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 25, 2003
The view from Zagreb

If you want a detailed, insider's view of what's going on in Croatian politics and society, check out Draxblog. Fascinating reading.

UPDATE: I've been reminded that Dragan's blog is really the view from Split.

The CEC and the Arab parties: an epilogue

The effect of the Central Election Committee's attempt to ban Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi won't be known for certain until election day, but the signs are pointing to it being a wash. According to Al-Ahram, polls predict that about 65 percent of Arab Israelis will vote - down from about 70 percent in the 1999 Knesset elections, but not by all that much. The latest Weekly Review of the Arab Press in Israel also shows that, while some Arab voters were discouraged by the CEC's shenanigans, others were energized by the success of the Arab lists' appeal to the Supreme Court:

Suhil Kiwan referred to the Arab citizens in the country as "supreme status citizens" because "the Supreme Court had become our address for problems' solutions; if we need to establish a new political party we turn to the Supreme Court, if we need to release budgets, expand building jurisdictions, buying house in a Kibbutz?this is a very dangerous sign of incapability of the Israeli democracy to accept the Arab citizens in the country after 50 years of the state's establishment." (Kull Al-Arab, January 10).

Salem Jubran believes that it is a victory of the democracy in Israeli rather than of the Arab parties. He also believes that the Arab parties should admit that the Israeli democracy provides a wide range for political activity, and due to this, each group can achieve its goals within this range. Jubran also asks the Follow-Up Committee to motivate the Arab citizens to vote. (Al-Ahali, January 13).

Even if the entire Arab electorate comes out to vote, though, Arab Israelis are likely to take damage in the next Knesset in a way that has nothing to do with the CEC. For the past several elections, the Likud, Avoda and Meretz parties have set aside places on their lists for non-Jewish candidates. The purpose of the reserved slots is obvious - to ensure that an important part of those parties' constituency is represented by making sure that members of that constituency are placed in electable positions. The trouble is that, at least for Avoda and Meretz, the definition of "electable" has changed drastically between the previous Knesset election and this one.

The first non-Jew on Avoda's list, Ghaleb Majadleh, is in twentieth place, followed by outgoing MK Saleh Tarif in 21st. In any previous election, these two slots would have been sinecures. This time, though, Avoda's implosion has left it with less than 20 seats in most polls, and unless something happens to bring undecided voters back to the party, Avoda will have an all-Jewish delegation in the next Knesset for the first time in decades.

It is likely that Meretz, too, will be left without an Arab MK. Outgoing MK Hussniya Jabara, the first Arab woman to serve in the Knesset, is in the tenth slot, which is likely to be too low for re- election. Meretz may come to regret bouncing Issawi Freij from the ninth place to make room for Mossi Raz.

This means that the total non-Jewish representation in the next Knesset is likely to decrease from 13 to 8 or 9, and that, aside from the Arab parties and Hadash, the only non-Jewish MK will be the Druze director-general of the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, Majallie Whbee. Whbee is twenty-second on the Likud list and, barring a catastrophe for the party, is certain to replace outgoing MK Ayoob Kara as the representative of Likud's Druze constituency.

But there will be nobody to replace Nawaf Mazalha, the Palestinian Arab MK who has spoken for the moderate Arab majority from his Avoda seat. There will be nobody to replace Jabara and represent the young, aspiring generation of Arab Israeli women. There will be nobody to replace Tarif as a mediator between Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis. The Druze will do well in the next government, but the only voices of the non-Druze Arab minority will come from Balad, Hadash and the United Arab List.

This means, on the one hand, that the silent majority of Arab Israelis who want a future with Israel will not be heard in the Knesset, and that the rhetoric of the Arab community will come from the radical parties. And on the other hand, this very increase in rhetoric will convince Jewish Israelis more than ever that their Arab neighbors don't want to be part of Israel. Relations between the two communities, already on their way downhill, are likely to become worse. There are still places where moderate Israeli Arabs will be able to make themselves heard - local government, the Arabic and Hebrew press, and non-governmental organizations - but their battle will be a harder one.

Friday, January 24, 2003
Cutting remarks

Harry's back, with a discussion of a visit from a friend who wants to be a mohel:

An old friend of mine just arrived here for a stay of a year and a half. He just graduated medical school and is here to do some of his residency and was granted a fellowship to do some interesting research. I'll get to the research in a couple of paragraphs.

Most interesting though is his plan to learn how to be a mohel. For my non-Jewish readers, a mohel is someone who performs the Jewish ritual of circumcision. Most mohels aren't medical doctors. We don't have any children yet but I for one would feel a lot more comfortable having a MD perform a circumcision on my son rather than someone who was trained just for that specific purpose.

Harry's digression on the benefits of medical mohelim seems as good a time as any to dive into the great Swedish circumcision controversy:

In October 2001, a new law became effective that regulates the circumcision of boys. The law stipulates that the circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, on boys under the age of 2 months, a person certified by the National Board of Health. Approximately 3,000 Muslim boys and 40 to 50 Jewish boys are circumcised each year. Jewish mohels has been certified by the National Board of Health to carry out the operations, but they must be accompanied by a medical doctor or a nurse for anesthesia. The Jewish community has protested against the law on the grounds that it interferes with their religious traditions.

