Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sane Voices from Israel III

This beautifully written piece appeared in the Washington Post. My thanks to my friend, Shammai Leibowitz, for sharing it with me. Here is the link:

But first, a word to my readers. Today is New Year's Eve. I pray for a better year to come, when both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, live in dignity and peace. This year, as usual, there is no peace for either side -- but only one side robs the other side of its dignity, and dictates to it the terms of co-existence. This is not a war in Gaza; it is an assault on a the sovereign right of the Palestinian people to determine its destiny, and it began when one side refused to recognize the results of democratic elections.

Only when we Israelis view the Palestinians as equals – as possessing no less a right to a state, no less a right to security, no less a right to self-defence as we have – will there be the possibility of peace.

Happy New Year


Darkness in Qassam-Land

By Julia Chaitin

Wednesday, December 31, 2008; A15

In the winter, the Negev becomes quite beautiful. Though it rains very little here, the rain we get turns everything green, and there is a cleanness in the air that we don't have during the dry summer months. But since Saturday, when a major Israeli offensive began in the Gaza Strip, less than 20 kilometers from my home and less than two kilometers from the college where I teach, all we have had is darkness, despair and fear.

This war is wrong. It is wrong because it cannot achieve its manifest goals -- long-term "normal" life for the residents of the Negev region. The war is morally wrong because most of the victims are Palestinian and Israeli civilians whose only "crime" is that they live in Negev or Gaza. This war is wrong because it is not heading toward a viable solution of the conflict but is instead creating more hatred and greater determination on the part of both peoples to harm one another. It is wrong because it is leading to stronger feelings that we have nothing to lose by striking further, with greater force. This war is wrong because, even before the last smoke rises from the rubble and the last ambulance carries the dead and wounded to hospitals, our leaders will find themselves signing a new agreement for a cease-fire.

And so this is an unnecessary, cruel and cynical war -- a war that could have been avoided if our leaders had shown courage during the months of the cease-fire to truly work toward creating better lives for people whose only crime is that they live in the south.

Since the Israeli air force began bombing Gaza, it has been almost impossible to speak openly against the war. It is difficult to find public forums that welcome a call for a new cease-fire and for alternative solutions to the conflict -- ones that do not rely on military strength or a siege of Gaza. When people are in the midst of war, they are not open to voices of peace; they speak (and scream) out of fear and demand retribution for the harms they have suffered. When people are in the midst of war, they forget that they can harness higher cognitive abilities, their reason and logic. Instead, they are driven by the hot structures of their brains, which lead them to respond with fear and anger in ways that are objective threats to our healthy survival. When people are in the midst of war, voices calling for restraint, dialogue and negotiations fall on deaf ears, if their expression is allowed at all.

I live in the Negev and teach at the Sapir Academic College -- the school located next to Sderot -- in the heart of what is called "Qassam-land," after the rockets that fall on us. I know the fast beating of your heart and the awful pit in your stomach that comes when a tzeve adom -- red alert -- is sounded, heralding a rocket attack. I know what it is like to comfort students and colleagues when the rockets strike very, very close -- and to wish that someone was there to comfort you as well. I know what it is like to be afraid to get into the car and drive to work because you are not sure you will make it from the parking lot to your classroom alive.

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

The writer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the Sapir Academic College and program developer at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development.



End the Siege, End the Rocket Fire

This unnecessary war, which has claimed so many lives already, and which has kept two populations in terror (but only one in constant suffering) can be ended quickly. The cease-fire conditions are clear: ending the rocket fire from Gaza, ending the siege on Gaza, new elections in the West Bank and Gaza, which will be recognized by Israel. Beyond that, serious negotiations could be commenced for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel should not make the cessation of weapons smuggling a condition for a cease fire, or for indirect relations with Hamas. I am sorry to see that Meretz USA, which came out with a fine statement otherwise, has called for "the verifiable termination of weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip" as a condition for a cease-fire. I have no problem with that, provides that it calls for an arms embargo on Israel as well. Jews smuggled weapons to Palestine before there was a Jewish state, and the idea that Gaza and the West Bank should be left at the mercy of Israel, or NATO, or whatever, is immoral as well as stupid – immoral, because it says that one side has a right to self-defence and the other does not, stupid, because it reinforces the Israeli narrative that the Palestinians are the aggressors, which plays into feelings of Palestinian resentment, and which encourages extremists. Had Hamas not smuggled – and used – weapons, would Meretz USA be calling today for an end to the siege on Gaza? (For the Meretz USA statement, see Richard Silverstein's Tikun Olam blog here).

Beyond that, the Palestinians have to get their act together, and stop their own internal fighting. That means democratically-conducted elections whose results are accepted not only by Israel, but by the world. If Hamas runs Palestine, fine – but a condition for their joining the community of nations will be behaving like one – ditto for Israel. Hamas has already laid out the conditions – reasonable conditions, I might add – for its living in peace with Israel: withdrawal to 67 boundaries and a just solution to the refugees. Hamas doesn't recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Big deal. Israel doesn't recognize Hamas, or a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, either. Lots of states don't recognize other states. For years Egypt and Jordan didn't recognize Israel. Did that mean that Israel did not conduct indirect negotations with them?

The world's policy of isolating Hamas has failed. If the world believes in a two-state solution, it will have to get used to the possibility that Hamas will be running the Palestinian state – not permanently, of course, because the Palestinians, like Israelis, will periodically throw the bums out.

But another solution -- a "one state" or "federal" solution, may provide a better answer to the fundamentalists on both sides. There would be no fear of the Palestinian state being dominated by Hamas because the Palestinians wouldn't have their own state, but they would share it with the Israelis. With the Israelis overwhelmingly secular (and with the Palestinians "traditionalists" who could go either way), a one-state solution, with a constitution that would take into account the various factions, may be the better way to go.

Of course, it is not the way that either Israel or Palestine will go. The day may not be too long when Hamas wins control of the West Bank. Israel seems bent on doing everything it can to ensure that possibility. It will then be able to go to the world and say, "What do you want from us; we have terrorists on both our sides."

It won't be pleasant living in Gaza or the West Bank. But it won't be pleasant living in Israel, either.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How the Western Media is Falling for Israeli Spin

Wow, wasn't that an exciting fake-out Israel pulled over the weekend? I mean, Barak authorized the border crossings to be opened to lull Hamas into a false sense of security. No cabinet decision on the war was taken. Israeli spokesmen were only talking about a limited operation sometimes in the future. Hamas was expecting a quick and relatively painless retaliation.Then came Saturday, and, oh boy, were those "Hamasniks" caught with their pants down. Talk about surprise. Talk about unexpected shock and awe. All those terrorists dead and all those buildings destroyed.

Sorry, kinder, but the above is balderdash. And the balderdash is being sucked up by the Western media. Look, for example, at this report of Jeremy Bowen of the BBC, which is not exactly Fox News or the New York Post.

The first wave of attacks went very well from Israel's point of view.

During the Palestinian armed uprising after 2000, Israeli bombers attacked Palestinian security bases many times.

Often their attacks were expected, and they flattened empty buildings.

But at no time did they attempt an air offensive on the scale that they began on Saturday.

The ground for it was prepared by clever psychological warfare.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued warnings to the Arabic press that there would be bloodshed if Hamas did not stop rocket fire.

But at the same time, Israeli spokespeople told journalists that the war plan had not been authorised by the cabinet.

But it had been. So when the first wave of Israeli warplanes came in over Gaza they were able to attack bases and compounds that had not been evacuated.

That was one reason why so many people were killed so quickly

Oh, balderdash. Anybody who read Haaretz or Ynet knew that a major offensive was coming within days. How about this from last Thursday's Haaretz

On Wednesday, as an initial retaliatory measure, an Israel Air Force strike killed a Hamas gunman in the southern Gaza Strip, and wounded two other Palestinians. Israel's response will go beyond the air raid, an Israeli official told Haaretz.

"Our response will be substantial and painful to Hamas," the official said.

During a cabinet meeting about the situation in and outside the Gaza Strip, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer gave ministers in attendance an overview of the potential retaliatory moves that the defense establishment is planning against Hamas' regime.

Most strikes will come from the air and be aimed at facilities believed to be of strategic importance to Hamas' political and military leadership. However, the officer said that weather conditions are currently preventing the air force from launching the raids.

Guess when it stopped raining?

And BBC, please fire the journalist who gets his (dis)information from Israeli spokespeople. You didn't know that the cabinet had approved the Gaza operation? Well, for Chrissake, you should have read the Friday Haaretz, where the headline was:

70 rocket strikes in southern Israel; Cabinet approves military response

In the Hebrew edition, the cabinet was said to have authorized earlier in the week the Defense Minister and Prime Minister to decide on the timing of the operation.

I have in front of me the Hebrew print edition of Haaretz from Friday. The headline: "The Decision has Been Taken: The IDF Will Commence an Operation in Stages Against the Hamas in Gaza." And what are the stages? Significant air strikes followed by ground incursion, if necessary.

