The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

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Saturday, December 14, 2002
Toussaint's bits of wood

The threat of a transit strike in New York has me rereading Ousmane Sembéne's God's Bits of Wood, a fictionalized account of one of the longest and bitterest transit strikes in history.

In October 1947, the railroad workers of French West Africa came out on strike. As with most strikes, one of the issues was money; the strikers wanted the same rates of pay, family allowances and job security that French workers got. But the strike was also about dignity - the railroad workers wanted the management to recognize their union and their rights as workers, and they wanted their white supervisors simply to treat them as human beings.

The threatened New York City transit strike is also, in part, about dignity. The newspapers have given most of their play to the pay raises demanded by the union and their effect on the city's finances, but the transit workers' demands have just as much to do with work rules. Key among them is the infamous disciplinary system, which mandates formal hearings for offenses as minor as a single lateness. The old-line Irish transit workers refer to it as the "kangaroo court," and the newer, West Indian members of the workforce call it "plantation justice." There's also a great deal of resentment at management arrogance, and more than a tinge of race; the NYCTA workforce has become substantially nonwhite, while the management has lagged behind.

The French West African strikers faced obstacles much worse than the Taylor Law - prison camps, the threat of starvation, bullets. Nevertheless, they stayed out for six months, ultimately provoking a ten-day general strike in Dakar that brought the management to the table. When a strike is about dignity in addition to money, workers will stand up to a great deal, and there's no reason to believe that the resolve of the TWU membership is any less than that of the French West African railroad employees.

New York City is facing a serious financial crisis, and it may not be able to afford the pay raises that the TWU is demanding. Sheer economic reality will probably dictate that the pay raises ultimately offered will be much smaller. The obvious place to compromise, however, is with disciplinary and work-rule changes that will alleviate the transit workers' degrading treatment. If these changes are offered as compensation for lower pay raises, and in the spirit of compromise, the NYCTA might be able to avert a strike - but thus far, it seems to be holding as firm on the work-rule issues as it is on salaries. God's Bits of Wood shows where that sort of thing can lead.

I hope someone on the NYCTA negotiating team has read it.

Easy listening, part 3 (underground culture department)

Penn Station, LIRR platform: Andean string and pipe quartet.

34th Street A/C/E station: Sixties leftover strumming the Ode to Joy on a guitar - and singing the right words, in perfect German. When he's done, he segues seamlessly to Come All Ye Faithful.

59th Street uptown A/C platform: Steel drum, Trinidad style.

Have I mentioned that I love this town?

From South Africa with laughter

I discovered the Madam and Eve comic strip a few years ago, and I haven't stopped laughing since. It's the story of modern South Africa as told from the viewpoints of a deliberately stereotypical white suburban woman, black maid and supporting characters, and sometimes contains surprisingly trenchant commentary on South African politics and society. Check out ANC Monopoly, for instance - and don't miss this year's reprise - or the February/March 2000 series in which the cartoon characters are subpoenaed by the commission on racism in the media. It helps to know the basics about South Africa, but the strip is funny even if you don't. Read it, and you'll know why I call my loud neighbor "the mielie lady."

Friday, December 13, 2002
Islam, feminism and law - what more could you want?

I added a link to veiled4allah, a very interesting blog by "The Niqabi Paralegal." Don't miss her discussion of shariah rules of evidence as applied to the Amina Lawal case - and read the comments too.

The best of enetation

Enetation is gone, and good riddance, but it provoked some thoughtful comments while it lasted. I'll respond to a few of them in public here.


In response to The great falafel controversy revisited, Ikram Saeed posted the following:

Isn’t the distinction between Arab and Jew anachronistic (along the lines of – was Ramses II black?)

If we must place historical figures into modern day identity-politics categories (blechh), Maimonides was an Arab and a Jew, simultaneously.

It used to be possible to be both. Perhaps one day again.

(Is Joe Lieberman an American or a Jew – choose, dammit, choose)

What can I say, Ikram? You're right, right, right. This was precisely my point, though - that Maimonides was both an Arab and a Jew, and belongs to the cultural heritage of both. In the same way, falafel is now part of both Israeli and Palestinian culture. This is why it's so ridiculous to talk about "cultural theft" - cultures are shared, not stolen.

I hope, though, that it will soon be possible to be both an Arab and a Jew again. Peres' idea of Israel joining the Arab League is pure fantasy given current attitudes on both sides, but Mizrahi Jews have a very real connection to their homelands in the Arab world, and these connections should be encouraged rather than severed. (This also provides me with an opportunity to segue into the difference between Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, which I'll get to over the weekend.)


The good Mr. Saeed again, on So Long, Privy Council

Is it a good thing to have a court completely insulated from domestic politics? If a court entirely ignores the political implications of the case, it risks having the judicial system lose legitimacy in the eyes of the populace.

On the other hand, in Canada, the Privy Council did many good things, including overruling a Canadian decision that said that women were not “persons,” and thus could not be appointed to the Senate.

Women certainly are “persons,” but if there were no appeal, that injustice could have been protested politically, and the system would have to change (or maybe not - Plessy v. Ferguson).

Or to put it another way, wouldn’t it be better for Nzers to be “in touch with international developments” themselves, rather than relying on wig-wearing Londoners?

The members of the Privy Council may wear wigs, but they aren't all Londoners. The Privy Council is a true Commonwealth court; its members have included Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and judges from the Caribbean nations. At present, there are 15 "overseas members." It is also required to decide overseas cases according to domestic law. Acceptance of Privy Council jurisdiction by Commonwealth countries doesn't involve subordination to a British court.

You're right that courts need to be sensitive to the political implications of a case, but on the other hand - as I've argued before - courts also have to keep a certain distance from politics in order to act as a check against abuse of power. In a relatively small country with a somewhat incestuous political culture, overseas members may be desirable or even necessary to provide the right amount of distance. I'll let Tim Lovell-Smith answer this point - he lives there, so he knows much better than I do -

The main problem is that NZ is small - population size of Sydney and we have
many district courts, several supreme courts, lots of tribunals, some such as that of Waitangi sopping up an enormous amount of legal talent, court of appeal. And it is not as if we have a special programme of breeding Blackstones.

