August 2008 Archives

What a week!

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It started out early last Shabbat morning with Obama's VP roll-out debacle, leaked at 2 AM to the dismay of all those supporters promised an exclusive text message preview. Biden, a disappointing choice, to say the least. And then, the Spectacle, culminating in the SuperSpectacle. Michelle's tense and earnest speech, every other sentence beginning with "See...," as if there was a message she was desparately trying to convey but never quite hitting the mark. Hillary's lackluster but determined speech, slogged through and finally finished, hitting all the obligatory talking points, never quite admonishing her supporters to give it up and vote for ... him. And outside, the embarassing demonstrations, marches and theater. The roll call drama (would they or wouldn't they?) and melodrama (terminated by HRC herself). Bill's speech (sorry, obnoxious, turned it off after two minutes). Biden's speech (wasn't interested). And then, last night, the huge, surging, roaring crowds, the flags (finally), the single man on the podium, rallying and exhorting the faithful, saying nothing new (surprise), the lights, the music (awful), the fireworks, the confetti. Now, blessedly, over.

Today, McCain announced his VP pick, having been much more successful at controlling the leaks (and what does that say about leadership qualifications?), a bold choice that was a surprise to many. I'm pretty pleased, although of course I have reservations. We may disagree on a lot of things but Sarah Palin is going to be a fearsome fighter and a loyal partner for John McCain. She brings a lot to the ticket. She may bring a lot of undecideds to the ticket. She brings me more enthusiastically to the ticket.

So that was it. One more convention to go and then we're into the home stretch. I can't wait until it's over, frankly. I've been sick of it for months now. But today was kind of exciting. I'm a little less sick of it tonight.

Shabbat Shalom.

Convergence

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From yesterday's Jerusalem Post:

The IDF shut down BBC radio transmitters in Hebron on Wednesday, acting on orders of the Communications Ministry and citing interference with communications at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

The IDF Spokesman said the transmitters were illegal, adding that the Communications Ministry had found them to be jeopardizing contact between Ben-Gurion's control tower and passenger aircraft.

BBC employees had raised the issue during a press conference held by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday. A government official said in response that in addition to the BBC's transmitters, a number of additional transmitters had been shut down, including some inside Israel, as they were "endangering civilian aviation, a problem we have been suffering from for a long time."

The official added that the BBC was broadcasting on a wavelength allocated to it by the Palestinian Authority without prior coordination with the Communications Ministry. "We are now trying to solve the problem," the official said.

And then there's this:

The BBC has denied charges that money raised by a BBC charity was used to recruit and train the terrorists involved in the 7/7 terror attacks on London that killed 52 people in 2005.

The BBC's own Newsnight current affairs programme reported on Tuesday night's broadcast that the BBC's Children in Need charity had donated around £20,000 to the Leeds Community School, Yorkshire, between 1999 and 2002 which went towards funding the activities of the terrorists behind the July 2005 attacks.

On Thursday the BBC said that there is no evidence that the money was used for terrorist activity.

The school funded and shared premises with the Iqra Islamic book shop where the suicide bombers Muhammad Siddique Khan and Shezhad Tanweer regularly met. Khan and Tanweer attempted to radicalize youths by showing propaganda films at the bookshop, which became a regular meeting place for young Muslims at the time - including Jermaine Lindsay, who went on to become the King's Cross bomber.

Busy little BBC.

And in the three grains of salt category, I'd like to close the week with this bit of presidential campaign pandering (or is it?) from last week. Obviously, this is a matter of grave importance to me, but the way politicians shamelessly manipulate it time and again for the consumption of gullible voters is truly mindboggling.

US Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain said on Friday he will promptly move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv if elected president. The firm pledge comes in contrast to his Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama's vague stance on the issue of an "undivided Jerusalem." During an interview in which he was asked about moving the embassy, McCain said, "Right way.... I've been committed to that proposition for years."

I'm sure he is. Yes. Terrific. In case you don't remember, here's the fly in that ointment, later on in the same item.

Both President George W. Bush and former president Bill Clinton also vowed to move the embassy during their initial campaigns for the White House, but both used a presidential waiver authority granted by Congress in the 1995 Embassy Relocation Act to postpone the move on national security grounds.

So I'll believe it when I see it. Who knows? McCain could be the one we've been waiting for ...

Shabbat Shalom.

The failure of hasbara

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Martin Sherman has this column at Ynet today, intriguingly entitled "Explaining Israel's PR failure." That's always a fascinating and frustrating topic. And he actually provides some answers. Or part of an answer.

