Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ho Hum; Labor Party Primaries hardly noticed in Israel

With Israel Labor Party primaries now under way, and on top of current security issues such as the beleaguered town of Sderot and military actions into Gaza, today's inter-party primary elections for a new Labor Party leader seem to be so boring that even the most mediocre TV program will probably receive better ratings.

The three front-runners, including present party leader and Defence Minister Amir Peretz, also include former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and a newer 'kid on the block' former Naval Chief Ami Ayalon; who appears to be the front runner, and the only new face among a group of hopefuls whose aspirations are not generating any excitement within a political party which is only a shadow of it's former self.

Peretz, running a distant third behind 'Rear-Admiral' Ayalon and Barak 'The Watchmacher' (Barak's favorite hobby is disassembling and reassembling watches and clocks) still thinks he can pull off an upset and retain his present position, made increasingly unstable in the aftermath of the sensational Winograd Report. Amir appears to have delusions of grandeur, however, as pre-primary polls show him able to garner less than 20% of the party vote, compared to Barak's 31% and Ayalon's 35%.

Barak also appears to be suffering from a few delusions himself, as his short term as Prime Minister resulted in Israel's hasty pull-out from Lebanon in May, 2000, followed by the disappointing Camp David Summit later that summer and the Second Intifada in the fall. Even Barak himself seems to have some doubts as he was quoted recently as saying: "if there will be a run-off, I'll lose it (the election)".

Ayalon appears to be the only possible man who might possibly be able to bring some new life into the party which was virtually unopposed in Israeli politics for nearly thirty years. But in light of present realities, even he may have an uphill struggle due to infighting within Labor, together with Ayalon's personal connections with Palestinian Professor Sari Nusseibeh concerning a two state solution for Israelis and Palestinians; a not too popular conception nowadays with Kassam rockets still raining

down on Israel's southern regions. The aftermath of last summer's war, coupled with the present Hamas led hostilities in the south, has increased right winged feelings and given strength to more hawkish political parties, particularly opposition Likud party leader Binyamin 'Bibi' Natanyahu.

In the fall-out from events which may occur during the coming days (especially if the conflict with the Palestinians grows more intense) it may even set the stage for such people as Arkady Gaydamak to become even more popular at the expense of current politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who appears to holding onto power by the skin of his teeth. If Gaydamak continues to win friends and influence people, as he has with his assistance to Sderot residents and others in distress, even he might be a possible political leader in the not so distant future. After all, with all the millions that Arkady has, he doesn't need to be corrupt – he has enough money already.

Labor's chances of being in the next Israeli government are not too good at this point. But Israeli politics often results in strange bedfellows; and when push comes to shove, this party could very well be right in there again, alongside an even more right-winged government. After all, a deal is a deal, even if the 'menu' is not too palatable.

The writer is a political commentator and free lance journalist

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Keep it in the Family

Another week begins in Israel...A shooting attack in Jerusalem...The police on highest alert...The IDF attacking Gaza... And another 22 Kassams.Not to mention the race for the leadership of the Labor Party, which will be decided Monday.

And Arkady Gaidamek, the Russian tycoon who stepped in to provide Sderot residents with some refuge by setting up a temporary accommodation in Tel Aviv.

Well I suppose that’s good news.

Someone actually doing something for the benefit of others.
Someone realizing that the people of Sderot are our people, our brothers and sisters.
That Sderot today can be Haifa or Jerusalem tomorrow...
The time has come for the Jewish people to realize we’re all in this together.

Hamas couldn’t care less whether you’re religious or secular, Labor or Likud.
And if not Hamas, then Hezbollah or Ahmedijan.
Like Haman and Hitler before them. They want all Jews out.

And if you need proof it’s not just a war against Israel, look at the increased anti-Semitism in Europe since the IDF’s attacks in Gaza.
(Hundreds of similar attacks also occurred in 2000-2001 as well.)

The Jewish people are under threat. Again.


Now is not the time to attack each other.
Now is the time to realize we’re one family.
I don’t expect all members of a family to agree with each other...

And yes, there are families in which siblings don’t even speak to each other.

But I bet that 99% of the time, family members would do all in their power to protect the lives of their parents, brothers, sisters and children.

Now is the time to put our differences in perspective and understand we have much more in common than we tend to think.

