Archive for January, 2011

She tried to say “lehitraot” and she choked

Well, kinda

Macy Gray: Boycotters are just assholes – Israel Culture, Ynetnews.

After posting a Facebook status asking her fans for their opinion on whether she should go ahead with two planned concerts in Tel Aviv, and later confirming she would in fact be performing, Macy Gray is now dealing with the backlash from her decision.

It appeared that Gray was taken aback by the aggressive tone of some of the posts. In response to a poster claiming to be “passionately Palestinian” she wrote: “See I’m willing to listen – really listen – but some of you so called boycotters are just assholes.”

Good work Macy Gray.

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Barak quits, Avoda splits

This isn’t completely out of the blue, but is stil massive news. I’m not sure how to feel about it really.

BBC News – Ehud Barak quits Israel’s Labour to form new party.

 

 

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak says he is resigning as head of the Labour party to form his own faction.

Mr Barak is heading a breakaway group – Independence – which includes four other Labour MPs, reports say.

My predicted results are:

  • Avoda will become a party of the Left again and will shake-off the “Likkud stooges” reputation that it has been getting lately. This may mean they pick up more seats next election, but to Kadima’s detriment.
  • Netanyahu’s coalition will move even further Right, as there will be less voices to argue against Lieberman – Beitenu will have the power to collapse the government if it so chooses. This can only be a bad thing.

Speaking of the esteemed Foreign Minister, for all his flaws, he seems to have a brilliant sense of irony:

Israel’s McCarthy: On the rise or on the ropes? | Top News | Reuters.

“What we have here is a combined effort … to destroy the only democracy in the Middle East … to distort reality, to deter and to demonise Israel…”

That definitely seems to be the case, Mr Lieberman.

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Civilian deaths suck, but there is a lot to be said for putting a price on violence

After a lot of concern over the recent escalation of violence in Gaza, Hamas have decided that the threat of another large-scale Gaza incursion was too high a price to pay for keeping-up the “resistance” and so have decided to stop attacks on Israel, so that they can concentrate on rebuilding.

Hamas urges militant groups to stop attacking Israel | Reuters.

“We began contacts with factions over the situation in the field. Hamas seeks to control the situation on the ground and urge factions to recommit to the national agreement,” Hamas official Ayman Taha said.

Several Hamas leaders have said a new Gaza war would inflict heavy casualties on Israel, but they also have spoken of a willingness for a reciprocal truce to facilitate the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure destroyed in the 2009 conflict.

This is coming as a direct result of Israel’s “deterrence” policy – where they respond “disproportionately” to any violence. There is a whole argument there about what level of reprisal is justified – is it “eye-for-an-eye” proportionality, is it “any means necessary” to protect the citizenry or is it somewhere in the middle? Whatever your stance, no one can deny that it has worked here.

Could this finally show that Hamas is moving from “resistance at any cost” to some kind of pragmatism, where they realise that their people not dying is preferable to maintaining some kind of symbolic attacks on Israel with little practical effect? They have known all along that in order to prevent their citizens from being killed, all they had to do was not attack Israel.

It does look like they may even have the right idea:

Maan News Agency: Haniyeh announces plan to rebuild Gaza.

Haniyeh said his government had the funds to reconstruct everything that was destroyed by Israel during its offensive on the coastal enclave in December 2008.

I’m going to be a cautious optimist on this one. If Hamas is serious about this, it will be the first time ever that the entire Palestinian leadership have actually made a formal commitment not to attack Israel, which is a huge breakthrough. When there is no violence going on, life improves for everyone. There won’t be a breakthrough tomorrow, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

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BDS movement fabrication

So I’m currently in the UK, for those of you keeping up with my movements, and coincidentally an Australian friend sent me this:

British retailer denies boycotting Israeli cosmetics.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) implied on Friday that the awardwinning British retail giant the John Lewis Partnership – which owns the John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarket chains – had stopped stocking products from Israeli cosmetics company Ahava after PSC wrote to the company’s managing director.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, a spokesman for John Lewis emphatically denied PSC’s claim, stating that while the retailer had stopped stocking Ahava products, it was purely a commercial decision.

