Monday, May 31, 2004

What goes around...

When Likud MK Naomi Blumenthal was suspected of giving improper favors to Likud Central Committee members in exchange for their support in the party's primary, Ariel Sharon made a point of ostracizing her from his circle and verbally flogging her in public. Today Blumenthal's verbal attack on the PM let to the end of a Likud faction meeting in which Sharon was to discuss his revised disengagement plan. It would be so ironic indeed if Blumenthal, who hasn't really done a hell of a lot in her political career, plays a central role in the Likud's undoing.

Likud's week of destiny

While some political analysts are saying that in future years we might look back on this week as when the Likud party split, I'm not so sure. Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar says Sharon has unmasked the Likud, while the Jerusalem Post's Tovah Lazaroff says Netanyahu, more than Sharon, needs a compromise that will allow him to support the disengagement plan.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The reason Israel razed Yamit

I had always assumed that Israel's motivation for demolishing all buildings and infrastructure after withdrawing from territory was a kind of punitive measure to prevent the "enemy" from living in Israeli homes, but it turns out that PM Menachem Begin ordered Yamit razed in 1982 to prevent Israeli residents opposed to the peace deal from sneaking back into their homes.

The secret of Appel's success

Israeli businessman David Appel, who is accused of bribing the prime minister, reveals to Haaretz the secret of his success:

"So obviously I see all the metaphysical forces now. I recognize them and know how they work. And this puts me in possession of a billion times more information than you have. I understand how this world operates. I know exactly how every single thing operates. There is no question to which I do not have an answer. And so my ability is exponentially greater. My ability to receive information is unlimited. There is nothing in the universe that I cannot comprehend. Including the secret of matter. There is nothing in the universe whose content and structure I don't know."

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Bullets for sale

At least Israel is benefiting in some way from the Iraq mess. Ths U.S. is buying bullets from Israel Military Industries Ltd. for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Can the U.S. win in Iraq?

Haaretz security affairs analyst Ze'ev Schiff warns that the U.S. government is broadcasting strategic confusion in Iraq.

Ze'ev speaks

Hebrew University Professor Ze'ev Sternhell writes another compelling piece about Israel's need to let go of the territories.

My neighbor the catwoman

My neighbor is Eliza the catwoman. I call her the catwoman because she regularly throws scraps of raw meat to stray cats in the Tel Aviv neighborhood in which I live. The neighorhood of Kerem Hatemanim (literally "the Yemenite vineyard," but there are no grape vines here), is located next to the shuk (market). It's not for everyone, especially the Tzafonim who prefer the sterility and cleanliness of northern Tel Aviv. But the Kerem is between the shuk and the beach, and also within a short walk to Allenby and Sheinkin streets.

But back to Eliza. I guess she must be in her 50s. Her apartment is in the building next to mine, with barely a few meters separating her kitchen windows to the large sliding window to my living room. She's from the old generation of Israelis who have no problem shouting conversations from her window to people in the street or standing in other apartment windows.

She lives with some elderly people. I still haven't figured out exactly how many or who they are. It's at least one, maybe two. I once heard someone ask Eliza how her mother was doing, so maybe she lives with her.

Before I moved in, the former tenants of my apartment warned me about Eliza. They said that she would sometimes throw scraps of meat from her window into their living room for their cat. I often see Eliza returning from the market with plastic bags filled with meat scraps.

"They all know me in the shuk," she proudly told me once upon her return.

One morning changed my life. I saw her walking around topless in her apartment. Believe me when I say that this was not something I wanted to see, nor did I do so intentionally. The window to her kitchen was completely open. In one instant I completely understood Oedipus and what could drive a man to put out his own eyes. To my horror, the image remains seared into my memory today.

If there is a God, then I most certainly committed a terrible sin to have deserved this awful burden.

