Tuesday, September 28, 2010

There are two cooks in Israel's kitchen ...

Earlier today Israeli Foreign Minister and all around schmuck Avigdor Lieberman gave an address to the U.N. in which he laid out his plans for peace. His vision includes a swap of populated territories in which Arab communities in Israel would become part of the new Palestinian state and Jewish communities in the west bank would become part of Israel.

A short while later Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he had not approved Lieberman's speech and that he alone was in charge of the negotiations. As described in Haaretz:
The PMO's statement Tuesday essentially put Netanyahu and Lieberman on a public collision course, after the foreign minister effectively expressed his disagreement with Netanyahu's peace-talks policies. While aides to the prime minister admitted that Lieberman's scheme has come up during internal discussions, no official decision as to his stance have been made, they said.
Hopefully Bibi will fire his idiot FM and we can finally have someone represent Israel who can speak English and isn't thought of as a racist fascist by the rest of the civilized world.

Uplifting ...

Several weeks ago the pro-Israel blogosphere covered the story of Cliona Campbell, a young Irish woman who came to Israel to volunteer to help the IDF. She didn't serve as a soldier but rather spent her time preparing army bags and painting bases and other such activities.

Upon her return to Ireland she was met with a wave of anger and hatred, and she was ridiculed and reviled in the press. Well, she has written an outstanding post at CiF Watch about her experience and it is a must read for anyone looking to understand the atmosphere of hatred that surrounds the people who are opposed to Israel.
Yet when I returned home to Ireland after two months of packing kitbags and painting warehouses on Israeli army bases, I was, for all purposes, the devil incarnate. As punishment for making public my volunteering in Israel, I was met by an onslaught of savage attacks and condemnation from my fellow countrymen. They called for the confiscation of my passport, claiming that I had already revoked my Irish identity the minute I volunteered for Israel. As far as they were concerned, I was a “baby killer”, a “terrorist” and a traitor to Ireland.  Many Irish people openly voiced their disappointment that I had not been raped and shot by the Israeli soldiers of whom I had worked alongside ...
To see the country of one’s birth become the feeding ground for Islamists and extremists is in no small way soul-destroying. I simply hope that someday people will wake up and realise that Ireland’s history of decades of bloody terrorist activity was never noble and never justifiable. As a nation which has endured the agony of years of terrorism, we should be on the frontline campaigning in opposition to such barbaric tactics. Has it been so long that we have forgotten that armed resistance is not the precursor to peace, but a foretaste of more savage brutality?
I always say that I understand why Jews support Israel, we have to deal with the hatred and the danger, we have no other country and no other choice. But I fail to understand how brave non-Jews can come here and tolerate the level of hatred that is directed at Israel. Perhaps I don't need to understand and rather simply say thank you.

Receiving blessings ...

I'm not particularly religious. On the Israeli scale I fall somewhere between Hiloni and Masorti, that is, somewhere between secular and traditional. I grew up going to a conservative synagogue in the U.S. and that is a pretty good label for my Jewish identity.

Living here in Israel it's hard to find a religious community that accurately represents my view. There are only a handful of conservative shuls in Tel Aviv and the more progressive ones are just a bit too "shanti" for my taste. But nevertheless I've found places to celebrate the holidays with friends and neighbors and I feel very much at home here.

Having grown up in a conservative shul in the states I had never witnessed a ceremony called the "Birkat Ha'Kohanim," which is practiced during major Jewish holidays. The first time I saw it was when I went with my father to a Chabad service for Rosh Ha'Shana. It is a fascinating service in which all the Cohens in the congregation gather together to perform the "Priestly Blessing." This blessing is commonly known amongst many communities in its English translation:
May the Lord bless you and keep you:
May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you:

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
In the service all the men lift up their Talitot and cover themselves in them. Fathers will cover their children and it is customary not to look at the Kohanim as they perform the blessing. What is not seen is that under their Talitot the Kohanim are extending their hands in a very specific way. It is this same hand signal that was later immortalized by Leonard Nimoy in his Vulcan hand salute.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a video of this ceremony being performed by tens of thousands of people at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. I had never seen anything like it in my lifetime of Judaism, and I found it be hauntingly powerful. Here is a video from this year's ceremony:

The ceremony is performed twice a year at the Kotel during the festivals of Sukkot and Passover. These are two of the traditional pilgrimage festivals in which all of the nation of Israel would gather in Jerusalem to pray at the temple.