The Swedish circumcision law, like the anti-shehita legislation that exists in several European countries, is ostensibly a humanitarian measure; it was initiated after the death of a Muslim child in a botched circumcision led to an outcry. Some members of the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament) wanted to go even further and ban all circumcisions of children under 18, but the bill was ultimately watered down to allow an exception for ritual circumcision and give the Jewish community a two-month window to apply for licensing.

The law, in its compromise form, was enacted by a vote of 249 to 20, but the issue didn't go away. Part of the compromise was the establishment of a committee to conduct a four-year review of circumcision "as a human rights issue." Last October, the supporters of a total ban tried again with the introduction of another anti-circumcision bill, which is currently pending in the Riksdag.

Both the Jewish and Muslim communities of Sweden oppose the bill, and the circumcision issue would seem to be a natural point of cooperation between them. The Israeli-Arab conflict has caused so much distrust between the two communities, however, that they have largely conducted separate campaigns. The World Jewish Congress, an Israeli-based organization that is assisting the Jewish community of Sweden, also doesn't appear interested in cooperating with the Muslims. One of the sad facts of the Middle East conflict is that it has crippled the ability of Jews and Muslims in many countries to work together even on religious freedom issues of mutual concern.

In addition to exposing the fault lines between Swedish Jews and Muslims, the Swedish legislation raises the question of whether licensing mohelim might be a good idea. The objectionable aspect of the Swedish law is that it interferes with the traditional ceremony by requiring that anesthetic be administered under medical supervision, not that it requires mohelim to be licensed. As far as I'm aware, there is no religious prohibition against the certification of mohelim - and, frankly, many Jewish and Muslim parents might rest easier if they knew that the person circumcising their son had credentials.

In most countries - including the United States and Israel, which together account for three quarters of the world Jewish population - mohelim are not regulated by law. In several American states, ritual circumcision is specifically exempted from regulations governing the practice of medicine, and elsewhere, the First Amendment has mandated a policy of non- interference. In some cases, the community itself has stepped in to fill the credentialing gap; the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism and the Conservative movement established programs to train and certify doctors and nurses as mohelim. In the Orthodox community, however, mohelim typically learn their trade through apprenticeship, and most are not medically trained. Even in the Reform and Conservative movements, the credentialing process is entirely voluntary; there's nothing to stop an uncertified mohel from setting up in practice.

The issue of how to improve the accountability of mohelim without unduly interfering with the religious community is a tricky one. Harry's suggestion that observant doctors be trained as mohelim might be an effective one in countries where there are a sufficient number of Jewish doctors available to perform the ceremony. In smaller communities, however, this solution might not be practical, and in some countries, doctors who perform circumcisions might risk the displeasure of local medical boards. In the past two years, the Danish and Norwegian medical associations have declared infant circumcision an unethical practice, and even Jewish doctors might be unwilling to risk professional discipline to perform a brit milah.

A possible solution is to approach the problem from the other end - to require that mohelim attend training and be certified in the relevant medical procedures, but to allow the religious community to select non-physicians for training. This would represent a minimal level of government interference - the community would have free choice of mohelim, and the brit milah ceremony itself would not be restricted - but parents would have some assurance of the mohel's knowledge and competence.

A matter of nomenclature

Lately, I've become a frequent reader of the two English-language Egyptian newsweeklies, Al-Ahram and the Cairo Times. Al-Ahram, in particular, is impressive; its heritage goes back more than 120 years, its journalistic standards are generally high, and it isn't shy about criticizing the government and exposing official corruption. It does, however, have one notable blind spot - it denies the existence of Israeli Arabs.

This is somewhat surprising given that Al-Ahram, unlike many Arab newspapers, covers Israeli politics and society closely and maintains a correspondent in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, in articles such as this one, Al-Ahram's editorial policy is to refer to Arab Israelis as "the 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel" or simply as "Palestinians."

This usage, which fails to distinguish between the various Arab communities in Israel, may be due less to ignorance than acceptance of Palestinian nationalist rhetoric, which often classifies all non-Jews living in the former British mandate as part of the Palestinian nation. Whatever the reason, it fails to take into account the realities of Israeli politics and society, in which the Druze and Bedouins form distinct communities and do not self-identify as Palestinians. The most ironic aspect of Al-Ahram's usage, however, is that it subscribes to the same racist conception of Israeli nationality that Israel is falsely accused of having.

There is certainly an ongoing debate among many of Israel's Arab citizens concerning whether to identify themselves as Palestinians, Israelis or both. The choice, however, has always been theirs. Arabs who want to participate in Israeli society are able to do so at all levels including the government, the courts, the mainstream press and the military. The only ones who seek to deny Arab Israelis their Israeli identity and conceive of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state are the Israeli far right - and the Palestinian nationalists. Al-Ahram's editorial policy, which carries an implicit connotation that Israel is for Jews only and that Israeli Arabs are part of the Palestinian nation whether they want to be or not, is proof of yet another strang alliance between extremists on both sides.

It's in the gbag

The warring factions in Côte d'Ivoire have reached a peace deal on the last day of negotiations in Paris. Under the agreement, which was initialed by all the political parties and rebel factions present at the talks, President Laurent Gbagbo will remain in power until 2005 but a prime minister with increased powers will be chosen by "broad consensus." (It should be Alassane Ouattara, but I'll believe that when I see it.) The parties also agreed that the rebels would disarm under French supervision and that Côte d'Ivoire's restrictive nationality laws would be reviewed. One revision agreed upon at the talks - the relaxation of qualifications for presidential candidates to allow those with one Ivorian parent to run - seems specifically intended to allow Ouattara, one of whose parents is Burkinabe, to compete in the next election.

