Sunday, October 31, 2004

On Rabin and blind dates

My apologies for not blogging for a few days. I'm afraid a combination of bad blind dates and the GRE kicked my ass.

Like a good leftist, I made an appearance Saturday night at the annual Rabin memorial event held in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square. Like a bad leftist (or maybe an honest one), I left early because I had a blind date.

I'm usually bored at such events, and although I did enjoy the company of some close friends who also attended, this was no exception. Can anything more be said about the assassination? How many religious people were in attendance? I think I saw maybe three people wearing kippot.

The memorial opened as it always does, with the loudspeakers playing an excerpt of the speech Rabin delievered in that same square, just minutes before he was shot dead, and then it was followed by the announcement that the prime minister was dead. I still feel the emotions swell up inside when I hear those words.

At the request of the Rabin family, no "politicians" spoke at the event. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was the lone exception, and his comments were quite political. He said those who do not accept democratic principles were not welcome in Tel Aviv. I guess he meant elements of the right-wing who are calling for refusal to implement the evacuation from Gaza, but technically speaking he could just as easily been referring to someone like me who refuses to serve in the territories.

Former chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau also spoke. I wasn't paying too much attention, being the rabid secularist I am, but he said something about how Rabin was one of all of us, in an apparent effort to depoliticize the man and his legacy.

I left less than an hour into the event. I went to meet my date near her place and we headed to a bar called Paula, which is on the corner of Ben-Yehuda and Ben-Gurion streets. She picked the place as I had never been there.

Anat (not her real name) was quite beautiful, but definitely puts time into it, with bleached blond curly hair and the requisite makeup. Immediately I suspected she might be the typical bourgeois 30-something single woman in Tel Aviv. The fact that she wasn't at the memorial event was a point against her in my mind.

"Aren't you scared of going to such events?" she asked me early in the conversation. I found this to be a strange question considering they haven't been the site of terror attacks. Even stranger when she told me of her recent trip to Thailand, where Al-Qaida could target the Israeli hot spots.

Anat told me about her work as an accountant for the government tax office, Israel's version of the IRS. She was very proud of a recent promotion and told me of how people are always asking her tax questions.

At this point, less than 15 minutes into the evening, I'm wondering what the hell am I going to talk about with this woman.

I told her of my hopes to become a professor and lecture students. "My parents are both teachers so I guess that's affected me. But I don't want to be a teacher."

Her next comment went somethign like this: "Being a teacher, that's a low-level job. Not intellectually challenging."

Now, the teaching profession in Israel gets a bad rap. They are underpaid and as a result, perhaps the most qualified people don't become teachers. But Anat just told me that my parents are in low-level jobs that aren't intellectually challenging. I decided not to say anything.

At some point Anat talked about how her depressed friend was so amazed by her positive outlook, how she refuses to be depressed, how when she lived in New York for two years people were struck by her positive outlook, and even a New York traffic cop she befriended stopped giving her tickets when she parked her car outside the work.

(She also told me that she's not allowed in the U.S. for several years because she stayed after her visa expired.)

"Is it too late? You said you have to go to work early tomorrow, no?" I asked.

"No, I'm fine. It's not late."

Shit. How much longer do I have to listen to this dribble. And the bar is filled with young Tel Aviv residents, smoking, badly dressed, trying to act sophisticated. I just want to be in a cafe with a good book, or curled up in bed with my basset hound.

"I don't understand how people sleep with dogs," she said at one point. "Don't you think about what she licks."

She told me how she usually comes home from work and goes out with friends. What do I do for fun, she asked. I like to read, go to cafes, walk my dog, run, swim.

"Do you have muscles?" she asked. I couldn't tell if she was kidding or actually so shallow that she thought this was an appropriate question.

I said something like, "Well, that's not something I'll reveal right now." (I didn't know what to say.)

