Monday, November 28, 2005

I feel like a kid whose birthday party got cancelled. Now's the time in the political cycle when I get courted by every Likudnik with political ambitions. I've been so looking forward to meeting with all the craven opportunists who lied to me three years ago about what they intended to do in the Knesset. So what do they go and do but start their own party. I'm crestfallen. There will still be plenty of suitors, though, and I hope to chronicle my dates right here, so stay tuned.

Two quick points. First, whether you're a right-winger or a left-winger, if you care about democracy you should be scared to death of Sharon. He is personally corrupt and the people around him are corrupt, but that is the least of it. He began this new party because he holds the electorate, the Likud voters and his fellow Knesset members in utter contempt. He regards those who disagree with him as obstacles, not as partners in dialogue. Knesset members who vote their consciences (and, in fact, their party platform) are deemed rebels and rabble-rousers. The very notion of debate and negotiation, the lifeblood of democracy, strikes him as a nuisance.

He now has formed a party in which he appoints the list of candidates and makes all the decisions. Everyone in the party has followed him to it as a result of having flamed out elsewhere and is utterly dependent on his goodwill. This is not a by-product of the circumstances under which the party was formed but rather its very raison d'etre. That should be frightening enough, but get this: his latest meshugas is to seek to change the electoral system to a presidential system in which (so he imagines) he will not be answerable to anyone at all. May God help us; the courts and press certainly won't. (For the record, I am all for electoral reform but not the kind of reform designed for the sole purpose of anointing Sharon All-Knowing Master of Space, Time and Dimension. I'll get into this another time.)

Second point. The distribution of seats among small parties matters not at all. What matters is who can form a coalition -- left or right. If you count the Likud as a right-wing party, the right/left distribution after the last election was 70/50. All that need interest us here is how many voters will cross the right-left divide. Counting Sharon as a left-wing party, there are only two potential crossover blocs: Shas voters going to Amir Peretz and Likud voters going to Sharon. There isn't much potential for crossovers in the other direction. (There will be plenty of Shinui and (Ashkenazi) Labor votes going to Sharon and plenty of Likud votes going to Mafdal-National Union but those aren't crossovers.)

Those Shas losses and Likud losses are the only votes that matter. I assume Shas can take care of their problems on their own. As for the Likud, they'll need to portray Sharon's party as irredeemably opposed to core Likud values, or whatever little is left of them. What better gift could one hope for, then, than Shimon Peres signing on with Sharon? As far as I can tell, the last remaining core Likud value is hatred of Shimon Peres.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

America, America. In five days, I got to do a whole lot of stuff you just can't do in Israel: drive through endless fall foliage, listen to WFAN and classic rock radio (but what ever happened to WCBS-FM 101.1 playing the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s?!), eat gobs of corned beef and pastrami, visit three different Barnes and Nobleses and buy Costco-sized bags of chocolate for the progeny.

I miss all that and I'm thankful for all the great things one can do in the goldene medinah. But above all I'm thankful that after a few days I go back home before the excess turns my brain to sawdust ("Eric Menendez's lover speaks! Details at 11!") and my body to stuffed kishke.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I've referred in the past to some interesting ideas of R. Gedalia Nadel. But his truly astonishing material is on Bereishis. To appreciate why this is astonishing, you have to understand that RGN was a talmid muvhak of the Hazon Ish and, at various times, was one of the heads of Kollel Hazon Ish and of the Vizhnitzer yeshiva in Benei Beraq. In short, we're talking serious frum.

RGN's general approach to Bereishis is that one should view the text as metaphorical precisely to the extent necessary to render it consistent with the best available scientific knowledge. Those who trust scientific research for determining the effectiveness of medical treatments, should be just as trusting of research in evolutionary biology and other areas which conflict with a literal reading of Bereishis.

Thus, for example, he explains that the names Adam and Eve refer simply to the human species. The story of Adam's creation from the earth and Eve's creation from Adam's rib are simply metaphors for evolutionary processes. The narrative refers also to particular humans who are simply referred to by the generic name Adam. In particular, the father of Kayin and Hevel is called Adam, as is the father of Sheis (Seth), but this latter is a different Adam. The traditional count of 5766 years begins from Adam, father of Sheis.

Interestingly, RGN believes that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were actual trees. The Tree of Life was simply a tree that provided nutrients which allowed humans who consumed them to live for a very long time ("le-olam"). The Tree of Knowledge contained psychotropic matter (a more apt term would be "entheogens", which literally means "generating the God within") the effect of which was to turn Spock-like, purely rational, creatures into creatures in constant struggle with their emotions.

The Mabul, according to RGN, was confined to some area in the Middle East that had become particulary corrupt. (RGN notes that there is a dispute in Zevachim 113a whether the Mabul reached Eretz Yisrael, so clearly the view that it covered the whole world is not an exclusive one.) The animals on the Ark were only those indigenous to the affected region.

(One more really cute thing: RGN notes that the words "tze'etza" and "nin" which mean "descendant" are both written with repeated letter sequences (tzadi-alef-tzadi-alef and nun-nun) because they are defined recursively. Does this work for other examples?)

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Knesset Law Committee (vaadat chukah) held a hearing today on two reports on violations of rights of disengagement opponents. One report was the brief brief leaked from the Public Defender's office and the other was the one put out by an organization I'm involved with (English version). Three little girls who sat in jail for extended periods came but weren't given an opportunity to speak at the hearing. They were interviewed by the press before the session. If anybody hears or sees coverage of the story in the press, please let me know.

The session was well attended as these things go; even a number of MKs who are not on the committee showed. Yuli Edelstein and Zevulun Orlev sang the praises of our report and made all the appropriate noises. Even Zahava Galon of Meretz asked the head of the Public Defender's office some hard questions about why she backed down from some charges about political bias in the courts that appeared in the brief leaked from her office. The following facts emerged from her response:
1. By law, her office has the right to issue statements independently of the Justice Ministry.
2. She was "asked" by higher-ups in the Justice Ministry to publicly retract the charge.
3. Officials in the Justice Ministry can have her fired.
You piece it together.

Shai Nitzan, the assistant DA in charge of prosecuting disengagement opponents (and a no-longer-kippa-wearing graduate of Netiv Meir) tried to downplay the charges by noting that only 5 kids were detained for the duration of proceedings against them. This was totally disingenuous since it deliberately ignores the many more kids who were held for over a month but not for the duration, as well as the many who were put under house arrest with no legal justification.