Archive for Israel

Answers From Israel

In response to an email, two friends of StillRight who live in Israel (hereafter referred to as “C” and “M”) were kind enough to answer some questions I had about the upcoming election there and other related issues. Here’s the Q and A:

Who is going to win the election in Israel?

C: Likud looks like it will get more seats than any other party, and it seems pretty clear that right-wing bloc (Likud, Lieberman, Shas and the other religious parties) will have a majority of the 120 Knesset seats. There is still plenty of jockeying among the parties, particularly between Likud and Lieberman, but it shouldn’t affect the overall outcome of a victory for the right.
M: Probably Bibi.

Will Bibi form a true unity coalition with centrist and left parties, or a center-right coalition?

C: Bibi has, not surprisingly, spoken out of both sides of his mouth on this one. Most of the campaign he emphasized his intention to form a broad government with all “Zionist” parties of the right and left, in an attempt to be perceived as more moderate. When he saw the right-wing satellite parties gaining on him, like Lieberman, he tried to take their votes by turning right. Hard to tell what he will ultimately do.
M: Center-right.

Whom are you voting for and briefly why?

C: Still unsure, but leaning to Kadima. I’m holding out a waning hope that maybe Livni still has a shot of becoming prime minister instead of Bibi.
M: Tzippi [Livni], mostly with the hope of bringing in Labor and keeping out Lieberman.

Bibi- principled leader or total opportunist?

C: One of the interesting outcomes of Bibi serving as Finance Minister was learning that he does have some principles. He really does believe in the free-market. On land/peace issues, however, he has no principles whatsoever and will just see which way the wind blows.
M: Neither, but he’s aligned more to the right and the political system forces opportunism over true leadership.

Any chance that we will see real civil reform in Israel (marriage and other church-state matters)?

C: Unfortunately, none whatsoever. As usual, the land/peace issues will continue to dominate the political scene, even though there are parties on the right (Lieberman) and left (Meretz) who would support that agenda.
M: Not in the near future.

Was this campaign as devoid of a discussion of issues as the media here made it seem?

C: Absolutely. There is also a high percentage of undecided voters (unusual in this land of overly decisive people) and a lot of shifting voters. No one seems to have any strong feelings in favor of any particular party.
M: Issues, what issues?

Will the action in Gaza heat up or calm down in the months ahead?

C: Hard to imagine Gaza staying calm for long.
M: Heat up.

Will the Israeli public support a trade for Gilad Shalit even if it means giving up as many as 1000 prisoners?

C: Definitely. Israelis supported the release of the child-killer Samir Kuntar for the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev from Lebanon, and they will support the release of many murderers for Gilad. It will be very difficult for the families of the victims of these terrorists, but it will go through.
M: Yes.

Don’t Israelis feel that such trades only encourage more kidnappings?

C: Yes, and yet they keep falling into the same trap. Everyone is motivated by the fear that one day they might be in the same position as the Shalit family.
M: They don’t like to think about that, they just picture their own son being kidnapped.

Any other random thoughts/ parting shots/ or predictions?

C: Expect major tension to come almost as soon as the next government takes office, when Obama/Mitchell demand that Israel stop all new construction in the West Bank. Israel already agreed to this in the context of Bush’s road map (with Bibi voting in favor at the time as part of Ariel Sharon’s government), but they never actually lived up to their commitment. I don’t think Obama will be as accommodating.
M: The big deal here is Lieberman as the third party that will determine the direction of the government. Many people are choosing who they’ll vote for based on how scared they are of Lieberman. Personally, I see him as Jurg Haider without the boyfriend.


Israel, Hamas, Fatah, and the State of Affairs

This is a long but very interesting description of where things stand right now with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It comes from a Palestinian journalist named Khaled Abu Toameh and is delivered on Micheal Totten’s invaluable website. It’s well worth printing out and reading when you have some time and want a great refresher on the state of affairs. I can’t say I agree with all of it, but it certainly seems quite rational, at least from my safe perch here in New York.



Krauthammer Gives Obama A History Lesson

How I love to read Charles Krauthammer’s column. Time and again, the man slices through the politicians’ rhetoric with cold hard facts. And this column is an absolute beaut.

Krauthammer takes Barack Obama to task for Obama’s recent interview wherein Obama basically fell on his knees and apologized to the Muslim world, saying “we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect…[to] restore [the] same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.”