Last week I realized that the "Birkat Ha'Kohanim" was approaching, and I decided I wanted to attend. So on Sunday I woke up at 5:45 in the morning, which is for me a miracle in itself, and took the bus to Jerusalem. The city was bustling with people making their way to the Kotel for the ceremony. The bus was overflowing with people, and the bus company had clearly made special arrangements for the large crowd that was coming. The closest feeling to the atmosphere is the push before a major concert or sporting event. Moving tens of thousands of people around, all headed to one central location, is complicated and stressful. Nevertheless, most people were calm and friendly, including the nice Haredi man on the bus sitting next to me who asked me where I was from and pinched my cheek after he found out that I had made aliyah.

The "Birkat Ha'Kohanim" is now one of the closest things we have to how Jews practiced their religion during the time of the temple. It is a profound statement about the effect that Israel has on the Jewish people and how they practice their religion. When I saw this ceremony I couldn't help but feel that this is what a people looks like when it is returned to its land.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why I don't care about Jonathan Pollard …

There has been a lot of rumbling in the Israeli press and in the pro-Israel blogosphere that the U.S and Israel may agree to a three-month extension of the settlement freeze in exchange for the release of convicted spy Jonathon Pollard. It may sound insensitive, considering Pollard has been in jail since 1987, but I don't really care about what happens to him.

Pollard is a U.S citizen and passed on secret U.S. information to Israel. Now, it may be true that the U.S. and Israel are allies and that the information probably pertained to Arab countries and other enemies of Israel. But that doesn't make it ok.

Pollard broke the law. He is an American and his loyalty should lie with the U.S. More than that, I learned long ago a rule to live by: don't frak with Uncle Sam.

Now many may question how I can say this with such confidence considering I left the U.S. and now live in Israel. "Don't you have dual loyalties?" they might ask.

Yes, I do have dual loyalties. I have dual citizenship. I have to respect the laws of both countries and support the wellbeing of both countries. And you know what, it's not hard. The U.S. and Israel ARE allies and their interests tend to coincide.

Yes the countries have differences of opinion about policy. But those differences are no greater than what can be found among the elected representatives of both countries. I don't agree with a lot of Obama's policies, but that doesn't make me disloyal to the U.S. I disagree with a lot of Netanyahu's policies, and I absolutely loathe Avigdor Lieberman, but that doesn't make me disloyal to Israel.

But Pollard was an employee of the U.S. government and he had an obligation to uphold the law. He failed, and he was tried and sentenced fairly. He deserves his fate.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The worst comparison in the history of comparisons …

For some inexplicable reason the comparison of the Arab-Israel conflict to the problems in Northern Ireland keeps popping up again and again. I touched on this subject briefly before, but I haven't addressed it in great depth.

I think I'll leave it to others, probably smarter than I am and certainly better informed, to tackle this issue head-on.

There was a great refutation of the comparison in Slate, and the Z-Word blog has run several posts on the subject.

I have some more thoughts on this but so far not enough time to organize them.

Smoke on the water ...

Several weeks back, pro-Israel blogs pointed out that there was a water park in Gaza, and that it was proof that there certainly isn't a dire humanitarian catastrophe there.

Well it looks like Hamas is working hard to make sure that life in Gaza is absolutely as miserable as possible.
Gaza's aquapark attraction "Crazy Water Park" was vandalized and partially set ablaze by on (sic) Sunday morning, the seaside resort's management said.

Around 40 unidentified militants stormed the tourist resort, breaking and destroying items and setting fire to its restaurant and administration buildings.
Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It needs saying ...

I've said this before in other places but it should be said here as well. Jeffrey Goldberg is my new intellectual hero. His insight into the conflict here is balanced, informed, intelligent, and mercifully moderate.