Like life, for example.
Let Hamas and Fatah kill each other.
Israel, and Jews, are different.
Every Jew is connected to every other Jew, whether in Ashkelon, Australia or America.
That’s just how it is.

And the sooner we realize that, the safer we’ll be.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Israel Needs Something More

Another 9 Kassam rockets last night...
More targeted IAF attacks on Hamas strongholds...
And the cycle of pointless and endless violence continues...

It’s a cycle that’s been revolving since 1948, and – in its present format – since the first Intifada.

Nothing has changed.

And nothing will, unless Israel drastically changes track.
Well that’s not strictly true. If Israel keeps up its reactive, targeted attack policy (which has got us nowhere), the Hamas, Hezbollah and our other friendly neighbors will continue to laugh at us and gently send their rockets over the fence every day until they get what they want.

After all, they forced Israel to evacuate Gush Katif with this policy. They humiliated Israel in the Second Lebanon War with this policy, so why should they stop?

Israel must do what it has to do. No fear. No hesitation.

Israeli citizens are being attacked every day.
This is not the time for “protecting innocent Palestinians.”

This is not the time for worrying “what the world will say” or “how Bush will react.”

Israel must finally realize that its future is in its own hands. And it has to take the lead in the war against evil because no-one else will.

Now is the time to allow the IDF to do what it’s supposed to do: defend Israel. And that’s by giving them free rein to eliminate Hamas in Gaza.

No more political diplomacy. At least not with Hamas.

When you’re dealing with a bunch of terrorists, you have to talk in their language.

Israeli citizens have a basic right to live without the daily threat of Kassam rockets over their heads.

And normal Palestinian citizens have a right to live without tyranny and fear...

Yes, do it by trying to minimize loss of innocent lives...

Yes, do it by giving a 48-hour ultimatum for those that want to leave Gaza...

Yes do it, by clearly explaining to the world what we’re about to do...

But DO IT!

Before it’s too late...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thoughts on 40 Years of United Jerusalem


May 14 is being celebrated in Israel's capital as the 40th anniversary of a united Jerusalem. A united Jerusalem – what does that really mean? For some, especially Israel's Arab enemies, it still means Al Nakba or 'The Catastrophe', as they consider this fact to be detrimental to Arab pride as they claim part of the city to be occupied Arab land.

For Jews, especially religious Jews, a unified Jerusalem is the fulfillment of a dream that was only that, a dream, for 18 years, from 1948 until June 7, 1967. It means being able to travel in virtually all parts of the city including the Old City; and the ability to pray once again at the Kotel or Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple. Going to 'The Wall' on the Jewish Sabbath is an experience in itself; and many Jewish families come from abroad to celebrate Bar Mitzvah ceremonies in front of this ancient landmark.

For Christians, to be able to pray in their holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulture in complete freedom is a great asset, and many Christians are grateful for this fact. For a united Jerusalem is to their advantage as well.

For Muslims, Israeli governments from the outset have given them formal control over the Temple Mount, known in Arabic as Karim al Shariff . For Jerusalem, or Al Quds (The Holy), is Islam's third holiest city. Muslims living in the city enjoy full residency status, and many are also Israeli citizens. Despite everything said by Muslims living outside of Jerusalem, they have more freedoms in a united Jerusalem than any minority groups have in nearly all Muslim and Arab capitals, including Cairo Egypt and Amman Jordan.

So why all the controversy regarding the status of this city; and why do so many Arabs want to see the city divided once again, as well as the eviction of all non-Muslims? It is simply because they want to possess the entire Land of Israel including the Holy City of Jerusalem. This will never happen as long as Israel is strong and the Jewish people are strong.

Meanwhile, all that can be hoped for is the realization of the prophecy written in the Book of Isaiah: "For out of Zion shall come forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem".

And that simply says it all.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

United or Divided?

This Tuesday is Jerusalem Day.

The day we celebrate the miraculous military victory in the Six-Day War, 40 years ago.

The IDF reclaimed Jerusalem, and more specifically the Old City and the Western Wall, as well as what we know today as Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Israeli leaders always promise they will maintain a “united Jerusalem.”

This means (I think, depending on who says it) that Jerusalem will always remain the undivided capital of Israel.

Whatever that means.

But the more immediate question is why has Jerusalem Day become almost the exclusive property of Jerusalemites and the Religious Zionist community ?

Unlike Independence Day, which is a national holiday (with a handful of exceptions), Jerusalem Day is just a normal working day.

