Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Anyway, the indefatigable Professor Richard Landes shows (once again) that it's not that simple and that Lieberman is not calling for the de rigeur disenfranchisement of those Arabs who wish to remain within the borders of the State of Israel.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Speaking of humility, some will note the many different versions of my first post today, as I altered and toned it down. Once again, I learn not to be so quick on the keyboard.
One thing I do know. This election should teach everyone of the value of humility.
First, there are the pollsters, and their media parrots. They are never right.
Ehud Olmert arrogantly declared he'd won a resounding victory before the polls had even opened. Wrong.
Bibi Netanyahu...well, you know.
Mafdal/Ihud Leumi really thought they could succeed by appealing only to 'their' people. Wrong.
Amir Peretz gave us a lesson in hard work and determination. (It would be churlish to ignore that.)
I hope they internalize the message, and that they start remembering they are playing with people's lives and the life of a people.
The implications are several.
Israel's Jews are tired and have opened the door ever wider to Muslim irridentism. Olmert's readiness to unilaterally hand over land for nothing will only be taken as weakness. I pray that Israel's retreat from the historical stage has not begun. Certainly, we need to look ahead to minimize the damage.
By giving 28 seats to Kadima, one third of Israel's Jews signal that they apparently no longer possess a vision of what their country should believe. Meir Shitreet, one of the more intellectually challenged members of the Kadima leadership, said as much the other day. The angst and ennui are both perplexing and frightening. It reminds me of the pre-World War I reality described in The Sleepwalkers, or France on the eve of World War II.
Corruption in government has become the norm.
Olmert will try to evict 80,000 more Jews from their homes and place them in tents, as the Tel Aviv cafe-types cheer at the settlers' comeuppance. I will, no doubt, be taken to task for this last comment. However, it's only because the said 'intellectuals' suffer from serious 'cognitive egocentrism.'
The religious community has, once again, shot itself in the head. Effi Eitam, Yitzhak Levy, Uri Ariel and the rest of their backers (especially the rabbis among them) who made all of Jewish survival, all of Torah, dependent upon a 'not one inch' philosophy regarding the land have made us all reap the whirlwind. [There will be time to meditate upon this later. These people, however, must be retired if we are to avert further gezerot and re-Judaize this country. One hopes that it will make a difference that about a quarter of the Knesset will be religious.]
Monday, March 27, 2006
I'm holding on to the Rov's comment with both hands:
'When events appear absurd, it's a sign that Divine Providence is intervening in history.'
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Ha'aretz 24 March 2006
Dear Oligarchs, The Country Is Yours
by Ari Shavit
To: The 18 Families
From: Strategic consultant
Dear wealthy Families,As election day approaches, I want to give you an up-to-date report about the latest political developments in your country, namely the State of Israel. As you know, for the past 15 years my colleagues and I have worked devotedly and faithfully to ensure your takeover of the democratic configuration of the said state. During this period we have done exceptionally well. We succeeded in creating for you a society without an opposition, without genuine parties, without a genuine trade union movement and without a critical media. In this way we gained almost complete control over both the Israeli consciousness and the governmental and political establishment.
It is with great satisfaction that we are able to state that there is no political force in Israel capable of blocking you, no public debate capable of restraining you and no investigative press capable of endangering you. By means of methodical professional work, lasting more than a decade, we obtained absolute hegemony for you. Hegemony such as money does not have in any orderly Western country. Hegemony such as not even the roughshod Mapai of the 1950s had. Hegemony which has effectively transformed Israel from a democracy into an oligarchy - your oligarchy, dear families. An oligarchy which allows 18 oligarchs to rule unbridled over their vassal republic.
It is within this context that the primary importance of the 2006 election campaign should be seen. True, three unworthy candidates took part in the campaign. One lacks experience and two have bad experience. Two have extremist worldviews and one lacks any worldview. One lacks self-confidence, a second possesses inordinate self-confidence, the third is frivolous. Nevertheless, from the point of view of the oligarchs project that my colleagues and I are managing for you, the situation was crystal clear: Olmert and Kadima were a great hope, whereas Peretz and Netanyahu constitute a clear and present danger.
The danger that Peretz embodies can be summed up succinctly: the guy is weird. He is not a servant of capital and he does not kowtow to capital, behaving as though he does not recognize the supremacy of wealth. Peretz's anachronistic ideas about justice and equality are a clear threat to the new order we established for you so painstakingly.
