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Saturday, June 07, 2003

Thursday, June 05, 2003


I am not sure whether the visual association Mr. Bush's final statement --
Waving his arms, the president earlier told reporters his aim was to keep the process moving, like a cowboy on horseback herding cattle. "I used the expression 'ride herd.' I don't know if anybody understood it in the meeting today," he said
-- evokes in my mind, namely the image of a good ol' boy swinging his whip at a swarthy, hook-nosed bunch of regrettable natives, is all too far off the mark. (Ha'aretz report)

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Your comments haven't disappeared. May Enetation forgive me, but I've switched back to Haloscan. I'll paste the old comments into the new system in a short time.

Update: In case you missed it: Haloscan is accepting new signups now.


Or how to get the government of the most powerful country in the world to dance to your tune:
Aides said the one leader in the region who has earned Bush's respect is Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, who forcefully challenged the president over his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a visit to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., in April of last year.

In a scene that one senior Bush adviser later likened to "a near-death experience," Abdullah arrived at Crawford with a book showing pictures of Palestinian suffering and a 10-minute videotape of images of children shot and crushed by Israelis that had appeared on Arab television.

The adviser said Abdullah spoke eloquently about what these images meant -- conveying a respect for life rather than a hatred of Israel -- and then laid it on the line for Bush: Was he going to do something about this or not?

Current and former officials said Abdullah put it this way: I will work with you if you are willing to deal with this issue. If you can't, let me know now. No matter what, I'll always say positive things about you in public. But I have to make certain calculations on my own if you aren't going to step up to the plate.

Bush replied that he was working on a vision and would present it soon, the current and former officials said.

"It certainly made an impact on the president," one official said.

Few leaders had ever spoken so directly to Bush. The president, the official said, concluded that Abdullah was a good person who has a vision of where he wants to lead his country. Since then, the president frequently asks aides whether Abdullah believes Bush is living up to the commitments he made at Crawford.
This is not Libération for a change. This is the Washington Post report this Ha'aretz article refers to.

Ampersand, the ISM and I. Anyone out there who still wants to read that never-to-be-finished post of mine? Since I started writing it, the ISM or something equally murky recently even tried to recruit me...


Present-day political discourse seems to operate mainly on "enemy of my enemy" effects. Should this be merely an illusion of mine, then it is one strongly fed by local media consumption and private conversations: the short-lived gloating over Bush crushing "Sharon's resistance to the roadmap to peace" has in many places given way to a tone ranging from studiously neutral to an almost critical one... of Bush, not of Israel for a change.

A short web roundup from today, sorry, 14 minutes yesterday: The German Spiegel's headline can be translated as "Bush wants to force Middle East into peace". The government-friendly French Le Figaro offers on its site a single contribution on the subject: a deadpan piece consisting of a juxtaposition of the 14 Israeli objection to the "Roadmap" and the corresponding points of the original. The usual thundering opinion pieces are gone, much of the reporting is carefully noncommittal. So was the only TV newsspeaker I heard this evening. Everyone seems utterly confused about the good and the bad guys at the moment.

The only familiar attempt to put matters straight I have seen is in a report of the reliably "anti-Sharonite" Libération. The author tries to explain, somewhat self-contradictory, that poor Dubya is still in evil Sharon's pocket, a rough translation of the significant part:
For George Bush, sympathetic towards Ariel Sharon, whom he pronounced "a man of peace" last year, it is out of question to place himself in the position of an arbiter in negotiations that haven't yet begun. And there is little chance that a year before American presidential elections he will exercise strong pressure on Israel the way his father did before the 1991 Madrid conference, and this despite Israel's economic vulnerability, its dependency on American economic aid.
Libération, a liberal left newspaper, likes Israel (sorry, Sharon) and Bush only slightly less than it likes Chirac, which makes for a funny combination under the current circumstances. In the same issue, an article on the Evian summit seems to try not to know what to make of Bush's announcement that he has asked "my friend Jacques" for advice on the Near East, this being a subject he (Jacques) understands particularly well.

Besides, everything is descending into a lazy summer haze here. Who cares about politics when we have such lovely weather? And please have pity on France: it is descending into chaos due to a public transportation strike. While I was checking the sites, Paris was coming to a standstill: French newssites and broadcasters ran permanent updates on which subway lines may still function -- it sounded like regular battleground reporting...

Should an Israeli-American standoff persist for a while, I'm curious whether anti-Americanism would prevail over "anti-Zionism" in certain instances: Bush as the unintentional midwife of European-Israeli understanding would be a case of high irony.

Sorry if my tone seems flippant. The subject as such is dead serious, I know. Yet I think we often under-estimate the superficial, infantile qualities of the discussion surrounding it. To illustrate it with the help of a mental experiment: imagine painting Israel as a victim of an oil-greedy, Islamist-supporting Washington selling Israel out to terrorists in a cheap populist scapegoating manoeuvre (and maybe selling Palestininians out to yet another "strong dictator" in the process) -- an interesting construction to play around with, and one that might even work with some people as impeccably anti-"imperialist" (the imperialism in question being the American one) logic. Ironically, the French may be among the best candidates, since they often regard themselves as the prime targets of Saudi-sponsored North African terrorism. At the moment, the country with the strongest pro-Israel left wing is, to the best of my knowledge, Germany.

Bonne nuit.


