Saturday, February 01, 2003

OK, Ellie is right, and I was being backwards. Omen my eye. Yesterday we planned to go to the movies tonight, but last night I realized there was nothing worth seeing. Please correct me, if I am wrong. And, keep in mind that we saw "Gangs" (so-so), "Catch Me", and "Chicago" (both good).

I spent this morning glued to the news, and crying. I was about to cancell the baby-sitter, but my husband insisted that we go out anyway, if not movie, than dinner, or anything. He is right. I mentioned that I would have felt better if I knew it was terrorism. Since it most likely is not, I thought I have no one to defy. But I do. I am not going to go any deeper into this, but here is a hint: the literal meaning of the word "Israel".

BTW, for those of you who might not understand why am I taking this event a bit harder than most Americans: try imagining that it was the first ever American manned mission into space.

So, is "Confessions" any good?
Yes, he was a Zionist. I am a Zionist. And there are millions of us - better get used to it. We are everywhere, and we will be in space, too. Just wait.
Just wanted to let my American readers know, that Israelis are probably well aware of the coverage that the uniqueness of this space mission has been getting in the US media, in terms of the fact that the first Israeli astronaut was taking part in it. CNN is widely viewed in Israel, and also Israeli media in the US have been reporting what they see on the US TV, from the time leading to the a launch and through now.
I did not know that one of the astronauts was Indian born, but I find it symbolic. Her name is Kalpana Chawla.
I feel sick... First thing in the morning I opened an e-mail Alex sent me, with a link to a Russian news web site he wanted to reccomend. when I opened it and saw this report, I thought I was looking at some crazy spoof or something. There was nothing on ABC front page. But Drudge had it - from the WP.

It may sound crazy, but I am hoping it was a foul play. It would give me reasoning. Since foul play is not very likely, I just cannot help this strange feeling of a bad omen. Please tell me that I am just being backwards. I felt like I was soaring to the skies with joy, when the shuttle took off. Now I feel like I just have crushed.

Friday, January 31, 2003

You are probably not interested, but it turns out Pashosh is going to need glasses. It was to be expected, since my husband, my husband's brother, and two of my step-sons are all near-sighted. It's funny: the kid looks like me, but he sees like his father...

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.
So, Dennis Miller supports the war. Well, so what? Who is he, anyway? Just because he has been fooling around on TV for a while means that anyone should care what he thinks?

Oh, what the hell...Way to go, Dennis!!! And, he says Holywood should just shut up. I am in love!
More elections. Lapid says that in his view it is possible to form a wide coalition, which would include Labor, or a narrow one, even without the far right and left. He says he will not "sit" with Shas, but has no objections to joining a wide coalition that will include Yahadut Hatorah ("The Torah Judaism" - an ultraorthodox party). I like this guy more every day. (Via IBA radio)
IBA radio reports that 170 members (more than a quarter) of the European parliament have signed a letter, demanding an investigation into the use the PA has been making of the European aid money. The signees are from different political parties. A French representative, who is a socialist, says that the PA has used the money to fund suicide bombings in Israel, and the bombers' families. Welcome to reality.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

For the sake of those non-Israelis, Jews and gentiles, who are not familiar with power that the religious establishment in Israel exercises over its mostly secular population, I wrote this a while ago. There I have listed some of the areas in which that power is apparent. One important area I mentioned only briefly is the marital issues. For example, there were no civil marriages in Israel, until very recently, and their recognition is still an up-hill battle. Another, very painful phenomena, is what my dictionary translates as "abandoned wife". I don't know if this translation is accurate, but I know what it means.

An Israeli friend of mine in Missouri has a sister in Israel, who is/was (?) married, and had several children (grown up now). The marriage was OK, until her husband started going through some difficulties with his career, and, consequently, with finances. He became increasingly frustrated. Then he became increasingly violent. It was getting worse by the day. At some point, the woman decided that she had enough beatings, and left the house, taking the kids with her. Now, if this had happened in any Western country, she would have filed for a divorce, and gotten it without too many questions asked. But the Halachic law does not grant a wife the power to divorce her husband. That power is exclusively reserved for the men. Granted, even in Israel, most couples divorce after reaching a mutual understanding that they no longer wish to remain married. But occasionally, the guy decides to spite his wife, and does not grant her a divorce. That is what happened with this couple. This woman cannot re-marry. Even dating is problematic, since she remains legally married, and it is not very attractive to eligible men. Besides, her dating can give her idiot of a husband grounds to claim that she is being promiscuous, which can give him an advantage if he is seeking custody of the kids.
Unable to change the Halachic law, the civil courts tried to get around the problem by sometimes threatening especially stubborn divorce refusers with imprisonment. I guess it worked in some cases. But I know for a fact that there are several proud patriarchs who are still serving time (whatever time it is).