Where will the new judges come from? In a society with an absolute max of 3 degrees of separation, its going to be difficult to avoid charges of cronyism. And the present Minister of Justice has already been accused of this in some legal appointments. And as you say, the Privy Council, removed from the scene, can deal more easily with broad human rights issues.


A suggestion that Australia and NZ share their own Court of Final Appeal has not taken off. Decisions made across the Tasman - NZ and Australia are too close in many respects to be good neighbours, and similarities can hide very real differences in many attitudes and history.

The appointment of visiting jurists, presumably from UK, Canada, India and other Commonwealth countries may be the only practical solution. Tipene O'Regan and thus (presumably) the Maori "Brown Table" is for it. Though whether government goes for it is another matter. The emotive calls of "colonial cringe" and the purely disinterested opinion of many of our present judges and more ambitious lawyers, that they are all supremely capable (and
could do with another little addition to their income) may carry the day...

Tim also sees some problems with a New Zealand court taking on final responsibility for matters of Maori law:

There is a statement that a Tikanga Maori expert will be appointed - a thankless task since Tikanga can be so varied and disputed across the islands (Tikanga meaning roughly custom as a opposed to Ture meaning codified law - a connection with your part of the world since Ture comes from Torah - the obvious transliteration to Tora was hastily avoided in that "Tora" means among other things what you would call a boner.) And anyway, most tikanga authorities are not only more limited in number than the government thinks, but have also been co-opted by Waitangi industry.

Of course, unlike the other issues Tim raised, the Privy Council isn't any better equipped to handle Maori matters than the New Zealand courts would be, and it's probably worse-equipped. International judges won't help with Tikanga Maori; what's necessary is to produce more domestic experts. If Tikanga Maori, in all its variations, isn't a required course in New Zealand law schools yet, it should be.

And if New Zealand is hiring overseas judges for its Supreme Court now, I'll just say that my number is in the phone book...


My post entitled The pro-Israel left? sparked some spirited discussion about Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago's anti-Semitic El Pais op-ed piece. Randy McDonald had the following to say about the factors, other than his Stalinist politics, that might affect Saramago's view of Jews and Israel:

[Saramago’s] view of politics and religion has (I’d say) been shaped by the Portuguese corporate state founded by Salazar, in which the Roman Catholic Church was rather spectacularly hegemonic. Anti-clericalism is quite common in like situations, and from there, a generalized opposition to the idea of forming a state based on religion.

This is true - and the ironic thing is that the very same type of anti-clericalism exists in Israel. The powers and privileges given to the haredi community in Israel, although not as hegemonic as in Salazar's Portugal, have created a great deal of resentment among more secular Israelis, of which the Shinui party is only the most obvious manifestation. It so happens, as well, that one of the privileges most commonly invoked by Israeli haredim is exemption from the draft. So the "blond David of yesteryear [who] surveys from a helicopter the occupied Palestinian lands," about whom Saramago writes, is likely to be less a "David" than a young secularist who fights not for a biblical Greater Israel (which he scorns) but for the safety of his home and family. (He also probably isn't blond.)

Saramago's apparent conception of Israel as a theocracy motivated by religious fanaticism betrays a complete misunderstanding of Israel, Israelis and the distinction between Jewish religion and Jewish ethnicity. But I suppose he'd rather condemn than understand.


And finally, I'd like to thank everyone else who posted comments or compliments via enetation; they may have disappeared into the cybervoid, but they're all much appreciated. I'm glad you like my neighborhood, Farid; feel free to come visit anytime.

Turkey gets shafted again

Not that it's unexpected, but the EU has once again deferred negotiations on Turkey's membership - this time until at least December 2004 - while giving lip service to the idea of including Turkey eventually. The EU's human rights concerns about Turkey are real, but they're starting to become counterproductive - many Turks feel that the substantial legal reforms they've already made have not been rewarded, and that there's no point in trying to please the EU further. Stick-and-carrot techniques only work when there's a realistic prospect of a carrot, and Turks can hardly be blamed at this point for thinking that the EU will always find an excuse not to admit a Muslim country. Even Turkish Cyprus, which has a damned good human rights record for a semi-occupied country, won't get in unless it reunifies with Greek Cyprus.

In other news, Bibi Netanyahu has apparently floated the idea that Israel might join the EU. Ha'aretz reporter Sharon Sadeh thinks there's little chance of that, and I'm inclined to agree, but some of her facts are wrong. I'll comment on the issue in a few days when I've had time to research and think about it; if you can't wait, there's a good discussion taking place at Unmedia right now.

Israel's other election

Yesterday, the Israeli Bar Association elected attorney Sharon Shenhav by a one-vote margin to sit on the panel responsible for choosing dayanim (religious judges). Mrs. Shenhav, a matrimonial lawyer and activist on behalf of agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces), will be the first woman to sit on the panel. Although it will likely be some time - if ever - before a woman actually sits as a religious judge, it is likely that Mrs. Shenhav's appointment will lead to the selection of dayanim with greater sensitivity to the problems of agunot.

At the same time, the Bar Association also voted for representatives on the committees that select civil judges, military judges and Druse qadis. On the civil judicial selection committee - which, among other functions, chooses Justices of the Israeli Supreme Court - the two Bar representatives will sit along with four members of Knesset (three from the ruling coalition and one from the opposition), the President of the Supreme Court and two other Supreme Court judges. Yaacov Ne'eman, a frequent and vociferous critic of the court, was among the four candidates competing for the two Bar slots; this morning's papers don't say whether or not he got in. (If anyone knows, I'd appreciate you dropping me a line.)

This seems to me like a remarkably sane method of selecting judges. The four elected officials ensure that the political branches have influence but not a veto, and that the opposition is included in the selection process. The three Supreme Court judges provide continuity in the court and make sure that only judges who are respected by other judges, rather than political hacks, make the cut. And the Bar representatives allow the lawyers who practice in front of the judiciary every day to have input.

