Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Jihadist Jellyfish ...

After Israel sent a fleet of "Zionist Attack Sharks" to terrorize Egyptian Red Sea resorts, and then inserted a dangerous "Zionist Spy Vulture" to conduct sabotage operations in Saudi Arabia, Israel's enemies have unleashed their response on Israel's infrastructure: Jihadist Jellyfish.
A swarm of jellyfish is threatening a power plant in Israel. 
The facility in Hadera uses sea water for cooling off purposes but huge numbers of jellyfish have been sucked into the cooling system. 
Israel's Electric Corp, which runs the plant, has warned entire cities could be left without power if the problem persists. 
Nachum Plaumbaum, a worker at the plant, explained how the jellyfish could stop the power plant from functioning.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Is this excessive force ...

I think it bears repeating that when someone makes a claim about a particular event, especially when it is an event that has to do with Israel, that claim should be treated with skepticism. All too often the people reporting on events here are subject to profound bias.

This is especially true of the various blogs and websites affiliated with the radical Israeli left and other anti-Israel sites. One example is the 972 magazine website.

In a recent post on the site, writer Joseph Dana covered a protest that was held against a new Jewish neighborhood in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The protesters labeled the community as an illegal settlement in Arab East Jerusalem.

I don't want to get into the details of their claim. I think these people have the right to believe whatever they want and to hold peaceful protests if they so choose.

That is precisely how Dana described the protest, as non-violent, and he posted two videos to prove his point. He also claimed that the Israeli police "reacted with excessive and violent force against the chanting Jewish protesters." I highly recommend you read the post and watch both videos that he posted. I'm posting the second, longer video as it provides a much more accurate picture of the event.

I also believe that the video contradicts Dana's account of the protest. The longer video makes it clear that the protesters were blocking the entrance to the community. Additionally, the video shows protesters linking arms and resisting police efforts to clear them from the entrance.

In this light, the police actions do not appear to be excessive at all. In fact my observations of the video lead me believe that police used restraint in dealing with the protesters who were very aggressive and actively confronted them.

This is one of my main issues with the hard left in Israel. I frequently read their accounts of encounters with Israeli police and all too often they post videos in support of their claims that demonstrate the exact opposite.

To be sure, I have also seen videos of Israeli police and soldiers using excessive force against protesters. But overall I find the Left to be inaccurate more often than it is accurate. It is these posts and accounts that make it hard for me to trust the leftist accounts of events here; not only in Israel, but in the West Bank as well.

Perhaps it's just me? So please watch the video and tell me if this is an excessive reaction by the police.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why the mass marches against Israel wont matter, eventually ...

So I haven't posted anything here in a while. Suffice it say that I haven't had much time to write with the responsibilities of my new job. I'll be trying to make more time in the future but until then I'll have to settle for very sporadic posts.

This brings me to the events of this week. On Sunday, Arabs across the region commemorated the anniversary of Israel's birth as Nakba day, or the day of catastrophe.

Most observers of the region are already well aware of the events which transpired, including the mass demonstrations on Israel's borders with Lebanon and Syria on Sunday that resulted in the infiltration and deaths of several demonstrators.

There are plenty of stories out there about what happened so I'll leave it to you to do a Google search to find a relevant story if you need to catch up.

What I would like to comment on is whether or not these demonstrations are the result of the Arab Spring, if they signal start of a third Intifada, and whether they signal a dramatic shift in the Arab-Israeli conflict. I'll go over my points one by one.

Yes, these demonstrations are connected to the Arab Spring. There have been signs for months that the demonstrations that have rocked the Arab world would eventually be exported to Israel. Arabs have been planning for mass demonstrations and opened several Facebook pages and websites calling exactly for what we saw on Sunday. Those demonstrations should have surprised no one, but evidently they still managed to surprise the IDF which obviously wasn't paying attention.

Do these demonstrations signal the start of a third Intifada? Maybe. If these demonstrations pick up steam, and are repeated frequently than yes this could mark the beginning of the third Intifada. I don't think anyone has a good idea what will happen once it starts but it shouldn't surprise anyone once it does.

Do these marches of masses of people signal a dramatic shift in the conflict? It's a shift but I don't think it's all that dramatic. What is clear is that the IDF was caught unprepared on Sunday. Well, they are preparing for the next round right now, and I'm certain those preparations are being accelerated.

There have been several articles saying that the IDF is worried about how to stop masses of people marching unarmed to the border. I don't think this is the most complicated problem to solve. The answer is masses of security forces and soldiers to meet them. If that is not enough to prevent every single demonstrator from getting through there is always a fallback option – the people, government, and State of Israel!

The naiveté of the organizers is remarkable. Their plan is to implement the right of return by simply marching across the border and conducting sit-ins in their so-called places of origin. What they are overlooking is that there is an entire country of Israelis standing in their way, ready to repel their invasion.

