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, January 11, 2003
Sentences commuted

Outgoing Gov. George Ryan of Illinois, who was the first American governor to declare a moratorium on capital punishment due to the possibility of innocent people being executed, has commuted the sentences of all 156 Illinois death row inmates. The incoming governor - a Democrat - called the blanket commutation "a big mistake," but has indicated that he will continue the moratorium.

The Arab right?

Lily Galili had an interesting article in Ha'aretz about the Israeli right's campaign for Arab votes, particularly in the Druze sector.

A large elections photograph of MKs Avigdor Lieberman, Benny Elon and Zvi Hendel - the heads of the National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu - covers the picture of MK Ahmed Tibi (who is running on the Hadash-Ta'al list, following the Supreme Court decision yesterday) at the entrance to the village of Rama. The population of Rama is 6,500, one-third Druze and two-third Muslim and Christian Arabs.


A visual illustration of the complexity of the situation can be found opposite the house of Akram Fares, a Druze man who hosted Lieberman in his home in a campaign visit to the mixed locale. Half of a ragged Israeli flag, torn by the ravages of time or the weather, flew proudly opposite the house.

"We've decided to go with Ivet [Lieberman]," said Fares. "All the governments have not helped us, and only Ivet as minister of infrastructure put in sewers here. As you know, Ivet has affection for the Druze sector and for soldiers."

This goes to show, yet again, that the Druze are different - but it also illustrates one of the differences between the nationalist and the national-religious right. I have previously compared the situation of Arab IDF veterans with Uriah the Hittite, a member of an enemy nation who became an Israelite by fighting for King David. To a member of the nationalist camp, for whom Israel is the nation of the Jewish people first and the Jewish religion second, a modern-day Uriah can be tolerated and can even be considered an honorary Jew. In Avigdor Lieberman's Israel, the Druze will have a place. The same is far from certain in Effi Eitam's Israel, where nationalism and religious belief are inextricably intertwined.

In the meantime, Lieberman is playing the Uriah card for all it is worth in Druze communities, advocating a system that - in Galili's words - "gives rewards to the 'good guys' and punishment to the 'bad citizens:'"

"The Jews are behaving as if we are living on the border of France and Switzerland," said Lieberman to the dozens of Druze who crowded into the house to meet the man who has done so well by them. "It must be made clear that anyone who is partner to us has taken the right step; he deserves everything. The burden of proof is on us, on the Jews. Over the years he has only lost: We have proved that [to] anyone who has linked his fate to ours, from the first King Abdullah to the South Lebanon Army [SLA] and the collaborators in Yesha [the Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza]. We behaved like madmen."

But it is not only the Druze who are being courted by the right. Natan Sharansky's Yisrael Ba'aliyah party has also campaigned among the Druze - and among the Bedouin, both of which are represented on its candidate list, albeit in unrealistic places. Sharansky has also taken his campaign to the Palestinian Arab sector, including an appearance in Ahmed Tibi's hometown of Taibeh:

Sharansky's visit in Taibeh does not look strange to the visitor and his hosts. This is already the second round of Knesset elections in which he has been active in the Arab sector, and he has supporters there from his days as interior minister and minister of industry and trade.


Jaber Riad and Salim Mahmud, two residents of Taibeh who came to the meeting with Sharansky, say that not everyone in Taibeh was really angry about the CEC disqualification. "There are all kinds," they say. "Last time we voted for Tibi so he would help us, and he went to help Arafat. What did we get out of this?" Now they are with Sharansky.

Part of Sharansky's appeal to the Arab sector is ideological. In his speeches, he describes a minority-to-minority affinity with Arab Israelis that may be familiar to readers of this journal:

I have to be interested in the closing of gaps and in equality no less than you. I came from a country where we were a persecuted minority, and today even President Putin admits that the greatest mistake of the previous regime was that they tried to bend the minorities. If they have understood this in Russia, this certainly must be the case in a democratic country.

But the appeal of the right is also practical, fueled by a perception among some Arab Israelis that the parties in power can do more for them and that the right's deeds outweigh the left's promises. Arab residents of Taibeh noted, for example, that "Sharansky dismantled appointed councils in minority locales and declared that elections would be held," and that he established "joint industrial zones for Jews and the minorities" as Interior Minister.

Such attitudes, although uncommon, are not as rare as they once were. The Israeli left is good at speaking the language of equal rights, but - with the notable exception of the Rabin administration, when spending on the Arab sector doubled - it has often been slow to follow through. In the Jerusalem municipality, for instance, former Mayor Teddy Kollek stayed in office for a quarter-century by courting Arab votes, but it was only when Ehud Olmert became mayor that conditions in Arab East Jerusalem began to improve. It has also not escaped notice that the first non-Jewish Cabinet minister in Israel's history was appointed, not by Peres or Rabin, but by Sharon. The Druze, especially, believe that the right has brought them into Israeli civil society:

In the 2003 elections, the right is not exactly the right and the left has not been the left for a long time. Everyone here talks about how all the governments of the left never accomplished what Lieberman accomplished in one year during which he brought Druze into government companies, directorates and even the board of the Israel Lands Administration.

Galili also notes that "the patronizing of the Druze by the large political parties pushes them toward the National Union."

It is difficult to avoid comparisons to the relationship between African-Americans and the Democratic Party. For decades, the overwhelming majority of the African-American vote has gone to the Democrats and have been one of the most reliable Democratic voting blocs, but this has in a sense been their undoing. Because their votes can be taken for granted, Democratic administrations have often felt little need to really listen to them or help them in practical terms. Many African-Americans feel patronized by the Democratic Party in the same way that the Druze, and other Arab Israelis, feel patronized by the left.

And - like the American right - the Israeli right courts minorities' votes in their homes while making other promises elsewhere. Soon after Avigdor Lieberman appeared in Rama, he addressed a meeting of right-wing voters in Netanya, some of whom expressed the opinion that "Jews and Arabs can't live together." And Sharansky has something he doesn't want the Arabs of Taibeh to know:

On the way out of the Taibeh area in the direction of Upper Nazareth, they again change cars. Now it is possible to go back to the usual official car. At the same time, they also pull off the masking tape that had concealed part of the inscription on the side of the armored vehicle. "This car was purchased with the help of the Yesha Council," it says beneath the masking tape. Now this can be revealed.

It's hard to play both sides of the street.

Making comparisons, part 2

When I was a child, my father had a friend named Marinus Zaaijer who fought with the Dutch Resistance during the Second World War. He was captured by the Nazis late in the war, and sentenced to death by a military court. Fortunately, he was moved from camp to camp as the Germans retreated, and his death warrant never caught up with him, but in the process, he saw the full measure of Nazi brutality.

I wish that Mr. Zaaijer were still around, so he could set Gretta Duisenberg straight on how bad the Nazi occupation of Holland was. The clueless idiots who make comparisons between Israel and the Third Reich - especially unfavorable ones - are really starting to annoy me.

Friday, January 10, 2003
New link

I've added a link to Yuval Rubinstein's Groupthink Central, which has some interesting commentary about current events in Israel and elsewhere. He's a bit to the left of me (yes, QS, that's actually possible) and I disagree with his point of view to some extent - for one thing, I think he overstates the degree to which the concepts of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state are in conflict. Whether you agree with him or not, though, he's intelligent and worth reading.

A chance for justice?

Next month, Rwanda will begin releasing up to 40,000 prisoners suspected of taking part in the 1994 genocide in order to ease prison overcrowding. Most of the prisoners scheduled to be released are those who are old, in poor health or accused of relatively minor offenses. Some have already been detained longer than the maximum sentence they could receive after trial.