There may have been a certain amount of disinformation on Friday and early Saturday. But because I observe the Sabbath, I missed it. And it wasn't at all certain that the attack would commence on Saturday. But does anybody remember how long it took for Israel to attack Lebanon after the cabinet approved it? You guessed it – not long.

As for the success in catching the Hama leaders with their pants down…NOT A SINGLE SENIOR HAMAS LEADER, MILITARY OR OTHERWISE, HAS BEEN KILLED IN THE WAR SO FAR. If the attack came as a surprise, then how come we haven't killed anybody significant yet – except a Islamic Jihad leader.

In fact, from reports coming from Gaza, the greatest number of casualties so far were from a Police cadet graduation. Were the cadets faked out?

So why is Israel spinning this the way it is? Well, the answer is obvious – as part of the propaganda war, they want to repeat the 1967 Six Day War mystique of dealing a death blow in the early days of the war, a blitzkrieg, so to speak.

And what are the results after day three?

A lot of destruction of property. But the Hamas leadership, as far as we know, is intact, and still firing rockets -- more than one hundred today -- this time killing 2 Israelis.

So much for another Six Day War.

Sane Voices from Israel II: Dov Khenin

I thought I would share this item from here

Dov Khenin: "The role of the Left is to say 'No' to a crazy war."

Khenin claimed that the media is ignoring the voices of those opposed to the war. "The true Left in Israeli society has to make its voice heard precisely in those moments of consensus. "

Khenin dismissed the claims that he and his colleagues in the Hadash faction didn't react in a similar fashion when Kassams were fired against the settlements in the South, and noted that the faction visited Sederot and participated in the funeral of of a woman who was killed by a Kassam. "We came to express our opinion that Kassams are a disaster and are criminal. But when Israel once again goes out to wage a crazy war, I think that the role of the Left is to stand up and say, "No" to war.

It is important for progressives outside of Israel, such as those who labored hard to get Barack Obama elected in the US, to get to know Khenin and to support the New Israeli Left, as opposed to the wimpy Old Israeli Left. The New Israeli Left is represented mostly by the Hadash Arab-Jewish party (and some of the younger elements of Meretz). Its loyalty to progressive policies and human rights is untainted by the illiberal forms of nationalism rampant in the Old Israeli Left.



Meretz Flip-Flops on Support of War – Better Late Than Never

Arutz Sheva/Israel National News is reporting here that Meretz ended its support for the Gaza War today, less than a week after it announced it.

The Knesset held an emergency session on Monday and approved the government's decision to embark on Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza. The Knesset session was punctuated by stormy comments made by the Arab Knesset Members, who were repeatedly thrown out of the session. The mixed Arab-Jewish party Hadash boycotted the session entirely.

All Knesset parties except for Meretz and the Arab parties approved the decision to support the action in Gaza. The decision stated: "It is the right of the State of Israel to defend itself just as it is the right of any nation to do so. It is the right of the citizens of Israel to live with security just as it the right of any other citizens to do so."

I haven 't seen this on any other website yet, and I don't know whether Meretz voted against or abstained.

Of course, the Meretz folks will tell you that they never endorsed a big operation, only a limited one. How limited?

Apparently 72 hours-worth.

What should Meretz have said last week? "We oppose military action in Gaza as immoral, counterproductive, and not in the best interests of either side. We call upon both sides to respect the cease-fire. Israel cannot stand idly by while its citizens are being shelled, but we have learnt from experience of two wars that limited aims give way very quickly to broader goals."

But it is election time, and they had to rattle some sabres.

Remember when this war was supposed to be about stopping the shelling? Now, apparently, it is about an "all out war on Hamas" and regime change in Gaza.

That's the funny thing about these wars – the aims shift, the circumstances change, and you don't know what you are getting into, even when you declare one set of aims.

You would think that Meretz would know about that last week?

Still, better late than never. Welcome aboard, Meretz!

Sane Voices from Israel

Lest my world readers think that all of Israel society is mad, I have decided to devote occasional posts to some voices of sanity. Today's turn is by Haaretz columnist and historian, Tom Segev. It was published yesterday (Sunday).

Trying to 'teach Hamas a lesson' is fundamentally wrong

Tom Segev

Channel 1 television broadcast an interesting mix on Saturday morning: Its correspondents reported from Sderot and Ashkelon, but the pictures on the screen were from the Gaza Strip. Thus the broadcast, albeit unintentionally, sent the right message: A child in Sderot is the same as a child in Gaza, and anyone who harms either is evil.

But the assault on Gaza does not first and foremost demand moral condemnation - it demands a few historical reminders. Both the justification given for it and the chosen targets are a replay of the same basic assumptions that have proven wrong time after time. Yet Israel still pulls them out of its hat again and again, in one war after another.

Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey.

The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to "liquidate the Hamas regime," in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a "moderate" leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.

As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over.

All of Israel's wars have been based on yet another assumption that has been with us from the start: that we are only defending ourselves. "Half a million Israelis are under fire," screamed the banner headline of Sunday's Yedioth Ahronoth - just as if the Gaza Strip had not been subjected to a lengthy siege that destroyed an entire generation's chances of living lives worth living.

It is admittedly impossible to live with daily missile fire, even if virtually no place in the world today enjoys a situation of zero terror. But Hamas is not a terrorist organization holding Gaza residents hostage: It is a religious nationalist movement, and a majority of Gaza residents believe in its path. One can certainly attack it, and with Knesset elections in the offing, this attack might even produce some kind of cease-fire. But there is another historical truth worth recalling in this context: Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the Land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.

Most dangerous of all is the cliche that there is no one to talk to. That has never been true. There are even ways to talk with Hamas, and Israel has something to offer the organization. Ending the siege of Gaza and allowing freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank could rehabilitate life in the Strip.

At the same time, it is worth dusting off the old plans prepared after the Six-Day War, under which thousands of families were to be relocated from Gaza to the West Bank. Those plans were never implemented because the West Bank was slated to be used for Jewish settlement. And that was the most damaging working assumption of all.    

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Waiting for Lefty

The Gaza war is falling into a predictable pattern, with the so-called Zionist left in Israel, a.k.a. the Meretz party, also acting predictably. Meretz has backed virtually every major Israeli military operation in memory in its initial stages, and that includes both Lebanese wars, Operation Defensive Shield, etc. So it was no surprise to me when that party came out in favor of a military operation in Gaza. See here

In a healthy country, the progressive left would be highly skeptical of the military and a militaristic mind-set. But what is called "progressive left" in most countries is called the "extreme, self-hating Jewish left" in Israel. What passes for left in Israel is what we would call in America, "the wimpy liberal" or "the centrist-liberal" Democratic party – you know, the sorts of folks who automatically vote in favor of every military action at the outset, and then wait for the body count to go up, or the war to get "close to home", before it expresses regrets.

That Condi Rice and the Bush government support Israel's massive bombardment make utter sense to me; it is just a pity that Meretz in Israel, and Meretz International, have learned nothing from their past experiences (Remember how they, with Labour, supported the first 48 hours of the first Lebanon war?) and how they have once again fallen in with the neocons and the liberal hawks. Predictable, but sad.

In the post below, I suggested that Meretz would eventually come out against the war; the question was one of timing. Well, guess what? Haaretz is now reporting that the government will approve the call up of reserves. See in Hebrew here. Is this the "limited, focused operation" that Meretz called for?

Are you ready, yet, Zionist lefties to speak out? Or are you waiting for your sons in Tel-Aviv – those who still serve in the Reserves -- to be called up first?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

“To War! To War! Fredonia’s Going to War!”

Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose. After the expiration of the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the Kassams started up, the war drums were pounded – even the oxymoronic "Zionist left" Meretz party participated -- and now Israel has launched a major offensive, first with air strikes, and then, probably, with a ground operation into Gaza. Like the Second Iraqi war, the Afghanistan war, and the Second Lebanon war, the stronger side goes to war because it has to "do something", and loses before it fires the first shot.

If you are looking for predictions, I would say that this will be less of a disaster for Israel than the Second Lebanon war, but will be a disaster none the less. The major goal of the war is to stop the rocket fire from Gaza. That won't happen without another cease-fire agreement. For there to be a cease-fire agreement, there has to be a motivation for Hamas to sign a cease-fire agreement. Israel is not providing it with the motivation now. Israel will neither destroy nor significantly weaken Hamas; it may set it back in terms of armaments, but Israel has little room to maneuver. The siege on Gaza has strenghthened Hamas, and if they hold out against Israel – and they will – they will be strengthened even more.