Gbagbo will be in Paris today for consultations with French President Jacques Chirac.

Thursday, January 23, 2003
Tears for Sharon

The current New York Observer has an interview with Oriana Fallaci. Those of you who are familiar with Fallaci's opinions won't be particularly surprised; she strikes the same themes she's been pushing since September 11. Her description of a telephone call from Ariel Sharon, though, struck me:

The night before the phone call, there had been an attack on a kibbutz.

"I said, 'Listen, dear, I know what happened last night in that kibbutz. Will you please permit me to express to you and to your people my condolences?' Sharon started crying. I don't know, I didn't see the tears. But the voice was of a crying man, and he started to shout: 'Oriana! You are the only one who says the word condolences! Do you know, these bloody heads of states, I just spoke with the British and the Americans'-meaning Blair and Bush-'they did not say that word to me.' And then with broken voice he said, 'Do you know who were the dead last night? One was the grandmother who was in Dachau and who still had the number on her arm. The second one was her daughter, who was seven months pregnant. And the third one was the child of the daughter, who was 5 years old. And they are all dead! All dead! All dead!' He was crying."

Most of you know what I think of Sharon, but this passage had me crying too - and not just for the victims, but for him. My political opinions haven't changed; I still think Sharon's policies have been disastrous, and I'm still hoping for a miracle that will give Israel another prime minister after January 28. Just for a moment, though, I found myself imagining what it must be like to be a national leader responsible for the safety of six million people, knowing that I couldn't protect them all - and knowing that, when I failed, a large part of the world wouldn't give a damn. Say what you want about Sharon - and I often do - but he's a man of genuine passion, and he feels genuine pain.

Mutual misunderstanding

In Al-Ahram, Abdel-Moneim Said discusses the five Bs with which Americans stereotype Arabs: Bedouin, Belly Dancer, Bazaar-man, Billionaire and Bomber. He also discusses Arab stereotypes of Americans and comes to some surprising conclusions about the need for greater Arab introspection.

For labor movement junkies

I've added a link to Labour Watch, a Hong Kong-based blog that covers workers' rights issues in Southeast Asia. There's plenty of interesting stuff on the site with respect to both domestic labor issues and Southeast Asian guest workers abroad.

Cheshin can't pull the plug on this one

Arab Knesset candidates in Israel have charged that Syria is campaigning for Azmi Bishara:

The Lebanese television station Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has been running highly sympathetic interviews with Bishara, and candidates from other parties are convinced that this is on orders from Damascus and Beirut.

Israeli Arab journalists and politicians claim that the campaign for Bishara reached its height earlier this week, with a two-hour interview and question-and-answer session. For obvious reasons, the station, which can be picked up in Israel via satellite, is not bound by the same rules that govern electioneering of Israeli stations. Bishara's political opponents are up in arms at the what they see as a campaign, and claim that it will adversely affect their chances in Tuesday's ballot.

The producers of the show also aren't playing by Israeli rules when it comes to bare-knuckle political argument:

Journalists claim that producers of the special two-hour broadcast prevented viewers asking Bishara "difficult questions." According to one analyst, writing in an Arab newspaper, "anyone who wanted to ask Bishara a question on air was quizzed as to the exact content of the question. I know of five or six people who wanted to ask him some tough questions - on the difference between what he says before the elections committee and what he says when his is overseas, for example - who were simply cut off. It was a staged event, all to glorify Bishara."

This state of affairs, not surprisingly, pleases Bishara and Balad - who have defended the interviews as public-interest broadcasting designed to encourage Arab Israelis to vote - but leaves supporters of the other Arab lists cold.

The Likud and the Wafd

The current edition of the Cairo Times contains an interesting article about the compromising of the Wafd Party, a liberal democratic party that has existed since the period of British rule.

The catalyst for the article was the result of a by-election in Damanhour on January 9, in which Wafd candidate Khairi Kilig defeated Gamal Heshmat, who was connected to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement, by a vote of 16,862 to 965. The by-election was a rematch of the 2000 general election, in which Damanhour voted exactly the opposite way, giving Heshmat more than13,000 votes to Kilig's 3657. (The ruling Democratic National Party apparently did not take part in either election.) Most opposition newspapers have accused the government of manipulating both the court challenge to the 2000 election results and the voting in the subsequent by-election, but the Wafd, not surprisingly, has proclaimed a "victory for democracy."

The Cairo Times, however, points out that, whether or not the Wafd and the ruling party acted in concert, the Wafd candidate in Damanhour benefitted from the very anti-democratic practices his party claims to oppose:

The Wafd has also been in the news recently as the beneficiary of one of the regime's standard-issue scotch-the-Brothers elections schemes. Personally, I won't miss Gamal Heshmat, a former Muslim Brother deputy in the People's Assembly from Damanhour with a penchant for campaigns in parliament against allegedly indecent novels and beauty contests. Nonetheless, the way he was disposed of was shameful. First, he became one of the few members of parliament ever to have his membership stripped due to electoral irregularities - a decision made even more ironic because the irregularities benefited his ruling party opponent. Secondly, when a Wafdist candidate ran against Heshmat in the rematch, the state played its usual trick of sealing off the polling stations with riot police, and blocking any Brotherhood supporters from entry. The Wafd claims that it never coordinated with the government, but the rest of the opposition, as well as many Wafdists, were aghast. Even supporters of the Wafdist candidate admit that the election was flawed; the party paper, on the other hand, hailed the "victory for freedom and democracy."

