March 2007 Archives

Wish I were here

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There's been an awful lot to write about this week and no time. And the death of one of my favorite people in the whole world yesterday that I'm having a lot of trouble processing.

Baruch dayan emet. I guess.

Shabbat Shalom.

Very cool. Very hip.

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Back in my teens, when I considered myself to be in the forefront (adolescent version) of the anti-war movement, I have to confess that I thought it was all very cool. Very hip. We had the whole counter-culture thing in a neat package that involved fashion, hairstyles, music (and it was great music), poetry, art, theater, you name it. Oh and, of course, er, recreational substances. "We" were on the cutting edge of just about everything.

Except, of course, common sense and informed, rational thinking. As I grew up (it took a while) and tried to keep that edge sharp, the whole "peace and love" thing started to come into a different sort of focus. Unilateralism on that front started seeming less and less appropriate or realistic. Even, perhaps, counterproductive. But I was part of a generation that took the absolute correctness of it all pretty much for granted and was growing increasingly nostalgic for the days when it was more relevant. Among the generations following mine, a sort of envy started developing that they couldn't have been there and done that, too. And it started to worry me a little that the cool-ness and hip-ness of it all just seemed to keep growing the further away from reality the movement seemed to get.

Now it's all spun completely out of control. I don't recognize the furious, malicious, mendacious and utterly irrational face of today's "peace movement." In its intolerance, its conformity, its vicious hatred, its antisemitism and its fundamentalist holier-than-thou bombast, in its violence, it betrays just about every principle that the "peace movement" I knew was supposed to stand for. Take this item posted at Little Green Footballs today. Or this one. Or a hundred more over the past several weeks alone. Charles comments on the flagrant immaturity of these "protesters," and it's funny. That's exactly where I was going with this post before I wandered over to LGF for fodder.

Dennis Kucinich was on Hannity & Colmes last night droning his latest mantra on the necessity of impeaching the President. Something about it being illegal to threaten aggression against another country and so Bush must go for suggesting that this country might need to resort to force against Iran. (Kucinich doesn't seem too concerned about Iran's own threats of aggression against other countries, but that's another topic.) You can find some of his incoherent and legally confused ramblings on the subject here, including his assertion that "[t]here is no solid, direct evidence that Iran has the intention of attacking the United States or its allies" -- an assertion which has already been belied by events today. The seizure this morning by Iran of as many as 15 British sailors for allegedly trespassing in Iranian waters is nothing new, actually. A somewhat similar incident took place in 2004, but ended without injury or escalation. But this sort of activity on the part of Iran is actively encouraged by the likes of Kucinich and his kooky admirers. The man is a disgrace.

While I've been buried in deductions, credits and exemptions for the past two weeks, I've managed to fall blissfully behind on a number of stories that would have disturbed even the little sleep I've been getting. This one, in particular, was covered in all its gory details by Judith Weiss this morning, and I pretty much managed to get caught up on it. Do follow the links, especially this one to Wednesday's ZOA Middle East Report (you can also find the link on my sidebar over there ---->), in which Steve Feldman and Lori Lowenthal Marcus interview both Steven Erlanger and Richard Landes. It's a good show.

Meanwhile, in the good news department, it seems that Ahmadinejad's visa got lost somewhere in transit and he's canceled his speech before the UN tomorrow. Good. But we'll see what happens with that. The story keeps changing.

Shabbat Shalom.

Notice anything odd?

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I recently came across this photo of St. Mary's Cathedral in Valencia, Spain.

Valenciacathedral.jpg

Interestingly, it appears that this cathedral more or less began life as a mosque.

You can find a little information about the use of this particular image in early church architecture and its subsequent abandonment in favor of the five-pointed version here. I believe, however, that this facade is a relatively recent addition, dating from the early 18th century.

Sestak CAIRs II

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They have a wonderful saying in the Middle East. Insh'allah. God willing.

-- Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA) this morning on Meet the Press.


Any questions?

One foot off the reservation

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Here I go again, I guess. This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's damned uncomfortable. I could just keep quiet about it but, well, that's not my style.

There's a big brouhaha building in Israel over this.