Not everyone agrees with me about the merits of the Israeli judicial selection process, as this article by Jonathan Rosenblum makes clear. Some of his criticisms, particularly those relating to the influence of the Supreme Court President in the selection process and the chilling effect that this influence may have on dissent within the lower courts, are cogent. On the other hand, they also seem overblown.

Aharon Barak, the current President, has never had things all his way in judicial selection matters, and the process has been even less of a one-man show in recent years. Also, the Supreme Court hasn't been a one-party court by any means. There are often dissents from Supreme Court decisions - Yaacov Kedmi is famous for them - and Barak is sometimes one of the dissenters. In Sheinbein v. State of Israel, Cr.A. 6182/90 53(1) P.D. 625 (1999), for instance, Barak was on the wrong end of a 3-2 dissent in a highly sensitive case, as he was in one of the preliminary rulings in the Fuad Quran/Abd-el-Rahman Ghanimat case - the case that ended with a unanimous judgment outlawing the use of physical force and sleep deprivation during interrogations. (Those who want more details on the Sheinbein case, and Israeli extradition law in general, may be interested in reading my article about it.)

I think Rosenblum also overstates his case in claiming that the Israeli judicial selection process places more influence in the hands of one person than processes in other countries. In the United States, for instance, federal judges are also appointed by one person - the President - and his influence is much more concentrated than in the Israeli system, to the point where judges are commonly identified by the President who appointed them. The primary influence in the Israeli judicial selection process is shifted from the political branches to the judiciary and the bar, but in practical terms it isn't more concentrated than in other places.

It often seems that the real objection of Rosenblum and other critics is not to the selection of the Barak Court, but to its rulings. Some of Rosenblum's other articles certainly seem to bear this out; it seems that one of the reasons that he wants more political input into the selection of judges is so that they will reflect the will of the majority. However, courts - unlike the political branches - are supposed to be anti-majoritarian. The political branches are elected to represent the will of the people, but the courts must enforce the law - and, if necessary, they must enforce it even against the political branches. The role of the courts as a check against the other branches of government depends on them not being political.

With that in mind, the Israeli judicial selection process has a great deal to recommend it. Unlike the Knesset, which has become famous for corruption, influence-peddling and outright extortion (yes, Shas, I mean you), the Israeli courts are famous for their integrity, and have generally lived up to their ideals. The courts of Israel have not hesitated to protect human rights in times of national crisis and to make politically unpopular decisions against the government, and they are widely admired in a world in which other aspects of Israeli society often aren't. Israel may not be out of step with other countries with respect to its judicial selection process - it may, in fact, be the only one in step.

Thursday, December 12, 2002
Power to the people, Iranian style

An important Iranian judge has resigned in the wake of the controversy over the death sentence given to dissident professor Hashem Aghajari. The judge, Hossein Mir-Mohammad Sadeqi, was quoted by Iranian news agency IRNA as saying that he "didn't favor the verdict at all" and that he was "sorry for the negative impacts of the sentence on the country."

The ritual pattern of the government responding to a scandal with a high-profile resignation and an apology seems almost Japanese. The problem is that in Japan, such resignations are usually more symbolic than substantive, and rarely lead to any real change. It's likely that, despite the increasing rhetoric and posturing among both the reform and hard-line factions, there won't be much real change in Iran either.

Iran is at a stalemate, and has been for some time. The Majlis, presidency and local councils are controlled by reformists and have power on the streets, but don't have control over key institutions such as the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards. And then there's the Guardian Council. Under Article 94 of the Iranian constitution, the Guardians have veto power over candidates for office and can block llaws passed by the Majlis, which means that they can stall reform indefinitely. Theoretically, another body - the Expediency Council - can mediate between the Majlis and the Guardians in case of a deadlock, but it isn't often successful in doing so.

Theoretically, the Majlis has the authority to appoint half the Guardians from names submitted by the judiciary. In practice, however, this authority has been thwarted. In 2001, around the time of President Khatami's second inauguration, the terms of three Guardians expired, and the Majlis attempted to exercise its clout by rejecting the conservative candidates submitted for its approval. However, the judiciary simply re-submitted the same names, the Expediency Council refused to require it to submit different ones, and supreme religious leader Ali Khamene'i forced the issue by ruling that Khatami could not be constitutionally inaugurated until a full Council of Guardians was in office. Ultimately, the Majlis capitulated and approved the hard-line candidates, ensuring another three years of obstructionism by the Guardians.

Members of the Guardians are appointed for six years, with half their terms expiring every third year, so the Majlis will have another chance to affect the council's composition in 2004. At that time, there won't be a presidential inauguration that Khamene'i can threaten to stall, so the Majlis might have more leverage. Even so, it will be 2007 before the Majlis can effect a complete turnover in its portion of the Guardian Council, and it might not have that much time before the pressure building on the street comes to a head.

All the same, there may be a way to break the deadlock. Under Article 59 of the constitution, "extremely important economic, political, social, and cultural matters" can be submitted directly to the people by a two-thirds vote of the Majlis - and the constitutional powers of the Guardians under Article 94 do not include vetoing laws passed by referendum. Article 59 referenda have limits - they can't change the constitution - but any law that the Majlis could pass can be enacted by referendum as an end run around the Guardians. The Majlis could, for instance, submit its press and judiciary reform packages, both of which are within the Constitution as it currently stands, directly to the people - and it could potentially pass many of its other social reforms this way as well.

The Majlis has, on occasion, threatened to call an Article 59 referendum, but it has never actually done so. For the most part, Article 59 has worked as a bluff - by threatening a referendum, the Majlis has occasionally been able to scare the Guardians into giving it what it wants. An actual referendum would be a showdown, which is likely the reason why none has ever been called.

However, it might be a showdown that the Majlis would win. The Iranian theocracy has, since its inception, been surprisingly constitutionalist. It has often been repressive, because repressive mechanisms such as the Guardians and the extraordinary powers given to the supreme religious leader are built into the constitution, but it has been remarkably reluctant to go beyond the repression that the constitution allows. On a number of occasions - Khatami's election being one - the hard-liners have accepted defeat when the constitution required them to do so. In order to block an Article 59 referendum, they'd have to abandon all pretense of constitutional rule, and essentially pull a Fujimori-style autogolpe. The theocrats can also bluff, and it may be time for the Majlis to call.

