Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Medical Aid To Gaza

OK. Here's something positive we can do while we wait for this increasingly stupid war to end.

I received this email below from my friend Charlie Lior, fellow ex-kibutuznik, and in Charlie's case, a IDF veteran of the first Lebanon War: another war that was designed to "end Palestinian terrorism once and for all" ( and it even had pretensions to "regime change" - in Lebanon in that case.)

* * *

Dear friends,
Since the beginning of attacks in Gaza three days ago, over 370 people have been reported dead, more than 1700 wounded, and many hundreds more are in need of immediate medical attention. With a medical system already on the verge of collapse as a result of the ongoing closure, 1.4 million civilians are in desperate need of urgent medical help from outside Gaza.

Palestinian doctors and nurses are providing health care including performing surgeries without gloves, local or general anesthetics, gauze, sterilized equipment or sufficient oxygen for patients. All together, there are only 1,500 hospital beds available in Gaza's 13 publicly run hospitals. A fleet of 60 ambulances is now reduced by half. The endless flow of new wounded and the need for beds has led to a suspension of care for dozens of other patients, including cancer, cardiac, and other chronically ill patients, who have all been sent to their homes for the duration of the crisis. Patients are not being permitted entry to Egypt and all referrals out of Gaza via Erez crossing have been suspended.

The actions of the Israeli government have made it very difficult to provide any assistance. However, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR-Israel) has the means to transfer this help within days and is seeking to raise $700,000 during the next week for purchase and direct transfer of supplies to Gaza hospitals.
Palestinian hospitals in the Gaza Strip have asked for help in securing the following items:

Basic Sterilization equipment
Medical gases
Endo-tracheal tubes
Portable monitors, ventilators, ultrasounds and x- ray machines
Clothing for medical teams
105 Essential Medications
225 Additional Medical Supplies
93 Laboratory items
Electric Shaving Machine
Hospital beds

Medical Aid for Palestine is collecting donations to forward to Physicians for Human Rights – Israel for the Gaza Emergency medical campaign. You can donate to MAP through their website at http://mapcan.org/english.html. When you are on the donation page, specify Gaza Emergency. You can also call MAP at : (514) 843-7875 to make a donation.

For additional information on the current health crisis gathered by Physicians for Human Rights, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza) and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) on the current crisis click here http://www.phr.org.il/phr/article.asp?articleid=652&catid=55&pcat=-1&lang=ENG.

For more information, please contact Gila Norich, Director of Development: gila@phr.org.il or by phone, +972.3.5133.102

To contact Ran Yaron, Director of PHR-Israel's OccupiedPalestinianTerritory (oPt) Department send mail to: ranyaron@phr.org.il, or call +972.547.577696.

Thank you for your support,

Charlie Lior
for Together fundraisers

Monday, December 29, 2008

Enough is Enough !

OK. Israel has made its point. It should now stop the war in Gaza as soon as possible.

Whatever advantage Israel can receive: teaching Hamas that rocketing Israel doesn't pay, weakening the Gaza terrorist infrastructure, and lowering Hamas' status in the eye's of it public - has been done. We are now moving into the phase where the law of diminishing returns takes over. Every day brings fewer advantages, and greater 'costs' to Israel, and more sympathy and "credit" to Hamas.

The above, you may note, is not a moral argument. It is an argument made from Israel's own original declared interest - stopping, or at least lessening, rocket attacks, and weakening Hamas.

But Israel's goals have become confused of late. Now Barak is taking about fighting Hamas "to the bitter end." Israeli generals are talking about "changing the rules of the game." Israeli intelligence is leaking stories (exaggerated I would bet) about rising resistance to Hamas inside Gaza. Politicians are talking about "defeating Hamas," about "cutting off is head." Some Israeli columnists are even suggesting "regime change."

What is Israel's strategy? Why are we continuing this war? How will we know when we have "won"? The Realistic Dove is as confused as I am - but more articulate. Read his take here.

And now many Israelis are slowly beginning to ask why and what for too. According to the Globe and Mail:
A poll released last night in Israel showed that 81 per cent of Israelis favoured the action being taken against Hamas, but only 39 per cent thought it was likely to be effective.
How's that for an entire country thinking with its guts instead of its brains.

But slowly more Israeli voices are being heard opposing this war - at least as it is unfolding:
Read the Magnes Zionist's take on it here, here, and here.
Read David Grossman's call for restraint here.
And even Amoz Oz and A.B. Yehoshua have weighed in in favour of stopping now - although to me it sounds like they are trying to suck and blow at the same time.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thoughts on Operation Cast Lead

1) The score so far: Dead - 285 to 1 in favour of Israel.

2) Israel's claim of killing "only" 15 civilians so far would be pretty good considering the reality of war - until one recalls that as far as Israel is concerned, police or Hamas government workers are not civilians. The picture on the right is of the ruins of the "Saraya" the main prison in Gaza City. Presumably neither the guards not the prisoners count as civilians.

3) I am not a pacifist. Sometimes violence may be needed for self defense. But it should always be a last resort. Israel did not try, in any meaningful way, to negotiate with Hamas. Israel attempted to dictate the situation: to have a ceasefire while maintaining its siege and pressing the Gaza population to overhrow Hamas. Hamas refused these terms and tried to pressure Israel into lifting the seige of Gaza by ending the ceasefire and firing rockets (big mistake as it turned out!). Israel is using the opportunity to "change the rules of the game" (as per IDF spokesman.) Perhaps if negotiations and a lifting of the seige had started six month ago we would not have come to this. But that would have left Hamas in power, something Israel is not ready to accept.

4) In the end Israel cannot defeat the Palestinians as the allies defeated Hitler. Unconditional and total surrenders are very rare in the modern world. There will be some sort of negotiated agreement - whether temporary of permanent. War may be a means of achieving an agreement, but it must be part of a carrot and a stick approach. War is the stick. But Israel has no carrots - at least none it is prepared to discuss right now with Hamas. When this round of fighting is over, the question we will have to ask ourselves is, could the ceasefire to come have been achieved with less killing, wounding, and economic damage? Does it build towards future agreements, or does it build towards a future war?

4) Israel has ruined a lovely Hannukah song by naming this war "Operation Cast Lead" after a line from a popular poem/Hannukah song by Haim Nahman Bialik:

(By using the Hannukah imagery presumably Hamas is being cast as the Greeks, and the IDF as the "few fighting the many".)

Father lit the candles for me

The shamash shone so bright

The shamash shone so bright

Oh, do you know what it is for?

Do you know what it is for?

Do you know what it is for?

It's for Chanukah.

Mother made me latkes

A latke warm and sweet

A latke warm and sweet

Oh, do you know what it is for?

Do you know what it is for?

Do you know what it is for?

It's for Chanukah.

My teacher gave me a dreydl

A dreydl of cast lead

A dreydl of cast lead

Oh, do you know what it is for?

Do you know what it is for?

Do you know what it is for?

It's for Chanukah

אבי הדליק נרות לי
ושמש לו אבוקה-
יודעים אתם לכבוד מה?
לכבוד החנוכה!

מורי הביא סביבון לי,
סביבון בן- עופרת יצוקה -
יודעים אתם לכבוד מה?
לכבוד החנוכה!

אמי נתנה לביבה לי,
לביבה חמה, מתוקה -
יודעים אתם לכבוד מה?
לכבוד החנוכה!

