The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

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Saturday, February 01, 2003
More than he bargained for

Atrios links to a New York Times article about the ultimate invalidation of a plea bargain:

CENTRAL ISLIP, NY: Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for a murder suspect, even though he had agreed to testify against others tied to a deadly Colombian drug ring in exchange for a life sentence.


Lawyers said it appeared to be the first case nationally in which Mr. Ashcroft had insisted on seeking the execution of a defendant who had secured a promise of life in exchange for information. Some lawyers said his decision here could hamstring federal prosecutors in the toughest cases because it would shake defendants' confidence that a federal prosecutor at the local level could deliver on a proposed deal in a death penalty case.

Mr. Ashcroft has stirred a controversy in federal prosecutors' offices nationally in recent months by insisting that they seek executions in some cases in which they had recommended against it. Under Justice Department rules, local federal prosecutors can only recommend whether to seek the death penalty; the final decision is up to the attorney general.

Defense lawyers, and some current and former prosecutors, said the case here has taken that controversy to a new level because the previous cases had not involved potential cooperators.

Damn right it has. Cooperators - or, to use a more honest word, "snitches" - are the lifeblood of the Federal criminal justice system. For a defendant in Federal court, cooperation against other suspects is the key to the coveted "5K letter," so called because Section 5K1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines permits courts to depart from the rigid Federal sentencing scheme for those who "provide substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person." Substantial assistance is also, with the exception of the "safety valve" for first-time drug offenders, the only ground on which a court can sentence a defendant below a mandatory minimum.

Thanks to these incentives, and to other procedures such as "capping" a defendant's sentence by allowing him to plead to a charge with a lower statutory maximum, thousands of defendants each year cooperate with the government. The United States Sentencing Commission estimates, in fact, that almost one fifth of Federal defendants receive 5K letters, and many others receive alternative forms of consideration in plea bargaining and sentencing. Cooperators have made some of the government's most high-profile organized crime, drug and fraud cases; nearly every major mob case now features a latter-day version of Sammy Bull Gravano.

Ashcroft's decision is, to say the least, likely to have a substantial chilling effect on future plea bargains. The defendant in the Central Islip case, Jairo Zapata, engaged in lengthy negotiations and debriefings with the government and reached an agreement that he thought would save his life, only to be told that the government intended to renege and execute him anyway. Not only that, but - if his plea negotiations were conducted under the usual Eastern District of New York rules - the government can now use all the admissions he made to cross- examine him if he takes the stand. If I were a defendant in a major Federal case - and a case involving the death penalty is "major" practically by definition - I'd think twice about going to the government and offering to switch sides.

It remains to be seen what Zapata will do next, and whether his lawyers will seek to enforce the plea bargain notwithstanding Ashcroft's veto. A written plea agreement - such as the one Zapata's attorneys and Federal prosecutors both signed - is treated as a contract by the courts, and a defendant can seek "specific performance" if he believes that the government has breached the agreement's terms.

The prosecutors' position will, no doubt, be that no agreement was final until it was approved by the Justice Department in Washington. However, one principle of contract law is "apparent authority," under which a person who makes an agreement with someone who reasonably appeared to have the authority to agree can seek to enforce the contract even if his opposite number didn't actually have that authority. The courts, however, are split on whether the doctrine of apparent authority can apply to the Federal government, as explained recently in United States v. El-Sadig, 133 F. Supp. 2d 600, 605-06 (S.D. Ohio 2001):

"[A]s a general rule, fundamental fairness requires that promises made during plea-bargaining and analogous contexts be respected." Id. (quoting Johnson v. Lumpkin, 769 F.2d 630, 633 (9th Cir.1985)). This rule is subject to two conditions: (1) the agent must be authorized to make the promise; and (2) the defendant must rely to his detriment on the promise. Streebing, 987 F.2d at 372.

Several Circuits have held that actual authority is needed to bind the government during plea bargaining or analogous contexts.
United States v. Flemmi, 225 F.3d 78, 84 (1st Cir.2000) (stating "a defendant who seeks specifically to enforce a promise, whether contained in a plea agreement or a freestanding cooperation agreement, must show ... that the promisor had actual authority to make the particular promise"); Thomas, 35 F.3d at 1338 ("Estoppel and apparent authority normally will not substitute for actual authority to bind the United States government."); San Pedro v. United States, 79 F.3d 1065, 1068 (11th Cir.1996) (quoting Thomas, 35 F.3d at 1338).