And only sixty of them are me!

My site meter hit 1000 this morning, slightly less than seven days after I announced this blog to the public. This means I've been averaging about 140 hits a day; I have no basis for comparison, but that doesn't seem bad for a start-up journal. I'm not sure how many of these represent unique readers - thanks, Diane, for sending me so many - but I seem to have a readership. Thanks for your support, and I'll make a shameless request for free advertising - if you like this blog, don't hesitate to get the word out.

The comments are dead; long live the comments!

I've successfully switched over from enetation to haloscan commenting; hopefully, the new service will be more reliable. This means, of course, that all your enetation comments have been zeroed out, but don't worry, I've read them all. I've also saved some of the more challenging ones and will respond to them in public later today or tomorrow.

But they're good biases, dammit!

"Quiet Storm" had the following to say about my comments on Wednesday's Dahaf poll of the Israeli election: "It’s always somewhat amusing to see people divine their own biases in statistical noise.” He pointed me to a Ha'aretz poll that shows Likud winning 41 seats, as compared to 33 in the Dahaf poll. My first thought was to plead guilty as charged, and in fact that's what I did in response to his comment - but then I reread what I had written, and took a close look at the Ha'aretz poll.

I said, for instance, that the read I got from the Dahaf numbers, the Israeli media (including the Jerusalem Post, Yediot and some fairly right-wing blogs as well as Ha'aretz) and my Israeli acquaintances was that most Israelis "like and trust Sharon." That may be a bias, but it certainly isn't mine. I don't trust Sharon, I certainly don't like him, and if I had my way, he'd be headed for the ash-heap of history. Likewise, when I predicted that Likud would be the largest party in the next Knesset, I wasn't going with my biases - if I ran the zoo, Shinui would be the largest party with Avoda second and Likud somewhere south of Am Ehad. I do have biases, certainly, but those aren't them.

Second - and more important - the Ha'aretz poll that shows Likud winning 41 seats was taken earlier than the Dahaf poll, and the Ha'aretz article was careful to remind readers that the results of the Avoda primary were not yet known at the time the poll was taken. The Dahaf poll, on the other hand, was taken on Wednesday, at a time when at least some of the respondents would have known about the composition of the Avoda list. The results of the Dahaf poll - losses for Likud, gains for Meretz and Shinui, no net change for Avoda - are logically consistent with disappointed leftists deserting Avoda for Meretz but an equal number of centrists leaving Likud for Shinui and Avoda. I may have been wrong in attributing the Dahaf figures to the Likud rather than the Avoda primaries, but I still believe that the Dahaf poll reflects some real post-primary movement, and that the ground probably shifted a little more after Wednesday as the results sunk in and the candidate lists became final. The fact that the Ha'aretz numbers look remarkably like last week's Dahaf figures is further evidence that they were taken too early to reflect the results of the primaries.

Third, some of the other numbers in the Ha'aretz poll bear out what I said. The article about the poll that Quiet Storm cited had the following to say:

Likud voters' reservations over the establishment by Sharon of a narrow government, with the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox, continue to grow. Only 17 percent of them said they would support a narrow coalition. Around half of them want to see a unity government, and 26 percent would prefer to see a secular coalition with Labor and Shinui.

Also, 58 percent of Likud voters support unilateral separation from the West Bank and Gaza if a peace treaty cannot be reached within one year. This seems to bear out my statement that most Israelis "don't want to capitulate or negotiate from a position of weakness - but they do want to negotiate, they don't care much for the West Bank settlers, and they disapprove of Bibi's rejectionist policies." And this is the sort of cognitive dissonance that will cause a shift to Avoda now that it has elected a relatively centrist candidate list.

I'm sure enough of this, in fact, that I'm willing to put money on it. To Quiet Storm, wherever you are, I propose a bet of $100 US. My predictions, ex cathedra, about the Israeli election are as follows: (1) Likud will be the largest party in the next Knesset but will win fewer than 35 seats; (2) the right as a whole (I'll define "the right" generously to include Likud, National Union, Herut, Shas, National Religious Party, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Ba'aliya) will win fewer than 63 seats; and (3) Avoda, Shinui or both will be part of the next government. If I'm wrong about any of these, my check for $100 will go out on January 29; if I'm right about all three, you owe me the same amount. Care to take me up on it?

UPDATE: Imshin calls the primaries "a sharp reminder that we're not voting Sharon; we're voting Likud. Yuck." She's thinking of defecting to Shinui; I have a feeling that the same thought is going through plenty of other people's minds. Just give it time to percolate.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002
For when falafel just isn't enough

If you've spent a hard day arguing about who invented falafel and want to try more authentic Palestinian food, you could do much worse than to pick up Aziz Shihab's A Taste of Palestine. You get (non-political) stories of the author's childhood to go with the recipes; I particularly recommend the mansaf and the fish with olive oil and tahini.

Raz' hypocrisy

The View From Here has an excellent article that illustrates the reason why I long ago shifted my Israeli political allegiance from Meretz to Shinui - and no, it has nothing to do with either party's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Enetation yet again

Several people have suggested that I switch to haloscan commenting, which is more reliable than enetation. Thanks for the tip; I'll investigate and hopefully have a reliable comment service on-line within a couple of days. In the meantime, in case you're interested, I just found that the posts entitled "Notes from the neighborhood," "More issues with enetation," "So long, Privy Council," "Delinking revisited," "Housekeeping" and "Easy listening, part 2" each have comments even though the enetation count displayed on the homepage is zero. Some of the comments are quite thought-provoking; I'll respond when I have time.

The great falafel controversy revisited

It seems that some pro-Palestinian students at Concordia University (where else?) are accusing the campus Hillel organization of "cultural theft" for serving falafel at its orientation week table. I wonder what they have to say, then, about this web site referring to Maimonides as "Ibn Maymun, the great Arab philosopher" without any acknowledgment that he was Jewish.