דודי נתן תשורה לי,
פרוטה אחת שחוקה -
יודעים אתם לכבוד מה ?
לכבוד החנוכה !

(also see http://zemer.co.il/FlashPlayer/player.asp?version_id=13 )

4) See what some of my favorite other Jewish bloggers have been saying:

The Magnes Zionist from Jerusalem, Saturday night

The Magnes Zionist From Jerusalem, Sunday morning

Tikkun Olam from Seattle, Sunday afternoon

Friday, December 26, 2008

Israeli Election Commission Rules:
Can't Lump "Arab Parties"

Well here is some good news and some bad news.

In my earlier post on the Israeli Elections I noted that all the Israeli election polls and media reports have only a single line item for the three "Arab Parties":

There are at least 3 "Arab" parties with realistic shots at obtaining Knesset seats, yet the Jewish Israeli media don't bother to distinguish between them. That attitude alone explains a lot about the Israel/Palestine mess. One of the "Arab" parties is Hadash - the Front for Democracy and Peace, dominated by the Israeli Communist Party. It runs a joint Jewish Arab list and has both Arab and Jewish representatives in the Knesset. Its candidate for mayor of Tel-Aviv came in 2nd in the recent municipal elections. (See my previous posting about the Tel Aviv municipal election.) I have several Israeli - Jewish - friends who vote Hadash. Yet it is lumped in with "Arab Parties."
The good news is that the head of the Israeli Election Commission, Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin, ordered, earlier this week, that the editors of Israel's newspapers, and the directors of Israel's radio and television must specify the names and projections of the individual parties currently lumped together as "Arab Parties". That is only right and fair in a democracy, and it recognizes that there not all Arabs are the same and that people might be interested in the relative strength of these outside-the-mainstream parties. (Collectively they will win about 8% of the vote and about 10 seats in the 120 seat Knesset.)

The bad news is that the article reporting on this in Haaretz (Hebrew edition), used the term Arab Parties three times without quotes (as well as once with quotes), and never does mention the names of the three parties involved, or that fact that one of them is not an Arab party at all, but a joint Jewish Arab party. The headline reads (my translation):

Head of the Election Commission: When reportin polls, the media must also give details of the Arab parties.

The ruling by Judge Eliezer Rivlin, came as a result of a compaint by Knesset Member Dov Chenin [a Jewish member of Hadash: the Front for Democracy and Peace, see picture to the right] Currently the three Arab parties are lumped together under the heading "Arab Parties".

Did no one at Haaretz see the irony of this headline?

For the record the three parties in question are:

  • Hadash - a Communist dominated coalition with a joint Arab-Jewish list, with 3 seats in the outgoing Knesset
  • Balad - an Arab Socialist nationalist party, with 3 seats in the outgoing Knesset
  • Raam-Taal - a coalition of conservative Arab nationalists and Islamists, with 4 seats in the outgoing Knesset.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Man Bite's Dog: Synagogue Helps Church

Here is a heart warming story about Jewish Christian cooperation: in a suburb of Fresno California no less. (Who knew Fresno even had suburbs!)

It is not uncommon to hear about small Jewish congregations renting space from a local church. Nobless Oblige, one presumed. To be sure these are usually liberal church's and liberal congregations. But here we have a Reform synagogue giving space to a small liberal Christian congregation.

Which begs the question: are liberal denominations "closer" with each other - even across the Christian/Jewish divide, than with conservative denominations within their own religion? Does a Reconstructionist or Reform congregation have more or less in common with this liberal Episcopalian congregation than with the Gur Hassidim or the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

On the one hand I think not, but on the other hand I can't imagine my congregation giving space to Aish Hatorah, nor Chabad giving space to us.

What matters more: values and life-style, or culture and history? It not an easy question to answer.

(And thanks to Eric for the lead.)

Peace On Earth, Good Will Towards Men.
Hey, Why the Hell Not!

Read more info about this song here.

Israeli Election Polls: Likud Still On Top

Recently released Israeli election polls show that Kadima has narrowed the gap with the Likud to just four seats - within the margin of error of the polls. Below are the results of a Dec 15 poll by the Maagar Mochot agency.

Dec. 2008

Nov. 2008

Likud - "mainstream" right wing nationalist



Kadima - incumbent "moderate" nationalist



Shas - sephardic ultra orthodox , also against "major" territorial compromise, or even discussing the status of Jerusalem.



Yisrael Beiteinu - hard line nationalist, backs "transfer" of Israeli Arabs, mostly Russian immigrants



Meretz / Tnua Hadasah - left dovish Zionist



Labour - "mainstream" centrist



Yahadut Hatorah - ashkenazi ultra orthodox



Habayit Hayehudit - merger of old National Union and NRP, religious Zionist, against any territorial compromise.



Yerukim / Meimad - merger of the "Greens" and the moderate religious party



Gil - retired people’s party



Arab Parties



Source: Maagar Mochot / Israel Radio
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 506 Israeli adults, conducted on Dec. 15, 2008. Margin of error is 4.5 per cent.

Partial polls by Dahaf and other agencies released in the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz show similar results (Likud 30, Kamida 26, Shas 12, Yisrael Beitenu 12, Labour 10, Meretz 8, Gil 2)

Several things of note:

1) There are at least 3 "Arab" parties with realistic shots at obtaining Knesset seats, yet the Jewish Israeli media don't bother to distinguish between them. That attitude alone explains a lot about the Israel/Palestine mess. One of the "Arab" parties is Hadash - the Front for Democracy and Peace, dominated by the Israeli Communist Party. It runs a joint Jewish Arab list and has both Arab and Jewish representatives in the Knesset. Its candidate for mayor of Tel-Aviv came in 2nd in the recent municipal elections. (See my previous posting about the Tel Aviv municipal election.) I have several Israeli - Jewish - friends who vote Hadash. Yet it is lumped in with "Arab Parties."

2) Labour is reduced to an "also ran": tied for fourth place.

3) Despite Kadima closing the gap, if the election results mirrored the results above, the Likud would form the next government and Netanyahu would be the next Prime Minister.

The Likud has the "natural" support of it own 29 seats plus 12 of Yisrael Beitenu and 4 of HaBayit HaYehudit: for a total of 45. Plus it can relatively easily work out a coalition agreement with the right leaning ultra orthodox parties: Shas (12), and Yahadut Hatorah (6). That gives it a total of 63. You need 61 seats to form a majority government in Israel. In addition the Likud could also work out deal with Gil (1), maybe the Yerukim(4), and even Labour could be bought - if Ehud Barak where promised the Defense Ministry (his ego has no bounds!)

Kadima on the other hand, has the "natural" support of its own 25 projected seats, plus Labour's 10 and Meretz's 10: for a total of 45. It could also easily work out a deal with Gil(1) and the Yerukim(4). That makes for a total of 50. Then it would have to work out a coalition deal with the ultra orthodox, and hawkish, Shas (12), in order to get over the 60 seat threshold. Devising a coalition agreement that would satisfy both Meretz and Shas would be an exceedingly hard feat to pull off.

Finally, given the Israeli system, and assuming the results above, the Likud would likely be given the first chance to try to form a government. Only if it failed to put together a coalition, would Kadima even get a chance to try. With the numbers above, the Likud won't fail.

4) Note that neither leading party would even consider asking for the support of the "Arab" parties.

5) The elections are still 6 weeks away, and things could change. But it would take a swing of 10 seats from the Likud orbit to the Kadima orbit to allow Kadima to form a cohesive coalition. That seems unlikely to happen.

