Tuesday, November 30, 2004

More on the Archeologer Rebbe

Chakira has more about the maverick hassidic rabbi and museum curator, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, whose archeology museum I plugged recently. Sounds like a fascinating man.

Just winding you up - II

I don't know what got into me, but for some odd reason I was listening to National Public Radio yesterday afternoon (that's morning for those of you stateside). It all started because WMAL's streaming was down, and before I knew it I had the dulcet tones of NPR droning in my ear.

Their politics aside, listening to NPR is about as entertaining as watching a web page load. They don't have a patch on the BBC World Service, for example.

Anyway, my ears perked up at a report from the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas.

I had been sure the World's Largest Ball of Twine was in Minnesota, as immortalized in the classic Weird Al Yankovic song.

It turns out - will wonders never cease? - that there are at least two World's Largest Balls of Twine. The original, in Darwin, Minnesota, is no longer the world's largest; it's been surpassed by the one in Kansas. It, however retains the coveted title of the World's Largest Ball of Twine Wrapped by One Man.

If I ever get to Minnesota or Kansas, would I deliberately want to visit either of these sites? The twine balls are sheltered by gazebos, and the local towns hold festivals in tribute of the "achievements". Which just goes to show that there is no obsession so irrational that an American can't find a way to make a buck out of it.

What does one do with an 8-ton ball of twine? Give it to a 96-ton kitten?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Just winding you up

It's time I tried a blog poll. Here goes:

When did you last wind a watch or clock?

My answer: "Today or yesterday".

Hizballah's beacon of hatred

C-SPAN yesterday interviewed Avi Jorish of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who discussed his new book about al-Manar, Hizballah's television station, which is available by satellite around the world. He spoke clearly and intelligently about the threat posed by what he calls this "beacon of hatred" (al-Manar means "beacon"), while defending himself against charges of bias and of suppression of free speech.

Regarding Israel, he described himself as a supporter of a two-state solution, and expressed his concern that the Palestinian leadership is not preparing its public for such a solution. He mentioned seeing coverage recently on al-Jazeera in which Palestinian leaders assured "refugees" that they would defend their "right of return" to Israel - a position which essentially makes a two-state solution impossible, and implies the end of Israel as a Jewish state. To me, this supports my contention that there will be no Palestinian state.

The interview is not yet available on C-SPAN's web site, but it will presumably be available soon. Look for video of the Washington Journal of November 28.

Update: The video clip is now available for RealPlayer.

November 29, 1947 - November 29, 2004

This BlogBurst piece is cross-posted by participating websites, to

commemorate a milestone in Israel's history. The list of the

participating sites is appended at the end of this post.

November 29, 2004:

Anniversary of the UN vote on Resolution 181

Today is the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly vote passing Resolution 181. Known colloquially as the Partition Plan, it called for dividing the western part of the Palestine Mandate into two independent states, one predominately Jewish and one predominately Arab. The city of Jerusalem was slated to come under a "Special International Regime".

This was the first time a world body had endorsed the establishment of a Jewish state. The Jews, desperate for a political haven in the wake of World War II, eagerly embraced the proposal, despite its substantial problems: The proposed Jewish state excluded Jerusalem, and its borders were indefensible. It was far less than they had hoped for, but fulfilled their basic needs for political independence and international recognition.

For the Arabs, even this was too much. Though they had never had an independent state in Palestine and were now offered one, they would agree to no arrangement which would offer recognition to the Jews. The Arab states actively opposed Resolution 181, while offering no realistic alternative proposal for the future of Palestine - at least, none that accommodated political rights for Jews.

Like all other proposals before and since to solve the "Question of Palestine", this plan was never implemented. The Jews celebrated its approval as a mini-holiday, known in Hebrew as Kaf Tet b'November ("29 November"). The Arabs, rejecting partition, began an assault on the Jews of Palestine.

The day after the vote, Palestinian Arabs murdered six Jews in a bus to Jerusalem, and another in the Tel-Aviv - Jaffa area. The terror assault continued until the mandate ended in May and the State of Israel was declared, whereupon six Arab states invaded the nascent state with the aim of destroying it. This war claimed the lives of 6,000 Jews, or 1% of the total Jewish population in 1948 - the equivalent of the US today losing 3,000,000 lives or Israel losing 65,000.

After intense lobbying by Zionist representatives and vigorous opposition from the Arab states, the partition plan was approved by a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions.

The 33 countries casting "Yes" votes: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Byelorussia, Canada, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, Liberia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, Union of South Africa, USSR, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela. The diversity of this coalition points to the broad support enjoyed by the Jewish state at the moment of its founding.

The 13 countries voting "No": Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen. (Ten of these are Moslem countries; Greece has the special distinction of being the only European country to vote no.)

The ten abstainers: Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Mexico, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia.

Whatever their merits or demerits on other issues, it is imperative that we recognize with gratitude those countries who stood by our side at this crucial moment in history.

List of participating sites, in alphabetical order of site name

Anti Idiotarian Rottweiler

Arkansas Bushwacker

Armies Of Liberation

Bama Pachyderm

Biur Chametz



Blog Willy

Blue Rev

Canadian Comment

Cao's Blog

Catholic Friends of Israel

Christian Patriot

Christian Action for Israel

Clarity and Resolve

Crusader War College



Daniel Davis


God Pigeon

Harald Tribune


Heretics Almanac

Hidden Nook

History Nerd


I Love America

Instant Knowledge News


Israel Commentary


Jerusalem Posts

Leaning Right News


Live Journal





Mugged By Reality

Mystery Achievement

Mystical Paths



Nice Jewish Boy


Protect Our Heritage


Red Tigress




Spitball Defense


Tampa Bay Primer

Techie Vampire


Tex The Pontificator

The Autism Homepage

The Conservative

The Homeland

The Seal Club


Who's Your Rabbi


Yoan Hermida

Weblog of a Wondering Jew

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Welcome to the Styx

Thanks to Life in the Styx for linking to my discussion of whether or not to rejoice over Arafat's death.

Styx's angle was a bit different from mine. He addressed the question of whether or not to omit Tachanun on the day of Arafat's death. Styx is the Orthodox rabbi of an American congregation, and he ruled that Tachanun should be omitted, as it is on many days of mild joy, and that appropriate chapters of Tehilim should be recited.

On an unrelated note: Styx doesn't seem to realize that we're actually friends. We've known each other for years. I know who he is; he apparently doesn't know who I am, and refers to me as "some blogger"! I won't reveal his name here, though I gather he isn't deliberately blogging anonymously. He probably just forgot to identify himself on his site.

Finally, as a caution to readers, let me paraphrase him:

DO NOT BE FOOLED - his blog "Life in the Styx" looks exactly like mine.

But I have no intention of changing my template. I like the shades of orange; they go with the "Biur Chametz" theme.