The release program does not include "organizers, leaders and supervisors of the genocide and those accused of rape during the 100-day slaughter." Some 70,000 prisoners accused of these acts will remain in prison awaiting trial - which, due to the slender resources of the Rwandan judicial system, may be years in coming.

The released prisoners will still face charges in the new Rwandan system of community courts, or "gac aca courts". These courts - 11,000 of them - consist of part-time judges recruited and trained in Rwandan villages, and have the power to impose prison sentences but not the death penalty. Defendants convicted by the gacaca courts will be eligible to do community service in lieu of the last half of their prison terms.

The Rwandan government, faced with the impossible task of adjudicating hundreds of thousands of criminal cases stemming from the genocide, has been heavily promoting the gacaca courts as a method of reconciliation. In addition to providing two billion Rwandan francs (about four million U.S. dollars), government officials have been encouraged villagers to participate and even commissioned a popular song, "Here Come the Gacaca Courts." (Popular music in Rwanda has often been political; during the Habyarimana years and the genocide, Hutu pop stars such as Simon Bikindi incited Hutus to kill Tutsis. So it seems only fair that music will play a part in the reconciliation.)

The gacaca courts will also play a vital role in chronicling the genocide; the judges will canvass the villages and make up lists of those who were killed and injured as well as the accused perpetrators. In many parts of Rwanda, this information is being compiled for the first time.

Many Rwandans remain skeptical about the gacaca courts, however, both because released suspects might intimidate witnesses and because genocidaires have turned up among the judges. One of the most terrible things about the Rwandan genocide is that it was not carried out by specialized units of the government and military; instead, it was an effort in which entire communities were recruited - and sometimes forced - to participate. After the return of constitutional government, many perpetrators of genocide were able to resume normal lives - sometimes to the extent of becoming community leaders and being elected to the judiciary. To date, more than 70 gacaca court judges have been accused of murder or rape, and are now awaiting trial before the courts on which they served. Untangling the Rwandan genocide will continue to be a long, painful process.

Thursday, January 09, 2003
Separated at birth?

Has anyone ever noticed that New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman looks a hell of a lot like Azmi Bishara?

Onward and upward

The Head Heeb is up to 6641st on Blogstreet! The list is actually somewhat inaccurate given that Letter from Gotham is defunct, Window in Lebanon has no permanent blogroll, and one of the others isn't linked to me. On the other hand, I know of at least seven other sites that Blogstreet didn't catch but that have me on their blogroll, which probably means that I'm really in the top 5000. Three digits, here I come...

Meretz' far-right connection

Ari Shavit reports on the connection between Meretz MK Roman Bronfman and Jörg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party:

Bronfman is... a passionate supporter of Jorge Haider's Austrian Freedom Party. For years, Bronfman has had a close relationship with the former secretary-general of the party, Peter Sichrovsky. On various occasions, while all of Europe was boycotting the Viennese coalition government in which the Freedom Party played a key role, Bronfman met publicly with its leaders: former deputy chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer and former finance minister Karl Heinz Grasser. He did this even though it was clear that the meetings served Haider's people as a European and international stamp of kashrut at a time when the European and international community was boycotting them.


It's worth remembering who exactly is Riess-Passer, with whom Bronfman forged an alliance. She is someone who claimed the "Nazis were not all bad." It's worth remembering that Grasser, with whom Bronfman has cooperated, is someone who refused to participate in memorial services commemorating the Holocaust and objected to Austrian politicians going to Israel "to take on collective responsibility for the horrors of World War II." It's especially worth remembering that Haider, whom Bronfman has so enthusiastically recommended, is the person who praised Hitler's employment policies and defined the men of the Waffen SS as "decent people, of character, who even in the face of powerful opposing winds, stuck to their beliefs and remained loyal to their nationality to this very day."

Why did Roman Bronfman choose to become their ally? Why did an Israeli man of the left decide to serve the interests of the extreme Austrian right? Bronfman claims he exploited the noise around the Freedom Party to hold up a mirror to Israeli society. He says Israel is no less - and perhaps more - racist than Austria.

This is a height of hypocrisy that is rather difficult to believe - that, in order to make a point about what he perceives as racism in his own country, Bronfman has given aid and comfort to actual racists in positions of power. Supporting racists - some of whom may be neo-Nazis - in other countries is not a way to enhance one's anti-racist credentials. Shavit, however, explains that such hypocrisy is far from unique:

The dark connection between Bronfman and the Freedom Party is an expression of a certain longing to treat Israel as a nearly neo-Nazi phenomenon when the real neo-Nazis are treated as an innocent or meaningless phenomenon. However, whatever Bronfman's motives, the result is clear: number five on the Meretz list for the 16th Knesset describes the chilling Haiderist longings as nostalgia for the era of national pride. Number five on the Meretz list describes the racist policies of the Freedom Party as representing the interests of the native population.

This isn't the first time this campaign season that Meretz candidates have come up short in the integrity department. It wasn't so long ago that MK Mussi Raz pushed aside Issawi Freij, an Arab Israeli who ran for an open seat in the Meretz primary and won the ninth slot. Raz argued that, since the Meretz by-laws guaranteed Arabs only one of the top ten slots and Hussniya Jabara had won the tenth (which was reserved for women), he should be restored to eighth place on the list. Party officials agreed, and Freij was bumped to the unrealistic fourteenth slot. So much for the party of equal rights, at least where those rights might inconvenience a sitting MK.

I'm no supporter of the right, but the left has also demonstrated its share of corruption and hypocrisy.

Press conference aborted

The Central Election Committee chairman, Justice Michael Cheshin, has pulled the plug on Ariel Sharon's press conference, describing his attempts to explain the loan he received from Cyril Kern as "election propaganda." While I have the highest respect for Israel's Supreme Court, of which Cheshin is a member, this seems like a remarkably boneheaded ruling; the accusations have been made, and it would hardly be fair to deny Sharon an opportunity to answer them. I'm no fan of Sharon, but he deserves a chance to make his case, and hopefully a court will overturn Cheshin's decision and allow the conference to go forward.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what Sharon would say if he gets more air time. Most of his 15 minutes on the air before receiving Justice Cheshin's order seem to have been spent fulminating against Amram Mitzna rather than saying anything substantive to refute the allegations. He claimed that "one of his sons had documents to prove that everything was done legally," but didn't provide any specifics. Among other things, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, he slammed his hand down on the podium and exclaimed, "Have you gone mad? Have you lost your mind!?"

Folks, I'm afraid that practically amounted to a confession. Whenever a politician tries to take his audience's eyes off the ball that way - and Sharon, apparently, was in fine form - it's a good bet that he has something to hide. If Sharon had documents that cleared him, he would have waved them in the cameras' faces as soon as he took the podium. And even if the Kern loan was above board, Sharon must still face allegations that he misled investigators about it - which could, like the perjury accusations in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, become bigger than the underlying conduct.

In the meantime, other polls taken in the wake of yesterday's Ha'aretz poll confirm that Likud is continuing to slide, with Yediot Ahronot giving it 28 mandates and Ma'ariv giving it 30. The election is still a political lifetime away, but it looks like Sharon and Likud are in serious trouble, and it will take something major to get them out.

Battle renewed

The fragile cease-fire in Côte d'Ivoire was threatened today by reports of fighting in the west. Leaders of the western rebel factions, which had resisted attempts to broker a cease-fire until yesterday, accused the government of attacking them with helicopter gunships. The government had promised to ground the helicopters as part of the cease-fire agreement.