There is, however, another war goal that Israel can meet in the short run. That is to wreak havoc in Gaza, to kill a lot of Arabs, to show them who's boss, to avenge national honor, to "do something" when our settlements are under attack. That will make the Israelis feel better, and that is nothing to sneeze at. The difficulty is that if the rockets keep on coming – as they did in the case of the Second Lebanese War – then Israelis will feel increasingly frustrated. And they will take it out on Kadima in the next elections and hand the government to Netanyahu and the Likud party, which has been sinking in the polls. So this is the Kadima's government second attempt to commit political suicide; the first attempt was the Second Lebanese War. I am betting that this time they will be successful.

The Israel media is talking about the surprise factor of the timing – we faked them out, didn't we? I am not sure what they mean, since the Friday papers reported that the cabinet had voted to go to war. The title of this post, as well as its contents, was composed in my head during Shabbat, when I was oblivious to the fact that the offensive had started. I certainly wasn't surprised.

So, here's the forecast:

The offensive will go on for some time. Resistance, if there is any, will melt. We will not reoccupy all of Gaza, just enough to fulfill the "do something" criterion of success. At some point we will declare that we have accomplished the major goals of the offensive, and we will negotiate, through some third party, another cease fire. Mission accomplished, with lots of casualties to their side, and the rockets continuing to fall on our side.

That's the best case scenario.

The worst case scenario for Israel is that Hamas fights better than anticipated. That will mean that Israel will get bogged down the way that powerful countries get bogged down in urban guerilla warfare. If the objectives are limited, and if the fighting is limited to parts of Gaza, then Israel's loss will be relatively minor. If things spread – and they will if civilian casualties are heavy – then we are back to the Lebanon fiasco. Hamas may be counting on it; as it is, the war serves the short-term interests of Hamas and the Israeli government.

Why can't this campaign be as successful as the Homat Magen offensive? Different enemies; different geography. Gaza's border with Egypt is very porous. Even if the IDF destroys tunnels, the only way it can put an end to them is by reoccupying Gaza with a massive troop presence. Few in Israel want this.

In fact, just like few cared about the North during the Second Lebanon War – I was in Jerusalem, where life went on as normal for most of the summer, until all the men in my family were called up – few in Israel care about the Kassam rockets in the South. And nobody will want their children endangered because of it

It is unlikely that Israel's latest gamble will work out any better than its previous ones. Its losing streak will continue. I guess that is called "defeatism." But it is hard not to be defeatist when you are continually being kicked in the butt. Remember, Israel hasn't won a war since 1967 – and that war was the biggest disaster in its history.

But it's Hannukah, and so I should end with a little light – the small light provided by the thousands of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, who have protested against the war in Tel Aviv and in other places.

Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lily Galili: “Regaining Our Moral Compass”

Every once in a while an op-ed is published in Haaretz that expresses almost precisely what I feel. Lily Galili, a veteran Israeli journalist, says it best in her own words here and below. Israelis, especially the so-called Israeli left, has to regain its moral compass. Her barbs are accurately directed against the Zionist left, i.e., Meretz and some left-leaning Labor members. Of course, terms like "left", "center", and "right", have recalibrated meanings when speaking of Israel. Here, the "left" denotes the center in the rest of the world, the "center" denotes the right and the "right" is ultra-right.

Where I disagree with Galili is the nostalgiac view that there was a time when the Israeli left had a moral compass. What she should have said is that there was a time when at least some individuals cared about the moral dimension of Israel's policy. That tradition goes back in Zionist circles to Ahad ha-Am and Judah Magnes. There were never more than a handful, and they were always marginalized in Zionist circles, even among the Zionist left.

I also disagree that there are no prophets in Israel today. There may not be any among the Zionist left, but there are among the human rights organizations.

Regaining our Moral Compass

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.

What You Won’t Read in Haaretz Online

Today's print Haaretz has a large ad addressed to Israeli soldiers and police serving in the Occupied Territories. Here is a rough paraphrase:

Soldier/Policeman Serving in the Territories:

Lately there have been many cases of Israeli civilians harming Palestinians and their property. This phenomenon upsets the rule of law and the security of the State. Moreover, it damages the moral backbone of Israeli society.


That your commanders, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the General for the Central Command, are responsible by law to protect the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

You have a legal and moral responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians from damage caused by Israeli civilians.

You have the authority to arrest any man suspected of committing a violent crime and inciting to violence, even if he is Jew.

Refraining from protecting citizens under attack is a criminal transgression.

If you receive an order that forbids you from fulfilling this obligation, this order is entirely illegal.

If you have witnessed a case where Israeli civilians perpetrated crimes against Palestinian civilians, and the security forces refrained from interfering, you are invited to contact us at 050-8454725 in order to submit testimony. Confidentiality is assured.

The ad is signed by "Breaking the Silence" and "Yesh Din" – the former group is devoted to collecting testimony by soldiers of human rights violations in the territories against the civilian population; the latter is devoted to seeing that Palestinian rights are not trampeled upon by Israel.

Ross, Kurtzer, Powell, et al

Not a day goes by without more speculation and disinformation about Obama's Middle East team flooding the media, especially the Jewish media. I am too lazy to add the links to the various reports I have read, courtesy of Google News.

One of the latest reports, though, is intriguing, not because it is necessarily accurate, but because it follows a pattern. I refer to Barak Ravid's piece in today's Haaretz, in which he mentions "reports reaching Jerusalem" that list Dennis Ross as a super-envoy to trouble spots in the region (Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Iran, perhaps Afghanistan), and Colin Powell, Dan Kurtzer, and Martin Indyck, on the short list for envoy to Israel-Palestine. As I have pointed out many times in the past, when the Israel Foreign Ministry wants to float balloons and vent (usually against meddlesome American diplomats), they choose Barak Ravid to report. So it is clear that the Ross super-envoy job is, first and foremost, a statement of Israel's wishful thinking, as well as an attempt to influence.

Still, would it be churlish of me to mention that the Magnes Zionist wrote immediately following the US elections:

It is more likely that Ross will expand his sights to include the entire Middle East, especially Iran. That would be an even bigger pity, since Ross wants to isolate Iran in the region, though he is not entirely opposed to US carrots. Will Ross become a Super Envoy to the Middle East? Hopefully not, since that sort of diplomacy hasn't been successful in recent years. And, of course, Ross's level would almost be that of the Secretary of State. What Secretary of State would be willing to have somebody of Ross's stature around?

Indeed, the problem that Ross has, and Kurtzer doesn't, is that there are not so many positions available to him. If he isn't Secretary of State or National Security Advisor (the latter is more probable than the former), then what can he do? Kurtzer, unlike Ross, hasn't risen beyond the level of Ambassador.

Apparently, Shmuel Rosner liked this last point, since last week he wrote (without attribution, of course):

Differences in seniority and self-image [between Ross and Kurtzer] might lead to the more banal possibility: Ross will not accept a role that Kurtzer will happily take. 

Yet the idea of a super-envoy still doesn't make sense to me. Why Hillary Clinton would want Dennis Ross running the show is beyond me, unless she wants him to take the heat for failure. But I have been wrong about Hillary before, most recently on the Secretary-of-State business, which I was surprised that she would even want – unless she has abandoned hopes for the presidency.

Putting Colin Powell in the region is a good idea, especially since he is not tainted with the failure of Oslo and Camp David, as is Ross. With Indyck, you get more of the same – another American Jewish liberal Zionist. But any one of the above will put very little pressure on Israel. Ditto for Kurtzer, although, as I have mentioned before, he is better than the rest.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Jerusalem Post: „Leftist Ideologues in Israel“ Lobby for Dan Kurtzer

All right, this is ridiculous. But when I read the following passage in a Jerusalem Post editorial written by Elliot Jager:

Leftist ideologues in Israel are lobbying for the appointment of retired ambassador Daniel Kurtzer to be the administration's Middle East envoy.

I ask myself, "Who are those leftist ideologues in Israel?" And when I can't seem to find other "leftist ideologues in Israel" who have expressed themselves on this issue besides the Magnes Zionist, you gotta wonder about the power of the web.

But let's assume that the reference is to other "leftist ideologues." Look at the next sentence of the Editorial:

Were Obama to take their bad counsel, Kurtzer would arrive, not as an honest broker, but as a divisive figure whose views are at variance with those of mainstream Israel.

Now, get this – according to Jager of the Jerusalem Post, any "honest broker" on Israel-Palestine has to have views that conform with those of the mainstream Israelies. And what of the mainstream Palestinians?

Ah, what passes for "moderation" in Israel boggles the mind! An American envoy must first accept the "mainstream" Israeli narrative, security concerns, and view of the conflict. Only then, the envoy can begin to broker a peace honestly…with the Israeli right, presumably.

I mean, for crying out loud, we are talking about a man who is a modern orthodox Jew, who speaks fluent Hebrew, a Zionist, a long-time supporter and former Ambassador to Israel. I won't even mention that his son studied in a West Bank yeshivah.

He's not good enough for you, Mr. Jager? Ribono shel olam!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Latest Hebron Settler Pogroms

Well, with pseudo-Jewish settlers on the rampage as I write -- smashing, burning, throwing rocks, and even shooting at defenceless Palestinians – a few questions should be asked.