MK Zvi Hendel (NU/NRP) on Sunday called for all Arab MKs to be evicted from the Knesset, following comments over the weekend by soon-to-be science minister Ghaleb Majadle - Israel's first Arab minister - that he would not sing "Hatikva" because it "speaks only to Jews."

"How many more times will we take the Arab MKs spitting in our faces and insist on pretending that it's raining?" Hendel demanded. "The Arab MKs, who continue again and again to fearlessly incite against the Jewish people, its symbols and its holy places, and cooperate with the most bitter and hateful enemy must get out of the Knesset."

He called on all Zionist Knesset members to unite and ensure that such a move was carried out.

An Arab MK who refuses to sing Israel's national anthem. Well, on its face, that sounds like a pretty ridiculous state of affairs. But then again, maybe not so much. Let's take a look at the actual words of that national anthem. There are more poetic translations, but this one captures the spirit while being as true as possible to the literal meaning.


As long as deep in the heart,
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

I don't know. I've always had serious problems with the calls to change Israel's national anthem, as it embodies so beautifully the long-awaited and hard-fought fulfillment of the dreams of the Jewish people after 2,000 years. But I have to admit that even the most patriotic non-Jewish Israeli must have a hard time singing those lyrics. Really, what do they have to do with him, or her?

Shouldn't a national anthem be a banner under which all the citizens of a country can feel comfortable? Of course Israel is a Jewish state and its Arab, Muslim, Christian and Hindu citizens must come to grips with that. But that doesn't solve the problem of somehow tying patriotism to a negation of identity. It's one thing for Israel's Arab and Muslim population to acknowledge, accept and even perhaps be able to celebrate Israel as a Jewish state. It's another thing to ask them to identify with Jewish aspirations, some of which were achieved at their expense. It's another thing entirely as ask them to pay lip service to a Jewish identity.

MK Majadle has no issue with standing in respect for HaTikva. He simply can't in all honesty sing the words. I just can't find fault with that. If I were an Arab Israeli, I wouldn't sing them either. So I'm finding myself, for the first time, rethinking whether, after 59 years, HaTikva is still an appropriate national anthem for Israel. Not that anyone asked me. Bradley Burston, in today's Ha'aretz, has some thoughts to consider.

I adore Hatikva. But it's time it was changed. It's time its words were changed. It's time it was replaced by an anthem that all Israelis can sing in good conscience, non-Jews as well as Jews. An anthem in which more than a million Arab citizens can join in full voice.

I don't know. I'd be happy to hear contrary arguments. So far, I haven't seen anything convincing.

Buying time

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Is there even the slightest scintilla of doubt that this country is going to eventually go to war with Iran? Is there a remotely rational person who can't see that, once they have their military ducks lined up, they most certainly intend to come after us? After, of course, they finish with Israel. No, maybe first, so they can finish with Israel without watching their backs. What could stop this from happening? Well, regime change, of course, assuming the new regime would take a sharp turn away from the policies of the existing regime. Persuasion? Sanctions? Incentives? Please.

Meanwhile, with each passing day, Iran is working hard to make the price we'll pay in that war a little steeper and the stakes a little higher. What are we doing?

Welcome to a new week. We'll see.

Host obligations

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That's why the U.S. is rushing through a visa so that the would-be genocidal maniac can address the august body of the United Nations. Oy vey. Who's next?

Wednesday, I was out taking a walk in my shirtsleeves. Today, I spent an hour and a half shovelling the slush off the driveway while trying desparately to keep my footing. I could have saved the effort. It's all back, and then some. We're getting socked with a major ice storm and it appears that neither the planes nor the trains nor the traffic are moving much around here. My other half was scheduled out of Orlando on a flight back here this evening. His story sounds pretty much like this one.

Brittany Kortan, 19, of Philadelphia, doesn't know when she'll get home. On Friday afternoon she experienced a delay, a cancellation, found another flight to the northeast and then had that flight cancelled as well.

