Monday, July 24, 2006

I rarely watch the news on TV. In any case, the news of late has been numbingly and depressingly repetitive. Katyushas landed causing casualties, the air force struck targets, ground forces suffered casualties, some politician said something or other. Like in Groundhog Day, we seem to be doomed to live the same day over and over again until we get it right.

And yet in the midst of this high drama, there is a tiny bit of comic relief. Every day there is a new "envoy" who has come to bring good tidings from "the world". The world believes that we must "give peace a chance". What is needed is diplomacy, restraint and hundreds of other duplicitous words pulled straight out of some Orwellian thesaurus. Like most people, I used to watch these guys and start muttering something like, "Who the f%$# does that Nazi scumbag think he is to give us morality lessons bla bla bla".

I finally caught on that this is the wrong approach. The last thing these guys expect is to have their little soliloquies taken seriously. They're just character actors, on what they think is a sitcom, doing their shtick.

With this in mind, have another look at that French Minister of Self-Righteousness, just blown in for cocktails with Shimon Peres, as he holds court on the Evening News. Ignore the words (easy for me since, unlike my cultured friends, I don't speak a word of French). Think Kramer barging through Jerry's door in a mad fit over some bit of inanity. It's intended to be amusing. "The French Republique (pregnant pause, look to the right, look to the left), bleh bleh bleh Violance! bleh bleh bleh Securite! bleh bleh bleh Egalitaire! (double pregnant pause, self-satisfied smile, imagines wild applause on the laugh track)." The French are not even trying to do politics; they're just letting the world know that they're still doing business with Upper Case Nouns.

The German envoy character is always the most congenial of the bit players to pass through our little drama. Hans will always be seen yukking it up with "my good friend Shimon", in a relentless display of cheery good fellowship. Ignore the words. Here's the subtext: "We're getting on just fabulously here with Shimon and the other Juden, so we can assume that all that, um, unpleasantness is behind us, yah? Shtimmt. So here's what we were thinking you ought to do now..." Jawohl.

The English chap is despairing of ever securing the Middle East on behalf of Her Majesty. But he will explain to the natives yet again -- with the exasperated look of a schoolmaster teaching declensions to the sons of coalminers -- that their own interests would be best served if only they would listen to the voice of reason bla bla bla bla.

The beauty of the EU and the UN is that they ensure that the world stage isn't hogged by recently-decayed empires. Long-ago-decayed empires and never-will-be empires also get to do a soliloquy from time time. The EU always sends us some guy from a place where the last major cultural event was an auto-de-fe. His role is to bring pride to the bullfighters and cork-growers back home by swaggering as if he comes from a real country. The UN sends us a Scandinavian whose role is to absolutely never lose his cool even if he has to clench his teeth every time he mentions Israel's name. And, finally, the ultimate cameo role always goes to Kofi Annan, who does that passive-aggressive thing even better than the Brits in one of whose colonies he was born. In short, his role is to be the only guy even whiter than the Scandinavian.

So, like I say, whenever one of these characters turns up on your TV screen, just kick off your shoes and imagine you're watching a rerun of Hogan's Heroes. It'll add years to your life.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A few days ago I posted a nasty little item directed at my lefty friends in Haifa. Shortly thereafter, more rockets landed in Haifa and I took it down. In times of war we need to stick together and to emphasize that which binds us.

I know, though, that as soon as the rockets stop landing on their heads, they will be back up to their old tricks. And I know from experience that as long as the rockets were landing on someone else's head, they didn't care.

So, here's my compromise. I will repost that item now because it makes a point that I stand behind. But I will preface it with an apology: I stand with all decent people in Haifa and elsewhere, regardless of their political views. Together we will fight and win this war.

And here is what your medicine tastes like.


To my good friends in “Red” Haifa:

I write to you as a brother and, as brothers are wont to do, I will speak directly and honestly. My heart is with you in these difficult days. But still I must point out to you that if you were not in Haifa, this would not be happening to you. You chose to live in Haifa despite the inherent dangers and despite Arab claims to Haifa. Now you must pay the price for that decision.

I appreciate that you and your ancestors have dreamt of living in Haifa for generations, but do Arabs not have dreams? They too dream of Haifa and, as their rockets prove, are willing to struggle valiantly to realize those dreams. It is you who stand in their way. For how long will those of us who do not dream of Haifa, who do not even care to visit Haifa, need to do battle in the name of your messianic hallucinations?

For years we fought in Lebanon to defend you even though we did not believe in the justice of your cause. We have had enough. We do not want to chase down children shooting rockets in Lebanon. Lebanon is a quagmire. It would be simpler for all of us if you just moved elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I suspect that your idolatrous attachment to your homes is such that these arguments do not persuade you. So, at least think of the economic cost of your insistence on staying in Haifa. Do you know how much money is wasted every year on subsidizing your hopeless escapade? This money could be spent on feeding the poor, on providing care for the sick and incapacitated, on finding a cure for cancer, on shelters for battered women. Do you not care at all for the less fortunate in our society? Shame on you.