In a blog post today he sums up his feelings on the current round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with the brevity the subject deserves. It just so happens that his thoughts closely mirror my own.
In other words, the maximum the Israelis can afford to offer is less than the minimum the Palestinians can accept. Maybe things will change if Hamas rule of Gaza, and settler rule of the West Bank, come to an end. But I'm not seeing that right now.
I'm not one for brevity, however, so I will elaborate a bit on the big issues and the huge gulf that exists between the sides.

1. Palestinian Refugees: The Palestinians continue to insist, publicly at least, that they will never relinquish the so called right of return. On the other hand, there is practically zero support to concede on this issues amongst Israel's leadership or the Israeli public.

If somehow a Palestinian leader agreed to concede on this issue, there is no evidence that the Palestinian public, both in the territories and across the world, would accept this concession.

2. Jerusalem: The standard formulation for peace calls for a division of Jerusalem. Well that sounds easy enough until you actually start to think about what that means. While most Israeli won't have too much trouble giving up the city's Arab neighborhoods, the really tricky part is the Old City.

How do you divide between two countries something not much larger than Disneyland? How do you split up the Temple Mount and all the other sensitive religious spots? I've seen some of the compromises people have come up with and none of them seem realistic.

Yaacov Lozowick has written a series of posts on this subject and their worth checking out.

3. Borders: This is probably the easiest issue to resolve and yet it's still a nightmare. While both sides would be willing to accept mutual and agreed border exchanges, the extent of those land swaps are still highly debatable.

One big question, for example, is the West Bank city of Ariel. Most Israelis consider it a settlement in the consensus, while the Palestinians say it's a non-starter because it would break up the continuity of their state, even though it wont.

It short, there is much more room for pessimism than there is optimism here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I don't support the settlement freeze (right now) …

The big talk out on the Interwebs is whether Israel will continue with its self imposed settlement freeze. The Obama administration has been pushing hard for Israel to continue with the building moratorium, while Abbas has claimed that any continued settlement construction will cause him to pull out of the peace talks.

I'm not a big supporter of the settlements. I think Israel needs to start delineating its borders and the settlements don't help in that regard. I also believe strongly in a two-state solution to the conflict and that will inevitably require Israel to withdraw from many settlements.

There are many Israelis who think like I do, but there isn't that much support for the freeze. The reason is that Israelis understand that these negotiations are a game. A deadly game to be sure, but they are a game. One of the rules of negotiations is that you don't give up something for nothing. Israelis made an unprecedented concession by declaring a freeze on settlements and they got nothing in return.

This sets a dangerous pattern for the negotiations. Israel's leaders need to come out and say we are willing to go a long way for peace, but we're not going to give, and give, and give, and get nothing in return.

The media keeps talking about gestures the Israelis can offer to show that they are serious to the Palestinians. Well I and many other Israelis are still waiting for a single Palestinian gesture to show that they are serious.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

People are visiting ...

Well the tourist numbers are out and they keep going up. This year has so far been a stellar one for the Israeli tourist industry and it looks like we're on pace for a new record.

This is nothing but good. Tourists do many things. They give the economy a boost and they go back to their home countries to spread the good word about Israel.

The last part is critical in my opinion. The best PR Israel can get is by people coming here and seeing the country. People who come here are often surprised by how normal Israel is, and anyone who comes here with an open mind generally goes away with a new found appreciation for the country.

It looks like this year I'm gonna connect with at least four tourists to Israel. My mom and sister came in July to celebrate my 30th birthday with me. At the same time my friend's brother came for the first time on a Birthright trip. In October, my cousin will be coming for a visit also with Birthright.

Each one of these people will go back with a better picture of reality here, and will help spread the image to the people they know.

Also, just in case you're looking for some good tourist information about Israel, I highly recommend the site igoogledisrael. It's a great resource for some real inside information on visiting the country.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Palestinian Vengeance Porn ...