A few weeks later, unsurprisingly, Eliza began throwing meat from her window to my two dogs. I saw her from my sliding window in my living room and asked her to please stop, although I thanked her for the gesture. I told her that it wasn't good for a dog to eat so much meat, especially on the bone. She agreed to stop.

Less than a week later, I came home to discover a framed photograph of me and my sister taken at her wedding a few years ago lying in pieces on the living room floor. A barbecued chicken leg rested on the table where the photo had stood previously. It must have been after a bad day at work because I went directly to the open window and shouted to Eliza, who was stnding in her kitchen, that if she ever throws meat into my apartment again I would call the police. She feigned ignorance, but when I pointed out the chicken leg as evidence she apologized.

(I can just imagine the conversation if I did call the police:

Voice: This is the police.

Me: Shalom. I know this will sound strange and you have more important things to worry about, but I'm calling because my neighbor throws meat from her apartment window into the living room of my apartment.

Voice on phone: Why is she throwing meat into your apartment?

Me: I have two dogs. I asked her to stop but she continues.)

Several months ago, very late on a Friday night, I was laying in bed with a lady friend when suddenly I heard Eliza shouting from her apartment.

"What's that noise?!? It's the Sabbath!!! There are children in this neighborhood!!!"

She was responding to the sounds of sex coming from a nearby apartment, which we had heard as well. Unfortunately the sounds weren't coming from my own room.

Eliza's partner in crime, Bruria, then joined the fracas. Bruria lives in my building, in the apartment directly above me. She's the only tenant on my side of the building who owns her apartment and isn't renting. She's a grandmother and as unattractive as a grandmother could possibly be without being horribly disfigured. It wouldn't take much computer alteration for her to resemble a non-human character from one of the far away planets in Star Wars. Just change her skin color. Her raspy voice and morning coughing fits give away years of smoking, and I often find her cigarette butts in the flower bed that hangs from my balcony window. (I know they are hers because no one else lives above me.)

"What was that?!? Disgusting!!! It's the Sabbath." Bruria shouted from her balcony. "People are trying to sleep!!"

"Did you hear that?!?" Eliza asked Bruria. "Disgusting!!"

Neither of these women appear to me to be particularly religious, so I don't quite grasp their concern with the alleged violation of religious laws. (Isn't having sex on the Sabbath with one's spouse, for procreation of course, considered a mitzva?). But I can certainly say that if they were ultra-Orthodox, they haven't see a white sheet with a hole in it for many years. But if I ever run into a blind guy who calls himself Oedipus, I'll be sure to ask him if he knows Eliza or Bruria.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Fire the foreign minister!

In any normal country, a foreign minister withholding his support from the prime minister's major diplomatic initiative would be swiftly removed from his post. But this is Israel we're talking about, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is among three Likud ministers - Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Limor Livnat being the otehr two - holding out before deciding whether they will support Sharon's revised disengagement plan. I guess all three aren't thinking about what is best for Israel, but rather who will be king of the mountain the day after Sharon is no longer prime minister.

Was it worth it? Apparently not.

Haaretz security affiars analyst Ze'ev Schiff writes that last week's large-scale military operation in Rafah produced few tangible accomplishments and in essence was meant as a warning to Palestinians to behave themselves after Israel evacuates from the Gaza Strip.

Apparently we've learned nothing about the consequences of destroying Palestinian homes and lives. I'm not saying this because I think the operation was morally wrong, but because it didn't serve Israel's security interests. If the operation accomplished anything, it created a few more Palestinians willing to blow themselves up and take some Israeli civilians with them. I wonder how many of the children who saw their Rafah homes destroyed last week will be in Israeli jails in 10 years?

Shin Bet plays hardball

So last night the Shin Bet arrested British reporter Peter Hounam, who broke the Sunday Times' story some 20 years ago of Mordechai Vanunu's account of Israel's nuclear program in Dimona.

Hounam has made the most of the Vanunu story, covering it for years, and has been in Israel for the past several months so he could cover Vanunu's release from prison in April. (Pictured in this photo taken in April is Hounam on the right hugging Vanunu after his release from jail.)

