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, May 10, 2003
The talking carp revisited

A while ago, I wrote about the talking carp - allegedly containing the soul of a recently deceased Hasid - that appeared in the village of New Square and prophesied that the end was near. Now, Hasidic Rebel has found a poem about the fish in Katla Kanya's Yiddish blog.

The poem is, of course, in Yiddish, a language I can read well enough to understand but not to translate poetry. My grandmother-in-law, who is fluent in Yiddish, will be visiting tomorrow; I'll attempt a full translation then, but it's beyond my ability now. Nevertheless, the poem is irreverent, satirical and funny as hell - among other things, the fish says that his soul has enjoyed the rest but that he's never been under the covers that long without a girl. It's also full of New Square in-jokes. In he fifth verse, for instance, the fish advises the townspeople to divide Federal money among themselves - a reference to the four rabbis from New Square who were convicted of fraud for stealing money from several government agencies. Naturally, in the following verse, the fish expresses his intention to go to Hillary Clinton for a pardon. In the end, he runs for his life to a mikvah.

If your Yiddish is better than mine, check it out - it's a side of the fish story that I guarantee you've never heard before.

UPDATE: Hasidic Rebel explains more of the in-jokes.

Reflections on a bad e-mail day

When I get called an "appeaser of Islam" and a "murdering zionist jew" on the same day, I'm either doing something right or I'm being rather spectacularly wrong. The world will look better tomorrow; I'll see you all then.

Can I get a novella for $5?

The literary market must be tough these days. On may way home last night, I passed by a young woman in the 42nd Street-Grand Central subway station sitting behind an overturned cardboard box. On the box were sheaves of paper - and a sign that read "struggling writer, good short stories for sale, $2." As far as I could tell, there was no lemonade.

Friday, May 09, 2003
View from the north

Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara talks about his escape from a government death squad, the reasons why the Laurent Gbagbo regime collapsed and the future of the unity government.

Prince of the unions

Al-Ahram's chronicle of twentieth-century Egypt continues with the story of nobleman-turned-labor-activist Abbas Halim.

Thursday, May 08, 2003
The Uriah question revisited

A while ago, I discussed the relationship between Jewish religion and Jewish nationality in an era when, after a lapse of nineteen centuries, the latter is once again meaningful. I compared the situation of non-Jews in Israel with the Biblical example of Uriah the Hittite, a member of an enemy nation who took service in the army of King David:

[I]s membership in the Jewish religion a requirement for membership in the Jewish nation, and should it be a requirement? [...] Far more problematic is the status of a modern-day Uriah the Hittite. Is a Druze or Bedouin who is loyal to the state of Israel and serves in the IDF a member of the Jewish nation? [...] If a Druze or Bedouin soldier is not a sufficient Uriah, then what about an urban Arab Israeli - also an IDF veteran - who believes in Zionism and whose cultural heritage resembles that of his Jewish neighbors more than that of the Arab villages? (Yes, there are a few like that.) What if Uriah the Arab marries a Jewish woman - which also happens on occasion - and raises his children as Jews? Is such an Arab Israeli different in any meaningful way from the non-Jewish spouse of a Jewish oleh - who, as Friedmann notes, has the legal rights of a member of the Jewish "nation" even if not the membership itself? At what point, if any, does religion cease to matter and a person's identification with the Jewish ethno-cultural group become so strong that he can be naturalized into the Jewish nation? [...] Maybe the oath taken by Ruth to Naomi - "your people shall be my people" - should be all that is required today for membership in the community.

It now seems that, if today's Ha'aretz can be believed, Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz agrees with me, at least up to a point:

At the beginning of the week he granted Israeli citizenship to 10 non-Jewish soldiers serving in Givati, the paratroopers, navy, medical corps and Border Police, and announced he plans to give citizenship to their parents. He did not hesitate to say that, in his eyes, "they are preferable to those Jews who don't serve in the army. They are part of the Zionist enterprise, they identify with the country, are ready to serve it, they speak Hebrew, and they have a Jewish connection.

