Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lieberman makes his case

While I am not a supporter of Avigdor Lieberman, the chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, I think it would be responsible blogging for me to provide multiple views. Here he makes the case for himself, which I think he did very well. While I do support the Left in Israel, I think Lieberman can and is willing to make the sacrifice to push the peace process forward. I hope he can make peace like Begin, not make war like Begin. Here is is an excerpt:
I stand at the head of the most diverse political party in the Knesset. Four out of our first 10 Knesset members are women. Three out of our first 10 have a physical disability. Hamad Amer is a pillar of the Druze community. Anastassia Michaeli is the first convert to enter the Knesset. And David Rotem is a religious Zionist and obviously sees Yisrael Beiteinu as supportive of religious Jews.


Another label that has been thrust in my direction is “far right” or “ultra-nationalist.” I want the State of Israel to remain a Zionist, Jewish and democratic state. There is nothing “far” or “ultra” about those ideals. I also advocate the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
If I was in charge of making a coalition, I would include him in it. For a terrible problem, one has to strive for a solution, even if it is imperfect. I just hope he has his legal issues resolved and doesn't alienate the moderate and integrated Arabs in Israel.

Holocaust resonance

I just read a terrific article in Harry's Place about the use of the Holocaust by people who are protesting against Israel. Dave Rich, the author of the article, concludes:
Once the central argument of anti-Israel campaigning in this country is that Israel is Nazi Germany, then this is no longer an anti-Zionist movement: it is an antisemitic one, with an antisemitic politics as its driving force.
I suggest you read this article and if you know or see anyone that equates Israel with Nazi Germany, make the argument this article is making. The argument is long so I won't bother to repeat it here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Government Reform and One State Solution

Yesterday, I volunteered at JNF (Jewish National Fund) - stuffing envelopes and stamping them to be sent out to donors. There, I met another volunteer, an elderly fellow named Steve. We talked about Israeli politics, Jewish and family history.

He proposed a drastic government/electoral reform and a one state solution. I am against a one state solution because I think it would just lead to civil war, but I'll paraphrase Steve's proposal anyway because there is some merit in it.

Steve's one state solution - he proposes that if Gaza is returned to Egypt, the demographic numbers of Jews and Arabs in Israel proper and the West Bank eases the concern that Israel won't remain a Jewish and democratic state. Also, many Arabs in the West Bank have family in Jordan so if the eastern part of the West Bank is given to Jordan, it will ease greater demographic fears in Israel. According to the Israeli Census, due to the Westernization of Arab fertility rates in Israel, Arab families are more in size with Jewish families.

There are several issues with this version of the one state solution. First, one has to convince Egypt to take Gaza back and Jordan to take parts of the West Bank back. This is a difficult task because the opposition of Egypt's current regime is the Muslim Brotherhood and their Palestinian branch is Hamas which stronghold is Gaza. And Jordan is controlled by a Hashemite king which might not want politically emboldened Palestinians incorporated into his country. The only way to overcome this first hurdle is to use America's leverage of foreign aid to Egypt and Jordan to make them agree to this plan.

A second issue with this plan is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would have its position and power reduced greatly in this new one state because its constituency would be broken off to Egypt and Jordan. And I don't think the PA cherishes their people's democratic aspirations. How it would be incorporated into the Israeli political scene? - I don't know. In order for this plan to work, one would have to negotiate with Egypt and Jordan behind the PA's back.

A third issue is what to do with the Palestinians who are in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and other Arab countries. Political positions of people do change but allowing a mass immigration of Palestinians into Israel, the "Right of Return", is one position which I think Israel would never change. So what would the status of Palestinian refugees outside the Palestinian territories be? For them, this solution is not a solution. In order to solve this problem, the US and Europe must get the Palestinian refugees' "host" countries to permanently settle them there.

Even assuming that there is Israeli political backing for this, I think this plan has very little chance because there won't be Arab political backing for this. It would take great efforts on part of the US and Europe to facilitate the negotiations for this. The Israeli Right would say, "We are ready for this, it is they which need to change." The Israeli Left would say, "If we change, they will change."

Now to Steve's government reform proposal. The current electoral system of "ultra-democracy" and coalition building has brought down numerous government downs and disabled the government from making a decision on the one important issue of the last 41 years - what to do with the Palestinian territories. We have seen the same old faces responsible for failed policies run for election and get a large amount of Knesset seats many times.

Steve states that because the voters are voting for a party, party members are only beholden to the party, and not the people or any part of Israel. He proposes that you connect each Knesset seat to a district, like in the US. That way, that Knesset member would be beholden to his district and not to his party chairman (or chairwoman). I think this would eliminate the small and one issue parties from the Knesset.

I support this measure of reform but who knows if the current Knesset would because it is filled with numerous small parties. In the mean time, let's hope that the upcoming government can deal with the upcoming crises.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Religious Self Criticism

Last month, I referred to a devout Muslim American whose name is Khaled Hamid who blogs at Khaled Hamid Forum. He recently wrote a wonderful post criticizing the state of his own faith for not addressing the important issues Muslims face today such as Sunni-Shiite tensions and behaving righteously (by not beheading your wife).

Here is an excerpt:
Listening to recent Friday sermons debating the authenticity of Christmas as a religious occasion, or of the devilish pagan origins of Halloween seems to me and to many fellow Muslims like disputing whether our neighbor's house has proper foundation or not, while our own house is on fire.
A commenter that goes by the name of bettyzoole leaves this comment:
I once heard a rabbi say that most people worry about the spiritual well-being of other people and the physical well-being of themselves -- but that what God wants from us is to worry about the physical well-being of other people, and the spiritual well-being of ourselves!

Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all agree on this. It is very sad that most of their followers don't, really.
All religions suffer from this. If you notice that your clergy is criticizing your neighbor's house while his is on fire, let him know.

Quote of the Day

"Religion isn't the opium of the masses. It's the placebo of the masses."
-Dr. House (TV show)

Mahmoud Darwish

Like most non-Arabs, I have not known the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who was well known and loved in the Arab world. I only heard some mention of him in the press when he died last year. I have recently encountered his name and a part of a poem of his in the blogsphere. I don't know much about his politics so I won't care to write about it here. But what I do know that he is tremendously skilled as a poet and thinker.

Here is a video I found where he appears in a French movie called Notre Musique:

And here is the transcript (might not be the same as the video but the video has subtitles) I got from here:
[translated] Truth has two faces. We’ve listened to the Greek mythology, and at times we’ve heard the Trojan victim speak through the mouth of the Greek Euripedes. As for me, I’m looking for the poet of Troy, because Troy didn’t tell its story. And I wonder, does a land that has great poets have the right to control a people that has no poets? And is the lack of poetry amongst a people enough reason to justify its defeat? Is poetry a sign, or is it an instrument of power? Can a people be strong without having its own poetry?

I was a child of a people that had not been recognized until then. And I wanted to speak in the name of the absentee, in the name of the Trojan poet. There’s more inspiration and humanity in defeat than there is in victory. If I belonged to the victor’s camp, I’d demonstrate my support for the victims.

Do you know why we Palestinians are famous? Because you are our enemy. The interest in us stems from the interest in the Jewish issue. The interest is in you, not in me. So we have the misfortune of having Israel as an enemy, because it enjoys unlimited support. And we have the good fortune of having Israel as our enemy, because the Jews are the center of attention. You’ve brought us defeat and renown.

If the Palestinians were fighting the Russians, Chinese, or the Sudanese nobody would have cared. I'll let you ponder all that he said - it's all very deep with meaning.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Waltz with Gaza

I'm borrowing the title from Waltz with Bashir to apply the nuances to Hamas' rule of Gaza. In the movie's imagination of the Wild Wild West, the thuggish cowboy would shoot at a man's feet, making him dance to avoid the bullets. This is what Hamas is doing in Gaza - shooting at the Gazans' feet to make them dance to the tune of Hamas. Since the coup and counter coup between Fatah and Hamas, the democratic political institution of the Palestinians have collapsed with Fatah (partially) controlling the West Bank and Hamas controlling Gaza.

