Sunday, September 28, 2008

May We All Have a Good Year

Before I say "Happy New Year" and "May You be Inscribed in the Book of Life for the Coming Year", I would like to make confession of a few of my blogging sins.

So here goes…

For the sin of promising posts on topics and not following through….

For the sin of dissing my critics in the posts (I cut myself a little more slack in the Comments section – sorry I am not on a higher madregah/level yet)…

For the sin of making stupid editorial errors….

For the sin of using inflammatory and provocative language when I don't need to (but, ribono shel olam, these things really hurt me )….

For the sin of not reading my fellow-traveler bloggers enough so that I end up unwittingly repeating what they write…

For the sin of repeating myself ad nauseum….

For the sin of repeating myself ad nauseum….

For the sin of too frequent posting and not frequent enough posting….

For the sin of boring posts….

For all these sins, and many more, Dear Reader, forgive me, pardon me, and atone for me.

And now on a more serious note….

The greatest sin that we as Israeli Jews have committed, and continue to commit is depriving our Palestinian brethren of their dignity, their freedom, their human rights, and their rights to national self-expression.

But another great sin – one obviously connected to the first – is our trespassing against them in the most literal sense of "encroaching on their boundaries" (hasagat gvul, in Hebrew).

We continue to steal their land by moving our markers onto it and claiming it as ours.

After the holiday, God willing, and bli neder/without making a vow, I plan to write a post about the sin of trespassing – arguably one of the most serious sins we transgress. What is the Jewish understanding of "trespassing?" What do the sources say? And how can we read those sources so that we, as human beings, and as Israeli Jews, take the words of our tradition to heart – and extend them to include our non-Jewish brothers and sisters in the basic mitzvot of all humanity?

Well, there I go again…promising posts….

I will try to keep this one.

"Happy New Year" and "May You be Inscribed in the Book of Life for the Coming Year"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Attempted Assassination of Professor Sternhell – So Why am I Not Surprised?

The pipe-bomb that was set to kill Prof. Zeev Sternhell, Israel prize winner and authority on fascism in Europe and in Israel, was most likely set by a rightwing terrorist. That is simply because in Israel there are no leftwing terrorists. Not only does all the Jewish terrorism come from the right, so too all the hate mail, the threatening letters, the physical violence. When was the last time one of the Hebron settlers was awaken in the middle of the night by an angry leftwinger? When was the last time a rightwinger was struck or harrassed by a leftwinger?

Of course, not all rightwingers advocate violence against Jews or support terrorism. But all the Jewish terrorists come from the right side of the political spectrum.

Why is that?

Well, rightwingers will say that the leftwing does not have to engage in violence or terrorism; they support the Palestinians who do. This, of course, is a Big Lie. When the leftwingers – strictly speaking, the human rights activists, since there are very few leftwing Marxists around – condemn violations of human rights on both sides, the rightwingers reply that wittingly or unwittingly their protests encourage Arab terrorism.

Since not a single Arab terrorist has ever said that he was motivated to perpetuate acts of terror because of the incitement of leftwing Israelis and human right activists, we can only say that the claim that the leftwing plays into the hands of the terrorist is – at best – wishful thinking on the part of the right. Something to try to level a very slanted playing field.

Now, that is not to say that there are not leftwing Israelis who offer varying degrees of support to Palestinian resistance. And there are certainly people on the left (though not a whole lot – Fanon and Hondereich come to mind) who justify acts of violence against civilians by a dispossed, occupied, colonized people.

But all this is irrelevant to the point on hand, which is why actual acts of terrorism, not to mention harrassment, threatening letters, eggs thrown, etc., is virtually the exclusive territory of the rightwingers.

I think there are a few reasons for that well-known phenomenon, some obvious, some not so.

For one thing, many rightwingers are ultra-nationalists who celebrate Jewish power and the tough guy image, a la Maccabees, Betar, Kahane, etc. For them, violence and zealotry are mitzvot (see under Shimon and Levi). Anybody who doesn't agree with them, who doesn't buy into their idea of what is good for the tribe, is a traitor, a moyser/malshin/informant, a malshin, blah-blah-blah. And of course, according to Jewish law, it is a mitzvah to kill informants, to lynch them without any judicial procedure. So that takes care of one group of rightwingers.

A more interesting group – generally orthodox rabbis – feel that while, theoretically, folks like Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, etc., may deserve death, it would be imprudent and impractical to take the law in one's own hand. These are the folks who called Rabin a moyser before he died, and then professed shock and dismay when somebody took them literally. Some of them are more explicit than others, and some of them are profoundly sincere in their expressions of dismay.