The Wafd Party was founded in 1918 as both a nationalist movement against British colonial rule and a liberal counterweight to the Egyptian monarchy. After the death of its founder, however, the party was corrupted by the political process:

[T]he pashas who ran the party after Zaghloul's death ran up quite an impressive rap sheet of corruption scandals and dirty political deals, and when the Free Officers junta dissolved the party and put its leaders on trial after the 1952 coup, the country reacted with remarkable sanguinity to the dissolution of the pioneer party of Egyptian independence.

The reconstitution of the party in the 1970s and 1980s could have been a fresh start. Unfortunately, the party's new leaders, unlike Zaghloul, had an aversion to populism. The party of mass action became a party of the backrooms, both in its internal politics and in its dealings with the state. Recently, the Wafd has taken a number of unsavory stances, from the 1998 campaign against the "yellow press" that gave cover to a government crackdown to the current complicity with the state's more repressive electoral practices.

As the Cairo Times editors see it, the Damanhour by-election is the most recent step in the Wafd's acquiescence in anti-democratic policies.

At the same time that the Cairo Times condemned Wafd, an alarmist and overstated but oddly parallel article appeared in the Ha'aretz weekend magazine. In this article, Arie Caspi predicts that the January 28 election may be the last democratic election in Israel, and that the Israeli right will use anti-democratic measures similar to those used by the Egyptian government in order to maintain control.

For the most part, I think Imshin is correct in describing this article as "hysterical." Caspi's division of the Israeli political spectrum into the democratic left and the anti-democratic right is both simplistic and inaccurate - Likud, for all its faults, is not an anti-democratic party, and the United Arab List is hardly a bastion of democratic liberalism. Some of Caspi's arguments, such as his statement that Israeli democracy is endangered by immigrants from dictatorial countries, border on racism, and his contention that the nature of dictatorships are not apparent from within is simply silly. I very much doubt, for instance, that any intelligent Iraqi thinks he is living in a democracy.

Nevertheless, a case could be made that, by allowing political expediency to overcome democratic principles in certain cases, Likud has begun to follow in the footsteps of the Wafd. The two parties are, of course, in very different positions; Likud is the governing party in a country with an open and vibrant political culture, and the Wafd is a relatively weak opposition party in a de facto one party state. But Likud may have inherited some of the weakness of the Wafd. Due to the splintering of the Israeli political spectrum since 1996, Likud's position vis-a-vis its potential coalition partners has been weakened, and it has been susceptible to influence, and pressure, from the extremes. During the Sharon administration, Likud has often acquiesced in the increasing politicization of the civil service, the reining in of independent government entities, and the far right's orchestrated campaign to delegitimize the courts. In addition, Likud took an active part in the far right's attempt to disqualify the Arab lists from participating in the current Knesset election. While Caspi's fear that Meretz will face disqualification in the next election is unrealistic, it is legitimate to wonder whether the combination of these events is beginning to degrade Israel's democratic political culture, and whether a second Sharon administration will be subject to additional anti-democratic pressure from the right.

The Cairo Times commented, with respect to Wafd, that its willingness to compromise its principles was:

... too bad, because it often seems there's a yawning hole in Egypt's political spectrum where constitutional liberalism ought to be. Partly that's because the most salient points on the Wafd's agenda -democratization, multiparty pluralism, and the like - are now the common currency of other opposition groups whose origins lie in less democratic ideological traditions. But partly it's because the Wafd has recently shown itself to uphold its own ideals so poorly.

Again, the situations of Egypt and Israel are far from identical. There is no "yawning hole" in the Israeli political spectrum. Constitutional liberalism is a way of life in Israel, and it is part of the program of all the mainstream political parties, including Likud. However, the far right and the religious parties have increasingly turned away from constitutional liberalism, Likud's need to avoid antagonizing its coalition partners makes it vulnerable to anti-democratic pressure, and the party has shown a disquieting tendency to favor back-room deals and to sacrifice principle for expediency. With Likud's victory on January 28 all but assured, it is critical that it form a centrist coalition that is fully committed to maintaining Israel's uniquely pluralistic political system.

Why Romania is like Côte d'Ivoire

Proletarios Epanastatis and Randy McDonald are having an interesting discussion on comparative nationalism in Africa and the Balkans.

But is He registered?

Sha! reveals that Shas has rustled up some high-powered help for the last week of the campaign:

Shas have come up with a winning new idea, essentially telling people that "The Almighty would vote Shas" and "Vote Shas and you'll get into heaven". Pretty much in those exact words.

And I thought God was a Republican.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Do you want fries with that?

