March 2006 Archives

Rushing to judgment

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These two posts over at Yourish.com should be served up for breakfast tomorrow to some folks, along with a huge side order of crow. I'll admit I had my own questions about Jill Carroll's videotape and her comments upon her release, but I've learned it's usually best to wait until all the facts are in. Some of this looks pretty ugly.

Of course, all of the facts aren't in yet. But it's starting to look like she was only saying what was probably necessary to save her life. In the meantime, her safe return to her family can only be regarded as a good thing.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shattered

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I have a possibly shocking confession to make. I'm not a Greater Israel proponent. No, I'm really not. I may sound like one at times, but sounds, like looks, can be deceiving.

Let me put it this way. If I had my druthers, the State of Israel would stretch from the sea to the river. It would include the Golan Heights and it would still include both Gaza and the Sinai. It would have some oil and plenty of water (relatively speaking), secure and defensible borders and a lot more beach property. Oh, and let's throw in friendly neighbors and a heterogenous population of which Jews would be the substantial majority but would respect and uphold the rights, beliefs and traditions of all others as fully equal citizens under the law. And they would all live happily ever after.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, there are compromises that need to be made. If Israel is ever to live peacefully in the region (and that's a huge if), a lot of that dream will have to go. And I've always been ready to kiss it goodbye. I really have been. The thing is: not for nothing.

One thing you can say about the Middle East is that lessons, once learned, tend to stick. That's why Israel's neighbors finally gave up on the frontal assault tactic after '73. At the same time, though, they've had encouragement on other fronts. Egypt got the Sinai back in '77, with its beaches and its comfy buffer zone and its little bit of oil and its surface free of Jews, in return for a piece of paper. Hezbollah got back its free access to Israel's northern border in 2000 for nada. Likewise, the PA got Gush Katif, also denuded of its Jews, for zip.

No, actually, for the explusion Israel did get something back: several thousands of its own citizens, homeless, jobless and dispirited, collecting what fraction of the promised government assistance they can while they fester in caravellas and hotels (or, soon, perhaps on the streets) waiting for a place to try to call home; the seeds of a new segment of Israel society that will grow up feeling alienated and dispossessed; and a larger society that seems to be growing increasingly cynical, insular, absorbed in its own self-interests and disinclined toward tolerance or self-sacrifice.

What lessons can be learned from this pattern? First, that over time, Israel will require less and less in return for more and more. Second, that, over time, Israel may well self-destruct given enough ongoing pressure (but not so much that it would trigger an explosion outward). These are important lessons. They won't be ignored. They haven't been ignored.

I used to think I understood the message of Sharon and Olmert. Didn't agree with it, but thought I understood. There is no partner, so Israel must consolidate its position, build a wall where it sees fit, turn its back and hunker down. Maybe, some day, there will be a tentative knock at the door, an honest willingness to compromise, and then we can set about the task of living side by side, together. Until then, pull back from the (supposedly) unmanageable fringe areas and solidify the hold on most of Judea and Samaria. That approach, who knows, might even have had some merit, had the horrific human cost not figured into the equation and had it not sent the worst possible message to Israel's enemies.

But it did. It still does. And it will only get worse.

In the meantime, as I've always suspected it would, the message has changed. Now, most of Judea and Samaria must go, too. Now Olmert is ready to negotiate again. And with whom? If the justification for abandoning Gush Katif was that Israel was going to "get tough" and refuse to negotiate without a partner, what has happened since last August to change that position? What other than kassams and ketyushas falling on Sderot and Ashkelon, a dramatic increase in the smuggling of arms and terrorist infiltrators and yet more attempts to introduce suicide bombers into Israel? But today Olmert is ready to negotiate?

Where are the voices of the supporters of Sharon who assured us that the pullout would strengthen Israel and its hold on the west bank of the Jordan? That it would lighten the military burden of the IDF and the economic burden on the country? That it would show Israel's enemies that she won't sit around and wait for their cooperation in the "peace process" forever? Where are those voices today? I don't hear them.

All I seem to hear are the voices of the former residents of Neve Dekalim, Netzer Hazani, Kfar Darom and so many other ruined communities, weeping silently for the soul of their country.