Krauthammer responds by reminding us of precisely what the United States has done in that period:

In these most recent 20 years — the alleged winter of our disrespect of the Islamic world — America did not just respect Muslims, it bled for them. It engaged in five military campaigns, every one of which involved — and resulted in — the liberation of a Muslim people: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. The two Balkan interventions — as well as the failed 1992-93 Somali intervention to feed starving African Muslims (43 Americans were killed) — were humanitarian exercises of the highest order, there being no significant U.S. strategic interest at stake. In these 20 years, this nation has done more for suffering and oppressed Muslims than any nation, Muslim or non-Muslim, anywhere on earth. Why are we apologizing?

Does Barack Obama not know any of this?

While Obama was apologizing and wringing his hands on Al-Arabiya, Charles Krauthammer was dealing in facts. Krauthammer writes:

As in Obama’s grand admonition: “We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.” Have “we” been doing that, smearing Islam because of a small minority? George Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington six days after 9/11, when the fires of Ground Zero were still smoldering, to declare “Islam is peace,” to extend fellowship and friendship to Muslims, to insist that Americans treat them with respect and generosity of spirit.

And America listened. In these seven years since 9/11 — seven years during which thousands of Muslims rioted all over the world (resulting in the death of more than 100) to avenge a bunch of cartoons — there’s not been a single anti-Muslim riot in the United States to avenge the greatest massacre in U.S. history. On the contrary. In its aftermath, we elected our first Muslim member of Congress and our first president of Muslim parentage.

It seems Charles Krauthammer is a far more proud American than our President.


Kristof: Obama Will Be Less Supportive of Israel

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s forte is foreign policy, and most would agree that he is a lot less shrill and a lot less partisan than his fellow columnist Paul Krugman. Because he has a more measured, and in my opinion a fairer, tone than Krugman, I find his column a worthwhile read.

Today he turns his attention to the Middle East, and compares President Bush’s approach to the expected approach of President Obama. First, he gives his assessment of President Bush’s view:

President Bush’s problem was that he loved Israel too much. He embraced Israeli leaders even when they responded to provocations by killing more than 1,300 people in Gaza, according to Gaza health officials — in retaliation for shelling that had killed fewer than 30 Israelis since it began in 2001.

Then by contrast, he makes the following observation about the emerging Obama policy by noting the apparent enthusiasm towards the new administration at the recent conference in Davos:

[There was] a much more positive undercurrent here — enthusiasm for more American engagement in the region, in a more evenhanded way.

So in his view, Bush loved Israel too much, and Obama is more “evenhanded.” In other words, Kristof and the leaders at Davos are all fired up because Obama won’t be backing Israel as strongly.

And what are the specific policy implications of that? Kristof spells out exactly what he hopes to see happen:

Israel must lift the siege of Gaza, completely opening the crossings. If Hamas resumes its unconscionable rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, then bomb the tunnels or strike Hamas targets in a proportional way, but don’t escalate.

This is moronic. He expects Israel to allow Hamas to totally re-arm. Just like that. And then he says Israel should respond if Hamas resumes attacks, as if there is any doubt at all that this is exactly what would happen. And then he adds that when the inevitable attacks come, Israel should only respond “in a proportional way”, notwithstanding that this would do absolultely nothing to deter further attacks.

This is foolishness and naivete, driven by idealism that has no basis in reality.

Now ordinarily, I would say “who cares” in response to a foolish and naive post from a New York Times columnist. But as is clear from the column, Kristof is under the impression that Barack Obama shares his “even-handed” vision. And he is probably right.

And you know, we’ve been down this path before. After all, Bill Clinton was fool enough to trust Yasser Arafat. How’d that work out?



Michael Totten remains my favorite writer on all matters relating to the Middle East. In this sober, and sobering, post about the Arab-Israeli conflict, he shoots down all the idealists and explains why the situation is intractable. Key quote:

A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but that’s not an option…“We will never recognize Israel,” senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan said before he was killed by an air strike in Gaza during the recent fighting. “There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination.” Hamas does not speak for all Palestinians…but let’s not kid ourselves here. Hamas speaks for a genuinely enormous number of Palestinians, and peace is impossible as long as that’s true.


Bibi 2.0?

I was curious how the polls in Israel would be affected by the recent war in Gaza. According to this survey, little has changed, with Benjamin Netanyahu holding a handy lead in the polls. The election is February 10.