I'm not sure where this nonsense started, but the fact is that there's no such thing as "cultural theft." Theft occurs when someone permanently deprives another of property. If one culture borrows something - for instance, a food item - from another, then the culture it borrows from has not been deprived of anything. Culture is one of those marvelous things that can be shared, lent and given away without any loss at all.

Besides, it's entirely possible for something, or someone, to belong to more than one culture. Maimonides, for instance, was an Arab philosopher - he spent most of his working life in Egypt, his influences included the great Arab scholar Averroës, and he in turn influenced subsequent Arab philosophers. He was also a Jewish philosopher who lived and died as a Jew and wrote enormously influential works about Jewish religious themes. He is, quite simply, part of both the Jewish and Arab cultural heritage.

Likewise, the fact that Israelis eat falafel doesn't mean that they "stole" it from the Palestinians - instead, all that happened was that falafel became part of both Israeli and Palestinian culture. Indeed, as Letter from Gotham reader Barry Meislin reminds us, Israelis have added a few twists of their own to traditional Arab falafel recipes. So because of Arabs, we have falafel, but because of Israelis, we have more versions of falafel to enjoy. Sounds like everyone wins, doesn't it?

And he needs a new tailor, too

Diane has the final word on Trent Lott.

Notes from the neighborhood

I live in Kew Gardens. Not the one in London - although Naomi and I saw that for the first time this year - but the one in Queens. It's one of the "Seven Sisters" - the seven planned communities laid out in Queens between the 1870s and 1950s. (Are there any groups of seven that aren't called the Seven Sisters?) It's pretty much dead-center in the borough, adjacent to the criminal courts and borough hall, and calling it "ethnically mixed" would be a considerable understatement.

Recently, architectural historian Barry Lewis wrote a short book about the neighborhood, Kew Gardens: Urban Village in the Big City, which was published by the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation and the Arts. (The copyright date is actually 1999, but I apparently didn't get the memo.) I saw a copy at the Bliss Café last week, and put down the eleven bucks on a whim; the investment was well worth it.

Naturally, the author being who he is, the primary focus of the book was the architecture of Kew Gardens - my building is mentioned, albeit with the wrong address - but the part I found more fascinating was the historical discussion. Kew Gardens is a "garden suburb," a concept that originated with the growth of commuter railroads in the United States after the Civil War - a community designed to be attractive and parklike but with shopping within walking distance and within easy reach of the city center. The first garden suburbs were laid out in the 1860s, including Garden City on Long Island and Frederick Law Olmsted's Riverside, Illinois; Richmond Hill in Queens followed in 1974.

Kew Gardens was a relative latecomer, designed in 1912. The planners of Kew Gardens were the sons of Albon Platt Man, the developer who designed Richmond Hill; the neighborhood owes its name to the Anglophilia they inherited from their father. Richmond Hill was named after Richmond-on-Thames, the London borough next to the original Kew Gardens, and it's no coincidence that Kew Gardens in Queens is the next neighborhood over from Richmond Hill.

Kew Gardens was less rigidly designed than some of the earlier garden suburbs, but it followed the basic form - tree-lined streets, a preference for private homes over apartments, nearby public transportation and retail commercial districts on the main streets. From the beginning, Kew Gardens also had its distinctive "ponte vecchio" - a bridge over the Long Island Railroad tracks at Lefferts Boulevard that was lined on both sides with stores.

During the 1910s and 1920s, Kew Gardens became something of a minor Greenwich Village, attracting actors, writers and musicians; its residents included Charlie Chaplin, Anais Nin, Dorothy Parker and George Gershwin. It was also one of the few suburban communities at that time to allow Jews and Italians to buy homes; during the 1920s, it acquired the middle-class Jewish stamp that it retains to this day. The Depression ended Kew Gardens' Jazz Age, but the neighborhood was revitalized during the 1930s by an influx of German Jewish refugees.

Today, it seems that Kew Gardens is again becoming what it was in the Jazz Age. Manhattan real estate prices - which even the current recession haven't reduced that much - have led to an influx of "Manhattan transfers" to Forest Hills, and they've begun to spill over into Kew Gardens. The neighborhood still has all the advantages it did in the 1920s - quiet, tree-lined streets, accessible transportation and everything you need within an easy walk. For those who like diversity as a lifestyle, as I do, it's also possible to walk around the block and hear five or six languages spoken, and the neighborhood's ethnic mix has combined to create an interesting retail district. Although Kew Gardens probably won't have an art deco weekly paper again anytime soon, it's a part of Queens where a Manhattanite can feel at home, and it's becoming more so.

Their conversations must be interesting

Another Ha'aretz article reminds us what an incestuous business Israeli politics can be. One of the candidates on Michael Kleiner's far-right Herut list - Drora Bar-Am - is the sister of former Avoda cabinet minister Uzi Bar-Am. For American readers, that's about equivalent to David Duke being Hillary Clinton's brother. Hopefully, anyone who invites them both to dinner makes sure to put all the breakables away first.

Has Likud shot itself in the foot?

A Dahaf Institute poll taken for Yediot Ahronot shows a precipitous drop for Likud after it selected a hard-line slate in this week's primary. The Dahaf numbers show that Likud would win 33 seats if the election were held today, down from 38 a week ago. Shinui and Meretz have each picked up seats; Avoda is unchanged, but the figures probably reflect Meretz drawing from Avoda's left while Avoda picks up centrist voters from Likud.

Poll numbers, of course, are ephemeral things, and Israeli political time tends to be accelerated even by the standards of election campaigns; the Dahaf figures might very well reverse themselves tomorrow. I don't think they will, though, because the reaction to the Likud primaries confirms the read I've gotten not only from the Israeli media but from nearly all my Israeli friends and relatives. They like and trust Sharon and don't want to capitulate or negotiate from a position of weakness - but they do want to negotiate, they don't care much for the West Bank settlers, and they disapprove of Bibi's rejectionist policies.

