Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Israeli elections - How I did

My March 26 predictions versus the actual totals [as of Wed. morning]

KADIMA 27 (28)
LABOR 23 (20)
LIKUD 15 (11)
NU/NRP 14 (8)
SHAS 13 (13)
UTJ 5 (6)
MERETZ 4 (4)

So my hunch that Kadima would not break 30 mandates was (sadly) correct.

I was close on Labor.

Way off on Likud and NU/NRP. I guess lots of right-wingers sulked at home or wasted their votes on the ultra-Right.

But I was spot on regarding Meretz and Shas.

I had no inkling that the Pensioners Party would even cross the threshold.

Each day is a new reminder that the masses are -- indeed --- asses.

Pass me the humble pie.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Israeli Elections - Some Predictions

On the way to work today, I took the #21 bus from Talpiot to Marcel’s Barber Shop in town.

Based on what I thought I heard the driver say to one of the passengers, and some of the conversation among the waiting patrons at Marcel’s – plus my own gut feeling that Kadima will not do as well as people think, here is the way I see the Tuesday’s Israeli elections shaping up.


Always prepared to eat humble pie... indeed, hoping to.

HERE ARE the predictions of Avi Hoffmann, former managing editor of The Jerusalem Post:


AND HERE are the predictions of Rev. Elwood McQuaid, one of the leaders of the Christian Zionst movement and a longtime analyst of the Israel scene:

"Never doubt the wisdom of barber shop philosopher/political pundits! However, from a distance: Kadima will, as you forecast, not do as well as the polls suggest: 24/25. Labor will not do as well either: 19/20. Likud will do better: 18/19. Olmert will have rough sledding putting a coalition together."

Monday, March 20, 2006


Where there are two Jews, there are three different opinions. And where there are 5.3 million American Jews, there are countless organizations claiming to represent, defend and articulate Jewish interests. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations alone boasts 52 member groups.

That is both too many and too few. Too many organizations have lost their raison d’être. They duplicate the work of others and survive on “life support” provided by self-interested benefactors. At the same time, too few organizations, evidently, are meeting the needs of those American Jews who feel estranged from the community.

One organization whose value is worth highlighting is the American Jewish Committee, which marks its 100th anniversary this month. Its leadership is now in Israel to celebrate the occasion.

Sixty leading “uptown” Jews, mostly of German origin, established the New York-based AJC in the wake of a series of state-sponsored anti-Jewish riots in Czarist Russia, in particular the Kishinev pogroms of 1903 and 1905.

That well-connected communal leaders would intercede with the authorities as shtadlanim (court Jews) was not a new idea. But by constituting themselves as a committee, they gave an organizational framework to earlier ad-hoc efforts.

The group was elitist. Its founders included tycoon Jacob Schiff; Oscar Straus, the first Jew to hold a cabinet post; and philanthropist Cyrus L. Sulzberger.

The organization’s driving force was attorney Louis Marshall, president of Temple Emmanuel, the flagship of the Reform movement.

Under Marshall’s leadership the AJC sought to use Russia’s desire for trade with the US as leverage in trying to win better treatment for Russian Jews. The committee also worked indefatigably against immigration quotas that kept the Jews of Europe from reaching Ellis Island.

In a sense, the creation of the committee was also intended to discourage “downtown” Eastern European activists from galvanizing the immigrant masses. The AJC approach, then and now, is that complex issues require more than “simplistic solutions, sloganeering and ‘shoot from the hip’ rhetoric.”

Prior to 1948 the AJC was the leading non-Zionist (often anti-Zionist) group on the US scene. Its leaders viewed Judaism as a religious or cultural movement and opposed the idea of “Diaspora nationalism.” If Jews pursued peoplehood, what would become of their status in a pluralistic United States? And yet the committee endorsed the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

In 1942, however, the AJC opposed the Biltmore Program, which broke with Zionist gradualism by demanding a sovereign Jewish commonwealth in all of Palestine.

Only after the Holocaust did the committee, hesitatingly, support the creation of Israel.