First, since some of the pogrom apparently is in Area A, why aren't Palestinian officers arresting settlers? Second, why was the area declared a closed military zone so late? Third, why are the IDF and the police so ineffectual in preventing the settler rampage? Fourth, why aren't the police using the same tactics against the settlers that the IDF uses against the protestors in Bil'in. After all, the settlers are much more violent than the Bil'in protestors

Having asked all that, one can only wonder at the cowardice of the settlers. Have you noticed how they always wimp out big time when facing real armed forces? Remember Gush Katif? One of the settler's leaders, Haggi Ben Artzi, predicted mass suicides – heck, he even promised to kill himself. And, then, on the day of the evacuation he wasn't even there. If you are going to be a zealot, at least act like one. But when the settler thugs face the Palestinians, preferably Palestinians who have no weapons and no army to protect them, just look at the Jewish Heroes!

Ah, but it is Mikhael Manekin of Breaking the Silence, who reminds us that today's events really change nothing in Hebron. On the contrary, this sort of ritual has played out many times before. To paraphrase Menachem Begin (with changes), "When Jews fight Jews, Arabs are strung up on the tree." Actually, Begin said of world criticism of Israel's role in Sabra and Shatila that the goyim fight the goyim and the Jews are strung up on the tree. Just plug in Arabs for "Jews" and Jews for "goyim" – a pretty appropriate substitution – and you have Hebron today.

Here and below is Manekin's op-ed from the Jerusalem Post, which he wrote before the evacuation. Needless to say, the talkbacks to the article are mostly of the "glatt kosher fascist" variety.

P.S. I use the term "pseudo-Jews" only in deference to the Rambam (Maimonides) who writes in this great Code of Jewish Law, "The [Jewish] lineage should be doubted of whoever is cruel and shows no mercy. For only pagans are cruel…and all the Jews, and whoever accompanies them, are like brothers." (Law Concerning Gifts to the Poor 10:2.") From a halakhic standpoint, those Hebron settlers who wear tzizit and kippot (fringes and skull-caps), but who are cruel to innocent Palestinians, are suspect Jews.

It's only one house

Dec. 3, 2008

For those following the planned evacuation of the illegal settlement in Hebron ironically called the "House of Peace," it has been an eventful couple of weeks. Extreme violence on the part of settlers toward both Palestinians and Israeli police and soldiers, petitions of Knesset members to reverse the ruling of the High Court, letters to the president and countless threats of civil war have become the normal means of discourse.

Looking at these events from the outside, one would think that a major event in the history of Israel's control over the occupied territories was about to occur.

What other explanation could there be for all the commotion? It is important, though, to keep in mind that we are not talking about the evacuation of the entire settlement of Hebron (which consists of fewer than 1,000 extremist settlers in an area of some 500 square meters), but of one building deep inside the city that has been considered illegal almost from day one.

It is also important to remind ourselves that if the settlers are evicted (and that is by no means a certainty - there is already talk of postponing the evacuation to a much later date), Hebron will continue to be a place that embodies the worst of Israel's occupation policies. Hebron will still be a place where Palestinians are prevented legally from walking on their own roads, a city with sections that have become virtual ghost towns as a consequence of Israeli policies.

Palestinians will continue to suffer daily from harassment by soldiers and from the fact that the Israeli authorities do little to prevent settlers from attacking them, destroying their property and harassing their children.

As soldiers who served in Hebron, we at Breaking the Silence have long been aware of how things work there. We have seen firsthand how the policy of separation, paired with the absence of law enforcement vis-a-vis violent settlers, has affected the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians. We, too, have become subject to regular harassment and abuse from these settlers as we guide tours in the city. This will not change if and when the building is evacuated.

NONE OF this is to say that eviction of the settlers from the "House of Peace" is unimportant.

If they are allowed to remain, it will be another nail in the coffin of the rule of law in the West Bank (and how many more nails does that coffin need?). We must pressure our government to enforce the law and evacuate these illegal settlers.

But when the day comes and thousands of soldiers and policemen arrive to do just that, we must keep in mind that nothing major is happening. Surely, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and fellow politicians will talk about the victory of democracy. They will boast about how the rule of law has prevailed yet again. They will sit in comfort in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and pat themselves on the back, saying that they triumphed over the religious fanatics.

But we, Israelis who have been through this before, will be there to remind them of Hebron's recent history. We will remind them that in the summer of 2007, they patted themselves on the back after 2,000 soldiers were needed to dislodge two settler families from the wholesale market. We will remind them that the year before that, they patted themselves on the back when they evacuated the Shapira House, yet another settlement in the city. Then, as today, the world may well have thought for a couple of minutes that something was changing.

But today we have enough memories to know better.

That is why we will remind them and ourselves that the occupation is only becoming more permanent. For every settler house that is demolished, dozens more are being built. We must remember that the Palestinians of Hebron will still be deprived of basic human rights, because they were born in a city where the lives of settlers are worth more than theirs.

Finally, we must remember that as Israelis, we have a long struggle ahead of us, one that involves hundreds of "houses of peace." We cannot call ourselves a society that upholds the values of human rights and democracy until we deal with these bigger issues, instead of focusing on just one house.

The writer is a member of Breaking the Silence, an organization of IDF veterans promoting awareness about the situation in the territories.



Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dan Kurtzer May Become Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East

Finally, after a string of appointments that have not made me particularly happy, Obama is poised to appoint Dan Kurtzer as Special Envoy to the Middle East. See here. Already he is being attacked in some of the rightwing Jew blogs as "anti-Israel" (Boy, isn't that a case of the pot calling the kettle black.)

I have no idea whether the Obama people were influenced by the campaign against Dennis Ross by some of the progressive blogs like justforeignpolicy , Phil Weiss, Ira Glunts, Richard Silverstein, and by Michael Flynn in the Electronic Intifada (Oy, one can only pray for such influence). It is more likely that Ross is being "kicked upstairs". As was pointed out to me after the Obama election, it would be harder to find a job for Ross than for Kurtzer, since Ross had "been there, done that" as the Middle East envoy. Perhaps Secretary of State Clinton will have a position for him.

Ross is no doubt still in the picture. You didn't want him in Israel-Palestine; you may be getting him in Iran (or Russia). Yet, I am less concerned that his voice will be a dominant one, as it was during the 90s

In terms of basic worldview, Kurtzer is not too different from Dennis Ross. He is a liberal Zionist. But Kurtzer, who served as US ambassador in Egypt and Israel, understands, and sympathizes with the suffering and aspirations of the Palestinians. And he is more likely to wield a certain amount of some pressure on Israel, especially on Netanyahu, than would Ross.

And do you know what else distinguishes Kurtzer from Ross? Kurtzer is a modern orthodox Jew, and Ross is not religiously observant, to the best of my knowledge. So what? You would think that this wouldmake him more fanatically pro-Israel. But not necessarily. For secular Jews like Dennis Ross, Israel is a vital component of their Jewish identity. That is why so many American Jews can view anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism – when your Judaism boils down to an ethnic identity in which Israel plays a big part, you are less likely to take a more detached view. Kurtzer is not a religious Zionist, at least not in the sense that typifies most religious Zionists today. And since his Judaism is not tied up with his Zionism, it is easier for him to keep a certain distance.

Of course, if you oppose a two-state solution as impractical or unjust, the appointment of Kurtzer will only prolong the myth. But if Haaretz is getting it right, this is good news for the Jews, and good news for the Palestinians.

As another Jeremiah could have said, we all still need the hutzpah of hope.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Endorsement: Benjamin Netanyahu for Prime Minister

Elections for Israel's parliament are scheduled for February 10, 2009. Israel, the least stable parliamentary regime in the Middle East, now holds parliamentary elections on the average of one every 2-3 years. There is no reason to believe that the government to be elected will last longer than its predecessors. So the question is: who will be the best prime minister for Israelis and the Palestinians ruled by Israel. As far as I can see, there are two main possibilities: Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu. Between the two, Netanyahu wins hands down.

Tzipi Livni is considered a moderate by Israeli standards, which means that she is rightwing by most people's standards. She rose within the Likud party and followed Sharon and Olmert in starting the Kadima party. She has had some ministerial posts, but, aside from a few interesting comments, she has done nothing to distinguish herself, nor has she taken any risks for her positions. She was a pale and ineffectual Foreign Minister; she would be a pale and ineffectual Prime Minister.

However her reputation for being a moderate, coupled with her gender, makes her a problematic choice for Israeli prime minister. As a perceived moderate, she will be cut a lot of slack by the Obama administration, as was Sharon and Olmert by the Bush administration. As a perceived moderate who is also a woman, she will be cut even more slack by the world. The story of her election will not be about the success of yet another mediocre Likud functionary, but of a woman. And just as the Republicans played the gender card as much as they could in order to defend Sarah Palin, so too, the Israels would do that with Livni. Livni would be the first woman prime minister since that all-time-disaster, Golda Meir. No, I don't think that Livni is as bad as Golda. But what government will want to put pressure on her?