However, the law of the Sixth Circuit is not as clear. Language in previous Sixth Circuit decisions implies an agent with apparent authority can bind the government in cooperation agreement and plea bargain contexts. See
Peavy v. United States, 31 F.3d 1341, 1347 (6th Cir.1994) (stating "the court must determine whether the agents had the apparent authority to make the disputed promises on behalf of the government, taking into account the secrecy of [the defendant's] cooperation agreement, and whether [the defendant] relied to his detriment on the promises"); Streebing, 987 F.2d at 373 (stating "because the FBI agent lacked any actual or apparent authority to make the alleged promise not to prosecute, the District Court did not err in failing to dismiss the indictment").

The courts in favor of applying apparent authority to the government may also include the influential Seventh Circuit. In the 1991 decision of United States v. Doe, 940 F.2d 199, 204 n.8 (7th Cir. 1991), this circuit held that it was "quite likely that the Illinois [United States Attorney's office] office was obligated to abide by [an agreement] regardless of whether it ratified the agreement or not," because the agreement had been signed "by the U.S. Attorney on behalf of 'the United States Government.'" Also, in United States v. Thomas, 35 F.3d 1332 (9th Cir. 1994), the Ninth Circuit rejected the theory of apparent authority but held that a United States Attorney's legal duties gave him "implied authority" to enter into plea agreements that bound even other branches of government.

If Zapata's lawyers decide to enforce his contract, the court - which is not in any of the circuits that have spoken on this issue - will have to determine whether apparent authority is enough to make a plea bargain enforceable, and, if so, whether the local United States Attorney's office had apparent authority to enter plea bargains in capital cases. The prosecutors now say that they always made it clear to Zapata that his plea deal was contingent on approval from Washington, but a look at prior court proceedings and negotiating sessions might tell a different story. A motion for specific performance in the Zapata case might result in a rare inside look at how the Federal plea bargaining process works, even as Ashcroft's decision makes that process far more risky.

Happy New Year

Chinese New Year, that is - and it's not only a new year, but a new century. Welcome to 4700, the Year of the Ram.

Shuttle tragedy

The space shuttle Columbia has exploded over Texas minutes before its scheduled landing. There do not appear to be any survivors, and the casualties include first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. NASA officials do not believe that the explosion was a terrorist act, although one "senior law enforcement official" was quoted as having received "troubling intelligence" about a prior flight that was to include Ramon. The investigation is continuing.

UPDATE: The shuttle apparently sustained some heat shield damage on takeoff that NASA considered "minor" at the time. When it exploded, it was traveling at Mach 6 at an altitude of 200,000 feet. It's highly unlikely that this was an act of terrorism given the altitude and speed of the shuttle; it's more probable that the breakup was a re-entry accident. Regardless, it seems that Israel can't catch a break these days; its one spot of good news amid the continuing conflict has suddenly become a national tragedy. Damn.

Friday, January 31, 2003
Something new

I've finished my first week as an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the school where I got my bachelor's degree eleven years ago. It's a long story how I got there, but it was an offer I didn't want to refuse, and I'm taking time from my practice to teach evidence on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

The last time I had a class of my own, I was a student at John Jay, putting myself through college by teaching English at a Satmar Hasidic school and tutoring on the side. Most of that class was eleven or twelve years old, an awkward age at the best of times, and I had them the last three hours of an eleven-hour day. They didn't want to be there, I was terrible at keeping them under control, and I finished the year swearing I would never teach again.

Oaths are made to be broken, and a college is certainly a different place from a parochial school. Several of my students are police officers who deal with evidence professionally, others are in my class because they want to go to law school, and they're all there because they want to be. It also helps that I'm teaching a subject I know and care about; interest on both sides is the sort of thing that turns lectures into conversations.

Over the last few years, I've occasionally covered classes for law-professor friends, but that also isn't the same. With law students, it's possible to assume a certain amount of background knowledge. It isn't possible to make such assumptions with undergraduates, and I've found myself reviewing such fundamental matters as how to interpret legalese or read a court decision. This has, in turn, forced me to think about things I normally consider second nature, and to re-examine the way I interpret the law. They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and thus far I've found that to be true.

It's only the beginning of the semester, and I've got 28 class meetings left to go; I'd forgotten how long an hour can be to a teacher, and I have many more of them to fill. I'm looking forward to every minute.