Things to do in Israel

G. Green has asked in a comment:

I hope to be in in The Holy Land - Jerusalem this week.... I havent been for a while and havent much planned, what do you suggest I do?

I'm not sure where to start. I'll kick off with a few recommendations, and I encourage readers to contribute their own in the comments.

If you haven't been to the new Davidson visitors center at the southern excavations of the kotel, it's highly recommended. They have a computer-designed three-dimensional model of the Second Temple.

It's a great time of year to go out into nature. The bird migration is at its peak in much of the country, if you're into that sort of thing. There are beautiful parks around Jerusalem, such as Sataf and Ein Hemed. If you plan to visit national parks, it may be worth getting a visitor's pass.

Neot Kedumim isn't new, but it's a special place: A biblical nature reserve. Located between the airport and Modiin, it features landscapes with biblical species, along with explanations of their significance. They have, for example, a large etrog grove! Great for kids, too.

A must for book enthusiasts: This week only, the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, Israel's equivalent of the British Library, is having a sale of redundant books.

In Kfar Daniel, also not far from the airport, is the visitors center of Hazorfim, makers of silver Judaica. You can tour the factory and learn how they make candlesticks, wine cups, and more. Call ahead to book a tour.

Remember, it's low season for tourists here. If you can afford it, spend some money at the shops and cafes in downtown Jerusalem. They're still hurting pretty badly.

That's it for me - it's your turn, folks!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Locusts, yum! - IV

The locusts go marching one million by one million, hurrah, hurrah!

The locusts have reached as far north as Ein Gedi, and they're feeding and possibly breeding. The Agriculture Ministry is spraying, but with limited success. The fear is that they'll find their way towards central Israel before the cold and rain deter them.

Meanwhile, "The ministry announced Wednesday night that it has coordinated with the Civil Administration to transfer 200 kg. of insecticides to the Palestinian Authority." Suddenly they expect the Palestinians to start controlling their vermin?

At work the other day, I asked the mashgiach in the cafeteria (we have such things in Israel). He's Yemenite, and he reminisced fondly of his childhood. Locusts were delicious, he said. He didn't suggest introducing them to the cafeteria's menu, though.

Maybe we'll visit the Dead Sea resort tomorrow for a snack? (I, II, III)

Update (2:30pm): Latest reports include locust sightings in the Golan, Galilee and Rishon Lezion!

The UN: Two steps forward?

The UN General Assembly has just passed two unprecedented resolutions: the first to condemn antisemitism among other forms of religious hatred, and the second to condemn suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Better late than never, I suppose.

Still, the overall picture of the UN's attitude to Jew-hatred is pretty sad. Anne Bayefsky has the details.

No, not more turkey!

With relatives visiting this year and a simcha last year, this is the second year in a row I'll be attending a Thanksgiving dinner, after about a hiatus of about a decade since I've been living abroad. If it weren't for the web I'd probably forget about Thanksgiving entirely.

I can't say I'm that excited about turkey, though. Did you know that Israel boasts the world's highest per capita consumption of turkey? It's not even close; the figure is some 30% higher than the US!

(Israel also proudly has a high concentration of turkeys in public office.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Does Clinton have trouble with the truth?

The facts:

  • "In the 30 months after the signing of the [Oslo Accords], more Israelis were killed in terror attacks (213) than in the preceding decade (203 from January 1983 to September 1993)"

  • "In contrast, there was a drastic decline in the number of fatalities during the Netanyahu government (1996-1999).... That period marks the lowest number of fatalities since the beginning of the Oslo process."

  • "Notably, the sharpest increase in the number of terrorist victims during the Oslo years was that of Israeli citizens within Israel's pre-1967 boundaries."

And, finally, after the collapse of the Clinton-sponsored Camp David talks in 2000 came a terror assault dwarfing even that of the Oslo years.

Clinton's analysis? He takes credit for the lull in 1998:

"When we had seven years of progress toward peace, there was one whole year when for the first time in the history of the state of Israel not one person died of a terrorist attack...."

...without taking responsibility for the massive increases in terrorism both before and after!

Now, I don't think Clinton was responsible for the terrorism (at least not primarily responsible), any more than I think he was responsible for the lull. But Jewish blogger DovBear seems eager to give him the credit, though not the responsibility!

We knew Clinton had trouble with the truth. Should we expect more from his sycophants?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Prediction: There will be no Palestinian state

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

-- Niels Bohr, Danish physicist (1885 - 1962)

I try to avoid making predictions, but sometimes I can't resist. I admit my record has been mixed. In April 1990 I predicted there would be a war with Iraq. In September 1993 I predicted the Oslo Accords would eventually lead to war. On the other hand, in late 2002 I didn't think Bush would go ahead with the invasion of Iraq. Can't win 'em all.

So I'm either brave or foolhardy today in making the following prediction:

There will be no Palestinian Arab state.

Do I mean "never", you ask? Never is a long time. My intuition does say never, but for the purposes of this official prediction, I'll stick with "for the foreseeable future," say, the next ten or twenty years. I'm saying this regardless of my position on whether or not such a state would be good for Israel (I think it wouldn't); it's my objective assessment.

Am I nuts? After all, the circumstances for its establishment have apparently never been better.

For the past two years both Israel and the U.S., for the first time since Israel's creation, have supported the near-term establishment of a Palestinian state; Bush's original target date was 2005. The international diplomatic "quartet" endorsed a road map to bring it about. Meanwhile, our favorite obstacle to peace has gone to the netherworld, allegedly clearing the way for a new generation of pragmatic Palestinian leadership (right?). Finally, Sharon's busy promoting a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and part of Samaria, leaving a vacuum which could presumably be filled by a new Palestinian government.

And here I am, saying there will be no Palestinian state?

Let me explain.

Has anyone else noticed that the Palestinian leadership has virtually stopped talking about a Palestinian state? Googling "Arafat Palestinian state" yields few declarations of support from Arafat since the year 2000. Recall that from 1998 through 2000 the speculation was that Arafat would unilaterally declare an independent state despite Israeli opposition, or else would establish one in negotiations with Israel. Recently, though, mentions of aspirations for statehood have been infrequent and perfunctory. This year, even November 15, anniversary of the impotent 1988 declaration of statehood, usually marked as Palestinian independence day, passed without notice.

Increasingly, Palestinians and their supporters are rejecting territorial partition, talking instead about a "one-state solution". Such a "solution", of course, is a solution only in the same sense as the "Final Solution". Instead of a Jewish state, Israel would become an Arab state with a Jewish minority, or at best a bare majority. It would be the end of Zionism, no matter how you define it.

Meanwhile, though once anathema to all mainstream Israeli leaders, a Palestinian state is now supported by all of Israel's Labor party, by the centrist Shinui party, and by nearly half of the Likud, including Sharon and his senior deputies. A majority of Israelis are apparently in favor. The intelligentsia claim it is the only alternative to Israel losing its Jewish character as part of a "one-state solution" or else becoming an undemocratic "apartheid regime".