When Hamas says they want to destroy Israel, most Israelis take them at their word, interpreting the statement as a call for the violent destruction of Israel. We are only left to speculate as to what will happen to the Israelis themselves.

Some people, notably certain pundits and analysts in the west, have argued that the Israel needs to begin a dialogue with Hamas, and that the Islamist terror organization needs to be involved in the peace process.

Some people who make this argument genuinely believe that Hamas can become moderate. Others simply make the argument because fundamentally they agree with Hamas' goal of destroying Israel, although not necessarily with its tactics.

However, it's important to look at what Hamas actually has to say about their goals. Fortunately, they are fairly clear about it and have provided us with a great visual demonstration of what the destruction of Israel will look like.

The video, which is particularly popular in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was created by two Hamas operatives from Gaza and the West Bank.
It shows a graphic simulation of the burning down of the High Court of Justice and the Bank of Israel buildings in Jerusalem, and cars with Palestinian flags driving across Ayalon Highway.
The beginning of the video shows a Palestinian refugee saying "Inshallah, the Jihad will take back the homeland."
The next image is of Palestinian students telling their teacher they want to become part of the resistance; followed by an image of an armed Palestinian outlining the liberation operation.
After Israel is successfully attacked and "liberated," Palestinians are shown walking along the Tel Aviv promenade and on its streets.
At the pinnacle moment of the video, the opening credits to Channel 2's nightly news edition appear, but anchorwoman Yonit Levy's place is taken by a Palestinian anchorman, depicted getting ready for the news broadcast declaring the "liberation of Tel Aviv and Palestine."

While this is not a surprising vision from Hamas, it should throw cold water on anyone who believes that a one-state solution is possible. Many leftist anti-Israel activists somehow believe that simply ending Jewish sovereignty will make everything "all better" and that Hamas and other Palestinian radicals will let go of their thirst for vengeance.

This belief is prominent amongst many of the anti-Israel Jews who post at sites like Mondoweiss. I suppose it's possible that Jews actually believe in that fantasy. After all, there are many people who believe that 9-11 was an inside job, or that the moon landings were faked, or that leprechauns exist.

But when I see this video, I can't help but believe that this is what the Palestinian activists have in mind when they envision a one-state solution. They may not be as blunt about it as Hamas, but their rhetoric is in many ways no less hateful or full of rage.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

For a Jew, Israel is the only normal country …

For the Rosh Ha'Shana eve dinner I went with my girlfriend to her uncle's house in Ber Sheva. I've been here almost four years now but celebrating the holidays always kicks me back into that mindset where I notice just how Jewish Israel really is.

We got to Ber Sheva around seven, just as the holiday was coming in. We hit a bit of traffic on the way down as other families made their way to family dinners.

As we sat on the porch waiting for the other family members to arrive people walked down the street, wearing kippot and heading off for prayers at the synagogue.

There was nothing remarkable about the scene really. It felt like any other holiday that I saw growing up in the states. But of course here it was a Jewish holiday that caused the country to come to a standstill. Here everyone says Shana Tovah, Happy New Year, and the holiday is all around you.

I still get a kick out of that feeling. People who hate Israel often come up with complex and elaborate reasons why the country came into existence. They prefer to see Israel as the result of a very strange, unique, and dangerous ideology – Zionism.

This of course has nothing to do with reality. Zionism and the Zionist movement are really just fancy names for a very basic desire among Jews. That desire is to feel like a normal people, like people in countries everywhere else in the world.

It is desire to have a home, a place that is permanent, and a place in which you are the master of your own fate.

It is the most basic desire in the world, and in Israel, on the holidays, Jews know that this is their home.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Another great spokesman for Israel

In an earlier post I mentioned how former British PM Tony Blair is a fantastic spokesman for Israel. Well as it turns out there is another former European leader who is a strong supporter and articulate advocate for Israel.