Things falling apart

French troops have taken control of the Abidjan airport, apparently against the wishes of the Ivorian government, in order to ensure safe evacuation of French citizens from Côte d'Ivoire. In the meantime, President Laurent Gbagbo has not yet delivered his promised address to the country, and Seydou Diarra - who was supposed to take over as Prime Minister today under the peace accord between the government and the rebels - is still in Dakar. Several West African and Ivorian leaders are also in Dakar trying to renegotiate the peace settlement, but sentiment is rising in government-held areas against any deal that gives power to the rebels, and former President Henri Konan Bédié has added his voice to the chorus opposing the accord. Barring something dramatic, it looks like all bets are off.

Conflict links

Al-Muhajabah links to some interesting articles about the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire and the gulags of North Korea.

Thursday, January 30, 2003
More for the right

The soldiers' votes have been counted, and the CEC has certified the final results of the Knesset election. The final count gives Likud 38 seats, up from 37 previously, returning Ayoob Kara to the Knesset as the second non-Jewish member from Likud. Mafdal has also gained a seat, while Hadash and Am Ehad have lost one each.

This net gain of two seats for the right may increase Sharon's wiggle room substantially. It's now possible for him to form a right-wing government without Avoda, Shinui or the National Union, although that government would be an unstable 62-seat coalition and Shas would have an inordinate amount of leverage. It's also possible for Sharon to put together a 62-seat secular right-wing coalition with Shinui, the National Union and Yisrael Ba'aliya. Either coalition could be made marginally more stable with the addition of Am Ehad; if Shinui will sit with Mafdal, then Mafdal could be substituted for the National Union in any of these scenarios.

I still think Sharon would prefer to look left rather than right for his next government, but the more alternatives he has, the more leverage.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
Accord in danger

French citizens are fleeing Côte d'Ivoire as ethnic rioting continues, and the Minister of the Interior and the ruling party have declared the peace accord "null and void." President Laurent Gbagbo, who has been accused of fomenting the riots by some rebel groups, will address the country tomorrow; he is likely to signal whether he supports continued negotiations or whether the country is in for another round of civil war.

Intelligent commentary

Noah Millman's analysis of the Israeli election results is well worth reading. Also his comment on electoral trends and his discussion of possible coalitions here and here.

Losing control

In the wake of last week's peace accord, southern Côte d'Ivoire has been rocked by ethnic rioting against foreigners and Muslim northerners, in which at least ten people were killed. At the same time, the country's powerful security forces have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms of the accord, which gives control of the military and paramilitary police to the rebels. My prediction that President Laurent Gbagbo wouldn't suffer Sadat's fate for signing the peace agreement may be premature; thanks to the army's opposition and to the way in which the nativism he fostered has taken root in the Christian south, he might soon face exile or even assassination.

The question now is what the French will do, both to prevent the worst from happening and as a contingency plan if it happens. There are currently 2500 French troops in Côte d'Ivoire who will find themselves in the middle of a renewed civil war if Gbagbo is overthrown. The official French mission is to keep the peace and enforce the fragile cease-fire between Gbagbo's government and the rebels; will the French forces interpret that mission broadly enough to shore up that government against the enemies of the accord? And if the government falls, what then - will they take sides, or withdraw and let the civil war run its course? France might soon find that it has bought a great deal more than it bargained for in West Africa.

View from the left

Proletarios Epanastatis looks at Balad, Hadash and Da'am (a small Arab Marxist party) from a Trotskyite perspective. It goes without saying that I disagree with most of what he says, but it's interesting reading, and it makes clear that the Arab parties are not monolithic. He forgot Ra'am, though.

UPDATE: He added a paragraph about Ra'am, and continues the discussion of Arab political groups here.

Freudian slip department

Today's New York Law Journal includes a decision in the case of Vanderveer Apartments v. English, a landlord-tenant action in Brooklyn. The decision was an unremarkable one in which the landlord's attorney was sanctioned for failing to show up for a court date that the defendant, Winston English, had to take a day off to make. The order did, however, contain one interesting passage:

Further, ORDERED that Christopher Thompson, Esq. shall pay costs in the amount of $750.00 to Winston Smith for his failure to appear without good cause before me in Part 34 on November 13, 2002.

The courts can be a very Orwellian place, can't they?