I turn to you as a brother. Come home. Come back to the heartland. To Judea and Samaria, where the rockets don’t reach. They will be there and we will be here. It would be best if you came of your own volition. We will see to it that you will be fairly compensated. But do not mistake our generosity and civility for lack of resolve. If you do not leave Haifa voluntarily, we will have no choice but to remove you by force.

With sensitivity and with resoluteness.

Monday, July 17, 2006

There is a special segulah that goes with being a leftist journalist in Israel. You get an infinite number of chances to be wrong and still carry on as if nothing happened. Every third strike gets ruled a foul tip. When some policy you advocated blows up, you get to shake your head in astonishment as if, instead of consequence following cause, some mysterious act of God intervened in the natural order.

But every now and then, one of these guys gets caught flailing wildly at a pitchout in front of 50,000 people. A glorious example of such spectacularly flagrant idiocy is this article by Aluf Benn. Benn is an analyst at Haaretz. He argues in this article, published on July 6, 2006, that what Israel really needs is for the Palestinians to be led by responsible leaders like ... Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah!

Here's just one quote:

Unlike [Hamas], Nasrallah has authority and responsibility and therefore his behavior is rational and can be reasonably predicted.... Hizballah keeps the peace in the Galilee more than did the pro-Israeli SLA.

This is good stuff.

And for balance, Haaretz's token right-winger, Nadav Shragai, hits one out of the park.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

There are exactly two issues that will determine the outcome of the war we are in. Everything else is chump change.

1. We need jet fuel from the U.S. to maintain or increase the pace of our air attacks. Our dependence on the U.S. for jet fuel is one of the main levers American presidents have used to pressure Israel. It doesn't matter what Bush or Rice say in public, it doesn't matter how many votes Israel gets in polls on major news sites. They just need to give us jet fuel. (Yes, it would slightly improve our negotiating position if FM Tzippi Livni at least pretended that we aren't desperate for the world's love. It's as if our diplomacy were being run by Janis Ian at seventeen.)

2. We are scared, and for damn good reason, to fight a ground battle. But the longer they maintain the ability to fire rockets at our cities, the more clear it becomes that air strikes alone can't do the trick. At last count they had 13,000 known rockets pointed our way (including some of higher quality than we have seen so far [Hat tip: Ben Bayit]) and they haven't yet gone through the first 1000, so exhausting their supply is probably not the way to go. If and when it becomes clear that we need to fight that battle, we can't afford to blink and we can't afford to lose.

Ok. There's a limit to bad taste.

I'll put the post that was here back up at a more appropriate time.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel's home front is now under attack in both the south and the north. When we pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 and out of Gaza in 2005, all the necessary platitudes were uttered by politicians who were just cutting and running. "Let them fire just one rocket and we'll send them back to the stone age bla bla bla." The worst kind of lie is one that is easily tested (avidi lehisbarer). In both Gaza and Lebanon, the lie was exposed early and often and we are now paying the price with blood flowing from Ashkelon to Tsfat.

But the problem is considerably more severe than that. We now face the need for a major ground battle that will be potentially costly in Israeli lives. And we need to head off to battle behind a prime minister who is almost universally perceived as a small-time political opportunist with no coherent policies, a defense minister who is indecisive and inexperienced (I'm being diplomatic: what I mean is he's a buffoon) and a chief of staff who is a callous political operator. All three talk way too much and do way too little.

What will happen now? Israel's offensive is unlikely to hit high gear until at least one of these three goes. It will almost certainly be Peretz. Moving him will probably require a major reshuffle of the government. This, in turn, will depend on Olmert finally getting the message that realignment isn't in the cards. Olmert is a stubborn SOB and a heavy price will need to be paid before he gets it. But when he finally does, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Ichud Leumi will join the government and Peretz will take Labor out in a fit of pique.

All that is inevitable. If I might speculate a bit, once Olmert heads a right-wing government, all the dirt on him (and there's lots of it) will suddenly emerge in the press. He'll then have to do something grandiose to both shift attention and render political instability undesirable. Maybe something to do with Iran?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Well, after years of work, the constitution I wrote with several others was officially presented to President Katzav today amidst appropriate fanfare. About 40 people attended the ceremony in the President's house. Speakers included one of my co-drafters, Prof. Avi D, Prof. Ruth G (who praised the draft rather effusively), the new head of vaadat hukah, Menachem Ben-S, and the President himself. (I use initials not to imitate the breathless style of gossip columnists but simply to foil ego-surfers who will surely identify me.)

Little pastries were served, dignitaries and intellectuals mingled and gesticulated and were all oh-so-clever, flashbulbs popped (so to speak). These glorified photo-ops are sort of satisfying in their own pompous way. But Israeli pompous has its own special character. For example, Avi D couldn't be bothered to tuck in his shirt, never mind wear a jacket, even though he was one of the speakers. And nobody cared. Israel is really great that way.