For many, both in Israel and abroad, the failure of Israeli diplomacy and public relations (Hasbara) is difficult to understand. After all, the Jewish State has many features that, prime facie, should bestow on it the unqualified support of Western democracies: Free fair (and frequent) elections, general gender equality, religious freedom, an open press, tolerance of sexual preferences and so on. Even if in everyday practice there are flaws and imperfections in some of these areas, they are certainly far closer to the desired ideal than in any of its Muslim adversaries and certainly more so than the areas under Palestinian rule (or misrule.)

In fact, the explanation of the failure is very simple - although it may not be easy to accept. For the truth of the matter is that Israel is losing the battle for world opinion because...it simply has no desire to win! At first glance this explanation seems inconceivable. However, an even a cursory examination of the facts will suffice to provide solid evidence to support it.

But the evidence doesn't. Or does it? He goes on to say, for example, that both Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin were elected on the basis of tough, anti-appeasement platforms that they abandoned once they got into office. True. But his explanation for that turn of events doesn't work.

In actual fact, people who dominate the socio-political mechanisms and in effect are those who "make things happen" in Israel comprise a trinity of elites who, although unelected, impose their views on the general public with great effectiveness. These are the elites in the legal establishment, in the mainstream media, and in academia (at least that portion of academia that interfaces with the previous two elites - principally in the faculties of the social sciences and the humanities, where the politically-correct dominates the factually- correct.)

Thus for example the legal elite can obstruct any assertive initiative that the elected polity may wish to implement (as was the case with the attempt to cut-off the electricity supply to Gaza); similarly, the media elite can initiate any concessionary initiative that the elected polity may be loathe to implement (as was the case with the Disengagement and, to a large degree, with Oslo); and when the stamp of professional approval is required, the amenable academic elite is ever-ready to provide it.

But it was neither the courts nor the media nor the academy that drove the Oslo and disengagement engines. It was a change of heart inspired and/or encouraged by a trusted political sidekick (Peres, Olmert). Could Rabin and Sharon have gotten away with it if Sherman's triumverate of defeat (courts, media, academics) hadn't collaborated? Hard to say. Sharon ignored the consensus in his own party so surely he wasn't beholden to the popular will. But, anyway, what does that have to do with the failure of hasbara?

Sherman's analysis of the insecurities, the narcissism and the avoidance of cognitive dissonance that power the elites' world view is spot on, IMO. But it doesn't explain the government's seeming inability to do what the Arabs have done so well for so long: effectively represent its point of view in the court of world opinion. Israel's hasbara couldn't be muzzled by the courts, the media and the intelligensia ... if Israel actually had a program of hasbara.  But it doesn't.

In this respect, Sherman is assuredly correct that Israel seems not to want to win the PR war. But of course that's ridiculous. Isn't it? Unfortunately, Deputy PM Ehud Olmert said it best, in front of the Israel Policy Forum more than three years ago:

We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors, and I believe that this is not impossible.
What or who is responsible for this fatigue? Is it the courts, the media, the academics? Surely they contribute, but it is has to be something more. That's what I'm still looking for and haven't been able to find yet. Sherman again.

Thus a situation has been created in which Israel finds itself unable to embark on a offensive strategic Hasbara initiative designed to defeat its adversaries, and thus restricts itself to tactical defensive responses, designed merely to temporarily ward of enemy offensives and doomed to inevitable failure.
Right.

This then is the explanation for Israel's abysmal performance in the fight for public opinion. Remedying this regrettable condition is not any easy task. While the difficulties should not be underestimated - neither should they be over-estimated. As with any problem, the first stage toward a solution requires an accurate articulation of the issues involved as a necessary condition for their diagnosis and for the formulation of ways to contend with them.

The precise details of these formulae for solutions constitute a topic for a separate discussion, but their overriding objective would be to publicly expose those responsible for the diplomatic debacle, unveil their myopia and their malice, undermine their standing, and erode their status. This is the only way to neutralize their influence and the enormous damage that they inflict on the nation.

But Sherman is mostly describing effects here, of whatever-it-is. Not so much the cause. Still looking ...

Krauthammer on Russia

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An awful lot has been written on this topic this week. I think this piece by Charles Krauthammer nails it.

What is to be done? Let's be real. There's nothing to be done militarily. What we can do is alter Putin's cost-benefit calculations.

We are not without resources. There are a range of measures to be deployed if Russia does not live up to its cease-fire commitments: . . .

You'll have to click through for these.

. . . The most crucial and unconditional measure, however, is this: Reaffirm support for the Saakashvili government and declare that its removal by the Russians would lead to recognition of a government-in-exile. This would instantly be understood as providing us the legal basis for supplying and supporting a Georgian resistance to any Russian-installed regime.