According to the Ha'aretz article, the "connection" mentioned by Poraz involves Jewish grandparents, but I think that's a misprint. Anyone with a Jewish grandparent wouldn't need special dispensation to acquire Israeli citizenship, because he would be eligible for oleh status under the 1970 amendment to the Law of Return. It is likely that the family connections of these 10 paratroopers to Judaism is much more tenuous or even nonexistent. Non-Jews can, and have, immigrated to Israel via ordinary procedures, and some of the Russian immigrants who arrived during the 1990s proved to have no Jewish relations. Some of these have assimilated to Israeli society to the extent - as Poraz noted - of adopting its ways, identifying with it and being willing to fight for it. Poraz has also made it a policy "to grant citizenship to people who made a special contribution to the country," again indicating that a modern Uriah might, under some circumstances, receive his accolade as an honorary Jew.

But shouldn't the Arabs who serve in the Israeli army receive the same accolade? For them, of course, the problem is not citizenship - they already have that. Their difficulty is social rather than legal - that even those who fight for Israel aren't regarded as co-nationals by a significant fraction of the Israeli population. Arabs who serve in the IDF, however, have cast their lot with Israel and joined the Zionist enterprise every bit as much as the ten paratroopers honored by Poraz. If a Uriah who is Russian can be accepted as a member of the tribe, so should a Uriah who is Bedouin or Druze.

The Bockarie saga

The latest news from Liberia is that accused war criminal Sam Bockarie has allegedly been killed in what Liberian authorities describe as an attempt to arrest him for surrender to the international tribunal for Sierra Leone. According to Liberian sources, Bockarie was killed in a shootout with government forces while trying to cross into Liberia from Côte d'Ivoire. Earlier, international prosecutors had threatened Liberian president Charles Taylor with prosecution for sheltering Bockarie and former Sierra Leone military ruler Johnny Paul Koroma.

The tribunal is, to say the least, skeptical of Taylor's claims. (So is Africapundit). Taylor has promised to display Bockarie's body in Monrovia today, but the tribunal wants it shipped to Sierra Leone for DNA testing. In any event, even if Bockarie is really dead, Taylor still faces potential sanctions for sheltering Koroma.

Bockarie's death, however, could impact on the continuing conflict in western Côte d'Ivoire. Ten days ago, Félix Doh, the commander of the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West (MPIGO), was reportedly executed by Liberian and Leonian mercenaries under the leadership of Bockarie. The details of the execution are still uncertain, but the mercenaries were reportedly motivated by Doh's attempt to send them home and participate in the Ivorian peace settlement. If Bockarie is dead - or even if he and his men are back in Liberia - then one of the least controllable elements of MPIGO will be removed from the Ivorian equation. It's still early to be optimistic, but the removal of Bockarie can only increase the chances that peace will break out in the west.

I could have been a peacemaker

170 delegates to the ongoing - or should that be "never-ending?" - Somalian peace talks have been expelled for having fake credentials:

Kenya's Special Envoy to the talks being held in Nairobi said those ejected had colluded with some members of the technical committees appointed to vet the participants. The negotiations have been going on for the last seven months.


He said some of the delegates had come from as far as America, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and Kenya, "for their own reasons."

This isn't the first time that bogus delegates to the Somalian negotiations have been exposed; last October, a similar credential check netted 300 fake representatives. Not surprisingly, the 170 delegates expelled from Nairobi - some of whom have participated in the negotiations for months - have protested, alleging that they have legitimate interests in the peace process and that their dismissal was purely for financial reasons. A spokesman for the expellees has threatened to "start parallel talks in Somalia" and to reject any treaty that might result from the Nairobi negotiations.

Is it any wonder that Somaliland prefers independence?