The morning after

The final results are in, and Sharon has swept the board. Likud will be the largest party by far in the next Knesset with 37 seats, almost equaling the 40 that were predicted in some November polls. Shinui is the other big winner with 15 seats, and Avoda, Shas and Meretz are the big losers, falling to 19, 11 and 6 respectively. The National Union will have 7, Mafdal 5, UTJ 5, Hadash 4, Am Ehad 4, Balad 3, Yisrael Ba'aliya 2 and the United Arab List 2. The right and far right blocs together will have 67 seats, to 34 for the left and 19 for the center. Following up on this victory, however might not be so easy; forming the next government promises to be a daunting task.

(The picture could still change; the Jerusalem Post gives the National Union 6 seats with one seat unaccounted for, and Ha'aretz Flash News indicates that the soldiers' votes might put Green Leaf over the threshold. It isn't likely that the total for any bloc will shift more than a seat or two either way, though, and all the coalitions that are possible now will still be possible if the dopers get in.)

At present, Sharon has announced that he prefers a unity government and will call new elections if he can't put one together; Lapid refuses to sit with the religious parties and Avoda won't serve in a Sharon government. All this, however, is subject to change as negotiations continue and deadlines close in. It's hardly impossible, for instance, to imagine that Avoda might relent if Sharon offered to resume negotiations with the Palestinians (as "Likud sources" have reportedly hinted) or even to withdraw from some of the Gaza settlements (as Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan has suggested). Nor is it beyond belief that Shinui might agree to sit in a coalition with Mafdal, which, although religious, is primarily made up of people who have performed their national service. And Likud might easily lose its courage rather than face the uncertainty of another election and the possibility that the voters might punish it for failing to form a government.

So Schrödinger's cat is still in the box. The next weeks could see one of a number of outcomes, ranging from mildly probable to just this side of fantasy:

Unity Coalition. This is Sharon's Holy Grail - a 71-seat Likud-Avoda-Shinui coalition, which could conceivably be firmed up to 77 seats with the addition of Yisrael Ba'aliya and Am Ehad. The key to the kingdom is Avoda; Shinui will join a secular unity government readily enough, but Mitzna is holding firm against taking part in a Sharon government, and the other Avoda nabobs have thus far maintained a united front. Sharon will have to pry Avoda away from Mitzna or else offer sufficient concessions to convince him to change his mind - and, if he chooses the latter course, he'll have to avoid conceding too much and angering his own party.

Narrow Coalition. If Sharon brings in all the right and far-right parties, he can put together a 67-seat government; if he brings Am Ehad in with promises of social-welfare spending and drops the National Union, he'll have 64. At the moment, Sharon professes not to want a narrow coalition, and he's probably telling the truth - it would make him the prisoner of the far right, leave him without political cover and probably last a year at the outside. All the same, the fact that he has the choice of forming one - and that he can do so in a number of ways - will give him leverage in forming a more congenial government.

Narrow Coalition Lite. Assuming that Shinui's opposition to sitting with Mafdal can be overcome, Sharon could put together a 63-seat coalition with Likud, Shinui, Mafdal, Am Ehad, and Yisrael Ba'aliya. Like a narrow right-wing coalition, this government would tend to be unstable, but it would free Sharon from dependence on the volatile National Union and Shas.

Apocalyptic Unity Coalition. If Avoda splits in the wake of the election, Sharon might be able to put together a secular unity coalition consisting of Likud, Shinui, Am Ehad, Yisrael Ba'aliya and the right half of Avoda. Depending on how many Avoda MKs decide to remain in opposition, this government would probably have 65 to 70 seats - enough to survive the defection of one of the small parties. Sharon would still be dependent on the rump Avoda faction, and Shinui's presence would make it difficult to substitute one of the religious parties if Avoda defects, but his ability to jettison both parties and form a narrow right-wing government would keep him in the driver's seat.

Apocalyptic Unity Coalition 2. Avoda isn't the only party that might split - victory as well as defeat carries problems. If Sharon finds himself unable to offer enough inducements to bring Avoda into the government without angering his own party, he could - as I have previously suggested - split a centrist faction off from Likud and let the right half of the party go into opposition. If he plays his cards right, his faction could even remain the largest party in the Knesset; a 20-member centrist delegation could form a government with Avoda, Shinui, Am Ehad and Meretz. Despite Sharon's announcement that he will invite all Zionist parties to join him, this is the only scenario I can imagine which could lead to Meretz being part of the next government - and, needless to say, one of the least likely alternatives.