His arrest must mean that the security establishment is worried about a story Hounam was planning to release. Reports in recent months have said that Israel is more concerned about details being released regarding Vanunu's abduction from Rome and imprisonment than any new revelations about its nuclear program.

The whole thing seems a bit too heavy handed to me, and I think that if the Mossad abducts Israeli citizens from abroad, the Israeli public has a right to know more about such tactics.


The New York Times looks at the obsession of bloggers and asks if anyone is actually reading.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The king is dead

Congratulations to employees of The Jerusalem Post, now free of the tirades of Tom Rose (pictured in photo), who is out as CEO and publisher. Rose's tyrannical antics, which include the firing of a veteran employee who was in the midst of a battle with cancer, are well known to pretty much everyone inside Israel's journalism scene.

Rose's firing wasn't unexpected, since the Post is up for sale after the fallout from Conrad Black's ouster as CEO of Hollinger International, which owns the Post. Along with some other former executives, Black is suspected of taking millions of dollars in "unauthorized payments" from the company during his tenure. (Some people would call it embezzlement.)

Mark Ziman, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer at the Post, will temporarily take over Rose's post until a permanent replacement is found. Ziman isn't exactly known at the Post for his journalistic acumen. At a meeting a few months ago, shortly after it was revealed that recently released nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu would be renting an apartment in Jaffa, Ziman asked colleagues, "So who is this Vanunu guy moving into an apartment near me?"

More on Berg

This New York Times piece sheds some more light on why Nick Berg went to Iraq.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Celebrity sighting

A source close to Not Another Israel Blog spotted former Hezbollah prisoner Elhanan Tennenbaum today in Tel Aviv. He was crossing the street at Sderot Chen near Rabin Square, joined by his daughter and grandchild. The source says that Tennenbaum appeared older and more frail than he has appeared in TV footage.

I'm not so sick as to actually do this, nor am I suggesting that anyone does, but it would have been cruely amusing to sneak up behind Tennenbaum and just give a big scream to check how fried his nerves really are.

While I certainly condemn Tennenbaum for being motivated by financial gain, allegedly to be made in a drug deal, I think the guy has been punished enough. His life is pretty much over and the Israeli public will never forgive him.

What does Grandpa think?

I was surprised to see in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll on Bush's approval rating that the demographic with the highest percentage who disapprove strongly of his performance as president is age 61 and older. Who says you get more conservative as you get older?

The joys of tunneling

Whether you love her or hate her, Amira Hass has an interesting piece in Haaretz today about how the Palestinians dig the tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

Rolling in Tel Aviv

I took my girlfriend bowling tonight in Tel Aviv. While it lacked the warm atmosphere one finds in lanes in the U.S., which feature a layer of stale cigarette smoke in the air, overweight Americans drinking beer and eating french fries between rolls and serious bowlers with various kinds of mechanical appendages attached to their throwing limb, it was fun nonetheless.

The bowling lanes we went to, located in the mall in the KLM (or Shekem) building on Ibn Gvirol Street, even have a league that meets 8 PM on Wednesday nights. I'm tempted to check it out, if only to see what kind of Israeli bowls.

As far as my performance, my first game was a disaster with a score somwhere under 90, but my second was much more respectable 137.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Do suicide bombers grow on trees?

Although I've grown a bit tired of the Friedman shtick, I recommend his latest column on the recruitment of suicide bombers.

Sexism and the conflict

Today I was considering writing a response to Sarah Honig's latest column in The Jerusalem Post, but decided that by doing so it would lend credit to her line of argument which is pretty much just a collection of accusations against the left and lacking any coherence.

But something Honig mentioned did stir my thoughts and that was the role of Israeli women in the debate regarding the conflict with the Palestinians.