Here's a different view of the conflict. I disagree. But I'm nevertheless deeply disturbed by the virulent hostility that's been directed against Robert Spencer over his position (such as it is) on this issue in the past few days. Something is rotten in the blogosphere and we'd better root it out, pronto.

My thoughts and prayers tonight are with the people of Georgia and their sovereign, mostly democratic state.

Shabbat Shalom.

Out of the ruins

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I found this "talkback" at (naturally) Ha'aretz today in response to an article about "progressive" attempts to make Tisha B'av more "relevant." (Huh?) It's from someone named Eyal in Rehovot.

Tisha B`Av is one of the most beautiful days in the Jewish calendar, commemorating our emancipation from the backwardness of a sacrifice cult run by a priestly class using religious law to extort tithes from the citizenry and to freeload.

The end of the Beit Ha`Mikdash was the birth of Judaism. Those who call for the reinstatement of the Beit Ha`Mikdash are calling for the end of Judaism, the end of everything that was worthy in our teachings. Sacrifices to one who does not want nor need them.

As the famous story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai goes:

Once, Rabban Yochanan was coming forth from Jerusalem, Rabbi Joshua, a disciple, followed after him and beheld the Temple in ruins. "Woe unto us!", Rabbi Joshua cried, "that this, the place where the iniquities of Israel were atoned for, is laid waste."

"My son," Rabbi Yochanan said to him, "be not grieved; we have another atonement as effective as this. It is acts of loving-kindness. For I desire loving kindness and not sacrifice."

Actually, I happen to share his view, though I'd phrase it somewhat differently. I've always had this problem with Tisha B'av. Not that I don't understand the importance of solemnity and reflection on this anniversary of so many tragedies that have befallen our people. I do. It's unfortunate that too many Jews don't acknowledge or even know of this day of commemoration. But I'm skeptical of the various rabbinical proscriptions that have been heaped on top of that. (Actually, yes, I'm pretty skeptical of rabbinical proscriptions in general.)

Like Eyal, I tend to see the destruction of the Temple as the catalyst for the birth of Judaism as we know it today. The fact is that back in 587 BCE, this Judaism really didn't exist. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed back in 722, and all that remained of the Israelites were the residents of the Kingdom of Judah (Yehuda), who came to be known as Jews (Yehudim). Their lives were centered around the Temple in Jerusalem and its daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycles of festivals and offerings, feasts and sacrifices, all orchestrated by the Kohanim under the watchful eye of the monarchy. It was a life few of us can imagine leading.

It's unlikely that this small civilization, its language, its literature, its rituals or its values would have been preserved in any form even into the next millenium if not for the catastrophic events of the Temple's destruction and the people's exile. Out of that devastation grew the Talmud and the ascendancy of our prophetic, rabbinic and liturgical traditions. Minor themes at first, those innovations came to form the core of the Jewish belief and practice that sustained us after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. And continue to sustain us today.

Or at least that's one way to look at it. It's not the fundamentalist way. It's not even the traditional way. But every year at this time, I meditate on what we lost and what some pray we'll regain. Numbers 28: 1-6:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Command the children of Israel, and say to them: My food which is presented to Me for offerings made by fire, of a sweet savour to Me, shall you observe to offer to Me in its due season. And you shall say to them: This is the offering made by fire which you shall bring unto the LORD: he-lambs of the first year without blemish, two day by day, for a continual burnt-offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at dusk; and the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a meal-offering, mingled with the fourth part of a hin of beaten oil. It is a continual burnt-offering, which was offered in mount Sinai, for a sweet savour, an offering made by fire to the LORD.

This was, in essence, the "Judaism" of 587 BCE. Not something I mourn the passing of. Not something I aspire to return to.

For all those who do, I wish you an easy and meaningful conclusion to your fast.

Friday Crapes

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It's that time again! SoccerDad posted his last week. Here are mine.

The lavender crape myrtle:

 

 

And the pink one:

 

I didn't get to them early enough in the day today, so they're not showing as well as they do in direct sunlight. I'll work on that.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shoaib's trial begins

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Along with many thousands of other supporters of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, I received this email message from him this morning.

HELLO FRIENDS!

GREETINGS FROM DHAKA.

TODAY, AUGUST 6 2008, FINALLY THE TRIAL BEGAN WITH THE PLAINTIFF GIVING HIS TESTIMONY IN THE COURT. TOMORROW [THURSDAY] IS THE DATE FOR CROSS EXAMINING THE PLAINTIFF.