I recently discovered this interesting documentary on how Hamas is governing Gaza. It's called Inside Hamas.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Phenomenon called the Israeli Arab

Sayed Kashua writes a satirical piece for Haaretz where he tries to explain to foreign Western reporters what an Israeli Arab means and what their life is like. He tries to tell the reporter about how Israeli Arabs suffer from "ray-cee-zem" and "dees-kreem-ee-nay-shun" while accepting an offer from his Jewish neighbor to go see a movie later. Absolutely halerious.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Elders of Zion, MD

Last Monday, I went to a little event at the house of one my parent's Israeli American friends. My parent's friend is a very successful artist with a huge house with walls clad with art. The event was organized by Friends of the IDF which provides IDF soldiers, especially those who came to Israel from the Diaspora, with support in helping them live in Israel and serve in the IDF (apartments, spending money, food baskets, people to care for them, etc.). Everybody there was Israeli and spoke almost entirely in Hebrew. There were about 30 people there and many are IDF veterans such as my dad.

An IDF officer was there to talk about the conflicts the IDF faces when in war - such as fighting in heavily populated areas where the enemy hides among civilians. He talked about the recent Lebanon war and had short video about a daring IDF operation in Lebanon '06. He had another short video about how Hamas uses civilians and abuses childrens to do there bidding. Some of the guest asked why aren't they showing these pictures in the media - we are the Elders of Zion, aren't we?

Another guest said that when he was an officer in the IDF, he was frustrated because the upper echelon of the army didn't have their best interest at heart - they weren't letting them finish the job.

The night was exciting for me because I haven't been around so many Israelis in the US ever. My parents knew about half the people there. One of the guests was an old army buddy of my dad.

What Book I'm Reading

I'm over 200 pages into Constantine's Sword by James Carroll. Carroll, a former Catholic priest, tells about his discovery (through study of history and himself) of how inherent Christian (especially Catholic) Jew hating teachings led to the Holocaust.

It is very clearly written and well researched. But I'm starting to be reluctant to continue reading the book because it is adding to my paranoia of a resurgent antisemitism in Europe. Over the last couple of months, I've been reading many articles in the Israeli press about an increased sense of harassment (and actual attacks) of Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere.

Everybody is talking about how blatant antisemitism is no longer frowned upon in European societies. But it begs the question - has Europe changed at all? All it takes is an economic crisis for Europe to return to its ol' Jew hating self.

As one of the organizers of a Friends of the IDF event I went to said, "We all know how every 100 years somebody wants to kick our butts." This is true. At least this time, we have a democratic Western world. Technically, the last 60 years has been a Golden Age as far as Jewish history (and world history) is concerned. There is no reason for it to stop, economic crisis or not.

Voices of youth

My local newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, isn't a particular good newspaper. The quality has declined greatly over the years. Thomas Friedman's column used to appear here but then all of a sudden they stopped. Now we have Garrison Keillor's column where he never actually writes about anything. Just garbage!

I don't know why I read the Sun - definitely not for the Middle East coverage (probably for the sports coverage). Anyway, today they have an interesting collection of questions and responses from teenagers from the Ramallah Friends School and the Hebrew University Secondary School. I admit, some of it is disturbing. Some of the responses from the Palestinian youth are laced with hate. I might seem biased but just look at some of those shocking answers of the Palestinian youths. For example:
Q. So what happens now?

"I think the perfect plan now is to establish two states, one Palestinian, one Israeli, and with the help of time, the Palestinian state is going to be strong and we'll do to the Israelis the same thing they did to us." - Hend Younis
I've never heard of a Jew wishing for the near annihilation of the Germans. This is disgusting.

The prospects for peace aren't great. But I still believe in Amos Oz's vision for peace - where both sides still hate each other but are just worn out from war. IMHO Israeli-Palestinian peace will not occur during Obama's first term. I hope I am wrong. Hopefully in the 2nd term (if there would be one).

At what price?

If you were Prime Minister of Israel, how many terrorists would you be willing to release in order to get Gilad Shalit back? and you don't even know if he's dead or alive. Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, said to Gilad's father that he's alive but I don't think he actually knows. He probably just told him what he wanted to hear.

Would you release the masterminds and terrorist leaders with the blood of scores of Israelis on their hands? If it was up to me, I would only release them in a real comprehensive peace deal. Of course that won't happen for a long time. I would offer to release those who have committed lesser crimes which could number up to the thousands if I understand correctly.

I understand why Israel released Samir Kuntar. I might have made the same deal. A lot of non-Jews can't understand it because they don't understand how much Israel values the lives of its soldiers and how important it is in the Jewish tradition to bury our dead. As the Gaza war has shown, Israel is not willing to risk another Jenin. The IDF just can't go room to room to search for weapons anymore, especially not in Hamas controlled Gaza.

So why deal with Hezbollah and Hamas? I believe Israel achieved 'deterence' but the price to get Shalit back is too high yet. During the Gaza, Thomas Friedman explains in his column about 'deterence.' He talks about how Meshaal, the leader of Hezbollah, apologized to Lebanon on TV on a channel not of his organization. Untill the Hamas leadership apologizes to the Palestinians on a Fatah controlled channel, I would not release the terrorist masterminds of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. Israel must achieve uptimum 'deterence' in order to take such a deal.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Empower the Village

Kudos to Thomas Friedman for highlighting the wonderful Muslim community in India.

There are nine bodies — all of them young men — that have been lying in a Mumbai hospital morgue since Nov. 29. They may be stranded there for a while because no local Muslim charity is willing to bury them in its cemetery. This is good news.

The nine are the Pakistani Muslim terrorists who went on an utterly senseless killing rampage in Mumbai on 26/11 — India’s 9/11 — gunning down more than 170 people, including 33 Muslims, scores of Hindus, as well as Christians and Jews. It was killing for killing’s sake. They didn’t even bother to leave a note.
This community shows by example how a community should deal with extremism.

“People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim,” Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, told The Times of London. Eventually, one assumes, they will have to be buried, but the Mumbai Muslims remain defiant.

“Indian Muslims are proud of being both Indian and Muslim, and the Mumbai terrorism was a war against both India and Islam,” explained M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal. “Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is ‘fasad.’ Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the ... terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery.”

To be sure, Mumbai’s Muslims are a vulnerable minority in a predominantly Hindu country. Nevertheless, their in-your-face defiance of the Islamist terrorists stands out. It stands out against a dismal landscape of predominantly Sunni Muslim suicide murderers who have attacked civilians in mosques and markets — from Iraq to Pakistan to Afghanistan — but who have been treated by mainstream Arab media, like Al Jazeera, or by extremist Islamist spiritual leaders and Web sites, as “martyrs” whose actions deserve praise.

There is a lot the Arab world can learn from the Muslim and Arab communities in India, and America. The American media usually ignores or doesn't not present Muslim American criticism of Islamic terrorism so Friedman's column is a great surprise to me.

I looked at the wiki page of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist from Israel.
In 1996, members of the Labor Party called for the shrine-like landscaped prayer area near the grave to be removed, and Israeli security officials expressed concern that the grave would encourage extremists.[22] In 1999, following passage of a law designed to prohibit monuments to terrorists, and an associated Supreme Court ruling, the Israeli Army bulldozed the shrine and prayer area set up near Goldstein's grave.[23]
Kudos to Israel as well.

Friedman concludes with this:
It is why so few, if any, Indian Muslims are known to have joined Al Qaeda. And it is why, as outrageously expensive and as uncertain the outcome, trying to build decent, pluralistic societies in places like Iraq is not as crazy as it seems. It takes a village, and without Arab-Muslim societies where the villagers feel ownership over their lives and empowered to take on their own extremists — militarily and ideologically — this trend will not go away.
There are many examples across the globe that when you empower the weak in society, that society becomes stronger and problems are solved. For example, in places of over population and high birth rates, studies show that if the women get education, they would have less children. Actually, that's true in all places. I don't know who said it but, "A country is only as strong as its people." So if you give the people an education and a voice, the society would become more moderate and better organized to fight extremism.

To read the rest of Friedman's column, go here.

David Gregory has a Blog

I just found from Jeffrey Goldberg's blog that David Gregory of Meet the Press has a blog about politics (which is the center of his job) and spirituality. I added it to the Blog Roll on the right. I am surprised to learn that he's Jewish. My dad is a lot better than me in determining if someone is a member of the tribe by name and nose ... er' ... looks, hehe. Just look at that hair! Doesn't look very Semetic.

I'm not a religious person. Sometimes I prefer to call my self a "secular Jew" (like those styled in Israel) rather than a "Reform Jew." But I'm still very intrigued in theology, interpretation of Scripture, and striving for a fulfilling life. I was never excited in my Judaics classes in high school but now that I'm in college, I kinda miss them.