There are more than a few American Jews that still do not grasp the gravity of the situation. I don't blame them: it is difficult to understand some of the problems a particular society faces, until one actually get to live in that society for an extended period of time.
Already in that old post the name of Tomy Lapid came up. I further discussed him, and political religion in general in Israel here.
Many American Jews, especially those who are religiously observant, are concerned that Lapid will turn Israel into another European country. I do not deny that they have some reason for concern. In fact, Lapid was quoted as saying as much, when asked what would his ideal Israel look like (the half-joking answer was "Holland", I think). But there are several factors that those who worry are not taking into account. One of them is that Israeli political system is a parliamentary one. Which means that even if Lapid does become a PM (which is not very likely any time soon), he will be forced to form a coalition with people who are much less secular than he is. And, some of his own party's members are religious. Not only that Lapid's views are not as extreme as some would make you believe, but his most extreme views are held by a very small minority in Israel. Most Israelis are, well, like myself: agnostic on the existence of god, and observant of Jewish traditions to various degrees. Most don't want to live in Holland. But we don't want to live in Mea Shearim, either. Right now Lapid's Shinui is the only party that can begin to pull Israel towards the reasonable and civilized middle ground, away from the cultural brink, where it is now, and where it has increasingly been for many years.

Update: Diane,...er, um,...well,...just go read. Wait, finish your coffee first! You'll thatnk me later.
IDF radio reports that Mitzna and Lapid were unable to reach an agreement. Lapid says that Mitzna is concerned with the future of the Labor party more than he is concerned with the current situation in Israel. He likens Mitzna's optimism to a man who jumps from the 20st floor, and when he reaches the 10th, he says that he is still feeling well.
Yesterday Judith gave me this link, which is a lengthy discussion on the issue of Communism vs. Nazism. Unfortunately, I missed it at the time. Have I not, I may have not started mine. On the other hand, David and Josh look at it from a perspective that is somewhat different from mine. Very much worth reading. And, Judith's post on the issue is very much worth reading, as well.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

A reader sends this e-mail: "...just wanted to bring to your attention a ridiculous screed by a compatriot (sigh), which is published in today's issue of Alexander Cockburn's rag Counterpunch: http://www.counterpunch.com/smith01292003.html

The author, an Emily Zitter-Smith, is spending time in the hospitable elitist confines of the American University in Cairo, where she finds it fitting to rail about the outcome of Israeli democracy and, for good measure, in the article she disavows both her American citizenship and her Judaism.

Just as Hosni Mubarak announces his intent to meet with Sharon, his American guest recounts her desire to dance on Sharon's grave (Yigal Amir, anyone?).

Ms. Zitter-Smith deserves a good fisking. I'll do my part, but I hope you can spread the word so that by the end of the day the contents of her inbox overwhelm her with shame or, indeed, convince her to return her passport to the US Embassy and permanently adorn the chador (which she seems on track to do here)."

Go read, if you have the stomach.

Wow! This Carnival thingie is really cool! Thanks, C.D. Harris.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sharon is speaking live. He is calling for a National Unity government, and national unity in general. He quotes the late Rabin, who spoke in the same spirit. He says he will approach all the Zionist parties to form as wide a coalition as possible. Not all in the audience (Likud members) are happy with this: some cheer, others jeer.