The Waiting Game. Another possibility is to do nothing - to wait out the 42 days (28 days plus a 14-day extension at the president's discretion) that Israeli law allows and hope that something happens to change the political landscape. The obvious "something" is an American-Iraqi war, which could provide Sharon with the cover to swing either right or left. It's a risk, given that the United States isn't fighting on Sharon's timetable; if nothing happens by mid-March, running out the clock might result in new elections or a Lapid premiership. Delaying tactics might also backfire if the "something" turns out to be another corruption scandal. It's even possible that President Katsav might not give Sharon the extra 14 days; his role is mostly ceremonial, but on the few occasions when he's ventured a political opinion, he has opposed Sharon. In a matter on which the law gives him great discretion, he might actually decide to use it.

Upsetting the Chessboard. The ultimate wild card would involve Sharon carrying out his threat to call new elections if he is unable to form a unity government. If this happens, all bets are off - the voters could respond by strengthening Sharon's hand, or by punishing him for putting them through a second campaign. It is likely that any such campaign would be conducted in an atmosphere of unprecedented voter fatigue and apathy, which would be good for the small parties but bad for Sharon. I suspect that Sharon's threat is an exercise in political theater and that he'd get cold feet at the last minute, but the possibility of a second general election will loom on the horizon until a government is formed.

My personal guess is that Sharon will try to form a unity government quickly, but if that isn't possible, he'll drag out the negotiations and hope something happens to rearrange the political map, and form a narrow coalition as a last resort. I'm usually wrong about these things, so take all this with a grain of salt - but if anything is certain these days, it's that Israeli politics can be more surreal than anyone dreamed possible.

UPDATE: Yossi Verter weighs possible coalitions, some of them discussed above and some slightly different.

UPDATE 2: More coalition possibilities here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Predictions ex cathedra

Likud: 31
Avoda: 19
Shinui: 14
Shas: 11
Meretz: 8
National Union: 8
Mafdal: 5
UTJ: 5
Hadash: 5
Yisrael Ba'aliya: 4
Am Ehad: 3
United Arab List: 3
Balad: 2
Herut: 2

Total Left (Avoda, Meretz, Hadash, Arab lists): 37
Total Center (Shinui, Am Ehad): 17
Total Right (Likud, Yisrael Ba'aliya, Shas, UTJ): 51
Total Far Right (National Union, Herut, Mafdal): 15

I hope I'm wrong.

UPDATE: Harry's predictions are here and Diane's are here. Harry predicts that the low turnout will help the small parties - something that factored into my prediction that Herut and Balad will cross the electoral threshold - and Imshin predicts (on Harry's comment board) that some Avoda voters will get cold feet and return to the party at the last minute. If so, though, that will probably hurt Meretz and Shinui rather than the right.

UPDATE 2: Harry gives exit poll results. Let's hope Channel Two has it right.

UPDATE 3: The projections of the various television stations (updated periodically on Ha'aretz) are converging; it looks like 35 seats for Likud, 18 for Avoda, 15 to 17 for Shinui and 65 to 67 for the right and far right as a whole. There don't seem to be any easy coalition possibilities for Sharon; I'll discuss some of them tomorrow, but right now I'm feeling depressed.

UPDATE 4: Sharon says that he will call elections again if he can't form a unity government (Ha'aretz Flash News via Channel One). Expect this position to change as negotiations progress; I suspect it's more to scare the far right than anything else.

UPDATE 5: With 90 percent of the vote counted, it's Likud 37, Avoda 19, Shinui 15, Shas 11, Meretz 7, National Union 7, Mafdal 5, UTJ 5, Hadash 4, Am Ehad 3, Balad 3, Yisrael Ba'aliya 2 and United Arab List 2. If this count holds, then I was way off on Likud, but I called all the others except Yisrael Ba'aliya and Herut within one seat. I'm not taking much comfort from that, though.

UPDATE 6: With 99 percent of the vote counted (same link as previous update), Shas and Meretz are down one each and UTJ and Mafdal are each up one. This gives Sharon enough votes on the right to form a narrow coalition even without the National Union if forced to do so. This count looks final, more's the pity; I'll see you all tomorrow.

UPDATE 7: It wasn't final, and the dopers may still get in on the soldiers' votes. See above.

Monday, January 27, 2003
Opening the box

Within a few hours, Israel will go to the polls. By the end of the day, this surreal election campaign will be over and some idea of the future will be taking shape.

A democratic nation during an election campaign is Schrödinger's cat; it has as many futures as there are candidates. Israel now is Likud and Avoda; it is Herut and Balad. Tonight, the box will be opened and the many possibilities will become one.