Apparently, Gregory and Goldberg study Tanakh together. I'm actually excited to read Gregory's blog because he's a famous TV personality, tribe member, has a blog, and he's going to talk about Judaism and spirituality. I saw him on the Daily Show once talking a bit about Israel so it looks like he knows his stuff about the Middle East too. Sounds like an appealing combination to me.

Extra: One of the features Gregory has on the blogs is "What I'm Reading Today" and then list 5 recent articles or blog posts (with links) with short descriptions. I like this so I'm going to do the same. I might not do it daily and I might accumulate a few important articles over a few days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sudan refugees find love in Tel Aviv

Haaretz has a collection of photos taken by Ariel Schalit of AP of Sudanese refugees "breaking glass" in Tel Aviv. I was surprised to find one of these photos in the local Baltimore Sun.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Import Brains to Stimulate the Economy

I don't usually talk about the economy but I just have to put this here because ... well ... it's Thomas Friedman. I do like economics but I didn't create this blog because I needed to vent on economic issues.

Before I talk further about Friedman's article, I want to make a few comments on the man. Friedman is perhaps the most influential writer on my foreign policy and economic views. We are both interested about the Middle East, Economics, and Green Technology (or just innovative technology in general). A lot of people think that he is writing about subjects that he has no expertise about. Perhaps, he's not an economist, a foreign policy maker, or a businessman. But he is a journalist and the greatest tool he has which many of us lack is insight. When he writes about something, he goes there. Whether it is about the West Bank or India, he is there to talk with experts in their respective fields. He is not afraid to talk to people. He understands what drives people. If you haven't read From Beirut to Jerusalem yet, do it.

Here are a few excerpts from his latest column with my comments in between -
“All you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately improve your savings rate — no Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans.”
Indians and Asians in general truly are some of the hardest people. They've seen the slums. Those that make it to America know how lucky they are to be here. They have the drive and ambition to help the American economic wheels working. There are plenty of engineers and PhDs in Asia that would love to come to America and achieve the American Dream. They just don't have the visas to do so.

Perhaps new immigrants would make the melting pot better money managers.
“Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.”
What put America ahead of Europe? In America, the will of your heat and sweat and the merit of your cause. It was a land of opportunities where immigrants could help themselves and help America at the same time. It was and still can be for many generations to come.

In conclusion, if you want a more innovative work force, there are two ways of going about. Either raise it (educating children to become engineers and the like) or import it (educated immigrants).

I just took a couple snippets from the column. To read the rest, go here.

NOW Lebanon borrowing from Talmud

One of the recent blogs/online publication I've added to the 'Blog Roll' section on the right is NOW Lebanon. I have only looked at this newspaper a couple time and I just noticed that their slogan in the title is "If not now, when?" which is attributed to Talmud or Hillel. Mossad?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The 5 Tribes of Israel

Five? Don't you mean twelve? Hold on with me. One of the blogs I added to my 'Blog Roll' is Bernard Avishai Dot Com. I don't know much about him but his most recent post has been very insightful for people who aren't that knowledgeable about Israeli politics. There are some issues with his description of Israeli politics but overall its pretty good and the second to last paragraph was just funny. So here it goes:

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Center: The Players And The Program

If all one means by center is a vague desire to contain Palestinian terrorism yet distance oneself from settlers’ excesses—to do the former without alienating Washington, and the latter without splitting the Jewish people—then a stable majority has been centrist since 1967. But this is a free-floating desire, not the basis of a political identity. You can see how much good vague desire is when others create facts.

ISRAELIS ANGUISH OVER five issues, actually. First, there is the question of whether to rely primarily on military power when dealing with the troubled Middle East. Second, there is the collateral but more ideologically charged question of whether to withdraw from occupied territory, historic Eretz Yisrael, in order to advance to a “two-state solution” with Palestinians. Third, there is the question we have examined thus far, whether a democracy can accord exclusive privileges to legally defined Jews—a question linked to the first two, but not limited by them. Next there is the question, tucked into the last one, of whether to privilege orthodox religious practice. Finally, there is the question of economic privilege, even class: who wins and who loses in a global market economy?

One cannot easily find a center in the permutations these questions produce, which is why as many as twenty political parties typically compete in Israeli elections. But when pundits speak about a center now, they mean leaders who—though they’ll want to have things both ways on many of these issues—have tipped in certain directions: immediate toughness over eventual diplomacy; “painful concessions” in the territories over “Zionist” devotion; some civil reform yet Jewish privilege over scrupulous attention to Arab rights; the religious Status Quo over secular discomfort; and global markets over working-class discomfort.

Some of these choices are short-sighted, no doubt, but the ambivalence is promising. Centrists will often advance contradictory positions: shows of social compassion for the poor wedded to reassurances to venture capitalists; civil marriage, yet jobs for Rabbis.

To add to the complexity, Israel’s elections bring out five more or less permanent tribes to debate these issues: groups of electors defined by primordial ethnic or religious loyalties. Each comprises about 20 percent of the electorate, or something around a million and a half people. The tribes have had immigrant experiences at very different times, and so tend to think of Israel in different ways. They sometimes melt into each other and more often chafe against one another. For some time now, Israeli coalition politics has been a game of temporarily patching them together.

THE FIRST TRIBE—call it Tribe One—is dominated by veteran Ashkenazim (of European origin), most of them “Sabras.” They were born in the country, are now well-educated and cosmopolitan, secular and (if anything) observant of Judaism in the emancipated sense, live-and-let-live by instinct—and living very well indeed in fashionable neighborhoods like North Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem’s Bak’a or Haifa’s Carmel. These are the Israelis Americans usually run into, members of the educational and professional élite, often drawn by opportunities abroad: a visiting appointment at the University of Pennsylvania, a stint at A.T. Kearney. Their old-timers tell harrowing, personal tales of ideological non-conformism and political prescience, of immigrant courage and pioneering struggle during the Mandate. Successful entrepreneurs will yet justify their businesses in the rhetoric of the old pioneering communitarianism. Tribe One are Israel’s WASPs. Clearly, they are crucial to an understanding what the Israeli center is and can yet be. Think Kadima and Labor.

Tribe Two, in contrast, are the residual core of the rather larger North African immigration of Mizrahi Jews, who came to Israel in the 1950s and 60s en masse. They were as shocked as the Arabs by Tribe One’s ideological and sexual avant garde. Most had been petit-bourgeois, small merchants and tradesmen back in Casablanca, Tunis, Tripoli, etc. Their most educated or affluent leaders often went to Paris or Montreal. Back in the Maghreb, men ruled and plotted family survival. Women were generally illiterate. The collapse of colonialism, and the birth of Israel, left Mizrahi Jews exposed to unexpected retaliations in their countries of origin; businesses and friends were left behind in heartbreaking haste.

Once in Israel, however, the Mizrahim found themselves in an underclass, much less well-educated than the Eastern European Labor Zionists who ran the place. They were pressured to work for, and become like, the socialist bosses who presided over the kibbutzim, union-owned factories, and government agencies. Their old culture heroes were the French bourgeoisie.

On average, Tribe Two still actually earns a third less than Tribe One. Pride in Tribe Two is pride in the family, not in tales of some old commune or movement. But it is a pride that tips easily into social anger, for they see the state as a kind of great family that ought to take care of its own. Many have now made it in retail businesses, or car repair shops, or real estate. Their children have become lawyers, police officers, and contractors. Yet most of Tribe Two remain hungry for status, and tens of thousands still struggle with unemployment in inner-cities and neglected development towns. Think Likud.

Unlike Tribe One, Tribe Two follow Halakha naturally, if not quite piously. They still feel they have a score to settle with “the Arabs,” the Muslims, who drove them out, mainly after the Sinai War. They still cannot believe how they could have been so marginalized by the old Labor aristocracy. Think Shas.

As with the Boston Irish, their social resentment gets passed on from generation to generation and gets channeled into cultural politics: over-zealous devotion at soccer matches, or overt nepotism in the smaller city councils, where Tribe Two politicians tend to dominate.

TRIBE THREE, THE newest tribe, have their origins in about 900,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, most of whom came in the 1990s. They include people from the Ukraine, the Baltic states, etc., but are generally known as “the Russians.” Hyper-educated, hyper-secular (about 25 percent were never “real” Jews back home in Moscow or Kiev), the Russians were beneficiaries of both a rigorous Soviet education and a vital anti-Soviet “refusenik” underground. Fo them, Jews are victims of perpetual hatred, and their national retaliation defines them. They are repelled by the orthodox and are gluttons for high culture and, horrors, non-kosher food: symphonic music, experimental theater, cosmopolitan styles, mathematical science.

