April 2004 Archives

Disengagement again

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Actually, it's interesting to see how much thoughtful discussion this topic is engendering in the blogosphere. Since so much about the plan is fuzzy around the edges, there's a lot of room for conjecture, interpretation and explanation.

OceanGuy has collected a number of links, including Carolyn Glick's article (against) and one by Brett Stevens (for) as well as Allison's take here and here, and Charles Krauthammer's (against). OG also has more here.

To that I'd add posts by Solomon and Omri, who are in favor and Shai, who's just reporting.

And, because I somehow missed it before, even though it has nothing to do with disengagement, if you haven't yet read Imshin's wonderful letter to Amanda, do it now.

Shabbat Shalom.

Foreseeable consequences

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I was working through a post this morning about how much Ariel Sharon's promises for his disengagement plan are reminding me of what we heard in the days leading up to Oslo. The promises of security, the exhortations to seize the moment and the threats of the failure to do so. And then I found this article by Caroline Glick in today's Jerusalem Post.

Before he oversaw the retreats from Gaza and Jericho, Rabin repeatedly declared that if the Palestinians reverted to terrorism, the IDF would reenter the areas and throw out the PA. Yet when in the aftermath of the withdrawals Israel was victimized by the worst terror it had seen since the 1950s, Rabin did not change course. Indeed, Rabin claimed that stopping negotiations would be a victory for the terrorists whom he referred to as "enemies of peace." In reacting to the terror, Rabin repeatedly said "Israel will fight terror as if there is no peace process and fight for peace as if there is no terror." While the statement made for good propaganda, it made no practical sense and was impossible to follow. Arafat responded to each Israeli concession by strengthening the forces of terror and hatred within Palestinian society. Waging peace with Arafat was tantamount to surrendering to terrorism.

Sharon today is behaving in a similar fashion.

Over the past week, he has excoriated as "extremists" opponents of his plan. Just as Rabin said that ending Oslo would be a victory for Hamas, Sharon said Thursday that not moving ahead with his plan of retreat would be a victory for Arafat and Hamas.

Also like Rabin, Sharon argues "Israel's responses [to Palestinian violence] would be much harsher" after his retreat plan is implemented than they are today. Yet if Kofi Annan makes good on his promise this week to give the UN a role in post-withdrawal Gaza, just as it does in post-withdrawal Lebanon make clear, it won't be easy to turn back the clock.

Indeed, what the last 42 months of Palestinian terror have shown is that regardless of the provocation, Israel will never garner international support for offensives against Palestinian terrorism.

I've been conflicted about the disengagement plan from the beginning, but the arguments in favor of it smack increasingly of Oslo and the arguments against smack increasingly, to me, of learning from the school of hard knocks. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice . . ..

Glick, though, points out two key differences between this plan and Oslo. First is the fact that the pullout from Gaza will entail the destruction of communities and the displacement of many thousands of people. Second is the disruption that the plan is causing in Sharon's own party and in the country as a whole. Despite Sharon's attempts (echoed enthusiastically in the media) to paint his opposition as a bunch of right-wing extremists, many don't fit that mold at all. To the contrary, some of the strongest opposition is coming from those Israeli communities that will be most directly and devastatingly affected.

I've been waiting quite a while for Sharon to explain what it is he's really up to. I've tried to keep an open mind. On Sunday, his party will vote, but it's unclear what significance that will have. He's already pledged to plunge ahead regardless. And that doesn't bode well at all.

Arab Americans 4 Kerry

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What a difference four years make.

Poll: Arab Americans want Kerry for President

More Arab Americans in key battleground states say they will vote for Senator John Kerry than for President George W. Bush in November, according to a new poll released Wednesday by the Arab American Institute.

In a three-way race factoring in Ralph Nader, 45 percent of those polled in Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania said they would vote for Kerry, 28 percent for Bush and 14 percent for Nader. Another 14 percent were undecided.

Bush maintained his 30 percent support, Zogby said, because of core Republican backing in the community.

Interestingly, Nader, who is Lebanese-American and has put forth positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict and issues like civil liberties that are considered in-step with the community's views overall, dropped 6 percentage points from February, showing that if that slide continues, Nader may not weaken Kerry's support as some had speculated.

The voters "are deciding where to go," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and the brother of John, the pollster.

"There is still obvious displeasure with President Bush" but "not overwhelming support for Kerry yet," he said. "They're in Kerry's camp but not in love with him yet."

The numbers reflect a complete flip from the 2000 results. Then, in the same four states, Bush won 46 percent of the Arab American vote and Vice President Al Gore won 29 percent. Nader won 13 percent.

Ooops! Bad choice, I guess. Yes, I do recall reading a number of articles in the Arab press, both American and not, back in 2000 gloating about how Bush and Cheney were going to turn back Clinton's "pro-Israel bias." Didn't last long, though.

The drop in support for Bush reflected a disappointment in the community with Bush's handling of the Iraq war and other domestic issues.

I guess that's one way to put it. On the other hand, maybe this sheds a little more light.

Asked if attempts by the White House to win new support in the American Jewish community was spurring the drop in support from the Arab American community for the President, John Zogby said, "Whatever the White House calculation is, they're not doing so well among Arab American voters in these four states."

By the way,

Of the American-Jewish vote, which Zogby has also surveyed, he said he saw no appreciable rise in polling data to suggest that Bush would win overwhelming support among Jews in November.

He predicted Bush would win 23-25 percent of the Jewish vote, up from 18 percent in 2000. Many have predicted that Bush will win far more because of his support for Prime Minister Sharon.

Too good to be true

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You know what they say. If it sounds too good . . . And then there's that thing about the other shoe.

The U.S. has informed Israel it will have to make a "corrective" move toward its European allies and the Arabs, but that it will under no circumstances renege on its promises to Sharon.

In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, however, Israel Ambassador to Washington, Dan Ayalon, said that Bush has not gone back on any of his public assurances to Sharon at the White House earlier this month on the issue of borders and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Yet. We'll see. Of course,

The Americans are waiting for the Likud referendum so as not to make statements that will weaken Sharon's position vis a vis his opponents - those who are against withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank.

Hmm. So the disengagement referendum is to be held under the assumption that the Bush/Sharon agreement can be relied upon if the referendum passes (though I failed to detect that condition in either Bush's remarks or his letter), following which there will be a "corrective" move toward the Europeans and Arabs that presumably will weaken Sharon's position vis a vis those who are against withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. But too late to matter.

Do I detect the odor of flounder?

A real journalist

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Khaled Abu Toameh knows all about "the Israeli occupation." He was born in the West Bank city of Tulkarem in 1963, when it was still under Jordanian occupation. Four years later, Tulkarem, along with the rest of Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula, changed hands. And much later, in 1994, Tulkarem fell under the quasi-jurisdiction of Yasser Arafat through the grace of the Oslo Accords.

But Abu Toameh hasn't led a life of hopelessness and despair. He graduated from Hebrew University in 1986 with a B.A in English literature. Then, after spending some time working for a PLO "newspaper," (pasting together canned announcements sent from Tunis) he became what he calls "a real journalist." He's now the Jerusalem Post's correspondent for "the territories," and he contributes as well to NBC News, US News & World Report and The Jerusalem Report. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.