John Lewis said it stocks a vast range of Israeli goods, and will continue to do so.

“We can confirm that we continue to stock products sourced from Israel,” the spokesmans said.

I guess their plan is that by claiming credit for this kind of thing, it’ll look like their movement is gaining traction and maybe snowball into something that people actually pay attention to outside of Marrickville.

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It pains me to say I told you so…

So Fiona Byrne, the mayor of Marrickville Council, when justifying why her council decided to boycott Israel, said:

Last week at least 165 Israeli professors signed a petition declaring a boycott on activities at the Ariel University Centre in the occupied West Bank declaring Ariel an “illegal settlement” which has the intention of preventing the Palestinian people from establishing an independent state.

Remember this little nugget of wisdom from this post:

The movement is not one that is happy to negotiate and find halfway ground – its rhetoric is all-or-nothing. When Israelis partially support anything in the BDS ideology, the BDS leaders tend to use it to justify themselves by saying “I’m agreeing with this Israeli, only extending it a little further” rather than moderating their views.

See? These “we support BDS, but only to a certain extent” initiatives are only ever counter-productive. They are all-or-nothing, the only way to deal with them should be to decry the whole movement.

Also, note that she affirms that they are not a one-state solution movement, but very carefully avoids saying what they do actually believe on the subject:

A handful of people have assumed that Marrickville Council’s support of BDS implies that we support a one-state solution to the conflict. This is not at all the case. The BDS is not an anti-Israel resolution. It is about identifying institutions that directly support the occupation of Palestine, and choosing not to do business with them.

And as for it not being an anti-Israel resolution, she goes on to say:

Many Australians remember how international boycotts and sanctions of South African goods in the 1980s helped to bring an end to apartheid. It is no accident that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is today one of the most outspoken critics of Israeli policies in Palestine and one of the principal advocates of the BDS movement.

Without going into too much detail, the Apartheid comparison is completely inapplicable and makes it very clear that this IS an anti-Israel resolution and they ARE advocates of a one-state solution. I will explain this later when I’m not sitting half-asleep in an airport lounge.

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Israel’s biggest threat right now?

So Iran’s nuclear program has a few more years, giving Israel a little breathing room, and the Palestinians aren’t attacking, for now at least. Apparently, Israeli Arabs are even more scared by terror attacks than Israeli Jews, meaning that Israel doesn’t need to worry so much about internal terror – for now at least.

There’s even a brief respite in the North – Hizballah has just decided to pull out of the ruling coalition in Lebanon and so collapse the Lebanese government:

Lebanon’s year-old unity government collapsed Wednesday after Hizbullah ministers and their allies resigned over tensions stemming from a UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The walkout ushers in the country’s worst political crisis since 2008 in one of the most volatile corners of the Middle East.

The tribunal was widely expected to name members of Hizbullah in upcoming indictments, which many fear could re-ignite sectarian tensions that have plagued the tiny country for decades.

This is terrible for Lebanon, which is looking more and more likely to go into a civil war. As Hizballah is the most powerful military force in Lebanon, the only way that it would not win the civil war would be for other countries to intervene, turning the civil war into a regional war, which would not be fun for anyone.

That said, until that happens, Hizballah is probably too pre-occupied with Lebanon to start attacking Israel (unless they decide to attack Israel as a distraction, as explained here).

So point is, no one is really shooting at Israelis right now. So what’s the problem? Well Israel Beitenu has just decided to set-up a Knesset committee to investigate a few left-wing NGOs because apparently they are trying to “stop the IDF from doing their job”. This is bad, whichever way you look at it – singling out NGOs who disagree with their specific agenda makes a mockery of everything people like me have been saying about free speech in Israel. In fact, in response to some members of ruling right-wing party Likkud voting against the idea, Beitenu head Avigdor Lieberman said:

”When I saw people from the right vote together with [Arab MPs] Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi, it was a strange spectacle.”

This is 100% true, but not for the reason Lieberman thinks. It says a lot more about the proposal than Likkud – it’s not even that it’s right wing, it’s just a really bad idea. It also reflects really badly on Israel, it’s crazy that a man who would push this kind of thing through so blindly is actually supposed to be Foreign Minister – representing Israel to the world. In fact, he’s doing a really bad job of it. Just as Israel was mending relationships with Turkey, a key ally, Lieberman ran his mouth and ruined it all; he also undermines everything the rest of Israel is saying about trying to reach peace by saying that it is not possible.