In the 1990s, when Israeli high tech was taking off, about a third of the research programmers, materials scientists, etc., were from Tribe Three. But they are also hyper-nationalist, certain of their purchase on Europe’s grim history, scornful of Muslim fanaticism and backwardness (their Vietnam was Afghanistan, after all), and dismayed by the squishy liberal intellectuals of Tribe One who allegedly pander to the Muslim world. They came to Israel to join the “West” and to save it from itself. They are searching for an Israeli Putin. Think Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu.

Haaretz’s Lily Galili, who has followed this community for years, told me that a majority of the Russians are feeling chronically embattled, “a combination of seeing impending catastrophe and a certainty that toughness will bring progress.” They are quick, she says, to see Nazis in Palestinians, and yet they are certain about Israel’s ability “to exercise a kind of omnipotence” on a world stage:

“This is very Russian, the idea that ‘liberalism’ is holy and yet something for Jewish suckers, which is why they have such common language with American neo-conservatives. Natan Sharansky is in many ways their hero—the chess player, the intellectual, the world prophet. He appealed to international liberal conscience while he was in prison, but after coming to Israel, he seems to have found that he could both lecture to the world about democracy and lecture Israelis that the Jewish claim to Jerusalem was a ‘higher value’ than liberalism—that the Arabs had better learn to accept it—that Israel, being a better ‘democracy’ than its neighbors, should be immune from Western criticism.”

These first three tribes intermarry at a high rate, and their edges are getting blurry. Some vote their class interests, some their security fears—none of the three is monolithic. The melding of Ashkenazim and Sephardim is especially great in the twenty-something generation. More educated Mizrahim and more cosmopolitan Russians tend to vote Labor and embrace liberal ideas. Nevertheless, “identity politics” play out among these tribes in unpredictable ways, depending on who leads or what buttons get pushed—say, whether security concerns or economic issues dominate the headlines.

On the whole, economic issues pull people leftward, that is, toward concessions to the Palestinians, while security issues pull rightward. Though a majority in each tribe has tended to hold to certain directions—Tribe One to Labor, Two to Likud, Three to rightist splinter parties, claiming Russian loyalties—it is in Tribes Two and Three where virtually all of Israel’s swing voters live today.

IN THE FRAUGHT election of 2001, which brought Sharon to power, the affluent mainly Ashkenazi suburb of Kfar Shmaryahu voted 78 percent for Labor, while 81 percent of the comparatively poor Mizrahi town of Beit Shemesh voted Likud. In 1999, some 65 percent of the Russians voted for Barak in 2001, about 70 percent voted for Sharon. All of which brings us to Tribes Four and Five, more familiar by now—also more monolithic and predictable.

Four is made up of Israel’s ultra-nationalist, theocratic groups, bronzed West Bank settlers wedded politically, if not temperamentally, to pale Haredi Yeshiva students. Tribe Four are devotees of the Land of Israel. Yet they tend to be economically socialist—“national socialist,” one settler told me with a kind of creepy pride—for many of the orthodox live off the state, either in state schools or embattled settlements. Tribe Four disdains Israeliness as an effort to decouple the national life of the state from the Jewish world of Torah and commandments. It refuses the distinction between the covenantal people and the Israeli nation.

Its bane is Tribe Five, Israeli Arabs, living in towns segregated by both archaic land policies and the discrimination of Zionist institutions. Poor but up-and-coming, willing if not eager to enter Israeli democracy, Israeli Arabs are enraged by the existing version of the Jewish state. Five is counting on, if anything, Israeliness.

ORDINARILY, THEN, TRIBE Three hates Four, condescends to Two, and doubts One; Two hates One, resents Three and (for different reasons) Four; One is afraid of Two, patronizes Three and hates Four; Four hates One, proselytizes Two, and is afraid of Three. All four are afraid of Five.

So imagine how, if at all, any winner of tomorrow's election will be able to form a government, and how long any such government will last. The real question is whether a government will form that will be able to respond to an American initiative, which is the only hope.

(Many of these observations are taken from
Now here are some critics provided in the 'Comment' section.
LB said...

I would add two tribes - tribe four (ultra-nationalist, in your words) has very little in common with haredim, despite what outsiders may think. Religiously, somewhat - beyond that - one group is Zionist, one is not. So I would add Haredi tribe (big enough for their own tribe).

Also, Western Olim (mostly Anglos [US, Canada, UK, Australia, S.Africa], some of the French) - arguably big enough for their own tribe. Usually pretty liberal on domestic issues, yet capitalists. Very idealistic - but also tend to be squarely in the right - really, they're what Bibi portends to be.

Y. Ben-David said...

Dr Avishai says the country is "terribly fragmented". This, along with his division of Israel into various tribes that supposedly are at each other's throats seems to me to be greatly exaggerated. All countries have social, ethnic and religious divisions. But (Jewish) Israel has a vary strong Jewish national identity whose symbols are almost exclusively drawn from Jewish religious tradition (although secularists may view them more in a "folklorish" way than religious.)
I take exception to his claim that "Tribe 4-the ultra-religious-nationalists 'live off the state' more than other groups" (full disclosure-I am a member of this 'tribe'). I work in a company with many engineers and we have not a few engineers from this group, and the other Jewish groups as well. Everybody gets along just fine.
I also think it is bizarre when Avishai says "Group X 'hates' Group Y". Social differences may make people feel disdain for others, but when we see, for example, in Iraq Sunnis and Shi'ites slaughtering each other we are seeing real HATRED. When Muslim preachers on official FATAH-controlled Palestinian state television praising suicide bombers who go into crowded pizzerias, we are seeing rale HATE. Saying different groups hate each other makes it sound like Israel is on the verge of civil war which is nonsense.

Again, after living in the "pluralist, multicultural" United States before making aliyah 22 years ago, I feel a much stronger national identity in Israel than I ever did in the US. I am afraid that when we combine the "fragmented society" that Dr Avishai views to the very common view presented by "progressives" like those here at TMP by MJ Rosenberg, Sam Bahour and others, that Israel is an "abberational" artificial state that is merely an outpost of American/Western Colonialism under American's thumb, and if only the Americans would "pull the plug" Israel would submit to a far-reaching diktat, or even worse , go under (see Sam Bahour's recent post below for a version of this). Dr Avishai himself seems to also believe a modified version of this himself.
This distorted view leads many people (like some posting here at TPM) to think Israel is on the verge of falling apart, civil war, mass emigration, etc. None of this is true. The country is growing stronger and immigration continues, although it has its ups and downs like everything else. Immigration is now on a slow but steady rise even from prosperous countries in Western Europe and North America. I can only say for myself that my quality of life in Israel is much higher than it was in the United States, when taking into account things like having a proper atmosphere to raise children and give them a quality Jewish education.
If you think Israel is a "fragmented society" then what of that of the Palestinians? They can't form any sort of national state infrastructure, in spite of being prodded for the last 15 years by the US and the West to do so. This is true of most Arab states that have to ruled by the iron hand of an autocrat (see what happened to Iraq when that iron hand was removed?-We'll see what happens there as the Americans withdraw). Arab states are riven by clan rivalries that greatly exacerbate national divisions. Israel is a very united country compared to them.

This is not to say, of course, that Israel doesn't have problems. The political system is archaic and is having difficulty adjusting to having a better educated population that resents the paternalistic tendencies of the veteran political parties.
But in the bottom line I can only repeat what I believe it was President Sarkozy said: Israel is the great success story of the 20th-21 centuries.
If the Arabs would finally get rid of their archaic view that the existence of a Jewish state is a terrible humiliation for them, and decide to cooperate, they would be the major beneficiaries. But who says people always behave in a logical manner?

Overall, an excellent article.

Political Decision Taken on the Back of Patients

I just read an article by Ethan Bronner of the NYTimes and it is a very sad story. Here it is in its entirety:
February 10, 2009

Palestinians Stop Paying Israeli Hospitals for Gaza and West Bank Patients

JERUSALEM — Scores of Palestinian patients being treated in Israeli hospitals, a rare bright spot of coexistence here, are being sent home because the Palestinian Authority has stopped paying for their treatment, partly in anger over the war in Gaza.

Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem says that for the past week, no payments have come in and Palestinians whose children it is treating have been instructed by Palestinian health officials to place them in facilities in the West Bank, Jordan or Egypt.

“Suddenly we have had 57 patients dropped from our rolls,” said Dr. Michael Weintraub, director of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplantation at Hadassah. “We have been bombarded by frantic parents. This is a political decision taken on the backs of patients.”