As do I.

Lovely headline

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So it's come to this.

Olmert: We need to evacuate Jews

"With much pain." I'm hoping this is just Ynet being sensationalist and provocative. But I don't have to heart to check it out right now.

Shunning victory

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Daniel Pipes sums it up.

Fortunately, at least one prominent Israeli politician advocates Israeli victory over the Palestinian Arabs. Uzi Landau notes simply that "when you're in a war you want to win the war." He had hoped to lead Likud in the current election but failed to win anything approaching a majority in his party and is ranked 14th on the election list this week, not even high enough to guarantee him a parliamentary seat. With Likud itself expected to get less than 15% of the popular vote, it is clear how deeply unpopular Israelis presently find the idea of winning their war.

And so, they experiment with compromise, unilateralism, enriching their enemies, and other schemes. But as Douglas MacArthur observed, "In war, there is no substitute for victory." The Oslo diplomacy ended in dismal failure and so will all the other schemes that avoid the hard work of winning. Israelis eventually must gird themselves to resuming the difficult, bitter, long, and expensive effort needed to convince the Palestinians and others that their dream of eliminating Israel is defunct.

Should Israelis fail to achieve this, then Israel itself will be defunct.

Unfortunately, it appears that Landau will in fact lose his Knesset seat. And the man who will lead Israel's next government? He's already acknowledged that he's both "tired of fighting," and "tired of winning." Chaval, indeed.

Election comment

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11 seats? Bedtime for Bibi.

OTOH, Kadima's slide is also interesting.

Then again, these are only exit polls. It's important to remember that, well, people lie fib prevaricate.

Short memory

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I understand what Caroline Glick is trying to do. Given the horrific choices available to Israeli voters today, she's trying to salvage some ray of hope out of a bad situation. And I'm in total sympathy. But ...

NETANYAHU IS a loyal representative of Likud's traditional ideology that Israel must fight, not appease its enemies. As such, he is the only political leader who based his campaign around showing the dangers of Kadima's expulsion and retreat policy.

Glick said something like this last week, and I let it pass. But no one can claim with a straight face that Bibi has been loyal to anything other than his own ambitions. Let's not forget that at almost every stage of Sharon's 'disengagement' juggernaut, Bibi backed down, gave in, shut up. His eleventh hour resignation notwithstanding, he didn't show much of a backbone. He never has.

So if Bibi has been a whipping boy for Olmert in this campaign, he has no one to blame but himself.

Don't trust the polls

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Well, look. Any ray of hope, however dim, is appreciated at this point.

WASHINGTON – The margin of error of pre-election polls presented to the Israeli public is too large to show an accurate picture of what will unfold on Election Day, an American poll expert told Ynet.

The handling of the large number of undecided voters, which borders on mysterious, and media distortion of survey results make it difficult even for experts to predict what is in store, says Kenneth Goldstein, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Goldstein says that Kadima is expected to win, as all polls predict, but adds it is difficult to determine whether this will be a significant victory or a more marginal one, which will force the Olmert-led party to engage in difficult negotiations en route to forming a coalition.

Reports about Kadima going up or down by one, two, or three mandates are statistically insignificant and constitute "bad journalism," Goldstein told Ynet, and added the Israeli public receives reports that often lack basic facts, without an effort being made to explain the uncertainty of results.

"In almost all reports there's no explanation regarding how pollsters converted the results into the number of seats for each party," he said, adding the practice is opposed to the most basic standards of reporting acceptable in the U.S.

Bad weather and apparent apathy are triggering predictions of extremely low voter turnout tomorrow. Whatever the result, that would be a shame. No, it would be a shande.

Into the abyss

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In an op-ed published at Opinion Journal back on June 3, 2002, Ehud Olmert said:

. . . [Mohammed] Dahlan is the man who has presided over an ever-fortified terrorist network. Gaza, the home to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, became a base for some of the most heinous terrorist attacks unleashed against Israel.