Netanyahu responds to all this by saying that Liberman is “entitled to his own opinion” and rightly pointing-out that despite his title, Lieberman’s ideas are his own and are not Israeli policy. The problem is, Netanyahu feels that he can’t drop Lieberman from the coalition and take the centrist Kadima instead, since then Likkud would be seen as moving left and Beitenu would become the party of the right.

And I mentioned the Israeli Arabs before. Problem is, there are a bunch of rabbis who are trying to stop them from being able to buy land from Jews. This is understandably causing a very bad reaction amongst them. It also again makes Israel look awful and undermines the idea of Israel being an equal society with human rights. The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community just lives in a different world – they don’t serve in the IDF, they have extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty and they have a warped world view. Of course, this is the view of a minority and is not Israeli policy, but try explaining that to someone who is prejudiced against Israel already. Also, if current demographic trends continue, Israeli Arabs and Haredi Jews will make up the majority of Israel’s population later this century; if current social trends continue, Israel may look a lot like Lebanon at that point.

It’s really difficult to see a way out of the current situation, but one thing is clear – in this period of relative calm, the biggest threat to Israel is probably from within. I have no idea how these problems could be solved.

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Unlikely matches: Mark Ronson and The Black Lips, Jay-Z’s and Sinatra

Acoustic garage-rock band The Black Lips raised a few eyebrows by deciding to team-up with uber-cool electro/pop producer Mark Ronson, but apparently it’s not such a bad match. If this VBS TV documentary is anything to go on, the album may be something to really look forward to (I couldn’t embed this one so you need to click the link).

On another note, I am leaving in a few hours towards New York, which is amazing for me but content may drop a little for all my loyal readers. As a send-off, I’ve been listening to the New York song of our times – Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys (and also Keys’ solo sequel).  A friend of mine said to me that it wasn’t a great New York song and has nothing on Sinatra and his classic “New York New York”.

So listening to the song this morning, I noticed a line that I hadn’t really payed attention to before:

I’m the new Sinatra, and… since I made it here
I can make it anywhere, yea, they love me everywhere

What does this say to me? Jay-Z recognised that New York, being an iconic city, needs an anthem in popular culture. People who go on trips there or romanticise about it need a tune to express their New York love, and there hadn’t been a really good one for a long time, so Jay-Z figured that he was a big music star, so why not step-up to the plate?

And through enlisting the talent of Ms Keys, he created a damn effective anthem. Now, every time a person from our generation does something related to NYC, they will have Jay-Z in their heads. He has made himself the Sinatra of the 21st century. That’s some genious business accumen right there.

Also, it’s worth reading this review of Jay-Z’s new book from Kelefah Sanneh from The New Yorker talking about poetry in hip hop.

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So Fatah is not necessarily “committed to Israel’s elimination”

Because of an angry comment on my last post, I felt that I needed to clarify this point. As the below article observes, Fatah is not necessarily trying to destroy Israel.

They do broadcast a lot of rhetoric about destroying Israel to all levels of society, including their children, and they teach that all of Israel is actually “Occupied Palestine” in their textbooks. And they tend to name things like town squares, sports centres and schools after terrorists. And there is concern with this unilateral declaration of statehood thing. But at the moment, Fatah is working with Israel and, at least in theory, committed to a two state solution. They have recognised Israel as a state, if not a Jewish state.

Co-operation, not collision, with Israel is the only route out for the Palestinian Authority – On Line Opinion – 13/1/2011.

It is easy to overlook the progress that has been made as a result of this relative calm. Having grown weary of violence and seeing a greater existential threat from Hamas than from Israel, the Palestinian Authority has been cooperating with Israeli security forces on an unprecedented level, helping to penetrate terror networks and bringing violence in the West Bank down to virtually nil.

In return, Israel has removed most internal checkpoints in the West Bank and every-day life has become increasingly normal for the residents there. Arguably the most important Palestinian figure has been PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is the first Palestinian leader in history to push for his people to break out of the mentality of victimhood and “resistance” and rather focus on actually improving their lives.