The attempted assasination of Zev Sternhell is the latest in a string of attacks by rightwing elements against the left, ranging from personal harrassment (obscene phone calls, vicious talkbalks) to organizational harrassment (the Hebron settler thugs who harrass the tours of Breaking the Silence), to threats and physical attacks.

But your garden-variety ultra-nationalist celebration of power, typical of fascist movements, combined with the few scattered Jewish motifs in this direction, explains only some of the phenomenon.

For when you get down to it, the rightwing in Israel is not exactly a threatened minority; on the contrary, it ahs the upper hand. The settlers were moved from Gaza, but that was in order for Israel tighten its grip on the West Bank, or so thought Ariel Sharon. The settlements thrive; the outposts multiply; barukh ha-shem, things are going well, the settler leaders say. So why now, all of a sudden, do presumably rightwing terrorists try to blow up a professor who said – over five years ago -- that the Palestinians were unwise to attack over the Green Line?

I think the answer is twofold: a) the settler-extremists feel threatened by the negative media exposure and the minor judicial setbacks they have received; and b) they feel that their greater aspirations have been slown down by the exposure. While they really have no reason to feel threatened – the government will never move them – the settlers and their supporters don't like negative press, and certainly don't like criticism. Rabbi Israel Rosen, a prominent leader of the settlers, already said that Peace Now's Settlement Watch are made up of moyserim. So even though Peace Now's Settlement Watch is almost entirely ineffectual, and the settlers know that, the extremists feel…offended by it. And they are used to getting their way.

Similarly in Hebron. The settlers don't understand why the State allows a leftwing group like Breaking the Silence anywhere near Hebron – I mean, shouldn't the settlers call the shots? So their verbal and physical harrassment of the group is not so much because they feel genuinely threatened, as because they feel offended. If anything has been threatened, it is their masculinity.

When you are used to getting your own way, even minor things seem to be threats.

After all, the groups that lash out against the left are almost always pampered by the government. So for them, losing even minor publicity or legal battles is a terrible blow to their ego.

Kinda like the bully Biff in the Back to the Future movies. He may terrorize the school, but he is sensitive to even the slightest challenge to his authority.

As for the pious exclamations of the Defense Minister Ehud Barak that such things will not be tolerated – the best take on this is by Breaking the Silence's Mikhael Manekin, writing in Ynet here.

To save you from double-clicking, you can read it below.

Barak, just do your job

Barak knows far-right violence isn't new; he just needs to do something about it
Michael Manekin

To the honorable Defense Minister, Ehud Barak:

I was surprised to hear your response to the pipe bomb placed outside the home of Professor Ze'ev Sternhell. You said you would not allow any element within Israeli society to harass people who express their opinions.

Your position is clear, and I assume that most members of Israeli society, both on the Right and Left, would agree with you. Yet in your capacity as defense minister, who has been serving for two years now, you are not merely another concerned citizen. The incident that took place is under your direct responsibility; and it is most certainly not a unique or new act.

As defense minister, you're not supposed to be surprised. The organization I'm active in, Breaking the Silence, has been holding tours in Hebron for years, and we have been harassed by settlers for a long time now.

Hebron, as you know, is the lab where far rightists test the limits of the Israeli government's tolerance. The Jewish terrorism originating in the town, terror that is directed mostly at Palestinians, is known to all. We too, Israelis calling for the law to be enforced, have suffered the abuse of this group. The hurling of eggs and stones, shouts, swearwords, threats, and even physical violence have become a part of our tour routine. The police do not arrest the rioters. It is easier for them to remove us from town.

Recently the police canceled yet another planned tour. The reason: Police officials claim that they are concerned for our safety and fear that radical settlers are coming to the city from all across the territories. The police fear these settlers because they do not have the tools to deal with them. You, Mr. Barak, are not providing them with those tools.

Hebron is not the only focal point, as you know. In the past year we have witnessed many incidents in the south Mount Hebron area, in the Yitzhar region, and elsewhere. Violence is no longer directed only at Palestinians, or even leftists, but rather, also at soldiers and police officers.

In recent weeks we saw soldiers and a military outpost being attacked. Soldiers and police officers are scared to approach some Jewish communities. All the talk about the deterioration of the rule of law in the territories has become banal.

 "We won't let any element within Israeli society to harass others," you say resolutely, Defense Minister Barak. Yet you've let those things happen from your first day on the job. Instead of making declarations, you should face the public and say: "On this front, I failed."

Yet more importantly, you must act. After all, any Israeli who has been following the events of the recent year knows that the deterioration has merely started. The explosive device directed at Professor Sternhell is not a new incident; it's merely closer to your home.