It seems that Israeli society grants women who speak out on the conflict a certain legitimacy withheld from men. As women, with the image society imposes on women and mothers in particular, right-wing columnists such as Sarah Honig and Caroline Glick enjoy a certain added authority to comment on the situation. Mothers naturally worry about protecting their young, so ostensibly Honig and Glick take their positions with the best interests of our children at heart, and women are incapable of being war-mongers like men.

But this is where we are mistaken, and in fact, I would argue that we are guilty of intellectual sexism that cheapens the arguments of men and women alike and impairs our ability to objectively and rationally evaluate the content of the author's
message, regardless of his/her gender.

We make the same mistake, albeit in the opposite direction, when evaluating the argument made by some former senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces for a political solution to the conflict with the Palestinians - assuming that the former officer is motivated by security interests.

In her piece, Honig uses the authority we grant her as a woman to speak on security matters and condemns women from the left-wing Four Mothers movement. We unconsciously credit her for not been swayed by her maternal and emotional instincts which society as a whole believes affect the ability of women to think rationally. On the other hand, the left-wing deems women from the Four Mothers movement as having the authority of motherhood while the right-wing sees them as being misled by their idenity as women and mothers.

It's certainly no accident that the Four Mothers movement chose this name. They did so in order to call attention to the fact that they are mothers, and thus to accentuate the maternal concern for one's child, in this case for children serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

But this doesn't serve our interests as a country in thinking clearly to fidn a solution. Too much of the discourse here on the conflict, on both the left and right, is based on emotional appeal. This helps give readers of their favorite political columnists a fix by providing a sense of moral superiority, it doesn't advance our cause as a country and is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.

Finally, I must comment on the tone of Honig's column. While I identify myself as a leftist, I have never felt the need to identify the right-wing or settlers as the enemy. Yet Honig, speaking of Israeli leftists opposed to the operation in Rafah, has no such qualms. She quotes a 1942 piece by Orwell on the war against Fascism: "If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me.'"

So, Sarah, I ask you one simple question. If we are at war, and I am against you, what course of action should be taken? The venom oozing from your piece would suggest you favor a firing squad for the enemy from within. I hope that I'm mistaken.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Column None: Glick’s tricks

In the first in what I hope will become a regular feature on Not Another Israel Blog – I will respond to Caroline Glick’s weekly column in The Jerusalem Post. Let’s get started.

In her latest contribution, Caroline targets Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new disengagement plan, which calls for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a few isolated settlements in the northern West Bank. She wastes no time in utilizing the weapon of mass destruction when it comes to discrediting peace plans. She claims by that Sharon’s new disengagement plan “comes straight from Yossi Beilin’s drawing board.” Well then, if that’s the case, then it really must be a bad idea. But let’s not stop there. By this logic, anything connected to Yossi Beilin is bad for Israel, bad for the Jews.

Don’t insult our intelligence, Caroline. Criticize the plan on its own merits, not because leaving the Gaza Strip was once the idea of leftists like Beilin and former Labor Chairman Amram Mitzna. (By the way, why do you need to pick on Amram? The poor guy lasted just a few months as head of the Labor Party and didn’t even have a chance to implement any peace plans whatsoever.) Oh, and the last time I checked it’s not just Sharon and the left-wing extremists who brought us Oslo who want to quit Gaza, but also the vast majority of Israelis. The use of the "Beilin weapon" is is just a cheap emotional appeal to the visceral reaction most Israelis have to anything connected to the architect of the Oslo Accords.

Caroline also argues that allowing international troops into Gaza “would automatically harm Israel’s national interest of ensuring the security of its citizens and the inviolability of its territory.” Well, keeping international troops out of the Strip has certainly been effective in recent years. Just ask the families of the soldiers killed two weeks ago in Gaza during operations to protect settlers. The difference here is that when it comes to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, “the inviolability of its territory” of which Caroline speaks includes settlements. Only this time, we will be removing the settlements in the Gaza Strip. No more Israeli presence in the Strip. End of the Greater Israel dream. Time to get over it.

