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‍‍ חשון / כסלו תשסט - November, 2008:

Israel – The Rabinist State

A Rabinist State or a state for the Rabinists?

This is a new low. I’m speechless.

Jerusalem Has a Future Again!

Until now, I have refrained from speaking about the Jerusalem mayoral elections because I don’t live and vote there. Now that the elections are over, it is clear that by electing Nir Barkat, Jerusalem has chosen a new direction, and with good reason.

Over the years, Jerusalem has become a poor, unattractive, near-unlivable city, that has served as more of a tourist attraction than the capital of the Jewish state. Traffic is horrendous, cultural events are rare, rents have risen sky-high, taxpayers are leaving the city in droves, and a non-contributing sector of Israeli society has been slowly, but surely, taking over.

Jerusalem needs to draw business, arts, students. Jerusalem needs a real nightlife, and a real restaurant scene. Jerusalem needs vibrant neighborhoods all over, not just two or three small popular areas. Jerusalem needs to be livable for its residents, for Israeli citizens.

It does not need to draw more and more tourists. It does not need to have apartments bought up by rich foreigners, only to be left vacant for most of the year. On that issue, Jerusalem should institute a much higher property tax on apartments owned by non-citizens, and on apartments that are vacant for the majority of the time.

A sectoral candidate cannot mend this city. I hope Nir Barkat will succeed in improving Jerusalem, in making Jerusalem a real city again, and returning Jerusalem to its proper status as the living capital of Israel.

על חומותייך, עיר דוד, הפקדתי שומרים – עשו את עבודתכם נאמנה

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

It seems that some justice might finally be served, as Ivan Demjanjuk, will hopefully be put on trial for his crimes at Sobibor, in Germany, no less.

Ivan Demjanjuk was a Ukrainian who, after WWII, became a naturalized U.S. citizen, only to have his citizenship revoked in the early 1980s. He was found to have lied on his U.S. immigration application, having served as an SS guard at both Treblinka and Sobibor.

Suspected of being Treblinka’s Ivan the Terrible, responsible to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel in 1986. Based on various pieces of evidence, he was sentenced to death by hanging in 1988 (Israeli law allows capital punishment for crimes against humanity).

Due to various discrepancies during the trial, including evidence linking him to Sobibor at the same time Ivan the Terrible was at Treblinka, his conviction was overturned in 1993. An additional trial, for his crimes at Sobibor, was not held because of a technicality. He was extradited from the U.S. to be tried as Ivan the Terrible, and trying him again based on the same extradition would constitute double jeopardy (which is allowed in Israel, but not the U.S.).

After returning to the U.S. and losing a long battle with the INS, Demjanjuk was scheduled to be deported to the Ukraine. Now Germany has filed for extradition so that he will brought on charges for the responsibility of killing 29,000 Jews at Sobibor.

I hope they finally succeed in putting him behind bars for the remainder of his life. Unfortunately he will be in prison, and not suffering like his victims did in the hell known as Sobibor. May he rot in hell.

Law and Order in Israel?

Being a criminal in Israel has long been a less dangerous pursuit that it is in say, the U.S. Benny Sela, the infamous serial rapist, was sentenced to 35 years behind bars for committing no less than 24 rapes and sexual assaults. A simple search online reveals that for committing four rapes, an Ohio rapist was recently sentenced to 94 years in prison.

This disparity in sentencing can be seen in “lesser” crimes, as well. An attempted murderer at the 2005 gay pride parade in Jerusalem was sentenced to 12 years in jail. This, compared to the 51 year sentence handed down in Virginia last month.

Recent sentencing, however might be showing signs of improvement. In 2006, one man stabbed another, to death, when both were hitchhiking in the Galil. The murderer stabbed the victim in the stomach, who then chased after him for revenge, only to be stabbed repeatedly in the neck, ultimately killing him.

The murderer was sentenced to 25 years in prison (Hebrew), which seems to be a more appropriate than a four year sentence for stabbing your wife in front of your daugher (sorry, also Hebrew).

Now, if only the police did their jobs, too…

EDIT: NG has alerted me to a mistake I made – Benny Sela did indeed escape while being transferred, not while on furlough. It is still ridiculous that criminals get “vacations” from jail-time.

Haveil Havalim #190 is Up

CK at Jewlicious hosted this week, titled Post Election Panic – go check it out, there’s a lot more there than just panic and praise in light of the U.S. (finally) electing a new president.

Rahm Emanuel and Israel 3

I’ve already expressed my concerns with Obama’s choice of Rahm Emanuel for White House Chief of Staff. Shmuel Rosner confirms them:

Emanuel might be even more problematic for Israel because of his Israeli background. He was “problematic” in the past – some Israeli officials with which I spoke do not remember him fondly (others do) and think of him as a condescending, know-it-all, aggressive, pushy.