Ironically, the western rebels - who have engaged in several firefights with French peacekeeping forces - have appealed to France to enforce the cease-fire. They have also reiterated their commitment to attend peace talks scheduled for January 28 in Paris.

Headline gimmicks

Christopher Caldwell outdoes Andrew Sullivan in slandering the New York Times:

That same edition of the Times also produced the single lamest piece of article-assigning I’ve seen since I was a regular reader of my high school newspaper. Under the headline "A Digit and a World Apart: At 565 Park Ave., Living the Dream; at 1565, Still Dreaming," reporter Alan Feuer examined two apartment buildings: one at E. 62nd St., the other at E. 112th St. Feuer is probably not to be blamed for this. Cannily, the Times was able to ferret out that the building in the heart of the east side, across from the Colony Club, was rich, while the tenement known as the James Weldon Johnson Houses in Harlem was poor. The article was full of compare-and-contrast—diamonds and champagne here, urine in the stairwells there! In our edition of the Times the photo caption ran, "At 565 Park Avenue, above, an elegant co-op apartment building at 62nd Street in Manhattan, there is a liveried doorman. At the brick-faced public housing tower at 1565 Park Avenue, several miles to the north, there is a broken door buzzer."

So what next from the Times? Maybe "1492 and 1942... Despite the Superficial Similarities, Two Very Different Years." Or "Greenwich and Greenland: Behind the Names, a World of Difference."

Interesting concept. How about Iran and Iraq: One Letter Apart, Eight Years of War? Or Liberia and Siberia: Sure, They Rhyme, But Are They On the Same Page? Or, for that matter, George Bush and Kate Bush: Same Last Name, but the Similarities End There...

Another Ethiopian Jewish community

Ha'aretz reports that Interior Minister Eli Yishai, a member of the Shas party, will seek approval to bring 20,000 new immigrants from the Falashmura community in Ethiopia to Israel:

The Falashmura claim Jewish ancestry, despite having converted to Christianity over the years. Emissaries of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef have visited Ethiopia during the past year and were convinced that the Falashmura have returned to Judaism and have close relatives already living in Israel.

Of course, if Yishai's plan is approved, Shas will get to decide who can immigrate:

Anyone with a family connection to Ethiopian Jewry on their maternal side, the plan determines, will be permitted to enter Israel.

With regard to "mixed families in which one of the parents is the child of a non-Jew," the decision will be delayed until it has been reviewed by Rabbi Yosef.

The Falashmura community dates from the 19th century, when many Beta Israel ("Falasha" is an ethnic slur) were converted to Christianity by Ethiopian or European missionaries. The origin of the term "Falashmura" is unclear, although it may be derived from the Agau language meaning "someone who changes faith." Some have returned to Judaism since the 1980s, but to date, the Israeli government has viewed them as opportunistic converts who are looking for an opportunity to escape Ethiopian poverty. Some 2000 reached Israel during the airlifts of the Beta Israel during the 1980s and 1990s, and about 4000 more were airlifted from Addis Ababa in 1997, but 8000 remain in Ethiopian villages and 20,000 in refugee camps near Addis Ababa and Gondar. Government approval of the Yishai immigration plan is uncertain.

The right decision

The Israeli Supreme Court has overturned the CEC decisions disqualifying MKs Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi and the Balad list, and rejected an appeal that sought to disqualify Baruch Marzel. The court upheld the disqualifications of Shaul Mofaz, who was banned because he had not left active military service before running for office, and Moshe Feiglin, who was disqualified because of his criminal record. The vote on the Bishara petition was 7-4; the others were unanimous.

There's no word yet on who the four Bishara dissenters were, and the decision isn't up yet on the Supreme Court web site, but the court got it right all down the line. By allowing everyone to take part in the democratic process except those who committed straightforward violations of the electoral law, the court avoided creating a rift in Israeli society much greater than anything Bishara or Marzel could create on their own.

UPDATE: The original reports were incorrect, and there were dissenting votes with respect to Marzel and Feiglin as well as Bishara. The four dissenting judges on the Bishara petition were Shlomo Levin, Tova Strasberg-Cohen, Yaacov Turkel and Edmund Levy. There were also four dissenting votes on the Marzel petition: Levin, Strasberg-Cohen, Dorit Beinisch and Ayala Procaccia. Levy was the only dissenter on the Feiglin case.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003
The day before the ruling

Two op-ed pieces on the CEC petitions, quoted here without editorial comment from me.

Evelyn Gordon in the Jerusalem Post:

No matter which candidates and slates the Supreme Court decides to approve or disqualify Tuesday, it is already clear that the law permitting parties and individuals to be banned from running for the Knesset is problematic.

This is not because the law's aims are improper. It is perfectly reasonable for Israel to deny a seat in parliament to individuals or parties that fail to accept the country's ground rules: that reject its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, that support armed attacks against it by enemy states or terrorist organizations, or that incite to racist hatred against part of the population.

Unfortunately, however, there appears to be no way of making such decisions that would cause a substantial majority of the country to deem the outcome fair. The party-based Central Elections Commission is clearly vulnerable to charges of politicized decision-making. Yet involving the judicial system whether as an appellate body (the current system) or as the sole authority (the latest popular reform proposal) not only fails to solve this problem, it further undermines the judiciary's status by forcing it even more deeply into the political game.

When the issue at stake is so politically charged, when most of the evidence consists of public statements that everyone has heard and evaluated for himself, and when the public is split down the middle over the proper conclusions (as the CEC's votes demonstrate), it would be difficult even for a far less politicized Supreme Court than Israel's to convince most of the public that its decisions were uninfluenced by political considerations.

Thus it seems that whatever method is used, any decision either to disqualify or to approve a controversial party will only sow more discord in an already deeply divided society.

How, then, can the law's vital aims be achieved without this negative consequence?

Dr. Alex Epstein, an Associate Fellow at the Shalem Center and a lecturer in sociology and political science at the Open University, offered a novel solution in an interview with Ha'aretz last week: simply raise the electoral threshold.

Israel, Epstein noted, has a much lower electoral threshold than do other parliamentary democracies a mere 1.5 percent, or 1.8 Knesset seats, compared to 4 to 5 percent or even higher in other countries. This means that radical fringe groups that would never make it into another country's parliament are routinely elected here.

Four to 5 percent (five or six Knesset seats) might be too high a threshold for Israel, as it would wipe out most sectoral parties: All the Arab parties, two of the three religious factions and the one remaining immigrant party all hover around four or five seats.

But even a threshold of 3.5%, or 4.2 seats, would be enough to knock out almost every party and individual whose disqualification has been seriously considered. Azmi Bishara won two seats in 1999; this time, the most generous polls give his Balad Party three seats. Baruch Marzel's Herut Party is expected to win two seats at most. Only Ahmed Tibi might still be elected and only thanks to his merger with the more popular Hadash.

THE ADVANTAGES of this system are obvious. Banning someone like Bishara turns him into a persecuted martyr. But if he simply fails to pass the electoral threshold, he is reduced to his true proportions a radical who enjoys almost no support among the community he claims to represent. And raising the threshold also has an attractive fringe benefit: With fewer two- to three-man factions, the Knesset will operate more efficiently.

Gideon Samet in Ha'aretz:

The heart of the decision lies in the interpretation of two articles in the Basic Law for the Knesset that fell victim to the politicians' demagoguery, nationalistic passions, distortions and ignorance. Even if the CEC had some good intentions, the adoption of its position could pave the way to a small hell for this conflicted country.