Just days after the debut of the $50 hamburger, the fast food industry scored another victory with the dismissal of a class action lawsuit charging that McDonald's caused obesity. The suit - which was brought on behalf of a number of teenage plaintiffs, including one who weighed 400 pounds and said he ate at McDonald's every day - was based on a "negligent marketing" and failure-to-warn theory similar to the strategy that has led to several legal victories against the tobacco industry. In a 65-page opinion, however, Judge Robert Sweet of the Southern District of New York held that the plaintiffs had no legitimate beef with McDonald's:

If a person knows or should know that eating copious orders of supersized McDonalds' products is unhealthy and may result in weight gain (and its concomitant problems) because of the high levels of cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar, it is not the place of the law to protect them from their own excesses. Nobody is forced to eat at McDonalds. (Except, perhaps, parents of small children who desire McDonalds’ food, toy promotions or playgrounds and demand their parents’ accompaniment.) Even more pertinent, nobody is forced to supersize their meal or choose less healthy options on the menu.

The plaintiffs also tried, and failed, to argue that McDonald's had a duty to warn them because it should have anticipated that they would "misuse" McDonald's products:

Again, such allegation was not in the Complaint, and, in any case, plaintiffs fail to allege even in their papers that what is at issue is a misuse “in the sense that it was outside the scope of the apparent purpose for which the [products] were manufactured.” McDonalds' products were manufactured for the purpose of being eaten, and the injuries complained purportedly resulted from the eating of those products.

The court did, however, grant the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to argue that McDonald's should have warned them about the dangers of genetically modified foods or specific chemicals used in food processing.

Rwanda looks east

An article in The East African (via allAfrica) discusses Rwanda's hopes for better relations with Kenya after the opposition victory in recent Kenyan presidential and parliamentary elections. Relations between Rwanda and Kenya during the Moi administration were cool due to Moi's support of the Habyarimana government and its refusal to extradite suspected genocidaires.

Rwanda hopes for greater cooperation from the new Kenyan government in bringing perpetrators of genocide to justice. However, it may have other reasons for desiring a closer relationship with Kenya - according to unnamed sources, Rwanda "was also optimistic about being allowed to join the East African Community, a move said to have been blocked in the past by Kenya and Uganda."

It seems strange that Uganda, which was once Rwanda's closest ally, would thwart its admission to the East African Community, but relations between the two countries have been uneasy during the past several years. It may be Kenya, however, that holds the trump card. Kenya is landlocked Uganda's primary rail link to the Indian Ocean, and Uganda has thus placed critical importance on maintaining its fragile relationship with its eastern neighbor. If Kenya withdraws its objection to Rwanda's entry, it is likely that Uganda will follow - and that Rwanda will be pulled even more firmly out of the francophone sphere and into English-speaking East Africa.

More on the spread of English

Zack Ajmal follows up on my article about foreign English-language media with a discussion of English in Pakistan.

It was personal

Liora Glatt-Berkovich, the prosecutor who leaked the details of the Sharon loan scandal to the press, has admitted doing so for political reasons - and, even more, for personal reasons:

Glatt-Berkovich explained she was concerned by the fact that her son is about to be drafted into the IDF, and as such, decided to help Sharon's rivals.

The story is just breaking, so I don't have enough information to judge, but Glatt-Berkovich reminds me of many of the middle-class Vietnam-era protesters who didn't care much about the war until it began to affect them personally. No matter what Glatt-Berkovich's politics were, her statement shows that the real reason she risked her career - and may now face charges - was the fact that her son was potentially going into harm's way.

In the meantime, the move appears to have backfired, with the most recent Ha'aretz poll giving Likud 31 seats to 18 or 19 for Avoda. The way that the loan scandal has been managed has convinced many Israelis that it was a politically motivated plot, and Glatt-Berkovich's confession is likely to reinforce that belief. It's entirely possible that the Glatt-Berkovich revelations will cost Avoda another seat or two and seal its fate as the third-largest party in the next Knesset - a fate, ironically, that might have been avoided if the original vote-buying allegations had been allowed to take their natural course.

Burkina Faso takes a stand

Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaore has called for Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire to step down:

The Burkinabe leader insisted in Le Parisien that three points must be applied if peace is to return to Ivory Coast. He listed them as the creation of "a government of national unity including representatives of armed groups; the cantonment of rebels under the supervision of France and the Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) peacekeepers; and 'cleaning up' the constitution to drop the concept of Ivorianness [ivoirité] and prepare elections open to all Ivorians."

Compaore's stance is not surprising given that the three to five million Burkinabe in Côte d'Ivoire form the largest single immigrant group, and that they have been among the primary targets of Gbagbo's nationalist policies. The growth of ivoirité has forced hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to return to Burkina Faso, which lacks the resources to resettle them. Burkina Faso's identification with the rebellion in Côte d'Ivoire is also strengthened by the fact that Ivoirian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara has Burkinabe ancestry.

Peace talks between the Ivorian factions are currently in progress near Paris. The negotiations are scheduled to end on Friday, but may be extended.

Winning the digital war?

The UK-based computer security firm mi2g reports that Israel is defeating its enemies on at least one front - in cyberspace. Despite an increase in overall digital attacks on Western computer systems by Islamist hackers during 2002, attacks on Israeli systems declined from 468 to 380. The chairman of mi2g, D.K. Matai, credited the decline in Israel's vulnerability to improved intelligence and training as well as development of security software.

Pro-Israel sites abroad have also been targeted for attack, including a widely publicized attack on the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee by a Pakistani hacker known as Doctor Nuker. According to mi2g, Israel is fourth on the list of countries that are most frequently attacked by politically motivated hackers, behind the United States, the United Kingdom and India. Most of the attacks on Israel "originated in Libya, Morocco, Egypt, France, Pakistan, Indonesia and Italy."