Earlier today Mitzna reiterated his refusal to join any government under Sharon. Some on the right suggested that he should follow Sarid's lead, and resign.(IDF radio)
Yossi Sarid says he will resign as chairman of Meretz, and consequently as an MK, if the exit polls, showing dissappinting results for his party, are true. (IDF radio).
I am getting tired of Haaretz. Their Hebrew edition's readership is the lowest among the 3 major Hebrew dailies. But they are selling their left-wing propaganda through their English edition on the web as Israeli mainstream. Consider this headline: "Expert: low voter turnout favors smaller parties; Likud said concerned". It is quite misleading, since the reality is that Labor is "said" to be just as concerned. In fact, IBA radio reported today that both Likud and Labor asked judge Cheshin to permit them to publicly call on Israelis to get out and vote, while there still was time. Then there is this:
Turnout has often spelled the difference between victory and defeat in Israeli elections. In 1996, for example, many Labor Party supporters refrained from voting, assuming that favored incumbent Shimon Peres would win re-election against underdog Likud challenger Benjamin Netanyahu. In a nail-biting result, Netanyahu edged then-prime minister Peres by just 27,000 votes out of more than four million.
I would not know - I was not following Israeli politics at that time. So, let's say, so far so good. Then it goes:
Turnout has also been strongly affected by "sectarian" factors, with voter percentages in such sectors as Israeli Arabs, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and the ultra-Orthodox, having a potentially crucial impact on the outcome of elections...

...The ultra-Orthodox have exhibited particular success in mobilizing high voter turnouts - at times flying in chartered planes full of voters registered in Israel but residing in New York
Hmmm...Except for the ultra-Orthodox super-enthusiasm, what do "sectarian factors" have to do with elections? Aren't members of these "sects" equally Israeli, and their votes are equally valid? Apparently, Haaretz thinks not:
In 2001, Israeli Arabs, angry with incumbent Ehud Barak over the handling of October, 2000 riots in which Israeli police fire killed 13 Arabs, boycotted the prime ministerial elections, which Ariel Sharon - buoyed by strong support from immigrants - won in a landslide.
Now I get it: Sharon won last time not because the majority of Israelis wanted to kick Barak out of office for his willingness to reward terrorism with concessions, and even not because many Israelis hoped, at least secretly, that Sharon will "clean up" the hornet's nests in the territories once and for all. He won because Israeli Arabs did not show up, and new immigrants from Russia showed up in droves. But what do those stupid "Russians" know? They don't really count, mind you.

Well, there is really no contradiction here. The truth is that people vote with their feet, not just their ballots. When one stays home and does not vote, he/she still casts a ballot of sorts. Problem is, I don't think that is what Haaretz had in mind. I think what they are doing here is preparing their English-speaking readers to Sharon's next win, which everyone, including Haaretz, thinks is inevitable.

BTW, judge Cheshin wants to have a law passed, apparently adopted by several countries, including Australia and Italy, according to which people who don't get out and vote are subject to a fine. Sounds like one of those well-intentioned solutions that create more problems than they solve, but I might be wrong. And is it even true about Australia?

As a side note, and speaking of voting with one's feet: on the radio today they interviewed Nativa Ben-Yehuda, the daughter of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who is considered the father of the modern Hebrew language. She was boasting that she had voted in all of the 16 Israeli elections, since the establishment of Israel. She mentioned, however, that several times she placed a blank ballot in her envelope. After she went off the air, some of the guys went wise-cracking about that last detail: "Nativa, darling, you know that placing a blank ballot is the same as not voting at all, don't you?" Well, guys, better shut up, and listen to the old lady. Maybe it is the same as being undecided. But it is definitely the opposite of being lazy, or indifferent, or spiteful.

I wish I could vote in these elections, but I cannot. In Israel we don't have absentee ballots, except for diplomats and such, and I think this is the way it should be. When I lived in Israel, I voted in all elections since I was old enough to do so, and I was never undecided. I hope I get to vote in many more Israeli elections in the future, and if there is no one I can consciously vote for (which I hope will never happen), I will vote with my blank ballot.

BTW, judge Cheshin wants to have a law passed, apparently adopted by several countries, including Australia and Italy, according to which people who don't get out and vote are subject to a fine. Sounds like one of those well-intentioned solutions that create more problems than they solve, but I might be wrong. And is it even true about Australia?

Update: Ooops...it turns out Mrs. Ben-yehuda is not Eliezer's daughter, but she is a celebrity, and is about 75 years old - long story. (Thanks to Imshin for the correction).

Monday, January 27, 2003

Interesting discussion in this thread on Jonathan's blog The Head Heeb. I have some problems with general definitions there. It seems to me that while one cannot choose his ethnicity, he can certainly choose his nationality or religion.