Luckily, after a few awkward silences, she suggested we get the check. I offered to pay, only because I wanted to avoid any interaction with her over dividing it. I put down 70 shekels for the 55 shekel bill and didn't wait for any change because I wanted to get the hell out of there. I walked her home and made the required "Haya naim l'hakir..." ("It was nice to meet you") and headed home.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

I meant Paris

It looks like Arafat is headed to Paris, not Jordan, for medical treatment. I bet Suha, his wife, is relieved. This means she can keep shopping.

I just hope his plane doesn't crash. If it does, Israel will be blamed.

Arafat to be treated in Amman hospital

Yasser Arafat is likely to be taken from his compound in Ramallah to a hospital in Amman, according to Channel One TV.

According to the report, teams of doctors from Tunis, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority feel the ailing Palestinian leader would get better medical care in the Jordanian capital than in the West Bank.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

That was quick: Arafat deteriorating fast

I don't think Arafat is going to last through the night. Haaretz is reporting he's lost consciousness.

All this talk about the Palestinian leader suffering from the flu or gallstone is apparently BS.

So who's going to take control in the Palestinian Authority? My money is on Mohammed Dahlan from the Gaza Strip

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Is Arafat dying? Predict the day and win!

Israeli assessments that Yasser Arafat is suffering from intestinal cancer have strengthened in recent days following reports the Palestinian leader underwent a series of medical checks and even exploratory surgery, Yediot Aharonot reported Tuesday morning

Arafat's wife Suha was even asked to leave Paris to visit the ailing Palestinian leader, the report said. (If Suha is willing to take a break from shopping in Paris and spending aid money meant for the Palestinian people, then Arafat must be ill.)

But Haaretz cites Palestinian officials as saying that Arafat is not suffering from any serious illness.

I'm not sure how much credence I'd put in the Palestinian sources. Of course they're going to say he's fine. I have a feeling he won't last more than a month. He's been visited by several medical teams recently and Israel recently gave him permission to temporarily leave his Ramallah compound and visit a hospital in the West Bank city.

Please post predictions of Arafat's day of death (and political ramifications) in the comments section. The reader (Do I have more than one?) who comes closest wins my respect and the opportunity to post a blog on the site. (Cheap prize, I know, but it's not like I'm making any real money on my Israeli shekel salary.)

Monday, October 25, 2004

Iraqi nickname for U.S. troops: 'The Jews'

It's not like Thomas Friedman needs a link on my insignificant blog to increase his readership, but his latest New York Times column discusses how Iraqis are referring to U.S. soldiers in their country as 'The Jews' and what this says about Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians.

[Harry comments that Friedman compares the far-right in Israel to Hezbollah and that this is inappropriate. My left-wing eyes missed this in my read of the column, but I agree with Harry. See the comments section for more on this.]

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Corrupt Likudniks take a hit

Members of the Likud Central Committee - which pretty much controls the party, decides who gets to become a Knesset Member and is known by all to be corrupt - are upset today because Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said that ministers and MKs may not promote the personal interests of members of their own party.

Corruption certainly exists in the other parties as well, but the Likudniks' visceral reaction to the AG's statement testifies to the need for such a rule.

Deputy Likud Minister Michael Ratzon called the decision anti-democratic while a Likud Central Committee member from Yavne said, "The attorney general cannot decide for a senior official who was elected."

There's something these corrupt party activists need to understand. The Attorney General enforces the law. You are not above it. It's time to end political appointments of unqualified party activists. Get a real job!

Noticeably silent from criticizing the decision, at least so far, is Prime Minister Sharon, who has had a stormy relationship with the Likud Central Committee, which rejected his disengagement plan.

The anti-refusers

Ynet reported Sunday that the "Israeli movement for disengagement" intends in the coming days to present the defense ministry with a list of reservist officers and soldiers willing to assist in the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and thus to fill any shortage of manpower created by the right-wing/religious refusers.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Ayatollah of Israel

Today it became clear that I live in Iran, not Israel.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ordered the Shas members of Knesset to vote against Sharon's disengagement plan.