Speaking to a packed room in Center City, Philadelphia, earlier today at an event sponsored by Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum, Abu Toameh talked about life and journalism under the occupation. He also talked about life and journalism under the Palestinian Authority. If you're not familiar with his writing, his views may come as a surprise. If you are, they probably won't.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ISRAEL!

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Israeli Flag light.gif


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Pssst! Imshin has patriotic kitten photos up!

Win the battle, lose the war

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I'm not going to be voting in today's Pennsylvania Republican Senatorial election. That's because I'm still a registered Democrat. And that makes me one of a big crowd of Pennsylvanians in the cat bird seat while others chew their nails for the next several hours.

The way I see it, this election is a win/win. One of two candidates is going to join (or re-join) Rick Santorum in the U.S. Senate next January: incumbant Senator Arlen Specter, Republican, or Representative Joe Hoeffel, Democrat. Either way, I'm okay. Because no matter what happens in today's primary election, it almost certainly won't be Pat Toomey.

The Houston Chronicle:

"Toomey has turned this into a national referendum on the future of the party," said Franklin and Marshall political scientist G. Terry Madonna.

Democrats, who probably could have written off the race if Specter had not been challenged, are delighted at the turn of events. "We've been fortunate in this process," said Brad Woodhouse, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In the narrowly divided Senate, with partisan control in the balance come November, a chance this fall for Democratic Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel, no household name himself, to run against Toomey instead of Specter would be a gift. And even if Specter squeaks by, Democrats believe that the Republican incumbent has been forced far enough to the right in the primary fight that his middle-of-the-road patina has been dimmed.

"Arlen Specter has lost his voice," Hoeffel said last week in a conference call with journalists. "Arlen used to be a moderate maverick. For the last three years he's been neither of those things."

I agree, but I'd go back much further than three years. Specter lost his voice after he had the temerity to stick to what were then left of his principles during the Bork nomination hearings and got crucified by his party for it. (That's one of several reasons why I'm still, reluctantly, a registered Democrat, by the way.)

But as hard as the Toomey campaign is trying to pretend otherwise, their man doesn't look too promising against Hoeffel. And Hoeffel's election could tip back the balance of power in Congress, not to mention Pennsylvania's loss of Specter's seniority. For that reason, a lot of Republicans who are otherwise disillusioned with Specter will nonetheless be sucking it in and voting for him today. And I'd guess that many of them aren't admitting it.

Would Specter be a slam dunk against Hoeffel? I don't know. The Hoeffel campaign likes to point out that Lynn Yaekel almost beat Specter in 1992. True, but Yeakel was riding the coattails of Bill Clinton's Presidential landslide and in a year when Specter had recently pissed the hell out of all his left-leaning supporters through his vicious attack on Anita Hill (payback for his "disloyalty" in the Bork affair). And Yeakel still didn't beat him.

Even if John Kerry somehow manages to upset another Bush dynasty, Hoeffel's chances against Specter aren't so good -- if for no other reason than Specter has influence that Hoeffel doesn't and Specter's had enough time to get his name percolated into even the most impervious parts of the Commonwealth.

So I'll be really surprised if Specter loses today, the polls notwithstanding. Surprised, but not too worried. Pennsylvania could do worse than Joe Hoeffel. A lot worse. But we could do a lot better, too.

I don't know

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Heh.

Anti-Semitic site drops off Google

A controversial anti-Semitic site has disappeared from Google, but the search site says it had nothing to do with it.

As previously reported, the anti-Semitic site Jew Watch used to be the first item returned from a Google search on the word "Jew," a result that attracted widespread criticism and several online protest campaigns.

As of Monday, however, only an old image of the Jew Watch site could be found from a Google search on Jew, buried five pages within the search results.

Google spokesman David Krane attributed the change to a combination of timing and Web hosting policies. The account for Stormfront, a neo-Nazi site that had supported Jew Watch, apparently was canceled last week by Web hosting service EV1, and the site was inaccessible for several days.

Jew Watch has since resurfaced on another hosting service, but its downtime coincided with the periodic "crawls" Google makes to ensure that Web addresses are valid. For now, Jew Watch doesn't exist as far as Google is concerned--at least until the company does another crawl in a month or so.

This story just keeps getting stranger. I have a suspicion, though, that it's not over yet.

Yom HaZikaron

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I've been trying to think of something to post for Yom HaZikaron, but after reading over what I wrote last year, I've decided to simply repost it, updated slightly. In light of the events of the past twelve months, I think it has a different feel to it today. And it bears repeating.

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Memorial Day is just five weeks away, and spring seems to be galloping through here at an accelerated pace. So quickly, the season is about to change again. In this country, most of us will celebrate with picnics and barbeques, trips to the shore and the opening of municipal pools. Patios and decks will be cleaned, storm windows and hardtops removed. It's the unofficial start of summer and an almost certain guaranty of warm sunshine, abbreviated work weeks and extended outdoor activities. Cause for celebration, indeed.

It's a bittersweet reality that many Americans are no longer burdened with an immediate sense of the cost of freedom. We all know that many brave men and women have given their lives to obtain and preserve it, and we know that this is the real meaning of the holiday, but, fortunately, thankfully, it doesn't touch too many of us intimately. For those who have lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan, this coming Memorial Day will be different, more somber, a time to grieve and remember, as it has been for many Americans in previous years. But for so many more it will be a simple celebration of living free.

Tonight, though, in Israel, Remembrance Day has already begun. And, there, it is not a picnic. In fact, overall, the observance of this day couldn't be much more different than it is in America. In Israel, you'd be hard pressed to find a family that hasn't lost someone to at least one of the ongoing series of wars with which the country has been oppressed for the past 56 years. In Israel, this is the essence of Memorial Day.

Tomorrow night, the sadness and the grief will be thrown aside, as Israel begins the celebration of its hard-won Independence. I continue to be deeply moved by the poignancy of this juxtaposition. To mourn for the dead without forgetting to celebrate the fruits of their sacrifice. To abjure celebration until after the day of mourning.

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Solemn and heartfelt wishes to our Israeli friends on this, their national day of remembrance.

"Personally responsible"

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The Blue Octavo Notebooks posted this insightful exposé on the mendacity of Robert Fisk yesterday. The post focuses on Fisk's enthusiastic contributions to the "Jenin massacre" hoax and his blatantly false and convoluted denial of same ("I did not say they committed a massacre. But I should have.").

In the course of thoroughly proving the point, TBON quotes and links to an old but popular Fiskism that warrants some belated attention.

Has he [Secretary Powell] forgotten that the Israeli Kahan commission held Mr Sharon "personally responsible'' for the massacre of those 1,700 civilians? Does Mr Powell really think that Jenin, albeit on a smaller scale, is much different?

If you Google Sharon "personally responsible" massacre, you get 1,990 hits. Most of them have scare quotes around "personally responsible" and many of them are of a virulently anti-Israel nature. A search for Sharon "personal responsibility" massacre, on the other hand, yields only 773 hits, most of which appear to lack the vitriol. Now let's see what the Kahan Commission actually said:

We have found, as has been detailed in this report, that the Minister of Defense bears personal responsibility. In our opinion, it is fitting that the Minister of Defense draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office - and if necessary, that the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority under Section 21-A(a) of the Basic Law: the Government, according to which "the Prime Minister may, after informing the Cabinet of his intention to do so, remove a minister from office."

