Friday, June 27, 2008

Two Ehuds

My rage at the political farce played out this week by Ehud & Ehud hasn't really cooled all that much and it's hard to put into words how deeply the selfish, petty, myopic and destructive posturing of Israel's so-called leaders offends me. But I'm still here and they're still there and I'm ever mindful of the constraints that puts on the relevance of my opinion.

There are, however, actual Israelis who share it, and I can usually count on Treppenwitz to present a clear and articulate exposition of most any issue that often manages to mirror my own emotions as well as my thoughts. In this post, David explains what's been going on and shares his own feelings of betrayal. He also helps to clarify for me another dilemma I've been struggling with over the past few years.

You may not like or trust Natanyahu. Heck, I can think of 3 or 4 other people I'd rather see as Prime Minister. But Bibi's the only one who has a realistic shot of beating the current bunch of clowns right this very minute. He has also been a responsible opposition leader, being quietly supportive during wartime and bringing measured pressure to bear on the government at critical junctures.

Many don't trust Natanyahu because he failed to deliver on many of his promises during his last tenure as PM. But they conveniently forget that he was hopelessly saddled with the suicidal Oslo Accords which he had inherited from his predecessors.

Setting aside existing treaties is not an easy thing to do. This is one of the big reasons it is doubly troubling watching Olmert and Co.try to ram through new agreements at the last minute before the ax falls. If elections are held before the current government does too much damage Natanyahu would have no Oslo-like albatross around his neck and he would have the advantage of a nation that is ready for a complete change in the way we conduct our internal and international business.

I think that's exactly right. Or maybe it's just desperation. Maybe it's just the growing sense that almost anything would be better than the jokers who are running Israel today. Even from this distance, it's painful to watch.

And then there's this follow-up post, in which David explains how wily old Olmert pulled one over using one of the oldest tricks in the book.

It now turns out that Olmert - our very own Br'er Rabbit - was pleading "Please don't force us to hold internal primaries", when in fact that is precisely what he wanted.
Brilliant! And you really must read the whole thing. (It's short ... honest.)

Finally, the last word this week comes from Ann Woolner, who in this column for Bloomberg (much of which I disagree with) does manage to get right to the hollow core of the "activist judge" bludgeon.

Can we please just admit that the term judicial activism has no meaning, other than to slam opinions with which one doesn't agree?

I'm certain we can't. The right gets far too much effective leverage out of it. But we should. It would contribute tremendously to the honesty and integrity of our public discourse about matters of jurisprudence. But I guess it would require a quid pro quo of some sort, and I can't imagine what the left could possibly offer in return. "Third Bush term" and "tax breaks for the rich" just don't have nearly the same resonance as "death tax" and "judicial activism." Ah, well.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jewish jihad

It looks like Ynet made this headline up. And heaven knows they never miss an opportunity to bash the haredim. But as opportunities go, this is a doozie. And Ynet gets it exactly right.* It's Jewish jihad.

Less than 24 hours before the Jerusalem Pride Parade kicks off, authorities are growing increasingly concerned of possible acts of violence at the hands of extremist groups.

Poster hung throughout the capital's streets called on Jerusalem's residents to "commit their souls" against "the abomination parade" and stone those taking part in it.

The posters were allegedly signed by Yishai Schlissel, who stabbed and wounded three participants of the May 2006 Jerusalem Pride Parade. He was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison. It is unclear, however, whether his signature is genuine. The identity of those behind the posters remains unknown.

"I call on those loyal to the king to commit their souls, their freedom, and their being to fight against the will of the evil to have an abomination parade," the letter said. "Now is the time of reckoning – who will be faithful to the King and who will abandon the battle out of personal interests."

So much for the decision the haredi community announced last week to ignore the parade and forego the publicity it usually gets. Of course, the people involved in this "protest" are pretty much the lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe. And it gets worse.

Earlier in the day Jerusalem city councilman Sa'ar Netanel, who is also one of the most prominent leaders of Israel's GLBT community, received an envelope filled with an unidentified white powder to his office along with a news article clipping about the parade. Police were alerted to the scene and launched an investigation.

Following the incident Netanel told Ynet he was "already used to receiving various threats every year.

"In the past there have been envelopes with threats, phone calls, 'pashkevilim' (street posters) calling for my death. This year was an innovation though. It's the first time I have received powder. But it never deterred me in the past and I will not be deterred this year as either. All of this just proves how necessary it is to hold the parade in Jerusalem."