According to Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, leaving parts of the land of Israel is "clearly a matter of halakha [Jewish law]," and that in this matter "the rabbi has no other considerations."

That's a relief. I was concerned that maybe he could be bought off with funds to the Shas educational system. I can sleep better knowing that old man Ovadia is basing his policy decisions on Jewish law. (But where in Jewish law does it say I must serve in the army but his constituents do not?)

I can only hope that the Shas decision will make it impossible for the ultra-Orthodox party to enter the government and that a secular unity government of Likud, Labor and Shinui will be formed.

If the extremists want Sharon dead...

...they should just be sure to keep high-cholesterol and fatty foods within his reach. I was shocked earlier this week when I saw this Reuters photo of the prime minister.

Is there a more obese head of state anywhere in the world? Sharon must have some serious health problems. Note the way the tie rests around the curvature of his stomach. His face color doesn't look too good and his left hand doesn't even appear real. He resembles Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers films.

I'm not saying this to mock Sharon, but rather to point out that the man needs to go on a diet, if not for himself then for the country.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Potential dilemma

Haaretz reported Friday today that the Israel Defense Forces will call up most of the reserve forces during the course of next year because of the extra manpower demand created by the disengagement plan.

According to the story, reservists will replace the regular troops utilized to implement Sharon's plan to get out of Gaza.

This presents an interesting dilemma for me and my fellow refusers. Will I refuse to fill in for regular forces in the territories because they are implementing the disengagement plan? I'm not sure.

My gut feeling is that the disengagement will dramatically change the political and moral reality in which refusers are reaching their respective decisions, because it would mean Israel acting to (at least partially) end the occupation of the territories.

I'll have to think about this further. But I won't be surprised if the number of refusers declines if disengagement does happen.

Political education

Israeli schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are going to be closed Tuesday so children can surround the Knesset in a human chain in a demonstration against the disengagement plan, Ynet is reporting.

The Knesset is slated to vote that day on Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan.

I wonder if these kids have any choice in the matter as to whether they participate in the demonstration. In any case, this is exploitation of these kids and absolutely inappropriate - and I would feel the same way if secular schools in Tel Aviv were closed so kids could demonstrate in favor of disengagement. (Hey, there's an idea!)

I'd like to believe that this is a sign of desperation and the right-wing's last gasp, with the polls showing broad Israeli support for leaving Gaza. But I'll believe the disengagement plan is for real only when I see it implemented on the ground.

Good Jewish kids

Teachers in Israel have apparently chosen a dangerous profession. Both Haaretz and Ynet are reporting incidents in which students are suspected of attacking students.

Ynet reports that students in the Golan Heights are suspected of setting fire to their teacher's vehicle. The Haaretz story is about a teacher who is believed to have suffered a stroke after being hit by a water balloon thrown by students. The victim, who has 25 years of teaching experience, collapsed afterward and claims the students gloated over her and prevented paramedics from evacuating her to a hospital.

While I can't help but wonder if the teachers could be exaggerating the extent of their injuries in the hope of getting greater financial compensation (I wouldn't put such tactics past the Teachers Union here), I suspect there is something behind the incidents.

Israeli kids tend to lack discipline and can be extremely unruly. I'm not sure what this comes from, although I believe it's part of a general attitude of Israeli parents to let their kids get away with just about anything.

I remember a couple of years ago when my parents were visiting and we went to an Italian restaurant in Tel Aviv. Shortly after the food arrived, a small football thrown by an Israeli boy, probably around 6-8 years old, landed in my father's spaghetti. He handled the situation well. His reaction was one of shock mroe than anger. But it was telling when the child's father did virtually nothing to let his child know that this was unacceptable behavior.

Love Parade - take two

The annual Love Parade is taking place this afternoon just two blocks from my apartment in Tel Aviv. Police have sealed off streets between Kerem Hatemanim and the beach. It was supposed to be held a few weeks ago, but it was postponed due to the Sinai terror attacks.