Fayyad, who previously worked at the IMF and the World Bank, has been steadily building-up the West Bank’s economy – with a great deal of support from Israel and the US.

This has lead to some impressive feats – the economy of the West Bank grew by 8.5% in 2009, when most of the world was in recession; improved tax collection has increased tax revenue by 15% and unemployment has been reduced by over 30%. Also, where Arafat was often criticised for corruption and embezzlement of PA funds, Fayyad has focussed on transparency and used the money to dramatically improve the West Bank’s infrastructure.

In just two years, he has built over 120 schools, 1800km of new roads, and 1500km of new water networks, as well as building 11 new health clinics and expanding an additional 30 in the last year. This represents a very positive shift in Palestinian mentality – where the vast majority of Palestinians and their supporters blame Israel for poor water services and roads, he has decided to stop pointing fingers and actually improve the situation.

With cooperation and training from the US and Israel, the Palestinian security forces, traditionally little more than militias for corrupt leaders, have been transformed into a competent organisation that is able to maintain law and order in Palestinian areas. This has made for a far more liveable West Bank.

On a personal note, during a recent visit to Bethlehem, I witnessed my taxi driver being pulled-over for making an illegal turn; I have never before seen anyone so overjoyed to receive a traffic fine. He explained that until a year or two ago, there were never any traffic laws in the area.

Even in Gaza the situation has been improving, albeit at a very slow rate. 2010 saw the opening of Gaza’s first Olympic-size swimming pool and its first shopping mall, as well as the easing of Israel’s blockade, allowing most goods into the enclave and all but putting the tunnel smuggling trade out of business.

Doubtless there are still major issues, including widespread homelessness, unemployment and aid dependency; as well as the oppressive Hamas regime, which refuses to renounce violence and recognise Israel, tortures and kill political enemies and clamps down on “un-Islamic” practises such as surfing for adult females. Still, since the previous war ended in early 2009, there has been a relative calm.

Rather than its myopic focus on the issue of settlement construction and its bafflingly inconsistent policy of pressuring one party or another, the US may have made significant headway in peace negotiations by building on the positive trends that have been happening in spite of, rather than because of, the lacklustre “peace process”. Unfortunately, in the case of both Palestinian territories, the situation is likely to deteriorate in the near future.

As time heals the wounds of the 2008/2009 war and increasingly sophisticated weaponry is smuggled into Gaza, the militant groups there – some aligned to Hamas and some independent of it – are growing more and more bold, with a series of attacks on Israel in the last few weeks which induced reprisals and escalated tensions to the highest levels in two years.

Unless Hamas can be convinced to again clamp down on such activities, it is very likely that they will sooner or later spiral out of control and lead to another vicious conflict.

Meanwhile, a worrying trend from the Palestinian Diaspora has infiltrated the PA leadership – the idea of cutting ties and cooperation with Israel.

This has manifested itself both as an attempt to boycott Israel and thus cut economic and social ties, as well as by Fayyad and PA President Mahmoud Abbas eschewing negotiations in favour of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.

Having already recruited several countries in Latin American, the PA is pushing for a UN resolution in favour of this. The policy, which was attempted before in 1988, risks driving a wedge between the two sides, ending the mutually beneficial cooperation and re-igniting emotions around key issues such as borders and Jerusalem – which could only ever lead to conflict.

The progress from the end of the last decade is hanging by a thread. Only strong and intelligent leadership from the US – focussing on improving the existing practical West Bank cooperation, strengthening deterrence of Hamas, and signalling strongly to the Palestinian Authority that there is no viable alternative to serious negotiations with Israel – will be able to prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control and preserve the practical progress toward a two-state peace which has emerged in recent years.

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Why News Ltd is amazing

This op-ed by James Morrow in the Telegraph today pretty much gets the whole BDS issue in a short tabloid article. While that may be a good thing in and of itself, the best is that both in the paper and on the website, they put a big picture of Israeli model Bar Rafaeli next to the article – meaning anyone perusing the site/paper will almost definitely click the link or read the piece, just to see what she looks like.