This is the critical factor that makes all these comparisons to the Arab Spring irrelevant. Those demonstrations were people who rose up against their own government. They are now trying to turn those demonstrations against another people – the Jewish people. It's also worth noting that the demonstrators were not campaigning against Israel's control of the West Bank. They were marching in order to gain their so-called right of return to Israel. They were marching to overwhelm Israel demographically and destroy it.

While this tactic is certainly creative and presents Israel with new challenges, there is still no choice to confront it because the alternative is our destruction. That is precisely why these marches will amount to nothing. There is no example in history of non-violence being used to destroy another country and that is the same reason while Israel will pass this new test.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Richard Goldstone's April Fools Joke on Israel ...

First, I want to apologize for the lack of blogging. My new job is keeping me very busy and I haven't figured out how to work blogging into the mix. I'm working on it. Now, on to the matter at hand.

Yesterday was April 1st. I played a trick on my girlfriend that involved our upcoming trip to the states. I fooled her for about minute, it was funny.

Well, someone else pulled a trick on us yesterday, except he started working on his prank two years ago. The prankster was South African jurist Richard Goldstone, the eponymous lead author of the Goldstone Report.

You know the report, it's the one where he laid unsubstantiated charges against Israel, that Israel had a policy of targeting civilians during it's military campaign in Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.

Goldstone's critics have been saying since the report came out that it overlooked critical pieces of information and that it drew conclusions that weren't supported by the evidence.

Well now, on April 1st of all dates, Goldstone has come out and in an opinion piece in the Washington Post basically said yeah, my critics were right, the report should be reconsidered.
The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.
Was there really no other evidence? Was Israel's formal lack of cooperation the reason that Goldstone's commission didn't make the slightest effort to corroborate the allegations it was making against Israel?

I find all this too hard to believe, that now, after two years of lies and allegations against Israel, Goldstone feels like he needs to come out and set the record straight. After two years of his report being used as a hammer to beat Israel over the head with allegations of war crimes and crimes and against humanity, now he comes out and says "oops, my bad."

Who does he blame for this? Not himself, G-d forbid, for serving as the Jewish fig-leaf to this modern day UN sponsored blood-libel against Israel. No no no no. Who's fault is it? It's Israel's fault of course.
Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants. The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).
At some point we are all held responsible for our actions. Whether it's by our friends and family, by history, or by the law, there is always a price to paid when we transgress. Goldstone, whether by naivete, incompetence, or willful dishonesty in the pursuit of personal gain has slandered Israel and the Jewish people. His actions will not be easily forgotten.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yes, this is actually rather religious ...

I have heard this song played many times in bars, nightclubs, and at weddings here in Israel. I never really made an effort to listen to the words even though I knew they had a religious meaning.

But I was surprised when I finally made an effort to understand the song. It's very religious. Here are the lyrics of the chorus (translated into English):
We are believers; children of believers 
And we don't have anyone to depend on
Except, except for our father
Our father in heaven
The music itself doesn't exactly cry out with religious fervor:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I'm still here ...

I realize blogging has been rather light of late. I just started a new job last week and it's been keeping me very busy. I hope to find some time to write this week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Follow Up on Macy Gray ...

It appears that Macy Gray will be coming to Israel after all. Challah Hu Akbar and Israellycool are both reporting that she has decided to come after receiving both pro and anti-Israel messages on her Facebook and Twitter pages.

This is a big step for Israel supporters but I think there are some important lessons to be learned.

As I was looking through some of the comments people were posting to her Facebook page I noticed that some Israelis has posted comments similar to the following.

"Fine. Don't come. We don't want you anyway."

This is a really poor and unhelpful way to react. It won't convince her to come and it hurts the cause of people trying to promote Israel.

Additionally, Israellcool pointed out that we shouldn't forget the things Gray said.
But I’m not getting carried away. Gray still did the wrong thing by characterizing Israel’s treatment of the palestinians as disgusting, as I posted yesterday. And for that, I am boycotting her performance.
He's right that we shouldn't forget, but I don't think we should be too aggressive with performers like Gray. She has probably received a ton of aggressive and angry messages from Israel haters. We should all be fully aware of the lies, misinformation, and hate that these people can spread.

We can't fault every person who is suckered in by their rhetoric and lies. We need to respond with the truth, but in a helpful and compassionate manner.

No one likes to be lectured or yelled at. But if we gently point out to people where they have made a mistake without getting angry, it will be much more effective to persuade them to agree with us.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tell Macy Gray Why She Should Perform in Israel ...

This is SO important. Supporters of BDS are exerting incredible pressure on artists and musicians not to perform in Israel. Most of these performers don't know what really happens here. It is up to us who know and love Israel to explain to them what is really going on here.