As for Netanyahu, in the end he too turned out to be bizarre. True, he doubled and tripled the Families' wealth in the past few years, but seems to have done so on the basis of a pathetic worldview that holds that the principles of the free market and free competition should apply to the moneyed elite, too. As each and every one of you, dear masters of wealth, discovered on his own, Netanyahu could not be bought. He just didn't get it. When he waxed so bold as to object to the disengagement and even tried to raise a hand against the banks, we suddenly understood that the man is not one of ours. Definitely not. Despite his abode in Caesarea and despite his cigars, Netanyahu is no less dangerous than Peretz. Therefore the strategic decision we took was unequivocal: the Bibi did his job, the Bibi has to go.
Thus, even though on the surface this seemed to be a sleepy campaign, it was actually highly dramatic. It posed threats to our oligarchic rule from the right and the left. In the face of this danger we were compelled to take sophisticated and energetic action. To create a political body that will serve us faithfully and place one of our own at its head. And to mobilize all the assets we acquired in the past decade in order to ensure victory. So that the government will be all ours: our lackey and our tool.As you will recall, Arik Sharon was very convenient for us. He loved power and appreciated power and understood that we are the power. But his obedience was not absolute. Here and there he was also motivated by obsolete patriotic considerations, in a most unbusinesslike manner. In contrast, E.O. is truly an Extraordinary Opportunity. Each of us knows that: the door is always open, there is no bureaucratic procedure that cannot be abridged, there is no manipulation that is too manifold. It's nothing less than America. South America.
But this is not just a personal matter. Kadima's political structure is a dream come true. As a party without members, without elected institutions and without an ideology, the new ruling party will be an invaluable instrument to achieve our goals. Because it has no commitment below but only above, we will be able to gain complete control of the Israeli administration. Police, prosecution, treasury everything will be in our hands. Including the antitrust commissioner. Including the supervisor of banks. We will also stuff the Supreme Court with new and friendly justices. Like Berlusconi's Italy and Putin's Russia, Kadima's Israel will be a paradise of corporate control. The degenerate democratic regime of the 20th century will be replaced by a centralist oligarchic regime with crushing economic efficiency.
Ladies and gentlemen, the importance of this moment can hardly be overstated. Already in the past few months we proved that we are capable of waging a campaign here without debate, without confrontation and without truthful reporting. We proved that by anesthetizing public opinion we can knead it as we wish. We have brought to perfection the art of managing a controlled democratic process that produces the desired result. After the vote, when the masses return from the polling booths, it will be possible to assert irrefutably that our rule in Israel is absolute. Not indirect but direct, not partial but full. Israel is in our hands, 18 dear Families. We can do with it what we please.
However, on one point I have to temper my bullish report with a bearish remark. As a faithful and impartial professional consultant, it is my duty to tell my superiors the hard truth, too: past experience shows that while you are cannons in the business sphere, when it comes to policy you are hardly even cap guns. When it comes to your personal interests you are sharks, but where the national interest is concerned you are helpless goldfish. You do not understand Palestinians, you do not understand the Middle East and you do not understand the political side of life. That lacuna of understanding, like your need for quiet in order to do business, makes you perfect wards of protection.
Therefore, the country you manage after March 28 will also become a protectorate, paying protection money in return for a little quiet.But, dear oligarchs, that quiet will not last. And when it ends, big business will collapse with it. Accordingly, in my capacity as investment adviser, my advice to you is: exploit the next few years to the hilt. Extract as much as you can from the fusion of the great withdrawal boom and the boom of corporate control of the country. The odds are good that until 2010 you will be able to run wild as you have never run wild before. You will be able to celebrate as no other place on earth celebrates. But remember that the party will one day be over. Remember that it devours the principal and consumes the assets. And remember that no country can sustain itself when its pillars are rank with rot. No free nation can survive with its democratic spirit broken. Therefore, lose no time in preparing the real estate companies in Eastern Europe and the bank accounts in the Virgin Islands. And keep your yachts ready at all times for a long cruise. The victory in 2006 is on a tremendous scale, but it obliges a pullout strategy. My colleagues and I recommend that you realize your profits within a few years and skip to the next investment target.
Think Uganda. Uganda looks very promising.
Friday, March 24, 2006
I know that this is Parshat HaHodesh, and that this week we're at the end of Shemot and not the middle of Bereshit. And no, I'm not in the middle of reading Joseph and his Brothers. (I'm in the middle of Peter Berger's Sacred Canopy (again) and Gell's Anthropology of Time.)
I thought of this Rashi because of my fellow blogger, On the Face. She is an incredibly intelligent, perceptive woman and wields a mean pen (er, keyboard). Her talents have received their due recognition and she now writes for the Guardian's blogsite. (I'll add all the links after Shabbat).