No need to be shocked; just do your job.

Michael Mankin is a Breaking the Silence activist

Thursday, September 18, 2008

They Let Babies Die, Don't They?

Naheel Abu Rideh, 21

Philosophers will argue whether there is a significant ethical difference between killing and letting die. Apparently, there is a significant difference for Israelis between killing a Jewish baby and letting a Palestinian baby die. The penalty for the former is life imprisonment (if the killer manages to get a trial) and blowing up the home of the family. The penalty for the latter is a two week prison sentence.

That's the way it is in Sodom -- I mean, the West Bank -- today.

B'Tselem is reporting that yet another Palestinian baby was born dead at a checkpoint because the mother was not allowed to go through by the soldiers. I have lost count of the dead babies; you can find the number somewhere on the B'Tselem website here.

I remember when this sort of thing was big news. Now, it doesn't even make the Israeli papers. I reproduce here the testimony of the mother, Naheel Abu Rideh, from the B'Tselem website.

I married Muaiad Abu-Rideh two years ago, and had a baby girl, Shadah, a year ago. She was born in my seventh month of pregnancy but is fine now.

Seven months ago, I became pregnant again. Last Thursday [4 September], I had sharp stomach pains and I started to bleed badly. Around 7:00 P.M. I went to Dr. Fathi ‘Odeh in Jawarish, because our village doesn’t have any specialist physicians. He gave me medication and told me I’d be all right, but I didn't feel any improvement and the pains even got worse.

Around midnight, I couldn’t bear the pain any more. I woke my husband and asked him to take me to the hospital. When he saw how much I was suffering, he called to get his brother ‘Udai, who lives in the center of the village, to drive us in his car. ‘Udai arrived, with my mother-in-law, in a couple of minutes. My husband picked me up and carried me to the car. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t walk.

We started on our way to the hospital in Nablus at about 12:50 A.M. At the Za’tara checkpoint, we told the soldiers I was pregnant and had to get to the hospital, and they let us cross without a problem. When we got to the Huwara checkpoint, the soldiers didn’t let us pass. They said we didn't have a permit to cross by car. We told them my brother has a permit to cross the Ma’ale Efraim checkpoint because he works at settlements in the Jordan Valley, but that didn’t help.

The pain got worse. I felt as if I was going to give birth any moment. Now and then, the soldiers came over to the car and looked at me lying in the back seat. I was really worried about the fetus, and couldn’t stop thinking that I’d have to give birth in the car while the soldiers watched.

I kept screaming and crying and calling for help. I don’t know how much time passed, but suddenly I felt the fetus coming out. I shouted to my mother-in-law and to ‘UdaI, who were outside the car: “I think he’s coming out!” I took off my clothes. I was afraid they’d see me naked and that something would happen to the fetus. My mother-in-law shouted: “Yes, here’s his head, he’s coming out.” I asked her to pull him, and she said, “Breathe! Push!” I felt as the baby move, as if he was calling for help and asking us to help him come out. My mother-in-law covered me with my clothes. I shouted to my husband, ”The baby is out!” He shouted to the soldiers something in Hebrew that I didn't understand.

I don’t remember exactly what happened then, but when the medics arrived, they picked me up with the car seat and put me in the ambulance. I didn’t feel the baby moving any more and realized he was dead. The medics took away the dead baby and took me to the hospital. My husband and mother-in-law came with me in the ambulance. At the hospital, the doctors operated on me to clean my uterus. They discharged me the next day.

It hurts me a lot when I remember how the baby moved inside me and what happened to him. What did he do wrong? I also gave birth to my daughter in my seventh month, and now she is healthy. This poor baby died because there wasn’t anybody to help me deliver him.

Naheel 'Awni 'Abd a-Rahim Abu Rideh, 21, married with one child, is a homemaker and a resident of Qusra in Nablus District. Her testimony was given to Salma a-Deba'i on 8 September 2008 at the witness's home.

A Note on Neturei Karta and Secular Jews at Demonstrations

Several readers have pointed out to me that the ultraorthodox, anti-Zionist Neturei Karta have taken part in demonstrations with non-orthodox Jews. That is apparently true in the US, but, as far as I know, and as far as I can tell from the Neturei Karta US website, I don't believe that this has been true in Israel/Palestine -- until the Ni'alin protest yesterday. Thus, it is a significant event. The protests against the Wall have been going on for months, but this was the first time Neturei Karta joined in.