* No, Allison, the French as a whole are not enthralled with Arafat. To cite an example, the same Figaro mentioned above reported on de Villepin's recent piligrimage under the headline "Villepin the good Samaritan in Ramallah" (not availiable in free online access). The French public in general indulges in a great deal of Sharon-bashing, but there is no sole heroic leader figure on the Palestinian side in its eyes anymore, it seems. The politicians, especially the EU dignitaries, lag behind a considerable part of their citizenry in this respect. Well, maybe not in Spain.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


The Jerusalem Report offers yet another article on the decline of the Israeli democracy: Professor Asher Arian: The Back Page: ‘What is troubling is the erosion of support for democracy in public opinion’. Without getting any deeper into the subject (yes, democracy is a marvellous thing, yes, respect for ethinic, cultural, religious, etc. minorities is important, yes, so is everything else mentioned in the article, and so on...), comparisons with most of the countries the survey mentions are unapplicable. None of them are in a state of near-war for several years by now, unleashed upon their respective population majorities by members of the very minority deemed the most discriminated-against in this article. The nearest "Western" analogy to the attitudes of Israeli Jews towards Arabs I can think of would be the attitudes of the British towards Germans during World War II.

It is symptomatic that
Israel was one of only four countries (together with Mexico, India and Romania) in which a majority believes "strong leaders can be more useful to the state than all the deliberations and laws"
since the other three countries, while basically democratic in their current political design, also suffer considerable security problems. In this respect, the statement of Prof. Arian
Some people argue Israel is a unique case, a democracy defending itself. But in an era of globalization there is no such thing as getting special treatment because we have difficult problems. The democratic yardstick is one that is used universally and that’s how we are judged.
is beside the point. It may be anecdotal evidence, but speculations on what our own countries would look like were our minorities to unleash a slaughter of comparable dimensions occur often in private conversations around my place. The conclusions are typically that the backlash against them would be much worse, given that even now certain and not too small segments of our societies readily excuse racist violence -- down to lethal incidents -- with serious arguments like reports on welfare abuse by immigrants.

Jonathan, here is a little detail for you -- relevant, among other things, to the issue of Israeli Arab recognized minority status:
Today half the children are in the Arab or ultra-Orthodox systems and are not taught democratic values according to a core curriculum. And that means over the next 30 years, given the growing numbers of these two sectors, things will only get worse.

Would it be possible to get better citizenship teaching into those sectors?

Once there is an agreed curriculum then the state has the power of the purse.
The state can deny budgets to those schools which do not comply. It is certainly possible. But it will take an enormous amount of political will.

P.S.: after this was written, I was directed to this old post of Jonathan from last December: I hope the above provides a partial answer.


According to this French article, the Moroccan authorities are searching for a suspect in the Casablanca bombing case: a Frenchman, born Robert Richard Antoine Pierre, and -- judging by his present names Lhaj and alternatively Abou Abderrahman alone -- probably a convertite to Islam, currently on the run.

Update: He has been arrested today.


So you are upset by the latest Salam Pax revelations? Not me -- I find the story hilarious. Makes a great comedy film script: the perfect classical scheme of confused identities sorted out at the end.

On a related vein -- Jeff Jarvis makes a fine proposal. But why in Iraq only? What about Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, the Turkish Kurdistan, Georgia, Armenia and a couple of dozens of other places? Did I mention Kenia?And don't forget refugees in the West, often with excellent contacts in the countries of their origins and well-versed in Western languages. Long live the Democratic Republic of Blogistan!


Yes, Glenn, it is. No, Damian, the problem is it doesn't take an M. Kahil. Any Mr. Jones can do just as well.

Update: William, this is exactly what makes antisemitism a bias as opposed to a critical opinion: that it is not related to reality.


Brought to you by the JTA:
WASHINGTON, May 27 -- In the end, the message from the White House to the Jewish world could have been this: When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the vision that President Bush set forth last June is like the Torah.
The "road map" peace plan is like the Talmud, explaining that vision -- but open to multiple interpretations.
Not that it makes the underlying subject any less earnest.

Monday, June 02, 2003

For a more pleasant sight, visit the art blog of Chris Waltrip: his latests scoops are delicious


OK, children, don't write me any more of your stupid mails protesting my stated disrespect for LGF, this heroic last line of the Jews' of the world defense against Islamic Jihad.

To spell it out for you: Europe has a problem with right-wing extremism. So do the States. Such groups are not representative for entire populations, in none of the countries. Swastika-waving marches are not the typical pasttime of the average European. The problem with the States is that they are too much of a safe haven for violent neo-fascist groups: easy acccess to weapons and martial arts training, zero control over production and dissemination of hate literature, etc. -- all of it completely outside of the reach of the European authorities and happily flowing back to us, where it can be only stopped at the last leg of the journey, while much of the brains reside in safety across the ocean. A frustrated acquitance of mine, who deals with this garbage professionally, has once compared the US to the Taliban Afghanistan in this respect -- sure enough, an exaggeration, but one that illustrates the situation these who fight against such American imports often find themselves in.

I realize that this leads to a discussion of the different approaches to freedom of the speech and gun control in both countries. I do not have the capacities for it, nevertheless, some basics:
  1. it is unreasonable to expect European states to adjust their entire legislations and political cultures to the that of the States
  2. when it comes to criminal investigations, the American authorities might be more co-operative than they are reported to be
  3. the subject of domestic right-wing extremism is strangely absent from the American public debate, other than as a stick for the Left to beat the Conservatives with, the latter not entirely credible*

Another point. It is easy to say that LGF and Indymedia deserve each other. The point is that as a Jew I much rather prefer collective friends who -- may Golda Meir forgive me the plagiat -- declare themselves as such for better reasons than their ignorant hatred of our real or assumed enemies. I don't care for the role of a grateful Jewish alibi puppet in someone else's private schizoid hell.

Update I: Thanks to Tal G. for pointing out in the comments a particularly embarassing typo.

* Update II [Mon Jun 03, 03:45:56 PM]: The Poor Man and PhotoDude (1, 2, 3, 4) come to a partial rescue. But is the subject ever discussed without the stimulus of a clear-cut scandalous criminal case?