Blogger permalinks

Miranda has found a way to overcome the disappearing Blogspot permalinks. Apparently, something is interfering with the archiving process, and the archives are not being automatically updated with the permalinks for new posts. In order to make the permalinks accessible, the archives have to be republished manually. Therefore, until someone at Blogger gets around to fixing the problem, I'll republish the current week's archive every time I post. If permalinks still aren't working or if you're aware of a more permanent solution, please let me know.

You probably know this by now, but...

Salam is back. His blog was updated yesterday with a long war diary covering events from March 24 to date, posted through the good offices of Diana Moon in New York. I'm one of those who's been holding his breath for the past month waiting for news from Salam, and I'm very glad that he came through safe.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
We show up in the strangest places...

Kesher Talk reports on the Jews of Mongolia. Although there are "too few Jews... to call the Jewish presence in Mongolia a Jewish community," Mongolian Jews have historic roots:

According to historical records, a small community of mainly Ashkenazi Jews who lived in Urga, as Mongolia's main city was then known, fell victim to Russian anti-Bolshevik forces that retreated into Mongolia in the early 1920s following a defeat in Central Asia.

The Jews of Urga were most likely Russian in origin, descended from nineteenth-century Jewish merchants and political prisoners who also founded the Jewish community of Siberia. During and after the Russian civil war, Jews drifted between Siberia and Mongolia depending on the fortunes of war and persecution. Many Jewish families were killed or exiled from Urga (now Ulan Bator) by the armies of "Mad Baron" Ungern von Sternberg, a nobleman turned warlord who alternately believed himself Buddha and the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. Some returned to Mongolia in the mid-1920s as Soviet anti-Semitism intensified, but most of the Jews living in Mongolia today are Israeli.

There are also, apparently, Mongols living in Israel. Until 1999, no visa was required to travel from Mongolia to Israel, and a number of Mongolians arrived as labor immigrants. It seems appropriate that, at the same time that Mongolia is once again experiencing a Jewish presence, Mongols are living in the Holy Land for the first time since they conquered the place in 1240.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Tooting my own horn

This is just too good to keep to myself: one of my cases made the front page of today's New York Law Journal. What's even better is that it was a habeas corpus petition, which have been practically impossible to win since the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

Yom ha'Atzmaut

Happy Independence Day to all my Israeli readers.

Something to celebrate

Ikram Saeed reminds us that yesterday was South Asian Arrival Day in Ontario, commemorating the arrival of the first South Asian immigrants in the Americas on May 5, 1838. Specifically, the steamships Whitby and Hesperus, carrying indentured laborers from Calcutta, landed in Guyana on that day. The South Asian heritage of Canada itself begins in the early twentieth century.

Despite its lack of direct Canadian relevance, Ikram is in favor of South Asian Arrival Day:
I have no idea why May 5 is important, and I would bet few of Ontario's South Asians know either. But considering that all other South Asian festivals have clear religious or national affiliations (Eid, Diwali, Republic Day, Pakistan Day), May 5 is as good a day to pick as any for a non-sectarian ethnic festival day.

The same could be said of Jewish holidays that are publicly celebrated in the United States. All but one of them are explicitly religious, and that one - Yom Ha'atzmaut - is specifically connected to Israel. This leaves American Jews without an ethnic holiday, one that emphasizes their heritage as an American ethnic group rather than religious ritual.

I've suggested in the past that American Jews should also celebrate Arrival Day. On September 7, 1654, the ship St. Catherine landed in what was then New Amsterdam, carrying 23 Jewish passengers. This was the beginning of a diaspora that will celebrate its 350th anniversary next year - which seems as good an occasion as any to hold the first Arrival Day barbecue and celebrate the things that make American Jews unique.

Regional bias?

I.S. Moses explores the issue of whether the Nigerian Supreme Court's judgments in politically sensitive cases - particularly those involving distribution of oil revenue - may be influenced by sectionalism.

Monday, May 05, 2003
Remembering the fallen

Allison provides a moving explanation of Israel's Memorial Day. Imshin and Gil Shterzer too.