"We were supposed to leave for Philadelphia at noon," she said. "That one got pushed back to 1:35 p.m. and just got cancelled. We then booked a flight to New Hampshire, we were going to stay in a hotel there overnight and then fly to Philly tomorrow. We got on the plane, they closed the doors and then they cancelled it. We have another flight booked to Philadelphia tonight, but I don't think that's gonna happen either. We might be here until Monday."

I'd count on it. After being told that the earliest possible flight out would be Monday morning and that it was probably already overbooked, S. rented a car. He's got about 1,000 miles to drive to get home. About that driveway...

Shabbat Shalom.

Happy EATAPETA!

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Ordinarily, I would have indulged in a menu of tasty animal treats today, but I've been buried in work and am settling for cold leftovers. There's chicken involved, though.

I'm taking a raincheck and planning my EATAPETA extravaganza for Saturday night this year. Meanwhile, here's Meryl's celebration. And Lair's. Yum!

Sestak CAIRs

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Guess who's coming to dinner? The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Philadelphia Chapter's first annual fundraising banquet, that is.

Let's back up.

Joe Sestak is the freshman Representative from Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District. My district. Up until January 4th and for the 20 years before that, our Representative was Curt Weldon, one of the more serious point men in the battle to defend this country and the rest of the world against Islamist terrorism. Weldon, you may recall, was the victim of a conveniently timed ethics investigation that ramped up to fever pitch in the weeks immediately preceding the midterms and then quickly disappeared.

Sestak, on the other hand, centered his campaign around his promise to pull our troops out of Iraq ASAP, by hook or by crook. He was resigned from a 30-year career in the US Navy in 2005 for reasons that are explored and debated in depth elsewhere.

So on January 4, 2007, Sestak took office, and he's been busy trying to make good on his promise. And then a funny thing happened. Joe was invited to be the keynote speaker at Philly CAIR's fundraiser on April 7th. And he accepted. Well, sort of.

I'll give him this. Sestak actually had the nerve to appear before a town meeting at The Suburban Jewish Community Center/B'nai Aaron synagogue this afternoon in Havertown, Pennsylvania. I was there, along with a number of other indignant constituents and congregants who wanted to know what the hell he was thinking, as well as a number of other constituents and congregants who had other things on their minds. CAIR dominated the Q&A, though, by a substantial margin. The answers we got were unsatisfactory. In fact, when the meeting was over, Sestak had dug himself into a much deeper hole than he started out in. And it was already pretty deep.

"A person on my staff accepted the invitation," he began, by way of response to the pointed question put to him by Rabbi Lisa Malik, the spiritual leader of SJCC-BA, because 250 of his constituents were going to be there. Maybe. Later, he said that he didn't know how many of his constituents were actually going to be there, but that he had been told 250. And the staff person who accepted the invitation on his behalf, without consulting him? Her name is Adeeba Al Zaman and, ooops, as it turns out, until September, 2006, she was Director of Communications for ... CAIR-PA. Are we cosy enough yet?

Sestak says that once he discovered that fundraising was involved, he refused to participate in that part of the event, or to appear with other speakers. Not surprising, when you look at the other speakers scheduled, but I'll get to that in a minute. Sestak's solution, rather than canceling his appearance, was to demand that CAIR bifurcate the event into two parts. If you go to their website, for now, you'll see a strange introductory page. Two identical posters for the same event in the same venue, one advertising Sestak's keynote address and dinner at 5:30 at $50 a person ($55 after April 1) and the second advertising the "fundraiser" and the three subsequent speakers at 7:45. There is, of course, but one registration for "both."

Sestak is "taken with the Muslim community," he says. They were very supportive of him during his campaign. All well and good but, as one participant asked, if CAIR represents a terrorist supporting extremist fringe of the Muslim community, what kind of message does his appearance at their banquet send to all of those moderate Muslims who don't agree with CAIR's agenda? Well, says Sestak, he's not going to this banquet in support of CAIR. Far from it, he intends to send them a clear message that the failure to condemn terrorism, by name, specifically, is wrong. So why does he need to do this as the headliner at their fundraising banquet? Steve Feldman, executive director of the Philadelphia ZOA asked whether Sestak would attend a KKK convention to send them such a message. "No," replied Sestak. "But I would talk to them."