On his watch, Mr. Dahlan permitted Gaza to become a safe haven for the hundreds of fugitive terrorists fleeing Israeli forces. Among those being sheltered is his childhood friend Mohammed Dief, a leading Hamas mastermind with the blood of scores of Israelis on his hands. In the meantime, Mr. Dahlan's district became the primary launching grounds for the hundreds of Kessem missiles fired at Israel.

Mr. Dahlan's involvement in terrorism has not been confined to mere nonfeasance but, rather, gross malfeasance as well. Mr. Dahlan, along with his assistant Rashid Abu-Shabak, are the primary suspects in the terror attack on an Israeli school bus in Kfar Darom in November 2000. The bombing of the bus left half a dozen children maimed, and seriously injured an American citizen, Rachel Asaroff. In response to this brutal terror attack on Jewish school children, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak dispatched Israeli planes to strafe Mr. Dahlan's Gaza headquarters.

[ ... ]

Criminals such as Mr. Dahlan and Arafat can never be reformed; they must be eradicated by force.

That was then. Now, on the eve of the Israeli elections, as Olmert touts his "convergence" plan as the answer to Israel's problems, his sidekick Haim Ramon debates the plan with Ari Shavit. Now, Ramon says:

I'm not some Likudnik who has never seen a Palestinian in his life. I sat with Abu Mazen and with Abu Ala and with [Mohammed] Dahlan. Dahlan is a friend of mine.

Ramon says many other things during this interview that simply boggle the mind. He calls Israel's possession of Judea and Samaria "cancer." ("You can tell me that I don't have an operating room here and I don't have anesthesia and I don't have a sterile scalpel," he says. "But I am telling you that if I don't do the surgery I won't live. That's why I am getting the operation done. I am cutting.") He claims that Israel's northern border is quiet -- that Hezbollah "doesn't dare attack Israel." He says that by virtue of his position in the Knesset (?), he has now "come to learn all the secrets of the State of Israel." Ramon is clearly insane.

Ignore Shavit's half of this debate. Ramon obviously did. On second thought, don't. I don't care for Shavit, nor do I agree with his politics, but he makes a number of very important points here that can't be ignored ... sorry, shouldn't be ignored. Ramon's response is to accuse Shavit of channeling Yossi Beilin, Binyamin Netanyahu and Amir Peretz all at the same time (ouch!), stick his fingers in his ears and do a "la la la I can't hear you, I'm right and you're wrong, demographic time bomb! I'm cutting, I'm cutting, I'm cutting!"

He knows all the secrets. And Mohammed Dahlan is a friend of his.

Says Shavit:

But in order to make the withdrawal into a stable two-state situation, Palestinian society must undergo a positive change that runs deep. What you are ignoring is that what you see as taking your fate into your own hands is seen by the Palestinians as defeat. Such a defeat generates negative, not positive, change. You are ignoring the connection between the disengagement and the Hamas victory, and you are ignoring the capability of a mega-disengagement to perpetuate Hamas rule.

Says Ramon:


There will be no Palestinian change as long as I am in the field. Only when I get out and they see the settlements and the roadblocks disappearing and they won't be living like animals - only then will the hoped-for change begin to take place. The Palestinian change will not be realized before the evacuation, only afterward."

So who's channeling Beilin here? Says Shavit:

There are two diseases here. The Israeli disease is the occupation and the settlements. The Palestinian disease is the lack of recognition of Israel and the instability. In order to reach a reasonable situation in Israel-Palestine, we have to treat both diseases at the same time. We need two unilateral treatment processes that might, over time, lead to an agreement. And perhaps what you are doing is treating only the Israeli disease. You are freeing the Palestinians from all responsibility.

The house is indeed on fire, but instead of putting out the blaze you are jumping out of the burning house, into the abyss.

I'll leave it there.

More "Lobby"

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Dore Gold has posted a (relatively) brief but pointed response at the JCPA website. Among other things, he points out that had Mearsheimer & Walt bothered to try using any primary sources to back up their main thesis, they would have found that many of the relevant documents are still classified. They would also have discovered that what is out there doesn't support them.