And I have my own Memorial Day memory. When I was two or three years old - it must have been when I was two - a young woman named Achsa Gamlieli came to stay with my grandmother. Her parents were friends of my great-uncle Asher Fischman who fought with the Haganah; her father was killed in '56 and her fiance in '73. She needed to get out of Israel for a while; she came to the States toward the end of '73 and stayed for a year. Some of my first memories on earth are of her, although it was a long time before I found out her story. By that time, she was back in Israel and married; the family has mostly lost touch with her, but I've heard that she found a job in a fashion institute somewhere.

War has a long reach. I hope that wherever Achsa is, today isn't too painful.

Don't hold your breath

Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria are in Zimbabwe to read the riot act to Mugabe. Given their track record thus far, however, I wouldn't count on them to improve the situation.

Sunday, May 04, 2003
I'll miss him

Via Imshin and Allison: Amram Mitzna has resigned as Avoda chairman.

For the time being, it's likely that few people, even in his own party, will miss him. Avoda's poor performance in the election and his insistence on staying in opposition angered many of the party faithful. Mitzna also wasn't used to playing the political game at the national level, and he unintentionally slighted key party leaders by making statements without consulting them. It was clear from the day of the election that Mitzna's days were numbered, and the only real question was whether he would jump or be pushed.

But Mitzna had the virtues of his vices. He wasn't a politician, which was a refreshing thing in itself; when you heard Mitzna speak, you could be sure he was saying what he meant. He put his cards on the table and proposed a real alternative to the status quo, including a genuine commitment to end the military, political and moral liability of the settlements. Even more importantly, he treated Israel's Arab citizens with genuine respect rather than lip service. In time, he might have helped resolve the grievances of a minority that increasingly thinks the state has given up on them - grievances that I continue to believe pose a greater long-term threat to Israel's stability than the conflict over the Palestinian territories. Mitzna was Rabin's heir in a way that even Barak was not.

With Mitzna gone, it's likely that Sharon will get his unity government now. Avoda will be taken over by Fouad, Dalia Itzik or someone similar, and, at least in the short term, will function as Likud lite. This may not be a bad thing; with a national unity government in place, Sharon will be freed from dependence on the far right and will be able to bend gracefully to the pressure to evacuate isolated settlements. Avoda might even help moderate some of the Thatcherist economic policies that are threatening to eliminate Israel's social safety net. Israel might well be better off with a Fouad or Itzik-led Avoda in a national unity government than with an ideologically pure party remaining outside a far-right coalition.

All the same, I'll miss the retired general who dreamed of a peaceful, united Israel. I'll miss the man who said what he meant and damn the consequences. I'll miss Amram Mitzna.

Round three

The final round of the Nigerian election cycle - the balloting for state legislatures - turned out to be more a whimper than a bang. Turnout was low in much of the country, thanks to a combination of election fatigue and corruption fatigue. In many states, the opposition boycotted the poll, leaving the ruling People's Democratic Party the victor by default. The results thus far are following the pattern of the parliamentary and presidential elections; with the exception of the northern states where the ANPP won and the AD's stronghold in Lagos state, the PDP will control the state assemblies for the next four years.

The election will solidify what many analysts are already calling Nigeria's "one-party creep." Some Nigerians are worried that the country might be headed the way of Mubarak's Egypt, but I think the more likely model is Malaysia. Like Nigeria, Malaysia is a federal state in which the ruling party is a coalition of diverse interests and elites whose ideology consists, in practical terms, of staying in power. A primarily Islamist opposition is strong in a few states, but the ruling party's hegemony is elsewhere disturbed only by a few small regional organizations.

If the results of the present election are upheld - and, with the exception of a few states where the irregularities were particularly egregious, they probably will be - then Nigeria will be headed in much the same direction. Nigeria won't become a one-party state, but that will largely be a formality outside the north with the PDP controlling the levers of power right down to the local level. Reinventing Malaysia might not be entirely a bad thing - it's a prosperous, well-run country that is considerably better off than most of its neighbors. On the other hand, it doesn't much resemble a democracy.