6) The Gaza situation in particular will become an election issue, one way or the other. The pressure for Israel to strike back militarily is mounting by the hour. Even the normally "dovish" Meretz is calling for military action (which may be politically "wise", but without a parallel negotiating strategy vis a vis Hamas, is very bad policy, and very bad public education.) If Israel does not strike, the Likud and its allies will accuse Kadima and Labour of being weak and foolish. If Israel does strike and the rocketing does not stop, or Israel looses many soldiers, the Likud and its allies will accuse Kadima and Labour of being incompetent. (Sadly, I doubt any one is thinking about what would really be best for achieving long term quiet - or, dare we dream, justice - on the Gaza front. That will have to wait for after the elections - at least.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Livni Boy

Does that look familiar? It should. Remember "Obama Girl?"

Anyway it looks like Kadima is trying to fight back, by packaging Tzipi Livni as the candidate of change! That may be hard to do considering she has been part of the government's leadership team since the last election. She is in, what I would call, the "pragmatic" nationalist camp: not that that connotes a realistic long term strategy, just that she is willing to think beyond the narrow ideological mantras of Israel's traditional nationalist and religious-nationalist camps: "Not One Inch", "All of The Land of Israel is the Historic Homeland of the Jewish People", "Jerusalem Will Forever Be Undivided"; and she believes in the possibility of peace.

So I guess that makes her better than Bibi and the Likud.

Here is a translation of the lyrics:

Oh Oh Oh Oh
Oh Oh Oh Oh
Oh Oh Oh Oh

La La La La
La La La La
La La La La

Until you arrived I chose to be cut-off
But now I'm always glued to the screen
When you say you'll be different from what was
That you'll fix the situation with a confident attack.

Always knew that a woman would bring the change
And not throw empty slogans in the air.
I’m sick and tired of Generals who scare.
Want you Tzipi, baby: I’m not the only one.

For you I'd travel far: I will complete the march.
In the end you will conquer the leadership of the Government.
Oh Oh Oh Oh Tzipi
You're everything I desired
Everything I anticipated
From a political leader.
I don't want Ehud.
Don't trust Bibi.
Tzipi if you'll let me
I’ll Be Your Man.
Just tell me “yes”.

OK, check my flow.

Still in the Mossad you knew days when there was danger to the State.
Barak & Bibi just left us here in a mess.
Together we will defeat all crimes from Qassams to Iran.
We will finish it cleanly with class, not like Durban.

I want you to make me safe and peaceful.
In my dream you're at the podium for the anthem.
At the end of the day we'll drink coffee together,
And if the recession is over we may even eat.

For you I'd travel far: I will complete the march.
In the end you will conquer the leadership of the Government.
Oh Oh Oh Oh Tzipi
You're everything I desired
Everything I anticipated
From a political leader.
I don't want Ehud.
Don't trust Bibi.
Tzipi if you'll let me
I’ll Be Your Man.
Just tell me “yes”.

(Livni's speech:
We will not wink (turn a blind eye) at things we disagree with
Just because it will pay off politically for us.
And I know that this is also what the Israeli public
Wants to see from its leader: from all the leadership.)

And don’t promise me any job.
I don’t want anything in return.
Just dream that it will be good here,
And that you will be Prime Minister.

No Golda, No Condoleeza,
No Palin, No Michelle Obama
For no one can compare to you Mama.

Oh Oh Oh Oh Tzipi
You're everything I desired
Everything I anticipated
From a political leader.
I don't want Ehud.
Don't trust Bibi.
Tzipi if you'll let me
I’ll Be Your Man.
Just tell me “yes”.
The style is obviously meant to appeal to the young, and the young at heart. But the message is so limited, the vision so small, its pathetic ...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Obama, Rick Warren, & Gay Marriage

Many people I know are very disappointing with Barak Obama for asking Pastor Rick Warren - leader of the 22,000 member Saddleback Church, author of the wildly best selling book "the Purpose Driven Life", and de facto head honcho of the U.S. evangelical movement - to deliver the inaugural "invocation" - aka prayer. The reason, of course, is that Warren was instrumental in pulling out the vote for California's Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in that state.

I myself was not disappointed - because I never saw Obama as an ideological leftist, or flaming liberal. He is a pragmatist, who has feelings for the poor and marginalized, but no principled "religious" position on what is right and proper. In other words he is willing to sacrifice one goal to attain another, and - other than personal corruption - there is no "red line" he will not cross. It is all cost benefit. In addition, he was open about his luke-warm support for gay rights: he has said all along that he supports "civil unions" but not "gay marriage."

So it should come as no surprise that he was willing to throw gays under the bus in order to try to reach out to evangelical Christians. It's a no brainier considering the relative numbers, and the fact that gays are not going to vote Republican en-mass in any case. More importantly Obama believes, and in this sense Warren is his ally, that poverty and the environment are as much "Christian issues" as abortion and gay rights are. He hopes that by showing respect to evangelicals and "talking there language" he can crack the monolithic support of evangelicals for the Republicans. And if he only succeeds in getting 40% of evangelicals to vote Democratic in future elections he will have made a strategic breakthrough. That is the background for the invitation of Warren to the Inauguration.

Is it moral? No - not unless you are a 100% utilitarian and also believe that Democrats will always bring more good than Republicans. But it is politics.

Still did Obama have to be so crass? Could he have "had his cake and eat it too?" In other words: Could he have reached out to evangelicals without offending gays, and appearing to back Proposition 8? hgb Rabbi Arthur Waskow seems to think so. In his regular weekly "letter" Waskow writes:

... [Warren] who uses the power of the state to deprive people of their right to the religious celebration and legal protection of their loving relationship is a bully -- no matter whether he smiles and smiles, he's still a bully.

The White House, Theodore Roosevelt once said, is a "bully pulpit." Noon on Inauguration Day is that pulpit at its peak. TR did not mean the White House should become a "bully's pulpit."

Whom could Obama have invited instead?

I do think it was a good idea to reach out to evangelicals, but there was a far better possible person -- better religiously, symbolically, politically.

Reverend Richard Cizik, who for 28 years has been vice-president and chief lobbyist of the National Association of Evangelicals, recently did an act that Jews called tshuvah. Literally, that means "turning" one's self toward the God Who is always evolving. That is the most profoundly religious act a person can undertake, and it often means losing prestige and power.

Cizik has put himself on the line for years, insisting that a true evangelical Christian must take action to heal God's creation from the wounds humans are inflicting on it -- especially from the global climate disaster looming before us. It was not a popular opinion among the institutional evangelical leadership, because they saw it as distracting from the sexuality issues - abortion, same-sex rights, etc. But more and more young evangelicals agreed.

Then a few weeks ago Cizik was being interviewed by NPR's Terry Gross:

Gross: But now as you identify more with younger voters, would you say you have changed on gay marriage?

Cizik: I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think.

For this he was forced to resign.

Honoring people who despite institutional pressure move toward God's justice, God's compassion, God's shalom -- now that's an act of religious celebration. Might inviting Cizik have been seen as an act of confrontation? Yes, but not a confrontation with evangelical Christians --- since that's who Cizik is. Rather a confrontation with rigid bullies at the top of some evangelical institutions. A gift of hope and fresh air for evangelicals, young and old, who have begun to Wrestle. And a gift of fresh air to Americans at large, who might have remembered that invoking God does not mean bowing down to stodginess.