Caroline cites continuing attacks by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, despite the presence of UN troops there, and the UN’s concealing of information regarding the Hezbollah kidnapping/killing of three IDF troops along the border as another reason not to trust Israel's security to international forces.

I’m not going to fall into the trap of defending the UN’s actions here, but it seems to me that the border with Egypt south of the Gaza Strip, where I have done reserve duty and saw UN patrols carrying out inspections to ensure that both sides adhere to the peace treaty, has been pretty quiet since that handshake between Begin, Carter and Sadat. But I’m sure Caroline would have opposed that peace treaty too, had she been old enough to do so.

On another note, Caroline writes that the IDF troops abducted by Hezbollah in October 2000 “were murdered by their kidnappers.” Let’s give Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid and Adi Avitan the respect they deserve. They died during battle or later on from those wounds sustained during battle. Saying they were murdered suggests that they were weak and incapable of defending themselves. I’d like to believe that they gave those Hezbollah bastards a fight, and died doing so. And I’m sure Hezbollah would have preferred taking them alive, because the soldiers would have been more valuable in ransom negotiations with Israel.

It's too bad Caroline feels that she must fan the flames of fear to prevent Israel from leaving the Gaza Strip because I'm sure she could make a contribution to a better policy that will indeed ensure the safety of more Israelis. Maybe it's about getting ratings?

There's so much more I could comment on in her column, but that's all I have for time today.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Get off of my cloud

As a new blogger I'm still getting the hang of things, but it seems to me that this medium, which is so special because it bypasses the media gatekeepers, is under siege by professional bloggers. (I'll call them ploggers until someone tells me the correct term.)

The beauty of the blog is that it allows just about anyone with an idea (and a computer) to put it out there for public consumption and get feedback. (Note that this was once also said about the entire Internet.)

With that said, there are far too many blogs out there being written by people who have no need for them. I'm talking about political columnists and commentators who already have bylines in major newspapers and/or magazines. The gatekeepers have already annointed people like Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Renyolds (instapundit) and Joshua Micah Marshall (Talking Points Memo) to name just a few. (I intentionally didn't provide links to their sites here. They have enough traffic already.) I wonder if their editors, or better yet their agents, had anything to do with
their decision to launch a blog.

In my mind a blogger is just a regular guy who is taking a huge risk by putting his soul out there for us to see, and he does it alone. Does Andrew Sullivan search the webmonkey HTML cheat sheet to figure out how to wrap text around an image? I doubt it. When I read Talking Points Memo, am I reading Joshua Micah Marshall's raw thoughts or have they been edited just as they would if published by a major newsmagazine?

I guess all bloggers are driven in part by some kind of self-promotion, but can't these professional bloggers stay on their own turf or at least call themselves something else, because in my mind I don't think they're really bloggers.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The Barghouti dilemma

The Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday convicted Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti in the deaths of five people in three terror attacks. Before proceeding I feel I must preface this by stating that by no means do I condone Barghouti's actions nor can I accept them as legitimate resistance by the Palestinians. With that said (I guess it's my attempt to not be dismissed as an extreme leftist by my readers before I even begin), let's get started.

I'm confused about putting him on trial in a civil court. Israeli
politicians, especially those on the right, have rushed to characterize the current conflict with the Palestinians as "war." Doing so helps to justify certain actions against "the enemy," which might be considered too brutal in the case of an uprising or too demanding, in the case of calling on the Israeli public to make certain sacrifices, such as more time doing reserve military duty.

But if we are in a state of war, is it correct to put Barghouti on trial in a civil court and punish him according to such standards? If we are in war, then it seems Barghouti must be considered a military commander. Did he commit war crimes?