Good work the Telegraph!

 

 

North Korea, Iran, Burma… Marrickville | The Daily Telegraph.

WHAT does the desert theocracy of Saudi Arabia have in common with Marrickville Council in Sydney’s inner west?

Ever since a Marrickville Council meeting late last year, both are sworn enemies of Israel. In a 10-2 vote, the council decided that it would “boycott all goods made in Israel and any sporting, academic institutions, government or institutional cultural exchanges”. Trendy councils supporting trendy causes is nothing new.

Greens-dominated Marrickville is a nuclear-free zone that abhors Australia’s treatment of refugees while taking a “BANANA” approach to development: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.

But by boycotting Israel, Marrickville Council is taking its UN routine a step too far. The first problem is what the boycott would mean in practice.

Israel is one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial countries in the world. Its products and inventions find their way into computers, mobile phones, and medicines.

A ban means a lot more than just making sure the hummus at council meetings is non-kosher. The second problem is that the move cuts against the proper business of a council and demonstrates that the supposed progressivism of the district only goes so far.

Fatah, and indeed most of that part of the world with the exception of Israel, is not exactly committed to those values Greens share with normal people, including the right of women to dress how they choose and of homosexuals not to be executed.

And unlike Marrickville, which just wants to boycott Israel, Fatah is committed to its elimination

This isn’t the first time Marrickville has taken such a stance. Last year when a local shopkeeper painted an anti-burqa mural on his own wall, Marrickville Council finally found a piece of “street art” it didn’t like.

Councillor Sam Iskandar, thought to be the driving force behind the Israel boycott, said the mural “goes against the values” of the Marrickville community and tried to get it removed.

Presumably those with strong opinions on any issue of the day are encouraged to cross Parramatta Rd to Leichhardt and hash it out in a cafe where they won’t offend anyone.

Better yet, Marrickville councillors and frustrated local foreign ministers everywhere should realise what the values of serving in local government are all about. Improving amenities. Picking up the trash. Scrubbing graffiti.

And leaving the diplomacy to Canberra.

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Israel: pro-peace, pro-settlements, allied with Saudi Arabia, against Egypt and more…

Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saed Erekat came out today and said that peace talks are now over. As if this were actually news:

“The talks [with Israel] have ended,” Erekat declared. “The government of Binyamin Netanyahu is trying to scrap all what was agreed upon in previous sessions of negotiations. They want to take us back to point zero.”

He added that the Netanyahu government’s platform was based on settlements, dictates, walls, incursions, assassinations, sieges and closures.

The talks have ended and it’s time for the Palestinians to make decisions, he said without elaborating.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu himself seems to disagree with Mr Erekat – coming out and saying that actually, Israel would have committed to another settlement freeze, but the US wouldn’t promise not to ask for more when (and this is definitely not “if”) the peace talks failed again. He re-iterated that he wants peace and it’s actually Erekat’s camp that’s holding everyone up:

Israel was willing to extend the settlement freeze for another three months but decided not to “because the US said that what would happen is that we’d end up spending a lot of political capital, and on the 91st day, they [the Palestinians] would ask for more,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday during a speech to foreign journalists.

Netanyahu reiterated that “no coalition will prevent me from pursuing a peace that I believe in. If I move forward with a peace agreement, it means I believe in it, and I can get the support of the Israeli public.”

Speaking about the Palestinians, the prime minister said, “I hate to use cliches, but this is a cliche I have to use. The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

He added, “There is no shortcut for negotiations, the only way to get to peace is negotiations.”

On the other side of things, an Iranian newspaper has called Wahhabism, the Saudi Arabian brand of Islam, the “dark side of Islam“. They even had that awesome picture above with the half Saudi and half Israeli keffiyeh, just to show how Saudi Arabia is in league with the Jews. Makes sense, right?

Well probably not for close Saudi ally Egypt. See, Egyptian sensors have stalled their decision on whether to classify upcoming Hollywood flick Fair Game because there is an Israeli actress in the movie, which apparently doesn’t sit well with Israel’s closest ally in the Arab world and one of only two Arab countries to recognise Israel. Seems fair enough to me, those Israelis can’t really act.

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