The truth is that the CEC ban was partially based on words that do not even appear in the law. What prompted the CEC majority was the banned politicians' position that Israel should, of course, be a democracy, but as such it must behave as a "state of all its citizens" or alternatively as "the state of the Jewish people and its citizens." On this issue, Bishara gave the CEC and the Supreme Court explanations that only a few MKs are capable of formulating and documenting the way he can. Justice Mishael Cheshin, the chairman of the CEC, rightly commented that he had his doubts whether its members could intellectually digest the material.

It's worth reading Bishara's detailed argument, because there are things said in it that Israelis cannot allow themselves not to know. Its main argument - in a synopsis that does not do the argument justice - is that Israel, as a democracy, must grant equal rights to all its citizens. No other developed state in the world has religion determining the rights of its citizens. Yet, those demanding the "all its citizens" formula, including Bishara and Tibi, do not reject the essence of the state as having a Jewish majority.

As opposed to the public impression, Bishara did not invent the phrase. It apparently was first brought up by the then-MK Tawfik Toubi when the Knesset debated the Basic Law in 1985. It also appears in the Meretz platform. It is supported by the left, the "post Zionists" and, of course, all the Arab MKs.

But the formula does not only refer to the Arab state's citizens. It is unavoidable in the eyes of those who think that Israel, especially since its Jewish majority has grown to a "European" size, can now allow itself to absorb some of the foreign workers in an orderly process of naturalization such as takes place in any properly run country.

And if Israel were to cut the problematic, unique connection between religion and nationality through the use of the "state of all its citizens" formula - in spite of the Haredim and the National Religious Party - it could also integrate hundreds of thousands of immigrants who suffer humiliation because of nationalistic-religious skepticism about their Judaism.

At the same time, rulings on the electoral cases are starting to come down with the Israeli Supreme Court's disqualification of the Gesher party. The Supreme Court upheld a Tel Aviv district court decision nullifying a permit given "despite the fact that Gesher's central committee had decided previously decided to halt all of their party's activities" and join Likud. This decision, which appears to concern a straightforward electoral law question rather than an issue of constitutional dimension, was issued by an ordinary three-judge panel as opposed to the 11 judges who are reviewing the CEC petitions. Those rulings are expected tomorrow.

A hopeful sign

Associated Press reports that the two rebel armies in western Côte d'Ivoire have agreed to participate in peace talks scheduled for January 28 in Paris. The agreement, which brings all three rebel factions into the peace process, follows a battle between rebels and French soldiers on Monday in which 30 rebel fighters were killed. West African mediators are also expected to take part in the talks, and a meeting between rebel leaders and the Togolese Defense Minister is scheduled for Saturday. There are still plenty of opportunities for things to fall apart, especially if Laurent Gbagbo continues to insist on retaining power, but at least everyone will be in the same room.

Political games

Yossi Verter describes a scenario being kicked around Avoda headquarters that party leaders hope will make Mitzna the next Prime Minister:

Here's Labor's optimistic scenario for the election outcome: Likud wins 30-31 seats, National Union gets 8, Shas 9-10, the National Religious Party 4, and United Torah Judaism gets 5. That's less than 61 seats in the Knesset, making it impossible for Sharon to form a government without Shinui.

Given the assumption that Tommy Lapid et al will stick to their longstanding commitment not to sit in the same government with the religious, Sharon will have to turn to Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna.

The next assumption is that Mitzna will stick to his commitment not to participate in a government headed by Sharon.

But based on a third assumption, that Shinui won't join a government that depends on the Arab parties, Miztna also won't be able to form a coalition of 61 seats.

Adding up all those assumptions leads to the conclusion that Lapid will be the person who decides who will be the next prime minister. If he recommends to President Moshe Katsav that Mitzna form the next government, the Labor Party leader will be able to offer Sharon a return to the Foreign Ministry, taking consolation in the fact that by doing so he'd be pushing Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out.

This arrangement of seats may be more likely than anyone realizes. The View From Here reports, based on "a well-placed source," that a "major Israeli newspaper" will publish a poll tomorrow which gives Likud only 27 seats as compared with 25 for Avoda, 17 for Shinui and 8 for Meretz. This would almost certainly mean less than 60 seats for the right as a whole and would make Shinui a very influential broker.

The coalition-building game could, in fact, play out this way even if the right ends up with a few more than 60 mandates. Sharon doesn't appear interested in forming a government that includes the National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu, which means that unless Likud, the religious parties and Yisrael Ba'aliya poll 60 seats without the National Union, Sharon will need to bring in Shinui, Avoda or both. He could potentially put together a Likud-Avoda-Shas government (or Likud-Avoda-Shas-Am Ehad), but there seems to be more sentiment in favor of a Likud-Avoda-Shinui secular coalition.

The trouble with this whole house of cards, though, is that it depends on Lapid picking Mitzna over Sharon, when he has thus far indicated exactly the opposite preference. The spreading corruption scandal, which has now touched Sharon himself, might make Lapid less willing to serve in a Sharon government, but that won't necessarily translate to support for Mitzna. (He's a bit like the Israeli electorate that way.) There's also the possibility that a significant number of Likud MKs would defect rather than serving in a brokered Mitzna government, leaving the rump Likud without sufficient votes to form a majority with Avoda and Shinui. If Lapid becomes the kingmaker, he might insist on a compromise candidate, with Mitzna stepping aside (or being pushed aside) in favor of Fouad, or Lapid himself getting the top job.

And Sharon as Foreign Minister? Given that the foreign ministry is supposed to make Israel's case abroad, someone who is considered a war criminal by about half the diplomats and legislators in Europe probably wouldn't be the best choice. Maybe Sharon could become Defense Minister or get some other senior slot (preferably one where he won't be able to do too much damage), but if this somewhat unlikely scenario eventuates, the Foreign Ministry should go to Dalia Itzik.

UPDATE: The poll mentioned by The View From Here, which was taken Tuesday night, has been published. The results are slightly different from what Harry predicted, but only slightly - 27 seats for Likud, 24 for Avoda, 17 for Shinui and 13 for Shas. The right comes in with a total of 61 seats; one more and a narrow right-wing coalition will no longer be even a mathematical possibility.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Court hearing

An 11-judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court is now hearing arguments on the appeals of MKs Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi and the Balad list from their disqualifications by the Central Election Committee. The court had previously heard appeals from Moshe Feiglin, who was disqualified because of his criminal record, and Shaul Mofaz, who was banned because he had not completed a legally mandated six-month cooling off period between resigning from the IDF and running for office. A ruling is expected by Thursday.

In the meantime, Amnon Rubinstein defends the practice of banning candidates as necessary in a system of proportional representation, but argues that it should be used only as a last resort because it is damaging to democracy. He also argues that disqualification should not be used as a punishment for past statements but only if there is a likelihood of future damage to the state, and concludes that such a likelihood has not been shown with respect to Tibi or Bishara:

The Central Elections Committee and the Supreme Court must examine not only the events of the past, but the likelihood of future events... The ban does not come as a punishment, but in order to prevent danger. It is the last resort, and not the first: Only when it has been proven that there is a likely possibility that the state, the democratic regime and the prohibition on racist incitement will be undermined as a result of approval of the list or the candidate, can we use this extreme weapon.

Most of the members of the elections committee didn't even ask themselves these questions. Therefore the Supreme Court should explain their mistake to them, and prevent the banning of any candidate and any list contending in the next elections. Israeli democracy is strong enough to deal even with the most infuriating and disgusting phenomena. The banning of a list is a means from which there is no return; on the other hand, if borderline lists and candidates are approved, in the future it will be possible to remedy the distortions: to put someone on trial, or to remove him from the Knesset (after he has been convicted). The Knesset Speaker also has the authority to prevent damaging proposals from being brought up for discussion.