The Tel Aviv Court ruled Thursday that Barghouti was directly responsible for three attacks: the January 2002 terror attack on a gas station in Givat Ze'ev in which Israeli Yoela Chen was murdered; the June 2001 attack in which a Greek monk was murdered in the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim; and the March 2002 attack at Tel Aviv's Seafood Market restaurant in which three people were murdered, as well as a car bomb attack in Jerusalem.

Is a soldier who intentionally targets and kills civilians during a state of war guilty of commiting war crimes? (One could argue that Ma'aleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev, because they are both located in territory Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, are disputed areas, but does this justify targeting civilians there? In any case, the other attack took place in Tel Aviv.) If so, then what is the proper forum to put Barghouti on trial?

Barghouti was also convicted Thursday of membership in a terror
organization. This seems strange to me considering that he's a
Palestinian and was living in the West Bank. If the defendant was an Arab citizen of Israel, then I could understand this charge. But using the reasoning Israel applied to Barghouti, couldn't a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces who drove a bulldozer that demolished a Palestinian home be charged in a Ramallah court with belonging to a terror organization? Not because the IDF is a terror organization, but rather that the Palestinian court could define it as such and therefore convict the soldier.

Again, I feel I must repeat that I deplore Barghouti's actions. But it seems that there is a legal dilemma here. The trial also points out the difficulty in characterizing the conflict and the implications of doing so.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Our man in Washington?

Well, here is where I will perhaps really offend someone. Good thing this is an anonymous blog. If you haven't yet read the JTA News piece about Jay Footlik then I recommend that you do - to see an example of the joke the Jewish press has become. Perhaps I'm just jealous of this former Clinton aide with "Hollywood good looks" who has now become Kerry's top Jewish outreach person and whose wife is "an Israeli model and actress" and "part of an established Brazilian-Israeli family." (What the hell does "established Brazilian-Israeli family" mean? That she has lots of money? Sounds like something my grandmother would want to say about my girlfriend: "You know, she's from an established family.")

I could have puked while reading the long list of prominent Democrats practically fighting over who can pay Footlik a higher compliment. You'd think the guy paid them services even Monica didn't give Clinton.

Perhaps Footlik is good at what he does, but this article by Ron Kampeas depicted him as the caricature of the all too common AIPAC/Democrat/political hack.

Sign I'm getting old?

On a lighter subject, I'm wondering about the more provacative messages on T-shirts worn by Israeli girls and women these days. Is this more prominent in Israel than in the U.S.? Does my raising this issue mean I'm growing more conservative as I age?

Just walk down Tel Aviv's trendy Sheinkin street for a sampling of the latest. Variations on the number 69 are always popular. (Why don't they just wear a shirt with an illustration of the sexual act itself?) "Kiss me if you can" is another one I saw recently. Usually it's girls in their teens wearing the apparel in question, but the other day I saw a woman who must have been in her 40s or early 50s with the following message: "Let me be your pink lady." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Weren't the pink ladies a Rydell High School group of girls in the film Grease? I was tempted to ask her, but was afraid she might take me up on the offer.

More of the usual

It was only a matter of time before one of those IDF shells would in one fell swoop kill a significant number of Palestinian civilians, children naturally among them, and spur the international community to call on Israel to halt the Rafah operation. The Haaretz Web quoted the army as saying that the tank shell in question had "deviated" from its path. What is that supposed to mean? I'm just a tank driver, not a gunner, but I can't recall any instance of this happening during my military service. I guess "deviated" is another way of saying "We screwed up. Sorry for killing the kids."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Illusions of the left

Standing among the 150,000 Israelis (at least that's what the news reports said) at Saturday night's rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, I found myself shocked at the high turnout. Talking with friends who were also there I found that they were surprised too. One person told me it was the biggest left-wing rally in Rabin Square since the one that immediately followed the Rabin assassination. It seemed as if many people there had this look on their face expressing a sense of disbelief that the left could actually put on an impressive demonstration expressing strength in numbers. Like many others, I had thought that only the right-wing and settlers were capable of such political activism today. The irony is that the Likud rejection of Sharon's plan to leave Gaza was the catalyst - and this reflects the weakness of the left, despite Saturday night's impressive turnout. No leader or peace plan from the left motivated the masses to come to Rabin Square. Attempts in recent years to do so had failed, and many of those at the rally Saturday night were familiar with the pathetic rallies because they had attended them.