By contrast, Bibi's candidacy looks like pure gold. Let us count the ways:

1. Bibi enjoys a negative reputation outside of Israel. Unlike Livni, Bibi is tarred with the rightwing brush. The folks outside of Israel remember the Rabin assassination, and Bibi's tenure as prime minister, long after most Israelis have forgotten it. They remember how he has opposed every peace initiative from the right. He is the face of Israel intransigence, God bless him. And that will make it easier to put pressure on his administration.

2. Bibi talks tough, but has wimped out time after time. He wimped out after the Jerusalem tunnels were opened, at Wye Plantation, and during the Golan negotiations. He is easy to pressure and he buckles under pressure. He craves US acceptance.

3. By contrast, Ehud Barak, talked the peace talk and was cut enormous slack by the Clinton administration and the world. Settlements boomed during his tenure, and the Intifada blew up after his "generous offer" was rejected.

4. Bibi doesn't believe in the peace process, and he is correct not to. The peace process is a sham that helps Israel while hurting the Palestinians. Better that there be no illusions to the contrary. Bibi has said that while he doesn't believe in the peace process, he does want to improve the Palestinian economy. I don't think he will do that when faced with the realities of governing Israel and making his constituency happy. But if he is able to raise the quality of life among the Palestinians as a trade-off for political recognition and independence, then that is preferable to denying them both.

5. Electing Bibi will be another recognition that Israel has run out of ideas and out of fresh faces that can bring hope. Now that Bibi has copied the look and feel of the Obama website, and is positioning himself as the candidate for change (!), his election can only place in stark relief the weariness of Israeli politics.

Vote Bibi!

A final note: The usual suspects of the old "Zionist left," led by dinosaur Amos Oz, are forming a new party with the tentative name, "Titanic Desk-Chairs," or something like that. The only interesting one in the bunch is Avrum Burg, but his willingness to join a reinvented Meretz speaks volumes about his insatiable political appetite.

Wake me up when it is over.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Israel Bars Liberal Rabbis from Visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron

Yesterday, a group of North American rabbis on a tour sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights, and led by the IDF veterans' group, Breaking the Silence, was prevented from visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Cave of Machpelah.

During Jordanian rule, no Jews were allowed within the site, which is also a mosque. That changed when Israel occupied Hebron in 1967. After the Barukh Goldstein massacre, an elaborate division of the Tomb of the Patriarch was engineered by Israel.

Apparently in order to visit or pray in the Tomb it is not necessary or sufficient to be a Jew, or even a Rabbi. What is really important is that one must be a rightwing racist, bigot, or settler of the Judaeo-Christian variety.

Otherwise, it is hard to explain why a delegation of forty American rabbis and their guests were barred by the Israel Defense Forces from visiting the spot.

As a Jew – no, as a human being -- I strongly believe that Jews should be allowed to visit synagogues. Heck, I am also in favor of Jewish settlement in Hebron.

Unfortunately, no Jews today live in Hebron. Only "Pseudo-Jewdos" with guns. And they call the shots, quite literally, when it comes to who can visit Hebron.


Hey, I Know That Guy!

The New York Times reported today that Martin Eisentadt, the purported source of the "Palin-Didn't Know-That-Africa-Is-A-Continent" story, a senior advisor of the McCain campaign, and a fellow at the "Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy," was a fictional blogger invented by Eitan Gorlin and Dan Mirvish, whom the Times described as "obscure filmmakers." They staged the hoax in order to pitch a television show they are developing.

Martin Eisenstadt doesn't exist, but I've heard a lot about Eitan for years from his parents, who are friends and former neighbors. I used to belong to a modern orthodox synagogue in suburban Maryland that includes among its members former ambassador to Egypt and to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer, former undersecretary of Defense, Dov Zakheim, former Jerusalem Post editor, David Makovsky, and current Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Nathan J. Diament. It's a good shul, with an impressive rabbi, and a wonderful Shabbat hashkamah minyan, attended by Eitan's father. (There is less single-malt scotch for kiddush than at my current shul, but the latter is inside the Beltway.) I would not be surprised if Obama grabbed a larger percentage of orthodox voters at this shul than at any other orthodox shul in the country. But I would also not be surprised if McCain received an even larger percentage, especially since some of the members moved to the right after the failure of Oslo.

But "obscure filmmaker?" Oy! Gorlin's first (and only) feature, The Holy Land, was described by Stuart Klawans in the Nation as "a sometimes heartbroken, sometimes furious coming-of-age drama, set in a bleak and outrageous version of Israeli society. " Steven Holden of the Times was admittedly less enthusiastic:

The Holy Land, which opens today in Manhattan, is a barbed reflection on the great divide between secular and ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israeli culture. But its digressive screenplay lacks focus and momentum and is too oblique to connect many of the dots between its characters and their behavior. Their politics are too murky to come into dramatic focus…But the performances are strong.

But critics were pretty evenly divided over the movie, which received 53% on the, "Tomatometer."

Let's hope that Gorlin's latest effort – a hoax that displays the credulity of the mass media, and the power of pseudonomynous bloggers (woohoo!) gets him the publicity he needs for making serious films and television shows. He's a good boy from a good community, and I wish him and Mirvish well.

Please puncture this trial baloon

The Washington Post and other media outlets suggest that the Obama transition team is considering Hillary Clinton Secretary of State. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Obama transition team will not confirm this.

If Hillary became Secretary of State, it would be a disaster for the Palestinians, hence, for the Israelis.

Let's be clear: Hillary Clinton is virtually a Jewish senator; ever since moving to New York she has kow-towed entirely to her Jewish constituency. Actually, she already distanced herself from the Palestinians after the negative reaction to her embrace of Suha Arafat. Her husband Bill is completely in the liberal Zionist camp. A Clinton as the Secretary of State, even with the likes of Dan Kurtzer serving underneath her, would send the peace process back to the nineties, God forbid.

Why would she give up real power in the Senate for a nebulous job that would neither advance her career, or her country's foreign policy. I admire Hillary greatly. But let her stay in the Senate and do what she does best.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama’s Mideast Team – Who’s In, Who’s Not In (Yet), Who’s Probably Out

N.B. The following post is based on conversations I have had in the last few days with folks who are close to Obama's inner circle, as well as folks who have played a role in the peace process in the past. But I am responsible for its contents.

Who's In

If the main theme of the Obama campaign was "change," then the main question to be posed to the nascent Obama administration is, "Are we going going back to the Clinton era?" In recent days, Obama camp aides have floated in the media some old names as trial balloons. We should expect some of those baloons to pop. (Does anybody have a needle for the Larry Summers' balloon?)

Two prominent members of the Clinton Mideast team – Dennis Ross and Dan Kurtzer – still have seats aboard the Obama train, according to my sources. I don't know whether they have been offered specific positions, since without a Secretary of State or a National Security Advisor we are in the embryonic phase of the administration. So perhaps I should say that as things stand now, they are in. No surprise there, of course; both Kurtzer and Ross were active as Obama advisors during the campaign, although Ross was more visible, especially towards the end.

At first glance, Ross is, or should be, a persona non grata for Jewish progressives, not so much for his liberal Zionist bias, but for his petulant and tendentious criticisms of Arafat and the Palestinians after the demise of the Peace Process, and for his willingness to serve on the board of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute of the Elders of Zionism, oops, sorry, the Jewish Agency. (By the way, that's how an old family friend and former head of the Agency, Chuck Hoffberger, called it). To put a partisan Zionist like Dennis Ross in charge of the US Peace Process would make little sense, as Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar recently implied. Still, Ross's expertise, not to mention political savvy, qualifies him for occupying the liberal Zionist seat at the Obama Mideast table – provided that the seat is not located at the head of the table.

What ensures that Ross will not be running the show is the presence of Dan Kurtzer, former Ambassador to Egypt and to Israel. Kurtzer recently withdrew from being considered for the position of the Director of the new Gildenhorn Center for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland which suggested that he had bigger fish to fry, a suggestion that has been confirmed. But Kurtzer will probably not consent to serve under Dennis Ross, who, according to Aaron Miller, cut him out of the Peace Process. Kurtzer's positions are more nuanced and balanced than Ross's, though they are on the left-wing of American Zionism. Ross likes to see himself as "centrist" between the Palestinians and the hardliner Zionists, but he accepts the liberal Zionist narrative and is a fan of Ben-Gurion.

It is more likely that Ross will expand his sights to include the entire Middle East, especially Iran. That would be an even bigger pity, since Ross wants to isolate Iran in the region, though he is not entirely opposed to US carrots. Will Ross become a Super Envoy to the Middle East? Hopefully not, since that sort of diplomacy hasn't been successful in recent years. And, of course, Ross's level would almost be that of the Secretary of State. What Secretary of State would be willing to have somebody of Ross's stature around?