Which is, in fact, exactly what Begin did.

So what's the difference and why should anyone get bent out of shape because sloppy reporters and commentators have adopted a slightly distorted version of what the Commission actually said? Well, in common parlance, "personally responsible" has connotations that imply active oversight, direct action and/or immediate intervention. And these are precisely the implications that Fisk et al. would like the public to draw from its use.

But the Kahan Commission found exactly the opposite with respect to Sharon's responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila massacres. The assessment of responsibility section of the report is carefully divided into two sub-categories: direct responsibility ("i.e., who actually perpetrated the massacre") and indirect responsibility ("to the extent that this applies to Israel or those who acted on its behalf"). That section concludes:

To sum up this chapter, we assert that the atrocities in the refugee camps were perpetrated by members of the Phalangists, and that absolutely no direct responsibility devolves upon Israel or upon those who acted in its behalf. At the same time, it is clear from what we have said above that the decision on the entry of the Phalangists into the refugee camps was taken without consideration of the danger - which the makers and executors of the decision were obligated to foresee as probable - that the Phalangists would commit massacres and pogroms against the inhabitants of the camps, and without an examination of the means for preventing this danger. Similarly, it is clear from the course of events that when the reports began to arrive about the actions of the Phalangists in the camps, no proper heed was taken of these reports, the correct conclusions were not drawn from them, and no energetic and immediate actions were taken to restrain the Phalangists and put a stop to their actions. This both reflects and exhausts Israel's indirect responsibility for what occurred in the refugee camps. We shall discuss the responsibility of those who acted in Israel's behalf and in its name in the following chapters.

And they do. With respect to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, the Commission found as follows:

It is our view that responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps. In addition, responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalangists' entry into the camps. These blunders constitute the non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defense Minister was charged.

The Commission then goes on to detail those matters of indirect responsibility outlined above for which Sharon was not accountable.

The report also goes to some lengths to detail just what, exactly, "personal responsibility" on the part of a government official entails. Although it's not exactly stimulating reading, I recommend it, anyway. But I think it's best summarized in the conclusion of the paragraph above: "the non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defense Minister was charged" or in its ultimate finding: "the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office." In other words, although Sharon was found to bear no direct responsibility for the massacre itself, he failed to fulfill his duty to his people and his government to take certain precautions that might have prevented it.

Is it possible that neither Robert Fisk nor any of the other hundreds of commentators who casually employ the phrase "personally responsible" to describe the Commission's findings vis a vis Sharon have ever bothered to read the report itself? More likely, they simply don't care that they're distorting its meaning and substance to further their own ends.

Must be the weather

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I'm at a loss for words today. But Solomon's got something unseasonably warm and furry to mark the end of the week. Yeccch!


Shabbat Shalom.

3-year blogiversary

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Or is it 'blogoversary?' I'm never sure. Anyway, there are only a relative handful of these venerable veterans out there, but Meryl's a charter member of this exclusive club. So click on over and wish her a good one.

HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY MERYL!!!!

Shredding the veil

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Remember this great photo-op?

12/14/1998 -- The Palestinian National Council today reaffirmed the cancellation of articles in the Palestinian National Charter that refer to the destruction of Israel by a show of hands that took place in Gaza in the presence of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and US President Bill Clinton.

Remember all those pesky pessimists and negative nay-sayers who claimed it was a huge hunk of hooey?

Kaddoumi: PLO charter was never changed
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH

Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO's hard-line "foreign minister," said Thursday that when Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat talks about the need to pursue the struggle against Israel, he is referring to the armed struggle. Kaddoumi said the armed struggle was the only way to force Israel to accept the demands of the Palestinians.

Kaddoumi's remarks were made in an interview with the Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab. He admitted that the PLO charter, which denies Israel's right to exist, was never changed.

Please excuse me while I recover from my shock and surprise.

Kaddoumi revealed that the PLO leadership has entrusted him with being responsible for the "portfolio" of supporting the Iraqi resistance against the US-led coalition forces in Iraq. "There is no doubt that the Palestinian revolution supports the Iraqi resistance and we have seen demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories in backing the intifada and resistance in Iraq," he said. "I'm in charge of this issue and I condemn the American position."

Kaddoumi welcomed the establishment of an armed group in Iraq named after slain Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, saying this would increase pressure on the US. He described the new anti-American group as an "excellent phenomenon."

Nice touch, that. I thought I'd throw it in for, you know, context. But back to the charter.

Kaddoumi said that, contrary to what many people believe, the PLO charter was never changed so as to recognize Israel's right to exist. "The Palestinian national charter has not been amended until now," he explained. "It was said that some articles are no longer effective, but they were not changed. I'm one of those who didn't agree to any changes."

Asked about US and Israeli demands to halt terror attacks as a condition for resuming the peace process, Kaddoumi replied: "They can go to hell!"

It's very interesting, this palestinian response to President Bush's "new" position. You'd almost begin to think that the only reason they were talking the peace and compromise talk for the past eleven years was because it was getting them goodies even while their actions directly belied their words. But at the first sign of a glitch in the scam, it appears the disguise is being abandoned.

Poor Bill Clinton. What a dupe!

Another catblogger!!

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Hah! Imshin has been adopted by a sweet little kitty. Hopefully, that means she'll be participating in Lair's (now footloose) Carnival of the Cats soon (although it seems like any day is likely to be a COTC at ATS.

Unfortunately, you won't see any cats here at IC. Or if you do, they won't be mine. I love them dearly and have had them most of my life, but S. has fairly severe reactions to them, so when my last one died at the tender age of 20, that was that. Now I have to rely on other friends and bloggers for my kitty fix, so I'm just thrilled with Imshin's new addition.

Oh, and, uh, speaking of Lair, don't miss his photo essay on Israel's most recently released traitor.

Kerry's amended return

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Okay, call me petty. I just couldn't resist this one.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., has amended his 2003 income tax return because a $175,000 gain from the sale of artwork should have been taxed at the 28 percent capital gains rate on collectibles.

The discrepancy was noted by Bob McCombs, a certified public accountant from Denton, Texas, who read about the sale of a 17th century Adam Willaerts painting owned by the Kerrys and decided to check the senator's tax return. Although the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-27) reduced the capital gains rates for most equities to 15 percent and 5 percent, McCombs said, the "punitive" 28 percent maximum rate for collectibles remained unchanged.

According to McCombs, Kerry underpaid his taxes by $11,577.

An official statement from the Kerry campaign noted that the candidate filed an amended return April 15 "due to an accounting error." The amended return shows Kerry paid a total of $102,152 in federal taxes on $346,664 in taxable income last year. His total earnings of $395,338 came from his $150,000 Senate salary, the gain on the Willaerts painting, and royalties from his book, A Promise to Keep.

Kerry and his wife have elected the filing status "married, filing separately." Teresa Heinz Kerry, heir to a $500 million ketchup fortune, has declined to publicly release her own tax return.

I'll bet. But, hey, it must be comforting to know he's out there fighting for the little guy.