The Blue Octavo Notebooks, on the other hand, is back after a long absence with an extended and thoroughly researched evisceration of many elements not (to my knowledge) covered elsewhere.

For yet another effective rebuttal (that wasn't intended as such -- it was published earlier), see Richard L. Rubenstein's article "Pipeline to Peril," which I linked last week.

While I expect this whole subject is already becoming tiresome, I also expect that many of us who support Israel will be having snippets from the "Lobby" libel tossed our way at water coolers and cocktail parties (does anyone still have cocktail parties?) in the coming weeks. It's good to be prepared.

The "Israel Lobby" libel

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This is not a blog. This certainly is not a pro-Israel blog or a Jewish blog, and any assertion to the contrary must be understood for the nefarious and obfuscating tactic that it so obviously would be.

That said (however disengenuously), I'm sure that I've effectively immunized myself against any accusation of bloggery or pro-Israel bloggery or Jewish bloggery. So it's pointless for me to try to assert that there are any antisemitic or even anti-Israel overtones to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's recent "exposé" of the insidious Israel Lobby (always with a capital "L" because it's a defined term, you see, having little connection with the Israel lobby with a small "l" with which most of us are more or less familiar) because the authors clearly state that there are no such overtones and that they despise and abhor such base sentiments and would never indulge them.

Glad we got that out of the way.

Almost everyone has pointed out that the errors, misrepresentations and contradictions in the "Israel Lobby" screed are so numerous as to prohibit any possibility of effective fisking. Nevertheless, some have taken on the manageable task of focusing on a single claim or two and tearing it to shreds. Rick Richman, for example, does an excellent job of exactly that here. And so mostly to clear my mind of the fog that trying to plow through this swamp has left it in (left in it?), I've decided to take several bites and try to digest and evacuate them much less thoroughly but hopefully effectively.

1. (footnote #1):

Indeed, the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about. But because Israel is a strategic and moral liability, it takes relentless political pressure to keep U.S. support intact.

Well, while I've been dawdling over this post, Caroline Glick has already nailed this one, thusly:

Every semi-sentient person with even an incidental knowledge of American politics knows that there is no area of human endeavor that is not represented by a lobby in the US. Mearsheimer and Walt's asinine assertion means is that every American interest group - from the elderly to the insurance industry, from the Muslims to gun owners to organic food lovers - stands opposed to the American national interest simply by existing.

Glick's essay is one of the best among a very good bunch of "Lobby" critiques. Please read it all.

2. (page 2):   

Readers may reject our conclusions, of course, but the evidence on which they rest is not controversial.

Among the profusion of sources that Walt and Mearsheimer cite as support for their conclusions are Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, Uri Avnery, Tom Segev, Lenni Brenner, Seymour Reich, Joel Benin, Tony Judt, James Bramford and a host of inveterate media Israel bashers from Ha'aretz to NPR to The Washington Post. Not controversial? The "evidence" presented by Mearsheimer and Walt (hereinafter "M&W") is un-controversial only when it is patently false.

3. (page 3):

[America's] extraordinary generosity might be understandable if Israel were a vital strategic asset or if there were a compelling moral case for sustained U.S. backing. But neither rationale is convincing.

A Middle East Quarterly discussion addressed the strategic asset issue (and a number of other canards that pop up in "Lobby") in some depth back in 1998. Some of the discussion is dated now. Much of it isn't. The "moral" case is an entirely different matter. Their pretensions to a "realist" approach notwithstanding, M&W's whole complaint boils down to their pique at Israel's treatment of the palestinian Arabs. A quick skim of the paper suggests that their view of the Arab-Israeli "conflict" was lifted straight from an ISM handbook. Check it out.

4. Notable omission: I could not find a single reference in this entire composition to the U.S.S. Liberty. Considering that every other libel that's ever been hurled at Israel made its way in, how on earth could they have missed that one?

5. (page 9):

Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship.

This one's been more-than-adequately covered elsewhere. Patent nonsense.

6. (page 9):

Israel does not permit Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens to become citizens themselves, and does not give these spouses the right to live in Israel.