It is of her most recent post, and the upcoming elections, that I wish to write.
Two things caught my eye in her posting. First, that the friend she describes is:
Kadima will be elected because it represents mainstream Israelis: People who would rather focus on their personal lives than on the conflict with the Palestinians; people who really do not have an axe to grind with their neighbours, whatever they may think.
In other words, people who want tranquility, who seek 'normalcy' (we'll come back to that one).
I share her dream. In the shape of things, however. It is a lethal dream. For all of the yearning for a life of cosmopolitan angst, and political ennui, there is no way to 'disengage' from the world. (Je suis maintenant a Bruxelles. Alors je ne peut pas ecrire mon blog sans m'exprimer aven un soupcon de francais.)
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I was shopping for oil in self-same store (looking for oil is all we ever do in the Middle East). Considering the amounts we use on Pesah, I was also looking for the best buy I could find (which is why I was in Vizhnitz in the first place. Supersol's NIS40.00 per bottle was too steep). Anyway, there were three types of oil: Olive (tres cher), Walnut (importe d'Amerique) and Cottonseed (a critical ingredient for for creating a myocardial infarction). The prices were NIS 45, NIS29 and NIS 9 (respectively). I was stunned by the difference between the latter two, so I asked the owner who was walking (well, squeezing) by.
'Is the Cottonseed Oil not Kosher for Pesah?,' I asked. 'Oh, No!,' he replied. 'It's got this, this, this, this and this famous hekhsher.' 'So why is it so much less money?' 'Oh,' he replied,' that's easy. A lot of people won't buy it, because it sounds like kitniyyot.'
Then the bulb went off. Cottonseed Oil, in Hebrew, is Shemen Kutna (שמן כותנא). If you pronounce a 'u' as an 'i' in Hebrew (as many of the more Hassidishe types do, the product is called 'Shemen Kitna,' which sounds suspiciously like kittniyyot oil.
'Wait a minute,' I asked. 'Does that mean that it's kosher for Litvaks and Yekkes, but assur for Poilishe, Galitzianer, Rushisher, Ukrainisher and Hungarisher Yidden?' 'You've got it,' the owner answered (all this with a straight face), and he walked away.
Well, there you have it. As the Rov ז"ל used to say: Some things are assur because they're stupid, and it's assur to be stupid.
[We, btw, use canola oil. It's healthy and it bears the label: לאוכלי קיטניות לפי המנהג. I have not a clue what that means. Canola oil is ABSOLUTELY NOT KITNIYYOT. Next thing we:ll have to go back to not eating bananas on Pesah. But that's another אגדה שהייתה באמת.]
OTOH, there is a reasonable scenario that Tuesday may not be our gotterdamerung. Inshallah.
Shabbat's Yeshiva Shabbaton lived up to my (afore-posted) expectations, and certainly whetted my desire for more. It succeeded on two levels. It brought together over 600 alumni who were inspired and began to be galvanized to serve as Torah UMadda's troops and advocates in Israel. (In Israel, we call that גיבוש.) In addition, and more importantly, I was deeply moved (as were the members of my family), by Yeshiva's revitalized connection to Israel and to the advancement of Torah UMadda here, for the greater glory of God, Torah and the Jewish People. President Richard Joel, in particular, made it very clear just how profoundly he feels that commitment and wishes to find ways to express is tangibly. He is clearly the right man at the right time.
Now, the challenge lies before both him and before us. Followup is the name of the game. If all of the good will and belief that were expressed during Shabbat (and throughout the week's symposia) are harnessed, then this Shabbat will come to be seen as a significant point in the creation of the Orthodoxy that Israel so desperately needs, and has never had. הלואי
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
In my opinion, the program is significant for two reasons. First, it is a high quality effort that matches Israelis and Americans, with an eye to the interface between the two communities. Second, or perhaps more importantly, it is occurring. As you know, I believe deeply that Israeli Orthodoxy (and the Jewish community here generally) is in desperate need of exactly the tools and insights that YU has developed over the past century, in order to survive as a Jewish State.
[Indeed, it may ne part of the answer to the malaise described so hauntingly by Caroline Glick, a few days ago.]
As my wife's grandmother used to say: לאמיר האפ'ן פאר די בעסט, דער אייבעשטער זאל העלפ'ן
by, Ari Shavit
In September 2000, the Palestinians began a terror offensive against Israel. They did this because they refused to accept the Camp David proposal, which promised them the entire Gaza Strip and 91 percent of the West Bank in exchange for full recognition of Israel and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Ehud Olmert is elected prime minister and implements his convergence plan, then in September 2010 the Palestinians will have sovereignty over the entire Gaza Strip and some 91 percent of the West Bank, and all this without recognizing Israel and without ending the conflict.