I'm so tempted to say he doesn't like Bush's tax cuts because he doesn't understand how they work, but that would be a cheap shot. Right? Yeah, blame the accountant.


Update: As often happens this time of year, I see I'm woefully behind. Viking Pundit had this last week. And he's funnier.

Wikipedia's #1

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Thanks to a concerted campaign by bloggers and other people of good will, Wikipedia has, at least for now, overtaken the offensive hate site as the number one result in a Google search for "Jew." For those of you who haven't checked it out lately, Google has also added a statement and a link to the top of that particular search page.

Offensive Search Results
www.google.com/explanation We're disturbed about these results as well. Please read our note here.

Follow the link. The "explanation" is extensive and informative, with further links to other relevant sites, including the Jewish Internet Association, which is a new one to me and will be added to my resource blogroll immediately. Google deserves commendation for their handling of this issue.

Meanwhile, though, Jewwatch is still in second place. This excellent site, which contains a wealth of interesting and valuable information, is third. Let's make "Judaism 101- Who is a Jew?" number 2.

April 19th

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You know it's getting bad when memorial days for horrific events start overlapping. I was thinking this morning that it's a good thing Israel didn't adopt the secular date for Yom HaShoah. April 19th has come to have too many of its own unpleasant memories for Americans, which deserve separate consideration. Especially this one. Hard to believe it's been nine years.

Our top story this afternoon-- a memorial service filled with songs and prayers was held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma this morning.

Nine years ago, a bomb went off at the Murrah Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people shortly after 9 a.m. on April 19, 1995.

A ceremony at the Oklahoma City National Memorial included 168 seconds of silence, one second for each person who died in the bombing.

Children of the victims read the names of each person who died in the attack. Until September 11th, it was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.

Indeed. And today, potential new developments. Maybe.

Yom HaShoah

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A day of both remembrance and action.


Israelis stood in silence this morning as a two-minute country-wide siren commemorated the six million victims of the Holocaust. The central theme for this year's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day is "Until the Last Jew, Until the Last Name." Yad Vashem, in the name of the Jewish People, is collecting and documenting the names of those murdered with the aim of returning to them their humanity and their identity... until the last name.

"The State of Israel does not forget," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared Sunday night at the official state ceremony marking the opening of Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem.

"We know what hatred of Israel caused in the past. We watch with open eyes the beacons of enmity and hostility around us, and we have learned our lesson. We will never permit today's murderers and those of tomorrow to hurt our people. Whoever dares to do so will be struck. We seek peace it is our wish and our dream, but we will not sheath our defending sword," Sharon said.

Six survivors lit torches in memory of those who did not survive. Their photos and their stories are here.

Omri Ceren echoes Sharon's sentiments and fills in some of the details.

Dave at Israellycool has some very personal observations.

Imshin, too.


A note: Yom HaShoah is being observed in Israel today, even though, technically, it should have been yesterday (the 27th of Nissan). I'm not sure why, as the secular date (April 19th) was rejected when the observance was officially established. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Clarifications

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It's hard to keep track, really. The lies and fabrications and the alternate universe scenarios fly so fast and thick that you can hardly remember what planet you inhabit. That is, after all, the point.

Take this article in Maariv.

MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash-Ta’al) is calling on Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to consider declaring an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borderline.

MK Ahmed Tibi is, well, an MK, which is to say a Member of the Knesset. A duly elected member of the parliament/congress/representative body of the sovereign State of Israel. He's also an Arab (though some say Israel is a democracy only for Jews) who is advocating that his country's main mortal enemy declare itself a state on what is currently, like it or not, Israeli land. Has he been arrested yet? Lost his job? No, I thought not.

On Thursday, Tibi termed the Bush statement as a “fatal blow to peace efforts and slap in the face to the Arab world”, adding, “This is the first time the Americans officially approve settlements and the taking over of land by means of force”.

Let's, please, recall the event of "force" with which Israel took over palestinian land. Well, that's hard, because no such event ever took place. So, instead, let's recall the event of "force" with which Israel took over land that had been unilaterally annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (with barely a word of complaint from anyone). That would be a war of self-defense in which Israel was supposed to be annihilated by Jordan and its allies but instead managed to push back at the invading forces and obtain, for the first time, a defensible border. Did Israel initiate that conflict? Hardly. With several enemies massed at her borders declaring their intention to wipe her off the face of the map, she chose pre-emptive action. You can call that "aggression" if you like. Whatever floats your boat.

Anyway, as has been pointed out elsewhere, this would not, by a long shot, be "the first time the Americans officially approve settlements and the taking over of land by means of force," even if that was an accurate characterization of events.

Meanwhile, PA Chairman Arafat also attacked the Bush declaration regarding the keeping of some of the territories by Israel and the US ruling out of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to Israel. “No one in the world has a right to hand over our land and dismiss our rights”, Arafat told 1500 supporters in Ramallah. “Our people and our leaders are the only ones that have the legitimacy to speak on behalf of our nation”, he added.

Which begs the question: what exactly are the "rights" of the Arab palestinian refugees, what in fact constitutes "the land" of the Arab palestinian refugees, who are the Arab palestinian refugees and who actually has the authority to speak for the Arab palestinian refugees? Until these questions are acknowledged as viable topics of discussion and investigation, until this inquiry is responsibly inaugurated (notwithstanding the inevitable screeching and hysteria that such an investigation would engender in the Arab world), there's really no point in pursuing the debate. This is the brick wall that every approach to peace in the Middle East slams up against. And so it will continue until someone finds the sledgehammer that will break through it.

Nothing to add on Rantisi

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It will come as no surprise that I share, completely, the sentiments expressed here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And. . . well, a lot of other places listed over on that column to the right.

I have nothing to add. For now. Except that this idiotic Ha'aretz article on Israeli bloggers is so much toilet paper (apologies to Shai, who the author at least managed to find). Where do these people get their nerve?

Actually, I do have one comment of my own to add on Rantisi.

'Bye!

Still Friday

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Imshin was awake at 1:24 in the morning? Somehow, this boggles my mind.

Anyway, I'd like to send my birthday greetings to Youngest, as well. And it's still Friday here.

The end of a long and interesting week. The taxes are all filed (except for the ones on extension, of course), the rain has stopped, the clouds are gone for now, the temperature is supposed to soar into the 80s by Monday and I am so ready for the warm sunny part of spring that I just had to run out and buy a whole bunch of new herbs to plant.

Shabbat Shalom.

Don't miss

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Oceanguy's had it with the partisan bickering, 20-20 hindsight and whistleblowing surrounding the 9-11 commission hearings and the Presidential election campaign:

I'm offended by Richard Clarke and John Ashcroft climbing up on their self-made pedestals and proclaiming to all who will listen that they were right and everyone else was wrong. The fact is, we all share the blame, none of us was prepared.

The people shouting the most and wanting to point the finger of blame are the same people who are first to cry out about American aggressiveness and heavy-handedness. The same people who clamor for accountability from the government now, would never even dream of blaming the passengers on Flight AA11 or of Flight AA77 or Flight UA175 for not doing enough to prevent the tragedy that took so many lives. Is there a difference? I don’t think so.


The fact is, early on the morning of 9/11 we were all jolted into the reality that extremist Muslims were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to attack us and kill as many Americans as they could... simply because we are their enemy.