Indeed, the problem that Ross has, and Kurtzer doesn't, is that there are not so many positions available to him. If he isn't Secretary of State or National Security Advisor (the latter is more probable than the former), then what can he do? Kurtzer, unlike Ross, hasn't risen beyond the level of Ambassador. He certainly could be in line for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs.

Who's Not In Yet

Rob Malley, the bugbear of rightwingers like Ed Laskey, not to mention some really slimey bloggers, has served in the past as an advisor to Barack Obama, and co-wrote the definitive analysis of the Camp David debacle in the New York Review of Books (The article isn't free). Malley is neither in nor out, according to my sources. Even though his name seems forever linked to Obama and Hamas, according to the rightwing rumor mongers, he did not contact Hamas recently on behalf of Obama campaign (the contacts, reported in Haaretz, were subsequently denied by Hamas) nor was he sent to Egypt and Syria on a mission from Obama, despite a bogus news release to that effect by the Middle East News Line. Apparently, the name "Malley" has become a synonym for "Haman" in some quarters; upon hearing it one mindlessly makes noise, no matter what the context or the truth of the story.

Who's Probably Out

Count out Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, currently of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institute. Indyk has completed an interesting book on the Peace Process which will be published soon, and whose conclusions may surprise those expecting more conventional finger-pointing in the conclusion. Indyk, unlike many liberal pro-Israel voices, does not want to advance Middle East peace tracks in order to isolate Iran, but rather wants to get Iran to buy in (or at least to think that she is buying in) to the process. Indyk's thinking has evolved positively over the years, in contrast to Ross's, which has essentially remained the same.

Also count out Aaron David Miller, whose memoir of the peace process is one of the most perceptive, and certainly the most entertaining and well-written. (It's a pity that it came out after Ross's book; whole forests could have been saved.) Miller is a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Public Policy. I think that he has eaten too many rubber chickens and taken too many helicopter rides to be nostalgiac for the glamourous life of a Peace Process advisor.

A Washington think tank may not be as sexy as shuttle diplomacy, but it sure is better for one's social and family life.

Who's Really Out

Nowhere near Obama's Mideast team, as far as I know, is anybody who can not just understand intellectually but empathize with the struggles and suffering of the Palestinian people, say, a Palestinian American or a Palestinian academic. Look, I have the highest respect and admiration for Dan Kurtzer – frankly, he is one of the first modern orthodox Jews who make me proud to be a member of that subgroup. But he remains a modern orthodox Jew and a liberal Zionist. Why is it so "out-of-the-box" to have a "modern orthodox" Palestinian advising President Obama? In a country where "Arab" and "Palestinian" are used as ethnic slurs, wouldn't it be nice for somebody like an Abunimeh or a Khalidi, maybe somebody with foreign policy credentials, to be part of that team?

Now that would be nice – for a real change

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Joy, Mixed With a Little Sadness

Several weeks ago I predicted that Barack Obama would win in a landslide. He didn't win by double digits, but he defeated John McCain handily.

What does that say about us Americans?

Pundits and talking-heads are now analyzing the results of the election. Republican conservatives blame the party for straying from its Reaganesque principles (they forgot Reagan's spending.) Republican moderates blame everything but themselves: the economy, a protracted and unpopular war, the financial crisis, the unpopularity of George W. Bush, as if president had belonged to another party. Democrats, needless to say, add to this litany the magic of the candidate himself, and the brilliance of his political campaign.

All Americans, with the exception, perhaps, of the loonies of the extreme right, understand the significance of this day. Even Republicans -- goodness, even Charles Krauthammer, who looked on television last night as if he had been staring into Mordor for 48 hours -- "gets it."

And what is the "it" that they get? Most importantly, the greatness of this country -- the first non third-world country -- that has made a black man the head of state. And not because he is black, for Obama is not of the "generation of the aggrieved;" he is no Jesse Jackson, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Oh, sure, there are many blacks who voted to him out of racial-cultural loyalty without knowing much about his policies. But that is not what got him elected by 52% of the vote. He was elected because, in being black, he also transcended his blackness and his whiteness. He won because, darn it, he is an AMERICAN first, and a colored man second. He never hid hid blackness, nor his whiteness. Nor did he run on them. He convinced Americans that he would work tirelessly for them. And Americans came to believe him.

What elected Barack Obama was a truly rainbow coalition of races and ethnicities, including -- God bless us -- the Jews. All of us are the children of hope; the children of "Yes, we can."

What allowed millions of Americans to say, "I never thought in my lifetime that I would see this day" -= against all the cynics, pundits, and pessimists (count me in all three of those categories) -- was the realization of that hope. Call it sentimentalism, call it nostalgia, call it Hollywood, call it Jimmy Stewart, call it whatever you like.

I call it America.

But I am not only an American. I am also an Israeli Jew. And here is my sadness.

You see, many Israelis still don't get it. Anybody who has been following the press coverage from Israel of the presidential election can see that. And I am not only talking about a soft porn writer like Naomi Ragen who exemplifies what Eliezer Berkowitz called "Hitler's Posthumous Victory," the destruction of the Jewish Soul. I refer to the so-called Israeli secular liberals. Only the day before yesterday the Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk could write in YNET that McCain would win the election, because John-Wayne Americans were incapable of electing a black man president! Kaniuk, who lived in American for ten years decades ago, combines European snobbism, Israeli arrogance, and Jewish bigotry to come up with that bizarre prediction.

What about columnist Amir Oren, writing in Haaretz, who called Obama "a Jimmy Carter with a suntan." Aside from the blatant racism of the remark, it is simply idiotic and way off the mark, but it speaks volumes about the sublimated hatred of moral exemplars like Carter and Obama in military types like Oren.

But why stop there? Headlines like, "The Victory of Minorities", not to mention the talkbacks, show that so many Israelis still don't get it. Hello, it was the majority that won, not the minorities. Unless we are all minorities on this bus.

Still, there is some signs that the message is starting to sink in. And if the message of Barack Obama is the "audacity of hope" -- and the phrase was coined by Rev. Wright, God bless him -- then maybe we have to give some time to the Israelis, mired deeply in their collective psychosis, to "get it". Already, the headlines in Israeli papers today are beginning to reflect the greatness of the hour. After the initial cynicism and condescension, the excitement is beginning to be felt.

And here is another hopeful statistic - for Judaism in America, anyway. According to exit polls, 78% of the Jews voted for Obama, even more than those who voted for Kerry in 2004. All the dirt, hatred, lies, money, poisonous emails, only strengthened the Jews for Obama -- because they saw through the Republican ads.

The vocal minority of rightwingers were crushed at the polls by the silent majority of Jews who climbed on the train of history and left the hatemongers at the station.

To that small but loudmouthed minority of Jewish zealots I say: you said that Obama was a radical, a leftist, an extreme Muslim, somebody who pals around with terrorists and anti-Semites, who will do what he can to appease Iran, and will be a dangerous enemy of Israel.

Well, he may or may not be those things -- but one thing he is for sure: the President of the United States, elected by an overwhelming majority.

I hope you sleep well at night. In Jerusalem, I, and my children and grandchildren, certainly will.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It is 2 am in Washington, DC. Horns are blaring "ta-ta-taa" (or, if you like, "teki'ah"), code for "Yes, we can!" and "O-bah-mah!" I just walked with the crowds to the White House where thousands are celebrating, young and old, all races, colors, and creeds.

What a day! What a night!

The day started for me 22 hours ago, when a mixture of excitement and liberal guilt woke me up and sent me to Alexandria, Virginia, where I watched polls and made phone calls for the Obama campaign. Then a half day at work, a small "party" for colleagues to watch the returns. When the networks projected Obama as the victor – at 11 pm Eastern Standard Time – the city erupted.

I hope my earplugs are working tonight. No, there is no way I can sleep through the din.

I will have a lot more to write tomorrow. About the Obama Landslide. About his Mandate. About why America can, and how it did. And why Israel can't, but can draw hope from a great country.

But for now…Barukh atah ha-Shem, elokeinu melekh ha-olam, she-heheyanu, ve-kiyimanu, ve-higi'anu la-zman ha-zeh. Blessed are you, O Lord, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this great period of history."

Friday, October 31, 2008

What Role for Dennis Ross in the Obama Administration

Just got an email from an Israeli American friend telling me that he voted, much to my surprise, for Obama. It seems that my friend, an old-fashioned centrist Zionist, the sort who thinks that Ehud Barak made the Palestinians a generous offer at Camp David, decided to bite the bullet. The main reason (aside from the fact that he is a Democrat and scared to death of Sarah Palin)? Well, he is comfortable with Dennis Ross, and Dennis Ross has emerged as Obama's Middle East Advisor.

Is this so?