What's going on here? Why the sudden turnabout? Six years ago, the Palestinians were threatening to declare statehood and Israel threatened a hostile response; today, Israel and the US are pushing for Palestinian statehood and the Palestinians are lukewarm at best, if not outright opposed!

I have a shockingly simple explanation: The Palestinians believe that their conflict with Israel is a zero-sum game. What's good for Israel is bad for them, by definition. This has always been their attitude, and likely always will be.

By implication, if Israel is willing to agree to a particular plan, it must be against Palestinian interests. At least, the fact that Israel offers a certain set of concessions indicates that it must be possible to extract even more through other means, whether diplomatic pressure or violence. Furthermore, accepting the Israeli offer, rather than continuing the struggle, would indicate a voluntary decision to forfeit the possibility of wringing further concessions, a conscious betrayal of their dreams. The focus is always on what they are giving up rather than on what they are achieving.

Thus, every time a Palestinian Arab state has been on offer alongside the Jewish state, whether offered by Israel or by an international power, the Palestinians have rejected it. They rejected the 1937-38 partition plan of the Peel Commission and the 1947 partition approved by the U.N., since both would have given the Jews a state too. From 1948-67, rather than agitate for a Palestinian state, the Arabs concentrated on continuing their assault on Israel.

Only after 1967, when Israel had captured all of the original disputed territory, did the Palestinians start calling for statehood, seeing it as a new tactic to fight Israel. Knowing the same, Israel persistently opposed the idea, intending instead to return the territories to Jordan and Egypt. Later, Israel endorsed limited autonomy under Israeli sovereignty; the Palestinians continued to agitate for statehood.

The only apparent deviation from this pattern was the 1993 Oslo Accord, in which the PLO agreed with Israel on a plan of national self-government. But the Palestinians accepted this program only because 1) Arafat made the decision, and he had both clout and credibility; 2) It was not a permanent peace but a temporary truce establishing a temporary authority; and 3) He insisted (in Arabic) that it was the implementation of the PLO's 1974 Plan of Phases, and its eventual aim was the eradication of Israel.

Hence even Arafat could not have accepted Barak's Camp David proposals, no matter how generous Barak had been. Accepting statehood while recognizing Israel, admitting Jewish rights to the Temple Mount, and forfeiting the right of return for "refugees", would have been seen as a betrayal of the Palestinian people and an admission that their aspirations were out of reach, possibly forever. (Certainly, no putative future Palestinian leader can now ever accept the deal Saint Arafat rejected.)

Today, with Israel and the U.S. advocating a Palestinian state, the Palestinians naturally conclude they can do better than accepting it. Israeli leaders explain that a Palestinian state must be established now to solve the demographic problem and ensure Israel's survival; this alone is a reason for the Palestinians not to play along. Israel is effectively telling them that if they hold out longer, they'll get more, since demographics are on their side.

Assume Israel "disengages" from Gaza. The Palestinians can declare a state there, establish a civil society and live normal lives. But they will fear they have implicitly given up the fight for the rest of the territory, including Jerusalem and the refugees, not to mention the rest of Israel. They will feel they could have achieved more had they been patient.

Or they can continue the haphazard "Palestinian Authority", with chaos and internal violence, offering a haven for terrorists - while continuing to pressure Israel through both diplomacy and force. Israel will be forced to continue its anti-terrrorist military raids, which they will portray as legitimate grievances deserving of counterattacks. Remember Fatah's perennial slogan: "Revolution until victory!"

However much Bush and Sharon may want to, they cannot create a Palestinian state. Only the Palestinians can do that. If Israel is opposed, no Palestinian state can survive; if Israel is in favor, the Palestinians will oppose, almost by definition.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could suggest that Sharon has endorsed a Palestinian state in order to prevent it from coming into existence. I don't believe that; I think Sharon is sincere. Regardless, my conclusion is clear.

There will be no Palestinian state. Not for the foreseeable future.

Locusts, yum! - III

"Do you take your locusts with ketchup or mayonnaise?" asks the Jerusalem Post.

They taste like french fries, says Dr. Zohar Amar of Bar-Ilan University, who conveniently published a book just four months ago entitled The Locust in Jewish Tradition. Regarding the blessing, Dr. Amar explains:

"Rabbi Yehuda said that no blessing should be said because locusts were a plague. But the sages decreed that the blessing shehakol be recited, thereby acknowledging that though it causes damage, the locust was also a good source of food. In fact, it consists of 60 percent protein and provides plenty of vitamins."

The taste, he says, "varies, depending on what the locusts have eaten. A locust that has just gorged himself in a sesame field will taste of sesame seeds."

Monday, November 22, 2004

Soccer Dad donates platelets

Maybe you should too? Read all about it.

Brooklyn's frum archeology museum

A museum of biblical archeology located in Brooklyn?

Above a shteeble?

Created and run by its rabbi?

The November/December 2004 issue of Biblical Archeology Review has the story (not online, unfortunately) of the Living Torah Museum, curated by Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch.

Rabbi Deutsch collects artifacts primarily from biblical and Talmudic times. His aim, as the name indicates: to help bring the Torah to life. How did everyday objects really look 1500-4000 years ago? What does the Torah mean when it discusses them?

Next time I'm in Brooklyn I'll have to schedule a visit.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Locusts, yum! - II

The locusts have officially arrived, not via Cyprus as first expected, but via Egypt and the Sinai desert. They have "conquered" Eilat, reads the headline in Ma'ariv:

Locust swarms "conquer" Eilat

After they were driven from the agricultural areas of the Negev, the insects turned towards the city. "Eilat is under attack, we are fighting valiantly," say residents. Assessment: The "foreign tourists" will stay in town for the next few days.

Don't worry, though; aerial pesticide spraying is expected to keep the invasion under control.

Regarding the kashrut question, Dr. Zohar Amar of Bar Ilan University summarized the halachic debate over locusts in this 1999 essay.

Ma'ariv religion columnist Avishai Ben-Chaim quotes Yemenite Rabbi Shlomo Amram Korach from Bnei Brak, who notes that the kosher status of the current wave of locusts would have to be checked; this is difficult since most Jewish communities stopped eating locusts decades ago. Regardless, Ben-Chaim offers kosher recipes:

For immediate consumption, place live locusts in a pot of boiling oil and fry until crispy.

Or try this tasty dish:

Locust Skewers

Ingredients: Locusts, salt, paprika, olive oil.

Directions: First, rinse locusts well. Then skewer them and sprinkle with salt. Season with paprika and add a bit of olive oil. Finally, roast the skewers over a flame or in the oven until the locusts become crispy and yellow.

Mmm.... I think I'll stick with chicken....