I found this one quite fascinating. M&W dither a bit about the law's origins in Israel's founding principles. Of course it has nothing to do with any such fictitious "founding principles." The law was first enacted in July 2003, not 1948, and it was roundly condemned by all the usual suspects. Prior to that time, Israel did, in fact, permit anyone who married an Israeli citizen to become a citizen of Israel. M&W obscure the timing because the law served to address, not a "principle" but a very real and immediate security threat. An Israeli identity card is helpful in gaining access to terrorist targets with less scrutiny. In some instances, would-be terrorists were getting "married" to Israeli Arabs for the sole purpose of obtaining such identity cards and using them to facilitate terrorist attacks. The law, which must be considered for renewal each year, represented a direct and narrow response to this threat. It was not motivated by either racist or demographic concerns, and it has probably saved many lives -- Jewish, Christian and Muslim as well. Hopefully, one day soon it will no longer be necessary.

7. (page 10)

The mainstream Zionist leadership was not interested in establishing a bi-national state or accepting a permanent partition of Palestine. The Zionist leadership was sometimes willing to accept partition as a first step, but this was a tactical maneuver and not their real objective. As David Ben-Gurion put it in the late 1930s, “After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.”

This so-called quote, along with many others attributed to Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders, is exposed quite nicely by Alex Safian in his comprehensive evisceration of the "Lobby" libel at CAMERA. Such distortions are essential to M&W's thesis.

Well, this has been fun and more than a bit cathartic, but I'm out of time. If there's anything left to pick over next week, perhaps I'll resume then.

Shabbat Shalom.

Burning

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Here's a story that apparently isn't considered too newsworthy. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has issued two press releases about it which were reproduced at IMRA (here and here) but so far I can't find any other English publication that's covering it.

[A]t approximately 10:45 on Wednesday, 22 March 2006, an armed school student called Salama El-Oweidat (16) led a group of students in an effort to suspend school in the Nile Secondary School for Boys in Sabra neighborhood in Gaza City. They did this under the pretext of marking the anniversary of the martyrdom of Ahmad Yassin. However, the school principal and teachers prevented him from doing so. The policeman Ashraf Mansour, who was in the vicinity of the school, intervened to take El-Oweidat and his companions out of the school, and called for police reinforcements. The argument between the police and El-Oweidat escalated, and the latter fired shots from his pistol at the school gate. The police subdued El-Oweidat and arrested him.

Gunmen from El-Oweidat family came to the school and kidnapped the policeman Ashraf Mansour. They fired their guns during the kidnapping. As soon as the police learned of the kidnapping, a force was dispatched to the area where the policeman was held, in El-Oweidat clan residences in Sabra neighborhood in Gaza City. The police clashed with the gunmen.

There was one death and three injuries as a result of that clash. But that isn't the end of the story. Today, although the school was closed due to yesterday's events, 50 students came back and set fire to it, stealing a computer while they were at it.

The fire was caused by burning tires placed by the students at the door of the principal's office and secretary's office. The fire burned the two offices and guards' room completely. In addition, other parts of the ground floor were damaged. The students left the school after taking a computer with them.

Just a regular day in the neighborhood, I guess.

Ah, there's a brief mention of the story here, at the end.

It's all about oil

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My dad tipped me off to this important article in the latest issue of Reform Judaism (!) by Richard L. Rubenstein (who's certainly earned the right to use the title "Rabbi" but doesn't). It's a disturbing analysis of the relationship between the EU's longstanding dependence on Arab oil, the immigrant influx and the proliferation of the "new" European antisemitism.

On Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Ten days later, in the midst of the war, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Qatar announced a stunning 70 percent rise in oil prices, from $3.01 to $5.12 a barrel. On October 17, the Arab oil producers reduced production by 5 percent and threatened further cuts of 5 percent a month until Israel withdrew completely from the occupied territories. A day later, October 18, Saudi Arabia announced that it would cut production 10 percent until Arab terms were met. On October 19, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and other Arab oil producers imposed a total oil embargo on the United States and the Netherlands in retaliation for their support of Israel during the war. (The US had airlifted arms to Israel in response to the Soviet Union's attempt to supply Egypt with a sufficient number of weapons to defeat Israel and become the Middle East's dominant superpower.) France and Great Britain were effectively exempt from the embargo--a reward for having denied US access to their airfields to resupply Israel.