Huh?

Sestak believes in talking to people. "Just because I talk to somebody doesn't mean I'm the other person's enemy," he said, in the rather strange syntax he employed throughout much of this exchange. He believes he'll send a better, stronger message to CAIR by attending this event than he would by staying away. And he believes it's "the right thing to do." In response to a request that he publish a position paper on CAIR, he first said he "could do that," but then said it wasn't a promise. He's way too busy with the Iraq thing right now, and he'd have to make sure a position paper got it exactly right. He did agree, however, to post the text of his get-tough speech to CAIR on his website. Keep an eye out for that. It should be interesting.

Sestak refuses to take a cue from Barbara Boxer. Or from Charles Schumer and Dick Durban. He makes much of the fact that CAIR has not been "shut down by the government," as has the Holy Land Foundation, for example. CAIR hasn't been accused of breaking any laws, he says. But he ignores the fact that CAIR's initial funding came from the very same Holy Land Foundation and that five of its former officers and directors are currently under indictment for terror-related activities. Two of them, Ismail Royer and Ghassan Elashi, are serving time. In fact, in the same breath as Sestak openly acknowledges that "failing to condemn terrorism is supporting it," he insists that if CAIR were supporting terror, they wouldn't be permitted to operate (sorry, but you can't have it both ways).

As for Ms. Al-Zaman, who he claims got him into this predicament in the first place, he is standing by her because, he says, "I have a fault. I love my staff." He didn't even know Adeeba was a Muslim when he hired her, let alone that she had worked for CAIR, and it was only after the protests began to arrive at his office that he noticed the CAIR reference on her resume. Excuse me? One has to wonder if this Congressman applies the same level of care and scrutiny to his national policy decisions as he does to his hiring choices. In fact, on numerous occasions during the meeting, on subjects ranging from health care to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal, he admitted having failed to do his homework.

I gathered that many of the people in that room today voted for Rep. Sestak. I wasn't one of them. But by the end of the afternoon it appeared that a number of them were having second thoughts about that vote. Hey. 2008 is just around the corner.

As for the other speakers presenting at Philly CAIR's banquet next month, we have Raphael Narbaez, who has called Zionism a "repressive political ideology" that has nothing to do with Judaism, accused Zionists of having "the same racist ideology that the Nazis of Germany had" and predicted the end of Israel. Then we have Parvez Ahmed, CAIR's Chairman of the Board, who claims on his blog that "[America's] one-sided support for Israel is a liability in the war on terror." And, first and foremost, we have Edward Peck, a great admirer of the Walt and Mearsheimer "Jewish Lobby" libel, who had a warm fuzzy sit-down with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last summer as the rockets fell in northern Israel and, earlier last year, another with Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal in Damascus. Nice company, Joe.

For more analysis of this deeply disturbing example of Congressman Sestak's abominable lack of judgment and what you can try to do about it, see Beila Rabinowitz, here, and her website Militant Islam Monitor.

Booga-booga

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There he goes again. There's nothing like even a small dose of jimmy carter to put me in a grumpy mood. Meryl has the story.

What's good? Warmer weather coming tomorrow. It is so about time.

And this week's parashat hashavua, which is full of all kinds of good stuff. A flat tax, a golden calf, two sets of commandments, the elevation of the Cohanim and Leviim and a new covenant. Among other wonderous things. Ki Tissa.

Shabbat Shalom.

Back from New York

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And, may I say, the weather was absolutely terrible. Not that it was much better back here, but New York is for walking and, well, it just wasn't possible yesterday with wind chills in negative digit territory.

But I had the great pleasure of attending the 2006 National Jewish Book Awards ceremony last night. More on that later, perhaps.

PPS

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Post Purim Stuff.

For a serious examination of the "virtues" of proportionality, you really want to take a look at Or Honig's essay "The End of Israeli Military Restraint" in the Winter 07 issue of The Middle East Quarterly. I'll lead with the conclusion, but I strongly urge you to read what precedes it.

Choosing between the two schools, restraint versus preemption remains a dilemma that plagues not only Israel but also the United States. Both governments should derive lessons from the failure of Western restraint on Hezbollah. It is better to act before metastasis of a problem.