Palestinian editor: Arafat expected Oslo to force Jews to flee Israel

Listen, Abdel Bari, I know that you are opposed to the Oslo Accords, but you must always remember what I'm going to tell you. The day will come when you will see thousands of Jews fleeing Palestine. I will not live to see this, but you will definitely see it in your lifetime. The Oslo Accords will help bring this about.

-- PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, 1994.

Other new revelations from Abdel Bari:

  • "President Arafat was the one who established the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in response to the attempt to marginalize him after the failure of the Camp David summit."

  • At the 2000 Camp David summit, Arafat "wasn't prepared to sign a final agreement with the Jewish state. He was well aware that such an agreement would make him go down in history as a traitor because he would have to give up the right of return for the refugees and most of the sovereignty over east Jerusalem."

Abdel Bari takes heart, though: "The Jews did not escape from Palestine by the thousands as President Arafat predicted. But they have started packing their bags to run away from the Gaza Strip and some settlements in the West Bank. There are also signs of emigration to Europe, the US and Canada following the suicide bombings and the sense of insecurity among Israelis."

This is consistent with the late Faisal Husseini's remark that Oslo was intended as a "Trojan Horse" to bring about the destruction of Israel.

Azure 19

I've been remiss in not mentioning the latest issue of Azure, which arrived in the mailbox a week or two ago. Lots of promising material; I'm gradually working my way through it.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Yoreh, Yoreh!

No, I haven't been granted semikha - I'm just excited about the rain!

The first significant rainfall of the season in Israel is called the "yoreh" (the last rains are the "malkosh" - see the second paragraph of Shma).

They're a bit late this year; usually we expect them in Cheshvan. Instead, they arrived yesterday, 4 Kislev. The Talmud discusses on what dates the yoreh should be expected; if it's substantially delayed, public fast days are proclaimed.

Yesterday we had a pretty heavy thunderstorm, continuing intermittently into the night. Sleeping was a challenge. It felt like someone was blasting dynamite just overhead.

I actually used an umbrella yesterday and wore a light denim jacket. Overnight low temperatures are in the 50s now (Fahrenheit; 11-16 Celsius) - a bit low for the time of year.

Yes, winter is setting in.

Chanuka's biblical roots

In this two-part shiur, Rabbi Menachem Liebtag argues that it is no coincidence that Chanuka falls on the 25th of Kislev - the date had significance in Tanakh long before the Chanuka story took place. I just heard him give this talk and I recommend it with enthusiasm.

Terminal longing

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Post columnist Calev Ben-David says goodbye to Ben Gurion Airport's now-closed Terminal 1.

Does anyone know whether the new terminal still offers ice cream snakes?

Leftists making sense - II

Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner gets it right again
, this time correctly arguing that, in exchange for forcing some 8,000 settlers out of their homes, the Israeli government should at least be showering them with financial compensation, even if it seems unfair:

Give the settlers the benefit of the doubt. And with so much doubt, that's a lot of benefit. Give them $300,000 or so per family, enough to buy houses in the country like they've got now.

Is that unfair? Unfair to whom - to the Israelis who didn't become settlers and instead had to work and save and hit up their parents and use their inheritance to buy their country homes? They'll survive the indignity.

Would it be too generous to the settlers? Let's see: We're pushing them out of their homes, out of their surroundings, in many cases out of their jobs. We're uprooting their lives, often when they're in middle age. We're forcing their children to give up their friends, their schools, everything they know.

He is particularly angered by the claim that Israel can't afford to offer more; the difference, says Derfner, would cost the Israeli taxpayer only $50 per person, "a token gesture to share the burden".

Derfner may be missing the real issue here. A tax of $50 per person to compensate 8,000 evacuees would indeed be bearable. Presumably, though, the government fears the precedent.

The process that starts today with the evacuation of 8,000 residents, mostly from Gaza, will inevitably continue in due course with the evacuation of at least 80,000 from remote areas of Judea and Samaria, and possibly up to 160,000, encompassing everyone outside the large settlement blocs. That $50 tax could quickly become $500 or $1000 - totalling $5000 for a family of five. Is that a burden he'd be eager to share?

The "Israel can't afford it" claim is the surest evidence that the current disengagement plan is only meant to be phase one of a process of unilateral destruction of the bulk of the settlement enterprise. Let no one on the right have any illusions.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A tasty reason to make aliyah

The U.S. is suffering a major tomato shortage, with retail prices running at $2-3 a pound! For Israelis, that's 20-30 shekels/kg!

I just paid 5 shekels a kilo this morning, making the American price some 4-6 times higher.

And everyone knows Israeli tomatoes are much tastier, at any price.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why "Biur Chametz"?

Not surprisingly, websurfers often find this site when searching for "chametz" (not to be confused with "searching for chametz" - see below). It currently appears on the first page of Google's results for "chametz", and it's been the number 1 result for "biur chametz" since shortly after I started the blog.

A while back, in a magnanimous attempt to help those poor souls seeking practical information but finding instead a useless weblog, I added a link to the OU's Passover information page. Still, I think I owe my readers a fuller explanation.

Nobody's ever actually asked me these questions, so I can't very well call them Frequently Asked Questions. I would call them Frequently Unasked Questions, but this is a family publication. Call them what you will, here they are:

Q: What does "Biur Chametz" mean?

A: It's Hebrew.

"Biur" means "Destruction, especially by fire". "Chametz" means "Leavened bread, of the sort Jews are forbidden from consuming or possessing during the Passover (Pesach) festival. Unleavened bread is called matzah."

Thus, "Biur Chametz" is "the destruction of leaven", an annual pre-Passover ceremony in which one's home must be rid of leavened products, at least a symbolic amount of which must preferably be burnt. This process begins with "Bedikat Chametz", "the search for chametz" (not be confused with a search for "chametz" - see above).

Q: What does "Zman Biur" mean?

A: "Zman" means "time", so "Zman Biur" means "destruction time". It refers to the deadline by which Biur Chametz must be completed, which is midmorning Passover Eve.

Q: Oh. What does that have to do with a blog?

A: Not much.

Q: Then why did you choose that name?

A: Dunno - I was starting a blog and needed a name quick. "Biur Chametz" met a few of my criteria:

  • For a Jewish/Zionist blog, I wanted a clearly Jewish name, preferably in Hebrew.
  • It's quirky, original, and not in use elsewhere.
  • It's a pun of sorts. In addition to "destruction", "Biur" can represent a different Hebrew word, a near-homophone with a different spelling, meaning "explanation". Several classical Jewish commentaries incorporate the word in their names: "Biur HaGra", "Biur Halacha". "Biur Chametz" is something of a satire on that.
  • I have a soft spot for a particular drasha (exegesis, creative interpretation) related to biur chametz and Passover in general. I won't go into it here, though.

Q: Any regrets?

A: Well, "Zman Biur" is a weird moniker. It bears no resemblance to any actual human name. Guess I'm stuck with it now.