From the vantage point of 2006, the group’s failure to embrace the Zionist cause seems tragically misguided. Still, it is worth bearing in mind that American Jewry in the first half of the 20th century was a fearful and insecure body politic – and for many good reasons.

Only after the 1967 Six Day War, when support for Israel became a defining characteristic of US Jewish identity, did the AJC put Israel at the top of its agenda. Once it had adapted, it quickly became the first group to establish offices in Israel.

Today it is among the most significant mainstream organizational champions of Israel. For instance, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s efforts to have strict limits imposed on US aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has strong AJC backing.

The AJC, its leaders say, strives to balance private diplomacy with public advocacy. It believes that the best defense against anti-Semitism is strengthening pluralism and democracy worldwide. The quintessential establishment organization, it argues that Jewish interests can best be secured by framing them in a global context that resonates with non-Jews.

The committee funds, among other institutions, the work of UN Watch. It also operates effectively behind the scenes: It was the AJC that helped make it possible for Prof. Deborah Lipstadt to successfully pursue her legal case in London against Holocaust denier David Irving.

Amid the “alphabet soup” of Diaspora organizational life, the AJC remains on the short list of groups that matter. With 33 chapters, 150,000 members, eight international bureaus, and a presence in 17 other overseas locations, the AJC has what to celebrate on its centenary.

Monday, March 13, 2006

New Delhi is not Teheran

Fairness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes it makes sense to maintain “double standards,” to dismiss cries of hypocrisy as naïve, and even dangerous. In the international arena, for instance, nuclear proliferation rules that should be rigorously applied to rogue states such as Iran, and proliferating countries such as Pakistan, ought not to be applied to trustworthy and non-proliferating nations such as Israel and India.

How to treat New Delhi is very much on the agenda. On March 2, a politically weakened US President George Bush traveled to India to clinch what Bush rightly called “an historic agreement” with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The deal would “mainstream” India into the club of nuclear nations (necessary because it is not a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), making nuclear commerce between the two countries possible. It would also draw Washington and New Delhi into a genuine 21st century alliance contributing to a more secure America.

The deal, years in the making, has India placing 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors, those in the civilian-sector, under international safeguards; the other eight would remain as military facilities and thus not be subject to international inspections. Nevertheless, New Delhi is prepared to limit its stockpile of nuclear bomb-making ingredients, assuming multi-lateral arrangements can be worked out, capping its stockpile of nuclear weapons.

That is not enough for New York Times super pundit Thomas L. Friedman. In his March 8 column, Friedman questioned Washington’s wisdom in facilitating India’s entry into the club of nuclear nations on the grounds that New Delhi still refuses to sign the NPT, and that American policy is to prohibit civilian nuclear technology from reaching nations that have not signed the treaty.
While Friedman is a friend of India’s (you just need to read his bestseller, "The World is Flat," to appreciate that), when it comes to “undermining” the anachronistic NPT he won’t make any exceptions – not even for India.

Friedman argues that granting special dispensation to India would undercut “the legal basis” for building coalitions against the spread of WMDs to rogue states.

Right. You can just see North Korea and Iran capitulating under the onus of international law.

Now the Economist has joined the fray. The newspaper, whose current cover cleverly portrays Bush costumed as a Texas-cowboy straddling an atom bomb (think Dr. Strangelove), editorializes that in allowing India “to import nuclear fuel and technology despite its weapons-building, Mr. Bush has not for the first time seemed readier to favor a friend than to stick to a principle.”
What Bush wants, says the Economist, is to treat “democratic, friendly, law-abiding India” as some kind of exception. Says the Economist: That could “fatally” undermine the NPT regime.
If the Bush-Singh arrangement “fatally” undermines NPT maybe the treaty is as obsolete to the realities of the 21st century as the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact (which renounced war as an instrument of national policy) was to the 20th century.

I MUCH prefer the more pragmatic worldview of another pundit, The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, who writes that, “The cry of ‘double standard’” is a bit silly because “India is our friend and Iran” is not. “The Israeli bomb threatens nobody. An Iranian bomb does. India has transferred its nuclear technology to no one. Pakistan has. No one worries about India or Israel making the technology available to terrorists. Everyone worries about Iran doing that.”