Obama has --- and rightly --- celebrated the confluence of his Inauguration with the birthday of Martin Luther King. Does he remember that before Dr. King became a saint he was a troublemaker? Rejected by many leaders of official Christianity, especially when he opposed the Vietnam War?

Obama should have asked Rev. Cizik to invoke the God we all need --- the God who Wrestles with us and asks us to Wrestle, all night and every morning, with our beliefs about the universe.

That would have put the issue where it belongs - in serious public dialogue and debate.
(To see Waskow's full, spirited and intellectually very interesting theological justification of gay marriage read this article on the Shalom Center web site.)

My own solution to liberal politicians conundrum re gay marriage - how do you support it without alienating a very large part of the electorate - is that the government should get out of the marriage business all together. It should sanction civil unions only. (All previously registered marriages would now be deemed civil unions.) The government's interest in marriage should be limited to the property and financial rights and obligation between the partners, and with the welfare of the children - if any - of the union. And that is precisely what civil union laws do.

Marriage, which connotes societal or Godly blessing of the union, should be strictly a private and/or religious matter. If the Catholics wish to refuse to marry the legally divorced, that is their right. If most Rabbis refuse to marry a Jew to a non-Jew, that is their right. If Pastor Warren will not marry a gay couple, that is his right. Let the couples obtain a civil union from the state, and then - if they wish - get the sanction of marriage from which ever religious leader and group they feel comfortable with. Of course the same would apply to straight, non-divorced, or mixed-religious couples as well.

I am all for gay marriage. I just don't think it is any of the states business.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Try Talking

My previous post on the renewed rocketing from Gaza was, I admit, entirely cynical. (Not that that makes it untrue.) I failed to point to any solution at all.

Well, there are really only three courses of action: one untenable in the long run, one unrealistic, and one, as yet, untried.

The untenable option is to live with the status quo. It is untenable because the Israeli electorate will not (and in truth should not) put up with it. No society can long live with daily rocket attacks. It will demand leaders who promise to end them. And if they don't it will switch leaders if it can - and in Israel it can. On the Palestinian side too the situation is untenable. The residents of Gaza live in sub-third world conditions. The Israeli blockade has impoverished virtually every one. Unemployment is the norm. Clean water, electricity, phone service are intermittent. No Palestinian leader could agree to the status quo and survive. That may be the real reason Hamas has begun rocket attacks again. They need to be seen to doing something.

The unrealistic option is to overthrow Hamas: either by having the Gazans themselves do it, or by direct military intervention. Everyone in the Israeli military establishment thinks that retaking Gaza would be expensive - both in terms of the number of Israeli soldiers killed and wounded, and in terms of the number of Gazans killed - mostly civilians. It would be vicious house to house fighting, that would make Lebanon-2 or Jenin look tame by comparison. And when Israel won - then what? We couldn't prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket attacks when we fully occupied Gaza pre 2005. So the terrible cost would merely result in a showing the world that we "did something," and not much else.

Likewise, hoping that the Gazans themselves will overthrow Hamas is also pretty unrealistic. First, it is not clear where public opinion in Gaza is on Hamas. On the one hand the people are sick of the siege. On the other, they are a proud people, and not likely to abandon Hamas - davka because that is just what Israel wants them to do. No one likes to surrender. Furthermore, even if a majority of Gazans wanted to get rid of Hamas, there is no obvious way they can do so. Gaza is not planning elections any time soon, and Hamas holds virtually all the guns.

The, as yet untried, option is to talk to Hamas: officially and directly. Hamas has said it is willing to negotiate a long term (25-50 years) cease fire. Lets see if they are serious. Would this strengthen Hamas and weaken Abbas - yes: but that is just acknowledging the facts as they already are. Its worth a try. Nothing else seems to be working.

For a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of talking to Hamas read Gideon Levy's article in Haaretz.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hamas: the Likud's Best Friend

Hamas has declared that it will not renew the six month old ceasefire with Israel. The cease fire agreement expired last week, and rockets are again being lobbed at southern Israel with disturbing regularity: fifty in one day last week. So far they have caused little damage, but fear and anger have returned to the Israeli communities that border Gaza. More and more Israelis are calling for a tough response, and more and more are coming to the conclusion that the Kadima/Likud coalition is weak, or incompetent, or both.

Why did Hamas do this now? Well of course it is the formal expiry date of the cease fire signed last June. But Hamas could have unilaterally extended it while negotiating re the long awaited prisoner exchange, or let it laps but not immediately heated up the border. Could it be that Hamas reads the Israeli papers, and reads the Israeli electorate?

In 1995 a series Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem, in the month leading up to the national elections, helped the Likud under Bibi Netanyahu defeat the incumbent Labour Party under Shimon Peres. Now, with Israeli elections scheduled for early February, Hamas may be trying again to influence the outcome of the Israeli elections - this time helping Bibi defeat Tzipi Livni of the incumbent Kadima party

Hawks and intransigents need hawks and intransigents on the other side in order to justify their own position. Hamas could turn out to be the Likud's best friend in the coming six weeks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Still No Bailouts For the Rest of Us

Still no bail-out for the auto industry, or the home owner's who can't make mortgage payments. Still no action on improving EI. Still no stimulus.

But Chrysler is closing all its plants for a month starting Friday.

Action is needed soon or this thing may snowball beyond control. But our governments wait.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sins of Silence

The article below was sent to me by a friend (thanks Tzvika.) The author is a former Israeli judge, and what I would call a moderate right winger - traveling the world now and warning about the dangers of "Islamo-fascism" and the "new anti-Semitism."

Nevertheless - or maybe especially - the article below reveals a sad truth about much of Israeli and world wide Jewish society.

I said in my previous posting that "The Israeli electorate has been bombarded with right wing, hawkish, and racist propaganda for so long now, that even an open fascist ... does not faze them any more." This article make a similar point. That the propaganda is so omnipresent the brainwashing so deep that anything can be said, and when anything can be said, soon anything can be done.

I Am Ashamed

By Hadassa Ben-Itto
I always tried to integrate public activity into my personal life. I felt a special obligation to do so, as someone who had the good fortune to grow up here and to take part in the magnificent Zionist enterprise of establishing the Jewish state. I eschewed the political and media tracks: I do not denigrate their importance and centrality, but I decided they were not appropriate for me. Instead, I chose to join the justice system, as I believe it makes a vital contribution to shaping the face of a democratic country, and to be active on behalf of the Jewish people, whose future is intertwined with the future of the State of Israel.

Recently, I was invited to give the keynote speech at a major event in Bern to mark the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The crowd included members of the clergy, ambassadors and other state representatives. There, I said that we observe memorial days not only to commune with the memories of our dead, but also to remind the world, publicly and resoundingly, that we will never abandon memory - even if it seems that the world seeks to forget, and to avoid learning all the necessary lessons. We remember not only the perpetrators and the collaborators, but also all those who saw but kept silent, and who, by their silence, cooperated with and contributed to the atrocity, and will never be able to wash their hands clean. Today as well, I said, the world is required to learn the lessons, and not to remain silent in the face of what is being done to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Since then, I have watched on television as young Jews in Hebron assaulted their neighbors, including defenseless families - vandalizing property, destroying, burning and defacing sites holy to others. And my words in Bern are ringing in my ears. I told myself: I, too, am keeping silent. And I was ashamed.