And if you took a random poll on Tuesday outside Jerusalem, I’m not sure that even 30% would know what day it was.

Jerusalem may be united but the Israeli public are divided.

Why?

There are many explanations of course, but I would guess that one of the main reasons is that the majority of Israelis simply do not appreciate what Jerusalem
means.

It is not just another city like London, New York or Paris (with all due respect to those wonderful places of course.)

Paris is named after the Greek myth. Paris chose the love of the Helen of Troy as opposed to the options of wisdom and power.

And London comes from a Celtic word meaning “wild and wooded town.”

Jerusalem was allegedly named by God. It’s a combination of two words: ‘yira’ – to see, and ‘shalem,’ which
means ‘complete’ or ‘peace.’

Jerusalem is a metaphor for the vision of a perfect world. It gives us perspective on our lives, as Aldous Huxley once said, “We have each of us our Jerusalem.”

Jews prayed “Next Year in Jerusalem” for over 2,000 years of exile. Despite oppression , poverty and disease,they preserved the dream of a world of
love and justice; a world where the rich looked after the poor and power did not corrupt.

The Talmud says that creation began in Jerusalem, and the world radiated outwards from there.
Medieval maps show Jerusalem at the epicenter of Asia, Europe and Africa.
The world flows into this spot, and Jerusalem gives perspective to the rest of the world.

Even when the Jewish people were far away from Jerusalem, we never forgot. We never despaired. Never gave up hope that the place where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac would once again return to Jewish hands.

Jerusalem represents the eternity of Israel. Of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is an idyllic vision of God
in our lives.

An image of a perfect world.

Jerusalem reminds us of Israel’s greater purpose in life. Like it or not, Israel is a nation unlike any other. Period.

Like it or not, the Jewish people has a responsibility to the world. A ‘Jerusalem’ responsibility. A vision of perfection and peace.

It won’t be easy. And we won’t be uniting the world this Tuesday.

Because before we do that...

We must unite ourselves.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lagging Behind

Lagging Behind

Lag BaOmer. That’s the name of the holiday celebrated in Israel today (and mainly last night.)

My kids stayed up all night around their bonfires. For the last month, they’ve been dragging branches, tree trunks, broken furniture and wooden legs (only joking) to prepare for this all night fire alert.

What’s it all about?

It’s all about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a wise man who lived during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago.

When the Romans outlawed Torah study, Rabbi Shimon dared to oppose them. And so they promptly issued a price for his head.

Rabbi Shimon and his son Elazar fled to a cave. They had no food but miraculously a carob tree grew nearby, along with a stream of fresh water.

They spent their entire days deep in Torah study.
For 12 years.

Then one day, Elijah the prophet visited them and told them that Caesar had died and the decree against Rabbi Shimon had been annulled.

However, since they had been exclusively involved in lofty spiritual matters for 12 years, when they left the cave they vaporized everything they saw, Harry Potter-style.

At which point a Heavenly voice ordered them back into the cave to learn how to control their spiritual powers.

Rabbi Shimon became the greatest teacher of his generation.

One of his students, Rabbi Abba, described the day of his master’s death:

“I couldn’t even lift my head due to the intense light emanating from Rabbi Shimon. The entire day the house was filled with fire, and nobody could get close due to the wall of fire and light...”

Indeed, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the archetypal Kabbalistic treatise, the Zohar, which literally means “shining light.”

So that’s why Israeli children build bonfires 20 and 30 feet high on Lag BaOmer – to celebrate The great light and fire that was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

What’s all that got to do with you and me?

At least three things I think:

1. An ideal leader will illuminate the path for his/her followers. He will not use his power to burn and destroy.

2. Although we are sad at the death of someone we cherish, we should always be encouraged by their good deeds and their impact on the world.

3. We should learn about perseverance and enthusiasm from our children. It’s certainly not my idea of a good time to get splinters in my hands the whole month just to sit and stink of smoke all night long...

But as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once said:
“Sometimes we should walk in front of our children to show them the way...

Sometimes we can walk with our children when they know the way...

And sometimes we should lag behind our children so they can show us the way.”

Happy Lagging!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Judgment Day for Olmert?