And here is where Israel enters the equation. If the major strategic challengers are a potential nuclear Iran on the one hand and jihadism on the other hand, Israel is vital for us, for our nations and societies. Israel is not only an integral part of the West, for all kind of reasons I don’t need to elaborate here, Israel is today essential for us. Even more now than before, not only because you are in the region where the strategic tectonic plates collide, but because you are one of the few nations willing to pay a price for your survival, a nation that will do whatever it takes to defend itself, a nation where our core democratic values are so ingrained that defending the State of Israel is the same as defending our liberal system.
The words above came from former Spanish PM José María Aznar. Like Blair, he delivered an address to the World Jewish Congress that was recently convened in Jerusalem.

It's a bit of a long speech but it's certainly worth the read. There is also a video link on the site if you prefer that.

Aznar mentions in his speech that he helped form a group of European leaders called the Friends of Israel Initiative. I'm not sure what this group is doing or how successful it is, but it is certainly reassuring that there is someone left in Europe who cares about protecting the modern democratic world from the numerous threats and challenges it faces.

Hat tip: Israel Matzav

Monday, September 06, 2010

Perhaps I should just let him do all the work ...

A little while ago I mentioned here that I needed to rearrange by blog roll. Well that hasn't happened yet.

When I do get around to it, one blogger I will be certain to add is Yaacov Lozowick.

I discovered his blog only a little while ago, but it's quickly become one of my favorite reads.

He has two great posts up today. One is about the story of an Arab man who was convicted of "rape by deception" and the worldwide media storm the issue caused. Well now it turns out that it was more rape than deception, and yet the world media is silent.

The other post he has up is a rundown on how Max Blumenthal is a propagandist and a liar. Well, you can't ask for more than that.

Yaacov is articulate, balanced, and extremely well informed. I guess that makes me a fan.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

What do you mean by peace?

"Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace"

This was the headline that accompanied a Time magazine article on the Israeli public's cool and indifferent view of the peace negotiations that were recently restarted in Washington.

The problems with this headline are numerous. First of all, it becomes clear in the article that the author is not really referring to peace as much as he is referring to the peace process.

When he does refer to actual peace, the feeling one gets from the article is that Israelis no longer believe in peace.
"Listen to me," says Eli Bengozi, born in Soviet Georgia and for 40 years an Israeli. "Peace? Forget about it. They'll never have peace. Remember Clinton gave 99% to Arafat, and instead of them fighting for 1%, what? Intifadeh."
I can say that this disbelief is one of the most common views I have heard from Israelis. Many people here will make the same argument, which sounds something like this: "It doesn't matter what we do, or what we give up, it will never be enough for them. There will never be peace here. I would give up all the West Bank and even Jerusalem, but that won't bring peace. As long as Israel is here, they will want to destroy us."

This perspective, from what I understand, didn't really exist ten years ago. If it did, it certainly wasn't main stream. But after the Intafada, the Second Lebanon War, Cast Lead, and all the other countless incidents Israel has experienced in the past decade, belief in peace has withered greatly.

The author of the article never really delves into what Israelis think of as peace, or what they envision peace will be like. It must be said, however, as Backspin pointed out in their critique of this article, that this is an abridged version of the story. It's possible that the author goes deeper into the issue in the print version of the magazine.

Yet, more than anything, I think the writer misses out on a big part of the story even though it's staring him in the face in his own article. Israelis don't really care about the peace process or about achieving peace with their neighbors, because to a great extent they already have it or, at least, something close enough to it.
… the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. They're otherwise engaged; they're making money; they're enjoying the rays of late summer …
Now observing 2½ years without a single suicide bombing on their territory, with the economy robust and with souls a trifle weary of having to handle big elemental thoughts, the Israeli public prefers to explore such satisfactions as might be available from the private sphere, in a land first imagined as a utopia.

Want Israelis really want is normalcy - quiet, mundane existence. They don't see that in the peace process, which has failed to bring security, and has mostly brought international scorn and condemnation.

What has worked for Israel is military action. The Intafada was quelled not with diplomacy, but with force. The Second Lebanon War returned quiet to the northern border. Cast Lead brought some respite for the southern communities.

Until Israelis are convinced that the Arabs want real peace with them, they will continue to ignore the much touted peace process and will instead rely on the might of the IDF to bring the security they so desperately crave.