Tibi, Bishara and Balad are represented by Hasan Jabarin, an attorney employed by the Israeli Arab civil rights organization Adalah. The attorneys argued that the CEC misinterpreted paragraph 7a of the Basic Law on the Knesset and that intelligence agencies should not have been involved in the political process.

UPDATE: Israeli blogger Sha! (found courtesy of Imshin) agrees with me (right down to the term "shenanigans") about the disqualifications:

I tend to agree with Ha'aretz that Israel has a strong enough democracy that it doesn't need to be disqualifying parties.

In any case, [the CEC] should at least follow its own internal rules and judge Jewish and Arab candidates using the same yardstick. While it is strange that an Israeli MK is advising a man who harbors dreams of destroying Israel, no one has presented hard evidence that Tibi supports terrorism. Bishara has supported terrorist organizations tacitly and less-than-tacitly in the past and openly works to undermine Israel as the Jewish national home. Therefore a case could probably be made for disqualifying him. Marzel is a clear-cut racist with a semi-terroristic past who has not openly renounced his former beliefs. He should have been disqualified along with Bishara.

This week's shenanigans were clearly political in nature. By giving a kosher stamp to an odious figure like Marzel while disqualifying Tibi and Bishara, the CEC seems to be sending a very bad message to Israel's Arabs.

Well, he almost agrees with me, anyway - as most of you already know, I think all three of them should have been allowed to run. It's the first sentence that says it all - Israeli democracy isn't weak, and it can deal even with Bishara.

What may follow peace

A new book edited by Meron Benvenisti speculates on "the morning after" a peace accord is signed with the Palestinians. The book isn't utopian - the authors predict a "cold peace" at best, and many of the possible trends in Israeli security and domestic society aren't optimistic - but it seems like an intelligent, clear-eyed look at what might follow. This is the sort of long-term planning that the government should be doing.

And now Sharon

Police are set to probe the transfer of $1.5 million from a South African citizen named Cyril Kern as collateral for a loan taken out by Omri and Gilad Sharon to repay illegal campaign contributions. The Prime Minister himself may be implicated; Ha'aretz reports that the Attorney General's request to the South African Justice Ministry "implies that Sharon and his son Gilad deliberately deceived the State Comptroller and the police when they were questioned about how Sharon intended to repay the money, as ordered by the State Comptroller." If the allegations stick, they will be the first in the growing Likud corruption scandal that affect Sharon personally.

Sharon denies the accusations and states that he was able to secure a loan with his Negev property as collateral. He is expected to discuss the allegations at a 4 p.m. press conference.

UPDATE: Sharon's aides have admitted that he got the money, leaked documents from the Israeli Justice Department indicate that he lied about it during a previous investigation, and Ha'aretz hints of "other suspicions, far more serious" including "receiving bribes, fraud, breach of trust [and] deceiving the State Comptroller and police." Kern, who had refused a Ha'aretz interview, told the Jerusalem Post that he "gave money to a friend and was happy to do it." In the meantime, Likud officials are responding to the scandal in the time-honored American fashion, by demanding that the Attorney General investigate the leak rather than the Prime Minister. Usually, once things get to that stage, it's not long before the curtain falls.

Monday, January 06, 2003
Ezra, Shalit and intermarriage

I've been reading Daniel Friedmann's book To Kill and Take Possession: Law, Morality and Society in Biblical Stories, which spent 10 weeks on the Israeli best-seller list. The book is a thorough, academic work about the Torah, but one that is more of interest to lawyers than Torah scholars. Friedmann - an Israeli lawyer and former dean of the Tel Aviv University Law School - analyzes episodes from the Torah for the light they shed on the ancient Israelites' attitude toward law as compared to that of other ancient societies - and, sometimes, to that of modern Israelis.

One of the most thought-provoking discussions takes place in the twenty-second chapter, in which Friedmann discusses Ezra's decree requiring Jewish men to divorce their foreign wives and cast out the children of mixed marriages. Strange as it may seem to Jewish-continuity organizations now, this was actually a change in the historical attitude toward intermarriage. In the days when Israel and Judah were independent kingdoms, the only prohibition against mixed marriage was with the seven nations whose land the Israelites had been promised, and even that prohibition was often honored in the breach. The biblical Ruth was a member of one of the forbidden nations - a Moabite - and so was the mother of King Rehoboam, Naamah the Ammonite. Another member of a forbidden nation, Uriah the Hittite, married the Israelite woman Bathsheba and served in the army of King David.

By Ezra's time, however, something critical had changed:

Throughout the long period from the beginnings of the settlement in the land and until the destruction of the first Temple in Zedekiah's reign, the tribes of Israel enjoyed independence or, at least, autonomy in their internal affairs when they were under foreign rule. That ended with the failure of a rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. The Temple was razed, Jerusalem went up in flames, and much of the nation was exiled to Babylon. The situation became even worse after the assassination of Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the Babylon-appointed governor of the remaining Jewish population in the country.

After these events, David's dynasty would never return to power. The idea of Jewish monarchy was over, to be revived four centuries later by the Hasmoneans, and that only for a brief interlude... Thereafter, Jewish existence centered on religious life, and the question arose as to how Jewish identity is to be preserved after political authority had been lost.

In its days of independence Uriah the Hittite could join the nation of Israel by enlisting in David's army and showing loyalty to the political entity headed by the king. Ruth the Moabite could join the Israelite people by staying with Naomi, the mother of her first husband, declaring "Where you go, I will go..." The declaration sounded more like personal loyalty than conversion, but it sufficed. In Ezra's time, the picture changed completely...

With the loss of political independence, the survival of the Jewish people became a matter of preserving religious belief - something that was threatened by marriages with foreign women who observed other religions. Thus Ezra's decree, and thus the long prohibition against intermarriage of any sort - one that continues to this day.

For the past half-century, however, there has again been an independent country called Israel, and the Jewish nation is again a political as well as a religious concept. Can Ezra's decree now be reversed, and are the Jewish religion and the Jewish nation separate entities again? As Friedmann relates, this question was brought before the Israeli courts in the case of Shalit v. Minister of the Interior:

[Major Benjamin] Shalit was born in Haifa. In 1958, while studying in Scotland, he married a Scots woman whose father came from a Zionist family and whose mother was French "of a family known to have no religious affiliation." Upon completing his studies, Shalit returned to Israel with his wife and enlisted in the Israel Defense Force. Two children were born to them in Israel, and the question arose regarding their registration. In accordance with the provisions of the Registration of Population Ordinance of 1949, the Ministry of the Interior registered both "religion" and "nationality." ["Nationality" and "citizenship" are separate concepts under Israeli law; a Jewish citizen of Israel is both an Israeli citizen and a person of Jewish nationality - HH] There was no dispute about Shalit's boys not being of the Jewish religion. The question was whether to accept their demand to be registered as Jews by nationality. The Ministry adopted the position that religion and nationality of Jews cannot be separated and that both followed those of their mother, who in this case was not Jewish nor had she been converted according to Jewish law.

The case reached the Israeli Supreme Court, where it was decided by an unprecedented nine-judge panel (a precedent which has since been equaled in the Shin Bet interrogation methods case and surpassed by the 11-judge panel that decided the legal status of non-Orthodox conversions). By a narrow 5-4 majority, the court held:

...the Registrar must record under the item "nationality" whatever the citizen tells him, as long as it is told in good faith and is not patently false. Accordingly, the children of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, who grow up in Israel and are loyal to the State, can be registered under nationality as "Jews," even though the halakhah does not recognize them as such.