From the Ynet story, it appears that the Palestinian villagers invited the Neturei Karta; there is no mention of coordination or cooperation between the foreign human rights activists, the Anarchists Against the Wall, and Neturei Karta. I am trying to ascertain whether such coordination or cooperation exist, or whether the groups just showed up at the same demonstration.

It has been very important for the Israeli protesters, including Yonatan Pollak's group, Anarchists Against the Wall, to let the Palestinians run the protests, and invite who they wish to invite. These are Palestinian protests in which Israelis and foreign nationals play a part.

Still, it would be an interesting development to see if there are prospects for cocrdination or cooperation between Neturei Karta and the Anarchists.

Strange bedfellows?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Men in Black -- Welcome to Ni'alin!

YNET is reporting that, for the first time, a group of the ultraorthodox, anti-Zionist Neturei Karta, joined Palestinian and Jewish protestors at Ni'alin. Read about it here.

Welcome! Every little bit helps!

Of course, cynics will say that this is just a ploy to advance an anti-Zionist agenda and that ultraorthodox Jews are not known as champions of human rights. Well, there's truth in that. But the anti-Zionist ultraorthodox have often used arguments that speak of justice and peace with the Palestininians -- if not always for love of Jacob, then for hatred of Esau, i.e., the Zionists. And the respect has been reciprocated.

What is new, as far as I know, is that the Neturei Karta have generally avoided participating in demonstrations organized by secular leftists. Of course, here they were invited by the Palestinians. But I certainly wish I had been in Ni'alin to stand shoulder to shoulder with the men in black!

Soldiers fired tear-gas and rubber bullets, no stink bombs.Seven protestors were arrested

In a related story, Neturei Karta have criticized the IDF for conducting ethnic cleansing in Gaza. According to YNET's Neta Sela,Neturei Karta, "Anti-Zionist Orthodox faction denounces military operations in Strip as 'ferocious, bloodthirsty acts of ethnic cleansing', say they fail to understand why world powers 'allow Zionists to commit such crimes against Palestinians'" This is printed on the web in a box with the heading "Propaganda". Good to know that there is an independent press in Israel.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin and the "Experience" Issue

Leave it to David Brooks, the only conservative commentator worth reading, to lambast his fellow conservatives for jumping on the Palin bandwageon, and betraying thereby classic conservative principles. I know it is lazy for me to reproduce this post, but I thought it so timely and well-written that it bears reproducing

Brooks's piece is about the sort of "experience" needed to be a President, and which Palin clearly lacks. What Brooks doesn't explicitly say, but what he clearly implies, is that the issue is not one of job experience, or even administrative experience. Palin's defenders like to say that as mayor and and as governor, Palin has had more administrative experience than Obama. That's true, but that's not the point. In order to be a good president, one needs intellectual virtues of wisdom and prudence, and those virtues require experience of a certain sort, one born of knowledge and intellectual acumen. And from what we have seen and heard of Palin, she simply lacks these. So, by the way, did George W. Bush, especially during his first term.

Of course, if a liberal college professor says something like that, she is condemned for being elitist and out-of-touch with hockey-and-moose-burger America. There is a strange idea in this country that any average Joe should be able to come to Washington and be president. That is a very dangerous idea. Democracy means allowing the people to vote for somebody who is qualified to lead the country. It doesn't mean dumbing down the qualifications.

Brooks has to put in the obligatory rider at the end of his article dissociating his critique from the liberal condescension and smugness about Palin. But he is no less elitist than they are.

Here is Brooks's piece:

Why Experience Matters


Philosophical debates arise at the oddest times, and in the heat of this election season, one is now rising in Republican ranks. The narrow question is this: Is Sarah Palin qualified to be vice president? Most conservatives say yes, on the grounds that something that feels so good could not possibly be wrong. But a few commentators, like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum and Ross Douthat demur, suggesting in different ways that she is unready.

The issue starts with an evaluation of Palin, but does not end there. This argument also is over what qualities the country needs in a leader and what are the ultimate sources of wisdom.

There was a time when conservatives did not argue about this. Conservatism was once a frankly elitist movement. Conservatives stood against radical egalitarianism and the destruction of rigorous standards. They stood up for classical education, hard-earned knowledge, experience and prudence. Wisdom was acquired through immersion in the best that has been thought and said.

But, especially in America, there has always been a separate, populist, strain. For those in this school, book knowledge is suspect but practical knowledge is respected. The city is corrupting and the universities are kindergartens for overeducated fools.

The elitists favor sophistication, but the common-sense folk favor simplicity. The elitists favor deliberation, but the populists favor instinct.

