, other than quietly packing up and leaving en masse, will ever satisfy our enemies. And, frankly, there's lots of evidence to the contrary.

More importantly, though, they are asking us to toss aside the Zionist dream, to tear up the promises of the prophets, and to forgo the heartland of our ancient patrimony. In effect, they are asking the Jewish people to declare defeat. Is this their idea of leadership?

This, I guess, is where I get off. It's not that I don't sympathize with these sentiments, it's just that they aren't going to cut the mustard when it comes to arguing our case. There are competing dreams here. Whose takes precedence? We have prophets, they have prophets. We have patrimony, they have patrimony. Compromise isn't necessarily the same as defeat. That may be the viewpoint of our enemy, but it isn't ours. Yes, sometimes leadership does mean sacrificing something extremely important. Something as dear to us as life itself. It depends what we get back in return. But so far, the offers on the table are only recycled versions of goods we've already bought and paid for. No deal.

In his memoirs, Ronald Reagan describes the mood prevalent in America in the run-up to the 1980 presidential election. "During the summer and fall of 1980," he writes in An American Life, "there were many problems facing our nation But to me none was more serious than the fact America had lost faith in itself."

As Reagan saw it, there was only one possible way out: "We had to recapture our dreams, our pride in ourselves and our country, and regain that unique sense of destiny and optimism that had always made America different "

"If I could be elected president," he said, "I wanted to do what I could to bring about a spiritual revival."

That, after all, is what leadership is about – revitalizing the spirit of a nation, reinvigorating its sense of purpose, and laying out a path for it to follow as it moves toward its ultimate destiny.

Many think that Reagan did that for America. I won't get into that here, except to say that if he did, the revitalization seems to have fizzled in the aftermath of the first Gulf War and even more so in the economic downturn of recent years. At any rate, few would argue that Israel's ultimate destiny, as a free democratic Jewish State, can possibly be realized with an ever-growing, bitter and hostile Arab minority, soon to become a majority. And so Freund's proposal necessarily includes another element that he neglects to mention. The 'T' word.

I don't have an answer. I'm writing this because Freund's essay rubs my nose so thoroughly in the dilemma I'm constantly trying to ignore and always find staring me in the face. The fact that I'm not alone is little consolation.

They're back!


Former "YalePundits" Karl Chang and Mitch Webber, having now graduated and moved on to Harvard Law School, are back with a new (non-Blogger) blog. (Oy. More lawyers. ;-)

No, it's not HarvardLawPundits. It's Red and Blue. Go visit.

Half-century mark

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So I'm pampering myself today. Taking it easy, catching up and trying not to think too hard about anything much. Tomorrow, I'll start the second fifty years of my life (well, whatever part thereof I'm granted, anyway) and get on with it.

Hey. I got an ice-cream maker -- from a really, really good friend in San Francisco. Is that a cool birthday gift, or what?

What time is it again?


Somehow I have a feeling that jet lag is going to be much more of a problem at this, the coming back end, than it was at the going end. There's something about waking up at 3:30 in the morning that just isn't conducive to putting myself back on anything resembling a "normal" schedule. Not to mention that I had to fly with a bad cold, which can be quite painful ear-wise, and got little rest as the 5-year-old sitting next to me on the plane kicked me in his sleep throughout most of the "night." And started out the flight by spilling a glass of water on my seat. Lovely.

Then there's the weather. It was bright, sunny and almost 60° (F.) in Jerusalem yesterday. Well, at least I missed the blizzard here, but its remnants are still very much in evidence and when I emerged from the airport into the snow and slush very early this morning, the mercury was hanging at around 24°. Disconcerting, to say the least.

So now it's time for laundry. Lots of laundry. And maybe just a little nibble of the hummous I brought back while the pita I also brought back is still fresh.


Flash floods & stuff


It's been a very exciting few days and I hope to describe some of it in more detail back at my own computer and after I've had some time to digest and reflect. We've just returned from an absolutely mind-boggling visit to Makhtesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater), a geological marvel in the Negev desert. The trip was primarily inspired by the wonderful descriptions of the place I've been reading over at Imshin's. It didn't disappoint.

And speaking of Imshin, one of the highlights of this visit to Israel so far was the most delightful seaside lunch she treated me to on Monday in Jaffa. Beautiful setting, great food and fabulous company. She happens to be quite a good tour guide, as well.

Ah, so where do the flash floods come in? Well, some much needed winter rain arrived in many parts of Israel yesterday. At Ein Gedi, an oasis and nature preserve down by the Dead Sea, rain is even less frequent than most other places. But a sudden downpour yesterday created a flash flood that washed out the main (and only) road and stranded a bus full of schoolgirls on a field trip to see the waterfalls. They all had to be plucked from the bus by Israel Defense Forces helicopter. Fortunately, there were no injuries. We missed joining in that little adventure (and having our own excursion possibly washed out as well) by about 20 minutes. We stopped at Ein Gedi on our way to the Makhtesh. We saw the falls, and the bus, and the girls, and continued on our way. We were even splashed by a light shower -- the outside edge of the same storm.

Timing. Is everything.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes of course I have plenty to say about (ahem) Geneva. But I'm having far too good a time right now to get into it and, anyway, others are taking care of it quite nicely, thank you.

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