Read it all.

Rage and threats

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Meanwhile, back in Ramallah,

The Palestinian Authority decided on Thursday to embark on a campaign to rally the world against the understandings reached between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and US President George W. Bush over the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The decision came amid reports that PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei was considering resigning from his post in protest against the deal. Qurei has threatened to step down in the past, and it was not clear if he was serious this time.

And the stick.

PA officials have reacted with fury to the deal, describing it as a "new Balfour Declaration." Some warned that the US support for Sharon's plan would unleash a wave of terrorist attacks against American interests in PA-controlled areas and the Arab world.

Not enough for Bibi

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Despite Bush's declarations, Netanyahu holds back support for disengagement

Likud Party officials said today that U.S. President George W. Bush's statements yesterday in support of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan improve its chances of being approved in the party's referendum on May 2. A public opinion poll shows that 57% of Likud's rank and file members support the plan. Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, is seeking additional "clarifications" from Sharon before deciding where he stands.

[ . . . ]

. . . Although two of Netanyahu's conditions for supporting disengagement were apparently met - an American rejection of the Palestinians' "right of return" and continued Israeli control over Gaza Strip border passages - the finance minister is continuing to insist on the completion of Israel's construction of the security barrier before the Gaza withdrawal begins.

[ . . . ]

Sharon's plan is supported by 57% of the Likud's rank and file members, a poll conducted by the Geocartography institute said today. 37% of the Likud's members oppose the plan, while the rest are undecided. Maariv reported that if Netanyahu comes out if favor of disengagement, support for the plan could grow to 67%.

Volume increases

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Yes, it's reaching the level of hysteria at this point.

Minutes after Bush spoke, Qureia harshly criticized the U.S. president's stand. "He is the first president who has legitimized the settlements in the Palestinian territories when he said that there will be no return to the borders of 1967," he said. "We as Palestinians reject that, we cannot accept that, we reject it and we refuse it."

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat also dismissed Bush's statement. "This is like someone giving a part of Texas' land to China," he said, adding that over the years, U.S. administrations have assured the Palestinians that issues like borders and settlements would be handled in negotiations between the two sides.

Yeah, Saeb. Exactly like giving a part of Texas to China. 'Cause Texas is, after all, part of the secret ancient Chinese homeland, dontcha know, and located right in the heart of, um, China?

See, the thing about this is that, finally, we're getting around to the rule of consequences. It's something every person either learns as a child or has a very hard time accepting later on. Bad behavior will not be tolerated indefinitely. Keep it up? You lose. Which is to say that the U.S. administrations that gave those assurances weren't watching their flag being burned daily and their country being insulted hourly and their citizens being blown up on the way to deliver Fulbright scholarships as well as in Israelis buses, cafés and pizza parlors while smug, grinning palestinian spokesliars shrugged and winked. This is a wake up call. Because the clock radio and the alarm bell didn't work.

Other Palestinian officials also slammed the U.S. statement, including Yasser Abed Rabbo, who said "Bush and Sharon are trying to protect each others' political future but are endangering the political future of Israel, the Palestinians and the whole region."

Abbas Zaki, a leading member of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, called Bush's statements a serious strategic mistake. Bush should not have touched on final-status issues such as the return of Palestinian refugees and borders, Zaki said on Al Jazeera television.

Khaled Al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad said the U.S. letter of assurances to Sharon and Bush's denial of the Palestinians' right to return were a declaration of war against the Palestinian people. Bush and Sharon will have to shoulder the responsibility for the new cycle of war, he said.

Arafat made his threats this morning, but I expect we'll be hearing more from him, as well. I'm not gloating. Really I'm not. They're words, after all. No more, no less. Oh, but it will be interesting to see when and how President Mubarak chimes in on this. Surely Bush gave him a heads up after their meeting on Monday. You know, the one where Mubarak pledged that Egypt would do "whatever it takes" to revive a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Seething all over

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Here's a quick summary of regional reaction to today's joint Bush/Sharon press conference, courtesy of Ha'aretz News Flashes:

22:02 Islamic Jihad`s Khaled Al-Batsh: Bush`s denial of right of return are declaration of war against Palestinian people

22:01 MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash): Bush statements are slap in the face to Arab world and disregard the Palestinian people

21:40 Abbas Zaki, leading member of Arafat`s Fatah movement, calls Bush`s statements a serious strategic mistake

21:26 British PM Tony Blair welcomes Israel`s plan to withdraw from Gaza Strip and dismantle some West Bank settlements

21:18 PA Prime Minister Qureia rejects U.S. statements, says Bush is first American president who legitimizes settlements

21:11 MK Zvi Hendel on Sharon-Bush statement: Pretty cellophane packaging cannot conceal empty package

21:09 Likud MK Ehud Yatom: Sharon seeking to uproot Jews from their land, in exchange for vague U.S. statements

20:39 Senior PA official Yasser Abed Rabbo: Bush`s commitments to Sharon endanger future of entire region

How allies act

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Armored Hummers shipment to Iraq instead of Israel


By ARIEH O'SULLIVAN
(I just love that name -- especially matched with that punim)

Apr. 14, 2004 11:49 | Updated Apr. 14, 2004 15:15

Israeli defense officials have agreed to a US request to divert a shipment of armored Hummer vehicles purchased for the IDF to Iraq where American soldiers need them urgently.

Defense officials in Tel Aviv said that the armored Hummers, known as UGRA jeeps, were part of a delivery of 120 vehicles Israel had purchased for IDF troops in the territories.

"Israel understands the operational needs of the Americans in Iraq," an official said.

Not bad

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If the Arab world didn't like anything the President said last night, they're really going to hate what he said today. American dedication to the preservation of Israel's security as a Jewish State, no return to the '49 borders "in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers," and, certainly not least, the settlement of palestinian arab refugees within the borders of a palestinian state and not within the State of Israel. The text of the letters exchanged between the two leaders, which spells out in more detail the quid pro quo for Ariel Sharon's Gaza retreat plan, will be published later today. So will it do the job?

As predicted prior to the meeting, President Bush stopped short of an express rejection of the "right of return," and he dodged a question from an Israeli reporter trying to pin him down on it. But there isn't much space between his formulation and an outright rejection. And there isn't much doubt about who bears the burden of action in the President's eyes at this point, either. Israel has made an important step. It's up to the palestinians and the Arab world to prove their good intentions. That's what he said.

I'm not comfortable with the Gaza retreat plan. I think, on its face, it's a huge mistake for a number of reasons. One of them is that unilateral withdrawals don't have a good track record in the Middle East and especially not when they can be ascribed to the success of terrorism. Another is that Sharon has failed to even suggest how the Gaza Strip might be prevented from becoming a magnet for terrorists and weapons of all stripes and a launching pad for massive attacks against Israel once the withdrawal is complete. I'd feel better if he'd share that plan.

I'm not the one who has to be convinced, though. Sharon will have three weeks to bring enough of his own party on board to push this thing through or try to join forces with Shimon Peres to do it without them. They're the ones who have to live with it, after all. Regardless of the outcome, though, President Bush's statements of today represent an important shift in the right direction for American policy.