This populist tendency produced the term-limits movement based on the belief that time in government destroys character but contact with grass-roots America gives one grounding in real life. And now it has produced Sarah Palin.

Palin is the ultimate small-town renegade rising from the frontier to do battle with the corrupt establishment. Her followers take pride in the way she has aroused fear, hatred and panic in the minds of the liberal elite. The feminists declare that she’s not a real woman because she doesn’t hew to their rigid categories. People who’ve never been in a Wal-Mart think she is parochial because she has never summered in Tuscany.

Look at the condescension and snobbery oozing from elite quarters, her backers say. Look at the endless string of vicious, one-sided attacks in the news media. This is what elites produce. This is why regular people need to take control.

And there’s a serious argument here. In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation’s founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.

Experienced leaders can certainly blunder if their minds have rigidified (see: Rumsfeld, Donald), but the records of leaders without long experience and prudence is not good. As George Will pointed out, the founders used the word “experience” 91 times in the Federalist Papers. Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

The idea that “the people” will take on and destroy “the establishment” is a utopian fantasy that corrupted the left before it corrupted the right. Surely the response to the current crisis of authority is not to throw away standards of experience and prudence, but to select leaders who have those qualities but not the smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sex Ed, Lies, and the McCain Campaign

I never had much reason to dislike John McCain; on the contrary, his character seemed admirable in many respects (especially in comparison to the current president).

But the Obama sex-ed ad that he approved is pure slime. Through its lies and innuendoes, the McCain campaign has done something I didn't think possible; it has sunk lower than Karl Rove.

I don't really want to talk about the ad itself. What is more interesting to me is that the conservatives who are defending the ad – such as the National Review's Jim Garaghty -- do so in violation of their own conservative principles. Garaghty picks up the bill and interprets it in such a way as to make the McCain campaign's reading plausible. In other words, he interprets the text to suit his purpose.

What's wrong with that? Well, conservatives tell us that we are not supposed to do that when we look interpret a law. What we are supposed to do is try to determine the original intent of the legislators by appealing to the circumstances of the legislation, and what the framers intended. And when you do that, it is simply outrageous to suggest that any of the legislators intended to teach about sexually transmitted diseases to kindergarten, where there is not a scrap of evidence to suggest that this was their intent, and the law itself speaks about "age and developmental appropriateness".

A bill can be worded poorly, and those who support the bill on the floor of a legislature (but not those who support it in committee) bear responsibility for that. But given the circumstances of the bill, it is most reasonable to interpret it as saying that wherever there is a comprehensive sex ed program, attention must be paid to the question of sexually-transmitted diseases. It does not mandate teaching sex ed to anybody grade, much less kindergarten. "K-12" is mentioned as a synonym of "any grade" or "without exception".

But conservatives like Garaghty apparently like to play fast and loose with principle.

Bill Buckley would have wept.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin – Hamas With Lipstick?

God bless Juan Cole, who pointed out the similarities between Sarah Palin and Islamic fundamentalists when it comes to their religious views. I may add, to Jewish fundamentalists as well. There is very little difference between fundamentalists of the three religions, and I should know, since I am a moderate fundamentalist, myself.

John McCain never had my vote, but he did have my respect , until this week, when he lost it. The repackaging of John McCain as the agent of change in Washington, the outsider who will take on the special interests, would be amusing if more people could see it for what it is: a Big Lie that is intended to pull the wool over the electorate's eye. Will McCain change the policies of the last eight years? Will McCain changes his own policies? He has already said that he won't. The issue is not whether he will take on Republicans; the issue is whether he will take on the Republican philosophy and ideology that has failed.

The power of teshuvah is great – provided that one recognizes one's sin, makes public confession, and resolves not to do it again. Instead, McCain is throwing dust in the electorate's eyes by talking "change" but meaning something else. And so far, enough of the American public is buying it.

Anyway, here is Juan Cole's post from Salon

Sept. 9, 2008 | John McCain announced that he was running for president to confront the "transcendent challenge" of the 21st century, "radical Islamic extremism," contrasting it with "stability, tolerance and democracy." But the values of his handpicked running mate, Sarah Palin, more resemble those of Muslim fundamentalists than they do those of the Founding Fathers. On censorship, the teaching of creationism in schools, reproductive rights, attributing government policy to God's will and climate change, Palin agrees with Hamas and Saudi Arabia rather than supporting tolerance and democratic precepts. What is the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick.