The Palestinian health minister, Fathi Abu Moghli, said he was examining the entire referral procedure because he was tired of adding to what he called Israel’s “oil well,” meaning the payments for Palestinian patient care. In particular, he said, he had no desire to see the wounded from the Gaza war receive Israeli care.

“We already pay $7 million a month to Israeli hospitals,” he said in a telephone interview. “Since the first day of the Gaza aggression, I said that I will not send to my occupier my injured people in order for him to make propaganda at my expense, and then pay him for it.”

An Israeli clinic set up with great fanfare on the Israeli-Gaza border the day the war ended, Jan. 18, has already closed, since both Hamas, which governs Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority essentially boycotted it. The Palestinian Authority pays for much of its citizens’ care in Israel from its budget.

Israel has long pointed to its medical care of Palestinians as an example of its advanced skills and humanitarianism. Palestinians generally are eager to gain the benefit, but are also resentful. As relations have chilled, each side has accused the other of political manipulation.

Dr. Abu Moghli said that with 24 hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank, there was no reason for so many Palestinian patients to go automatically to Israeli facilities, which he said were much more expensive and contributed to a culture of dependency.

“We can’t pay our government salaries this month, but at the same time I have to pay Israeli hospitals so much,” he said. “The Israelis have refused to reduce their costs.”

Israeli doctors and nonprofit groups support having the Palestinians provide more care for their own people, but say that the gap with Israel in quality remains huge, and that the Palestinian Authority is making a mistake that could cost lives.

“Cutting it in one day makes no sense,” said Ron Pundak, director general of the Peres Center for Peace, which sponsors care for 1,000 Palestinian children a year in Israeli hospitals and training for 40 Palestinian doctors. “Such a move needs to be coordinated, but dialogue with the Palestinian Authority has been much harder since the war.”

Anan Dahmi, a salesman from the West Bank city of Tulkarm, said he had been told by the Palestinian Health Ministry last week that his 4-year-old son, Aous, had to stop going to Hadassah Hospital for follow-up treatments after a bone marrow transplant there a year ago, and should be taken instead to a Palestinian or Jordanian hospital.

Mr. Dahmi said that his 6-year-old daughter had died from the same disorder because he had not gotten her to Hadassah quickly enough, and that now he was deeply worried about his son.

“I don’t know how I am going to manage,” he said by telephone. “I don’t want to lose my son the way I lost my daughter.”

Hadassah officials say that removing Aous from their care could endanger his life, because his medical requirements are strict and specific and there is not yet a pediatric oncology facility in the Palestinian areas (one in East Jerusalem is due to start functioning, with Israeli help, in the coming year).

They add that while the cost of care is much higher in Israel than in the West Bank, Palestinians are not charged the higher rates for foreigners but those for Israelis — which are much lower than rates in the United States or Western Europe. In addition, they say, there are subsidies from foreign governments, charities and the hospital itself.

“The cure rate for childhood cancer is about 80 percent, but only in the first world,” Dr. Weintraub, of Hadassah, said. “It costs between $50,000 and $100,000 here. It costs four times that in the U.S.”

He added that the relationship between an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem and patients in the West Bank was like that between a hospital in El Paso and patients on the Mexican side of the border.

“People in the third world want first-world care just like we do,” he said. “If they live in Malawi, they have no hope for it. But if they live 10 minutes from Hadassah, they will do everything they can to get admitted. And we are happy to take them. There are no politics in our wards. Twenty percent of our patients are Palestinians, and we have one common enemy: cancer. The rest is immaterial. The question now is how to get those patients back into our care.”

Hamas Returns Supplies to U.N.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) — The United Nations said Monday that Hamas had returned all of the aid supplies that it seized from the agency in the Gaza Strip last week.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said the return of the supplies cleared the way for it to resume all of its operations in Gaza. The agency had suspended imports of goods on Friday after accusing Hamas of twice seizing aid supplies, which included food and blankets.
Poor patients and their families. Kudos for Israel for giving Palestinians Israeli rates.

A Prophet

I started reading Abraham J. Heschel's "The Prophets". I only read the introduction written by Heschel in 1962. The introduction was astonishing. Here are the last two paragraphs:
The prophet was an individual who said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected. his fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God. Why do the two need reconciliation? Perhaps it is due to man's false sense of sovereignty, to his abuse of freedom, to his aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God's involvement in history.

Prophecy ceased; the prophets endure and can only be ignored at the risk of our own despair. It is for us to decide whether freedom is self-assertion or response to a demand; whether the ultimate situation is conflict or concern.

Abraham J. Heschel
Jewish Theological Seminary
New York City
August, 1962
I thought this was great. Here is the Wiki page on him. He's a rabbi but I don't know why it doesn't say so on the book cover in his name. Caption to the picture above provided by Wiki:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, second from right, participating in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 21, 1965.

From far left: John Lewis, an unidentified nun; Ralph Abernathy; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Ralph Bunche; Abraham Joshua Heschel; Fred Shuttlesworth.
I hope this inspires you in the right direction. Sometimes I regret not having God as a tool when arguing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Palestinians Finally Learn

JPost reports that according to a recent poll "conducted by the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion" that Hamas popularity has dropped dramatically.
Today, Hamas is supported by only 27.8% of the population in the Gaza Strip, compared to 51.5% in November, said Dr. Nabil Kukali, founder and general director of the PCPO.
This poll has many other interesting statistics. One thing is for certain. Israeli deterrence has been restored. It is a cold reality. Hopefully Israel and the Palestinians can move forward.

I hope this poll would gain support for Ehud Barak's Labor party for he was the Defense Minister instead of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Lebanese Political Satirist With Hezbollah Among His Targets

In my previous post, I mentioned a Lebanese political satirist and his comment on Lebanese media freedom. The NYTimes has an interesting profile on him. Here is an excerpt from the very end of the article:

Mr. Khalil, who cites Woody Allen and Mel Brooks as two of his chief influences, concedes that satire is not a very powerful weapon in a country where politics is still largely a matter of feudal allegiance. But he seems willing to settle for making people laugh.

“When we first started, all this was new, and people resisted it,” he said. “But I discovered that people here are not so different from Europe and the United States. They accept political satire.”

I thought it was interesting that two of his big influences are American Jews.

The Dayton Mission

In Thomas Friedman's latest column, he tells the efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton to establish a security institution in the West Bank.
I accompanied him and his little team to Jenin — once the most violent city in the West Bank — to see their work. It was quite a scene: I watched a company of newly trained, proud and professional-looking Palestinian Authority troops, standing at attention, AK-47 assault rifles at their side, listening with obvious respect to the American general telling them: “What you’ve done has done more to advance the Palestinian national project than anything else ... You took care of your people at a difficult time. That is how the security forces of a country behave.”
One of the things I like about Friedman is that if he wants to write about the West Bank, he'll write from the West Bank.
General Dayton was addressing the Second Special Battalion of the Palestinian National Security Force, or N.S.F. It was trained by the Jordanian police in a program overseen by the U.S. Security Coordinator — a k a Dayton. He was originally assigned to help reform Palestinian security by the Bush team in 2005, but only got the funds to do so after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Some 1,600 Palestinian N.S.F. troops have since graduated, and 500 are now in training. Schooled in everything from riot control to human rights, the N.S.F. is the only truly professional force controlled by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli Army, originally dubious about the Dayton mission, has come to respect it and is now allowing it to expand to Hebron. What really got Israel’s attention was that during the three-week Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, the West Bank never blew up, largely because N.S.F. troops allowed widespread protests but kept Palestinian demonstrators from clashing with Israeli soldiers.

“General Dayton is our friend,” said Col. Radi Abu Asida of the N.S.F. “Now we have excellent training. Now we have professionalism in our security work. We told the people during the Gaza demonstrations, ‘You can protest, but you must do it in a modern way.’ ”

There are many in Israel who would never trust an Arab with a gun or with a ballot. They cite the 2006 Palestinian elections. They fear a Palestinian state which won't be able to stop Hezbollah or Hamas to establish launching pads around Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. This is a reasonable fear. Just look at Lebanon - a country of elections. But the Lebanese Army can't stand up to the Iran backed Hezbollah, and political parties have militias. And the media outlets are each controlled by a different faction.

The NYTimes has a wonderful profile on Lebanese satirist Charbel Khalil.