A few briefs

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Some interesting snippets from this morning's news:

Hungarians foil plot to assassinate President Katsav in Budapest

Hungarian police arrested three men, reportedly of Arab origin, who planned to assassinate Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who today began an official three-day official visit to Budapest. The terrorists planned to blow up the new Holocaust museum in the capital, which Katsav is due to dedicate on Thursday.


Likud referendum postponed by three days due to basketball game

The Likud central committee - in a telephone poll - has postponed the referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan to May 2nd fearing a low voter turnout due Maccabi Tel Aviv's semi-final game in the European Final Four basketball tournament.


Former minister Arens and MK Ness join disengagement opposition

Former Likud minister Moshe Arens and Likud MK Leah Ness have announced that they are joining the Likud team opposing PM Sharon's disengagement plan. The anti-disengagement steering committee now includes 14 ministers, deputy ministers and MKs.


And then there's this one


AIDS-infected terror attempts stain Pessah

The Shin Bet and security forces succeeded in thwarting a number of suicide bomb attacks that were to have taken place inside Israel as well as others that were to have been launched against IDF forces and Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.

[ . . . ]

Over the past weeks, over 10 perpetrators were arrested, and 5 major attacks have been prevented, including 3 suicide attacks. In one case, a Balata woman was forced to carry out a suicide attack after being discovered cheating on her husband. Tahanni Khalil, 25 was arrested on March 18, and told investigators she intended to explode in Tel Aviv, thus cleansing her name.

In another triple attack, terrorists were to attack a major city disguised as soldiers. And in another – a bomb was to be tainted with AIDS-infected blood that would infect all those not killed.

See, hard as it may be for some people to get, these attacks aren't designed to derail the 'Roadmap.' They're designed to kill Jews. As many as possible. And although obstructing the "peace process" and avoiding the mess of an honor killing or two are added bonuses, the prime directive remains: kill Jews.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking so good for that disengagement referendum that Sharon's in Washington to promote. And its opponents just got three more days to organize. Thanks to a basketball game. Heh. Only in Israel.

Greetings

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To all who are celebrating today, a very happy and peaceful Easter.

Sunday a.m. flashback

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Another rainy Sunday morning complete with news shows in which Democrats shake their heads over the failure of the Bush administration to see the writing on the wall. This week, focus will shift to the intelligence services and, hopefully, the lack of communication between intelligence and law enforcement.

In that vein, here's an article I came across this morning while browsing through some archives. It's called "Bin Laden and Herndon, Virginia," and it appeared in the Jerusalem Post, of all places, on June 20, 2001. And it was written by Daniel Pipes -- someone who clearly did see the writing on the wall but was largely ignored (when he wasn't being ridiculed), by the same people who are now pointing their fingers at the President.

This story began in early 1998, when John Miller of ABC News sought an interview with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Needing an intermediary, his producers found Tarik Hamdi of Herndon, Virginia, a self-described journalist who helped make contacts and then accompanied the ABC news team to Afghanistan.

Hamdi, it turned out, had his own purposes for traveling there; he was to bring Bin Laden a replacement battery for his vital link with the outside world, his satellite telephone. From the remoteness of Afghanistan, Bin Laden could not simply order a battery himself and have it overnighted to him. He needed someone unsuspected to bring it. So, one of Bin Laden's top aides ordered a replacement battery on May 11, 1998, and arranged for it to be shipped to Hamdi at his home in Herndon. Hamdi took off for Afghanistan with Miller on May 17 and shortly afterward personally delivered the battery.

Just over two months later, two bombs went off nearly simultaneously at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and wounding thousands.

When the US government brought four of the embassy bombers to trial in New York City this year, it focused on the phone powered by the battery from Herndon; assistant US attorney Kenneth Karas called it "the phone that Bin Laden and the others will use to carry out their war against the United States." The trial also established Hamdi's centrality to Bin Laden.


After five months, a jury found all four bombers guilty of all 302 charges against them, validating the prosecutor's interpretation of Hamdi's role.

And Pipes goes on to describe a microcosm of the same sort of communications breakdown that may have made 9-11 possible.

Picking up on this reference [a WSJ article written by Pipes and Steven Emerson], Jeannie Baumann, a reporter at The Herndon Observer, contacted us to learn more. Emerson explained to her Hamdi's role and several times referred her to the complete court transcripts available in the Internet. But Baumann spurned his offers, replying that her newspaper is "not equipped to handle such information." Instead of doing research, Baumann turned to Herndon's police chief, Toussaint E. Summers Jr., for an opinion. He in turn called the FBI, which told him nothing. From this lack of information, Summers blithely concluded that "there appears to be no truth... at all" to a Bin Laden-Herndon connection.

Enter: CAIR

Baumann then cited this opinion to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), for a statement. Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for this Islamist organization (and sometime Bin Laden apologist), pounced on the police chief's statement and declared our Wall Street Journal article inaccurate and prejudicial against Muslims. Baumann's article, published on June 15, then carried the title "Police, Muslims Refute Herndon Link to Terrorism."

Pipes concludes with an analysis of the problem that will sound all too familiar to anyone who's been listening to the talking heads for the past few weeks. Well, except for the part about taking the microphone out the hands of extremists like Hooper. So far, that part still hasn't sunk in yet.

Yes, somehow I missed all those Democrats shaking this article in the face of the President back in the summer of 2001 and demanding that something be done to fight the terrorist threat facing our nation. I missed the Republicans, too.

Hot off the presses

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No commentary necessary. Just the facts, ma'am.

Gibson's movie unlikely box-office hit in Arab world

By Nicholas Blanford | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Mel Gibson's controversial movie "The Passion of the Christ," is breaking box office records across the Middle East. With the approach of Easter, Arab Christians identify primarily with the religious message. But it's the film's popularity among Muslims - even though it flouts Islamic taboos - that's turning it into a phenomenon.


Islam forbids the depiction of a prophet, and Koranic verses deny the crucifixion ever occurred. For those reasons, the film is banned in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. It's also banned in Israel - but for other reasons.

I don't think so. Check those facts again, please.

Many Muslims see political parallels between the Jewish treatment of Jesus in the film and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians today.

Blah, blah, more stuff about the film's "unexpected" popularity in the Arab world (unexpected by whom?) . . .

Some Christians say they see in the movie's graphic representation of Jesus' agony a metaphor for their own hardships in Syrian-dominated Lebanon. Since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war and the consolidation of Syrian hegemony, Lebanese Christians have felt increasingly marginalized from the political mainstream. Populist Christian opposition leaders languish in jail or exile and tens of thousands of Christians have emigrated overseas, further weakening the community. "We are suffering under the Syrians like Jesus suffered under the Jews," said Tony Choukheir after watching the movie. Yehya Sadowski, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, says that the movie's "intensely Catholic" depiction of Jesus' fate would resonate with Lebanese Christians.

But the movie is also doing well in Muslim areas of Lebanon and in the rest of the Arab world.

Islam reveres Jesus as an important prophet, although Muslims do not subscribe to the crucifixion or the resurrection. But the movie's popularity with many Muslims has more to do with hostility toward Israel.

Some Muslims who have seen "The Passion" even equate the death of Jesus with the death of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement, who was assassinated in Gaza last month.