McCain pledged to work for peace based on "the transformative ideals on which we were founded." Tolerance and democracy require freedom of speech and the press, but while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin inquired of the local librarian how to go about banning books that some of her constituents thought contained inappropriate language. She tried to fire the librarian for defying her. Book banning is common to fundamentalisms around the world, and the mind-set Palin displayed did not differ from that of the Hamas minister of education in the Palestinian government who banned a book of Palestinian folk tales for its sexually explicit language. In contrast, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it."

Palin argued when running for governor that creationism should be taught in public schools, at taxpayers' expense, alongside real science. Antipathy to Darwin for providing an alternative to the creation stories of the Bible and the Quran has also become a feature of Muslim fundamentalism. Saudi Arabia prohibits the study, even in universities, of evolution, Freud and Marx. Malaysia has banned a translation of "The Origin of the Species." Likewise, fundamentalists in Turkey have pressured the government to teach creationism in the public schools. McCain has praised Turkey as an anchor of democracy in the region, but Turkey's secular traditions are under severe pressure from fundamentalists in that country. McCain does them no favors by choosing a running mate who wishes to destroy the First Amendment's establishment clause, which forbids the state to give official support to any particular theology. Turkish religious activists would thereby be enabled to cite an American precedent for their own quest to put religion back at the center of Ankara's public and foreign policies.

The GOP vice-presidential pick holds that abortion should be illegal, even in cases of rape, incest or severe birth defects, making an exception only if the life of the mother is in danger. She calls abortion an "atrocity" and pledges to reshape the judiciary to fight it. Ironically, Palin's views on the matter are to the right of those in the Muslim country of Tunisia, which allows abortion in the first trimester for a wide range of reasons. Classical Muslim jurisprudents differed among one another on the issue of abortion, but many permitted it before the "quickening" of the fetus, i.e. until the end of the fourth month. Contemporary Muslim fundamentalists, however, generally oppose abortion.

Palin's stance is even stricter than that of the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2005, the legislature in Tehran attempted to amend the country's antiabortion statute to permit an abortion up to four months in case of a birth defect. The conservative clerical Guardianship Council, which functions as a sort of theocratic senate, however, rejected the change. Iran's law on abortion is therefore virtually identical to the one that Palin would like to see imposed on American women, and the rationale in both cases is the same, a literalist religious impulse that resists any compromise with the realities of biology and of women's lives. Saudi Arabia's restrictive law on abortion likewise disallows it in the case or rape or incest, or of fetal impairment, which is also Gov. Palin's position.

Theocrats confuse God's will with their own mortal policies. Just as Muslim fundamentalists believe that God has given them the vast oil and gas resources in their regions, so Palin asks church workers in Alaska to pray for a $30 billion pipeline in the state because "God's will has to get done." Likewise, Palin maintained that her task as governor would be impeded "if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God." Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran expresses much the same sentiment when he says "the only way to attain prosperity and progress is to rely on Islam."

Not only does Palin not believe global warming is "man-made," she favors massive new drilling to spew more carbon into the atmosphere. Both as a fatalist who has surrendered to God's inscrutable will and as a politician from an oil-rich region, she thereby echoes Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has been found to have exercised inappropriate influence in watering down a report in 2007 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Neither Christians nor Muslims necessarily share the beliefs detailed above. Many believers in both traditions uphold freedom of speech and the press. Indeed, in a recent poll, over 90 percent of Egyptians and Iranians said that they would build freedom of expression into any constitution they designed. Many believers find ways of reconciling the scientific theory of evolution with faith in God, not finding it necessary to believe that the world was created suddenly only 6,000 ago. Some medieval Muslim thinkers asserted that the world had existed from eternity, and others spoke of cycles of hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Mystical Muslim poets spoke of humankind traversing the stages of mineral, plant and animal. Modern Islamic fundamentalists have attempted to narrow this great, diverse tradition.

The classical Islamic legal tradition generally permitted, while frowning on, contraception and abortion, and complete opposition to them is mostly a feature of modern fundamentalist thinking. Many believers in both Islam and Christianity would see it as hubris to tie God to specific government policies or to a particular political party. As for global warming, green theology, in which Christians and Muslims appeal to Scripture in fighting global warming, is an increasing tendency in both traditions.

Palin has a right to her religious beliefs, as do fundamentalist Muslims who agree with her on so many issues of social policy. None of them has a right, however, to impose their beliefs on others by capturing and deploying the executive power of the state. The most noxious belief that Palin shares with Muslim fundamentalists is her conviction that faith is not a private affair of individuals but rather a moral imperative that believers should import into statecraft wherever they have the opportunity to do so. That is the point of her pledge to shape the judiciary. Such a theocratic impulse is incompatible with the Founding Fathers' commitment to tolerance and democracy, which is why they forbade the government to "establish" or officially support any particular religion or denomination.