Therefore, I am breaking my silence. Because I believe that the individual is also obligated to make his voice heard - his personal voice, not a political voice - in order to warn against atrocity. I will not be drawn into the unnecessary debate over whether there was or was not a "pogrom" in Hebron, because what happened in Europe in the past cannot be likened to anything; it has no parallel in human history. The lawbreakers' use of similar terms against our security forces is also an unforgiveable crime.

It is not only the world that must learn the lessons; so must we. Every one of us. Including myself. And I must do so honestly, publicly. To tell the public what I have held back for so long.

I am ashamed of my silence. I saw the uprooting of olive trees, the overturning of market stalls, the attacks on property, and sometimes on innocent people, and I kept silent. I heard the words of incitement, I identified the messages and I was ashamed, but I kept silent.

The 20th century proved that words can become a strategic weapon that threatens the entire world, I said in Bern. It is a weapon that our enemies still use against us today. It has been proven that incitement always precedes action - that in a place where one can say anything, one can also do anything. The actions were preceded by brainwashing: statements that planted messages masquerading as ideology, in the name of which everything is permissible, in the hearts of young people trying to find their way. That is how they silenced the voice of conscience. And these young people unhesitatingly perpetrated ruthless deeds.

We boast of equality, oppose discrimination, and thereby confer the freedoms promised by a democratic regime even on those who cynically abuse them in order to undermine democracy. In the name of tolerance, freedom of expression is abused to disseminate hatred, to incite, to engender dangerous, undemocratic processes.

In Bern, I also spoke about the danger of political correctness, which forbids us to speak truth lest someone be hurt or offended, or lest we err by generalizing. When media outlets abroad report on terror attacks committed by Muslim terrorists, they always add that such behavior does not represent all Muslims, that the majority is moderate. Even if terrorists utilize religion in their messages and send suicide bombers to commit attacks in its name, it is not because of Islam, for Islam preaches peace. And thus the media fail to tell the world what they teach in the madrassas, what they preach in the mosques, what they broadcast on television.

That is how our enemies manage to distort the political discourse and give the world a false picture of the meaning of the conflict. That is how they poison public opinion against us. No amount of public diplomacy on our part has proven capable of preventing these distortions.

How did it happen that we, too, have adopted the rules of political correctness? It is not the entire public from which the lawbreakers spring, the media always stress; the majority is moderate. Once, we called them "wild weeds"; now, they are a "small minority" that the majority is unable to control - as if it were really trying.

And we do not dare to ask out loud: Who educated them? Who incited them? Who says that he "disagrees" but nevertheless "understands"? Who embraces them? Who keeps silent? Who defends them when they are unwilling to cooperate with the authorities? Who praises them when they violate government orders and erect caravans on hilltops? Who defends the girls who refuse to give their names and instead choose prison? Who turns them into heroes when soldiers are compelled to drag them along the ground as they scream? Who rolls his eyes and warns of civil war if we dare to interfere with the lawbreakers? We are a Jewish and democratic state, we proclaim. But since when is majority opinion in a democratic state a mere nonbinding recommendation? Have we ceased to live in a state governed by law? Is sedition not a criminal offense?

Is it a religious commandment to violate judicial rulings? Is it a religious commandment to commit crimes that even the Torah explicitly forbids? Who annulled the halakhic principle that "the law of the state is the law"? Does it only hold for non-Jewish states? And what will become of the Jewish State, which we dreamed of establishing as a just, modern state governed by law, as a beacon that lights the way for the entire Jewish people and invites all the Diaspora to join it? What will become of it?

The author is a retired judge and honorary president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.sociation of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

Harder Line Likud Poised to Win Israeli Election

Above is a photo of Moshe Feiglin. Feiglin can only be described as an anti-democratic racist, yet he was elected to the 20th spot on the Likud Party's list in the upcoming Israeli elections. More disturbing is that his - only slightly less reactionary - allies won 7 of the top 10 positions in recent the Likud primary. Likud "moderates" (which really means right-wing nationalist pragmatists) such as former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and ex-Justice and Finance Minister Dan Meridor, were delegated to relatively low places on the Likud list.

Benyamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud - who is a hawk's hawk; a Nietzschean who believes that power and strength are the only measure of a person's worth or a who believes that peace is an illusion: it is a dog eat dog world and the only choice is whether to eat or be eaten; and a Thatcherite who has openly said that she is his hero, and who as finance minister destroyed Israel's, then already shaky, social safety net - is trying to make the Likud look moderate and centrist to appeal to disaffected Kadima voters. He was worried that Feiglin's success in the Likud primaries would ruin his party's image make-over.

Apparently it doesn't matter. Netanyahu has nothing to worry about. Polls show the Likud winning a plurality with 31 - 36 seats in the 120 seat Knesset.

The Israeli electorate has been bombarded with right wing, hawkish, and racist propaganda for so long now, that even an open fascist like Feiglin does not faze them any more. Kadima appears incompetent, Labour is in disarray, the left - what there is of it - are wusses or 'friers', and Netanyahu has been around so long he has begun to look like an elder statesman. And besides the Arabs deserve it!

For a more complete - and dispassionate - review of the situation read this article from JTA.

The Parable of the Water Tank

When I was a boy I belonged to the socialist Zionist youth movement Habonim. I believe it was in the summer of 1964 that we were given a resource pamphlet titled "Seeking a Socially Just World." In it was a story: "The Parable of the Water Carrier." It obviously made a great impression on me because I never forgot the basic story line, and especially the beginning. It is, of course, a simplified Marxist critique of capitalism. And while the solutions proposed have been tried (at least in part) and found wanting, I believed then - and still do today - that the critique is valid.

The first half of the story is certainly one of the simplest, yet still pretty accurate, descriptions of the chronic cycles of depressions brought on by capitalism: supply outstripping demand and leading to layoffs, which leads to less demand, which leads to more layoffs, .... (Of course, more recently, we have been able to artificially keep up mass demand, despite huge capital accumulation among the super rich, by the use of easy credit. But eventually debts have to be repaid, and that is what we are seeing today, and hence the contraction of demand.)

The story was written by Edward Bellamy and was first published in 1897, four years after the start of the Depression of 1893-98, (which, itself, had been preceded by the "Panic of 1873" and followed by the "Panic of 1901" ...) A history of the time writes:

The huge spike in unemployment, combined with the loss of life savings by failed banks, meant that a once secure middle class could not meet their mortgage obligations. As a result, many walked away from recently built homes. From this, the sight of the vacant Victorian (haunted) house entered the American mindset.[1]

Here then is:

Parable of the Water-Tank

From the book "Equality"

published in 1897, by Edward Bellamy.

T here was a certain very dry land, the people whereof were in sore need of water. And they did nothing but seek after water from morning until night, and many perished because they could not find it.

Howbeit, there were certain men in that land who were more crafty and diligent than the rest, and these had gathered stores of water where others could find none, and these men were called capitalists. And it came to pass that the people of the land came unto the capitalists and prayed them that they would give them of the water they had gathered that they might drink, for their need was sore. But the capitalists answered them and said:

"Go to, ye silly people! Why should we give you of the water we have gathered, for then should we become as ye are, and perish with you. But behold what we will do unto you. Be ye our servants, and ye shall have water."

And the people said, "Only give us to drink, and we will be your servants, we and our children." And it was so.


Now, the capitalists were men of understanding, and wise in their generation. They ordered the people who where their servants in bands, with captains and officers, and some they put at the springs to dip, and others did they make to carry the water, and others did they cause to seek for new springs. And all the water was brought together in one place, and there did the capitalists make a great tank for to hold it, and the tank was called the Market, for it was there that the people , even the servants of the capitalists, came to get water. And the capitalists said unto the people:

"For every bucket of water that ye bring to us, that we may pour it into the tank, which is the Market, behold we will give you a penny; but for every bucket that we shall draw forth to give unto you that you may drink of it, ye and your wives and your children, ye shall give to us two pennies, and the difference shall be our profit, seeing that if it were not for this profit we would not do this thing for you, but ye should all perish."

And it was good in the people's eyes for they were dull of understanding, and they diligently brought water unto the tank for many days, and for every bucket which they did bring, the capitalists gave them every man a penny; but for every bucket that the capitalists drew forth from the tank to give again unto the people, behold, the people rendered to the capitalists two pennies.

And after many days the water-tank, which was the Market, overflowed at the top, seeing that for every bucket the people poured in they received only so much as would buy again half-a-bucket. And because of the excess that was left to every bucket, did the tank overflow, for the people were many, but the capitalists were few, and could drink no more than others. Therefore did the tank overflow.

And when the capitalists saw that the water overflowed, they said to the people,

"See ye not the tank, which is the Market, doth overflow? Sit ye down, therefore, and be patient, for ye shall bring us no more water till the tank be empty."


But when the people no more received the pennies of the capitalists for the water they brought, they could buy no more water from the capitalists, having naught wherewith to buy. And when the capitalist saw that they had no more profit because no man bought water of them, they were troubled. And they sent forth men into the highways, the byways, and the hedges, crying, "If any thirst let him come to the tank and buy water of us, for it doth overflow." For they said among themselves, "Behold, the times are dull; we must advertise."

But the people answered, saying,

"How can we buy unless ye hire us, for how else shall we have wherewithal to buy? Hire ye us, therefore, as before , and we will gladly buy water, for we thirst, and ye will have no need to advertise."

But the capitalists said to the people:

"Shall we hire you to bring water when the tank, which is the Market, doth already overflow? Buy ye, therefore, first water, and when the tank is empty through your buying , we will hire you again."

And so it was because the capitalists hired them no more to bring water that the people could not buy the water they had brought already, and because the people could not buy the water they had brought already, the capitalists no more hired them to bring water.

And the saying went abroad, "It is a crisis."

And the thirst of the people was great, for it was not now as it had been in the days of their fathers, when the land was open before them for everyone to seek water for himself, seeing that the capitalists had taken all the springs, and the wells, and the water-wheels, and the vessels, and the buckets, so that no man might come by water save from the tank, which was the Market. And the people murmured against the capitalists and said:

"Behold, the tank runneth over, and we die of thirst. Give us therefore of the water, that we perish not."

But the capitalists answered, "Not so. The water is ours. Ye shall not drink thereof unless ye buy it of us with pennies." And they confirmed it with an oath, saying, after their manner, "Business is business."

But the capitalists were disquieted that the people bought no more water, whereby they had no more profits, and they spake to one another saying,

"It seemeth that our profits have stopped our profits, and by reason of the profits we have made we can make no more profits. How is it that our profits are become unprofitable to us, and our gains do make us poor? Let us therefore send for the soothsayers, that they may interpret this thing unto us."
And they sent for them.

Now the soothsayers were men learned in dark sayings, who joined themselves to the capitalists by reason of the water of the capitalists, that they might have thereof and live, they and their children. And they spake for the capitalists unto the people, and did their embassies for them, seeing that the capitalists were not a folk quick of understanding, neither ready of speech.

And the capitalists demanded of the soothsayers that they should interpret this thing unto them, wherefore it was that the people bought no more water of them, although the tank was full. And certain of the soothsayers answered and said, "It is by reason of overproduction." And some said, "It is glut." But the signification of the two words is the same. And others said, "Nay, but this thing is by reason of of the spots on the sun." And yet others answered , saying , "It is neither by reason of glut, nor yet of spots on the sun, that the evil hath come to pass, but because of lack of confidence."


And while the soothsayers contended among themselves according to their manner, the men of profit did slumber and sleep, and when they awoke they said to the soothsayers, "It is enough. Ye have spoken comfortably unto us. Now go forth and speak comfortably unto the people, so that they be at rest and leave us also in peace."

But the soothsayers, even the men of the dismal science - for so they were named by some - were loath to go forth to the people lest they should be stoned, for the people loved them not. And they said to the capitalists:

"Masters, it is a mystery of our craft that if men be full and thirst not, but be at rest, then shall they find comfort in our speech, even as ye. Yet if they thirst and be empty, find they no comfort therein, but rather mock at us, for it seemeth that unless a man be full, our wisdom appeareth unto him but emptiness."

But the capitalists said, "Go ye forth. Are ye not our men to do our embassies?"


And the soothsayers went forth to the people and expounded to them the mystery of over production, and how it was that they needs must perish of thirst because there was overmuch water, and how there could not be enough because there was to much. And likewise spoke they unto the people concerning the sun-spots, and also wherefore it was that these things had come upon them them by reason of lack of confidence. And it was even as the soothsayers had said, for to the people their wisdom seemed emptiness. And the people reviled them saying, "Go up, ye bald-heads! Will ye mock us? Doth plenty breed famine? Doth nothing come out of much?" And they took up stones to stone them.

And when the capitalists saw that the people still murmured, and would not give ear to the soothsayers, and because also they feared lest they should come upon the tank and take of the water by force, they brought forth to them certain holy men (but they were false priests), who spake unto the people that they should be quiet and trouble not the capitalists because they thirsted. And these holy men, who were false priests, testified to the people that this affliction was sent to them of God for the healing of their souls, and if they should bear it in patience and lust not after the water, neither trouble the capitalists, it would come to pass that after they had given up the ghost they would come to a country where there should be no capitalists, but an abundance of water. Howbeit, there were certain true prophets of God also, and would not prophesy for the capitalists, but rather spake constantly against them.


Now, when the capitalists saw that the people still murmured and would not be still, neither for the words of the soothsayers nor of the false priests, they came forth themselves unto them, and put the ends of their fingers in the water that overflowed in the tank and wet the tips thereof, and they scattered the drops from the tips of their fingers abroad upon the people who thronged the tank, and the name of the drops of water was charity, and they were exceeding bitter.


And when the capitalists saw yet again that neither for the words of the soothsayers, nor of the holy men who were false priests, nor yet for the drops that were called charity, would the people be still, but raged the more, and crowded upon the tank as if they would take it by force, then they took council together and sent men privily forth among the people and all who had skill in war, and took them apart and spake craftily with them saying:

"Come, now, why cast ye not your lot in with the capitalists? If ye will be their men and serve them against the people, that they break not in upon the tank, then shall ye have abundance of water, that ye perish not, ye and your children."

And the mighty men and they who were skilled in war hearkened unto this speech, and suffered themselves to be persuaded, for their thirst constrained them, and they went within unto the capitalists, and became their men, and staves and swords were put into their hands, and they became a defense unto the capitalists, and smote the people when they thronged upon the tank.


And after many days the water was low in the tank, for the capitalists did make fountains and fishponds of the water thereof, and did bathe therein, they and their wives and their children, and did waste the water for their pleasure.

And when the capitalists saw that the tank was empty, they said, "The crisis is ended": and they sent forth and hired the people that they should bring water and fill it again. And for the water that the people brought to the tank they received for every bucket a penny, but for the water which the capitalists drew forth from the tank to give again to the people they received two pennies, that they might have their profit. And after a time did the tank again overflow even as before.


And now, when many times the people had filled the tank until it overflowed, and had thirsted till the water therein had been wasted by the capitalists, it came to pass that their arose in the land certain men who were called agitators for that they did stir up the people. And they spake unto the people, saying that they should associate, and then they would have no need to be servants of the capitalists, and should thirst no more for water. And in the eyes of the capitalists were the agitators pestilent fellows, and they would fain have crucified them, but durst not for fear of the people.


And the words of the agitators which they spake to the people were on this wise:

"Ye foolish people, how long will ye deceived by a lie, and believe to your hurt that which is not? For behold, all these things which have been said unto you, by the capitalists and the soothsayers are cunningly devised fables. And likewise the holy men, who say that it is the will of God that you should always be poor and miserable and athirst, behold, they do blaspheme God and are liars, whom He will bitterly judge, though He forgive all others. How cometh it that ye may not come by the water in the tank? Is it not because you have no money? And why have ye no money? Is it not because ye receive but one penny for every bucket that ye bring to the tank, which is the Market, but must render two pennies for every bucket ye take out, so that the capitalists may have their profit? See ye not how by this means the tank must overflow, being filled by that ye lack and made to abound out of your emptiness? See ye not also that the harder ye toil and the more diligently ye seek and bring the water, the worse and not the better it shall be for you by reason of the profit, and that forever?"


After this manner spake the agitators for many days unto the people and none heeded them, but it was so that after a time the people hearkened. And they answered and said unto the agitators:

"Ye say truth. It is because of the capitalists and of their profits we may by no means come by the fruits of our labour, so that our labour is in vain, and the more we toil to fill the tank the sooner doth it overflow, and we may receive nothing because there is to much, according to the words of the soothsayers. But behold the capitalist are hard men, and their tender mercies are cruel. Tell us if ye know any way whereby we may deliver ourselves out of our bondage unto them. But if you know of no certain way of deliverance, we beseech you to hold your peace, and let us alone, that we may forget our misery."

And the agitators answered and said "We know a way."

And the people said: "Deceive us not, for this thing hath been from the beginning, and none hath found a way of deliverance till now, though many have sought it carefully with tears. But if ye know a way, speak unto us quickly."


Then the agitators spake unto the people of the way And they said:

"Behold, what need have ye at all of these capitalists, that you should yield them profits upon your labor? What great things do they wherefore ye render them this tribute? Lo! it is only because they do order you in bands and lead you out and in and set you tasks, and afterwards give you a little of the water yourselves have brought and not they. Now, behold the way out of this bondage! Do ye for yourselves that which is done by the capitalists - namely, the ordering of your labor and the marshaling of your bands, and the dividing of your tasks. So shall ye have no need at all of the capitalists, and no more yield them any profit, but all the fruit of your labor shall ye share as brethren, everyone having the same; and so shall the tank never overflow until every man is full, and would not wag the tongue for more, and afterwards shall ye with the overflow make pleasant fountains and fishponds to delight yourselves withal, even as did the capitalists: but these shall be for the delight of all."


And the people answered: "How shall we go about to do this thing, for it seemeth good to us?" And the agitators answered: "Choose ye discreet men to go in and out before you and marshal your bands and order your labor, and these men shall be as capitalists were; but behold they shall not be your masters as the capitalists are, but your brethren and officers who will do your will, and they shall not take any profits, but every man his share like the others, and there may be no more masters and servants among you, but brethren only. And from time to time, as ye see fit, ye shall choose other discreet men in place of the first to order the labour."

And the people hearkened, and said the thing was very good to them. Likewise it seemed not a hard thing. And with one voice they cried out, "So let it be as ye have said, for we will do it!"


And the capitalists heard the noise of shouting, and what the people said, and the soothsayers heard it also, and likewise the false priests and the mighty men of war, who were a defense unto the capitalists; and when they heard they trembled exceedingly, so that their knees smote together , and they said one to another, "It is the end of us!"

Howbeit, there were certain true priests of the living God who would not prophesy for the capitalists, but had compassion on the people; and when they heard the shouting of the people and what they said, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and gave thanks to God because of the deliverance.

And the people went and did all the things that were told them of the agitators to do. And it came to pass as the agitators had said, even according to all their words. And there was no more any thirst in that land, neither any that was a-hungered, not naked, nor cold, nor in any manner of want; and every man man said unto his fellow, "My brother," and every woman said unto her companion, "My sister," for so were they with one another as brethren and sisters which do dwell together in unity. And the blessing of God rested upon that land for ever.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Needed: A Moral Compass

I am reproducing the article below (originally from Haaretz) in it entirety because it is so important.

The only question most people in Israel - and the world wide organized Jewish Community - seem to ask anymore is: "is it good for the Jews?" No one asks:
  • "What is permissible?"
  • "What am I not allowed to do to, even to gain a benefit for myself?"
  • "How much pain can I inflict on others to increase my own safety and well being - and by how much?" "Do Jews have any moral responsibilities to non-Jews?"
  • "What is the point of preserving a Jewish nation?"
  • "What legacy, and what values, are we leaving to the future?"
King David established an empire - but was denied building the Temple, because of blood on his hands. The Hasmoneans re-established a Jewish Kingdom and expanded its borders, but soon sank into immorality and assimilation worse than what they eradicated under the "Greeks". The early Rabbis hated them, and strove to establish a righteous Judaism to stand against them. Does any one recount these histories any more?

Or has the holcaust - and fears (Or is it fear mongering?) of a future one - relieved us of all moral responsibility? Can we now do anything and everything - as long as it is practical - to protect outselves and to ensure the "vitality" of the Jewish people?

In Israel and in the Jewish world today (for the most part) our attitudes and policies toward the Palestinians are a function of our perceptions of geo-politics, of what is expedient, of what we can "get away with", and of what is "best for the Jews." In that respect, all major factions have agreed (at least on the surface) that - if we could get away with it - we would keep the territories and continue to subjugate the Palestinians.

The "moderate" candidate for Prime Minister of Israel - Tzipi Livni - hints darkly at expelling Israeli Arabs, or at least of using the threat to keep them in their place. And she uses this idea to sell the idea of a "Two State Solution" - so we will have somewhere to expel them to.

The Zionist "left" - aka Peace Now - sells the "Two State Solution" as the solution to the "demographic problem" - and the a way of defusing pressure for a - heaven forbid - a one state solution. According this logic, if Palestinians suddenly dropped there birth rate to that of Italians there would be no need to evacuate the territories.

The public intellectuals of the Israel "left" - e.g. Amos Oz and friends - blame the problem on a minority of "fanatics" never questioning why the majority of Israeli Jews consistently votes for parties of the right. They then concern themselves with analysis of the geo-politics of this or that negotiating position, or this or that coalition arrangement - never addressing fundamental questions of the morality of occupation. Discussions of the value, morality, or responsibilities of an ethno-centric Jewish State are, of course, completely taboo.

For all these reasons that article below is significant.

Regaining our moral compass
By Lily Galili

It is hard to remember when exactly moral discourse vanished from our public arena. It happened sometime during the second intifada, as even Israel's left replaced morality with a value system of pragmatic justifications. It is no longer about what is permitted and what is forbidden, even in the context of a bloody conflict. It is about which actions are worthwhile and feasible. Morality became something for nerds, a label the left is afraid of.