Also, I feel a bit guilty about drawing all those hits from people geniunely seeking Passover information. This posting will hopefully draw many of those hits, since it mentions lots of chametz-related keywords. If you're one of those Pesach researchers, please accept my apologies for wasting your time. (Unfortunately, this posting will probably draw even more of them than before!)

Q: Incidentally, who are you really?

A: You don't expect me to answer that, do you? That's why I'm using a pseudonym!

All I will say is that the descriptions of myself which appear in this blog are generally accurate. I try to give as much detail as is relevant, while keeping it unlikely that anyone but my closest friends can guess who I am. As far as I know, only one person knows my "true identity", and that's because I let it slip once in a technical glitch. (You know who you are!)

Update (March 2006): Okay, now three people know who I am. As far as I know, that is.

Further update (March 2006): Q: How is "chametz" pronounced?

Update (July 2006): Make it five people.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Dispelling rumors of my resignation

To put a stop to the rampant media speculation, I just wanted to make this perfectly clear: Unlike some administration officials, I have no intention of stepping down after the inauguration. I would be happy to continue to blog as long as my services are still needed, as long as there is chametz which needs biur. I am here to serve the public.

(I was surprised to read that "Administration officials said the departures would be staggered." Staggered? Don't take it so hard, guys! It's just a job.)

I needn't have worried

I wrote: "We can't let the stately respect of a massive formal funeral procession be Arafat's last public impression."

I needn't have worried. Despite the best efforts of the French and Egyptian honor guards, Arafat's funeral in Ramallah was - how can I put this gently? - not particularly dignified. Crowds mobbing the helicopter, preventing the "dignitaries" from leaving; random gunfire from random places; spectators perched on electricity poles - as Jerusalem Post columnist Yosef Goell puts it, "These people deserve a state?"

I got a good laugh watching serious foreign reporters explain how Palestinian events are often "passionate", while clearly trying to suppress their shock and revulsion at the proceedings. Imagine how they would have reported on such goings-on at an Israeli funeral!

In retrospect, the media coverage of Arafat's passing wasn't as bad as it could have been. Sky News interviewed terror victims, and CNN and the New York Times reported extensively on Arafat's financial shenanigans. The optimistic media talk about how his death opens up an "opportunity for peace" just emphasized how little Arafat himself was a man of peace. He was not unambiguously honored and feted in death; far from it.

Update (Nov. 16): For a sense of how bad the media coverage really was - even though not as bad as it could have been - please read Tom Gross's column.

Overall, the weeks-long circus surrounding the man's death was particularly fitting. Arab commentators went so far as to say that he would have wanted it that way. Chaos was his modus operandi. No doubt he will leave plenty of it behind for us.

Now, about that party... it was a pretty sedate affair. No rowdy revelers, to say the least. About a dozen friends gathered Thursday night in Jerusalem for a nosh and a l'chaim, watching CNN with the sound turned down. CNN is surprisingly entertaining when accompanied by a contemporary Israeli rock soundtrack. We reminisced about the havoc this one cretin wreaked on the world, and on the Jews in particular. The world won't be the same without him.

We also read some appropriate passages from Tehilim: Psalm 129 and Psalm 94:1-7.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A time to rejoice? - II

Chayyei Sarah comments on my post about whether or not to celebrate Arafat's death. Thanks, Sarah, for the thoughtful remarks. I'd like to respond to a few of them.

Given that very few of us are on such a spiritual level that we'd be celebrating out of "love and gratitude to God"

I don't think thanking God requires such a high spiritual level. Thanking God for mundane pleasures is a central everyday Jewish practice. We do it when we eat and when we buy new things. Surely we can thank him for (finally) ending the life of an oppressor?

(and, note that we have not witnessed a miracle - Arafat died of natural causes in old age - hardly a sign that God is about to deliver us from evil . . . )

I'm not aware that praising God requires us to have witnessed a miracle. On the contrary. We need only to have experienced his benevolence. For that matter, no miracles were involved in the Purim story, and we have an entire festival about it.

I think the appropriate reaction at this time is not rejoicing, but rather grim satisfaction.

Clearly one can feel joyful without rejoicing. I don't think we need to feel grim, though.

I wonder who will watch that footage and think...

I don't know what people will think. I do know that we can't let the stately respect of a massive formal funeral procession be Arafat's last public impression.

Question: Has anyone seen any obits that say straight out that while Arafat may have been famous and somewhat powerful, he was a lowlife?

Tom Gross mentions one today:

In the Times of India, for example, Lalita Panicker wrote last week that Arafat's record "has been disastrous."

"It is cause for celebration for the Palestinians," she wrote, as he lay near death in a Paris hospital, that he "will never again control their destiny."

"Dressed in ridiculous battle fatigues," she went on, " he has demonstrated that he neither wants nor can he deliver peace. Arafat's lasting and most pernicious legacy is that he has contributed to completely changing the Palestinian psyche. The Palestinians were once the most secular, tolerant, and educated people in the Arab world. Today, Palestinian classrooms have become the hotbeds of recruitment for jihad... As a result, an entire younger generation has grown up on a diet of hate and fanaticism."

Arafat party accessories

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Yes, get your Arafat dartboards here!

(Disclaimer: I have no connection with the site, have not purchased from it and cannot vouch for it.)

A time to rejoice?

Several years ago, a friend of mine announced his plans to hold a party when Arafat (yimach shmo) dies. Sure enough, as the blessed event approached this week he e-mailed with the details. The only remaining question is whether it is appropriate to attend (tonight at 10pm!).

Simcha from Hirhurim has addressed this question recently (here and here). Simcha (not his real name), an Orthodox rabbi by ordination though not by profession, discusses halachic issues, but not for purposes of psak; "Consult your rabbi before following any practices advocated here," he warns.

Simcha brings various sources to argue that one should not rejoice at Arafat's death. To summarize very briefly, he argues:

  1. That one rejoices in the enemy's downfall only when it follows the salvation of Israel from its enemies; this is not the case today. "Our enemies are still very much alive and powerful."

  2. That only the pure of heart is prepared to rejoice in the destruction of the wicked; one must be motivated by love of God, not pleasure in another's calamity; this requires a lofty spiritual status which we lack today.

  3. That while it is good when evildoers die, it would be better had they repented. We should not rejoice in this.

  4. That the Israelites rejoiced at the Red Sea because they were personally saved from Egypt by a miracle. "Applying this to our current situation, no one is being saved by a miracle when a terrorist like Arafat lives to the ripe old age of 70+ and then dies of natural causes. This is not a miracle and no one is saved by this."