There is some evidence supporting the claim. Over the course of this campaign, Rob Malley was the first to leave the public eye, followed by Dan Kurtzer, with only Ross left. Obama has touted Ross to Jewish leaders as his middle east advisor. Ross gave an interview to Haaretz last week (with the extraordinary speculation that he may be Secretary of State. I heard him on DC radio twice introduced twice as Obama's "Foreign Policy advisor." Say, it ain't so, 'O'!)

Is Dennis Ross out there just to get votes from Jews like my Israeli American friend? Or does Obama have a central role for him in the new administration.

I don't know whether even Obama knows the answer to that last question for sure. He is totally focused on winning now. Last night, there was a very revealing exchange in Rachel Maddow's interview with Obama:

MADDOW: And so, you have the opportunity to say John McCain, George Bush, you're wrong. You also have the opportunity to say, conservatism has been bad for America. But, you haven't gone there either.

OBAMA: I tell you what though, Rachel. You notice, I think we're winning right now so

Maddow, the leftwing liberal, wanted to get an ideological criticism of Republicanism and Conservatism out of Obama's mouth. She wanted the guy with the most liberal voting record in Congress to stand up and say, "I am a proud liberal." But Obama won't do it. He says that he wants to transcend ideologies and partisanship. But he also says that the American people don't like that sort of politics. And that he is winning with this strategy.

Is it just a strategy? Who knows? But I, for one, will be very surprised if Dennis Ross returns to the Israel-Palestinian negotiations. For all I know, Ross isn't himself interested. But let's face it -- he has burned himself with his post-Camp David behavior and writing. Ross is a very proud liberal Zionist -- the last person one wants to negotiate an Israel-Palestinian deal. He was a mistake from the beginning, but the mistake got worse and worse. I have blogged here before about how the only person who could represent the Palestinian point of view at Camp David was the Arabic interpreter. Obama -- and his advisors -- are too smart, I hope, to repeat that mistake.

So does Akiva Eldar, who wrote in Haaretz a few days ago:
The change also must be seen in the makeup of the American team helping to formulate the peace agreements and in an assertive enforcement of old commitments. The recycling of advisers like Dennis Ross is more of the same. His deputy, Aaron Miller, wrote in his most recent book that Ross (recently the president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute) complained that the Israelis see him as the Palestinians' defense attorney. According to Miller, none of the high-ranking American officials who dealt with negotiations has been willing or able to present the Palestinian perspective, much less fight for it
So I think that Ross will have a role in the Obama administration. But if I were Obama, I wouldn't put him anywhere near Israel, or even Iran. Ross has a top-notch mind, and his grasp of details is extraordinary. How can Obama fail to be impressed with him? I sure as heck am.

But keep Ross away from Israel. We don't need any more fashlas like Camp David. And we don't need any more liberal Zionists representing the United States of America in Middle East peace talks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And Now, Something Nice for a Change

I just received this email from a friend who is an associate of Obama. It's a small, but very powerful story, and I plan to share it with my 95-year old father, who just sent in his absentee ballot for Obama.

Please send it around. I have omitted the sender's last name for obvious reasons.


From: Judy Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 6:53 AM Subject: This is a good story

Upon arriving at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Cincinnati to vote early today I happened upon some friends of my mother's - three small, elderly Jewish women. They were quite upset as they were being refused admitance to the polling location due to their Obama T-Shirts, hats and buttons. Apparently you cannot wear Obama/McCain gear into polling locations here in Ohio .... They were practically on the verge of tears.

After a minute or two of this a huge man (6'5", 300 lbs easy) wearing a Dale Earnhardt jacket and Bengals cap left the voting line, came up to us and introduced himself as Mike. He told us he had overheard our conversation and asked if the ladies would like to borrow his jacket to put over their t-shirts so they could go in and vote. The ladies quickly agreed. As long as I live I will never forget the image of these 80-plus-year-old Jewish ladies walking into the polling location wearing a huge Dale Earnhardt racing jacket that came over their hands and down to their knees!

Mike patiently waited for each woman to cast their vote, accepted their many thanks and then got back in line (I saved him a place while he was helping out the ladies). When Mike got back in line I asked him if he was an Obama supporter. He said that he was not, but that he couldn't stand to see those ladies so upset. I thanked him for being a gentleman in a time of bitter partisanship and wished him well.

After I voted I walked out to the street to find my mother's friends surrouding our new friend Mike - they were laughing and having a great time. I joined them and soon learned that Mike had changed his mind in the polling booth and ended up voting for Obama. When I asked him why he changed his mind at the last minute, he explained that while he was waiting for his jacket he got into a conversation with one of the ladies who had explained how the Jewish community, and she, had worked side by side with the black community during the civil rights movements of the '60s, and that this vote was the culmination of those personal and community efforts so many years ago. That this election for her was more than just a vote ... but a chance at history.

Mike looked at me and said, "Obama's going to win, and I didn't want to tell my grandchildren some day that I had an opportunity to vote for the first black president, but I missed my chance at history and voted for the other guy."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Israeli Government’s Secret War Against Barack Obama

Leave it to Barak Ravid, the Haaretz reporter whose job it is to publish anti-American gripes from unnamed Israeli government officials, to muddy the waters a week before the US elections. His latest article cites a "senior Israeli government source" who reports on leaks from "closed forums in France" in which rightwing President Nicolas Sarkozy, after meeting Obama in July (!) , criticized his position on Iran as "utterly immature." Read the gossip here.

Update: In the meantime, the French Embassy denied the report. See about it here

OK, so this is how it works. The Israeli government wants to get the word out: Obama is dangerous because he is soft on Iran. Of course, it doesn't want to go public because that would look as if it is interfering in the US elections. So it finds a friendly reporter – usually, Ravid – to publish a leak. This way of criticizing America has been going on for some time, and I have blogged about it before.

Of course, there is something truly comical in thinking that a comment by Sarkozy in a closed forum last summer (if his comments were accurately reported) will have any impact on anybody – especially since Sarkozy's disapproval rating is now 56%. But any port in a storm.

Last week the Israeli government did the same thing. Getting nervous about the Obama lead, a "senior government source" told Ravid that if Obama is elected, he will initiate direct talks with Tehran, and "a critical Israeli interest would be to condition any talks between the West and Iran on halting uranium enrichment." The timing of this announcement, two weeks before the elections, was not conincidental. It implied that Barak Obama constituted a danger to Israel, and that his election will provoke a concerted Israeli diplomatic response (as if anybody could care about that).

In one week Barack Obama, according to the polls, will be elected president by a resounding majority, and with him a Democratic congress with an even more resounding majority. True, the congress will be predictably "pro-Israel," as will be Obama, but there will be a difference.

And, as Sarkozy was heard to say in a closed forum (according to senior officials), "Vive la différence."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gideon Levy: “No One Who Chooses to Live in Occupied Land is a Moderate.”

This is well-worth printing in full. Read it here


Yes, hate

by Gideon Levy


My settler colleague, Israel Harel, his community's champion at rolling his eyes, playing innocent and speaking with a honeyed tongue, is once again grieving and playing the victim. In a column published here last week ("Have we become Sodom?" October 23), he complained that the reason for what he termed destructive criticism of the settlers is hatred. And indeed, Mr. Harel, this time, you're right: Large segments of Israeli society do indeed hate. But this is not baseless hatred, not hatred for the sake of hatred, to use your words. It is hatred for your enterprise. You have earned this hatred honestly - the only honest thing about your enterprise.

Yes, there are Israelis who do not want to see their countrymen despoiling the vineyards and burning the fields of poor farmers. Yes, there are Israelis who do not want to see troops of masked settlers beating elderly shepherds with clubs. Yes, there are Israelis who do not want to see other Israelis sicking their dogs on and puncturing the tires of the soldiers who protect them. Yes, there are Israelis who are embarrassed by the fact that tens of thousands of their fellow Israelis live on privately owned lands that were robbed, stolen and extorted, both in broad daylight and under cover of darkness.

And yes, there are Israelis who think that you have brought disaster upon us, a tragedy that will last for generations. That via your actions, you have brought wars and bloodshed and the brutalization of society upon us. That if you were not there, none of us would be there any longer, in a land that is not ours. That just as we withdrew from occupied South Lebanon - solely because, fortunately, you were not there - we would also long since have been able to withdraw from the areas you have occupied. Yes, there are Israelis who hate all this.



Harel complains about the fact that Israeli society is angry at the settlers as a collective. Unfortunately, it isn't angry enough. Every class and institution of Israeli society defends the settlements, finances them from its own pockets, and is a full partner in the theft, even if some of them are disgusted by it. The collective guilt is justified: Every settler and every settlement is equal. There are no illegal outposts and legal settlements - they are all illegal, according to both international law and universal justice, which have no need of legal sophistries. There are also no moderate and extremist settlements: No one who chooses to live in occupied land is a moderate.