Thus will the national Palestinian movement fulfill the objectives of its wars and obtain a full strategic resolution against the State of Israel. The history books will record Olmert's unconditional withdrawal as the unconditional surrender of Zionism. No, it will not be the end. But it will be the beginning of the end. While relying on big money on one side and big journalism on the other, Olmert will lead the country to the beginning of the end.
At first glance, Olmert's plan appears enchanting - no fear, no hesitation, and very Israeli. Here, we'll take our destiny in our own hands. Within three years we'll evacuate some 80,000 settlers. Within less than five years, we will undergo a final disengagement from the Palestinians and converge within the borders of a flourishing lowlands country. We will surround our existence with a high wall, which will protect us from both the craziness of the Land of Israel and from the threat of Palestine. And so, in one term, we will isolate ourselves from all the sickness and terrors of the Middle East. So simple. So clear. How did we not think of this sooner. Why did we wait so long so that the man who saved Jerusalem could also save the State of Israel.
However, on second glance it becomes clear that the Olmert plan has a small flaw: It has no Palestinians. This is a plan whose logic is simplistic and patronizing. This is a plan for Israelis only, which ignores its ramifications on Israelis. It takes an extreme unilateral position to the point of absurdity, totally ignoring the fact that the conflict is bilateral and the political reality is multilateral. The plan, then, is an arrogant one, and the hubris that characterizes it is no less than the hubris of the person who formulated it.
What Olmert plans to do in the next few years is to establish an armed Hamas state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Via the nearly complete withdrawal, Olmert will promise Hamas almost total control in the Palestinian state for generations. The Palestine of Olmert will be hostile, dissatisfied and violent. Its founding ethos will be "We've chased them out of Ofra, we'll chase them out of Tzahala too."
Since Olmert is establishing this country without first assuring its demilitarization, it will have significant military capability. Since he is establishing it without removing the right of return from the agenda, it will have a destructive claim against Israel, whose legitimacy is recognized by the international community. The combination of political sovereignty, military power and a commitment to demanding return will transform Olmert's Hamas state into one that will endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.
Despite the irony, the convergence plan will not implement the Bush vision, but will destroy it. It will not build a stable two-state solution, but will create an unstable reality in which an Islamic Palestinian state systematically undermines the foundation of the Jewish democratic state. But it is not just the stability of Israel that Olmert is endangering. He is also endangering the regional stability. A Hamas state will accelerate Jordan's collapse. There is no chance that the Hashemite rule will stand up against a Palestinian state on its doorstep whose religious fervor has just subdued the Zionists. Egypt will also be threatened. A victorious Muslim Brotherhood republic that controls a third of Jerusalem and devours the Temple Mount will be the beacon of zealotry for the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. And in Damascus. And in Amman. And Olmert will be supporting not only anti-Israeli terror, but also the anti-Western revolutionary movement. His radical unilateral process will disrupt the American strategy in the area and will bury U.S. President George W. Bush's dream of stability and democracy in the Middle East.
The Land of Israel must be divided. The occupation must end. A two-state solution is necessary. But the Hamas victory has made a two-state solution more distant and more complicated. Olmert's convergence plan makes it impossible. Therefore, if the public gives him the chance to carry out his arrogant plan, then March 28, 2006, will go down in history.
History will remember it as the day that did not bring peace and did not bring security, but began the end.
[Note: Obviously, I disagree with his 'take' on the so-called 'occupation' (which ended over a decade ago.]
Monday, March 13, 2006
Sunday, March 12, 2006
One such level, which is critically important, is the injection of Jewish Tradition into public discourse. One, modestly successful, effort in this direction has been the development of Mishpat Ivri and the enactment of legislation calling for its use in judicial decisions.
After the upcoming elections, Israel will be moving toward the enactment of a constitution and the setting of a more normal system off government. The debate around this existentially important issue will generate lots of commentary from all sorts of experts who will represent a plethora of points of view, about the nature of the State and the interaction between the key word/slogans, 'Jewish' and 'Democratic.'
Most of the discussion will, however, draw upon contemporary, post-modern discourse which is, by definition, hostile (at best) to the 'Jewish' part of the equation. The tragedy is that, to date, there has been no Jewish model that is cast in terms that can be invoked as a respectable alternative to post-modern nihilism.