There have been fewer retaliatory attacks on radical Islamist sites, but the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade was recently taken offline in a digital attack believed to have originated in Israel.

Getting it right

Miranda corrects the errors in Ha'aretz' article about the Reform Jewish community in Germany.

Independent voices

Tamar Rotem writes about how the independent newspapers Mishpacha ("family") and Bakehila ("in the community") are transforming the haredi community:

An ultra-Orthodox journalist recently had an audience with a Hasidic rabbi. When he left, he was asked about his impressions of the visit. "Once, when I used to visit the rebbe, my knees would tremble," he responded, "now, he is the one that trembles."

The emergence of an independent press in the haredi community ties in with Rotem's earlier article about B'Hadrei Haredim, a pseudonymous online forum for the ultra-Orthodox. As rabbinic authorities lose control over the dissemination of information, critical analysis of the haredi community is increasing both in the ultra-Orthodox media and among individual haredim.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Religion, money and the state in Germany

In a scene reminiscent of the disputes between the Reform and Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, Reform Jews in Germany are fighting the officially recognized Jewish community for a share of government funding:

Ostensibly, the establishment of a Reform congregation in Germany should not be surprising, since that is where the Reform stream of Judaism was founded at the beginning of the 19th century.

But hereditary rights are not helping the new Reform movement in Germany. For several years they have been having difficulty in finding a place for their prayers and activities. According to Rabbi Uri Regev, head of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (the official name of the world Reform movement), they asked for assistance from the Jewish community in Munich and from the Central Council of German Jews, but in vain. The Munich municipality recently sold the land that was the site of the city's central synagogue before World War II, a Reform synagogue. The municipality transferred the money earned from the sale, about 20 million DM, according to Regev, to the Jewish community, to establish a community center in the synagogue.

"The members of our congregation turned to the mayor of Munich, Christian Hode, and asked him to intervene so that they would at least receive some space in the new community center," says Regev. "After all, this is money that came from the sale of the land of our synagogue. The mayor turned to the leaders of the general Jewish community in Munich, and returned with the reply that our congregation does not follow Jewish tradition, because it ordains women to the rabbinate, and because men and women sit together during prayers. And therefore, they don't see fit to to help it."

The German Jewish community is currently undergoing a sea change. Since 1990, the number of Jews in Germany has quadrupled from 27,000 to 100,000, mostly due to immigration from the former Soviet Union. Many of the Soviet Jews, who are now the majority, prefer Reform Judaism, while the more established Jewish community - consisting mainly of postwar immigrants from Eastern Europe - is primarily Orthodox. In the past decade, Reform congregations have been founded in Germany for the first time since the Second World War.

The rebirth of Reform Judaism in Germany has, apparently, not been greeted kindly by the more traditional community leaders, and the confrontation between the two has taken on added importance because of the amount of money at stake. All German Jews - like members of other religions - pay a tax that is distributed to the Central Council of German Jews, a quasi-governmental Jewish community organization. The number of Jews paying this tax has grown along with the community, and the German government has promised the additional sum of three million euros to help resettle Soviet Jewish immigrants.

There are relatively few constraints on the Central Council's disbursement of government subsidies, and Regev accuses it of applying a double standard:

... the struggle is not only over recognition of the Reform congregations, but also over equalizing the budgets: "The Central Council of the community was ready to promise us recognition, but as far as budgets go, they say that the criterion will be the number of members in the congregations; we have about 2,000 registered members. Their assumption is that everyone registered in the community as a Jew belongs to the Orthodox congregations, whereas they will recognize us only according to the members actively registered in the community. We demand equality in the criteria as well: Let them give to each one of the congregations according to the number of registered members."

Regev's position has gained some sympathy on the Central Council. However, the views of regional Jewish communities must also be taken into account, because "membership in the Central Council is determined not according to national organizations but according to the regional communities." Some of the regional organizations have refused to accept Reform members, leaving the Reform congregations underrepresented at the national level.

In some cases, as in the city of Halle, Regev notes that the Reform community has successfully challenged its exclusion in court. Rather than pursuing such piecemeal solutions, however, some Reform Jews are considering a more radical step - petitioning the federal government for status as a separate religious community. Such a proposal, if accepted, would give the Reform community its own central council with jurisdiction over members' tax contributions - and, more than likely, control over the bulk of the government's resettlement subsidies.

Naturally, the established Jewish community is opposed to separation, which would threaten its control over secular Jews' religious taxes. This is somewhat ironic in view of the fact that many Orthodox Jews view Reform Judaism as "not Judaism at all," and therefore regard it as at least a de facto separate religion. It appears that, where government funding is at issue, theological disputes are sometimes secondary to business.

(I don't usually call for comments, but I'd like to know what Miranda thinks of this. She's Jewish, from the former Soviet Union and living in Germany, so she's potentially on the front line.)

Won't Gretta be pleased?

If the Labor Party wins the Dutch election on January 22, then its leader, Job Cohen, will become the Netherlands' first Jewish prime minister.

Monday, January 20, 2003
Additions to the site

I've added links to the English-language newspapers I discussed a few posts ago. I'm planning to add links to other English and French-language African media as well as Canadian newspapers, which I've been remiss in including. During the next few weeks, I'll also start to actually put a few links in the "Sites of Interest" category, particularly to law and history-related sites.