Mr. Khalil shrugs it off. “We are completely free here [regarding the media] compared with other Arab countries,” he said, sitting at a desk in his cozy, wood-paneled studio office just north of Beirut. “Nothing is forbidden for satire except the president of the republic.”

Then he adds, with faint embarrassment, “and the army. And the judges, and religious leaders. And the presidents and kings of ‘sister and neighborly countries.’ ” All these are specifically protected from public ridicule under Lebanon’s media law, he says.
The reason the 2006 elections were a disaster for the Palestinians is that they didn't have the institutions in place to actually create a democratic state. There is more to democracy than elections. There needs to be a balance of power. Institutions that strengthens democracy such as a free media, labor unions, an independent security force, government transparency and accountability. None of these are just going to pop up or be easy to establish.

Defeating the enemy through sheer force is not the only way to establish security. One can also establish an environment which the enemy can't garner support and operate. Such an environment is one which has strong societal institutions such as those I talked about above.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Angry Peacemaker

I don't know why I am calling myself peacemaker here because my actions aren't directed into actually making peace but that's the best word I could think of. I seek to understand. Knowledge is my gold. But through understanding, perhaps I would see the path to peace, and then act.

I was recently having a debate with Esra'a of Bahrain here on the MidEastYouth website. I can't say that this debate specifically triggered my anger but that along with the various other blogs I added to my 'Blog Roll', many of which I oppose the message, are making me angry. Now you must understand, I am not an emotional person. I rarely feel negative emotions towards others. I can become very happy, but never terribly upset or sad, as long as I can pursue my gold.

I see that many "peace activists", Jew and gentile, are fueled by their emotions, especially anger, to act. To me anger clouds judgment. As Simeon ben Lakish once said, "Anger deprives sage of his wisdom, a prophet of his vision." If you are wondering where I found this quote, it is from an old "Jewish Wisdom" quote book that I recently found in the house. Anger leads to mistrust. Anger and mistrust are exactly what the ultra-rightists feel or think about Arabs. Don't do the same.

In the words of the great American philosopher, Eric Cartman:
One person challenges another, "Do you know how to defeat hate?"


"With more hate!"
I'm not defending indifference. That's not what I advocate. It just seems that more emotional anti-Israel styled peace "activists" get, the more demonization and hate arises. I do not hate the Nazis or Hamas. I just see them as characterizing one aspect of humanity - stupidity. I guess I only recently realized how stupid and savage we humans are. It doesn't matter from what culture you come from (except maybe Buddhists but I don't know much about them), we humans are capable of doing the most destructive things.

So what now? How can I relieve my anger? Reading hasbara doesn't help. Reading anti-Israel crap only angers me. I don't like the way Israel is moving forward as recent polls suggest. Perhaps the Israeli elections will surprise me. The Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are only going backwards. Can I still call myself an optimist? Perhaps it's the weather or the tons of furniture I have been moving recently which is keeping me down.
God Himself says, "May my mercy overcome my anger."
Abba Aricha
Maybe I need to repent. Since I am not a believer I don't think that will mean anything to me. I need some constructive criticism. Any takers?

To vote, or not to vote?

I have talked a lot recently about the Arab Israeli community. Al Jazeera recently reported on the debate among Israeli Arabs on whether to vote or boycott the election. I already talked about the same topic here. To me, it seems silly. It seems like they are digging themselves a bigger hole, a hole which the ultra-nationalist parties (such as Israel Beiteinu) are happy they are digging. Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity (Abba Eban). In the end of the Al Jazeera video, the reporter said this:
Back in the 1950's, 90% of Palestinian Israelis voted in elections. By 2003, this figure dropped to 63%. By 2006, it dropped even further to 52%.

He also said that this year it is projected that less than 50% of Israeli Arabs will vote.

Those advocating for Arab boycott of the elections reason that voting in this election is a recognition of the "Zionist entity." The vast majority of them already voted in this "entity" right after its creation so that can't be it. What could it be? It seems that the less they vote, the worse their situation gets. Just like the more anti-Jew the Palestinians get in their history, from the early 20th century till today, the worse their situation gets.

Perhaps this is a similar strategy to how Arab leaders utilized Palestinian misfortunes to do their bidding - fight against Israel. I think it is.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Israeli Arabs

As you may have noticed, I recently added many links to the "Blog Roll" section to the right. Most of them lead to blogs but a few lead to journals or online newspapers. Many I have discovered only recently. I like to hear many different voices because I think that is the first step to understanding people, and since the Israeli Arab conflict is a people's conflict, hearing many Jewish and Arab voices is a natural step to bridge gaps, build relationships, and move forward in a constructive way.

Today I discovered that the Baltimore Jewish Times has a blog section. One of their contributors is Allison Mondell who writes from Jerusalem. I just read her latest post and I just thought that it was wonderful and articulate. So here it is in its entirety:

10:03 am every morning I race out of my apartment to catch the number 30 bus from Mt. Scopus to Talpiot. I try to pinpoint the places you can feel the change in atmosphere as I travel from East Jerusalem, the Arab part of the city, through the center of town to end in the wealthy American hub where my office is located. Yesterday, about three stops after I got on, one of the Arab custodians from my building got on. He’s probably about the same age as me and always smiles as he empties my trash can and vacuums the floor around me. After he got on the bus and gave his usual smile, he bypassed the empty seat next to me to sit on the back of the bus.

Israeli Jew. You never hear it used because it seems like a given. If you call someone Israeli, the assumption is that person is a Jew. Israeli Arab. You hear that all the time, but if being Israeli inherently means being Jewish, then isn’t Israeli Arab a contradiction? If it isn’t a contradiction, does it shown possessiveness? This Arab belongs to the Israelis…

The tension felt between the term Israeli and the term Arab is one that Palestinians living in Israel struggle with daily. Being born Arab in Israel means poorer quality education, high poverty and unemployment rates, and life as a second class citizen. Being born Arab in Israel also means equality for women, a voice (though it may be small) in the government and access to public education and services.

This duality, the pros and cons of each identity, makes the life of the Palestinian in Israel confusing. The reality is that they have very different goals then the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Yes they want a two state solution, but many of them wouldn’t move. According to a lecture by Mohammad Darawshe, the Co-Director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives and leading expert on Jewish-Arab relations, (and my cab driver from last night; cab drivers here are really talkative) most of them would choose to not to leave Israel.

Mr. Darawshe used the actions and inactions of the Palestinians living in Israel as proof of this statement. He pointed to several Hamas leaders that called on them to begin the third intifada, and those calls were ignored. Demonstrations have been peaceful and contained and Muslim leaders in Israel are thinking about the day after. They realize they will still be living in Israel the day after.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Disintegration of Arabs in Israeli Democracy

When I read the news I try to connect events by common themes in order to see trends occurring in society. The current trend I am observing is the decay of Arab involvement in Israeli politics. There has always been a rift between the Arab minority and the Jewish majority in Israel, but what I don't understand is why are they not embracing the right to vote and the right to run for office, and the power that comes with it, to correct whatever injustices they may feel. They are helping the Evil of Powerlessness. They are doing what the ultra-right parties want them to do. The only way to beat them, is to do it in their own game - politics. Resistance, Intifada, demonstrations and riots, what ever you want to call it, has only weakened the Arabs and brought resentment to everyone, Jew and Arab, in Israel. Suicide bombers went to clubs and pizzerias, places where secular left leaning Israelis go, not where the Datiim go. This is the time to build relationships, not break them.

Anyway, the following will be my presentation of recent news articles from various sources on the current state of Arab Israelis in the Israeli political sphere:

During the Gaza war, I wrote about the disqualification of Balad and United Arab List from the upcoming election. Fortunately for the sake of democracy, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the Election Commitee's ruling.

I found this from the KACH and Kahane Chai wiki page for why Kach was first officially disqualified in the Israeli 1988 elections:
A candidates list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
(1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
(2) negation of the democratic character of the State
(3) incitement to racism
Those who presented the case against the Arab parties gave additional reasons for disqualification but I thought that it would be interesting to look at the law that first disqualified the far right/fascist/racist KACH party.

The next news story is by Shani Litman of Haaretz about the Arab leader of Da'am. Her name is Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, "apart from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, she is the only woman heading an Israeli political party."
Even the ad by Yisrael Beiteinu, which strongly questioned the loyalty of Israeli Arabs, did not annoy them. The couple watched it as though it were a science fiction film. The only thing that concerned Agbarieh-Zahalka was the Balad ad, which did not even bother offering a Hebrew translation of its all-Arabic content. Her own ad was unusual not only because of its modest cost, or because it clearly showed her in the advanced stages of pregnancy, but also because of the party's utopian self-definition, exceptional in the Israeli political landscape of 2009: "We are Da'am, a workers' party."
You hear that? Not an Arab or Zionist party, but a workers' party.
Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka was born in Jaffa 35 years ago. Her maternal grandfather stayed there in 1948, when all his siblings fled to the Gaza Strip.