The European response to the Arab oil weapon was both swift and craven. Meeting in Brussels on November 6, 1973, two weeks after the war's end, the nine foreign ministers of the European Economic Community (EEC) issued an unambiguously pro-Arab statement listing what they regarded as essential requirements for Middle East peace. These included the termination of Israel's 1967 occupation of Arab territory and recognition of the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians," a condition mild by today's standards but not so in 1973 when the PLO was engaged in international terror. The European foreign ministers also asserted the "inadmissibility of acquiring territory by force," a doctrine they applied exclusively to Israel. And, employing an old trick in diplomacy--mistranslation--they distorted the intent of UN Resolution 242. Originally formulated in English, the resolution referred only to an unspecified Israeli "withdrawal from territories" in exchange for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The French translation improperly altered the original meaning to "from the territories" (des territories), creating the false impression that under the UN resolution Israel had no legitimate claim to any part of the occupied West Bank. In spite of American opposition, the EEC had signaled to the Arabs that it would meet their demands.

The Europeans also attempted to convince the United States to join them in pressuring Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. According to then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, European leaders complained that the United States was to blame for the Yom Kippur War because of its failure to force Israel into a settlement. In their view, America had put vital European interests at risk because of "domestic politics." In reality, this was a nasty bit of code language in which the Europeans blamed the United States for allegedly pandering to the Jewish lobby at Europe's expense.

Dr. Rubenstein is probably best known for "After Auschwitz," his seminal and controversial collection of essays that sought to reexamine Jewish theology in a specifically post-Holocaust context.

Stone at the Wall

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I kind of like this photo. So I'm sharing.

Stone at wall.jpg

Mar. 13, 2006 American actress Sharon Stone kisses the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, during a visit to Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday. Stone is on a five-day visit to Israel sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace. Photo: AP

Shavua tov!

For the birds

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In the middle of Jerusalem, between the Knesset and the Supreme Court, there's a beautiful little wild space surrounding a small shack. Inside there are books and benches and posters and tee-shirts, and a place to sit and peek outside through a long, wide slit in the wall. It's for the birds.

The Jerusalem Bird Observatory is a wonderful spot that's getting a new make-over (and hopefully an updated web site). I visited with my mom a few weeks ago and they were in the process of re-landscaping the habitat so that it would be more inviting to both birds and people who want to watch them. We also got to observe the banding of a cute little bird, something that looked and sounded a lot like our chickadees here in the States but wasn't, exactly, though it was in the same family. I'm pretty sure it was one of these.

And we saw a hoopoe strutting around in the garden. We don't have anything like that here. When that crest fluffs out, it's quite pretty. Here are more photos from Islam Online, along with the interesting factoid that the hoopoe is mentioned twice in the Quran. It's mentioned in the Hebrew Bible twice, too -- both times on a list, along with the stork, the heron and the bat, of birds we may not eat.

Shabbat Shalom.

On all cylinders

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Ari Shavit hits on Ehud Olmert's absurd "covergence initiative." I've never been a fan of Shavit, for obvious reasons, and this piece is full of his usual theatrics and more than a touch of hyperbole. But it's more straightforward and less pompous than his usual style, and it's smack on the money.

What Olmert plans to do in the next few years is to establish an armed Hamas state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Via the nearly complete withdrawal, Olmert will promise Hamas almost total control in the Palestinian state for generations. The Palestine of Olmert will be hostile, dissatisfied and violent. Its founding ethos will be "We've chased them out of Ofra, we'll chase them out of Tzahala too."

Since Olmert is establishing this country without first assuring its demilitarization, it will have significant military capability. Since he is establishing it without removing the right of return from the agenda, it will have a destructive claim against Israel, whose legitimacy is recognized by the international community. The combination of political sovereignty, military power and a commitment to demanding return will transform Olmert's Hamas state into one that will endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.