New blog links include The Rittenhouse Review, Palnatoke and Cinderella Bloggerfeller.

UPDATE: And Quite Contrary.


Diane discusses the ethics of taking part in an antiwar demonstration sponsored by a Stalinist group.

Ivoirité strikes again

As peace talks to resolve Côte d'Ivoire's civil war entered their fourth day and the first West African peacekeepers arrived at the cease-fire line, thousands of Liberian refugees who fled to Côte d'Ivoire to escape the Liberian civil war are being forced back to Liberia:

At least 2,400 Liberians have asked for help to get home, and perhaps 37,000 have already fled on their own, U.N. officials say. More than 25,000 remain in the southwestern part of Ivory Coast, and many of them are expected to follow.


Liberian community leaders say at least nine refugees, all young men, have been executed in three separate attacks by youthful Ivorians belonging to self-styled militias since a rebellion that erupted on Sept. 19 spread to the west of Ivory Coast.

Unnamed French sources have confirmed the executions, which were brought on by the involvement of Liberian mercenaries on the side of the two rebel factions in western Côte d'Ivoire. Most of them have been carried out by youth militias in government-held territory, who have taken out their anger on Liberian refugees. It doesn't seem to matter that the refugees have lived peacefully in Côte d'Ivoire for 13 years, or that they have no political connection to the mercenaries:

"The tragedy is that these refugees came here to escape fighting in Liberia and now they are being linked to the very people they ran from," said Astrid van Genderen Stort, a U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman.

The tragedy of the Liberian refugees is another example of the nascent Ivorian chauvinism encouraged by the Bédié and Gbagbo administrations. As John Joe Brumskine, a Liberian Baptist minister, commented, "the worst part is that these are Kru men, like us, who are making all the trouble." The Kru are an ethnic group common to both Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, and in the past, tribal solidarity might have prevented the violence against the refugees. Due to the nationalist policies of the past decade, however, the Kru of Côte d'Ivoire now view the Liberian Kru as foreigners. This view does not appear to be mutual; many of the Liberian Kru, who have not developed a similar national consciousness, seem bewildered and dismayed that their Ivorian co-ethnics have turned on them.

The Ivorian crisis also shows the extent to which some of the West African diasporas have been nationalized. One of the Liberian refugees discussed in the AP article was Garabed Bekmezian, an Armenian from Beirut who worked as an electrician in Liberia for 34 years. When he came to Liberia, Bekmezian was part of the Lebanese merchant-professional diaspora which extends throughout West Africa. When civil war came to Liberia, however, he fled as a Liberian, and now Ivoirian chauvinism is making him flee once again.

The future of Palestine

A constitutional review committee appointed by the Palestinian Authority has finished a draft constitution for a future Palestinian state:

The constitution was drafted by dozens of Arab, Palestinian and foreign legal experts, with the committee headed by Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath. A final version is to be adopted by the PLO's 120-member Central Council after several sessions, with time set aside for public comment.

The constitution, which is expected to be put to a referendum within the next six to eight months, differs somewhat from reform proposals that were floated last year. Instead of providing for a weak president with a strong prime minister - a proposal that was touted as a way to marginalize Arafat while retaining him as titular leader - the draft calls for a strong president with the power to name the prime minister and command the security forces. The president will serve a maximum of two five-year terms.

Although the constitution names Jerusalem as the capital of the future state, it mostly avoids questions of geography. The tricky question of borders has been left for future comment and referendum:

In the section on borders, three alternatives are presented: not mention borders in the constitution, declare that the West Bank, Gaza Strip and traditionally Arab east Jerusalem make up the Palestinian state, or say the future borders will be based on UN resolutions.

If the second of these alternatives is approved in a referendum, it will be a significant step - a recognition by a vote of the Palestinian people that their claim does not extend to pre- 1967 Israel. Such an approval, especially if combined with significant reforms elsewhere in Palestinian society, will signal that the Palestinians as a group are seriously interested in resuming negotiations with Israel. Approval of either of the other two alternatives will send a more mixed signal - particularly the third, which leaves open the possibility of insisting on a peace settlement based on Resolution 181 rather than Resolution 242.

The constitution contains a bill of rights including many provisions that are obviously drawn from the experience of the intifada, including freedom of movement, protection from being sent into exile or extradited to another country, and protection from warrantless searches and arrests. The bill of rights also guarantees the equality of women.

On the other hand, while guaranteeing freedom of religion and the sanctity of holy places, the constitution provides that "Islam is the official religion of the state." This is bad news for Palestine's remaining Christian minority, which once made up 10 to 15 percent of the population but now numbers barely 50,000 out of three million. In recent years, Christians have been increasingly marginalized within Palestinian society - including the loss of their majority in Bethlehem, the only West Bank city that had been predominantly Christian - and some have complained of harassment.

The draft constitution contains one truly interesting proposal to allow the Palestinian diaspora to be represented in the national legislature:

Parliament will have 150 members in two chambers, one representing the residents of the state and the second the Palestinians in the Diaspora. The Diaspora chamber cannot make decisions on national issues, and those living in exile don't have the right to vote.