I was born in Russia to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. In the Soviet Union they went by the father's ethnicity, so I was considered Russian. In Israel they go by the mother, so I am considered Jewish. In America, I am an American. By choosing where I live (as much as one can choose), I choose my nationality.

8opus is right in that when a person converts to Judaism, he joins the Jewish nation (BTW, there is a cognate word in Hebrew for religion: "dat"). The conversion does not change that person's ethnicity, of course, but Judaism is not really concerned with ethnicity in the first place. Furthermore, I'd go as far as to argue that it is not really concerned with religion all that much, as far as acceptance of new members into the community/nation is in question. It sounds like a paradox, but if you know secular Israel, you can easily imagine a gentile going through the whole tedious religious process of conversion, being accepted into the community, and not observing a single religious rule thereafter. In fact, such a person could theoretically convert to any other religion later on. It probably would be problematic socially, but not much more than if the person was ethnically Jewish to begin with. And I doubt it would jeopardize that person's Israeli citizenship. This, of course, would be unacceptable if the community in question was a religious one, but an ethnic Jew's secularity would be just as unacceptable. My point is that at least as far as new member acceptance, religion acts simply as rite of passage, rather than a prerequisite condition.

A person can become an Israeli citizen under three alternative conditions:
1. Having had one's ancestors living continuously in Palestine before and after the establishment of the state of Israel.
2. Being ethnically Jewish, i.e. born to a Jewish mother.
3. Having been converted to Judaism, without the need to actually practice the Jewish religion afterwards.

Thus I really see no problem with a Jewish democratic state, where non-Jews enjoy equal rights to those Jews do. The real problem is the proportions in the population: what happens when Jews, ethnic and otherwise, are no longer a majority in Israel.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

I am afraid both Andrew and James, as well as many others, are missing an important point. The point is, while there is no difference in the consequences of the Nazi and the Communist regimes, as far as the number of lives lost (and these are the only consequences that matter), there is a big difference in original intentions of their underlying ideologies. The whole idea of Nazism was to kill, or at least enslave as many non-Arians as possible. The whole idea of Communism was to make as many people as possible happier.

No, I am not talking about the difference between the intentions of Hitler, and those of Stalin/Mao. I am talking about the difference between the intentions of Hitler, and Marx/Engels. OK, OK, I don’t really know about Marx/Engels. I sure am not going to discuss Lenin’s true intentions. But I know about my grandparents. My grandfather joined the Communist party, like many other young Jewish men and women, out of sincere conviction that they were building a better world for everyone. For the factory workers/farm laborers who worked and lived in inhumane conditions, without any of the basic rights that today anyone in the developed world takes for granted. For women, who will finally be truly equal to men. For intellectuals, who finally will be able to speak their minds without fear of imprisonment. For Jews, who will finally be equal to everyone else. And even for blacks, who were being linched daily in the South of the far away America.

These ideas were noble, and they still are. The means by which they were to be realized, and the people who took it upon themselves to realize them, were anything but. In fact, although I have not studied the subject, I seriously doubt that people like Stalin or Beria really cared about any ideas at all, other than concentrating as much power as they could in their own hands.
But that does not make those ideas any less noble.
My grandfather was associated with Kirov in the Leningrad branch of the Party. He was a career communist. My grandmother used to tell me that his salary was barely enough to pay the housekeeper she had to hire, because she had to work to provide for the family. He was not in it for the money, or anything else. He was in it for the noble ideas. She was never active in the party, but she, too, had high hopes for the brave new world her husband was helping to build.
After Kirov’s murder the purges began, and my grandfather, like many of his colleagues, ended up in jail. When WWII reached the Soviet Union, he was drafted directly from jail. He was never heard from ever since.

I find the Mao berets and line of clothes with hammer-and-sickle on them idiotic. But excuse me if I don’t find them nearly as offensive as swastikas. Stalin killed more people than Hitler did. There is a good chance that my grandfather was one of those people. Or it may have been Hitler. It really makes no big difference. The important point that many people are missing, is while Hitler and the idea of Nazism were the same thing, Stalin really had little to do with the idea of Communism. He was just another megalomaniac, who high jacked an ideology, instead of inventing one, like Hitler did. It makes no difference between these two monsters, but it does underline the difference between
the two ideologies.

Anyway, I really wish that people would think twice before lumping together people like my grandfather, and the SS officers. Consequences matter a great deal, but intentions should at least count for something.

Update here.