Despite attempts by embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to remain in office, a mass rally scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday night may decide the fate of the man who has been shouldered with much of the blame for Israel's failures in last summer's Lebanon II war. The event, at Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv, is expected to be attended by more than 100,000, including a number of well known media and entertainment personalities as well as yet-to-be-named politicians. Seemingly hemmed in on all sides by a number of protest groups, including striking university students (pictured) Olmert's political future seems in jeopardy as a majority of the Israel public feel that he has failed in his position as head of government and should therefore resign his post.

It's not the first time that Israeli political leaders have resigned following wars and other trying events in which their leadership was questioned. David Ben Gurion resigned his prime minister's post at least twice; and both Golda Meir and Menacham Begin resigned after receiving public castigation following the Yom Kippur and Lebanon I war. In the case of Olmert, however, he refuses to leave his 'watch' despite the devastating findings of the recently released Winograd Report. The same also holds true for Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who also is trying to stay put despite an even higher "vote' on behalf of the Israeli public.

What remains to be seen is what will happen after the dust settles following tonight's rally, where such 'well-knowns' as Aviv Gefen, Gilad Sagev and Nimrod Lev. Interest groups such as the Movement for Quality Government, Organization of Northern Border Communities, as well as a large contingent of army reservists who found themselves thrown into the heat of battle with virtually no preparation, and little or no food and water. "We want the P.M. to know just how we feel concerning what happened to us in Labanon" one angry reservist was quoted as saying. It's questionable if any members of the Prime Minister's cabinet will make an appearance, but for sure, many of the opposition Knesset members may show up for this event which may draw as many as 200,000.

As for both Olmert and Amir Peretz, they will probably not like what they see and hear should they both watch the spectacle on T.V. Judging from Olmert's appearance at a ceremony to inaugurate the new National Police Commissioner, Dudi Cohen, Olmert's already tired and drawn face may become even more pathetic on the "morning after".
All the signs and banners telling both Olmert and Peretz to go home, will remain in the minds of many, especially the ones for whom the 'party' is being held.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ouch – That Hurts!

Findings in the release of the Winograd report on Monday, April 30, have made Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's problematic leadership even more troublesome for him as well as others in his cabinet. Polls conducted by several local media sources have concluded that around 69% of the country's population think that he should resign his office; and an even larger percentage, 75%, believe that Defense Minister Amr Peretz should also begin cleaning out his desk. Both men, as well as former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, were found to be responsible for the way last summer's Lebanon II war was carried out, with the report's committee, headed by former Tel Aviv District Judge Eliahu Winograd , laying the majority of the blame on Olmert himself for hastily sending Israeli air and ground forces against the Hezbollah in Lebanon without a clear-cut military strategy.

The end results, after 34 days of mayhem on both sides of the Israel-Lebanese border, brought misery and suffering to both countries, and left the Hezbollah in an even stronger and more popular position that prior to the conflict. And the two captive IDF servicemen, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser remain in Hezbollah hands.

Despite the severity of the report, both Olmert and Peretz refuse to vacate their offices, and though Peretz was noted as being completely unqualified to hold the defense ministry portfolio, he seems unwilling to accept reality and even talks about taking another cabinet position, the finance ministry, as well as even running for prime minister as the Labor Party's head in the next election. The third person shouldering much of the blame for the war is former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. Halutz, now in the U.S.A. on a study sabbatical at Harvard University, resigned his position three months ago. That position is now filled by Major General Gaby Ashkenazi. As COS during the war, Halutz's command of the armed forces left many questions concerning the IDF's ability to fight the kind of guerrilla warfare that the Hezbollah forces have become known for. Also not answered is how to protect the public against the onslaught of Kaitusha and other missiles launched at Israeli civilian targets, even paralyzing the country's third largest city, Haifa.

It is being said that should elections be held in Israel now, Olmert's center based Kadima party will loose many Knesset seats, with many of them going back to the right-winged Likud Party, from whence many Knssset members fled to join Kadima, which was founded in September, 2005 by former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Needless to say, the Likud's present chairman, Binyamin (Bibi) Natanyahu must be enjoying the spectacle and planning his next political move as well. Following one of his party's worst election showings in it's history, with only 11 seats after the March, 2006 elections, the Likud now stands to rise again to its former glory, with Natanyahu at the crest of the wave.

Regarding Olmert and the rest of the Kadima Party, many are wondering if they will go the direction of another former short-lived party, Shinui, and fade away into political oblivion. As for Olmert himself, his political "oblivion" may be just around the corner


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