Change I Believe In

This probably won’t come as a surprise to Israelis, but I feel it is worth noting because it has received little coverage in the United States: While much of the world predictably condemns Israel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced her strong support for Israel’s military action, as described here by the Jerusalem Post:

Merkel placed the blame for Israel’s military operation squarely on Hamas’s rocket attacks and stressed that Israel has the right to defend its territory and citizens. “The terror of Hamas cannot be accepted,” said Merkel in her New Year’s address. According to her spokesman Thomas Steg on Monday, she said in a conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the responsibility for the conflict lies “clearly and exclusively” with Hamas. Merkel demanded that Hamas “immediately and permanently” stop its rocket attacks on Israel.

The article goes on to explain that Merkel has been fiercely attacked by the German left for supporting Israel.


Israeli Soldiers’ Hats

Every time I see photos (like this one) of Israeli soldiers going into battle…

israeli soldier helmets

…I can’t help but asking a very trivial question- what is that helmet-cover, the thing which looks like a chef’s hat (or oversized shower cap)?

Well, according to this article in Slate, it’s called a mitznefet, and is used to camouflage the helmet, making its appearance less distinctive and noticeable. Now you know.

As for more substantive thoughts about the current situation, Charles Krauthammer nails it as usual.


Palestinian Split?

Well this is interesting. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, whose blogging on Israel I always enjoy, notes this development:

I’ve been talking to friends of mine, former Palestinian Authority intelligence officials (ejected from power by the Hamas coup), and they tell me that not only are they rooting for the Israelis to decimate Hamas, but that Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information.

For a brief lesson on the recent history of Gaza, and why the current violence is solely attributable to Hamas, I refer you to this column from Ephraim Sneh, chairman of the Israeli political party Yisrael Hazakah (Strong Israel).



While the rest of the world predictably condemns Israel for its supposedly “disproportionate” response in Gaza, here is the White House statement:

Hamas has once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization that refuses to even recognize Israel’s right to exist. In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire.

This from a President who is about to leave office, and who received minimal support from the Jewish community.


The Times: Maybe It Was An Accident

How naive can people be?

As Christopher Hitchens notes, when it comes to recognizing the true nature of Islamic terrorists, naivete is boundless, at least at the New York Times. He writes about the Times coverage of the recent attacks in Mumbai:

The obvious is sometimes the most difficult thing to discern…An all-time achiever in this category is Fernanda Santos of the New York Times, who managed to write from Bombay on Nov. 27 that the Chabad Jewish center in that city was “an unlikely target of the terrorist gunmen who unleashed a series of bloody coordinated attacks at locations in and around Mumbai’s commercial center.” Continuing to keep her brow heavily furrowed with the wrinkles of doubt and uncertainty, Santos went on to say that “[i]t is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen, or if it was an accidental hostage scene.”

An “accident”?? Forgive my language, but a f—ing “accident”?


On Rahm Emanuel…

Well, as described here by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Rahm Emanuel’s personal and family history vis-a-vis Israel is encouraging to those of us who are concerned about how a President Obama will deal with the Jewish nation. That concern was buttressed by the rumors that Obama might “reach across the aisle” and give a cabinet post to outgoing Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who is also the most anti-Israel member of his caucus.

Of course, Rahm Emanuel is not exactly known for his…um… spirit of conciliation- even the AP calls him a “fiery partisan.”


Dissent of the Day

A reader says my connecting of some dots regarding Barack Obama and his potential stance towards Israel is way off base, and offers a different read on why an Obama administration would improve our standing in the world:

Electing Obama will begin to restore the United States
to the world leadership position it occupied before the disaster that
has been eight years of Republican control began. Because the current
administration lied to, insulted and belittled most of the free world
while pursuing self destructive foreign policies this country is now
held in contempt by most of the free world, and lacks the ability to
lead. “My way or the highway” as a foreign policy has been, to put it
mildly, a failure. Don’t vote for Obama so we can make friends, vote
for Obama to say to our former friends and allies “Bush lied to us too
and treated us with contempt too, and we don’t like it any better than
you do. We really do want to work together to make the world a safer
and more decent place.” It is the first step to restoring our position
as the leader of the free world. And convincing them that we are not

As for the McCain fans in Israel, do you think maybe the demographic is
slightly skewed? Is it possible that Americans living in Israel (or
spending enough time there to vote absentee) are older and a tad
wealthier than the rest of us suckers stuck here in Bush/Cheney land?
Or that they are true single issue voters, not particularly concerned
about what is best for America but voting based on what is best for
Americans living in Israel?