Several prominent Israeli rabbis have already publicly ruled that one should feel joy at Arafat's death, though the question of whether it is proper to celebrate seems less clear.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim compares Arafat to Haman (hat tip), emphasizing the extent of his enmity and cruelty towards the Jews. He argues that the difference between the angels, who were scolded for praising God at the destruction of the Egyptians, and the Israelites who sang God's praises, is that the angels never suffered at the hands of Egypt. The Israelites, who did, rightfully praised God at Egypt's downfall. "Regarding Arafat, one should say, 'let rejoicing pass through the camp' (Kings I 22:36) and one should say, 'At the destruction of evildoers, rejoicing' (Proverbs 11:10)."

Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh, rabbi of the Gaza communities, appears to object to publicly celebrating Arafat's death, noting that we must remember with sadness all the evil Arafat perpetrated and the people killed and maimed by his hand. At the same time, we should be joyful that he will do so no longer. He rejects suggestions that Arafat may have repented. He also dismisses questions about who may replace him, noting that he was deserving of death long ago regardless of who his successor may be. Overall, he emphasizes that we must not allow Arafat's evil to be forgotten or blurred. (He further objects to Israel permitting his burial in Eretz Yisrael.)

Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate council, says that regarding enemies of the Jewish people who work to destroy us, we must fight them and mock them, citing the verse, "At the destruction of evildoers, rejoicing." But he warns that this joy must not derive from cruelty or meanspiritedness, but rather must be an expression of gratitude to God.

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the hesder yeshiva of Petach Tikva, writes, "At the death of a murderer and the destruction of evildoers there is great rejoicing. We are very happy that the world is released from such a murderer. This happiness comes despite the fact that his successor may be worse for us, and this possibility does not cancel the great joy in the death of an evildoer."

Rabbi Sherlo further notes that on hearing the good news of Arafat's death, one should make the blessing of "hatov v'hametiv," "He who is good and does good." He notes that this blessing is made even if there is a chance that something bad may follow the good. "It will be a joyous day when he [Arafat] releases us from his presence."

To return to Simcha's arguments, he appears to me to have deliberately selected sources to support his position (see his prefatory comments to this post). True, Israel has not been saved from its enemies. But we have substantially defeated the intifada, eliminating many of its leaders and clearly breaking its back. Israel has survived Arafat and continues to grow stronger, more vibrant, more successful, despite our many enemies. Arafat died humiliated and isolated, his once-glorious compound reduced to rubble (all the more reason it's a mistake to allow him to be entombed there respectfully), having failed to achieve his political objectives or even to chart out a route towards them.

The Palestinians have no clear successor to Arafat, who singlehandedly symbolized their fight against us and controlled their organizations with an iron fist. They rightfully see his passing as the end of an era for them; we should not underestimate its significance. He was the embodiment of evil, the inventor of modern terrorism, the ally of dictators and thugs the world over, the inspiration for al-Qaeda and many others. The world is a better place without him. We would be remiss not to be thankful that God has finally taken him - even though we would have preferred him to die long ago.

I'd like to conclude by again quoting Simcha:

All the Jews I know seem to be relishing the prospect of Arafat's death. I dread it. The obituaries for this Nobel Peace Prize winner are likely to be so frustratingly full of lies and misinformation.

This alone, in my mind, is a strong argument in favor of celebrating at his death. He will be laid to rest in a formal state funeral, with world leaders paying their respects and the media praising his statesmanship and his "courage in seeking peace". It is imperative that we not play this game. We must not allow him any more respect than we would a dead dog. That means, in part, that we must somberly recall his victims and the depth of his evil. It means, as well, that we must publicly demonstrate how glad we are that he is gone. We must show the world our joy at his passing, our gratitude that he will do no more evil, our satisfaction at outlasting our enemy.

May his memory be cursed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Paving the past

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Near the city of Modiin, remarkable new archeological finds from the Chalcolithic and Hasmonean periods are likely to be bulldozed to make way for a new neighborhood. Can they be saved? Unlikely, to judge from experience.

Yediot Aharonot reports in Hebrew here. More photographs of the site can be found here.

"We Muslims do not accept euthanasia"

"I want to rule out any question of euthanasia.... We Muslims do not accept euthanasia."

-- Palestinian "Foreign Minister" Nabil Shaath, dismissing reports that switching off Arafat's life support was under consideration.

Instead, in accordance with accepted Muslim practice, Arafat will be returned to Jerusalem, where he will be loaded onto a bus and detonated....

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

We celebrate, we grieve

Since the holidays ended, we have done both.

The week after Sukkot, we were invited to a friend's bar mitzvah in Bnei Brak, followed the next night by a cousin's wedding in Jerusalem. Then my sister in the states announced her engagement (to a New Yorker, oddly). Over Shabbat we celebrated the birth of a girl to friends from shul, and the following week we attended the bat mitzvah of a relative.

The next morning I was informed of the death of a remarkable young man after an illness which struck him suddenly just weeks earlier.

Rabbi Selim Dweck z"l was about my age. I knew him some 15 years ago when we were not long out of high school. We spent a year in yeshiva together. I haven't seen him much since then. I remember his gentle humility, his sharp analytical mind, his warmth towards others.

Living in New York until recently, Rabbi Dweck taught at the Yeshiva of Flatbush high school and the Drisha Institute. This summer he fulfilled a dream and came on aliyah to Israel with his wife and two daughters. Within months, he was taken.

Hundreds of mourners crowded the funeral hall in Jerusalem to bid farewell to young Selim, including countless former teachers, classmates and students. Eulogies were delivered in English and Hebrew, seasoned by the elegant Hebrew of his family's community of Aleppo, Syria.

There is something chilling about the loss of someone your own age. I suspect this is true no matter how old you are. It touches a different place in the soul than the loss of a parent, God forbid, or even a child, lo aleinu. The grief may be less intense, but it is accompanied by a shudder: "That could have been me."

That shudder gives life an added urgency. Long-term planning seems a bit naive. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? Think about the legacy you hope to leave future generations. Use today wisely; accomplish what you can while you still can. Cliches, yes, but nonetheless true.

Life can be seen, to wax philosophical, as a constant struggle against the inevitability of its deterioration. Shortly after we reach physical maturity we already begin to decline. We are destined to fight entropy, and we prevail - not by reversing the laws of physics or biology, but by employing them to create new life. Hopefully, we can leave the world with more life than we take from it when our time ends.

To me, this explains why Adam and Eve are described in the Torah as having children only after they learn of their own mortality. Isaac, too, finds comfort for his mother's death only when he marries. The inevitability of death is the surest impetus to create life. The two are inseparable.

Thus, the negative population growth prevalent in most of the developed world today - and most of the Jewish world, outside Israel - is itself tragic. It indicates a collective forfeiture of the will to live, a succumbing to death. It implies a certain selfishness, a preference for a comfortable life today over sacrificing to make tomorrow's world more vibrant.

(Going out on a limb, I might suggest that this difference in priorities, between creating new life and making existing lives more comfortable, between positive and negative natural population growth, correlates with differences in political and religious attitudes between Europe and the U.S. and perhaps between "blue" and "red" America. But that may be taking things too far.)