At this point, there is little drama remaining in the contest between Ariel Sharon and Amram Mitzna; barring a miracle, Likud will be the largest party in the next Knesset and Avoda will be lucky to hold on to second. The drama will be in the fate of each electoral bloc. Will the right gain a large enough majority so that Sharon can form a narrow coalition without depending on the National Union? Will the left and center rally and hold the right to a narrow majority, forcing Likud to look left for coalition partners? Or will the right be denied a majority entirely? The polls say this is unlikely, but polls are notoriously inaccurate in Israel.

The outcome may be decided as much by who stays home as who votes. Have right-wing voters been discouraged by the Likud corruption scandal, or energized by Michael Cheshin and the matsav? Will the left be disgusted by Avoda's infighting and lackluster campaign, or scared to the polls by the prospect of a Sharon landslide? Will the CEC's disqualification of Bishara and Tibi make the Arabs stay home, or will the Supreme Court's reinstatement draw them out?

Any of these things can make a significant difference. For instance, if 75 percent of the Arab electorate turns out compared to the 65 percent currently projected, the right will lose two to three seats. If parties like Shas and the National Union mobilize their voters at a rate greater than the national average, it might get those seats back. The drama will be as much in who votes as who they vote for.

I'm not an Israeli, so it would be presumptuous of me to endorse a party, but I'm no stranger to presumption. As most of you can tell, I'm not a man of the right. Likud is the party of paralysis, of the current untenable situation extended indefinitely. The haredi parties take much from the state and give little back, and the less said about Herut and the National Union, the better. Nor am I a man of the radical left; Balad and the United Arab List leave me profoundly unmoved.

If I were eligible to vote, I'd pick Shinui as a strong, centrist alternative. I've heard Shinui described as the party of demagoguery and hate, but I haven't seen that; the Shinui I've seen is against religious coercion, not religion. Shinui has candidates and voters who keep kosher and go to synagogue - and, to me, the fact that Shas is one of the parties accusing Shinui of demagoguery says all that needs to be said.

Mitzna has impressed me personally, but his party hasn't; Avoda has never seemed quite so full of corrupt careerists as the current election. If I thought Avoda might win, I might vote for the party to get the man, but that doesn't seem realistic just now. Meretz is probably the party whose ideals are closest to mine, but it's fallen short of those ideals during this campaign, and it's highly unlikely to be included in the next government. Still, it might be worth voting for Meretz to send a message.

Green Leaf, the legalized marijuana party, is another possible protest vote. Since Imshin has reminded us that its leader is a radical leftist, though, those who want to cast a protest vote for a left-wing party might pick Hadash instead. I'm not a communist, and I disagree with nearly all of the Hadash platform, but it seems to be the only party that's making a genuine effort to be binational. I've said before that Israel's future as a Jewish state depends on Jews and Arabs working together even more than on resolving the matsav; I realize I'm in the minority in believing that, but relations between the two communities have become bad enough that any hint of cooperation deserves encouragement. If one must protest, there are worse ways.

Hopefully, the day will end with a strong finish for Shinui and a centrist coalition in the making. No matter who wins, though, I wish him wisdom, judgment and luck. I hope I'm wrong, but I have a feeling he'll need it.

Islamism in Pakistan

Zack Ajmal has begun an excellent multi-part analysis of Islamic activism in Pakistan. Catch the first two parts here and here.

A Palestinian Gandhi?

Aziz Poonawalla speculates about the possibility of nonviolent Palestinian resistance:

Many have emphasized [Gandhi's] pacifism today. That's quite appropriate. But in my opinion it's also right to emphasize the struggle for freedom. Contrary to what one may have been told, peace and freedom do not always go hand in hand. Not nearly. If Gandhi were up against a Stalin rather than a Churchill and a Atlee, he'd have been shot, along with as many of those who were inhey are human and so am I. Some struggles have been lost, others mostly won - but at great sacrifice. And some continue into an uncertain future.

What makes a struggle for freedom successful? Is it pacifism? Many have vilified the Palestinians for not being like Ghandi, whose peaceful rebellion ultimately drove the British from India. Though Ghandi's methods were pacifist, the ultimate outcome of the political movement he sparked was the Partition, which was far from bloodless.


But when you think of the Palestinians in the same context - one has to wonder. How would Ghandi's peaceful rebellion have fared in the face of Ariel Sharon?