Israel's initial restraint toward Lebanon after the May 2000 withdrawal reflected Israeli officialdom's inability to admit mistakes and learn the lessons of the Oslo period. Many Israeli political and military officials who had embraced Oslo remained reluctant to acknowledge its failure, even in light of insurmountable intelligence and a mounting terrorist campaign. Wishful thinking trumped dispassionate analysis. Even critics of the Lebanese withdrawal, men such as IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz or Netanyahu, mesmerized by relative quiet along the northern border, backed away from preempting Hezbollah.

The devastating consequences of the policy of restraint show that strategic concepts can misguide policy for long periods and even in different arenas. Only an accumulation of Hezbollah and Palestinian attacks was sufficient to awaken Israel from its peace process slumber, at least temporarily.

So where should Israel go? It would be a mistake to equate a choice of deterrence versus restraint with a decision of war versus peace. The goal of any serious Israeli politician, whether from the right or the left, is to maintain Israel's security. But after almost six decades of experience and after trying both strategies, Israeli policymakers would be remiss not to recognize the effectiveness of deterrence and the folly of restraint. Diplomacy and deterrence need not be mutually exclusive. Rather, deterrence may actually enhance the effectiveness of Israel's diplomacy. If deterrence is to work, though, Israeli politicians must make a sustained rather than episodic commitment to the doctrine. A disproportionate response to terror should be the rule, not the exception.

Footnotes, omitted. Emphasis, mine.

Happy Purim!

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We Jews have few utterly happy holidays. This is one of them. This is a day for dancing and singing, feasting and drinking, revelry and silliness, pure enjoyment of life. Nobody can appreciate the simple joy of living quite so much as one who has been pulled back from the very brink of extinction. And on this day, we relive that experience, that story, every year, as we are commanded to do into the infinite future.

The Jews ordained, and took upon themselves, and upon their descendants, and upon all who have joined with them, so that it shall not fail that they would keep these two days according to their writing and according to their appointed time every year; and that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them from their descendants.

Esther 9:27-28

Clear enough. An evil man in Persia set his sights on us and conspired to wipe us off the face of the map. But, somehow, his despicable designs were turned against him and instead he and his sons, the latter day remnant of Israel's worst enemy, the Amalekites, were utterly destroyed. Not only them, but for one day (two in the walled castle city of Shushan) the Jews were given free license to defend themselves (mark that, please) against any and all who elected to follow the fatwa decree to murder them and to do so (defend themselves), not with restraint or proportionality but in a manner that would eliminate the threat (or at least the current threat) to their existence once and for all.

(It is not, by the way, this day of slaughter, the 13th of Adar, that we celebrate, but the end of it, the 14th of Adar, the day of feasting and gladness, the day we knew that the danger had passed and that we had survived it.) Nevertheless, our sages and our scholars have always had a problem with this holiday. Putting aside (for the moment) the sticky thicket of wifely obedience that the narrator presumes to be a given virtue, Jews have never been comfortable with the notion of standing for our lives and destroying, slaying and causing to perish those who would assault and destroy us. King Saul wasn't comfortable with it and as a result he lost his crown and allowed a last unsuspected remnant of the Amalekites (the seed of Agag) to survive. (See yesterday's Haftara.) Haman was his descendant. What evil future might our own discomforts be breeding today?

But that's a question for tomorrow. Today, we celebrate!

Chag Sameach! Happy Purim!

Too funny

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I always try to end the week on an up beat, so here's a hilarious side-splitting howler for you to take into the weekend. From the Jerusalem Post, no less.

The 2008 election will give American voters in Israel an opportunity to rectify the harmful legacy of the two Bush administrations by electing a Democrat to the presidency. The Republican candidates pride themselves on their identification with President George W. Bush and his policies. Only a Democrat can bring about change and lead the United States and Israel out of the current quagmire and into a position of greater peace and security.

Please. Stop. And it just gets better from there.

Wait. That was supposed to be comedy. Right?

For more context, please see Omri. And Omri.

Shabbat Shalom.

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