I'll just pause this here a moment to let that sink in. Ok? Ok.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat recently viewed the film with Catholic leaders. Afterwards an aide said, "The Palestinians are still daily being exposed to the kind of pain Jesus was exposed to during his crucifixion."

Comments like that have alarmed Jewish groups, who accuse Gibson of inflaming anti-Semitic sentiment.

Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at Jerusalem's Shalem Center and an activist in several interfaith dialogue groups, saw "The Passion" while visiting the United States. He says he has serious concerns over how the film is being perceived in the Arab world.

"I have no doubt that the film is anti-Semitic both in intent and effect, but I'm very wary of some Jewish organizations' reactions to it," he says. "It needs to be more nuanced. When an evangelical in Colorado Springs sees it, he doesn't see anti-Semitism. But when Yasser Arafat sees it and calls it an important historic event, he's responding to that anti-Semitism. And the fact that it's becoming a major hit in the Arab world, that has consequences.

" 'The Passion' is where Mel Gibson and Yasser Arafat meet, and it isn't bound by a love of Jesus," he adds.

Kinda warms the cockles of your heart, doesn't it? And here's a nice closing quote from, you know, your average guy on the street.

"I think it has become accepted for Arabs to be shown as horrible people, but the Jews are never shown like that because they are so strong and powerful in Hollywood," says Rula Fayyad, a university researcher in Beirut. "I don't think the film was anti-Semitic."

I'll bet Mel is just kvelling.

More new 'Passion'-in-Arabia stories: here and here

Stuff going on

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What with Passover and trying to get a bunch of individual and fiduciary tax returns finalized and filed, this is always a pretty hectic time of year and blogging takes a back seat. Checking in this morning, though, I'm pretty appalled at some of what's been going down in the blogosphere lately. Time to put in my 2 cents.

I haven't commented on the Daily Kos abomination and its various spin-offs for a number of reasons. No time to address it rationally, too angry to be rational and other people are doing a great job. Somehow, though, the thing evolved into an open discussion at Winds of Change about the merits of Charles Johnson's blog, Little Green Footballs. Not a discussion, actually, or even a "hockey game." More like a lynching. I'm damn sure that wasn't Armed Liberal's intention when he opened the topic, but it's attracted a swarm of hatred and bile that makes most of the worst of the LGF comments sound like Romper Room.

So I just want to say this. I don't comment regularly over at LGF but I read it on pretty much a daily basis. I don't always agree with everything I read there and, occasionally, I say so. I've never been banned and I've never been viciously (or viscously) attacked at LGF, but maybe that's because I don't go there with the intention of trying to see how badly I can piss people off. No one, to my knowledge, has ever gotten knocked off by Charles for "being PC" or expressing a civil opinion. But I do see a lot of anti-LGF comments on the WOC thread from particularly nasty perennial trolls that I recognize not only from LGF but from lots of other blogs as well, in addition to my own mailbox.

The thing is (and I'm hardly the first to point this out), Charles Johnson has managed, single-handedly, to introduce a heck of a lot of people to important information and recources they need to speak and argue intelligently about various problems the world is facing today. Life and death problems. If folks on the "other side" don't like the fact that they're now having to deal with better informed and more articulate opponents, that's just too bad. If those folks would rather most people's exposure was limited to whitewashed versions of Middle Eastern opinions, attitudes and aspirations, they're going to have to get over it. The cat's out of the bag. And if some of the venting that people do when they first hear and read about this stuff is offensive, well, there's plenty of offensive venting on the other side to go around.

There's a line from an old West Wing episode that comes to mind. "If they're shooting at you, you must be doing something right." I guess that can go both ways, but the new push to shut Charles down reflects more than annoyance with the tone of his comment posters. In fact, attempting to silence someone you don't agree with is about as "fascistic" [sic] as it gets.

So it probably comes as no surprise that I'm with Meryl on this one. And deeply disappointed, I might add, in some people from whom I expected better.

And now it's back to the grind . . .

Charoset

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One of my favorite parts of the Passover Seder is getting to dip stuff in the charoset. There's just something about a combination of fruits and nuts, as well as a mix of apples and cinnamon. Throw them all together with a bit of honey and, well, yum.

Charoset is a ritual food that's supposed to remind us of the mortar used by our ancestors in building pyramids and other things for the Egyptians. It's also supposed to temper the bite of the maror, the bitter herbs (usually strong horseradish), that we eat to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. The traditional ingredients, at least in Ashkenazi households, are chopped apples, walnuts, cinnamon, honey and a little sweet kosher red wine.

For the last few years, I've started spicing up my charoset a bit. I don't really have a recipe, I just add stuff until the taste and consistency seem right. This year I put in some bits of dried cranberries, apricots, dates and almonds. And I snuck in just a pinch of cardamom, as well. I think it's a winner.

To all of you who are celebrating, may you enjoy a sweet, joyous Pesach.

Chag sameach.

Kitniyot

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Tomorrow night is the beginning of the Jewish festival of Pesach, the Passover, the week during which we celebrate our liberation from slavery in Egypt some 3400 years ago. This is mostly a joyous holiday in which we celebrate our deliverance and freedom with family and friends. For observant Jews, though, it can be an extremely time-consuming and routine-crashing nuisance. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but for the not-so-observant, the fuss and the bother can seem like, well, an awful lot of fuss and bother.

The focus of all the scurrying about lies in this simple Biblical commandment (and many others like it).

And this day will be for you as a memorial and you will celebrate it as a feast to God. Throughout your generations you shall keep it a feast for an everlasting ordinance. Seven days you will eat only unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall have put away leaven out of your homes..."
(Exodus 12:14-15)

Not only are we to refrain from eating "leaven" (chametz) during Passover, but we must "put it out of our homes," and, typically, this means a housecleaning project of vast proportions. Every drawer in every room must be vacuumed, every floor washed and swept, every crumb hunted down and disposed of and all products containing leaven (i.e., wheat, oats, barley, spelt or rye that's been in contact with water long enough to rise) must be evacuated. Stovetops, ovens, refrigerators and sinks must be scrubbed and lined with materials that have never touched leaven. And, unless you're going away for the whole week (which many people do), all cooking utensils, pots, pans, dishes and cutlery must be stored away and replaced with Passover-only substitutes. All this during your regularly scheduled life.

There's really no controversy about the necessity of this procedure among the religiously observant. The Torah says that no leaven may remain in our homes and that's pretty much that. But as if that weren't enough, there's an additional prohibition that has taken root among Jews of European extraction (Ashkenazim) that takes the dietary restrictions one step higher. Kitniyot.

Kitniyot consist of grains that are not strictly leaven (such as rice) and legumes of all varieties (such as lentils, peas and soybeans). Although these may be kept in the home, they may not be eaten during Pesach according to the Ashkenazi tradition, although they are freely eaten in the tradition of those (Sephardi) Jews who hail from Africa, Spain and the Middle East. This prohibition has always perplexed me, especially as it tends to create a wedge between Jews from different regional backgrounds. Apparently, I'm not alone.

Two years ago, Saul Singer published a very interesting essay on this topic in the Jerusalem Post. It was reprinted last week, here. While the article itself has no religious authority whatsover, he makes a rather good case for abandoning the ban, arguing that some scholars find it contradictory to the express dictates of the Talmud.