Friedmann records that the decision set off "a public and political storm," as a result of which the Registration of Population Law was amended to conform the definition of Jewish "nationality" with the halachic definition of Judaism. At the same time, however, the Law of Return was amended to permit the immigration of non-Jewish spouses of Jews (or of children or grandchildren of Jews who otherwise qualify under the Law of Return). Thus, while non-Jewish partners in mixed marriages, and sometimes their children, could no longer register their "nationality" as Jewish, they were explicitly granted the right to immigrate to Israel and become citizens.

As Friedmann relates, "Major Shalit's wife was able to join the nation of Israel, as was Ruth the Moabite, by marrying one of its members." The Knesset, however, reacted to Mrs. Shalit's induction into the Jewish "nation" by precluding future Ruths from following in her footsteps, and the question still remains - is membership in the Jewish religion a requirement for membership in the Jewish nation, and should it be a requirement?

This question is almost an easy one when it comes to Ruth the Moabite. Far more problematic is the status of a modern-day Uriah the Hittite. Is a Druze or Bedouin who is loyal to the state of Israel and serves in the IDF a member of the Jewish nation? Or, if bridging the Jewish-Arab divide is too great a leap in these times of conflict, what about Orde Wingate?

The trouble, to some extent, is that the concept of nationality is different now from what it was in Uriah's day. Modern nationalism was unknown then, and allegiance to a king was sufficient to confer membership in the nation he ruled. Today, however, the concept of nationality is bound up in shared values and, often, ethnicity. The idea to which we refer as a "nation" is closer to what Uriah would have called a tribe than to ancient kingdoms such as Israel - and, even if Uriah became an Israelite by serving in King David's army, he didn't become a member of any of the twelve tribes of Israel.

But should modern nationality be a quasi-tribal concept? If a Druze or Bedouin soldier is not a sufficient Uriah, then what about an urban Arab Israeli - also an IDF veteran - who believes in Zionism and whose cultural heritage resembles that of his Jewish neighbors more than that of the Arab villages? (Yes, there are a few like that.) What if Uriah the Arab marries a Jewish woman - which also happens on occasion - and raises his children as Jews? Is such an Arab Israeli different in any meaningful way from the non-Jewish spouse of a Jewish oleh - who, as Friedmann notes, has the legal rights of a member of the Jewish "nation" even if not the membership itself? At what point, if any, does religion cease to matter and a person's identification with the Jewish ethno-cultural group become so strong that he can be naturalized into the Jewish nation?

And if there is no such point, and Jewish nationality is entirely coterminous with the Jewish religion, then is there really any need for a Jewish nationality at all? Jewish Israelis have a political citizenship - which they share with other, non-Jewish Israelis - and a religious identity; why is there a need to duplicate that religious identity with an overlapping nationality that is neither religious nor political? Is such a nationality anything more than an attempt to institutionalize ethnic identity - and, if so, is this something that should rightfully be a matter of personal choice?

Or is the solution to "nationalize" the Jewish religion - to increase the emphasis on commitment to the community and ethical identity rather than theology? This is where Ruth becomes more important than Uriah, and where Ezra's decree against intermarriage is called into question. For centuries, marriage to a "foreign woman" was likely to be exactly what Ezra feared - a loss to the Jewish people. When Jews were confined in ghettos - either physical or social - marriage to a non-Jew was a way out of the ghetto, and one that often resulted in the Jewish partner converting and the children being raised as non-Jews. Intermarriage, like assimilation, was a one-way street.
But that has changed. With the decline of anti-Semitism - and even given the recent increase in anti-Semitic acts in Europe, it is still remarkably low by historical standards - it has become possible to assimilate to Judaism rather than away. It has also become possible for the non-Jewish partner in a mixed marriage to become a Jew rather than the other way around. Intermarriage, rather than being a one-way ticket away from Judaism, is now - at least in part - a potential source of new blood and new life.

A case in point is the Jewish community of Finland. The Jews of Finland are a small, assimilated community in a country with little anti-Semitism, and have had an intermarriage rate above 90 percent for a generation. Nevertheless, the decline in the Jewish population has not mirrored this intermarriage rate. At the end of the Second World War, there were about 1800 Jews in Finland; today, there are between 1200 and 1500. This decline can be explained almost entirely by the relatively high rate of aliyah among Finnish Jews during the immediate postwar years and natural decrease due to a below-replacement birth rate. As the director of the Jewish Community of Helsinki explained to me when I visited five years ago, intermarriage has led to as many conversions to Judaism as from it.

The question of what to do about "the foreign women" is especially important in this time of declining Jewish population. In the Jerusalem Post, Saul Singer recently suggested that the solution to the Jewish population decline is proselytization:

Either we have something to offer the world or we don't. If not, we might as well dwindle into nothingness. But if so, we should be looking beyond shifting Jews around, from the Diaspora to Israel, and sifting among the small pools of people with lost ties to Judaism from bygone ages (though those with Jewish roots should surely be welcome as well).

Maybe so, in the long term. Proselytization, however, begins with not turning people away, and the most obvious people to welcome into the fold are those who have already shown an inclination toward joining the Jewish community - "the foreign women" (and "foreign men") who marry into it. Many of these are interested in becoming Jews, but all too often - as this article (courtesy of Expat Egghead) reveals - they are discouraged by those who insist that they conform to a rigid, prescribed idea of Judaism rather than exploring and questioning. Others are turned away by pressure to convert; one of the most successful programs for intermarried couples that I ever encountered was one at a Pelham Manor synagogue where there was no pressure at all. Maybe the oath taken by Ruth to Naomi - "your people shall be my people" - should be all that is required today for membership in the community.

In other words, it may be - as Friedmann edges toward saying, but doesn't quite say - that Ezra's decree against "the foreign women" has outlived its usefulness. Rather than casting them out or looking upon them as tainted, it may be that the Jewish community should regard them as a treasure, to be welcomed as Ruth was.

Anti-boycott protest

1000 Jewish students demonstrated in Paris today against anti-Israeli divestment petitions currently pending in several French universities. About 100 Arab students have set up a counter-protest.

As Instapundit reports, one of the divestment petitions will be considered tomorrow by the Administrative Council of Université Paris VII. The proposal is identical to one passed by the Université Paris VI council last month, and would represent one of the most wide-ranging academic boycotts thus far:

[T]he proposal would institutionalize the exclusion of Israeli researchers from scientific committees, conferences and scientific journals. It would kill international research projects involving Israeli scientists and academic hosting programs for university faculty. It would ban international student exchange programs.

The irony of these divestment petitions is that, as many others have noted, the Israeli academics who are excluded by European boycotts are frequently among the most vociferous critics of the Sharon government's policies. By not differentiating between Israelis, the Parisian faculties are saying more about their own prejudices than anything going on in the West Bank or Gaza.

Women of valor

Tamar Rotem reports on a Tuesday law course at the Kirya Akademit in Kiryat Ono, in which about 100 haredi women are studying for their law degrees:

About one-third of the women in the second year of studies are Shas voters. It was people from this movement who laid the foundations for opening academic frameworks for the ultra-Orthodox - the first of them was Touro College, which was initiated by Shas activist Gabi Abutbul and eventually fell apart. Some of the students continued at the Kirya Akademit. The rest of the women in the class belong to various Hasidic groups, especially Chabad, a movement that has always been open to the outside world. According to Hadassah Zwebner, of the Sarat-Vizhnitz Hasidic group, a mother of four children who works in marketing, the rabbis give permission on an individual basis to women who want to study. There are also women who belong to the more Orthodox wing of national religious Zionism. The fact that only very few of the women come from the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community can easily be explained: The Lithuanians are the conservatives of ultra-Orthodox society. For them, there is still a stigma on anyone who works and the fear of the threat of non-religious education.

