Thursday, June 21, 2007

Olmert Supports Jerusalem Gay Pride

Well not really.

It is Ehud's daughter, Dana, who has come out in support of the upcoming, and always controversial, Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade.

According to the JTA:

"Ehud Olmert's daughter came out in defense of the upcoming Jerusalem gay pride parade.

Dana Olmert, who is lesbian, gave a rare media interview to rebut right-wing and religious demands that Thursday's gay pride parade in Israel's capital be relocated.

"The question 'why Jerusalem?' is like asking why people should get the right to vote," Olmert told Army Radio on Wednesday. "Such questions are simply abhorrent. It's just like I would never think of explaining to someone why Jews or Arabs aren't inferior to other people."

Olmert, who works as a Tel Aviv literary editor and usually avoids the public eye, described the march as "an expression of political action, something which you don't ask permission to do".

Rioting by religious protesters led to last year's gay pride parade being relocated to a closed stadium on the Jerusalem outskirts, but Thursday's event will comprise a march and rally in the city center, under tight police security."

Just like in the rest of the West, Israeli attitudes to gays has become the touchstone issue that defines where an individual or a society stands on the spectrum of social liberalism vs social conservativism.

Meanwhile, the parade itself is happening as I write these words. According to the Jerusalem Post, there are about 2000 participants, 500 counter-demonstrators (though 1500 demonstrated against the parade at a separate venue) and 8000 police. Several preventive arrests where made against people planning violence (including at least one planned bombing !!) to the parade.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Major Operation This Summer

I don't usually make predictions. I don't claim to be an expert on geo-politics.

But today I will nevertheless predict that Israel will launch a major operation into Gaza, some time this summer. And this will have more to do with internal Israeli politics, than anything else. The new defense minister and prime ministerial hopeful Ehud Barak will want to show that he is indeed tough, and indeed competent, and has indeed restored the Israeli army's capabilities.

This is what most ambitious new defense ministers have done - especially ones from the Labour Party who always have to prove that they are not lefty wimps. They launch some major "action". This is what Rabin did in the first intifada when he was defense minister in Yizhak Shamir's government, and this is what Shimon Peres did when he took over as prime minister and defense mister after Rabin's assassination, and this is what Amir Peretz did in response to Hezbolah's provocation last summer.

Rumour has it, that he is already drawing up plans, and only waiting for a provocation from Hamas. Given the chaos in Gaza, there is no doubt there will be many such provocations over the summer. Given that Barak has just now taken over as defense minister, it is likely we will wait a month or two before striking. So watch out in August, or September.

I hope I am wrong.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Its Time to Deal With Hamas

I am not such an idealist that I don't think that Israel's (or any other nation's) foreign policy shouldn't be based on a bit of the old "carrot and stick"; even if sometimes the stick needs to be military. Not everyone, after all, is amenable to calm fair and rational persuasion. (Nor are your own country's interests, let's be honest, always fair and rational.) However, the trouble with Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is that is has traditionally been all stick and no carrot. The rational goal of Israeli military, political and economic pressure on the P.A. government should be to get them to agree to policies - compromises from their perspective- more in line with Israeli interests. But Israel only applies pressure. There is no compromise offered - no carrot.

For years this was Israel's policy vis a vis Jordan. The result was that Jordan washed it hands of the whole Palestinian issue. Fatah - with Arafat at the head - took control. But Israel, with the possible brief exception of the Rabin government, refused to offer any significant carrots to the Palestinian people themselves (though it did try to essentially bribe the Fatah leadership with many perks and privileges.) Finally, bereft of any carrots to show its people, Fatah lost control to Hamas. Now Israel has turned up the pressure to the highest level yet. The Israeli seige of Gaza, its withholding of Palestinian tax money (that it still collects, BTW),and the boycott of the Hamas lead P.A. government which it has promoted, have reduced Gaza to a level of unprecedented poverty and chaos. Hamas itself is loosing control. Gaza will soon be another Somalia.

But politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If Hamas looses control, the result will not be no opposition to Israel. More likely it will be the rise of the even more fanatic factions like Islamic Jihad and even Al Qaida linked groups. This has been the pattern for 40 years. The longer Israel waits for a "better" partner, the more the extremist on the other side gain influence and power.