And now for the playing innocent part: There are "some young men," Harel writes, just "a few dozen youths," who attack Arabs. Harel says that he, like most of his colleagues, "cannot understand" this. He has already told them, during a "heated discussion," that "this is not my halakha." And he goes on to say that his fists clench when he sees violence against the elderly in Haifa and Tel Aviv or gang rapes in Ramat Hasharon. But in Ramat Aviv Gimmel people do not ask what values were instilled in these youth, Harel writes; there, it is just juvenile delinquency. Yet when the same thing happens among settlers, the guilt is collective.

So here is the real difference: Secular society denounces and rejects those who rob the elderly and rape young girls. The perpetrators are given a fair trial, they receive lengthy sentences, and both the media and secular society ostracize them totally.

But what happens in your community? Have you ever heard, Israel, of a single settler who filed a complaint with the police against another settler over a rampage against Arabs? After all, you, too, see the rioters every day, on the road from Ofra - much of whose land, incidentally, is private land that was stolen. And what do you do when you see those rioters? Have another "heated discussion"? When we see people who assault the elderly, we call the police. Do you?

And if such a thing were to happen, how would your aggressive society treat the "informers"? After all, people who have dared to voice even a hint of "moderation" in their positions - and we are not even talking about anything as drastic as a complaint to the police - have been forced to abandon the settlements where they lived for fear of vengeance. It is not the lawbreakers who are ostracized in your community, but those who try to denounce them. Look at what happened to Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun - with no ostracism and no denunciation, other than laughable lip service. Only on the day when the settlement leadership starts cooperating with the law enforcement agencies will I believe you that those "few dozen youths," who are in fact a large and violent army of thousands, are indeed loathed by you.

You must admit the truth: To you, they are the pioneers who go before the camp, the ones who stand at the forefront. They are the ones who are realizing what your generation tried and failed to do in its day. In the deepest recesses of your souls, your hearts go out to them.

You spoke with Benny Katzover and Elyakim Ha'etzni, and they told you that the main opposition to the olive harvest stemmed from "security worries"? Had you not stolen the harvesters' lands, there would be no security risk. And after you have taken over their lands, you dare to justify the theft of what little remains to them on the grounds of security - your security only, of course? Evidently, chutzpah also has no limits.

And finally, the punch line: Harel writes that people like him will soon be hunkering down in bunkers due to the "unbridled" events in commemoration of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. It is not the murder or the events leading up to it that were unbridled, but the commemorations? It is not we who have all been in bunkers for 40 years because of you, but you, the robbed Cossacks? That is already one sentence too many - perhaps even for your too numerous fans



Jews Plan to Vote for Obama in Droves

According to the latest Gallup poll, Obama is winning over the Jewish vote. The percentage of Jews planning to vote for Obama is now 74%, for McCain, only 22%. For historical comparisons, that's the percentage of Jews that voted for Kerry/Edwards. It is still lower than the percentage for Gore/Lieberman, but we have 10 days until the election. Read about it here.

All is not bright, however. It seems that Obama attracts more older Jewish voters than younger Jewish voters (67%). And 29% of the voters from 18-34 describe themselves as politically conservative, as opposed to 16-17% of Jewish voters older than that.

But – and here's the kicker – when it comes to party affiliation, there is no significant difference among age groups. Did you think that the younger generation of Jews are flocking to the Republicans? Not according to the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll. Could it be that the nasty Republican Jewish Committee ads backfired? Or is the phrase "Jewish Republican" still an oxymoron? Nah – a whopping 13-17% of American Jews are Republican.

10 Days to Go

Some medium takes at the conclusion of Shabbat. I wanted to write them yesterday, but I ran out of time.

1. Sarah Palin -- The Gift that Keeps on Giving.

A Washington Post/ABC Poll last week reported that perceptions of Sarah Palin are increasingly negative. Read about the poll here. The Post writes

Thursday evenings, after the disclosure that the Republican National Committee used political funds to help Palin assemble a wardrobe for the campaign, 51 percent said they have a negative impression of her. Fewer, 46 percent, said they have a favorable view. That marks a stark turnaround from early September, when 59 percent of likely voters held positive opinions.

The declines in Palin's ratings have been even more substantial among the very voters Republicans aimed to woo. The percentage of white women viewing her favorably dropped 21 points since early September; among independent women, it fell 24 points.

It is too early to say whether the choice of Palin won the election for Obama – I think that it will probably increase his win by a percentage point or so, but that it will not be the critical factor.

But the real question is, will Palin have any national aspirations in the future? And will her supporters continue to be enthusiastic?

My hope is that she continues to be a national player, and that she and her supporters see her as the presumptive leader of the Republicans. For then we will have a lovely culture war in the Republican party, and among the conservative movement, for some time.

2. Charles Krauthammer -- Going Down with the Ship.

As one-by-one the conservative pundits jumped the McCain-Palin sinking ship (with the notable exception of Palin admirer, William Kristol), I started to get nervous about the pundit I love to hate, Charles Krauthammer. I can't think of a writer who has been so consistently wrong over the last decade as Krauthammer. He has cheerleaded excessive militarism, war in the Middle East, Islamaphobia, anti-Europeanism, the surge in Iraq, right wing Zionism, etc., that I thought to myself, "My God, if Krauthammer defects to Obama, maybe I should consider voting for McCain." I especially got nervous when I saw him get it right for once, about Sarah Palin.

Barukh ha-Shem, Krauthammer has remained true-to-form by endorsing McCain. Read it, if you can stomach it, here. I can now sleep at night knowing that he is not supporting Obama. As prepared as I am to be disappointed by Obama, I am not prepared to vote for somebody favored by Krauthammer.

3. Leon Wieselthier's Endorsement – Better Late than Never

The Torah teaches that even if a person repents an hour before his death, his repentance is accepted. I happen to know that it took a long time for Leon Wieselthier to come around to endorse Obama. Read about it here. This delay may seem surprising, given that his boss at the New Republic, Marty Peretz, jumped on the Obama bandwagon during the Democratic primaries (more for hatred of the Clintons than love of Obama.) But Wieselthier genuinely liked McCain (so did I), and he was – and is – apprehensive about Obama's learning curve with respect to foreign policy.

What brought him to Obama? His personal impression of Obama's character. And, that, my friends, is the real story of Obama's success. He has simply impressed a lot of people with his calm, thoughtful, and unflappable presence, while McCain, especially since he has been behind in the polls, has struck many people as angry and erratic. If you are following the election from Israel, you miss this dimension.

Wieselthier is a self-described "liberal hawk". Those of us on the left wing of the Democratic party like to dis "Scoop-Jackson-Democrats," who are practical indistinguishable from neocons when it comes to foreign policy. In Israel, they are often called, "disappointed leftists." Folks like that usually start their sentences with disclaimers, "Jerry, I also believe in a two-state solution," or "Hey, I am against the Occupation." And then comes the "but" comes… "But the Palestinians are not ready," or "But we don't have a credible partner," or, in the case of the liberal hawks over here, "But Islamic fundamentalism is an existential threat," or, "But the Geneva Convention rules shouldn't apply in a War of Terror because it is a nasty world out there."

Still, I am all for building coalitions, and if a liberal hawk like Leon wants to vote for Obama over McCain, I say, God bless him.

4. "Ma'am, We're Voting for the N-gger" in Virginia

The assumption among pundits is that white racists won't vote for Obama because he is black. That may be true for some racists, but not for all. Just like anti-semites can support Jewish candidates (not to mention Jew lawyers and Jew doctors), there is nothing unusual in a racist voting for a black man, especially if they are both Democrat.

The story below, reported by Sean Quinn of here, relates the experiences of a Obama campaign worker in Big Stone, Virginia:

Last week, Julie Hensley made one of her thousands of phone calls on behalf of Barack Obama. A woman answered. As Hensley ran through her short script, the husband impatiently broke in.

"Ma'am, we're voting for the n-gger." And hung up.

Hensley wasn't having it. "I went and made a couple other calls but chafed over this absurdity," she told us, "so I called them back, as I still had a couple questions for the wife." This time the man answered, asked pointedly who she was, and when she replied he hung up again.

We continue to hear stories like these in Appalachia. Big Stone Gap, where Barack Obama's southwesternmost field office in Virginia sits, gave us our latest version.

Quinn comes back to the story at the end of his report:

As for Hensley, her story ended with a twist. A couple hours later during a pause in her dials, her phone rang. She recognized the number. "This is going to be good," she remembers thinking, getting ready to scrap.

It was the husband. He was calling for the woman on whom he'd hung up. She then got something she didn't expect -- an apology. Calmly, Hensley told the man she'd accept his apology on one condition -- he had to tell her who he was voting for.

"Oh, I don't normally talk about it but I feel like I owe you," the man said. "I am voting for Senator Obama." He asked if Hensley would like to speak to his wife, as he'd interrupted the original call. Hensley mentioned that she had been surprised when he'd called to apologize. Apparently the husband and wife had been talking the entire couple hours since the original call. "Did she get upset with you?" Hensley asked.

"What do you think?" the man replied