Haredi women in Israel have been earning academic degrees for six years, but few up to now have studied law. The first academic program that attracted significant haredi participation was one sponsored by the School of Social Work at Hebrew University, which responded to a need for social services within the haredi community. Rotem reports that, "[a]lthough the program shut down after two years, it accelerated the process" of haredi women entering the world of secular universities. At the same time, traditional haredi educational institutions such as the Bais Yaakov academies have begun to place more emphasis on secular subjects, particularly in areas such as computer literacy that are necessary to function in the modern world.

Academic study has the potential not only to increase the availability of services to the haredi community, but to reduce unemployment among ultra-Orthodox women. Official sources estimate that 50 percent of haredi women work outside the home because their husbands are full-time Torah scholars, but Rotem estimates that the total is closer to 70 percent. Many of these women are graduates of teachers' seminaries where they compete to fill a limited number of open jobs; access to other professions will increase both their employability and their earning power.

Some of the women at the Kirya Akademit already have a legal background through voluntarism or work as "toanot rabbaniot (pleaders in rabbinical courts)." For many, however, the course is their first exposure to the law and the secular judicial system, and the program is not only educating them but changing their view of the courts. As the dean of the program notes, the students "came with prejudices, to the effect that the Supreme Court was against them, against the ultra-Orthodox as a whole. After a while, you can see how their thinking is changing. They realize that there is not one, sole truth."

Does terror vote Avoda?

The conventional wisdom about terrorism and the Israeli election is that "terror votes Likud" - that terrorists want a more repressive Israeli government in order to radicalize the Palestinian population, keep the conflict in the news and ratchet up international pressure against Israel. In today's New York Post, however, Uri Dan suggests that terror may be voting Avoda. Dan believes that the attack was carried out, not by Islamic Jihad or the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, but by Tanzim, and he argues that it was carried out to weaken Sharon rather than strengthen him:

Israeli intelligence indicates that Arafat has been urging the acceleration of terrorist attacks against Israel in order to topple Sharon's government in the coming Jan. 28 elections.

Arafat, according to officials, wants to show Israeli voters that Sharon cannot deliver on his promise of security, thereby tilting the election to the Labor Party, under Amram Mitzna, who has indicated his willingness to recommence peace negotiations.

I find it hard to believe that Arafat could be that naive - Arafat has been called many things, but naive usually isn't one of them. Arafat knows only too well how the reoccupation of the West Bank has radicalized his own people; does he really think that terror attacks in Tel Aviv will have any other effect on the Israeli electorate?

It may be that Arafat believes that terror attacks in Israel will have the same effect as the continuing low-level warfare in Lebanon that ultimately led to an Israeli withdrawal. There's an important difference between the Lebanon conflict and the current one, though - in Lebanon, Israelis weren't defending their homes.

If Arafat wants to learn a lesson from Lebanon, a better one might be the last time he was there - the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a large part of southern Lebanon was under virtual PLO occupation. The PLO made itself so unwelcome and oppressive to the Lebanese population that many of them at first greeted Israeli soldiers as liberators; the Lebanese hatred of Palestinians remains to this day in the constitutional prohibition against Palestinians becoming citizens and the extraordinary legal restrictions that virtually prohibit Palestinians from working or going to school in Lebanon. That's the sort of hatred that is sown when people are attacked in their homes.

Or maybe he could learn from the radicalization of the Lebanese population against Israel as the Israeli "liberation" from the PLO turned into a long-term occupation. As the death toll mounted, the Lebanese had to defend their homes once again. Soon, nobody outside the SLA referred to the Israelis as liberators, and Hezbollah became a popular movement that continues to threaten Israel.

In the present conflict, the homes of both Israelis and Palestinians are under attack. Most Israelis - more than 70 percent, according to current polls - would like to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and leave the Palestinians' homes alone, but only if they can do so safely. Continued attacks on Israeli civilians in Israel will only radicalize the Israeli electorate as the Palestinians and Lebanese were radicalized, with tragic consequences for Israelis and - especially - for Palestinians. The way to get Israelis out of Palestinians' homes is through an end to terror attacks, not an escalation of them.

If the suicide bombings in Tel Aviv affect the election at all - which they may not, in view of Bibi Netanyahu's famous statement that terror attacks "have a shelf life of 24 hours" - it will be to strengthen Likud and Sharon rather than Avoda and Mitzna. I suspect that Uri Dan is wrong, and that this is exactly what the perpetrators of the attack want to accomplish. If he's right, though - if Arafat indeed planned this attack, and if he did so with a view to strengthening Avoda's political position - then he is not only a murderer, but also a remarkably stupid one.

The victims have names

14 of the 23 people killed in yesterday's suicide bombing have been identified:

Staff Sergeant Mazal Orkabi, 20, Azur
Sapira Shoshana Yulzari Yafeh, 46, Bat Yam
Amiram Zemorah, 55, Holon
Hana Hainov, 52, Tel Aviv
Sabao Michai, 39, Romania
Ion Nicolai, 35, Romania
Anglov Kosmov, 33, Bulgaria
Steven Cromwell, Ghana
Victor Shovayov, 63, Holon
Avi Kotzer, 43, Bat Yam
Meir Haim, 70, Azor
Lilya Zilbstein, 33, Haifa
Boris Tefalshvili, 71, Yehud
Andrei Friedman, 30, Tel Aviv

UPDATE: Six more victims have been identified. Biographical sketches of the victims are here.

Sunday, January 05, 2003
Suicide bombing update

The death toll from the Tel Aviv attack is now up to 23 plus 100 wounded. According to Ha'aretz, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (and not Islamic Jihad as earlier reported) has claimed responsibility, and the bombers have been identified as two Nablus residents. There have been conflicting reports as to the perpetrators, with Hamas also being named. There are also unconfirmed reports that IDF forces have entered Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which may suggest that Islamic Jihad or Hamas were involved in some way.

What a way to begin the new year.

UPDATE: Amos Harel suggests that it may have been a joint Islamic Jihad-Fatah operation.

UPDATE 2: IDF intelligence sources suggest that the attack was carried out by Tanzim.

To avoid unnecessary misunderstanding...

The last article was written with tongue in cheek. Mostly.

Bring back Flatto-Sharon

In Ha'aretz, Uzi Benziman compares the case of Naomi Blumenthal, recently sacked from her ministerial post by Ariel Sharon for refusing to cooperate with the Likud corruption investigation, with that of Environment Minister Tzachi Hanegbi. The difference, according to Benziman, is that Hanegbi is both more blatant about his corruption and carries it out on a larger scale:

Blumenthal's case is small fry compared to other scandals arising out of the miasma of the Likud Central Committee. Blumenthal's name has not been linked to the criminal underworld, which gives her an advantage compared to a few other candidates who snared secure spots on Likud's election list. There is no suspicion that Blumenthal aspired to sit with Israel's 119 other legislators so that she could represent shady interests; and this cannot be said about a few of the others on the Likud list.

For the first time in the history of the state, there is evidence suggesting that some Trojan horses are running for the Knesset so they can slip into the corridors of power and promote dubious, if not criminal, interests.