Despite the irony, the convergence plan will not implement the Bush vision, but will destroy it. It will not build a stable two-state solution, but will create an unstable reality in which an Islamic Palestinian state systematically undermines the foundation of the Jewish democratic state.

But it is not just the stability of Israel that Olmert is endangering. He is also endangering the regional stability. A Hamas state will accelerate Jordan's collapse. There is no chance that the Hashemite rule will stand up against a Palestinian state on its doorstep whose religious fervor has just subdued the Zionists. Egypt will also be threatened. A victorious Muslim Brotherhood republic that controls a third of Jerusalem and devours the Temple Mount will be the beacon of zealotry for the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. And in Damascus. And in Amman.

Are Israelis really going to give this guy and his "vision" the green light when they go to the polls in a little less than two weeks? God help us all.

Today's Haman

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It happens that I'm in the middle of Dan Simmons' latest SciFi opus, Illium/Olympos. As with most of his work, it's hard to put down. Among other things, the story involves the recreation or manifestation or actualization of ancient history in a way that allows for unpredictable deviations from the "original." This isn't one of those worn out time-travel yarns. It's the Trojan War revisited in the distant future with all of its old characters and some very new ones. No one knows how it's going to turn out this time.

What does this have to do with Purim? Despite knowing better, I think I've always experienced the Megillah reading as a recollection of something fixed firmly in the past. Not only literally, but figuratively as well. Never in my lifetime have the Jews in any part of the world been threatened with deliberate annihilation. Yes, there were those who wondered whether the young State of Israel would survive the '67 war. I don't remember worrying much in 1973 that we were about to be blasted off the face of the earth, but I guess ignorance was bliss. But something about this latest threat feels different.

I know that Ahmadinejad's mullah buddies mumble disclaimers to the press about his murderous intentions toward all Jews. "We have Jews here in Iran," they say. "We don't have anything against them." It's not convincing. Our modern Haman has made his intentions quite clear, and he has at (or almost at) his disposal weapons that neither the Arab palestinians of 1948 nor Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Iraq had in any of those previous encounters. His dismissal of the Holocaust eliminates any doubt as to the limits of his antipathy.

Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordechai. Tonight we tell the story and, sadly, it's not just history. The modern Haman seeks to destroy the Jewish State, to "wipe it off the map" and to disperse those Jews who survive his slaughter to the four corners of the earth. History repeats itself, or is recreated, reenacted. Soon, we could be living the story yet again. And no one knows how it's going to turn out this time.

Once again, though, I'm not too concerned. We've been there before. And today we have the IDF to add to all the other sources of our strength. I'll think I'll go drink to that.

Chag sameach!
Happy Purim!

Necessary or sufficient?

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On Sunday, I re-visited Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum in the Jerusalem hills. The museum has changed dramatically since my last visit there some thirty years or so ago. It's extremely impressive, almost overwhelming to such an extent that I wonder if some people don't just shut down in there after a while. Those who suffered the event didn't have that option, but those viewing it from this more comfortable distance of time and space do -- or at least most of us who aren't re-visiting our own past do. At any rate, if you've never been there, or haven't been there lately, you should put it on your to do list. And plan to spend several hours.

This inscription from Ezekiel 37:14 is carved into the top of the massive stone portal that spans the entrance/exit of Yad Vashem:

I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.

Well, you read that, and then you realize where exactly you're standing, and it kind of takes your own breath away. There are other similar reminders, such as the view that awaits you at the end of the very long zigzagging path through the prism-shaped corridor that forms the spine of the history exhibit building. So as I was walking through, my mind was filing away some thoughts for dissecting later, and now is as good a time as any to try to begin fleshing a few of them out.

One of the popular variations on Holocaust denial, which I've had the misfortune of stumbling upon with increasing frequency lately, is the proposition that the massacre of European Jewry was somehow "good" for Zionism because it created the excuse for the creation of a Jewish State. This is an apparent paradox that we Zionists of various stripes allow ourselves to wrestle with from time to time, although I think some of us spend far too much time agonizing over it for reasons that should become clear below.