I'm still on the fence about how "necessary" it is to hold this parade in Jerusalem every year. In some respects, I can understand objections to holding any parade that is primarily about (or appears to some to be primarily about) sexuality in a city that so many consider holy. The fact is, though, that its participants and proponents believe and intend this parade to be about love, integrity and tolerance. And their opponents' objections are based primarily in hate, bigotry and intolerance. No one can even begin to convince me that the behavior incited and threatened above has anything whatsoever to do with Judaism or spirituality. As the headline says, it's jihad. With all that implies.

And that makes it pretty much a no-brainer for me. Whether or not holding the parade in Jerusalem is "necessary," it's right.

*Update: OTOH, it's possible that this is Ynet up to its usual tricks again. Or that Ynet itself was a willing dupe of someone (else) with an anti-haredi agenda. No other source has carried this story that I can find. And the more I look at it, the more totally nuts it sounds. So a healthy dose of skepticism is advised.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Politics as usual

They used to say there was no honor among thieves. Maybe so, but there's even less among Israeli politicians. So it goes.

Labor and Kadima agreed late Tuesday night to work together to reject any proposal which calls for the dissolution of the Knesset, whether it is brought to the floor on Wednesday, or any time in the coming weeks.

The agreement was a result of a meeting between Labor party secretary-general Eitan Cabel and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) which lasted several hours, and allowed both parties to avoid a potentially hazardous political showdown.

According to the agreement, the Kadima party promised to convene a committee on Wednesday which would begin the process of primaries for choosing a new chairperson. On Monday of next week, the Kadima faction will discuss the results, and 10 days later the Kadima council will convene to determine an exact date for primary elections, to be held before September 25. Should a run-off election be needed as well, that, too, will be held before September 25.

So Olmert (probably) survives to run his country into the ground yet another day. Without even getting Shas involved. Nice. Congratulations. Mazal tov.

A bill by Likud MK Silvan Shalom calling for the Knesset to be dissolved was to be brought to the floor on Wednesday, and until late Tuesday night, had a very good chance of garnering the support necessary in order to pass and force early elections. Given the latest development, however, there is now a chance that the bill will not be raised during Wednesday's session.


Monday, June 23, 2008


If you haven't already, please make a point of reading this J-Post column. Moshe Yaalon is saying the hard things that need to be said.

"In some situations we need to agree to make sacrifices in the face of what is demanded of us, because the price we would have to pay is far heavier than the price of losing a kidnapped soldier," former IDF chief of general staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon said Monday, referring to tentative prisoner exchange plans with Hizbullah and Hamas.

Ya'alon, speaking in a conference in the Tel Hai College dedicated to leadership in the IDF in the 21st Century, was hinting that there was a limit to what Israel would be willing to do in order to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, held captive by Hamas for almost two years, and reservists Elda Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose capture by Hizbullah in July 2006 sparked the Second Lebanon War.

And then there's this, from J-Post columnist Judy Montagu:

Getting Kuntar back is of immense propaganda value to Nasrallah, who has promised his followers time and again that the burly Druse will lead the joyous line of released prisoners wending their way back home to the bosom of their families.

And there is no doubt that Kuntar, who continues to glory in his exploits, will go on to inspire, plan and perhaps himself carry out as many acts of mischief against Jewish targets as he can fit into his working day. In February, in a letter to Nasrallah published in the Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida, he vowed to continue his struggle against the Zionist entity.

"My oath and pledge is that my only place will be on the front lines... soaked in the sweat of your giving and the blood of those who are most dear, and that I will continue down the path until complete victory," he wrote.

To Hizbullah, Kuntar has become an icon of the war against Israel. And this, perhaps, is the most compelling reason why he needs to remain under lock and key.

Not that anyone's going to pay attention. They never do. But Montagu has this exactly right. She's nailed this one to the wall and managed in the process to clarify the poles of another controversy that has been too effectively used as a stalking horse by Israel's enemies (including one of her own /spit!/)

IN THE 1990s, I wrote an op-ed about the unique and powerful nature of a symbol. The context was a very different one, though it also touched upon the killing of Jews. It was the controversial question of whether or not our national orchestra should perform Richard Wagner's music in Israel.

The issue, I ventured, could not be decided on the basis of reason alone.

"That we cheer the works of other composers who in their time were anti-Semites while we ban Wagner is quite true," I wrote. "Mussorgsky, Chopin and Wagner - all were anti-Semites. The difference between them is that Wagner has become a symbol of a demonic era."

And a symbol has extraordinary ability to move and stir, to impassion and unite.