A few days ago musician Macy Gray posted this on her Facebook page:
I'm booked for 2 shows in Tel Aviv. I'm getting a lot of letters from activists urging/begging me to boycott by NOT performing in protest of Apartheid against the Palestinians. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting, but I wana go. I gotta lotta fans there I dont want to cancel on and I dont know how my NOT going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?
Go now, right now, to her page. Click Like, and then write a respectful, calm, and compassionate comment on her post about why she should perform in Israel. For example, this is what I wrote:

Macy, you should definitely come to Israel. You should come to see that Israel is a normal country, filled with warm and compassionate people who are desperate for a normal, peaceful existence.
Israel is no way, shape, or form an Apartheid state. Israel is a democracy that provides equal rights under the law for all its citizens irrespective of race, religion or gender. It's a liberal, progressive democracy faced with numerous challenges.
People who support boycotts against Israel are not interested in achieving a peaceful two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Their objective is the elimination of Israel, of the only Jewish state in the world. Those calling for a boycott of Israel are engaging in the most vicious kind of racism, that which seeks to deny an entire people their right to independence and freedom.
If you're curious about what it's like to perform in Tel Aviv you should ask Paul McCartney, Elton John, Madonna, and others who have performed in Israel to cheering and appreciative fans.
If you wish to help promote peace between Israelis and our Palestinian neighbors you can follow the example of Leonard Cohen who donated all the proceeds of his show to organizations that promote coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Even better would be to perform for both Israeli and Palestinians audiences and share with both of them your message of cooperation.
Macy, don't believe everything you are told. I'm an American who has lived here in Israel for the last four years. Israel is a good, freedom loving country that is surrounded by neighbors who seek to drive us from our country. We are imperfect, but we value human life and sincerely hope to one day live in peace with our neighbors. Come here and see for yourself.
Go right now!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Promoting Palestine by Slandering MLK ...

I first saw this op-ed on Mondoweiss, but it was originally published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Under the headline "King’s words live in Palestinian city," the article tries to argue that the Palestinians have taken on the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr. I don't think I can imagine a more fitting way to slander the man who was perhaps the greatest American to ever live.

While the writer focuses mostly on the weekly demonstrations in Bil'in and Ni'lin, she gives away her true perspective at the end of the piece:
More civil society actions to highlight Palestinian dispossession are being planned, probably the most spectacular of which will be the next flotilla planned to take place a few months from now. Ordinary civilians from the U.S. will embark on “The Audacity of Hope,” a U.S.-flagged boat, to sail the Mediterranean and bring the world’s attention to the Israeli siege of Gaza. The Israelis have threatened snipers and attack dogs against unarmed people but ultimately, the worldwide effort to end this siege will succeed. That is because this action is in the spirit of the great civil rights movement 50 years ago and demonstrates the power of ordinary people to withstand whatever armies have in mind for them.
This is unbelievable. It takes a truly mendacious individual to compare the situation in Gaza today to that which existed in the southern U.S. 50 years ago. I think we should just take a minute here and compare the rhetoric of the leadership of the two communities.

First, Dr. King:
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. (source
And now let's look at Hamas, the leadership of Gaza:
(The economic crisis is the result of) "bad administrative and financial management and a bad banking system put into place and controlled by the Jewish lobby."
(The Jewish lobby) "controls the U.S. elections and defines the foreign policy of any new administration in a manner that allows it to retain control of the American government and economy."
- (Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhum, October 7, 2008; as reported by AFP and other news agencies)
"...the Jewish faith does not wish for peace nor stability, since it is a faith that is based on murder: 'I kill, therefore I am'... Israel is based only on blood and murder in order to exist, and it will disappear, with Allah's will, through blood and Shahids [martyrs]."
- (Dr. Yussuf Al-Sharafi, Hamas representative, April 12, 2007; as reported by Palestinian Media Watch, April 23, 2007)
"This is Islam, that was ahead of its time with regards to human rights in the treatment of prisoners, but our nation was tested by the cancerous lump, that is the Jews, in the heart of the Arab nation... Be certain that America is on its way to utter destruction, America is wallowing [in blood] today in Iraq and Afghanistan, America is defeated and Israel is defeated, and was defeated in Lebanon and Palestine... Make us victorious over the community of infidels... Allah, take the Jews and their allies, Allah, take the Americans and their allies... Allah, annihilate them completely and do not leave anyone of them."
- (Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Bahar, acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, April 20, 2007; as reported by Palestinian Media Watch, April 23, 2007) (source)
Yes, clearly it's exactly the same thing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Silly Headline But Bradley Burston Makes Some Good Points ...

Having met Bradley Burston I can say that he is a genuinely nice guy even though I don't agree with a lot of his politics.

His most recent column features the rather sensationalist headline "Think Israel's a lost cause? Ten reasons to think again."