"We had good relations with our relatives in Gaza until the closures began," she said. "Since then, the connection has been cut off. I don't even know whether any of them were killed in the recent war."

Her father, a renovations contractor, came from a large family in Umm al-Fahm. He died when she was 18. She has three sisters and two brothers, all of whom lead traditional though not extremely pious Muslim lives.

It was in this context that her first rebellion took place. As a teenager, she became more and more devout, to the extent of joining the Islamic Movement. "I wanted to be close to God," she said, "and I thought this was the way. I didn't understand that the movement has political implications. I thought that religion contained elements of justice and meaning with respect to questions like 'why are we here and where should we be going.' As a girl who never left Jaffa until she went to university, I didn't have many options apart from the religious one."

But when she started studying in the humanities faculty at Tel Aviv University, another change took place. "This turned my world around in a very difficult and painful way. Suddenly I realized that there are different truths and different cultures. This confused me and brought the questions back much more forcefully, but this time there was no answer. Descartes dismantled everything for me, but he didn't manage to put it all back together again."

It was around that time, in 1995, that Da'am (which means "support" in Arabic) was founded by Jewish and Arab activists who had left the Derekh Hanitsotz organization. The party's first branch opened in Jaffa and got involved in trying to solve the housing problems of the city's Arabs residents. An activist who knew Agbarieh-Zahalka offered her a job as a copy editor at the party's newspaper.

"I came to the opening of the branch and they talked about politics, and I didn't understand a thing," she recalled. "There I met Michal Schwartz, who spoke to me in Arabic. It amazed me to meet an Ashkenazi Jewish woman who knew Arabic. That was the first time I had been able to feel that the two of us were the same."

I always wished I had learned Arabic. Being born in an enclave of Hebrew in the middle of the Arab world, and having a mother born in Tunisia, an Arab country, you would think learning Arabic would be important but because Israel hardly has any trade with Arab countries, Arab isn't necessary to learn; which is kind of odd because all the highway signs are in Arabic as well as Hebrew and English (though I think they removed the English since I left), and at least 20% of Israelis are Arab.
Working at the newspaper, she said, opened her eyes. "I began to understand what was happening around me and to believe that it is possible to change the situation - in contrast to my previous outlook that life is just a corridor through which one must pass as quickly as possible, because the important thing is life after death. After a few months, I joined the party. This wasn't easy. I entered an opposition politics that aims to change the way the world works, and this is something that frightens the population I come from, which is a minority guided by fear and survival instinct. From their perspective, the evil that is known is better than the evil that is unknown. It was hard for my family to accept this. I also had to fight for my right as a woman to follow this path. Only in the 2006 elections were they finally persuaded, and for the first time, my mother and brothers voted for me."
Great description of Semites: "
a minority guided by fear and survival instinct" and "from their perspective, the evil that is known is better than the evil that is unknown."
A few days before she gave birth to her first child, Adam - during the height of the war in Gaza - Agbarieh-Zahalka was still answering intentionally provocative questions from potential voters at a parlor meeting in Tel Aviv. One of them wanted to know whether she condemned Hamas and Hezbollah terror in the same way when she spoke in Arab locales. "How do you say that in Arabic?" he asked again and again.

Agbarieh-Zahalka did not lose her composure. She is familiar with the suspicion of Arabs that even many leftists feel ...
This is true, even leftist Israelis are suspicious of Arabs. This isn't just because of tribalism. It is because many Arab Israelis affiliated with the Palestinians - they are Palestinian as far as they are concerned. I went to dinner with a bunch of Israelis recently. The host is acquainted with two Jewish medical students at Technion (the MIT/John Hopkins of Israel). These medical students have Arab friends but there is always a rift between them when an Israeli or Palestinian is killed because of the conflict. When a Palestinian civilian is killed, Jewish Israelis are saddened and Arab Israelis are angered. But when an Israeli is killed, Jewish Israelis are griefed (they don't shoot bullets into the air) and their Arab peers seem indifferent. This causes a lot of Israelis to question the loyalty of the Arab minority which doesn't even have to serve in the IDF (except the Druze).

Note: according to the host and her acquintences at Technion, 30% of the medical students there are Arabs. The host didn't like this but the rest of the table seemed it was fine.
and she is also familiar with suspicions about her party. Da'am sees itself as a party whose members are united by their class affiliation, not their national identity. For now, however, there seems to be little class affiliation between Da'am's Arab agricultural and construction workers and its Jewish university lecturers. Jewish employees of manpower agencies from Yeruham and Dimona have not yet joined this workers' society, or the labor unions it is trying to establish.

"Most of our activity began in the Arab sector," said Agbarieh-Zahalka, "because this is the weakest population, and is therefore prepared to accept our party's ideas - peace and equality. Arabs have no problem accepting this. The side that has been deprived of equality is the one that wants equality back, whereas the side that thinks it is rightly enjoying its privileges - the Jews - clearly won't want to relinquish them. But the state of the Jews is no longer the state of the Jews - it is the state of the wealthy. And therefore, in reality, even Jews no longer have privileges. Arabs and Jews are suffering from the same situation, from the privatization of their right to live with dignity.

"I would like to think it will not be very long before Jewish workers, unemployed people and laborers understand that they have nothing more to lose, that it is worth their while to join forces with the Arabs. We have branches in Tel Aviv and we are helping people who need our help. At the moment, those who are contacting us are those who are naturally more open to accepting aid from a nonprofit organization in which Jews and Arabs work together."
What bothers me more than Arab Israelis affiliating with the Palestinians is Jewish Israelis of the religious and ultra-right persuation (fascist) being hostile of the Arab minority. This goes against every fiber of my American democracy loving self.
But the Arab masses are not voting for Da'am either.

"Our greatest enemy in Arab society is despair. More than 50 percent of the Arab public will not vote at all. They have lost all faith in the parties and in politics, and this is a faith that is hard to restore. And in any case, in recent years, Arab society has not been voting ideologically but rather by clans, and therefore, it is impossible to learn anything from the vote in the Arab street about political trends in this population. To my great regret, the establishment reinforces the clan structure of Arab society by not strengthening the economy of Arab society. When the extended family becomes the economic bulwark, anyone dependent on the family has to pay the price politically, and his vote is determined by the head of the clan. Therefore, the same people can vote for the Islamists in one election and for the communists in the next.
I think this characteristic of tribalism, which the Western Jews have already gotten rid of, not only makes Arabs vote by clan but also makes them affiliate with the Palestinians.
"The clans to which I belong - Agbarieh from Umm al-Fahm and Zahalka from Kfar Qara on my husband's side - put the Triangle [region] at my disposal and could bring in tens of thousands of votes. But I want to create a different electoral culture, one in which you vote for the party that represents your ideas."
Couldn't have said it better. The Arabs need "
to create a different electoral culture, one in which you vote for the party that represents your ideas."
For Da'am members, the Knesset race is only the tip of the iceberg of the party's activities. Mainly, these are carried out through the Ma'an nonprofit organization and other nonprofits affiliated with the party, which are supported by donations from workers' organizations abroad and dues paid by party members. Agbarieh-Zahalka - like the second person on the slate, Nir Nader, and other employees of Ma'an - is paid minimum wage for her work. The fact that the party has not yet won enough votes to enter the Knesset, and is apparently far from doing so this time as well, does not discourage them, nor has it caused them to seek shelter under the wing of another party with a similar ideology, such as Hadash (the Communist Party which has a list of Jews and Arabs).

"We draw hope from our day-to-day work, from the palpable change that occurs when you succeed in arranging a permanent job or a pension for someone," Agbarieh-Zahalka said. "My aim isn't to take shortcuts to the Knesset. If there were a party that was at all close to my opinions, I would vote for it. But since workers don't have any representation in the Knesset, from my perspective, the need is great. We are creating a change in consciousness and in the political culture and waiting for the moment when conditions are ripe. When that will happen doesn't concern me. "The progress of the workers' movement will also depend on the situation of workers' movements in the rest of the world. Even in Egypt, a dictatorship, we have seen a workers' movement that is beginning to build a different left. I want to believe that this can happen here, too. Today I know that this is my purpose in life, that I have found the answer I sought when I was young. Now, this has also become a personal issue, because I am doing this so that my son will grow up in a healthier society. We named him Adam [which means human being] because this is a universal name, and I hope the love of mankind will be a supreme value for him."
In a democracy people from totally different backgrounds but with similar goals can join forces to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, Arab Israelis haven't yet embraced this political arena because many have not yet embraced Israel, and Israel hasn't done enough to embrace the Arabs.

Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle said, "Anyone who wants loyalty from Israeli-Arabs must first ensure that the State is loyal to them, by closing the gaps."
The minister was speaking in response to the Israel Beiteinu election campaign which says only those loyal to Israel should be granted citizenship.

Majadle added, "I hope we will return to being a moderate society, and that the demagogues don't succeed in bringing us to state of despair." He said that the "vast majority" of Israelis were "sane and pragmatic."

The minister also referred to Israelis' scientific achievements in recent years, saying "We're one of four leading countries in space technology, and among the world's leaders in security research." He added, however, that Israel was not fulfilling its potential in societal terms.

He warned that the county would be in danger if "gaps in Israeli society" were not bridged.

Majadle is 15th on the Labor party's Knesset list.

I was reading the comments on readers left on the online article in JPost and it brings up the issue of whether Israel should be a Jewish state where everything is Jewish i.e. the people and the laws are Halacha, or a state of Jews and other people (but that doesn't mean that all of a sudden million of Palestinian refugees are going immigrate to Israel - I am very much against that). One commenter said:
Arabs living in the State of Israel are the citizens of the Jewish State and their security protected by the Jewish State equally as for all the citizens, I call it "the Jewish State's most precious loyalty to the Arab citizens". The Jewish state provides all the social benefits to the Arab citizens equally to all the citizens is another precious Jewish State loyalty. Unfortunately, Arabs (except Bedouins) would not be loyal to Israel. Proven by:1) Commemorate naqbah, 2) Committed to help terrorists to harm Israeli citizens. 3) Refuse to serve in the Israeli Army. 4) Israeli (cont. from 1of 2) Arabs deny to call Israel "home" (I never heard Israeli Arab abroad, to say he is from Israel) 5) Refuse to study the history of Israel.... Free and democratic Israel doesn't have punitive laws against present Israeli Arab attitude. Until the state laws to be changed or Arab world forges peace with the State of Israel, Israeli Arabs will side with their Palestinian brothers and stay the enemies of the Jewish State. If the above points are facts, Israeli Arabs who abuse democracy serve in the Knesset could cause more harm to the Jewish State and its nation.
So does State rejection of its Arab minority in "spirit" cause Arab citizens to be hostile to the State, or is it Arab rejection of the State to which they are citizens of cause the State to be hostile in "spirit" ot the Arab minority? I think it is the ladder. So what if the Israeli symbols are Jewish? All is required of the Arabs is to follow the law which they have the opprotunity control via the Knesset. One thing is for sure, both the Arab and ultra-right parties have to get over their sentimental issues. I don't see an Israeli "Brotherhood" poping up nor do I seek it. I just think that both the Israeli and Arab communities should have a stake in the other.

The next article is by Thomas Friedman in the NYTimes writing from Jenin, West Bank.

In recent days, some have questioned whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was making a big mistake in appointing so many “special envoys,” such as George Mitchell, to handle key trouble spots, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think they are right to question Mrs. Clinton about this plethora of envoys. But I don’t think the problem is that she has too many; it’s that she doesn’t have enough. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she may need at least a half-dozen envoys. Actually, this conflict is now broken into so many different pieces it may take a whole State Department of its own to resolve it.

In addition to Mitchell, Hillary may want to enlist Bill and Chelsea to take a crack at solving this one, definitely Jim Baker and Jimmy Carter, too. Why, heck, she might want to even ask some perfect strangers she meets in the halls at Foggy Bottom: “Hey, would you like a free trip to the Middle East?” Sure, it helps to know some history, but a grasp of biology now is even more useful — like how an amoeba reproduces by constantly splitting itself in half.
Nissim Dahan, a friend of my parents, said that he would like to go as an envoy to the Middle East or perhaps tag on Mitchell "with no pay and no position." He makes me excited because he has even more hope, more optimism, and more drive than I for Middle East peace - more specifically Israeli Palestinian peace.

Here is another excerpt from the Friedman article:

How did this conflict get so fragmented? For starters, it’s gone on way too long. The West Bank is so chopped up and divided now by roads, checkpoints and fences to separate Israel’s crazy settlements from Palestinian villages that a Palestinian could fly from Jerusalem to Paris quicker than he or she could drive from Jenin, here in the northern West Bank, to Hebron in the south.

Another reason is that every idea has been tried and has failed. For the Palestinians, Pan-Arabism, Communism, Islamism have all come and gone, with none having delivered statehood or prosperity. As a result, more and more Palestinians have fallen back on family, clan, town and tribal loyalties. In Israel, Peace Now’s two-state solution was blown up with the crash of the Oslo peace accords, the rising Palestinian birthrate made any plans to annex the West Bank a mortal threat to Israel’s Jewish character, and the rockets that followed Israel’s withdrawals from both Lebanon and Gaza made a mockery of those who said unilateral pullouts were the solution.

All of this has led to a resurgence of religiosity. According to Haaretz, the following questions were posed by a well-known rabbi in one of the pamphlets distributed by the Israeli Army’s Office of Chief Rabbi before the latest Gaza fighting: “Is it possible to compare today’s Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David? A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land.”
If there is anyone who can articulate to readers a trend in a Middle Eastern society, it is Thomas Friedman. If you haven't read "From Beirut to Jerusalem" yet, after you have finished reading this sentence, go to the nearest library or book store and get that book, read it, and educate yourself.

The last issue I want to talk about is about a potential Arab boycott of the elections.
The debate in the Israeli Arab community on the question of boycotting the elections is growing in intensity. As of this week, all public debates between the two Arab and one Arab-Jewish party now include another participant arguing for a boycott. The parties are choosing to address the question as the possibility of boycott looms increasingly large, especially in the wake of the Gaza war. Some forecast that a high enough number of boycotters may result in one of the three parties not passing the 2 percent election threshold and losing its Knesset seats altogether.

One such debate took place in Sakhnin Wednesday. The secretaries of Hadash, Balad and the United Arab List-Ta'al were joined on stage by Muhammad Kana'aneh, secretary of the Abna el-Balad ("Sons of the Land") movement that supports a boycott. Kana'aneh told the audience that voting in the elections constitutes a complete recognition of the Zionist entity built on the ruins of Palestine. He went on to say that the Israeli establishment is utilizing the presence of Arab MKs to propagate its democracy, while in effect they have little influence. "The Arab representation in parliament does not influence decision-making, but it allows the Zionists to boast Arab MKs, including a deputy-chairman of the Knesset and members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee," Kana'aneh said.
Is Arab lack of influence in government decision-making due to the Israeli establishment or because of Arab rejection of the State? It is obviously the latter. As another Haaretz article reports:
According to the government's statistical yearbook for 2008, Israel has about 120,000 Druze citizens, constituting 1.6 percent of the population. Five Druze lawmakers would be 4 percent of the Knesset's 120 members, 2.5 times more than the proportion of the community within the national population.
One surprise candidate is Hamad Amar of Shfaram, a long-time activist in Yisrael Beiteinu, and 12th on the party's list. Amar, who declined to answer questions Sunday about his candidacy, would only say that for the Druze community, Yisrael Beiteinu's campaign slogan "no citizenship without loyalty" is a natural one.
So why are Arabs under represented and Druze over represented in the Knesset? The reason is that Druze are more active in the Israeli establishment. They serve in the IDF and the police, and embrace Israel.
Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahabi (Kadima), a Druze, said yesterday that his community cannot be expected to vote en bloc: "The large parties have to understand the importance of our community. I personally plan to represent my people faithfully, but also anyone who voted for my party, no matter what sector they come from. I believe in our involvement in Israeli society, not in separate parties."
So this leads me conclude that the Arab disintegration from Israeli politics is self inflicted. One commenter on the Haaretz article about the boycott said:
Is it true that Israeli Arabs never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity?
Another commenter said:
In Britain this sort of thing is called `cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Their leaders such as those in Balad and United Arab List (UAL) would never be able to help their people till one of them goes through the channel of mainstream politics and build relationships such as Barack Obama did in America, or what the leader of Da'am is trying to do.