Too true, and too often ignored by those who consider themselves intellectually above such primitive influence. The truth is, of course, that none of us are. Not us, not our enemies, not those who stand on the sidelines watching. The fight for Israel's survival is very much dependent upon symbols and the manipulation thereof. We don't appear to have quite figured that out yet, though. Judy Montagu has.

Among the prisoners slated for release together with Kuntar are, more than likely, those who will return to terrorism of one kind or another, and that is not something to be minimized. The difference between them and Kuntar is that Kuntar has become a symbol. Like the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Yassin in his day, and like Fatah's imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, he has become larger than life, in and of himself a force to be reckoned with.

Imagine the crowds, the songs, the posters and banners, the jubilation as Kuntar reenters his native land after three decades in Zionist captivity. Picture the baby face of his mentor, Nasrallah, glowing with satisfaction at having kept his promise to bring this son of Lebanon home.

Then imagine the youthful and not-so-youthful hearts that will thrill to their hero's words, and the fighters who will ache to emulate his deeds.

That's the power of a symbol. It is why Samir Kuntar must not be given his freedom.

Indeed it is.

One of the parents of one of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers expressed last week the sentiment that failure to capitulate to the demands of the terrorists will only lead to more kidnappings. With utmost respect and sympathy to a woman who is suffering the most horrific kind of emotional pain, she's got it exactly backwards.

Sheer insanity

If this Ynet story is to be believed, the future of the Israeli government depends entirely upon the whims of that bunch of lunatics known as Shas. This cannot be happening.

Prime Minster Ehud Olmert is considering handing in his resignation to President Shimon Peres in the coming days should the motion calling for the Knesset's dissolution pass a preliminary vote on Wednesday, sources in the PM's Office told Ynet Monday night.

According to the sources, Olmert has yet to consult with his advisors on the issue, but his associates have already examined the possible outcomes of such a move and are expected to present their position to the prime minister.

"If the Knesset dissolution bill passes on Wednesday, the choice will be between resigning or having to face the government's collapse following a no-confidence vote," an Olmert aide said. "We'll have to seriously weigh both options

Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Unless you're an egotistical monomanial jackass whose only priority in life is what he sees in the mirror each morning. But here's the rub.

However, Olmert has yet to give up on his efforts to block the dissolution motion. Earlier in the day he met with Shas Chairman Eli Yishai to try and persuade the religious party not to vote in favor of the Knesset dissolution bill.

Olmert’s office said that “the prime minister is opposed to providing child welfare stipends based on professional research proving that increasing payments maintain poverty and societal gaps. The incentives presented to Shas can remove many people from poverty and Olmert will not increase the child welfare payments."

As part of his efforts to appease Shas, Olmert offered Yishai a budget increase of over NIS 1 billion for the low-income population but not through child welfare payments. Yishai rejected the offer and discussions between the sides are expected to continue until Wednesday’s vote.

Sources close to Olmert do not exclude the possibility that the prime minister’s representatives will try to convince Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to accept the additional payments. If Shas accepts the offer, it is unlikely that a vote for a Knesset dissolution bill will occur on Wednesday.

Pay them enough and they'll capitulate. It's always worked before. So Olmert has a pass, and it's close to a sure bet he'll use it. Because ...

This may also affect the Labor party's strategy, after its chairman, Ehud Barak hinted at a Labor faction meeting at the Knesset that “if Shas changes its mind, we will have to reassess are moves.”

You know what a shanda is? Well, this is a shanda. And then some.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Credit where it's due

This happens to be a subject, and a loss, close to my heart (so to speak).

Washington, D.C. – Last week, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a resolution to honor the life of Robert Mondavi, a pioneer of the California wine industry who passed away in May at the age of 94. Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced a companion resolution in the House.

Senator Boxer said, “Those who knew Robert Mondavi recognized him as a uniquely passionate and brilliant man. He took pride in promoting California wines worldwide and advocating causes that he held close to his heart. His work will be remembered fondly by all those whose lives he touched. He will be deeply missed in the Napa Valley and in California.”

“Robert Mondavi is a name that will forever be associated with great California wine. He was a winemaking pioneer who showcased California’s ability to make world-class wines. He dedicated his life to being an ambassador for California wine and food and proved that Napa Valley wines could compete on the international stage,” Senator Feinstein said. “He will be missed.”

Congressman Thompson said, “Robert Mondavi was without question one of the true pioneers of the California wine industry. Were it not for his foresight and determination, the Napa Valley would not be what it is today. Robert was not only an extraordinary winemaker and businessman; he was a pillar of our community. His legacy can be found throughout Northern California, from COPIA to the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, from the Napa Valley Wine Auction charitable giving to his work on land stewardship and habitat preservation. His passing leaves a void that cannot possibly be filled. He was a wonderful friend and I will miss him greatly.”

The resolution recognizes Mondavi’s many achievements, including the establishment, in 1965, of the Napa Valley winery that bore his name and helped bring visibility and acclaim to California wine, the innovative techniques he brought to wine production, as well as his commitment to philanthropy.

Mondavi was just a month away from his 95th birthday. He had a good, long life that had more than its share of soaring triumphs and deep disappointments. Kudos to Feinstein, Boxer and Thompson for promoting this well-deserved recognition.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Weekly blog

So Omri comes back from a month off and dumps a huge load of doom and gloom. All of which, unfortunately, is undeniably accurate. And then he disappears again.

Meryl, meanwhile, rips Pat Buchanan a new one, though it's hard to tell, as he's been ripped so many of late and hmmmm ... how do you rip a new hole in an old hole? The man's very existence is ... well, I'd best stop there.

And speaking of holes ... Holy Wappingers Falls! Are Al Sharpton's shakedowns actually about to catch up with him? (Excuse me ... I meant, of course, alleged shakedowns.) Who's next, I wonder.

Hey, it was a good day for President Bush. Not such a good day for the Democrats (or at least their left-wing cohort). And a really bad day for the stock market. Two out of three ain't bad.

And I'm out of time and out of week.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, June 13, 2008


A bit after the fact, I found this inspiring account of Shavuot morning 5768 in Jerusalem, written by Judy Lash Balint. She's a wonderful writer and she almost always manages to convey an uncanny sense that you're somehow right there along with her.

It’s 5:00 a.m on Shavuot morning and I’m having trouble finding an empty seat at any shul in Jerusalem’s Old City. Every synagogue is already packed as I make the mistake of lingering a few minutes too long at the Kotel amongst the tens of thousands who have made their way there after a night of learning.

After dropping in at three shuls, I finally find a spot on a bench under an outer archway of the women’s section of the tiny synagogue inside the Old Yishuv Court Museum on Or Hahayim Street. After Hallel and the reading of the Ten Commandments, a swift Haftarah reading brings us to the Yizkor memorial prayer. Only a few women are left inside as the young girls who filled the place and have not yet lost parents file out. It’s about the same proportion down at the Kotel -- it seems that at least two thirds of the masses thronging the Kotel plaza are under 30.

Coming barely a week after Jerusalem Day, when similar numbers of mostly young people filled the area to celebrate the reunification of the city, the Shavuot early morning spectacle is another affirmation of the strength of the connection of the people to its roots.

There's more, of course.

It's been a busy week, what with the holiday and a nice few days' visit with my mom and stepfather. My muse appears to be on vacation and so does my motivation for getting my act together and moving this blog to a permanent home. I'm hoping to get back to that next week.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, June 6, 2008


It's coming, ready or not. Temperatures are going to be in the upper 90s around Philadelphia for the next four days. So keeping cool is going to be tough. And expensive. But yes, we have no tornadoes in our forecast.

I think I'll be skipping the Corestates First Union Wachovia Commerce Bank USPRO Philadelphia International Championship bike race this year. Ok, I'm a wimp.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Utterly predictable

Yeah, you could just hear the feathers ruffling around the world when Barack Obama said this in front of AIPAC yesterday.

"Any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.

"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided," Obama said.

Of course you knew he didn't mean what it sounded like he meant. No effing way. So it was only a matter of time.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama did not rule out Palestinian sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem when he called for Israel's capital to remain "undivided," his campaign told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.

"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided," Obama declared Wednesday, to rousing applause from the 7,000-plus attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.

But a campaign adviser clarified Thursday that Obama believes "Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties" as part of "an agreement that they both can live with."

"Two principles should apply to any outcome," which the adviser gave as: "Jerusalem remains Israel's capital and it's not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967."

He refused, however, to rule out other configurations, such as the city also serving as the capital of a Palestinian state or Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods.

The messiah [sic] failed to reveal how such configurations could be effectuated without barbed wire and checkpoints (or, in the alternative, massive loss of Jewish life). But I'm sure he'll tell us when the time is right.

This is sometimes known as hedging your bets ... a/k/a having your waffle and eating it too. Nice try, Barack.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Not so fast

I've made no secret of my contempt for the release of live prisoners in exchange for dead body parts. I understand the reasons, but as I've said before*, the sancitity of the dead does not take precedence over the preservation of life, and the killers will kill again.

On the other hand, this is a little different.

Lebanese prisoner Nissim Nasser was released Sunday morning from the Nitzan Prison in Ramallah. He was accompanied by Immigration Police officers to the Rosh Hanikra crossing point, where he was returned to Lebanon.

Nasser is believed to have been released as part of a future prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah, ... [speculation omitted].

"I am happy he is being released and I hope that it has to do with a future deal. He told me he is very happy to return to Lebanon and is expected to receive a warm welcome there," Nasser's lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan, said as she arrived at the crossing point.

"He leaves behind two daughters who Israeli citizens, and this is a tragedy. He himself is not talking about a deal, but I find it hard to believe that the State of Israel would release him so easily otherwise," she added.

First of all, Nasser, as far as we know, isn't a murderer. He was arrested for espionage. More to the point, he was sentenced to six years in prison. And his term was up ... last month. So the posturing on both sides regarding this release is, IMO, slightly overdone.

Kuntar, of course, is an entirely different matter.

Some more background on Nasser, if you're interested:

On June 27, 2002, an indictment on charges of spying for Hezbollah was filed against Nissim Musa Nasser, a 34-year-old Lebanese-born Jewish Israeli living in Holon. Nasser, whose late father was a Shi'ite (his mother is Jewish), had remained in close telephone contact with his brother in Lebanon since emigrating to Israel ten years ago. In 2000, Nasser began complaining to his brother that he was experiencing severe financial problems. During one conversation, he was told that a member of Hezbollah who might be able to help wanted to speak with him. He subsequently contacted the Hezbollah member several times. On one such occasion, a high-ranking Hezbollah official was put on the line and asked him to provide the group with a map of the Tel Aviv area showing the locations of gas and electricity installations. Nasser was also asked to contact a senior IDF officer with whom he was acquainted.

According to the indictment, Nasser acquired a map designating the locations of gas depots and electrical power stations in Tel Aviv, which he also photographed on his own initiative. In addition, he relayed to his Hezbollah contact details of his conversation with the IDF officer, who revealed that Israel had no intention of invading Lebanon and told him about top secret plans to assassinate terrorist leaders in Lebanon. Nasser, who confessed to most of the charges, was arrested before he could meet with a Hezbollah contact abroad to deliver the intelligence and receive payment of $1,000.

*Links to InContext posts pre-dating November 18, 2007, including several rants about the possible release of Samir Kuntar in 2004 and 2006, are temporarily in suspended animation but will be returning soon, at another location TBA ...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A slice of history

They say history is written by the victors. But who are they? We tend to think of battles and conflicts as having two monolithic sides, but this is rarely the case. Almost always, the main parties themselves suffer divisions and disagreements, and these usually carry on long past the end of the fighting itself. So history is often written by the victors among the victors, who tend to remove or bury those slices they find distasteful.

David Bogner, again blogging toward Yom Yerushalayim (which begins tonight) has posted this translation of an amazing and disturbing account of the battle for the Old City of Jerusalem -- in 1948 (original in Hebrew). It reveals some the divisions we'd rather not talk about or, as David describes it, "the ugly infighting that goes on to this day between the old-guard Israeli establishment and those who prefer to view Zionism through the lens of Jewish history." This story is written from the perspective of the latter, who were in many ways the losers among the victors in 1948, if not so much in 1967.

This is not a feel good story, and there are elements of it that are extremely troubling. But I strongly encourage you to read it. Moshe Rusnak - A Hero of Israel. It's a slice of history that belongs in the whole picture.

And for yet another perspective (one I obviously don't share), here's an account of some of the same history written by an Arab Legion officer who also fought in the '48 war.

Solomon says ...

Circulating ...

Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, whom Israel has agreed to free as part of a possible prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah, has vowed to continue engaging in terror after his release.

Kuntar, who was jailed in the Hadarim Prison in the Sharon region 29 years ago, after murdering the Haran family members and two police officers during a terror attack on the northern city of Nahariya, made the promise in a letter to Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

I simply can't wrap my mind around any possibility of an agreement on the part of the Israeli government to release Kuntar, so I'm going to discount that part of the report. For now.

Solomonia says:

Kuntar is the best argument for the death penalty I've ever come across.

Truer words were never published.

Remember the ir-Rev. Jeremiah Wright's 9-16-01 sermon about the chickens coming home to roost? That sermon, entitled "The Day of Jerusalem's fall" actually focused much more on (taking the last two lines of Psalm 137 totally out of context) the dashing of children's heads against rocks. Well, Kuntar (whom Wright undoubtedly reveres as a "liberator") has been there and done that. What a guy.