McCain once excoriated the Rev. Jerry Falwell and his ilk as "agents of intolerance." That he took such a position gave his opposition to similar intolerance in Islam credibility. In light of his more recent disgraceful kowtowing to the Christian right, McCain's animus against fundamentalist Muslims no longer looks consistent. It looks bigoted and invidious. You can't say you are waging a war on religious extremism if you are trying to put a religious extremist a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Castrating the Israeli Supreme Court

How many times have you heard this line: Look, I admit that there are problems with Israeli democracy, e.g., its treatment of its Arab citizens, and the Occupation. But the country is still at war with the Arabs, and in time, things will improve. After all, once the Arab citizens were under a military government. Now, at least de jure, they are equal citizens. Any restriction of civil liberties are temporary measures. As for the Occupation, when peace comes, it will cease to exist. And in the meantime, the Israeli judiciary is there to protect civil liberties.

That sentiment, of course, forms an essential part of the faith of the Zionist liberal. For thirty years, I never questioned it.

But what if the reverse is true -- what if there is a slow deterioration of civil liberties and the rule of law, both within Israel proper and in the Occupied Territories? And what if these civil liberties are being curtailed, not during a period of relative stress, but during a period of relative calm, like the present?

What does the Zionist liberal then say about the prospects for Israel's future?

On Sunday, the Israeli government approved Justice Minister Daniel Friemann's proposal to amend the Basic Law on the Judiciary in order to curtail the Supreme Court's power. Read about it here. Specifically, the Supreme Court would not be able to strike down any law that does not violate two Basic Laws (human dignity and freedom, and freedom of occupation) and when those two laws are violated, the court's decision could be overridden by a simple majority in Knesset. For example, if a majority of Knesset members voted on legislation banning Arabs from public beaches in Israel, the court could strike that law down -- only to see it overrruled by a simple majority of the Knesset. And if the Knesset passed a law barring Palestinians from seeking monetary compensation for damages done by the IDF, the High Court could not even intervene, as it does now.

In other words, the Israel government's decision, if it becomes law, will castrate the Israeli judiciary system and remove the only bulwark of civil and human rights in Israel.

Note that this decision was made at the calmest time in Israel in recent memory. The Second Intifada is dead, and no rocket falls on Sederot. By this decision the Israeli government says that in order to survive as a Jewish state, it cannot be a real democracy, but rather a banana republic, where the judiciary has little teeth and no independence.

Of course, Daniel Friedmann also wants to politicize the process of the selection of judges. He hasn't been able to do that yet, but he will. The independent judiciary that Alan Dershowitz praised so highly in his Case for Israel (and with little justification, as Norman Finkelstein pointed out) will be a thing of the past.

I don't believe in historical inevitability. But we are witnessing the continuing evolution of Israel away from whatever democratic roots it had, and, in my view, the seeds of this evolution are right there in the state founded in 1948. Note that this decision was not made by a rightwing government, but by a centrist government.

And that is the silver lining. For in decisions like these Israel unmasks itself. It cannot appear as a virtual democracy, with a court upholding the virtual rights of West Bank Palestinians, a court that always opts for the security of the occupier over that of the occupied. Better that the sham so admired by Dershowitz, and so trumpeted by the Israeli foreign ministry, be exposed for what it really is.

Yet for those, like the present writer, who care about Israel and who still find it painful when the truth of Zionism is exposed, the government's decision hurts.

Illusions die hard.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Hypocrisy of the Republican Social Conservatives

Richard Silverstein gets it right (as usual) when he writes that the issue of Bristol Palin's pregnancy is a personal one and not politically relevant. But he also adds that Palin's cavalier dismissal of it is jarring, given her religious values. Is premarital sex right or wrong? It is wrong, according to the religious conservatives, and so it has to be condemned. You don't have to throw stones, but you have to get across the message that it is unacceptable, that such behavior is inexcusable.

Instead, what we hear from the Palin apologists is that "all families have problems," and that Americans can relate to Sarah Palin's problems.

Well, guess what, Palinites: most American families – certainly most religiously conservative American families – don't have pregnant daughters, or sons who have fathered children out of wedlock. To condemn the phenomenon in others, while excusing it in yourself, or in somebody you support politically, is hypocritical. I have yet to hear a single Palin supporter say that what Bristol Palin did was wrong. They are quick to forgive because they are on this particular's hockey mom's team.

So should it surprise anybody that Palin's boy friend – the "presumptive fiance," (are they engaged?) -- is right out there in front waving to the crowd and greeting John McCain. Even the teenage father from the movie Juno acted with greater tact.

