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Thursday, February 26, 2009

A New Dan Quayle?

The Obama administration is so slick and organised. Everything runs smoothly. The President's speeches are almost flawless. His chief of staff is a tidiness freak. It promises to be a properly-run, dull and boring administration.

However there is an odd man out: Joe Biden, who seems to be prone to making small gaffes that brighten up our days. Just like good old Dan Quayle.

So there is hope yet. Here's an example (I love how the interviewer's smile spreads when she realises he's put his foot in it):

Thursday, February 19, 2009

65 Seats - Why Wait?

Representatives of the various parties elected in last week's election have made their recommendation to president Peres. 65 knesset members endorsed Netanyahu, a clear majority in Israeli political terms (nobody endorsed Livni except her own party). There is no need for further delays: Bibi can form his right-wing government immediately. But for some reason, Bibi and others are calling for a "unity government", a euphemism for adding Kadima (28 seats) to the government, as Labour (13 seats) have stated their preference to remain in opposition.

My question is: what for? Why the insistence on adding Kadima to the coalition? Both Bibi and his band of wild coyotes - Lieberman, National Front, etc. - can finally fulfill their dream of a strong, proud leadership for Israel. To build more settlements; better still, to annex the West Bank. To exterminate Hamas and regain control of the Gaza strip. To stand proud in front of pressures from abroad. To show Arab Israelis where the fish urinates from (to use a Hebrew expression). To nuke Iran. And so on an so forth.

Now that the moment of truth has come, now that the people have finally given Bibi the majority he so craved, now is the time for him to fulfill his vision. I say: let Bibi win! And we'll all stand on the sidelines and watch his performance. Surely he can't be as bad as he was last time. Surely.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bin Laden Found

A geography professor from California claims he has found Osama Bin Laden. Using mathematical models, the conclusion reached is that the head of Al Qaeda is hiding in one of three buildings in the town of Parachinar in north-west Pakistan. All the US forces need to do now is pluck him out of there (assuming Bin Laden does not read foreign press and has not fled already).

I checked the date; it is not April 1st today, so here's the link to the full story, as reported in The Telegraph.

To me, this story is a beautiful example of the difference between occidental and oriental thinking. Sitting in his comfortable room in UCLA - and smoking God knows what - the esteemed professor has been able to use his oversized brain - and that of his computer - to pinpoint the location of an arch-terrorist on the other side of the planet. The confidence, not to say hubris, displayed by this line of thinking, is nothing short of astounding. It stands in stark contrast to the oriental way of thinking, where things are rarely quantified and categorised in such a rigid manner. Science versus art. IQ versus EQ.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Missing a Flight

What should you do if you get carried away with your duty-free shopping and when you reach the gate, you realise you've just missed your flight.

Well, one thing you do is this:

Somehow I have a feeling she would not have been allowed to carry on like that for three whole minutes at Tel Aviv airport...

Gilad Shalit - The Price (cont.)

Two opinions published today refer to the high price Israel is purportedly about to pay for the release of Gilad Shalit:

Ben-Dror Yemini, in NRG, writing similar things to those I wrote a few days ago.

Chaim Navon, in YNET, giving the Halachic angle.

Some of the reader comments are worth reading too, for a change.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Gilad Shalit - The Price

News this morning is that a deal for returning Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by the Hamas in Gaza in June 2006, is imminent. According to the report, Israel will release about 1,000 Palestinians in return for Shalit; 250 of these terrorists will have "blood on their hands", meaning they were directly involved in the killing of Israelis.

A couple of comments on the price Israel pays for its kidnapped soldiers (and civilians).

First, it would do good to remind our Arab neighbours and the world about this price whenever someone brings up the "disproportionate" killing of Arabs by Israelis in times of conflict. If the other side is setting a price of 1,000 Arabs for 1 Jew in a prisoner exchange, then they shouldn't complain when, in a war, more Arabs than Jews are killed. If they were to value life as much as we do, then the exchange would be 1 to 1.

More important, and painful, is the second point. If the deal goes through, Israel will be paying too high a price for Shalit. I say this with a broken heart, as I will be as happy as the next person to see Shalit back home with his family. But emotions aside, the harm will be greater than the gain.

The practice of paying a high price for prisoner exchange started with the Jibril exchange in 1985, a precedent that set the tone for future exchanges. It reached macabre proportions last year, when Israel released live terrorists in exchange for the dead bodies of Regev and Goldwasser. Israeli society has proven, time and again, that it will pressure its government to make unreasonable deals for the return of kidnapped soldiers. For some reason, most Israelis are willing to sacrifice the lives of soldiers and civilians to return kidnapped ones. This is not a hypothetical claim, about future victims of the terrorists being released. During the recent fighting in Gaza, many Israelis were in favour of continuing the operation until Shalit was released, knowing full well that many soldiers will die in the process. Everybody talks about Shalit; nobody talks about the two soldiers in this tank that were killed in the same attack.

I do not undestimate the psychological effect of future soldiers and their families knowing that Israel will go to great lengths to ensure the safe return of soldiers it sends to war. But I fear that the counter-effect of succumbing to irrational deal-making outweighs its benefits. I've been reading Tehillim daily since the capture of Shalit, Regev and Goldwasser in 2006, praying every day for their release. I continue to pray for Shalit to return home safely, and soon. But I pray also for the government of Israel to stand strong not only against our enemies but also against domestic pressure, to consider the national interest before other emotional considerations.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Don't Panic

Reading the commentary in the press/blogosphere about Lieberman's impressive gains in this election (15 seats), one would think Israel is on the verge of annointing Mussolini (not to say Hitler) as its new supremo. Bye bye democracy.

Just as the tirade against Lieberman during the election campaign was a lot of hyperbole, so the current "end of the world as we know it" commentary is way off the mark. Lieberman happens to have a hulking figure, fleshy lips, a beard and portruding, unblinking eyes - an altogether intimidating physical presence (the kid that beat his son up can testify to that). And he does not mince words when it comes to making a point about his vision for an Arab-free Israel. But like all barking dogs, Lieberman can and will be co-opted once in power. He's is a one-man party, whose success rode on understandable fear and confusion. Once the dust settles and Lieberman is offered a seat at the table, he will tow the line pretty much like he did in the past. Election talk (not only Lieberman's) ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

And if not, and he does become too strong for the liking of the powers that be, then I'm sure the public prosecution junta will make sure he is sidelined with incessant investigations and imaginary lawsuits.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Morning After

A boring election campaign has yielded predictably boring results. With Kadima and Likud tied and a right-wing bloc majority, Bibi - as expected - is going to be the next prime minister. The best Kadima can hope for is a few seats around the government table, to avoid its certain demise in opposition.

With the current electoral system in place, Israel is unable to extricate itself from the political deadlock that has been haunting it for the better part of the last three decades. The most pressing item on the new government's agenda is changing the system, but given the results this is highly unlikely to happen.

So this morning, the countdown for the next election begins. My guess is 2011.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

OK, It's Done

It's done.

I braved the weather and headed to the voting booth. It was completely empty, so it took me less than a minute to complete the deed.

I finally made up my mind yesterday. I admit the unexpected presence of a Green-Meimad booth outside the voting station lent some hesitance to my gait, but I stuck to my decision. I then hurried quickly out of the place, suppressing the nauseating thought about how my vote helped the bootlegging MK retain her seat in the Knesset.