"For the first time in the history of the state?" There can be no denying that Likud is at the center of a large and spreading corruption scandal, but back-channel connections between organized crime and the Israeli right are nothing new. There is evidence that Russian criminal gangs were actively involved in selecting the Yisrael Ba'aliya candidate list in the 1999 election. If you go back in the files, you'll also find that the Shimron Commission, which investigated organized crime in Israel during the late 1970s, found evidence that Rehavam Ze'evi, the recently assassinated Tourism Minister and far-right leading light, had underworld connections. (To be fair, Ze'evi was associated with Avoda at the time. Corruption isn't only a concern of the right.)

And then there was Shmuel Flatto-Sharon.

Flatto-Sharon was something truly unique in Israeli politics. A Polish-born con man who grew up in France and boasted of his support for Gush Emunim and friendship with Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, Flatto-Sharon fled to Israel in 1976 after being indicted on charges of defrauding French citizens of some $60 million. He resolved to avoid extradition by a hitherto untested method - running for the Knesset and obtaining parliamentary immunity. In the 1977 election, Flatto-Sharon - who hardly spoke a word of Hebrew and had to read his stump speeches from a card - threw his hat into the ring and campaigned openly on a platform of avoiding extradition to France.

His campaign plank also included an eclectic measure of right- wing populism, solidarity between Israelis and the Jewish diaspora, and good old-fashioned Likud-primary-style vote-buying. As the Washington Post reported at the time, Flatto-Sharon promised to pay anyone who voted for him, following which "the switchboards were jammed by Israeli voters calling to find out how and where to apply for a bribe."

In any other year, Flatto-Sharon would probably have had about as much chance of being elected as the Men's Rights in the Family party does in the current campaign, but Israeli politics were strange in 1977. Then, as now, the political scene was affected by war - the Yom Kippur War, and the way the Avoda government was caught unprepared. This was the year that Avoda's 30-year hegemony over Israeli politics would be broken, and there was room for other parties to pick up the pieces. At the same time, anti-French sentiment was riding high in Israel because France had refused - using a rather flimsy excuse - to extradite Abu Daoud, who was wanted by Israel in the murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. The voters, seeing the opportunity to give France one in the eye, elected Flatto-Sharon to office, giving him twice as many votes as civil-liberties activist Shulamit Aloni. He subsequently joined Menachem Begin's ruling coalition, and one of the first votes he cast was in favor of a 1978 law that prohibited the extradition of Israeli citizens.

Flatto-Sharon served in the Knesset for two years, but was ultimately convicted of vote-buying in connection with the 1977 election, sentenced to nine months in prison, and suspended from the Knesset. He lost bids for re-election in 1981 and 1984, and all his subsequent terms have been spent in Israeli prisons rather than the Israeli parliament. However, he was never returned to France to serve his five-year sentence due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

It's easy to dismiss Flatto-Sharon as a joke, and - well, he was. It's still possible to insult a member of Knesset with Flatto- Sharon's name, as when the possibility of Ahmed Tibi serving on the Knesset committee on defense was compared to Flatto-Sharon serving on the Committee for Constitution, Law and Jurisprudence. Despite being a political joke, though, Flatto-Sharon had a flamboyant - and occasionally successful - career as a legislator. His demimonde connections and ability as a wheeler- dealer made it possible for him to successfully negotiate the return of several Israeli prisoners of war in exchange for captured terrorists. He also recruited 25 Israeli combat veterans to protect French and Belgian synagogues, which were undergoing a wave of attacks much like those taking place now, and obtained housing for homeless Israeli squatters in Jerusalem. He was a crook, but one who apparently gave a damn - which, sadly, makes him a better class of crook than many of those who now serve on the Likud Central Committee.

Flatto-Sharon is, in many ways, the bad and good things about the modern Likud Party writ large - corruption, vote- buying, right-wing anti-elitist populism, support for West Bank settlements and active opposition to anti-Semitism worldwide. (Well, all the bad things and one of the good things.) Maybe it's time to think of bringing him back. He's currently available - i.e., out of jail - and, as a renowned con artist, he could relate to Arafat on a truly personal level. It may be that a wheeler-dealer like Flatto-Sharon could forge a compromise in the West Bank where the diplomats could not - or, failing that, make an offer that Arafat can't refuse.

Maybe what Likud needs now is not Sharon but Flatto-Sharon.

Shameless plug

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2003 Blog Awards. I wouldn't ask any of you to nominate me, but if you feel you absolutely have to...

Another new link

Ikram Saeed has a blog!

UPDATE: So does Dragan Antulov!

UPDATE 2: Fixed the link to Dragan's blog.

Kidnapped justice

Zack Ajmal links to a Washington Post article about wartime abductions of enemy nationals:

From 1942 onward, the United States abducted some 3,000 people of Japanese, Italian and German ancestry from Latin America, shipped them to the United States and placed them in internment camps. These prisoners were never charged with crimes.


In 1999 the United States issued an apology for its treatment of the Peruvian Japanese and provided them with a token payment of $5,000 for their ordeal. It never admitted, however, that it had violated international law by abducting noncombatant civilians from another country during wartime.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for any such admissions, either, because the United States' still maintains that it has the right to abduct the citizens of foreign countries. These days, the abductees are more likely to be accused drug dealers than "enemy combatants," but most of them still come from Latin America. Usually, the abductions are undertaken with the help of local police (who are either suborned by American authorities or instructed to go along by their superiors), and the abductees are not infrequently interrogated under torture before being turned over to American custody.

The Supreme Court explicitly legalized this process in the 1992 case of United States v. Alvarez-Machain, which involved a Mexican doctor kidnapped and brought to trial in California on charges of abetting the murder of a DEA agent. Relying on the "Ker-Frisbie doctrine" - a nineteenth-century principle of law holding that "the power of a court to try a person for crime is not impaired by the fact that he had been brought within the court's jurisdiction by reason of a forcible abduction" - the court decided that the manner in which Alvarez-Machain was brought to the United States did not bar his trial. In fact, the court held that the power of the United States to prosecute Alvarez-Machain was even greater than if he had been formally extradited; since the extradition treaty with Mexico had not been invoked, the United States was not bound by the limitations on prosecution contained therein. In an additional triumph of form over substance, the court stated that, since the United States and Mexico had no treaty specifically forbidding abductions of Mexican citizens, the kidnapping - although possibly "shocking" - was perfectly legal.

Alvarez-Machain was ultimately released by another Federal court due to overwhelming prosecutorial misconduct, but the Alvarez- Machain case remains the law of the land. Given the current administration's attitude toward civil liberties issues and customary international law, it is quite possible that other alleged "enemy combatants" will be kidnapped and interned in the near future.

False start toward peace?

Rebels in northern Côte d'Ivoire have agreed, after French mediation, to take part in peace talks with the government. The French mediators also secured pledges from the government to ground its helicopter gunships and send home the South African and European mercenaries who have been fighting on its side.

Once again, I'll believe it when I see it. There have been previous cease-fires and promises of negotiation in the Côte d'Ivoire civil war, none of which have held. In the meantime, the rebels in the western part of the country - who haven't agreed to participate in the talks - say that they are continuing to fight against foreign mercenaries.

The peace talks are scheduled to begin January 15, which gives little time to persuade the two western factions to sign on. The northern rebels have promised to make contact with them, but they are currently pushing forward against government forces and may see little reason to take part. Without them, though, the talks are likely to accomplish as little as last year's unsuccessful negotiations in Lomé.

I don't usually write about terrorism, but...

The Jerusalem Post reports 20 dead and 60 wounded in a double suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv bus station. Gil Shterzer has pictures, if you can stand to look at them.

UPDATE: Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility.