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June 19th 1967: Israel’s Peace Plan

June 19, 2012

I’ve just put up a link to the dramatic two-day discussion of Israel’s Cabint on 19 June 1967, over at the other blog. this is the first online publication of the full transcript of the deliberations. At tehe end of the discussions the government decided to trade land for peace.

Stuff at the other blog

April 10, 2012

Over at my previous blog, Ruminations, I’ve come out of retirement for a quick burst of blogging, and am now going back into retirement. I wrote about a fine book, an awful website, and a reform recently adopted by the government regarding my job.

Ronon Shoval: No-one gives up their heart for peace

April 8, 2012

Ronen Shoval, the founder of Im Tirzu, recently had an op-ed in Haaretz in which he explained why dividing Jerusalem in return for peace would be an awful idea:

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said a few days ago: “It breaks my heart to initiate relinquishing sovereignty over the Temple Mount but there is no other choice.”…

No one gives up their heart in return for peace. If the aim was peace at all costs, the safest and most immediate way to achieve it would be simply to convert to Islam. Just as, for the sake of peace, even the most ardent left-wing activists would not be prepared to convert to Islam, not even in a symbolic way, so it is impossible to concede the symbols that express identity. Peace is merely a means for the Jewish people to exist and thrive.

Actually, peace should also be a means for the Palestinians to exist and thrive, but there’s the rub: The Palestinians have been offered peace at least 4 times since 2000 and have spurned all the offers as not sufficient. Which means, they’ve got their red lines, and prefer no state and no peace over crossing them. Shoval, speaking for a large minority of Israelis at least, says the same: peace, yes, but not at an unacceptable price. Dividing Jerusalem (by which he seems to mean the historic center, not necessarily Kfar Akeb) would be too high a price.

Saying Kaddish forever

January 7, 2012

The other day was the Tenth of Tevet, a minor fast-day which serves, among other purposes, as the day on which one says Kaddish for someone whose date of death is unknown. After the Shoah the day took on the role of commemoration for the Shoah for the religious communities. The secular camp, not having any interest in saying Kaddish, insisted on a separate day to be dedicated exclusively to the Shoah and not shared with other events; after a period of political horse-trading in the early 1950s, the 8th day before Independance day was chosen, which has worked out fine. Some of the Haredim don’t commemorate the Zionist invention, and effectively none of the secular Israelis even know about the Tenth of Tevet; stuck in the middle are the Modern Orthodox, who commemorate Yom Hashoah along with most everyone else in April or May, and also the Tenth of Tevet along with the Haredim, in the middle of winter.

Makor Rishon, the highbrow newspaper of the settlers, and thus sort of the tribal paper of (some of) the Modern Orthodox, had the following story in its weekend edition (no English version – my translation) about a man who has been saying Kaddish three times a day for more than 65 years. Normally one says Kaddish for 11 months after the death of a parent, and less for other family members, though the Rav Soloveitchik famously said Kaddish for five years after the death of his wife.

When cajoled by his fellow cogregants to explain, the man, who apparently lives in Israel’s north but is not identified by name, started by reminding them that he was a Holocaust survivor:

I was about 18 at the end of the war, and when I saw what had happened to my family and friends, I decided to start saying Kaddish. The first year was for my father; the second for my mother, the third for my brother, the fourth for my sister, then I went on to say Kaddish for my grandfather, both grandmothers, and so on for the rest of the family. Saying Kaddish for my family took about twenty years, and then I said to myself “enough, you can stop now”.

But then, just as Iwas about to stop, the image of a childhood friend rose before me, and seemed to be pleading for a year of Kaddish. So I went on for one more year. At the end, when I was about to stop, I remembered the old man who died next to me in the barrack, and since I was pretty sure no-one had said Kaddish for him, I added another year. And so it went. Each year when I was about to stop saying Kaddish, the image of another person would appear before me, sometime in a dream, sometimes when I was awake: kids I had played with, people I had seen die in the camps, distant relatives. Each one of them pleaded for their year of Kaddish, which they had been deprived of.

And so it has been 65 years already, and how many people have I managed? 65, that’s all. Almost nothing – a few bunks in the barracks, that’s all. I’m more than 80 years old, I don’t know how many years I have left, and there are so many people who remain to have Kaddish said for them..

2011 has been a great year for Israel – and a reflection on Talmudic and modern law

December 30, 2011

I have reactivated my old blog, Yaacov Lozowick’s Ruminations, for one day, with two posts. One tells how an ancient Talmudic discussion is all about our contemporary world. The other explains why I think 2011 has been one of the best years in recent Jewish history – since, say, 2000 years ago.

Now I’m going offline again, at both blogs. I’m too busy doing other things.

Is Israel finally creating irreversable facts in the Arab part of Jerusalem?

December 23, 2011

Haaretz has an article simultaneously repoorting, speculating and criticising an emerging Israeli policy regarding Jerusalem. Predictaby, Haaretz leaves out some essential parts of the story, but the speculation itself is plausible – and hopefully, also correct.

The report tells that Israel seems to be taking steps towards severing Kfar Akeb and Shuafat from East Jerusalem. Kfar Akeb is the neighborhood between Ramallah and Jerusalem which has been beyond the security fence since about 2005; effectively it is more part of Ramallah than of Jerusalem. Shuafat is further south, on the north-east edge of town; it has been outside the fence since about 2007 or 2008. While closer to the center of Jerusalem than to the center of Ramallah, it is only about a 10 minute drive to Ramallah.

Mayor Nir Barkat has been open about his wish to have the fence be the municipal line. Haaretz says the government, which paves roads and infrastructures beyond the line, seems to agree. Facts on the ground indicate there are preparations underway to enable a division, i.e an international border, along the line of the fence. Beyond severing those two Palestinians neighborhoods from Israel (which, you would think, the world ought to support but of course won’t), there may also be plans to connect Maale Adumim to Jerusalem by building in the empty E1 area which lies between them. This, however, first requires the construction of good roads that could connect Ramallah to Bethlehem, thus countering the claim that connecting Maale Adumim would necessarily sever the West Bank in two.

What’s the single most glaring ommission in the report? That would be that Israel is finally investing large sums of money in the parts of Arab Jerusalem which are to remain inside the line. In other words, Israel is trying to create a situation in East Jerusalem akin to the Galilee and other parts of Israel with large Arab concentrations, in which the locals enjoy full Israeli citizenship and wouldn’t dream of wanting to live in Palestine. There are numerous indications this policy is working, creating a situation where the Palestinians of Jerusalem regard themselves as full Israelis. I’ve written about this elsewhere.

Building in Jerusalem

November 8, 2011

Daniel Seidmann’s organization Terrestrial Jerusalem has a new report about the various construction projects that our government has launched in the past few years. I don’t have the time to actually read the new report, not at the moment, and Seidmann often sees things differently than I do. On the other hand, he knows hs stuff. So I expect it’s worth casting a glance over here.

Building new schools in East Jerusalem

October 20, 2011

Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor since November 2008, is beginning to change the reality in East Jerusalem. He is currently implementing a program to invest NIS 300,000,000 in the construction and equipping of new schools in the Arab sections of town, and while such things take time to move from the initial idea to completion, hundreds of new classrooms are in various stages of construction, thousands of PCs are being distributed, and various programs for students with special needs are being opened.

The gaps between the Jewish and Arab parts of town remain great, but they’re finally being purposefully narrowed.

The Flight of the Intellectuals

October 19, 2011

Another book I read recently is Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals: The Controversy Over Islamism and the Press. A worthy book, mostly for the service he has done by researching it.

It is next to impossible to understand a culture without speaking its language.  Which is why approximately 99% of what gets said about the Muslim world needn’t be taken too seriously. Serious observers can look in from the outside while doing their best to understand, but without the language you know they can’t be seeing the entire picture or even most of it. Berman doesn’t speak Arabic, but to his credit he has at least gone to the effort of reading reams of translated volumes, unlike many of the Western intellectuals he gently criticises; he also knows a lot about fascism, far more than your run-of-the-mill pundit or politician. When he combines these two abilities the result is persuasive – and of course, well written and interesting.

He starts by telling about European fascism, and how the Arab world had its own contemporary versions. This, in itself, shouldn’t be surprising nor controversial. Fascism was a popular political movement between the 1920s and 1940s. Hassan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brothers, was an important Arab fascist.

Berman then tells about an aspect of European influence on the Arab world which has been known for years, but largely unnoticed: the purposeful inculcation of Nazi antisemitism in the Arab world, largely through the channels of Nazi propaganda in Arabic. He leans heavily here on Jeffrey Herf’s important book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World: With a New Preface. The lasting result of the Nazi efforts were to convince large numbers of Arabs that hatred of the Jews was an important Muslim idea – and idea which is still alive and well in the early 21st century.

Having laid these foundations, Berman spends much of his book looking at Tariq Ramadan, a Geneva-based professor of philosophy who is regarded by many in the West as a builder of fine bridges between a moderate Islam and Western values – i.e. something of a hero. Ramadan is the grandson of al-Banna, and one might say that folks shouldn’t be judged by the identity of their grandparents, were it not for the fact, well demonstrated by Berman, that Ramadan holds his grandfather in high esteem and no-where tries to repudiate any of his teachings. Worse: the grandfather was assassinated in 1949, but there are still people around who regarded him as their teacher and leader, none more prominent than Yussuf al-Qaradawi, a popular Egyptian cleric who has repeatedly and publicly supported suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, holds problematic ideas about the treatment of women, and has been banned from various countries such as the USA and UK. As Berman documents carefully, Ramadan holds Qaradawi in the highest esteem, cites him reverentially throughout his own books, and only occasionally musters the courage to differ from him on minor matters. (You can read more about Qaradawi here).

As I said, for those of us who don’t know Arabic and won’t have the time to learn, Berman has done lots of helpful reading and research, and he presents lots of detailed findings. This isn’t an op-ed or a blog post with conjecture or ideological spin. Which is doubly important as the book nears its crescendo, in which Berman takes a hard look at too many of the Western intellectuals who know very little about the subject, and very much about their pet understanding of the world, and blithely tell about how positive and constructive Tariq Ramadan is, how harmless his intellectual heroes, and generally how nasty it is of anyone to insinuate that these Muslim Brotherhood fellow travelers are problematic.

Anyone who reads newspapers knows what these people think; Berman aims specifically at luminaries such as Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash. Most peculiar of all is how such Western intellectuals disdain Muslims who are less sanguine than they, and above all Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman who speaks prominently about the evil that can be found in some parts of contemporary Islam. Buruma and Garton Ash apparently seem to believe that Tariq Ramadan is a voice of Mulim moderation, while Hirsi Ali is a benighted fanatic. It’s a very odd position for left-wing humanists to be taking.

Only at one point does Berman shy away from saying explicitly what he seems to be saying. He notes that his Western intellectual adversaries are unfazed by the antisemitism and animosity towards Israel of people like Ramadan and Qaradawi. To me, it seems that this isn’t an oversight but rather the essence of the matter: too many left-wing Western intellectuals can’t see the fascist aspects of the Islamist animosity towards Jews, because they agree with it, especially when it’s directed at Israel. Why mark Ramadan as a dangerous reactionary when one shares his distaste of Israel?

That’s where we’re at,  at the moment. It’s not a good place to be.

A conflict of visions

October 18, 2011

Since I don’t blog much anymore, I don’t need to say anything about the deal to return Gilad Shalit to Israel. Though of all the endless things being written today, it’s interesting that perhaps the single most powerful piece comes from Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston: Bravo for these people, these Israelis. He notes that since the 1950s, Israel has released 13,509 prisoners for 16 soldiers.

Anyway. If I’m online already, I might as well tell about a book I recently read: A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, by Thomas Sowell. He presents his topic succinctly:

One of the curious things about political opinions is how often the same people line up on the opposite sides of different issues. The issues themselves may have no intrinsic connection with each other. They may range from military spending to drug laws to monetary policy to education. Yet the same familiar faces can be found glaring at each other from opposite sides of the political fence, again and again. It happens too often to be a coincidence and it is too uncontrolled to be a plot. A closer look at the arguments on both sides often shows that they are reasoning from fundamentally different premises. These premises – often implicit – are what provide the consistency behind the repeated opposition of individuals and groups on numerous, unrelated issues. They have different visions of how the world works. (p.3)

Sowell’s thesis is that people see the world through what he calls a ‘vision’, which forms and informs how they understand what they see. These visions are not sharply defined or cogently articulated ideologies; rather they are loosely understood frameworks. Most of us adhere to a version of this vision or that one, without ever being aware of doing so, and without recognizing that our political adversaries don’t recognize theirs, either. Significantly, they are mostly unchangeable. The two major visions which informed political discussion in the late 18th century are the same ones which most of us hold in the early 21st.

Sowell calls the two visions the ‘constrained vision’ and the ‘unconstrained vision’. 18th century proponents of the constrained vision include William Godwin and Thomas Paine, while Edmund Burke and Adam Smith represent the constrained version. People who see the world through the constrained vision understand the human condition to be, well, constrained: there are inevitable limits on what Man can achieve. Reality is far too complex for any single individual or even any group to understand all its ramifications, and therefore nobody can know how to correct its myriad imperfections.

People who think it’s in the power of people to perfect the world are, obviously, unconstrained. Both sides agree that reality is sorely lacking, but they disagree totally on what can be done about it. If you recognize the constraints of reality, you don’t have any pretensions, you don’t seek the action or policy that will correct the world, and you don’t allow yourself to believe that any one group of people know how to fix it. If you’re of the opinion that the world can be mended, you’ll constantly be on the alert for the policy which promises to achieve this, or the group of people who have figured out how. If you’re of the constrained persuasion you seek the best results which society has so far achieved, and look forward to incremental improvement over time; if you’re unconstrained you’ll constantly be on the lookout for solutions and hopeful that the next brilliant leader will show a way to make everything alright.

If it sounds like I prefer the one vision over the other, I apologize. Sowell, interestingly, manages to pull off an entire book without ever taking this position or that, though I personally came back with the impression that he leans to the constrained vision. Of course, the two pristine positions are both unrealistic, precisely because reality really is messy. Yet as broad guidelines, most of us lean towards the one vision or the other, most of the time.

Here, as an example, is Sowell using the template to demonstrate how proponents of each vision understand the phenomenon of war (p.158-9).

Given the horrors of war, and the frequent outcome in which there are no real winners, those with the unconstrained vision tend to explain the existence and recurrence of this man-made catastrophe in terms of either misunderstandings, in an intellectual sense, or of hostile or paranoid emotions raised to such a pitch as to override rationality. In short, war results from a failure of understanding, whether caused by lack of foresight, lack of communication, or emotions overriding judgement. Steps for a peace-seeking nation to take to reduce the probability of war therefore include (1) more influence for the intellectually or morally more advanced portions of the population; (2) better communications between potential enemies; (3) a muting of militant rhetoric; (4) a restraint on armament production or military alliances, either of which might produce escalating counter-measures; (5) a de-emphasis  of nationalism or patriotism; and (6) negotiating outstanding differences with potential adversaries as a means of reducing possible causes of war.

Those with the constrained vision see war in entirely different terms. According to this vision, wars are a perfectly rational activity from the standpoint of those who anticipate gain to themselves, their class, or their nation, whether or not these anticipations are often mistaken, as all human calculations may be. That their calculations disregard the agonies of others is no surprise to those with the constrained vision of human nature. From this perspective, the steps for a peace-seeking nation to take to reduce the probability of war would be the direct opposite of those proposed by people with the alternative vision: (1) raising the cost of war to potential aggressors by military preparedness and military alliances; (2) arousal of the public to awareness of dangers, in times of threat; (3) promotion of patriotism and willingness to fight, as the cost of deterring attack; (4) relying on your adversaries’ awareness of your military power more than on verbal communications; (5) negotiating only within the context of detergent strength and avoiding concessions to blackmail; and (6) relying more on good sense and fortitude of the public at large (reflecting culturally validated experience) than on moralists and intellectuals, more readily swayed by words and fashions.

Like other evils, war was seen by those with the constrained vision as originating in human nature and as being constrained by institutions. To those with the unconstrained vision, war was seen as being at variance with human nature and caused by institutions.

History, I’d add, doesn’t support one vision or the other. There have been moments in history when individuals or small groups guide society forward – the 18th century Enlightenment  is as clear an example as I can think of – but there are lots of cases where even the best and the brightest have no more success in improving reality than anyone else before or since. The question each group will answer differently will be Why: are the successes proof of the correctness of the intentions and the failures the results of counter-efforts of reactionaries; or are the successes the mere luck of incremental progress suddenly falling into place and the failures the simple structure of nature?

Your answer will say more about you than about reality.