There were Ghandis and MLKs among the Palestinians, such as Sari Nusseibeh and Dr. Mustapha Barghouti but they have been arrested, detained, and beaten repeatedly by the IDF. Marwan Barghouti, a popular moderate elected to the Fatah leadership (whom Arafat greatly dislikes as a challenger to his authority) has been arrested and is being tried by Israel for murder, accused of being a terrorist. Eventually, there won't be any moderates left to beat, exile, or jail.

I think Poonawalla is drastically underestimating both the Israeli public and the potential of Palestinian nonviolence. Poll after poll, as discussed most recently in today's Ha'aretz, shows that a substantial majority of Jewish Israelis are willing to withdraw from the settlements and concede a Palestinian state. Even after more than two years of intifada, the poll numbers show steady support of a peaceful settlement - in other words, "[t]he Israeli public, which is now leaning toward a vote for the right, is the same public that is willing, more than in the past, to agree to a Palestinian state and the dismantling of settlements."

Why, then, is Sharon about to be re-elected as Israel's prime minister? The determining factor, as shown in the same polls and in thoughtful Israelis' heartfelt statements, is not Palestinian national aspirations but Palestinian violence. Israelis do not object to the existence of Palestinians or to sharing the land with them, but they are somewhat less than willing to take steps toward sharing while their children are being killed.

It is true that Sari Nusseibeh and Mustafa Barghouti have, at times, been harassed, but this harassment has taken place in the context of a generally violent uprising. Neither has, to my knowledge, made a serious attempt to start an actual, mass movement in favor of nonviolent resistance - and if they have, this movement hasn't gained much traction in the West Bank and Gaza (at least not if Nusseibeh's recent reception at an-Najah University is any guide). If such a mass movement did exist, I am morally certain that Israelis would view the Palestinian struggle very differently. Maybe Sharon wouldn't - but if the Palestinians practiced mass nonviolent resistance, Israelis would also have a different view of Sharon. (Comparing Sharon to Stalin is just as much of an overstatement as comparing him to Hitler, not least because he is democratically accountable.)

My moral certainty, of course, is only a hypothesis unless and until a Gandhi-esque resistance movement comes into being. To some extent, the historical evidence is against me, given Israel's response to the one serious attempt to establish a campaign of nonviolent resistance. This occurred in the mid-1980s, when Dr. Mubarak Awad, an American-educated East Jerusalem resident, returned to Israel to advocate nonviolent opposition. In 1988, fearing the reaction of the Israeli public should the movement take root, the Interior Ministry expelled Awad due to expiration of his residency permit - an expulsion that was upheld in a much-criticized decision of the Israeli Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, Israel now is a different place from what it was in 1988, when a Palestinian state was an unthinkable political concept and a serious nationalist movement was considered something to be avoided at all costs. The public climate now is much more receptive to the idea of a Palestinian state, and a nonviolent resistance movement would be looked upon as proof that Palestinians are willing to live in peace with Israel rather than as a threat to Israel's existence. Indeed, even in 1988, a great part of the right-wing Shamir government's motivation to expel Awad was its fear that, if his nonviolent campaign took root, Israeli public opinion would swing against Shamir's policies and in favor of accommodation with the Palestinians. Israel has made many mistakes in dealing with the Palestinians and with the intifada, but Israelis (like Palestinians) are essentially civilized people, and would be receptive to nonviolent opposition.

In the current political climate, it's hard to tell where a nonviolent resistance movement would come from. Maybe one could be organized by Dr. Awad, who continues to advocate nonviolent opposition to the occupation, but his is a voice in the wilderness just now. It is difficult, after all that has passed between Israelis and Palestinians, for Palestinians to acknowledge Israel's legitimate place in the Middle East and deal with them on a basis of nonviolent struggle. If they do, however, I am morally certain that a viable Palestinian state will soon follow.

UPDATE: Al-Muhajabah comments on her blog. (If anyone else wants to comment on the history, politics or morality of Palestinian nonviolent resistance, let me know and I'll link to it here.)

Riding the tiger

In a first step toward implementing the Paris peace accords, President Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire has appointed Seydou Diarra as prime minister with expanded powers. Diarra, who previously served as prime minister during the period of military rule, will serve until ground rules for new elections are established.