In this balance, Jews traditionally come down firmly on the side of the creation of new life. So we'll be attending another wedding this week and a baby shower next week (not for the same couple!). And we look forward, please God, to being blessed with children of our own.

Faced with the inexplicable untimely deaths of young people full of potential, the only response is to choose life.

Terrorism: only for consenting adults - II

Blogger Dov Bear has taken me to task * for my critique of Human Rights Watch's press release on child suicide bombers.

I've taken my time in responding partly because I've been busy, partly because I want to get it right, and partly because I suspect he's trolling for attention.

First, I did not say that HRW "approves of suicide attacks on Israel". I even quoted their perfunctory remark that "any attack on civilians is prohibited by international law".

I admit I was remiss in not noting that the organization has consistently condemned Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. This is true, and should be commended.

But my claim was not that HRW approves of terrorism against Israelis, just that it "doesn't seem terribly concerned" about it. In other words, that their concerns are misprioritized. The press release on child bombers is an excellent example of this.

First, the language of the press release does not indicate substantial concern. Noting that attacks on civilians are "prohibited by international law" is a statement of fact, not an expression of concern or disapproval. It includes neither condemnation nor calls to action to prevent such attacks. By contrast, the statement does call on "Palestinian armed groups" to "immediately end all use of children in military attacks".

Attacks against Israelis are not even specifically criticized, but merely subsumed among "any attack on civilians". The press release lists many child suicide bombers by name, but not a single Israeli victim.

Second, I reject HRW's assertion that a suicide bombing by a minor is somehow more "egregious" than one committed by an adult. What is egregious about a suicide bombing is the deliberate targeting of civilians. It is no less egregious when committed by an adult, nor is the bomber the victim. Focusing on the age of the bomber rather than the identity of the victims seems grossly distorted.

Third, the press release manages to address various issues tangential to its main point - just not this one. Along with criticizing Palestinian terror groups for endangering Palestinian children, it criticizes Israel for endangering Palestinian children (as I noted previously, without pointing out that they may be combatants). It calls on Israel to ratify an international treaty on childrens' rights and describes Ariel as "an illegal West Bank settlement". Somehow, though, there is no room in the text for a condemnation of suicide bombings against Israel, sympathy for Israeli victims of terrorism, or a call to the Palestinian Authority or terrorist groups to end all attacks on civilians unconditionally. All of these are more directly relevant to the topic at hand than some of the issues which were included in the statement.

In short, I stand by my assessment that HRW "doesn't seem terribly concerned with the continuing terror attacks against Israeli civilians".

Coincidentally, last Friday the Jerusalem Post ran an interview with HRW head Kenneth Roth, in which he defends his organization's record on Israel.

On the other side, critiques of HRW's record on Israel can be found in this Jerusalem Post editorial, these commentaries by Anne Bayefsky, and this one by Gerald Steinberg. Readers can, of course, draw their own conclusions by browsing HRW's repository of press releases on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

I think it's pretty clear where their priorities lie.

* Actually, that's putting it mildly. He's accused me of an "amateurish hack job", says I've "been demolished", and "can't see straight." On the last point, I confess he's correct - I've worn glasses since fifth grade. I guess I should add "glasses-wearing" to the chain of hyphenated descriptors in "About Me".

Still, it's odd to be charged with a hack job by someone who describes Bush supporters as "bible-thumping hillbillies" and "the great unwashed out in the American Gobi who dearly love the baby Jesus". Such subtle wit! Such intellectual precision!

Maybe he should adjust his own glasses while he's at it?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

BBC reporter cries for Arafat

In today's lead editorial, London's Sunday Telegraph writes:

Unseemly tears

Many listeners to the BBC were rightly outraged last week by the broadcast from its Middle East correspondent, Barbara Plett, in which she cloyingly described how she wept as Yasser Arafat was airlifted from Ramallah for medical treatment.

She said: "When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry . . . without warning." Almost as a footnote, she later admitted that an "ambivalence towards violence" was one of his failings.

When Mr Arafat took over the PLO in the 1960s, he supported a campaign of hijackings and bombings which acted as the foundation for much of the escalating Middle Eastern terrorism of today. He summarily rejected the 2000 Camp David deal, which offered a generous compromise between Israelis and Palestinians, and his Palestinian Authority has since been linked to funding Palestinian terrorists.

Ms Plett's flood of feeling is just the most overt and recent manifestation of a pro-Palestinian bias endemic within the BBC. As a publicly-funded organisation, it should remember that it is not paid to take sides. As things stand, however, we might conclude that Mr Arafat's culpable "ambivalence towards violence" is echoed by our national broadcaster.

As they say in the House of Commons: Hear, hear!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Locusts, yum!

Israel is not-so-eagerly awaiting a potential invasion of locusts. Swarms of the crop-devouring insects originated in northeast Africa in September, and have recently reached nearby Cyprus. Yesterday, scattered locust sightings were reported along Israel's Mediterranean coastline. Hopefully they will be controlled before they spread. (Report sightings to the Agriculture Ministry at 03-968-1500!)

Locust plagues are rare in recent decades, with the advent of international radar tracking and effective pesticides. The last plague to hit Israel was in 1959.

In normal circumstances, desert locusts live on their own like other kinds of grasshoppers. Rainy conditions encourage them to multiply, sometimes faster than the available food. When this happens, they change their behavior and start to swarm, migrating large distances in search of new food sources - which they devour in turn.

Fortunately, locusts are kosher. A swarm of locusts can destroy all vegetation across vast areas of land. Before modern food preservation techniques and large-scale food importation, virtually the only food available during a locust plague would have been locusts.

In practical terms, however, most Jewish communities outside Yemen and North Africa gave up eating locusts centuries ago. Whether they should be permitted today is a question for Israel's rabbis. I don't know whether any leading authorities have ruled on it. (Like fish, locusts are parve and need not be slaughtered before cooking.)

I also doubt I'd have the courage to sample this high-protein nosh.

In case the locusts arrive and your rabbi says yes, you might try some of these recipes. B'teyavon!

Terrorism: only for consenting adults

Occupied Territories: Stop Use of Children in Suicide Bombings

(New York, November 3, 2004) -- Palestinian armed groups should immediately end all use of children in military attacks, Human Rights Watch said today, following a Tel Aviv suicide bombing by a 16-year-old that killed three Israeli civilians Monday.


“Any attack on civilians is prohibited by international law, but using children for suicide attacks is particularly egregious,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Palestinian armed groups must clearly and publicly condemn all use of children under the age of 18 for military activities, and make sure these policies are carried out.”

Aside from noting by-the-way that "any attack on civilians is prohibited by international law," Human Rights Watch doesn't seem terribly concerned with the continuing terror attacks against Israeli civilians - so long as they're committed by consenting adults! The Palestinian "armed groups" aren't called on to end such attacks in general - and the Palestinian Authority is not, even implicitly, called on to try to prevent them.