In referring to a letter Emanuel wrote last year to the Israeli ambassador in Washington, complaining about Israel’s attitude towards Sudanese refugees, Rosner characterizes Emanuel as “Know it all – pushy – and also very wrong.”

As I’ve already said, unless Emanuel packs his bags and moves to Israel (which is his right, nay, his duty), he has no right to tell Israel what to do. We’ve already been down this path, where a pushy American causes Israel to make harmful moves. Be worried. Be very, very worried.

DC Election Celebrations and Police Incompetence

This post comes a bit late, but it is relevant nonetheless. Last Tuesday, as you know, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. So far, so good. Democracy in action, the people have spoken, etc.

Here in DC, celebrations went on well into the night. Being happy and celebrating is all well and good, but the revelry went completely overboard. In Adams Morgan, people congregated on the streets, yelling and chanting Obama’s name incessantly. The worst part, however, was the honking. It was like the first few minutes after a sports victory – but it went on for hours on end.

First, who are these people? Did they think they could just quit their jobs now since Obama is going take care of all of their problems? Why else are so many people out on the street at 2:00 am on a Tuesday night? I don’t understand.

More importantly, the police did not do anything. It’s one thing to hear party-goers on a Saturday night. It’s another when it’s Tuesday, and the noise is far worse than any weekend. In Adams Morgan, no less. And so, despite numerous calls to the police, nothing was done. At one point, dispatch informed me that the crowds would be dispersed at 2:15 am. What does that mean? Public disturbances are fine until 2:15 am? Again, I don’t understand.

In any case, there was a police car on the corner of 18th and Columbia, blocking the road (unnecessary, since no cars could get through the mob of people on the street anyway), just like on weekend nights. So, I went down and spoke to one of the police officers who was just standing there, and I explained the situation to him. At first, he had no idea this was a problem. This was 2:00 am and there was more noise than at a football game, what sort of idiot does not see any problem? He also told me that dispatch had not informed him of any complaints. This sort of inefficiency (or is it just carelessness?) on the part of the Metroplolitan Police Department is just mind-boggling.

The police officer seemed pretty nice, though, despite being more than a little stupid, and he told me that he would begin to take care of the honking, at least. I waited half a block away to see what would happen. I assumed taking care of the noise disturbances meant issuing tickets, or at the very least saying something to the offenders. No, nothing of the sort. Instead, I saw the officers hug two guys who were celebrating in the street.

Whom exactly was protected and served??

The New York Times on Georgia

The New York Times does not just discriminate against Israel. Apparently, it just has a general aversion to self-defense. On Saturday, it came out with a feature article accusing Georgia of more than just provoking the August war with Russia, but with actually starting it:

Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.

Michael Totten, in his prize-deserving piece on the conflict, has actually done the legwork, and unsurprisingly, came up with drastically different conclusions regarding who’s at fault.

Georgia didn’t start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili [the Georgian president] sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.

The New York Times, no longer a publication known for its pursuit of the truth, decides to start with what was really the second day of the conflict.

According to the monitors, an O.S.C.E. [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] patrol at 3 p.m. on Aug. 7 saw large numbers of Georgian artillery and grad rocket launchers massing on roads north of Gori, just south of the enclave.

What is the problem with amassing artillery and rocket launchers in response to an armed uprising, supported by the invading Russian military?

The night of August 7, Saakashvili did, however, make a severe public relations mistake, by claiming the Georgian actions were intended “to restore constitutional order” in South Ossetia. Thomas Goltz, speaking with Totten, explains that this phrase, “in the post-Soviet mindset is what Boris Yeltsin was doing in Chechnya.” Considering what the Russians did in Chechnya, that is not exactly something that would calm the tensions in the region.

According to O.S.C.E. monitors, “the attack was completely indiscriminate and disproportionate to any, if indeed there had been any, provocation.” Anyone who has follows the Middle East knows that international monitors are rarely, if ever, to be trusted, especially when accusing a state of acting “disproportionately.” This term is extremely overused, most of the time incorrectly.

Writing two years ago about the Second Lebanon War in The New Republic, Michael Walzer, the widely respected expert on modern Just War Theory, did a great job of explaning exactly a proportional response means. [P]roportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do” (Sorry, TNR’s website is acting up, as usual). In other words, a proportional response must be proportional to the threat the enemy poses, not to the attacks already carried out.

Concerning the conflict in the Caucasus, Russia poses an incredible threat. In the same discussion with Michael Totten, regional expert Patrick Worms explained:

Starting in mid July the Russians launched the biggest military exercise in the North Caucasus that they’ve held since the Chechnya war. That exercise never stopped. It just turned into a war.