I noticed that uniformed police are wearing fluorescent yellow stickers with "police" written in black Hebrew letters, so I asked why because their uniform makes it clear they are police. An officer told me it's to prevent terrorists disguised as police from infiltrating the event.

Personally I've never really understood the Love Parade. Don't get me wrong. I'm no prude and I have no moral opposition to women flashing their breasts to onlookers as they ride atop floats down the parade route... Wait a second... Now that I think about it, I finally do understand the Love Parade.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Blogs and insanity / Old man Ovadia on Arabs

One of the problems with blogging is that it's easy to fall in the trap of ranting and losing one's santity. Perhaps it's because I'm sitting here, talking to myself, but I'm imagining that I'm debating someone diametrically opposed to my views, and he is really pissing me off. So if I have been ranting the last two posts, I do apologize. I'll try to regain a bit of my sanity.

Today on my way to work I noticed a row of 5-6 large billboards, one beside the other on Moses Street in Tel Aviv, and all but one was about the disengagement plan.

I didn't write the text down verbatim, but one said: "Sharon is splitting the country" while another said something about how the minority opposed to disengagement shouldn't dictate Israeli policy. I had seen variations of these themes before, but a new one on the billboards warned residents of the center of Israel that the Qassam rockets are on the way. It's just another example of the right wing relying on scare tactics because they lack any good reason for us to stay in Gaza. They can feel their power slipping away, like water in their cupped hands.

And today Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef met with leaders opposed to the disengagement plan. Here's a select quote the wise sage made a few years back:

"Why are you bringing them (Palestinians) close to us? You bring snakes next to us. How can you make peace with a snake? Those evildoers, the Arabs, it says in the Gemara religious texts that God is sorry he ever created those sons of Ishmael."

And remember, yesterday Defense Minister Mofaz met with old man Ovadia in a bid to get support for the disengagement plan.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Morality vs. morality

In my previous post I said that as a reservist who refuses to serve in the territories, I cannot debate the right of soldiers to refuse to evacuate settlements. But I believe there are crucial differences in the reasoning to do so.

I refuse to serve in the territories because I cannot, in good conscience, be part of the immoral oppression of the Palestinian people as expressed by the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began in 1967. Now, for the sake of argument, if Israel annexed these areas and granted the Palestinians the right to vote, my basis for refusal would no longer exist. But for a variety of reasons too extensive to discuss here, this did not happen.

As naive as this may sound, I see the Palestinians as human beings. Some of them are terrorists and want to kill me and other Jews, and there is little we can do to change this, but this hatred is not sufficient to justify the means Israel uses to continue holding the lands in dispute.

Build the wall and make it tall! The separation fence, security barrier or whatever you want to call it certainly seems to be working in the areas where construction has been completed. But the end of terror means the end of the reason the right-wing sells to the rest of Israel for the need to keep the territories.

On the other hand, the very basis of the right's refusal is that the Palestinians are not equal to Jews. Right-wing rabbis and others cite the Torah as the authority forbidding the evacuating of Jews from this land. However, very conveniently the Torah is silent on the issue of evicting non-Jews, such as Palestinians, from their lands so that Jews may take it.

In other places in the world such reasoning is called religious fanaticism. But in Israel it's accepted as just part of life here.

The right values land more than it does human life, and I mean Jewish and Palestinian life. The wall is making it more difficult for the terrorists to carry out attacks, but its completion would mean the end of the religious fanatics' dream of a Greater Israel.

It would also mean the end of their power over the rest of Israel. This, and not the Palestinian threat, is the right-wing's greatest fear, for it is the very basis of their existence.

But I'm just a secular infidel who thinks that some parts of the Torah - and not just the bits about pork and shrimp - should not govern Israeli policy or be twisted to suit the amoral agenda of the religious right.