SO, NOW REALLY MY LUCK HANGS INTO PENDULUM OF BEING EITHER ACQUITED FROM THE CHARGE BY THE COURT, OR ACCORDED CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. THE PROSECUTION IS POSSIBLY HOPING TO SEE ME DEAD. THAT IS MY PERSONAL OPINION ALTHOUGH.

WITH BEGINNING OF THE TRIAL, BANGLADESH GOVERNMENT HAS FINALLY LEFT A STRONG MESSAGE TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY THAT THEY DO NOT CARE UNITED STATES OR EUROPE OR US CONGRESS OR EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT OR AUSTRALIAN SENATE OR MILLIONS OF MY FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS AROUND THE WORLD.

SO, TODAY [WEDNESDAY] I WENT TO THE COURT AT 9:00 AM AND HAD TO STAND IN THE DIAS TILL 5:00 PM. TOMORROW WILL BE THE SAME THING.

AS I SHALL FACE THE TRIAL, I WILL REMEMBER, MY FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS AROUND THE WORLD ARE SPIRITUALLY WITH ME, PRAYING FOR ME AND I AM NOT ALONE.

LET US REMAIN STRONG, AND LET US DEFEAT THOSE ENEMIES OF PEACE TOGETHER. G-D IS WITH US AND WE SHALL WIN.

REGARDS

SHOAIB

If you're not familiar with the story of how this brave pro-Zionist Muslim Bangladeshi journalist arrived at this juncture, you can find out here*. It's quite amazing.

(*Yes, I know, it's Wikipedia. Will wonders never cease?)

Please send him all the good thoughts and prayers you can spare. And a few more.

GIGO

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How often do you get those political polls through the mail or on the phone? You know, like the ones that ask how well you think the country is being run and whether we're safer than we were eight years ago; the ones that ask whether you really want to ruin the pristine wilderness in the ANWAR and the ones that ask how you feel about paying $10 a gallon for gas in order to avoid discomfort to a few polar bears; and the ones that ask whether you support murdering unborn babies and the ones that ask whether you support the rights of women to make informed choices about reproduction.

They're usually targeted to audiences that share the ideology of the commissioner. Some are genuinely intended to take the pulse of the people. Many of them are designed to get you to give money to the cause, in which case there's a beg at the end. Others aspire to gather data that will support their agenda.

A few weeks ago, J-Street, that self-defined "progressive alternative to AIPAC," commissioned a poll that I expect fits into the latter category (I doubt it had a beg). Among other things, it asked American Jews to rate the popularity of various political and quasi-political figures like, for example, Senator Joseph Lieberman and Pastor John Hagee. That part has gotten a bit more publicity than the rest, no doubt due to the efforts of J-Street itself.

According to the poll, which has a margin of error of 3.5 percent, Lieberman scored an unfavorable rating of 48 percent, compared to a favorable rating of 37 percent.

Hagee, the leading right-wing Christian Zionist whose endorsement of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) triggered a firestorm earlier this year, fared even worse: The pastor registered a 7 percent favorable rating, while his unfavorables came in at 57 percent.

The poll was based on interviews with 800 Jewish respondents between June 29 and July 3.

At least Hagee did better than the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But not by much.

J-Street has helpfully published the raw data for the poll and it's illuminating in so many ways. It provides insight into J-Street's agenda (in case you didn't know it already).

Q.6 Generally speaking, do you think that things in this country are going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?

It offers a pretty frightening glimpse into the opinions of what, I'm afraid, is a fairly representative segment of the American Jewish Left.

Q.32 Below are some pairs of statements. After reading each pair, please mark whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own view, even if neither is exactly right.

...

Q.41 Israel is more secure as a result of George Bush's presidency because this president understood that Israel's struggle is part of the war on terror, provided unwavering support for Israel, and removed Saddam Hussein.

OR

Israel is less secure as a result of George Bush's presidency because America is militarily stuck in Iraq, we have less credibility and influence across the Middle East and Iran has become a stronger regional power.

And it supplies a magnificent example of how a poll can be used to shape public sentiment, as well as to assess it.

[400 Respondents] Q.35 (SPLIT A) Israel needs all the support it can get and it does not matter who lobbies the US government in support of Israel.

OR

If right wing Christian Zionists are the most vocal lobbyists for Israel and set the agenda, they will lead America's Middle East policy in the wrong direction.

[400 Respondents] Q.36 (SPLIT B) Israel needs all the support it can get and it does not matter who lobbies the US government in support of Israel, even if they have their own agenda.