Actually, now that Avoda has elected a mostly centrist list in its primary, I have a feeling that Likud's support will continue to erode. Although Yael Dayan's and Yossi Beilin's defection to Meretz might cost Avoda votes on the left, its enhanced image as a reasonable alternative will pull as many or more votes from Likud. This might result in little or even no net gain to Avoda, but a substantial net gain to the left. Barring a surprise, next week's poll numbers might see Likud winning as few as 30 or even 29 mandates.

This would still make Likud the largest party in the next Knesset - but the important thing is not being the largest party, but being able to build a coalition. Polls a month ago showed that the right was likely to improve its strength to the point where it could form a government without the cooperation of the left or center, and chart a hard-line course for Israel. That suddenly seems much less probable. If next week's polls show Meretz gaining two seats and Avoda one from the Dahaf numbers - something that Meretz already claims based on private polls - then the right won't have the votes to form a government without Avoda or Shinui.

Of course, there's another way out - the one I mentioned yesterday. Yossi Verter in Ha'aretz remarked sarcastically that "even Sharon would be proud to lead" the Avoda list, but that doesn't have to be an exercise in sarcasm. Do it, Arik. If you're the statesman you say you are, form a separate faction with the Likud centrists after the election and join a center coalition. It seems more possible now than ever.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002
More issues with enetation

In addition to the delayed updating of comment counts, the comment section hasn't been appearing for most of the day. Also, I received an e-mail earlier today from someone who wanted to comment but "enetation beat him." Does anyone know if this is a common problem with enetation and, if so, whether there's a more reliable comment server I can use instead? Obviously, reply by e-mail rather than comment.

So long, Privy Council

The government of New Zealand has introduced a bill in Parliament to abolish Privy Council appeals. If so, the end of the Privy Council as a final court of appeal for the Commonwealth may not be far behind.

The Privy Council is a peculiar institution. Although it sits in London, it is not an English or British court; instead, it hears appeals from the highest courts of certain Commonwealth countries and decides the cases according to domestic law. At one time, nearly every former British colony allowed appeals to the Privy Council, whose rulings on domestic law were final and were controlling on the country's' courts.

Over time, however, one country after another has eroded or abolished Privy Council jurisdiction. In some cases, this has been political; the breakaway government of Ian Smith's Rhodesia, for instance, abolished Privy Council appeals soon after the council declared that government illegal. This trend has accelerated in light of the recent willingness of the Privy Council to decide cases on the basis of international human rights norms in addition to the letter of the law - several Caribbean countries have revoked the Privy Council's power to hear appeals due to a perceived pattern of nullifying domestic death penalty laws. In other cases, the revocation of Privy Council jurisdiction has simply been part of a process of empowering domestic courts, as when Australia abolished Privy Council appeals in several stages between 1968 and 1986.

In New Zealand, it is likely that Privy Council reform is based on a perception that the country is mature enough to handle its own legal affairs rather than any political disagreement. The Privy Council has taken a number of important New Zealand cases, and has occasionally reversed decisions of the New Zealand Supreme Court, but has generally deferred to local courts on politically sensitive matters such as Maori land rights. All the same, many in New Zealand feel that it is time for a divorce; in the words of New Zealander and former Privy Council judge Lord Cooke of Thorndon, "the time has come for New Zealand to have its own highest court."

Still, there's room to wonder whether something is being lost through the abolition of Privy Council appeals. Privy Council jurisdiction meant that New Zealanders could, if necessary, take their case to a court composed of judges from throughout the Commonwealth that sat thousands of miles from Auckland, far removed from local prejudices and political influence. As an equivalent, imagine if nine Canadian, British and Australian judges had been called in to hear Bush v. Gore. The Privy Council provides a perspective that a purely domestic court - in any country - might lack.

At least some New Zealanders seem to agree. Attorney John Rowan, QC "advocated using one or two jurists from Britain, Australia or Canada on the [New Zealand] supreme court panel 'so that we are in touch, particularly with international developments.'" It's something that has worked well elsewhere, and it's something New Zealand may want to consider.

So who won?

I suppose I have to weigh in on the Avoda primaries. The results seem to be a mixed bag, with prominent Mitzna backer Matan Vilnai finishing first and other doves such as Avraham Burg and Dalia Itzik high on the list but Yossi Beilin likely out of the running. Also, the one candidate that Mitzna campaigned for personally, writer Eli Amir, finished twelfth in the running for open seats - which means that, due to the number of seats being reserved for Arabs, women and candidates from certain geographic areas, he is unlikely to be elected.

It looks like both Mitzna and Sharon will have difficulties with their parties in the next Knesset, although their problems will be somewhat opposite. The Likud "primaries," in which only the members of the party central committee had a vote, resulted in a right-wing slate more aligned with Bibi Netanyahu's hard-line platform than with Sharon's. In contrast, the Avoda primaries, in which the entire paid-up party membership participated, resulted in a relatively centrist list. Mitzna's party will pull him to the center; Sharon's will push him toward the far right, and make his goal of forming a national unity government difficult.

There's a door open for Sharon, however, if he really wants to act like a statesman and bring the country together. Quit Likud. He's talked about it before - when some of the more left-wing Avoda MKs threatened to join Meretz and form a social-democratic party if Fouad remained party chairman, Sharon floated the idea of inviting Fouad's rump faction into a centrist party. For now, Sharon is the Likud candidate for prime minister, but there's nothing to stop him from forming his own faction after the election, taking with him as many Likud moderates as are willing to go. If he signs up Avoda, Shinui, Am Ehad, Yisrael Ba'aliya and, well, Shas, then the odds are he'd have enough seats to form the centrist government that he says he wants. (And yes, I do think Shas and Shinui could fit into the same coalition, if the ministries and pork-barrel spending are parceled out cleverly enough.)

Sharon has rejected the far right in the current election campaign, claiming that he wants to pass the United States "road map" to a Palestinian state and bring an end to the mutually destructive conflict that has taken place in the last two years. The test of his commitment will be whether he can stand up to his party - even, if necessary, to the extent of leaving it.

UPDATE: I edited the above to take into account the fact that there is no more Center Party. Evidently, I didn't get the memo; it's easy to miss things when keeping track of Israeli party politics.