While that headline seems a bit over the top to me Burston goes on to point out some interesting developments taking place in Israel's political scene right now. I'll point out two things that appeal to me since they happen to criticize my favorite Israeli political target, Avigdor Lieberman.
1. Avigdor Lieberman may be a lost cause.
At the weekend, veteran journalists Dan Margalit and Mordechai Gilat reported that prosecution officials concur with police recommendations that be indicted on charges of taking bribes, fraud, and money laundering, and that a decision would be made by the beginning of February.
WHY THIS MATTERS: Lieberman, whose party received only 12.5 percent of the vote in the 2009 election, has effectively blocked the entry of Kadima into the government, and thus quashed any chance of peace progress with the Palestinians.
2. Lieberman's dark laws may be a lost cause.
There is every reason to believe that none of Lieberman's party's long list of anti-democratic bills will actually become law. Media reports have made it seem as though bills which have been approved by the cabinet and passed a preliminary Knesset vote have become law, but Yisrael Beiteinu's entire legislative agenda is gummed up in committee, and the ruling coalition is in turmoil over vocal Likud opposition to Lieberman's flagship vendetta against human rights organizations.
WHY THIS MATTERS: Only 12.5 percent of Israelis voted for Lieberman's ostentatiously racist agenda. Russian immigrants voted for Lieberman because he promised to make them, for the first time, real Israelis. In the end, he has only made the rest of Israel see them more strikingly as Russian.
On the second point, I've tried explaining this before when people wail and moan about Lieberman. So far the man hasn't achieved anything, thank G-d, and hopefully enough of his supporters have seen how ineffective and misguided he is that they won't vote for him in the next election.

One can only hope.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Karl Vicks Article was Horribly Biased, But …

Jennifer Rubin responded to the ridiculous Karl Vick hit piece against Israel that was published in Time recently. She is right to criticize this article, but I think she goes too far in defending the proposed legislation that is featured in the piece.

In the article Vick mixes together all kinds of different government actions and news events in order to paint a picture of Israel sliding towards right-wing extremism. He unfairly attributes this to Netanyahu when most of the proposed legislation has in fact come from Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. It's important to note that nothing that Lieberman or his party have proposed has actually passed into law. His proposals have merely passed various stages of committees while not being voted on by the full Knesset. But let's contrast that to the tone in Vicks article:
Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions. These include Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers that has published a book of testimonies detailing human-rights abuses, which the former soldiers say they witnessed while serving in the West Bank; the rights group B'Tselem, which documents abuses by settlers and security forces in the West Bank; Gisha, which monitors the plight of Palestinians caught between Hamas and Israeli collective punishment in the Gaza Strip; and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which recently reported in gruesome detail the plight of African economic immigrants, who are commonly referred to "infiltrators."
Wow, how much crap can you throw at Israel in one paragraph? This is the main problem with Vick's article. He uses the existence of these organizations, that are trying to prevent abuses in Israel, to tarnish the entire country. Then he uses the desire to investigate their sources of funding as evidence that Israel is simply trying to suppress these organizations from using their right to free expression.

It isn't as simple as that. Many of the MKs that supported the investigation most likely did so to understand where these groups were getting their funding and if that included any countries hostile to Israel.

I actually think that this investigation is highly flawed and it does paint worrying signs about Lieberman and his party. There are already sufficient systems in place to ensure that organizations declare their funding in a transparent way. Those systems, including the office of Israel's attorney general who opposed the investigation, should be trusted to oversee these groups in an objective and non-partisan manner.

However, Vick uses this issue and Lieberman's radicalism, and even the opposition of some Lukid members to the proposal, as a club to beat Israel.

I agree with Rubin in her criticism of Vick's article. But I think she goes too far to try and support Leiberman's proposal. Rubin provided responses to the article from an Israeli government source and from CAMERA:
Israel's Knesset voted to establish a parliamentary committee to examine international sources of funding for Israeli organizations that "aid the de-legitimization of Israel through harming IDF soldiers."
As Ronen Shoval, head of the Im Tirtzu organization that has exposed linkages between extremist NGO's and the notorious Goldstone Report, writes in Ha'aretz: "During the past year, the vast majority of the public became convinced that the organizations that call themselves human rights groups actually belong to the extreme left and seek to force their radical values on others through foreign funding." Much of the far left, which supports the extreme NGO's, has risen in fury at the prospect of parliamentary inquiries into funding. Karl Vick's story parrots the indignation of those who have previously dispensed biased, false attacks against Israel with impunity.
This to me is a highly flawed motivation for an investigation. The focus should not be on the content of the criticism from these organizations. Individuals and organizations have the right to say whatever they want and to voice whatever opinion they want within the established legal limits of free speech. That would exclude speech that calls for violence or that is slander or libel.

What should be a focus, and is already enshrined in law, is whether these organizations are receiving funding from enemy states or charities that are actually fronts for terror organizations. Fortunately Israel's legal system already addresses this issue and is competent enough to handle the task without interference from the Knesset or Avigdor Lieberman.

The bottom line is that it is possible to criticize the Lieberman investigation without bashing Israel, which Karl Vick and many media organizations fail at miserably. It is also possible to defend Israel without supporting the policies of one extreme politician with little real-world influence.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Goldberg or Lozowick ???

Two of my favorite bloggers are Jeffrey Goldberg of Goldblog fame and Yaacov Lozowick. While I would imagine that Jeffrey Goldberg is much more widely read than Dr. Lozowick, I view them as being two of the leading voices on Israel.

I have said here that Goldberg is one of my intellectual heroes, but I don't agree with him 100% of the time. A recent example is the case of the Shepard Hotel in Jerusalem. Both Goldberg and Lozowick wrote about the issue and I respect the opinions of both of them, but I think that I have been more convinced of late by Dr. Lozowick and his perspective that Jerusalem can't and shouldn't be divided.

First this is what Goldberg had to say on the issue:
Peace will not come without the birth of a Palestinian state on the West Bank which has its capital in East Jerusalem. I'm as sure of that as I am of anything in the Middle East. Of course, peace may not come even with the birth of this state -- I'm no longer quite so sure in the possiblity, or at least in the availability, of peace -- but it will surely never happen without it. This is why, of course, certain right-wing Jewish groups, aided and abetted by different factions in Israel's chaotic government, are seeking to populate East Jerusalem with Jews: to prevent the birth of a Palestinian state. These particular Jews operate under the delusion that Israel< can keep control of the Arab neighborhoods of forever, and most of the West Bank forever, without negative consequences. They are drastically wrong. Eventually, something is going to give. At a certain point in the not-so-distant future, Israel will either cease to be a Jewish state, or it will cease to be a democracy. Attempts to abort the birth of a Palestinian state only hasten this moment of decision.

First, I share Goldberg's pessimism about peace. There isn't going to be a negotiated solution here for many reasons and Jerusalem is certainly chief among them. But I disagree that Jews are moving to Jerusalem specifically for the purpose of preventing the creation of a Palestinian state. I think most Israeli Jews, my self included, see Jerusalem as a separate issue and one that has a value that is completely separate from Israel's control of the West Bank. No matter what the right says, Hebron, Shiloh, and Schem are not the same as Jerusalem. Most Israelis want to separate from the Palestinians and to leave the West Bank. But I'm not certain that a majority of Israelis are ready to withdraw from the parts of Jerusalem, namely the old city, that would be necessary for a successful division.

Now let's see what Dr. Lozowick has to say on the issue. You really must read the whole post he wrote. It is far more educational than anything you will find in a main stream publication:
Near the top of the building you can see the logo of Briyut Klalit - twice. Once in Hebrew (right) and once in Arabic (left). Briyut Klalit is the name of the largest health insurance organization in Israel. The building, and the compound around it, is an Israeli institution, but since this particular branch serves the Arab population of Wadi Jose, most of its staff are Arab, and the language spoken in its hallways is mostly Arabic. So if you're dividing the city along ethnic lines, what is it? Do you go by the identity of the organization or the identity of the clients? If you decide it's Palestinian, the Israelis will of course shut down the building and its services, leaving the locals with no health service. If it's Israeli, then you're going to have to draw an international border between the health center and its clients, who will live in a different country and won't be eligible for its services. (And why should they be? Health services are paid by from the Israeli budget, from taxes collected from Israeli citizens. Not citizens of Palestine.
If the health center stays in Israel, the fence between it and the Shepherd Hotel compound will then be an international border. If there are Israelis living in the Shepherd area by the time the border gets drawn, the other fence of the compound will be the border. It's hard to see how either scenario is an existential threat to peace making, since the two fences are about 150 yards apart.
On the other hand, it's easy to see why the whole concept of drawing an international border along fences of properties might perhaps not be such a good idea. In the real world, I mean. From time to time I take foreign visitors for walks along the line the peace-makers propose, and am often asked why they don't see the division can't possibly work. I have no answer to this. Then my visitors ask me what the solution will be: if dividing the city will be a calamity, how do we reach peace? So far as I know, no-one has an honest answer to that.
This is something that Lozowick offers that almost no one else does; an up-close, realistic look at what it would take to divide Jerusalem. The really interesting thing is that this example would be relatively easy to resolve compared to the nightmare that is the old city. And of course, it's the old city that really matters anyway.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Avigdor Lieberman Rises to New Levels of Jackassery

Jackassery isn't a word, but it should be. Our Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has taken his stupidity and thuggishness to new heights and surely he deserves to have a new word created in his honor.

I used to cringe when Israel's critics described Lieberman as a fascist, but now there's not much you can say about the man that will upset me. I still don't think it's fair to call him a fascist, however. He doesn't have the intellectual capacity to form an ideology, so he can't properly be described as having one as complex as fascism.

What has got me so worked up? Yesterday Lieberman spoke out on his party's new bill to investigate NGOs to determine the source of their funding. On the face of it, this appears to be a legitimate goal. Political organizations that receive funding from foreign countries should be upfront about the sources of the money. So if this was a general overview of all political organizations to make sure they are following the guidelines of full disclosure that would be OK. But Lieberman makes it clear that is not the case:
Speaking at the opening of a Yisrael Beiteinu faction meeting, Lieberman accused opponents of the probe of presenting false facts about the proposal, and those who groups which would be investigated.
"[The proposed probe] does not include the Geneva Initiative and Peace Now, which are legitimate, and there is no intention to investigate groups that are truly involved in politics and human rights," Lieberman said. "The only groups to be investigated are those whoses [sic] goals are to deter the IDF from its fight against terrorism."
"Looking at the facts, we are asking why don't they protest about Gilad Shalit. They always argue that Israel is not right. These are organizations that aid terrorism, and whose goals are to weaken the IDF and the state of Israel.
So basically Lieberman has come out and says that the organizations will be investigated because of their political orientation and not some objective legal framework. Lieberman, apparently thinking he is the king of Israel, says that organization "A" is ok, but clearly organization "B" is not.

How is this even remotely OK. If Lieberman wants to set a legal standard about countries that can't be used as sources of funding, or if he wants to make sure that organizations are clear in the reporting of their funding those are legitimate issues.

But when you start saying that organizations have to tow a specific political line, then you are policing people's thoughts and that goes against one of the most basic tenets of democracy.

Again, I don't think this proves that Lieberman is against democracy. He just doesn't understand what it means. Lieberman has the political knowledge and sophistication of those weird crazy people who start up conversations with you while you're waiting for the bus. It's extremely depressing that he somehow managed to slime his way into the role of Foreign Minister.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

What Bi'lin Looks Like on a Friday Afternoon ...

I like to think of myself as a moderate, and a centrist. If you look at my blog roll you'll see that I've included both right-leaning sites and left-leaning sites. Is it completely balanced? No. But I would say that's an indication of the fact that the English speaking Israeli and Jewish blogosphere tends to lean to the right.

At any rate, one of the left-leaning bloggers that I try to follow is Lisa Goldman. I generally find her stuff well written and thought provoking, and I think that she is one of the more trust worthy bloggers on the left. I've been reading her stuff on and off for years now. But I've found recently that her tone has taken a harder turn towards more radical positions. I also follow her on Twitter and there were a few tweets about last Friday's demonstration in Bi'lin that made me want to write this post.
There are members of Knesset and visitors from Europe in Bil'in. They are all unarmed. And the army is attacking them.
Massive publicity, int'l media & EU parlliament members come to Bil'in & IDF's response is EVEN WORSE.
Well, I wasn't at the event in Bi'lin, the one last Friday or the one before that, so I can't say personally what happened. Fortunately, pro-Palestinian activists make sure to film the event. I think we can assume that these videos are edited to make the Israeli army look as bad as possible. I've typed up what happens in the first video (with a few notes about the second), so if you want you can just read my description, but I really recommend that you watch the videos for yourself to get an accurate picture of these "demonstrations." Please keep in mind these videos are showing the Palestinian perspective.

00:00 - 1:10 - Music, chanting, marching and demonstration.

1:11 - First view of the Israelis soldiers standing and waiting.

1:25 - More chanting, Palestinians push open the yellow gate leading to the fence.

1:46 - Palestinians make contact with the fence and start climbing on it. (In the second video they start pulling down the fence, see 1:34.)

1:53 - Palestinians run away as they are sprayed by the "Skunk," an extremely foul smelling liquid (described as a combination of dead bodies and feces).

2:05 Palestinians respond by throwing stones at the skunk machine.

2:45 - Young Palestinians throw stones and get yelled at by other Palestinians.

2:54 - More stone throwing, Israeli soldiers stand around and do nothing.

3:34 - Israeli soldiers respond with tear gas. People continue to walk around near the tear gas without being greatly affected. Stone throwing continues.

At about this point in the second video you see two men injured, but there is no way to know how they were injured.

4:10 - More tear gas.

4:33 - More skunk

5:55 - Yes, tear gas is painful.

6:13 - More stones, more tear gas

6:30 - Israeli soldiers cross the fence and start moving towards the stone throwers.

7:00 The Palestinians start moving back towards the village. The Israelis uses more tear gas and flash bang grenades.

7:36 - Note the way the Israelis fire the tear gas, in the air, at about a 60 degree angle. This is the way tear gas is meant to be fired.

8:20 - A Palestinian lectures the Israelis, in Hebrew, about killing everyone in the village. The Israelis ignore him.

What always amazes me is that these videos are trying to make the Israelis look as bad as possible, but what do we see? The most basic break-down of events is this. Palestinians try to pull down the fence, the Israelis use the skunk, the Palestinians throw stones, the Israelis use tear gas. Rinse, repeat.

Being opposed to the fence is one thing, being opposed to Israel's control of the West Bank is another. I actually think both of those positions are legitimate. I personally support the fence and think that while Israel ultimately needs to leave the majority of the West Bank, it's not that simple of an issue.

But I can't look at this video and see how you can fault the IDF for it's actions. How can you legitimately say "There are members of Knesset and visitors from Europe in Bil'in. They are all unarmed. And the army is attacking them."

That is not a reasonable statement that accounts for a nuanced situation which includes violence from both sides.

Should the soldiers simply allow the Palestinians to pull down the fence? Should the soldiers simply stand back as the Palestinians riot and throw stones? Should they wait until someone fires live ammunition? What?

The video seems to show a measured and calculated response to Palestinian initiated actions. I would love to have someone explain to me how it isn't.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Lisa Goldman Makes a Technical Error ...

One of the left leaning bloggers that I have been reading regarding the Jawaher Abu Rahmah case is Lisa Goldman. She wrote a long post on her site about the incident which you can read here.

She made some claims, or at least repeated claims made by others, that appear to be factually incorrect. I'm focusing specifically on this.
According to the website MySay, the army uses a type of tear gas that is the most toxic and dangerous type available. The gas, known by the acronym CS, was outlawed in the UK as far back as 1964 due to concerns over its many side effects – one of which is the potentially deadly accumulation of fluids in the lungs several hours after exposure to the gas.
In her post she links to this report to back up her claims. However, it seems that report doesn't confirm her statements and actually contradicts one of them.

First, it seems that CS is not currently banned in the UK. The Wikipedia article on CS contains numerous references to the use of CS in the UK. It does imply that there were calls to ban CS in 2006 after this incident, in which a man was scarred after he was directly sprayed in the face with CS.

Secondly, the report states that CS is not the most toxic form of tear gas. In a table on the "Factors influencing the effect of exposure to tear gas" that reports states the following:
Potent toxicity of the product (chloroacetophenone is more toxic than chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile)
Just to clarify, chloroacetophenone is known as CN and chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile is known as CS.

Additionally, the report backs up the IDF claims in some way, that CS has never killed anyone when used outdoors. The report specifically mentions that deaths resulted when the gas was used in a confined space:
Several cases of death have been attributed to the use of chloroacetophenone in confined spaces. Some of the deaths in the 1993 siege on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, were attributed to the use of large amounts of chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile in a confined space.
Also the report lists the following in the same table I referenced earlier:
Environmental factors
  • Confined space
  • Poor ventilation
Again, there is nothing to support the idea that a normal, healthy woman could be killed by tear gas while standing in an open area. Also, the report Goldman linked to shows that CS is NOT the most toxic form of tear gas.

There are serious questions to be asked about this case and they need to be asked.

My Two Cents on Jawaher Abu Rahmah ...

I was all set to try and write a detailed, balanced post on the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah who was allegedly killed after inhaling tear gas fired by the IDF at a recent demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil'in. Then I saw this article in Haaretz written by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff and realized they had done a far better job than I ever could.

I've said before (maybe) that these two writers are among the few worth reading at Haaretz. They don't dissapoint in this story which is balanced, thoughtful, and frighteningly reasonable.

They acknowledge that something doesn't makes sense about the claims from the Palestinians while also looking at the IDF claims with an apropriate level of skepticism. They conclude that there are few established facts in the case, and that little hard evidence actually exists.
According to testimonies from villagers and demonstrators, Abu Rahmah was hurt by the gas. However, it's reasonable to assume that this wasn't the sole cause of death. She had some health problem that caused headaches and dizziness, and stained her skin, but in the medical documents this is not described as the cause of death.

It is possible that there was a combination of factors. Beyond this, if it was the gas that killed her, as was claimed, one would have expected that others near her would have also suffered injury. A young woman that was near Abu Rahmah said that she was only lightly affected by the gas.
The thing that bothers me most about this incident is how readily individuals and the media, both inside Israel and internationally, were willing to accept the Palestinians claims without the one thing that would actually support them: an autopsy.

No autopsy was performed. No matter what you believe about Israel or the Palestinians, it is impossible to say one way or another what killed this woman without an autopsy. Especially if we are to believe that she was somehow poisoned by tear gas.

This is one of the things about this conflict that drives me mad. In any other situation the word "murder" is used with the gravity it deserves, but here it is tossed around without a second thought. Why are so many people, so many Israelis, ready to accuse their own army of murder without demanding the same level of evidence that they would expect for even the most well known criminal?

I just don't understand.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Andrew Sullivan Makes a Stupid Statement ...

Oh for crying out load. Andrew Sullivan, who I actually like in a lot of ways, makes another plainly stupid statement about Israel. This one came in reaction to Goldblog's post worrying, too much, about the future of Israel's democracy.

Sullivan is also apparently worried about Israel, and the focus of his concern seems to be Avigdor Lieberman. Regular readers of this blog, if there are any, know that I have no love for Lieberman. Actually, I rather dislike our Foreign Minister. If a Kansas tornado were to pick up a small farmhouse furnished with farm girl and dog, and then drop said farmhouse onto Mr. Lieberman, I wouldn't shed a tear.

That, being said Sullivan's latest statement is just stupid.
What panics me is that the Israel that I see today is not the Israel I thought I knew only two years ago. Avigdor Lieberman is the de facto leader of the country, commanding its foreign policy, defying its prime minister, enraging allies, forswearing any peace.
I'm sorry, Lieberman just doesn't matter that much and everyone knows it. He is a joke and his only real power comes from his ability to embarrass Netanyahu and the Israeli public. He is popular with his voters, of which he has a few, but he is reviled by most other Israelis.

He is like an annoying prankster. He can ruin things and annoy people and embarrass and do other stupid things. But he has no real ability to do anything. The world community doesn't work with him, and the Americans have been conducting their talks with either Netanyahu directly or with Ehud Barack.

Sullivan isn't the first observer to exaggerate Lieberman's importance. Not too long ago Newsweek magazine promoted him to the position of Israel's most popular politician, which is odd since in my four years of living here I have yet to encounter a single Israeli who actually likes him let alone voted for him.

Granted I live in Tel Aviv and don't have many acquaintances from the FSU, but still, if he were so popular I should have encountered at least one person who liked him.

The best analogy that I can come up with is if someone said that Sarah Palin is the de facto leader of the U.S. She was the driving force behind the tea party movement and look how that turned out. Do I really believe that? No. Neither do I believe that Lieberman is the de facto leader of Israel and neither should Andrew Sullivan.

Shmuel Rosner has blogged about Lieberman's popularity here and responded to Goldblog's post as well here. He went over both issues in a more organized fashion so I highly recommend that you read his responses.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Trying to Predict the Future on the Occasion of a New Year …

Well, we are now into the second year of this still young decade at it's hard to figure what the next ten years will be about.

I remember a conversation with my friends about the beginning and the end of decades and how they don't always perfectly line up with the calendar. For example we all agreed that the 90's began somewhere around 91 or 92, about the time Nirvana came on the scene with their first hit. The 80's are a bit tough for me since I was born in 1980, but it seems as if the last few years of the 70's could be thrown into that decade as well. The aughties are the easiest to pinpoint and have an exact date for when the decade truly began, that being September 11th of course.

So I'm left wondering what event will mark the transition from one decade to the next. What I feel pretty confident about, however, is that this decade will bring with it dramatic changes for Israel and the region. I've told people about my prediction privately, but I'll consider this post to be my official registration of the idea. Basically I believe that Israel is in store for a radical change, one that will be the most significant change since 1967, and that it will occur within about five years. I'm not certain what that change will be, but I'm certain that everyone will be able to recognize it when it happens.

Now, why do I believe this? Let's go over my reasons:

A negotiated peace is not going to happen

I've covered this in other posts, but it's worth repeating. There is no chance of there being a negotiated solution to this conflict, at least its Israeli-Palestinian component (there very may well be peace treaties with other Arab countries, but probably not). There are many reasons for this but it boils down to the fact that neither side is capable of making the necessary compromises necessary for a solution.

The status quo is about to collapse

Pressure is building, quickly, to change the situation. The international community is rapidly growing tired with the situation here, as are certain elements within the U.S. The policies of Barack Obama are evidence of this. While Israel would be happy to allow the current situation to carry on indefinitely, it certainly seems that there is an expiration date and that it is coming up soon.

The Palestinians are growing bold

Along with the growing impatience for Israel and the status quo, the Palestinians are reading the willingness of the world to support their position. They realize, more so than Israel, than a negotiated peace is not going to happen. This is why they are pushing for unilateral actions and pressure from Europe and the UN. This is also why the Palestinians are pushing for, and receiving, recognition from other countries.

There will be a trigger

Whether it’s a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians, a UN Security Council resolution calling for Israel to withdraw, or perhaps even a new war or Intafada, something will happen to crush the current quiet that has come over the region.

What will be the outcome?

So here is my official prediction. Before the end of this decade, and probably within about five years, Israel with withdraw from the majority of the West Bank. It will most likely withdraw, unilaterally, to the fence, possibly with some small changes. Israel will not withdraw from any of Jerusalem. I'm not sure how the world will react, but I think the fallout will be manageable. I'm also not sure how the Palestinians will react, nor am I certain that it matters.

Israel is quickly learning that the Gordian Knot with the Palestinians must be cut. I don't think the separation will be pretty, but I do believe that is inevitable and coming soon.

Now all that being said, would I be willing to wager money on my prediction? Not in a million years. The Middle East is a region famous for making predictions look stupid. This part of the world is simply too unpredictable to see the future clearly. But, if I had to bet money on something happening, it would look like the scenario I laid out above. I'm very curious to see how things work out.