On the evening of the 7th, the Ossetians launch an all-out barrage focused on Georgian villages, not on Georgian positions. Remember, these Georgian villages inside South Ossetia – the Georgians have mostly evacuated those villages, and three of them are completely pulverized. That evening, the 7th, the president gets information that a large Russian column is on the move. Later that evening, somebody sees those vehicles emerging from the Roki tunnel [into Georgia from Russia]. Then a little bit later, somebody else sees them. That’s three confirmations.

Another member of the O.S.C.E. team made the same mistake about the justification of an attack. Referring to Georgian claims of the Russians shelling villages in Georgia, Wing Commander Stephen Young said, “If there had been heavy shelling in areas that Georgia claimed were shelled, then our people would have heard it, and they didn’t.”

First, as I’ve already said, I do not trust “independent” monitors almost ever. All one has to do is look at UNEF, UNTSO, and of course, UNIFIL, to lose any trust in international peacekeeping or monitoring. These organizations are not just biased. Often, in order to protect their lives, they actively aid the aggressors in various conflicts, thereby defeating their very raison d’être. I have no reason to believe these, either, especially considering Russian actions as the conflict progressed (which include completely ignoring ceasefire agreements, claiming full compliance while actively occupying a sovereign state).

Second, as previously mentioned, a Russian column was moving through the Roki Tunnel into Georgia. How is that not a threat that deserves a response? That is more than a mere threat, that is an act of war.

In order to really gain more of an understanding of the conflict, go read Michael Totten’s piece. Then read the NYT’s a poor excuse for journalism. Compare the two, and you won’t understand why the NYT is still held in such high regard. The New York Times, if it hasn’t already, is moving fast towards becoming nothing more than a partisan rag, as it continues to come down on the wrong side of the truth, time and time again.

Yiddish AND Hebrew

Ynet has an interesting article on the revival of the Yiddish language. Ynet focuses on the alleged dichotomy between Hebrew and Yiddish. Yet, one should not need to choose between the two, as a professor quoted in the article says, “Jewish literacy requires both Yiddish and Hebrew.”

However, saying that “Yiddish is the ancestral tongue of most American Jews” is misleading, and it implies that is the only linguistic heritage of most American Jews. Yes, Yiddish was the lingua franca of most Asheknazi Jews for a long time, but Hebrew is the language of the Jewish people, and it always has been. Unfortunately, for much of our history, Hebrew was relegated to minimal use, primarily in prayer and study. However, Judaism is not a European invention, and long before Yiddish Jews ever set foot in Europe, our forefathers were speaking Hebrew.

Even so, Jews spent centuries in Europe, and developed a culture of their own. Yiddish was a big part of that, in literature, theater, and in daily life. Rememberance of the past has always been a significant theme in Judaism, from the commandment to remember Amalek, to the modern-day obligation never to forget the Holocaust.

Even in Israel, there is a Yiddish revivalism movement, which would seem contradictory to early modern Zionism’s rejection of this “diaspora language.” Hebrew is well established enough today in Israel, and Yiddish does not present a danger to the real Jewish language, nor does it represent a movement promoting a return to the diaspora. Remembering our entire heritage is important, and it does not, in any way, reject the return to the Jewish sovereignty in Israel after thousands of years. נישט אזוי?

Will America “Advise” Israel Again? I Hope Not

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

Rahm, precisely because he’s a lover of Israel, will not have much patience with Israeli excuse-making, so when the next Prime Minister tells President Obama that as much as he’d love to, he can’t dismantle the Neve Manyak settlement outpost, or whichever outpost needs dismantling, because of a) domestic politics; b) security concerns, or c) the Bible, Rahm will call out such nonsense, and it will be very hard for right-wing Israelis to come back and accuse him of being a self-hating Jew. This is not to say that he’s unaware of Palestinian dysfunction, or Iranian extremism, but that he has a good grasp of some of Israel’s foibles as well.

This is precisely the problem with U.S.-Israel relationship. America gives Israel money, and it return it expects to basically control Israeli policy issues. My views on American aid to Israel are already known – this Gordian knot must be cut by ending American aid, and the uneven relationship that follows, so that a true alliance can be forged.

In any case, the U.S., like any Jew who has decided to cast in his lot with a country other than Israel, has no right to “call out” any “nonsense” on the part of the Israeli government. What is, and is not, nonsense in Israel is for the Israeli public to decide. Any decision on outpost-dismantling, settlement evacuation or the construction of new towns anywhere is simply beyond the purview of the United States Government. Israel does not have to give anyone any reason for enacting policy as it sees fit.

I’m very happy Goldberg has faith in the next White House Chief of Staff’s ability to “grasp of some of Israel’s foibles.” Wonderful. Israel’s foibles (which are not what Goldberg thinks they are) are not for America to judge or challenge. The American view of what should or should not happen in the Middle East has, time and time again, caused much more harm than good.

The U.S. has enough problems of its own. As the Talmud says, “קשוט עצמך ואחר קשוט אחרים,” which loosely translated, means, “Judge yourself and only then judge others.”