Look, not everybody has to be a social conservative, but if you are, then at least practice what you preach. The fact that mainstream orthodox Jews, including haredi Jews, are supporting Palin without a murmer about her daughter's pritzus (loose behavior) shows their deep hypocrisy (or religious bigotry, if they think that this is what goyim do)

And, while we are on the subject, I must say that I was heartened by the consistency of conservative radio-show host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who expressed her "extreme disappointment" in the choice of Palin as the VP. Why? Because, as a mother of small children, Palin should be home with the kids, or if she has to work, she should pick a job which allows her maximum time with the kids. This is especially true when one of the children has Down syndrome, and the other one is pregnant. Is that sexist? You bet! But sexism is part of the social conservative gig, is it not? As Schlessinger says,

I'm stunned - couldn't the Republican Party find one competent female with adult children to run for Vice President with McCain?   I realize his advisors probably didn't want a "mature" woman, as the Democrats keep harping on his age.  But really, what kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down Syndrome, and then goes back to the job of Governor within days of the birth?

I am haunted by the family pictures of the Palins during political photo-ops, showing the eldest daughter, now pregnant with her own child, cuddling the family's newborn.  When Mom and Dad both work full-time (no matter how many folks get involved with the children), it becomes a somewhat chaotic situation.  Certainly, if a child becomes ill and is rushed to the hospital, and you're on the hotline with both Israel and Iran as nuclear tempers are flaring, where's your attention going to be?  Where should your attention be?  Well, once you put your hand on the Bible and make that oath, your attention has to be with the government of the United States of America.

Parents should be available first and foremost for their children. In many cases, the most available parent will be the mother, but it could be the father; that depends on the situation. What Dr. Laura does not get its that women today, like men, often need to have fulfilling careers for their own well-being.. For many people, not pursuing a career is not an option; it's a necessity, and not just for economic reasons, but for reasons of personal happiness. It may be that Sarah Palin would be a miserable meanie were she to leave her day job and be a stay-at-home mom. But let her articulate a justification for staying away from her children.

"Country First" is not that justification.



Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin, Lieberman, and the Israel Lobby

Sarah Palin is very busy. Tuesday she cancelled all her appointments to get prepped by the McCain staff, and to prepare for her big speech Wednesday night. Well, almost all her appoinments. She found time to meet with the most powerful lobby in America, apparently .

I am referring to AIPAC, of course.

This item caught my eye from Bloomberg:

"Palin, who has been criticized by Democrats for her lack of foreign policy experience, yesterday skipped a scheduled appearance with an anti-abortion group, meeting instead with leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at her Minneapolis hotel."

So that is where she starts her foreign policy tutelage? With the Israel Lobby? What does meeting with AIPAC, a domestic lobby, have to do with foreign policy experience?

You know the answer. It has everything to do with domestic politics. I could just hear Joe Lieberman saying to her, "Sarah, you have the anti-abortion vote sewn up; it's more important for you to go for the Jews."

Amazing. So many people working so hard to love Israel…to death

The way things stand now – and I am writing this before her speech – the Palin choice has damaged McCain. Sure, it has "energized the base" but their energy can't match the Democratic energy. The true believers are not what McCain needs; he needs the moderates and the independents. And they are not wowed – yet – by Palin. Trudy Rubin last week in Commentary wrote a piece entitled, "Where's the Obama Bounce." Well, the last three polls have been giving him a nice bounce – as much as 8 points lead, in the daily Gallup poll, the first time he hit 50. OK, that will probably change after the convention. But the short-term Palin effect has been negative. We will see how things play out in the days and weeks ahead.

And speaking of speeches, Lieberman's convention speech was horrible – a disconnected, rambling affair delivered without much enthusiasm. After all, who is Joe Lieberman? The consummate Washington insider who had his moment of glory when he criticized Bill Clinton, then was tapped by Gore in order to add balance to the ticket. If Obama wins, he is a toasted bagel. But even if he loses, it's hard to see what Lieberman can do in a McCain administration. Secretary of Defence? Leon Wieselthier noted drily that this may not be such a good idea if we are going to get involved in the Middle East. Secretary of State? Somewhat of a demotion for a powerful senator. Even if Obama loses, the Democrats are going to win big in Congress. So that makes him a toasted bagel again.

Having said that, it's hard not to like Joe Lieberman. I can't forgive him for betraying his party, and for letting a unsophisticated view of the world cloud his judgment. But on a personal level, he is a likeable guy.

As for Sarah Palin, I will let you know when she shows up in shul with Lieberman and Mukasey.