I'm back: Confessions of a refuser

I'm back. I stopped blogging because I felt as I was wasting time and energy debating the Caroline Glicks of journalism here in Israel. But my recent experience guest blogging on The View From Here has rejuvenated me. (Thanks, Harry.) So with that...

I'm a refuser. Yes, I'm one of those radical left-wingers who refuses to do reserve duty in the territories. I understand if you disagree with me. That's fine. But keep in mind that unlike the majority of Israelis (and certainly American Jews), I did serve as a combat soldier and I did reserve duty in the territories. So if you haven't worked at a checkpoint in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, I don't give a damn what you think.

Now, time for a few points regarding the possibility that soldiers on the right could refuse to evacuate settlements. I support their right to refuse. While I certainly disagree with their reasons, I believe that they have the right to do so if the mission they are asked to perform goes against their conscience. For this reason I would hope that the IDF makes an effort not to put such soldiers in a position where they must decide whether to refuse or evacuate a settlement.

But there are two points I want to make on this issue.

First, politicans who say the phenomenon of refusing could destroy the fabric of Israeli society have no shame. If they hadn't the settler minority to dictate foreign policy in the country for so long and if they had dealt with the difficult questions regarding the fate of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there wouldn't be refusal. Refusal, on left and right, is a response to the abdication of political responsibility of our so-called leaders. Instead leaders used the issues to their political advantage, as a means of getting elected. The territories have been a divisive issue for decades, but what we are facing today could have been avoided had the politicans led rather than kiss settler ass. And I'm referring to politicans on the left and right.

The true danger to Zionism is not refual, as IDF Chief of Staff Ya'alon claims, but rather the conditions that left people on the left and right who truly care about the future of the country (each in their own way) with no other recourse. It has come to this because Israeli leaders lacked the political courage to tackle the controversial problem head on.

(I wonder if Ariel Sharon today regrets having been such a strong supporter of the settlement movement. But what changed his position? When he was in the opposition, apparently he was less concerned with what was good for all of Israel than with what was good for his settler constituents. But I digress.)

Addressing the status of the territories decades ago, even just 10 years ago, would have required tough decisions, but isn't that why we elected them in the first place? Apparently not, because unfortunately Israeli politicans are much better at using tax money to buy off the religious parties than actually leading the country.

Second, Roman Bronfman (Yahad) is the sole Knesset member to express support for the left-wing refusers. Mainstream Israeli leaders, committed to democracy, understand the danger of refusing. And in my opinion, that's a good thing.

But in contrast there are plenty of religious figures issuing alleged halakhik rulings supporting a soldier's right to refuse evacuating settlements. Where the hell do I live? Iran? Who are these religious leaders?

(With that said, I should single out the religious kibbutz movement for announcing its opposition to soldiers refusing to evacuate settlements.)

I have a confession. I'm not sure I would refuse if we, the leftist refusers, weren't a small minority in the country. I grappled with the consequences of my actions for Israeli democracy. I don't brag about my decision to refuse. But if I truly felt that I was endangering the state, I might decide differently.

But do the extremist rabbis supporting right-wing refusers grapple with such questions? Mind you, I'm talking about the repercussions of their actions for democratic society, and not the "Land of Israel."

I believe the answer is no, because democracy for them is subservant to religious law. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the rantings of Ellen at Arutz Sheva. (She's a painter and political commentator. She must be American.)

Finally, the ultimate absurdity is that today, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz groveled before Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in a bid to get his support for the disengagement plan. This says it all. The ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which wants draft exemptions for its yeshiva boys, should have no say on such matters until start serving in the army. The photos in the newspapers of Mofaz and old man Ovadia leaning over maps of the Gaza Strip are embarassing. But you know what will determine if Shas supports the decision to leave Gaza? If they get enough money for their schools and corrupt movement.

Perhaps this is the true danger to Zionism. Or has it become the true meaning of Zionsim?