Realizing that they've hit a nerve, though, the Holocaust deniers and anti-Zionists go a step further and assert that various Jewish and Zionist organizations actively encouraged, assisted or were somehow complicit in Hitler's extermination campaign in order to assure that the State of Israel would come into being. This is, simply put, a vicious and ludicrous slander, based largely upon two fallacies: 20/20 hindsight and a misrepresentation of cause and effect.

It's 20/20 hindsight because there was no reason to think, prior to the end of World War II, that most of the world gave a damn what happened to the Jews. Certainly few nations betrayed the slightest concern or prick of conscience over the fate of those whom Hitler had condemned to death. Who knew that after the fact there would be a change of heart and a flood of guilt? Few Jews at the time held out such hopes after watching for years the averted eyes, the rejected boatloads of refugees and the white papers. If there were some who dared anticipate that things would change in the aftermath of the war, they were a quiet minority.

But more interesting is the causation angle. The slander assumes two things. First, it assumes that that the Holocaust was a necessary condition of the founding of the State of Israel, i.e., that there would have been no Jewish State without the Holocaust (or, some would say, the "Holocaust myth"). Second, it assumes that the Holocaust was a sufficient condition of the founding of Israel, i.e., that, after the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel was more or less inevitable.

Both of these premises are false. Taking the last one first, one can easily imagine a world in which the Holocaust not only played no role in the founding a Jewish State but made such a state virtually impossible. If Hitler had had a little more time, there might not have been enough Jews left in Europe or the Middle East to populate such a state. And, again, one can easily imagine a world in which the indifference of the nations to the plight of the Jews continued after the war. No sufficient cause here.

On the other hand, coming down now to the nitty gritty, would Israel have been established if not for the Holocaust? Was it really only global guilt over that atrocity that forced the nations to concede that the Jewish People had a right to self-determination? Even though there was a sweeping recognition of the rights of just about every other national and ethnic group to a home of their own, would the Jews have been overlooked if not for the loss of one-third of their number in the camps and the mass graves? While the Holocaust deniers and anti-Zionists would like to think so, while that's the kind of world they would prefer to live in, I think the answer is probably no.

Remarkably enough, in addition to everything else that it is, Yad Vashem is a living testament to the necessity of a Jewish State, above and beyond the horrors that are documented there. It's a testament to the fundamental underlying unity of the Jewish People and our connection to our land -- the land that's under your feet and all around you as you walk through the exhibit. Like I said, extremely impressive and somewhat overwhelming.

So now I'm back here in the States, readjusting my internal clock and, well, other things, to this different reality. It's definitely tougher flying West.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shalom Shabbat Shalom

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Last week, we ended up spending Shabbat at a hotel in Zichron Yaakov with the whole family. Very nice, but there's nothing like Shabbat in Jerusalem. Even when I lived here, I never got desensitized to the specialness of it. I'm very, very glad to be here, in the City of David, the eternal capital of Israel, the heart of Am Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom.

Permission problem

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For some reason, I've been denied access to InContext since I got to Israel. Not only to post, but even to get the blog up on my screen. Some sort of permission problem. Now, suddenly, it's ok. Maybe someone else knows what that was all about. I haven't got a clue.

Anyway, as always, there are never enough hours in the day or days in the week to get to all of the things I was hoping to do here. Today we took a quick impromptu trip over to Ma'ale Adumim, which is an absolutely lovely town community with views in all directions to die for. Or it would have been a quick trip, if not for a nasty traffic jam caused (I think) by a huge backup at the roadblock heading back into Jerusalem, which may or may not have had something to do with a memorial service for Menachem Begin on the Mount of Olives. Traffic here is often, er, unpredictable, so trying to get places in any kind of a hurry can be quite frustrating at times. Never mind.

Anyway, hopefully I'll manage to write something a little more substantive tomorrow before Shabbat. But I'm not counting on it. A week's worth of thoughts, impressions and insights are all bubbling around trying to get out and only succeeding in getting in each other's way. It may be a while before I get them sorted out. Plus I'm hoping to get some time in with my nieces and nephews, which unfortunately didn't happen today. (Note: this blog is still on Philadelphia time -- it's seven hours later here.)

Later.

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