Recently, however, I came upon an effort which promises to do exactly that. Not surprisingly, the initiative comes from the Shalem Center, which has already enriched Jewish and Israeli cultural life through Azure/Techelet and through its publication of classics of the Western Political Tradition in Hebrew.
Their latest project is a very sophisticated, yet highly accessible, journal called Hebraic Political Studies. It describes its aim as: The journal aims to evaluate the place of the Jewish textual tradition, alongside the traditions of Greece and Rome, inpolitical history and the history of political thought. IOW, it strives (and as far as I can see from the two premier issues) to be exactly the force that I described above. The participants are first rate and (as opposed to other fora) represent a plethora of points of view. I hope that they are considering a Hebrew version (a la Techelet) and that their output will impact profoundly upon the constitutional discourse about to commence.
I urge everyone to read (and subscribe).
Monday, March 06, 2006
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Appropriately, his last post is both very telling and very important. Reacting to a renewed encounter with American Orthodoxy, he writes:
For all its vibrancy (and there is no denying that it is a vibrant community) the one thing that caught my eye more than any other in the three Jewish communities in which I was a guest (two in the NY area, one in the DC area) was the preponderance of Jewish books translated into English. American-Jewry is becoming the first Jewish community in history to learn its Judaism in a language other than Hebrew or Aramaic (few true works of Torah were written in Yiddish). If there are things that are lost in translation – then what will be lost to American Jewry due to its Hebrew illiteracy?
I agree that North American Orthodoxy is vibrant, and fabulously successful materially. (OTOH, OOSJ’s identification of Orthodoxy with the Jewish Community, generally, is highly questionable. Or perhaps it isn’t. At the rate that the rest of American Jewry is committing national suicide, the two may well become co-terminous in my lifetime.) I, too, am deeply distressed at the fundamental Hebrew illiteracy of Diaspora Jews (this includes, tragically, far too many Orthodox rabbis and teachers).
Contrary, however, to OOSJ’s observation, this is not the first time that this has happened. Alexandrian Jewry, in the period of the Second Temple and later, produced a highly sophisticated, culturally rich, religious Jewish community. It, too, was illiterate in Hebrew. Even its proudest son, the philosopher Philo, was unable to read the Torah in the original. (He read it in, Artscroll, er… Greek). There is, however, no question as to the fate of Alexandrian Jewry and its contribution to Torah. It disappeared and it made no contribution to Torah. (Philo’s works were preserved by the Church, but that’s another discussion.)
There is no reason to think that unless American Orthodoxy makes the effort to master לשון קודש, that its fate will be any different.
My basic point was, and remains, that we have to recast our thinking about Zionism and the religious significance of the State of Israel. To begin with, as Samuel Butler put it, ‘Extremes are alone logical, but they are always absurd.' So, I think we have to summarily reject both the Leibowitzan denial of any religious significance to the State and the messianism of Rav Kook, père and fils. The former borders on religious fascism and the latter, well, we all know what it does….
What’s left? That will come, אי"ה, in the next post.
Today, Kadima announced that it plans to destroy Teqoa (an island of religious-secular harmony), Noqdim (where my son’s friend built his own home with his own two hands), Elon Moreh, Beit Yatir, Maon, and Otniel (which has the most breathtaking Bet Midrash in the South Hevron Hills). Mara de-Alma Kula! People from Gush Qatif are still wallowing in tents and caravans. Thirty Qassam rockets have rained down on Israel, and are closing in on the Ashkelon Power Plant. All Olmert can think of is more retreats. [Nota Bene: The Qassam report is from Arutz Sheva because the ‘mainstream’ media tend to ignore (or downplay) the unceasing rocket fire.]
Linor Abergil was Miss Israel. Now she’s engaged to a Christian Basketball player, who used to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv. How is the news being met in Israel? Well, obscurantist, primitive religious Jews think it’s terrible. Even progressive, religious Jews think it’s terrible. Fear not, though. The Press and the commentators on-line are ready to defend her. Amor Vincit Omnia.
OTOH, neither the story, nor the predictable cries of Jewish racism, are really surprising. I remember that my uncle once ordered me to convince my cousin not to marry a non-Jewish girl. I told him that I had nothing to tell him. He was absolutely outraged and incredulous. 'But you're a rabbi!' he exclaimed. I told him that was true, but that given the fact that my cousin had been raised with absolutely no Jewish education or involvement, there was no credible argument that I could make to ensure that he would marry a Jewish girl. Quod erat demonstrandum. [The same point is made in this article.]
Finally, in the Salman Rushdie category, we respectfully present Wafa Sultan’s brave, but futile, performance on Al-Jazeera.