In the meantime, however, Gbagbo is contending with the nationalism that he and his predecessors unleashed, as thousands demonstrated against the peace plan in Abidjan. The peace accords with the Muslim northerners, many of whom are descended from Burkinabe immigrants, have provoked a reaction among southern Christians who have been fed a diet of nativist politics for the past decade. The reaction - which has targeted France as the host of the peace talks - appears to be especially strong among youth groups, some of which have been organized as paramilitaries by the government. The resistance is unorganized, and it seems unlikely at the moment that Gbagbo will meet Sadat's fate, but he may end up facing more opposition from his own supporters than from the rebels.

Better late than never

Meryl Yourish describes a visit to a synagogue in her new neighborhood, which resulted in a decision to have a late bat mitzvah:

Friday afternoon, while dropping off some the synagogue newsletter, I was chatting with the rabbi and told him that I'd never had my Bat-Mitzvah. "We can fix that," he said, and before I knew it I had an appointment with him on Monday to pick up the tape of him chanting my Haftorah portion. (It's II Kings IV, 1-37.)

It's kind of neat, actually. Normally, you don't get your birthday. But the week before is a child's Bar Mitzvah, and the week after is probably Thanksgiving. So, on November 15th, I'm going to get Bat Mitzvahed. I think I'll use Henny Youngman's line, adjusted. He was in his sixties, I think, or perhaps even older, when he got his Bar Mitzvah. "Today," he said, "I am a boy."

For my non-Jewish readers, a bar mitzvah (bat mitzvah for girls) is a coming-of-age ceremony performed at age 13 (age 12 for girls in some Orthodox communities), the age at which a child takes on the religious obligations of an adult under Jewish law. Boys, and for girls in Reform and Conservative congregations, are called to the Torah for the first time at their bar or bat mitzvahs. It is also traditional for the child to read the haftarah, a scriptural passage that follows, and is usually related to, the reading of the week's Torah portion. Or at least that's how it goes for most children; like Meryl, I had mine late.

I didn't want a bar mitzvah when I was thirteen. My heritage and religion didn't mean a great deal to me at that age; as I saw it, I was supposed to spend a year taking lessons to be a performing animal at my parents' party. The argument with my parents turned into a running battle that lasted for months. Eventually, I won; my victory was decidedly Pyrrhic, but I didn't have to go through with the ceremony.

For the next three or four years, I considered myself an atheist; another casualty of the battle. Eventually, that changed. I went out on my own, became interested in rediscovering where I came from, and - with the aid of an Irish Catholic girlfriend who liked to ask me questions I couldn't answer - found my way back to the Jewish community. I didn't worry much about not being bar mitzvahed; a Jew becomes a religious adult at 13 whether or not a ceremony is held, and I didn't see the need to go through the motions.

I joined the military at 21. Army service was the one time in my life that I went to synagogue regularly. Many people get religion in the military, for the same reason they get it in prison; it's something familiar and homely in a place far away.

At Fort Jackson, where I did my boot camp, there was no Jewish chapel, and I didn't have time for religious services anyway. At Fort Gordon, where I went for advanced training, there was and I did. The congregation was small - eight or nine most Friday nights, and one week it was the chaplain's family and me - but it was a friendly and welcoming one. The chaplain delivered the devar Torah (explanation of the week's Torah portion) by committee, with the rest of us breaking in whenever we thought he missed something, and he was always pleased when one of us scored a point. Some nights it was less a religious service than a Socratic dialogue - and, given that my interest in Judaism has always been an intellectual one, it made me feel more Jewish than I ever had.

The week before I returned to New York to join my reserve company, I asked the chaplain if I could lead the service. He agreed, and I took his place at the pulpit while he sat in the audience. It was a Friday night, so there was no haftarah to read - which was just as well, because I doubt I could have learned the trope notes in sufficient time to carry it off. I made it through the rest of the service, though, and delivered the devar Torah - or, rather, the committee did, with me in the hot seat. Afterward, I asked the chaplain half-seriously whether this had been my bar mitzvah, and he assured me that it counted.

I didn't feel like a man, or at least not any more of one than the day before. But I did feel like I had come full circle.

Sunday, January 26, 2003
Maoism, eat your heart out

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has an interesting post about Kim Jong Il's personality cult - in the West.

A milestone

Congratulations to al-Muhajabah for posting the 500th comment since I switched to Haloscan (the comment number is actually 503, but there were three duplicates). And thanks to everyone who posted comments 1 through 499; the comments - even the critical ones - are what makes blogging worthwhile. My intelligent and active audience is one of my greatest blessings.

UPDATE: The 512th comment, a number of great significance to the binary-minded, belongs to Andrew Lazarus.