The kitniyot custom, it turns out, is the religious equivalent of a computer virus whose only leg to stand on is that we have gotten used to it.

It all started about 700 years ago in France when someone got the bright idea that they would be more kosher than the next guy by not eating things that might be confused with the five grains that can become hametz if mixed with water and allowed to rise. The practice had barely had a chance to spread when rabbis of that time denounced it as a "foolish" and "mistaken" custom. Since it is a custom with no legal basis, there is not even an authoritative list of what "kitniyot" are, and the custom has expanded to include rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds.

Both Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbis agree that it is not possible for any of these foods to become hametz. According to Conservative Rabbi David Golinkin, who wrote an exhaustive responsum on this subject, the only reason to observe this custom is to preserve an old and very widespread tradition.

My personal observance of Passover has always focused more on the eating part and less on the cleaning part. For reasons I've never quite understood, I've always abstained from eating kitniyot. Now, I don't know. There may be a few legumes on this week's menu, after all.

More trouble on the Mount

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No, not the semi-regular Friday afternoon riots by palestinian "worshippers" (though that is, indeed, always trouble).

Eastern Temple Mount wall may collapse

The eastern wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount is in danger of immediate collapse because of damage caused by the February 11 earthquake, a classified government report issued this week concludes.

The report, written by the Israel Antiquities Authority, has been distributed to senior ministers by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military attache, Brig.-Gen. Yoav Galant, officials said Thursday.

The classified report, details of which were first published in Yediot Aharonot, says that the earthquake damaged the eastern wall of the Temple Mount to such an extent that sections of the wall are liable to cave in on the underground architectural support of the mount, known as Solomon's Stables.

For those who are thinking this is old news -- it isn't. Last year there was serious concern about the collapse of the southern wall of the Temple Mount due to ongoing construction by the wakf (the Islamic religious trust that Israel has given free reign over Judaism's holiest site). The large bulge in that wall that was causing concern is now being repaired, with the help of the Jordanians.

The eastern wall, though, is a different story. This is the wall that faces the Mount of Olives and Mt. Scopus. This damage is due to the earthquake that hit Israel earlier this year. Or is it? Maybe the earthquake only exacerbated damage that was already in progress. It's unclear.

Israeli archeologists say that the bulge on the southern wall was caused by the Wakf construction work at Solomon's Stables over the last decade, while a Jordanian report states that it was the result of the natural flow of rainwater over the centuries.

Israel maintains overall security of the site, while the Wakf is charged with day-to-day maintenance at the compound.

In the late 1990s, the Wakf turned Solomon's Stables into the largest mosque in the country, that can accommodate 30,000 worshipers. Its excavation caused extensive damage to antiquities at Judaism's holiest site, which were unearthed and then heaped onto a garbage dump.

Israeli archeologists from the Antiquities Authority have not been carrying out routine supervision at the site for more than three years, despite the reopening of the ancient compound to non-Muslims last year, due to concern over renewed Palestinian violence at the site.

There it is again. The threat of "renewed Palestinian violence at the site." An extremely high mileage threat, that. Of course, if and when this wall does collapse, "Palestinian violence at the site," and elsewhere, will vastly exceed any imaginable current threat.

Shabbat Shalom.

Not so strange bedfellows

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Is this some sort of Israeli April Fools' joke? If so, it's almost as un-funny as . . . uh, never mind.

Arafat transferred funds to Neturei Karta

Captured PA documents reveal that $55,000 given to leader of the anti-Zionist sect.

Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, known as the “Foreign Minister” of Neturei Karta, has never hidden the fact that he prefers a Palestinian state in place of Israel - the Neturei Karta sect refuses to recognize the state of Israel until the coming of the Messiah. However, now it appears, from documents disclosed by the defense establishment, that Rabbi Hirsch has also been in the pay of PA Chairman Arafat himself.

More on Neturei Karta, in their own words, here. Despite their claims to the contrary, they're pretty much the farthest fringe of the Orthodox Jewish community. (How far? Well, remember this recent photo from the Hubble telescope? That far.)

And now, back to . . .

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This post speaks, eloquently, for itself. I have (almost) nothing to add.

Many of those who were concerned about the impact of 'The Passion' warned early on that it was Europe that was the loose cannon. Who knew that the Arab world was going to make a radical exception to a long-standing religious prohibition against visual representations of "prophets" in order to allow their citizens access to what they perceive as a virulently anti-Jewish movie? (Well, some of us aren't exactly surprised.) Just listen.

In Egypt, where the film opened to large crowds Wednesday, "it's getting a very special treatment," said Mustafa Darwish, a film critic and former president of the Egypt Censorship Authority.

[ . . . ]

"They (the censorship authorities) think the film is anti-Semitic. That's why they are giving it such privilege," Darwish said.

Meryl explains.

Numero uno

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Best April Fools Day post on the web (not that I've read them all, but I'll stick with this one.)

Corporation sole

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I have a strange fascination with tax scams and their promoters. It never ceases to amaze me what nonsense people come up with and how brazenly they support it with citations and references that either don't exist or say nothing remotely similar to what they claim. The internet has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for these frauds, and they've managed to attract a lot of innocent (and not-so-innocent) followers, many of whom are already in jail.

This week, the IRS announced a new campaign against a scam that's reached a sort of critical mass and now demands special attention. It operates under a venerable title, the Corporation Sole. Here's the top listed promoter that shows up at Google if you search the term (the search turned up 20,200 hits). Almost none of the claims made on this site are accurate, but some of them sound good at first peruse, especially so long as you don't check their references.

There are also a number of sites dedicated to debunking this garbage. One of my favorites is Quatloos (which debunks lots of other interesting stuff, as well). Its Corporation Sole page is chock full of good advice about what a Corporation Sole is and is not.

(1) Corporations sole provide NO (i.e., zero, zip, nada) asset protection over and above what a typical corporation provides, which isn't much.

(2) Corporations sole provide NO asset protection to the owners of the corporation sole other than possibility containing the liability of the church -- and mind you it is difficult to see how a church could have liability -- within the entity.

(3) Corporations provide NO asset protection to the non-church of the owners, i.e., tort liability, debt liability, whatever.

(4) The Crown of England is NOT a corporation sole. I don't know who came up with this lie, but it is a whopper.

(5) The Governor of Tennessee is also NOT a corporation sole. Another whopper.

(6) The corporation sole does NOT save taxes. The IRS does NOT recognize a corporation sole differently from any other entity. To obtain non-profit status, it MUST qualify under 501(c)(3) like every similar entity.

(7) The corporation sole does NOT help its owners save taxes. Claims to the contrary are totally bogus.

(8) A corporation sole MUST report the movement of funds just like any other taxpayer; the failure to report foreign accounts or transfers will in most cases subject those affiliated with the corporation sole to felony criminal penalties.

(9) Any money that the corporation sole pays out to you personally must be reported to the IRS by you personally, and taxes paid on those money. The claim below basically solicits tax evasion, and is wrong.

The old adages apply. If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn't. There's no such thing as a free lunch. And anyone who tells you that they have a legal scheme to keep the IRS out of your wallet probably intends to accomplish that goal by stripping it bare themselves. A word to the wise.

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