Israel is, however, criticized for endangering minors:

Human Rights Watch further called on Israel to take effective measures to protect the lives of all civilians, particularly children. During the October incursions of the Israeli army into Gaza one quarter of the more than 130 Palestinians killed were aged 18 years and under.

"All civilians, particularly children"! From the first half of the press release, it's abundantly clear that Palestinian children are not necessarily civilians; they may well be combatants. How many of the "children" killed in October were participating in the fighting at the time? HRW doesn't even ask the question.

Do they realize press releases like this one undermine their own credibility on human rights?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Subverting Israel's constitution

Seeing what us mere mortals fail to see, Jerusalem Post columnist Evelyn Gordon points out that "Sharon has already stretched the rules [of Israeli democracy] dangerously close to the breaking point" by forcing through his disengagement plan despite the opposition of his own party and government, and the loss of the Knesset's confidence. She writes:

None of these issues greatly bother Israel's chattering class, where the dominant view is that the end of dismantling settlements justifies any means, even the subversion of Israel's constitutional structure.

With a few exceptions – Yuli Tamir and Yossi Beilin come to mind – almost no one on the Left has dared to say that the rules of the game have value in and of themselves, regardless of whether or not one likes the outcome.

But they do, and this ought to be of supreme concern to all Israelis – because it is only the rules of the democratic game that have allowed a politically and religiously fractured nation to live together for half a century.

If these rules are shattered beyond repair – if too many Israelis become convinced that all that matters is seizing power, by any and every means – this country will not long survive.

She concludes by urging either new elections or a referendum on disengagement to reestablish democratic legitimacy.

Unfortunately, a referendum would be just as constitutionally problematic as the current situation. Israel has no constitutional provision allowing for referenda. Holding one would require special constitutional legislation for the sole purpose of rescuing Sharon's disengagement plan.

Amending the constitutional structure to suit the needs of the moment is always a bad idea. It is an option chosen too frequently by Israeli governments. I'm surprised to see Evy endorsing it.

Morning-after observations

  • Congratulations, Mr. President! May you lead your nation wisely for the next four years.

  • Well done, Senator Kerry! You ran a great campaign, came back from behind and nearly won. There will be plenty of Democratic hand-wringing; they should try to maintain some perspective. It basically came down to a coin toss.

  • The Republicans should avoid triumphalism. They came this close to losing the election, despite a majority of the popular votes. Though their congressional accomplishments were impressive and should prod some Democratic rethinking.

  • It's nice to be right once in a while. I'm also glad not to have to see the results I expected from a Bush loss.

  • I watched the results on CNN, the only American network I see here in Israel. CNN's main commentators were Wolf Blitzer, Jeff Greenfield, Larry King and Bill Schneider, along with occasional statisticians and lawyers. Once in a while they brought in some goyim for diversity.

  • Despite the smears, this campaign was, for the most part, serious and issue-focused. Election day glitches were minimal. Overall, a model of democracy.

  • After four tumultuous years, it's striking how close this year's results were to 2000's. Nearly every state voted the same way. I'm guessing this pattern will break next time around. It will be interesting to see the candidate and party which make that happen.

  • Bush's solid majority of the popular vote, ironically, points to one of the strengths of the electoral college. Bush won his states by larger margins than Kerry won his. It's a good thing for democracy that he wouldn't have helped his position by trying to run up even larger majorities in his core states, rather than reaching out to the battlegrounds.

  • On average, the polls were accurate. Bush led by 3% in the popular vote; most of the expected battleground states were in fact close, and all of the close states were on the list of battlegrounds. The polls couldn't meaningfully forecast the overall winner because there were too many contested states. That's why we govern by elections, not opinion polls.

  • On the other hand, the exit polls were disastrous. Whether that's due to sample size, or sample selection, or something else, I don't know. But the claim that exit polls are more accurate than random surveys appears to be bunk. If the exit polls were so far off regarding voting preferences, why should anyone believe their figures regarding demographic breakdown?

  • Unlike some Americans in Israel, I have no ethical qualms about voting in American elections: 1. It's my constitutional right. Why shouldn't I? 2. The results affect me directly - not the same way they affect American residents, but then again no two residents are affected the same way either. 3. No taxation without representation - the U.S. reserves the right to tax expats. But mostly: 4. My wife and I cast our votes in solidly Democratic states, so our votes couldn't possibly affect the election results anyway!

  • Bush shouldn't celebrate for too long. He faces some tremendous challenges in governing, and has long outlived his honeymoon. In the long run, Kerry might be grateful to have lost. Few presidents have started a second term in such a divisive environment, though the sympathetic Congress will help. Americans generally tire even of popular presidents after six years, and Bush is hardly that popular to start with. Without knowing who will run on each side, I would say the Republicans are unlikely to hold the White House in 2008.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The terminal is closed; long live the new terminal!

Landing yesterday morning at Ben Gurion Airport, we taxied past a gleaming new building, eagerly anticipating its first visitors. The plane came to a stop on the tarmac, and we walked down the stairs into the dawn sunlight to board the shuttle bus to Terminal 1 (there was a time when I naively assumed this was for security reasons). For the last time, we walked from the bus through the doors to the passport control hall, and waited with exhausted patience as the border control agents stamped travel documents.

This morning, Terminal 1 closed. Takeoffs and landings relocated to the new Terminal 3, a modern international terminal with moving sidewalks, closed walkways between the terminal and the planes, and world class duty free shopping. A new rail line links the terminal directly with central Tel Aviv. No longer will travelers to Israel arrive in a building resembling an overgrown bus terminal.

Passing the airport on my way to work this morning, I watched the landing of what must have been the last flight to arrive at the old terminal. Shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.

Remember: Bet b'November

The U.S. elections may be overwhelming the headlines, but Jews should remember that today was once observed as a quasi-holiday by Jews around the world. Balfour Day, known in Hebrew as Bet b'November, marks the November 2, 1917 issuance of the Balfour Declaration by the British government.

Its text:

"His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

This was the first declaration of official support for Zionism by a world government. On its basis, Britain was awarded the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine after World War I, with the explicit purpose of implementing the Balfour Declaration and building a Jewish national home in the ancient Jewish homeland.

The Balfour Declaration was a key achievement in the process of establishing the State of Israel. Naturally, the actual establishment of the state has overshadowed pre-state milestones, but still it is a shame that Balfour Day has been nearly forgotten by Jews today, in Israel and abroad. If we forget the historical basis for Israel's legitimacy, we concede one more front in our struggle for survival to our enemies.

Coexistence in the desert?

In her latest "Letter from Israel", Leiah Elbaum visits a Judean desert oasis, listens to the radio, and observes various forms of "coexistence".