The deal Israel's left made was also splendidly pragmatic: It would market the two-state solution to the public and in return make "the other" disappear. Thus the limits of morality were replaced by the limits of power, and universal values were exchanged for the winning argument: "It's good for the Jews." The ultra-scrupulous, who have felt a certain discomfort about having the moral lobe excised from their brains, squirm and say: "It's not that I love Arabs all of a sudden, but ..." Such thinking is on par with the annoying cliche: "It isn't that the Arabs have suddenly become lovers of Zion."

This distorted situation has been perpetuated to the extent that it has become impossible to remember that there used to be a different reality. This is what things look like today: Yisrael Beiteinu MK Avigdor Lieberman is proposing to move Israel's Arab citizens to another country. The counterargument: This isn't practical. The siege on Gaza is starving its inhabitants. The counterargument: They're just going to launch more Qassams. Jews are launching pogroms against Arabs in Hebron. Not a good idea at all - it'll just prompt reprisal actions.

The list is long and astounding. And if revoking citizenship were practical, and if Arabs were to swear on the Koran not to respond to the siege and the pogrom, would it be morally right to carry out all those actions?

Assuming that the answer is no, no one is going to say so aloud. It is hard to find anyone in the public arena, and certainly the political arena, to sound a moral voice and propose clear norms of good and evil. To use a technological metaphor - the moral compass has been replaced by a practical GPS. And for those who prefer metaphors from a different conceptual realm: It has been a long time since the prophets disappeared from our lives - the prophets of wrath and even the false prophets. Today no one even has the pretensions of prophesizing. This is, after all, the role of intellectuals in the modern world - to discern the boundaries between good and evil, between what is permitted and what is forbidden. In short, to be prophets. However, if we return to Ahad Ha'am's distinction between a priest, who serves the people and gives them what they need, and a prophet, who chastises and rebukes, our intellectuals serve as translators into the language of the possible and the worthwhile - a reality that we understand in any case. What a waste of their talents.

It should be noted that we have an abundance of priests. We don't need Amos Oz to declare resoundingly that the Labor party's historic role has come to an end - for that we have pollster Mina Zemach. But this, too, has already become tradition. Oz, sometimes by joining an impressive duet with A.B. Yehoshua, has proposed several unity governments over the years and has established and dismantled coalitions using advice whispered into the ears of pet politicians. It is not clear who bestowed this role on the two novelists, a role usually reserved for political bigwigs. Yet it is perfectly clear that they have betrayed their role as trailblazers and identifiers of morality and justice. In the choice between priest and prophet, they chose to be priests.

There is no one who will preach morality to us on behalf of the Palestinians, Israel's Arabs, the handicapped, the poor and all the "others." The latest report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel shows crystal clear that we have already exacerbated all the damage we can do to them. The drama is turning into a real social and political tragedy, as the prophets are slowly being replaced by the messiahs. As a result of this process, a large public is finding itself trapped between priest and messiah, a deadly combination in an environment lacking clear moral criteria.

Obviously it is difficult to talk about morality in a reality of corrupt governments and a distorted division of the world into the axis of evil and the rest. But now, precisely now, a window of opportunity for correction has opened. Barack Obama's election as U.S. president has immediately changed the atmosphere, and the global economic crisis is restoring some moral consideration to economic discourse. Israel's government is about to be replaced and a new leftist party wants to take over the leadership of "the camp." Such a move must be accompanied by a semantic change and a revised consciousness - including, for example, explicitly saying that some things aren't done, not because they don't bring any gain, but because they are immoral. To use such language does not turn the speaker into a "sucker" - it transforms him or her into a human being. The left has done its share in the transformation of morality into an expression of weakness; now it has a chance to restore morality to its natural place as an important element in the nation's strength.

However, right now, it doesn't seem like this is going to happen. On arid earth where there is no morality, no new left will grow.

Friday, December 12, 2008

They Fiddle While GM burns

Both American and Canadian politicians are fiddling while the auto-industry - and with it the entire economy - burns.

Yesterday the U.S Senate Republicans scuttled a $15 billion emergency loan package to GM and Chrysler. This morning Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that "acting too quickly" would be devastating for the economy. This afternoon GM announced it was closing all it North American operations for six weeks starting Jan 1 !

That will throw 300,000 GM workers out of work - temporarily one hopes. That alone will increase the U.S unemployment rate by 3% in January. If you add in the 1-2,000,000 workers outside of GM whose jobs depend directly on GM - parts suppliers, shippers, dealers - who will also probably face layoffs as a result - you get an increase of closer to 15% in the unemployment rate. This is where we will be by next month.

So what is the U.S. Congress and Mr Flaherty waiting for ? When will it not be "too quick" to act? Flaherty claims he is worried about ongoing deficits! Who cares about deficits when the house is on fire. Now is the time to take out a loan, and buy a fire hose! When the fire is out we can worry about paying back the loan.

Flaherty claims he is worried it will take to long for moneys he puts into a stimulus to have any effect on the real economy. Is that a reason to slow down? No - it is a reason to hurry up!

Want an idea that will create jobs fast, help save GM, boost the Canadian economy, and improve the environment? Order 2000 GM Hybrid Electric buses. They are made in Canada. At approximately $500,000 each that will push $1 billion into the Canadian economy. When they arrive - give them as gifts to municipal transit systems. It will get some older more polluting buses off the streets and increase public transit ridership as well. A win win win situation.

Will the Canada's Conservative Government do something like that. I doubt it. They don't get whats going on. They are fighting the last war: consumed by frugality and "free market" orthodoxy. And, of course, they don't really give a sh*t about the people who are losing their jobs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Harper and Iggy

Well maybe that was just a bit over the top! And it is already dated. (But given this week in Canadian politics what isn't !)

Nevertheless it is correct on at least one points. Harper is a dangerous megalomaniac whose instincts are extreme and nasty. Sometimes his brains control his instincts, but often - as in the period leading up to the formation of the "coalition" - they don't.

He is now promising to "compromise with the opposition" (Harper's own words) and put more stimulus measures in his budget. And he has promised not to ban federal employees' right to strike, and not to repeal public funding for political parties. (However, he still hasn't given-in on repealing pay equity for women.) Strategically this makes sense - and it is good for the country too. But his own words belie his thinking. He is not going to do these things because he now thinks they are right; but because he is being forced to "compromise." If he had his druthers - or a majority - he would do none of this.

Should this government be defeated. You bet! It policies - so far - and its instincts - all along - have been wrong for Canada and for these times. Only 38% of the voters thought they were correct in the last election. The rest of Canadians - 62% - voted for parties clearly to the left of the conservatives.

Will this governmnet be defeated soon? I doubt it. With Iggy as the new liberal leader - caution will be the word of the day. Iggy, too, would prefer to rule alone, rather than have to compromise with the NDP. And he figures if he waits a year or 18 months he can reach that goal. And if the country has to suffer through a worse recession than necessary so that more people get good and fed up with the Conservatives - well so be it. "In the end it will better for the Liberals and me personally" - so thinks Iggy today.

As a strategy for personal power and rebuilding the Liberal party, it may indeed be better to wait a year before bringing down the government and fighting an election. But allowing wrong and destructive policies to batter the country for another year - when you have it in your power to form a government and change those policies now - that is not leadership, or patriotism, in my book.

I hope Iggy and the Libs take the plunge and bring on the coalition as soon as possible, but I am not betting on it. In the end they are likely to remain cautious careerist centrists - as always.