OR

Israel needs all the support it can get, but we send the wrong message when Jewish organizations form alliances with right wing Christian Zionists who have their own agenda.

And then there's the stuff that's just downright dishonest. Let me be clear. I'm not a big fan of Hagee or CUFI. I find a large number of his positions and statements to be offensive and I don't trust his agenda. But that's a different issue and questions like this are just a cheap smear tactic.

Q.74 Below are some more facts and statements about Reverend John Hagee of Christians United for Israel. Please mark whether you think these facts and statements are CONVINCING REASONS TO OPPOSE forming alliances with Reverend Hagee and Christians United for Israel?

[400 Respondents] Q.75 (SPLIT A) Reverend Hagee says, "the coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty and will lead to Armageddon and the second coming of Christ." To bring this about, Hagee has said Iran's President is the new Hitler and Hagee has made Israel the centerpiece of his campaign for America to go to war with Iran.

That "quote" from Hagee is a cobbling together of parts of several statements he's made. Had they put a period after "certainty," it would have been an accurate representation (e.g., here). But J-Street is not about accuracy. It's the agenda, stupid.

A final note. They didn't do so well on this set of questions.

[400 Respondents]Q.39 (SPLIT A) Established Jewish organizations like AIPAC do a good job of representing my views on Israel.

OR

Established Jewish organizations like AIPAC do a poor job of representing my views on Israel.

[400 Respondents]Q.40 (SPLIT B) The traditional Jewish organizations do a good job of representing my views on Israel.

OR

The traditional Jewish organizations do a poor job of representing my views on Israel.

They were looking for a vindication of their raison d'être there, for a vote of no-confidence against AIPAC and "traditional Jewish organizations." They didn't get it.

Go see for yourself.

Disinformation

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I hardly know what to think of this, whether to laugh or to cry.

A peace agreement with Syria is within reach, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's envoys to talks with Syria, who returned from another round of indirect negotiations in Turkey and were quoted in a Ma'ariv report Friday.

According to the report, the sides have already formulated a sketch of a peace deal and have told the Turkish mediators that they are willing to pay the price, which, for the Syrians, would include cutting off Iran.

The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report.

Of course it couldn't. The "report" is absurd, even if true, which would not be to say that Syria has any intention of living up to such an agreement, just that they have pretended they will. Ridiculous on its face but not nearly as ridiculous as anyone believing it. The Post goes on to say as much. Well, not exactly.

According to the report, there was no way to directly prevent Syria from having ties with Iran. The agreement could, however, forbid Damascus from providing weapons to - or harboring representatives of - nations or organizations that threaten Israel.

The report quoted officials familiar with the negotiations as saying that the Syrians had expressed their awareness of Israel's demand and did not reject it.

The officials also said that talks with Israel had already exacted a price from Syrian President Bashar Assad in terms of his relationship with Teheran.

Yes, I expect that Ahmedinejad has cracked a rib or two from laughing so hard. As if Assad really has any choice in the matter.

I guess the most interesting question is who or what is behind this rather pathetic disinformation campaign. It's not a tough guess. Soccer Dad has analyzed the hysteria in Washington generated by Olmert's not-imminent-enough departure: it's all about the danger to the "peace process," stupid. And, yes, it's very disturbing. More clues here.

Olmert, for all his political prowess, is a whiney little baby and he may just try to give as much of his country away as he can before he leaves office, partly as a payback for being treated so unfairly and partly because (I suspect) he labors under the illusion that history will reward him for it. And at this point he is simply desperate for glory. In the stands cheering wildly, of course, will be the U.S. State Department, which seems more Clintonesque every day.

God save and protect Israel from lame ducks everywhere.

Shabbat Shalom.

Fairy tales

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For those who continue to claim that the Hebrew Bible is all a bunch of made up stories with no factual foundation ... that ice under your feet is getting thinner every day.

A seal impression belonging to a minister of the Biblical King Zedekiah which dates back 2,600 years has been uncovered completely intact during an archeological dig in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said on Thursday.

The seal impression, or bulla, with the name Gedalyahu ben Pashur, who served as minister to King Zedekiah (597-586 BCE) according to the Book of Jeremiah, was found just meters away from a separate seal impression of another of Zedekia's ministers, Yehukual ben Shelemyahu, which was uncovered three years ago, said Prof. Eilat Mazar who is leading the dig at the site.

Pretty cool, yes?

Of course, Gedaliah and Yucal weren't exactly the heroes of this story. They were among the many advisors to King Zedehiah who tried to silence Jeremiah and who convinced the king to ignore his advice, leading ultimately to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.

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