In other words, the diaspora will not have a veto over national affairs but will have a forum to speak on matters of importance to the Palestinian community at large. This could conceivably be a model for other nations with large diasporas such as Lebanon, Cyprus, Malta and some Pacific islands, which could allow members of their diasporas to vote for a separate chamber without fear that they would overwhelm native citizens in elections for a single-chamber legislature. The problem of defining the diaspora, especially in countries where there has been a great deal of intermarriage, will be a tricky one, but the Palestinian constitutional committee may have come up with a workable solution for an increasingly dispersed world.

Women and the Egyptian courts, part 2

It looks as if the Egyptian parliament may have been reading this blog. Reem Leila reports in Al- Ahram that Egypt will soon institute a system of family courts:

A Family Court is in the offing. The draft law establishing the new court, which was prepared by the legislative committee of the National Council for Women (NCW), has been approved by the Higher Legislative Committee of the Ministry of Justice and is to be put before parliament for enactment, soon.

Courts dealing specifically with family matters are not entirely new to Egypt; a system of "religious courts" had jurisdiction over divorce, custody and alimony before the overthrow of King Farouk in 1953. Since then, family disputes have been handled in the regular court system, which has become clogged with divorce and alimony cases; according to Ministry of Justice statistics, just 62 of the 5252 divorce cases filed in the Cairo courts last year have been resolved.

The clogged dockets of the regular Egyptian courts provided the immediate impetus for the creation of a family court system. The new courts, however, will not simply be a resurrection of the religious courts. They will include women judges - an unusual step for Egypt, given that prominent attorney Tehany el-Gebaly only recently became the country's first female judge after a personal appeal by First Lady Suzanne Mubarak - and they will include features drawn from the experience of Western family courts:

Because the new court's paramount goal is to resolve family disputes it will also offer mediation sessions -- free of charge. The Family Court has, consequently, been conceived as a kind of a 'One Stop Centre' that houses not only courtroom facilities, but also services and programmes to assist all members of a family. "Alternative dispute resolution [mediation] processes will be used in divorce cases to assist both parties in resolving their disputes amicably, perhaps saving the couple extensive legal procedures," Abdel-Sattar said.


According to Serri Siam, assistant for legislative affairs to the minister of justice, "There will also be a training course for sociologists and psychologists teaching them how to mediate family disputes." Siam pointed out that as an institution that serves families, the court will have to work to keep pace with societal changes and take the lead in reforming the judicial system in order to address the challenges arising from those changes.

Not surprisingly, it is the prospect of pleading their cases in front of female judges that seems most revolutionary to divorce litigants:

The appointment of female judges, however, goes beyond being a victory for women's rights to encompass humanistic gains as well. As Mohsena El-Sayed, a 40-year-old banker who is filing for divorce on grounds of physical abuse, pointed out, "It is so humiliating to find yourself narrating the most intimate details of your private life in front of a male judge. How I wish the judge was a woman. I'm sure that if the judge was a woman, I would be more comfortable," El-Sayed said.

In fact, women judges on the family courts may be even more revolutionary than the appointment of El-Gebaly, who will sit on the Supreme Consitutional Court. As the Cairo Times reported in its profile of El-Gebaly, "[t]he SCC is a fairly rarefied atmosphere and involves the consideration of laws rather than the fate of criminals or people's marriages. Acceptance at that level of administrative courts will come fairly easily."

In the family courts, on the other hand, women judges will make a real difference in the way divorce and custody cases are handled, and will intrude into areas of traditional male privilege. They have already done so in Iran, where women have sat on family courts since 1997, and it's likely that the new Egyptian family courts will change the way Egyptian law views the family.

Sunday, January 19, 2003
Going downhill

According to the latest Likud poll, Avoda and Shinui are now neck and neck with 18 seats each, placing Avoda in danger of becoming the third largest party in the next Knesset. (An Avoda poll taken at the same time shows Avoda ahead of Shinui, 22 seats to 17.)

If Avoda places third, then Sharon ought to give a medal to Justice Michael Cheshin, who singlehandedly stopped the Likud corruption scandal by pulling the plug on his Cyril Kern press conference. Cheshin's decision may have been legally justifiable on the ground that the press conference was a form of electioneering, but several more judicious solutions have been suggested - allowing it to go forward and giving Avoda equal time to respond, or simply deducting the conference from Likud's electioneering time. By taking the conference off the air halfway through, Cheshin made his decision look like an act of sabotage, turned Sharon from suspect to victim - and, incidentally, prevented the public from hearing the skeptical questions asked by reporters.

Avoda's slide has revived talk of a split in the party, with the Mitzna faction joining Meretz in opposition and the Fouad faction becoming a relatively minor partner in a Sharon-led government. A second-place finish for Shinui, though, would also make the possibility of a compromise Lapid premiership more realistic. Most Israelis, including Likud voters, seem to want a secular coalition, but Avoda's opposition to a Sharon government and Likud's opposition to a Mitzna government are currently getting in the way. Lapid would be at least minimally acceptable to both, and there's precedent for an Israeli Prime Minister leading the second-largest party in the Knesset; in fact, if Shinui finishes second with 19 seats, Lapid will be in the same position that Sharon is in now.

At any rate, Lapid seems to be enjoying himself, and hasn't hesitated to tell the New York Times about his vision for Israel:

Asked what an Israel shaped by Shinui would look like, Mr. Lapid smiled and said, "That's very easy: Holland."

Take that, Gretta Duisenberg.