The question now is what the left-wing leaders will do with this momentum. I wasn't particularly impressed by the speeches of the politicans Saturday night. Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, MK Amir Peretz, Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin and Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres were among the featured speakers.

In my opinion, Ayalon, who with Palestinian activist Sari Nusseibeh is behind "The People's Voice" peace initiative, had the most interesting speech. (I recommend Avirama Golan's opinion piece in Haaretz on Ayalon's comments.) He chastised organizers and the crowd for not doing enough to reach out to the religious sector - as the event was held too close to the end of the Sabbath for them to attend. He wondered aloud why if we were a majority of the country such a relatively small number of people had come to Rabin Square. He also set out red lines for peace - such as no return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, which was met with enthusiastic applause from the crowd - but I'm sure not from the Gush Shalom extremists.

But I have one question for Ayalon: When are you going to enter politics yourself? It seems as if there is a large number of center-leftist figures in Israel who do not hesitate to publish peace plans, criticize the policies of the current government, and condemn the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza - but they do so from the comfort of the chairs at board of directors meetings while they are earning millions and the country goes to hell. Former MK and IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak is one of these people. They say they don't want to dirty themselves in politics, and some claim they can exert more influence from outside the political system.

It reminds me of when I came to Israel for the first time some nine years ago and then-President Ezer Weizmann addressed our group, which was spending some 10 months in the country. Like the old-school Israeli he is, he flat out asked us why weren't we immigrating to Israel. When one participant said that it was because of all of the social problems in Israel, Weizmann said that was exactly why we should come to Israel and solve the problems, not just sit on the sidelines.

Is Israel's center-left majority ready to stop sitting on the sidelines?

A great new slogan and design by Peace Now was on display at Saturday's demonstration: 'In a shitty situation, you have to relieve yourself.' The Hebrew verb for relieving oneself is the same for evacuating, as in settlements. Kudos to the copywriter.

(Photo: Agnes Meisel)

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Tips for the Labor Party

With Haaretz reporting Friday that Ehud Barak is preparing to run for prime minister, and the Likud party's recent rejection of PM Sharon's plan to leave the Gaza Strip, as I ran this evening along the Tel Aviv beach I found myself formulating campaign strategy for the Labor Labor. So, what follows is an open letter to Labor, although I have serious questions about their ability to run.

[As an aside, I'm afraid that Barak is the only Laborite with the security credentials that will be needed to defeat Sharon or Netanyahu. I must confess that I'm certainly not a big fan of Barak's management style, which alienated almost everyone in his own party, nor his political savvy, which led to his quick exit and the complete collapse of the left, but who else is there? Any suggestions?]

So here's what I think the Labor candidate needs to do:

-Take responsibility for the Oslo Accords and admit that it didn't work. But stress that it didn't work because of Arafat. Demonize him. End the perception of Labor and Arafat together. No more photos of Peres and Arafat with their Nobel Prize awards. It would help if Peres would give interviews to major newspapers laying all blame on Arafat, calling him a dirty liar, a terrorist, a son of a bitch, the son of a thousand whores (I think it was the Syrian army chief who said this about Arafat a few years ago), whatever it takes.

It also wouldn't hurt to say something nasty about Yossi Beilin, who now leads the left-wing Yahad party, which used to be Meretz. I have no doubt that the typical Israeli voter, especially those who are undecided, despises him. Nothing personal, Yossi, but you come across as a smart ass, and you still insist that Oslo was a success.

-Promise you'll leave the Gaza Strip. It's like a hot coal in our hands that we're keeping just because the Palestinians want it, but we're getting burned. Get rid of it. This will highlight the fact that the Likud rejected the plan to leave Gaza, when most Israelis want to get the hell out of there.

-Promise that your peace plan will be put before the entire nation in a referendum. This will again call attention to the Likud referendum on Sharon's disengagement plan and the fact that they are out of touch with the will of the Israeli population. It will also change the impression that Oslo was done behind the backs of the Israeli people.

-Screw the religious parties. Sorry, Shimon Peres, but times have changed since the left and the typical religious voter had a common political agenda. I think the last time this was true was when photographs of Knesset members were in black and white, not color. There's no way any of the religious parties, including Shas, will support any peace plan that calls for leaving the territories. Even Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas, came out against Sharon's plan for the Gaza Strip. And the extortion they will demand isn't worth it.

But more importantly, Labor needs to be a viable alternative for leftist Shinui voters. So adopt their platform, but without the overtly anti-religious undertones. End the funds for the corrupt religious institutions and fictional yeshivas, support civil marriage, and most importantly, call for a military draft for everyone - no exemptions for yeshiva students. No one who opposes these positions was going to vote for you anyway.

That's it for now. My ideas on the economy, student loans and job creation will have to wait until my next run along the beach.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

A bit of advice

To my American friends: DON'T GO TO IRAQ!!! This isn't the California Gold Rush!!! I thought this would have been crystal clear after four U.S. contractors were murdered and their bodies mutilated in Falluja, and most recently after Iraqi militants beheaded Nicholas Berg and videotaped the act, which was later posted on an Al Qaeda linked Web site. (Don't you judge me for searching for the link. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.)

I can't even fathom the anguish of Berg's parents who not only must deal with the grief of their son's murder, but also with the fact that video of the beheading is available to anyone with Internet access.

When the war in Iraq first started going sour for the U.S., colleagues from the Israeli newspaper where I was working said the Americans had no idea what they were doing. But apparently this is true not only of the politicians and the military, but to the general public as well. My sympathies go out to Berg's family, but news reports Thursday said he went there to rebuild the cellular infrastructure in the country. I guess Iraqi militants don't appreciate the value of checking email via mobile phone.

Haaretz reported Thursday that Berg was Jewish, which some said may have played a role in his execution, if his captors discovered this fact. (The headline on Haaretz was: 'American Jew Nick Berg, beheaded in Iraq, was becoming more religious.' Is it just me or does this sound like a headline one would find on The Onion?)

In a display of deep understanding of the risks in Iraq, the article quotes Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as saying: "Jews will always be more vulnerable in Iraq." So I hope that after Hoenlein's statement, we'll all be a little bit more careful.

More blood spilled in Gaza

Israelis are waking up this Thursday morning (13 May 2004) to news that five more Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed the previous day in the Gaza Strip.

The news was posted on the CNN Web site late Wednesday night, but was absent from any Israeli-based news sites until early Thursday morning, apparently due to a decision by the censor.

This latest incident comes less than 36 hours after six soldiers died when a large bomb blew up under their armored personnel carrier, in the Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitun. It didn't help matters that the blast set off explosives inside the APC, which the troops were using in an operation the army said was to demolish mortar factories.

Israel could have left the Gaza Strip years ago, but leaving now will give the appearance of fleeing the area and a victory for militant groups, as was the case with leaving south Lebanon, even though Israel is better off for not being there anymore. Why does it always seem that by the time a consensus is reached in the public to withdraw military forces, and the political echelon decides to leave, it's too late. Of course, Likud members who voted last week against Sharon's disengagement plan, which would have included a complete evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements, today are reassuring themselves that the soldiers' deaths provide more evidence of the need to stay. Too bad the Labor Party isn't capable of running a good campaign to capitalize on the fact that the Likud is out of touch from the majority of the Israeli public that favors quitting the Gaza Strip altogether. (I still haven't forgiven Labor for losing the elections after Rabin was assassinated.)