The rise of groups even more extreme than Hamas can be seen to be happening already in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. To quote an article in today's Haaretz:

"It is not a coincidence that the Muslim extremists have situated themselves in this refugee camp and in other camps in Lebanon where there is no government presence and no law and order."

"This is precisely the direction the Gaza Strip is taking. Abandonment by the government, lawlessness and poverty are fertile ground for the organizing of terrorists. In Gaza, similar groups ostensibly operating in the name of Islam have already been spotted. In this context it is perhaps worth reconsidering the boycott of the Palestinian unity government in which Hamas is a partner. The boycott is increasing the bitterness and distress, weighing down on Hamas and encouraging the development of organizations along the lines of Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon. It is not only the Palestinians who will pay the price for this, but also Israel, which did not want Hamas and is getting Al-Qaida. This appears to be the opinion of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said at the end of last week that Hamas is sending positive signals concerning peace, and hinted that these should be answered."

Israel should not view negotiating a long term truce with Hamas as a defeat. It is the carrot that Israel should have been offering all along. The alternative may soon be the absence of any partner for any discussion whatsoever. In other words, eternal war.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another Blow to Israeli Democracy

In what I can only call a serious blow to Israeli democracy, the Knesset yesterday passed - through first reading - a law that would allow local authorities (i.e. municipal governments) to ban any demonstration or public event that "offends public opinion" !!

But that, of course is precisely the point of many demonstrations and public events: to express unpopular views, and to try to influence public opinion to change. Not to mention, that such a criteria is extremely subjective and open to interpretation. One imagines that most municipal politicians - who would now have the power to ban any public event - will feel that their own parties positions are non-offensive while those of their opponents are. No other country that calls itself a democracy has such an open ended restriction on freedom of assembly and public expression.

While clearly drafted to stop or limit future gay pride events in Jerusalem - the subject of much controversy in recent years - the broad sweep of the proposed law would no doubt come back to bite Israeli's freedoms in myriad ways. If ultimately passed into law (which requires two more votes in the Knesset) Israel would have brought the concept of the tyranny of the majority to new heights, while continuing to erode a major pillar of any true democracy - civil rights and freedom of expression for all - even minorities.

The bill, proposed by MK Eliyahu Gabbai (NU-NRP), allows local authorities to cancel such events if "they feel they present a threat to public safety, or offend public opinion, or religious sensibilities."

Prior to the bills passage, at the end of May, Jerusalem Police gave conditional approval for a gay pride parade in the city, but said that the event was subject to restrictions based on public safety. Currently, the prerogative for issuing permits for public events rests with police, who could ban the event - or restrict it - solely due to public safety concerns.

The annual parade, which is being organized by Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center, is slated to take place in the capital on June 21.

Last year's parade through the streets of Jerusalem was cancelled following weeks of violent haredi protests, and the event was moved to an enclosed stadium in the city.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Vilna Gaon vs Lubowitch - round 252

The Mitnagdim and the Hassidim are at each others throats again, in Vilna the once bastion of the anti Hassidic Mitnagdim. But this time its about who get to call himself cheif rabbi of the Lithuianian Jewish Community, to control it only remaining historic synagogue (see photo above), and to control an estimated 60 million in restitution money the Lithuanian government is about to hand over to the legitimate representative of the Jewish community - whomever that turns out to be.

Is this a sign of the re-vitalization of eastern European Jewry, or just a parody of the ferocious rivalries of the pre war period. Read more about it here.

Teapacks Looses At Eurovision

Teapacks' Push the Button, the Israeli entry in the 2007 Eurovision song contest, failed to make the final round of he voting. It finished 24th out of 28 in the preliminary round of voting. Clearly European voters have no taste. The highest score it got was from France, which placed it 5th. (The song was partly in French, so maybe they got some of the clever lyrics.)

The eventual winner was the Serbian entry. Smaltz!

An interesting artifact of the voting was that Israels top votes all went to countries of the FSU - Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Armenia, in that order. No doubt this reflects the large number of "Russian" Jews in Israel.