Delinking revisited

Thanks to Diane and all others who enlightened me about the Great Delinking Controversy. This seems as good a time as any to state my own position on linking. If I link to another site, that does not constitute an endorsement. Some of the sites I link to - Electronic Intifada, for instance - often contain opinions that piss me off. However, if I write about a particular issue on a regular basis, as I do about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I like to provide access to a spectrum of viewpoints that readers may find informative, challenging or thought-provoking. Basically, if I link to a site, it's because I think it has something to say. Judging and interpreting what it says is an exercise for the reader.

Now tell me something I don't know

A poll of Israelis and Palestinians indicates that majorities on both sides agree on the broad outline of a Palestinian state, but that neither trusts the other to follow through. Assuming that the poll numbers are accurate - always a chancy assumption - then the diminishing support for violence is encouraging, but there's a great deal of mutual trust that needs to be rebuilt before Israelis and Palestinians can get where they both want to go.

Monday, December 09, 2002

I added links to more Israeli and Palestinian blogs. You may want to check out The View From Here's take on the Likud primaries, and Palestinian-American (or, more accurately, Palestinian-Colombian-American) Farid Lancheros also has a warm and interesting site.

I also seem to be having trouble with comments. On some posts, the comment count never rises above 1, even if (as with the article about the Pilar Rahola interview) there are six or more. I'm using enetation; does anyone have any ideas about what the problem might be? All assistance will be gratefully appreciated.

Easy listening, part 2

Lately, one of my favorite after-work CDs has been Monique Jutras' Complaintes médiévales. For the most part, this CD consists of folk songs collected from rural women in Québec and France (Mme. Jutras is a Québecois musical folklorist and singer); their dates of composition are uncertain, but Mme. Jutras believes that the subject matter and use of language indicates that they are survivals from medieval times.

The songs make for pleasant listening; Mme. Jutras has an excellent voice, and I like the simplicity of medieval harmonies. When the lyrics are translated into English, however, it becomes clear that the songs are uniformly tragic. Recurring themes include wives who are beaten by their husbands, daughters killed or locked away to keep them from undesirable marriages, children drowned by their mothers, and what we would now call "honor killings" of women wrongfully accused of adultery. Not infrequently, the victims are princesses or noble ladies; Mme. Jutras guesses that these songs - which were collected from women, remember - might have "a cathartic role to play in regards to the masculine and feminine archetypes we still carry in our collective memory."

In any event, one of the songs on the CD, La princesse de l'Albion, is entirely Mme. Jutras' invention, and it's about - as you probably guessed from the title - Princess Diana. Yes, I know what you're probably thinking - but it works, in the context of the other songs. Diana's story is rendered as a medieval ballad of a baron's daughter who was given in marriage to a prince, only to be hounded from the kingdom by a queen jealous of her popularity and then chased to her death after falling in love with a Saracen. Consider the following from La princesse de l'Albion:

The fair princess was acclaimed
More than the prince, more than the queen,
All their honours took upon herself,
The court was sore offended.

My son, you must repudiate her
And have her hunted like a felon!
Handsome heirs she has given you
But your honour you must regain.

And then compare it with the verses of La courtisane brûlée:

Fair Clorie dons a petticoat
Embroidered in gold and silver
Over all, puts on a gown so fine
The queen herself has none so noble.


Fair Clorie to the castle goes
And to the king she goes forthwith
She enters without fear or shame
With nary a greeting for king or queen.

Fair Clorie, you shall be burned
The queen has made the king swear it.
Burned in the living embers
Because you have pretended so.

The tragic ending is different, but the story is the same - a queen, jealous of a beautiful commoner's pretensions, resolves to put an end to her. Diana's death is often described as a modern tragedy, but it may resonate so strongly because it is a story that could have come directly from a long-ago feudal court.

Two more for your reading pleasure

Aziz Poonawalla's Unmedia has some very thoughtful comments on modern Islam, its relationship with the West, and the direction it's heading. It's all worth reading, but don't miss his take on the Gujarat massacres.

In the meantime, Imshin discusses why, no matter what the political situation, Israelis can take pride in what they have achieved.

Sunday, December 08, 2002
Easy listening

As I write this, I'm listening to volume 1 of Salomone Rossi's The Songs of Solomon: Jewish Sacred Music from 17th Century Italy. As always when I listen to Rossi, I find myself playing my favorite historical game of "what if."

The back story: Rossi, who was born about 1570, was a court Jew in Mantua during the early 1600s. (Northern Italy was the other place where court Jews existed as an institution at that time.) By the standards of the century, the northern Italian states - some of them, at least - were open societies in which Jews had a considerable amount of freedom. As such, the Italian Jews began to take part in the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance, and one of the ways in which they did so was music. In common with other composers of his time, Rossi wrote madrigals, sonatas, dances for the court - and also music for the synagogue.

The movement to introduce secular musical forms into the synagogue had begun within a generation prior to the publication of Rossi's religious music in 1623. As stated in the historical notes to the Rossi CD:

At the end of the Renaissance, a movement was afoot in the Italian Jewish community to introduce polyphonic music into the synagogue. Led by the Jewish scholar Leon da Modena, the movement faced stiff opposition from those who asserted that such music was forbidden following the destruction of the Temple. It was only upon a favorable ruling by the Venetian rabbinical assembly that the movement proceeded, and Rossi doubtless construed the favorable decision as his imprimatur to produce his collection.

Unfortunately, Rossi's experiment with sacred music - and, most likely, his life - came to an end seven years later when the Mantua ghetto was sacked during an invasion. Following the sack, "a reactionary movement in Jewish liturgy emerged in northern Italy, and all of Rossi's work was forgotten."

Which, of course, brings me to the what-if. Suppose that Rossi had been born, not in Mantua, but in Livorno, where the Jewish community was remarkably privileged - the city had no ghetto - and remained undisturbed throughout the upheavals of the 17th century. In Livorno, Rossi might have continued to compose and put a permanent stamp on Jewish liturgical music.

The significance of this is that Rossi's synagogue music did not consist simply of arrangements of the traditional melodies used to sing the Hebrew piyyutim; instead, it was identical to his secular music, and similar to much of the church music composed at the time. Had others followed Rossi, would there have been Jewish baroque and classical composers; indeed, a Jewish equivalent to the great church music of Bach and Mozart? Would such innovations as choral music have entered Jewish ritual in Italy in the 17th century rather than Germany in the nineteenth? Would a reformed ritual - and, ultimately, a modernist theology similar to Reform Judaism - have been an Italian rather than a German development?

For some reason, I think that Italian Reform Judaism would have been a beautiful thing, although I can't quite put my finger on why.

Baghdad signs off

Letter From Gotham reports that Where Is Raed has gone off the air after being mentioned in Reuters, probably due to fear of exposure. This goes out to him in the hope that he may soon be free to speak his mind again.

Why I write so much about Arab Israelis

This isn't something I should really have to explain, but people have asked me in the past:

1. I identify strongly with Israel, which means I identify with Israelis. All Israelis.

2. It's important to me that Israel be a civilized, democratic country, and one of the tests of a democracy is how it treats its minorities.

3. I'm a member of a minority in my country, and Arab Israelis are a minority in theirs.

4. Some of the most characteristically and gloriously Israeli people I've met have been Arabs.

Any more questions?

Two more from Ha'aretz

An interesting article by Amnon Rubinstein discusses second-generation European Arabs' struggle to be recognized as a "native minority," and compares the legal and social position of Arabs in Europe and Israel. You might be surprised at which comes out ahead, and I'll give you a hint - it isn't Europe.

As something of a counterpoint, though, the same issue also contains a feature article about Gehad Mazarweh, an Arab Israeli psychoanalyst living as an expatriate in Germany. His memories of his childhood are bittersweet - as they would be, growing up in the postwar period when Arab villages were still under military administration - and he's lived in Europe for forty years, but he's never given up his Israeli passport and has a surprisingly strong identification with his homeland. The even more surprising thing is that he identifies with it, not as Palestine, but as Israel:

I went through a lot until I got to the point where I could respect the Israeliness in me, and I didn't want to divide my identity again. Even though Germany welcomed me, I've remained a guest there. Just like a child doesn't have two mothers, I have no other homeland. I'm 60 and the older I get, the stronger my connection to my roots becomes. I don't want anything bad to happen to the State of Israel. The air, the trees... the birds, the landscapes - these are all part of my personality

He attributes this, at least in part, to his experience as an immigrant in Germany:

They threw us into the same basket," he says. "But when the Germans got drunk, their curses were directed at the Jews first. I didn't envy them. In the 1960s, Jews and Arabs in Israel didn't get along well, but abroad, we showed solidarity and supported one another.

This is also something, though, that I've noticed in Israel itself. A few posts ago, I discussed the "Palestinianization" of much of the Israeli Arab leadership and at least some of the population, but the flip side - continued, or even increasing, identity with Israel - is also present. As Nadia Hilou, an Arab Israeli businesswoman who was an Avoda candidate in the 1996 and 1999 elections, has stated, both identities have a powerful pull; her heritage is Arab, but when she "rides a bus and feels comfortable as a woman," she feels Israeli. Despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that Arab Israelis are increasingly challenging their social and political position within Israel, at least some of them feel more Israeli than ever.

Case in point: About a year ago, a few members of Knesset floated the idea of ceding the Umm al Fahm triangle, which is a heavily Arab area within the 1967 border, to Palestine as part of a land swap for the settlements bordering Jerusalem. As it turned out, the people least enthusiastic about this plan were the Arabs of Umm al Fahm. Rather than welcoming the opportunity to join a Palestinian state, all but the most radical condemned the plan as a racist attempt to expel them from Israel - "transfer by another name." Some of them cited Israeli national health insurance or Palestinian Authority corruption as their reason for not wanting to be part of Palestine, but others mentioned Jewish girlfriends or acquaintances. Even in an area that is often regarded as an Arab ghetto, the inhabitants have become part of the Israeli social framework.

Second case in point: This year, the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination became a day of mourning among Arab Israelis, many of whom lit candles and displayed Israeli flags to commemorate the occasion. It was a bittersweet holiday, a memory of "the time when [Arabs'] citizenship became significant," of "the golden era" between 1992 and 1996 when public works were built in Arab communities and Israel had a prime minister who "looked at Arab politicians... face to face." The ceremonies this year were frequently described in terms of the present-day rift between Jewish and Arab Israelis, but they also suggest something else - that equal Israeli citizenship, rather than Palestinianization, is what many Israeli Arabs long for.

Third case in point: There is evidence that Israeli Arabic has become a dialect distinct from Palestinian Arabic, with different colloquialisms and Hebrew loanwords. Israeli Arabs, in other words, are increasingly becoming an ethnic group defined by their Israeli as well as Arab heritage.

Those who've been reading this have probably guessed that I'm an Amram Mitzna partisan in the coming elections, and that I'm a partisan because I like and admire Mitzna as opposed to merely disliking him least. One of the very important reasons I favor Mitzna is that he, like Rabin, looks at Arab Israelis face to face. Unlike most Avoda leaders - Peres, Barak and Fouad come to mind - Mitzna doesn't simply say the right things about the Arab community; his tenure as mayor of Haifa has made clear that he likes Arabs and is capable of working with them as equals on a daily basis. Amram Mitzna as Prime Minister might go a long way toward restoring what Arab Israelis had under Rabin, and healing the increasing alienation of one sixth of Israeli society. Mazarweh, the psychoanalyst, sums up the problem:

The only chance for reconciliation in the Middle East is if the Jews and Arabs both show understanding for the fears of the other side, and for Israel to stop thinking that it's the land of Jews alone. Nineteen percent of the population is not a small minority.

As I mentioned before when discussing Ray Hanania's article, part of the momentum for this reconciliation has to come from the Arab Israeli leadership, who need to show that they are willing to accept Israel and share it with Jews. As I also said, though, Israeli Jews need to recognize in turn that their Arab neighbors are also Israelis. Mitzna as Prime Minister - or, if he loses the election, as a minorities minister in a national unity government - could start this process moving.