Significantly, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has endorsed the Bush-Singh arrangement while opposition from China (the nuclear club member that matters most) is muted.

On Thursday, the White House asked Congress to implement the Bush-Singh deal by adopting legislation that would exempt India from Atomic Energy Act rules prohibiting US nuclear sales to non-NPT states. In addition, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group would have to alter its regulations to allow them to provide goods and services to India.

I HOPE Congress approves the deal because – like Israel – India finds itself in a unique situation. And like Israel, it deserves special consideration.

• India was in the forefront of the NPT idea, but wanted the rules applied universally. Instead, the NPT formalized what India saw as a discriminatory regime; only the US, USSR, China, France and Britain – what became the club of nuclear nations – were given the legal right to maintain weapons of mass destruction. New Delhi refused to sign on to this arrangement.
• India never proliferated. It never obtained illegal know-how. Indian scientists developed and then carefully guarded the knowledge of atomic bomb-making. Contrast this with non-NPT signatory Pakistan which illegally obtained its know-how and than proliferated what it knew (for a price) to North Korea and Iran.
• Also contrast India’s faithful non-proliferation behavior with the deceitful actions of Iraq, Iran and North Korea in violation of their NPT obligations. Even Indian firms behaved more responsibly than a number of Western European companies which sold nuclear know-how and material to the rogue states.
• And India opposes a nuclear-armed Iran. The Indian government consistently supported Washington at the IAEA, despite powerful domestic opposition from Muslim and left-wing parties, and notwithstanding the fact that India imports 70 percent of its oil and will need Iranian cooperation to meet its ever-growing energy needs.

SO HERE is one of those issues that require some out-of-the-box thinking. India is already a major player in the international arena and its voice will only become stronger with time. Fostering ties between the US and India, which is not only the most populous democracy on earth, but also the world’s fourth largest economy, demands putting ourselves in India’s shoes. New Delhi is being wooed by the Arabs, Persians, even the Chinese. As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointed out on January 5: “We can’t say to the Indians, on the one hand, you can’t... [engage in] energy relations with Iran, but by the way, ‘civil nuclear’ is closed off to you.”

In this, Rice is backed by former secretary of state Henry Kissinger who argues that “India should be treated as a country whose nuclear progress had become irreversible.”

Whatever the Bush administration’s other failings, it is spot on in its appreciation of India’s global importance.

It is also in Israel’s geo-strategic interest to see ties between India and America made stronger. Though much still needs to be done to draw India and Israel closer, enormous steps have been taken since New Delhi first recognized Israel in 1950 and finally established an embassy in 1992.
Both Israel and India represent ancient civilizations which today share common political values, overlapping security concerns, and a growing commerce (to the annual tune of $2.5 billion). There is even talk that the Bank of India wants to open a branch in Israel, a step that would make trade even easier.

As Jews mark Purim this week to commemorate our triumph over an ancient Persian madman, Hindus will be marking Holi – the end of winter – festival of colors. Megilat Esther recalls that King Achashverosh’s empire stretched from Hodu ad Kush – from India to Ethiopia.

If we play our cards right democracy’s “empire” can stretch even wider.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


We are just back from a lovely week in Spain (Seville, Madrid, Cordoba) to discover that – in our absence – Kadima dropped several seats in the polls.

Nevertheless, the party founded by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is still projected to come out well ahead of either Labor or Likud and to form the next government.

When Israelis go to the polls on March 28 they will know what the competing parties stand for.

Pray they choose wisely.

This election will be the belated referendum many of us wanted prior to the Gaza disengagement.

The steadfast (and rational) Right will know to vote for the “National Union/NRP.” Others may opt for Avigdor Leiberman’s “Israel Beiteinu.”

The irrational (and messianic) Right can choose from an array of smaller splinter parties.

Those who are taken in by charlatanism will vote for “Likud” whose leadership facilitated the disengagement, but then pulled out just prior to its implementation.

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the masses. So Likud’s low-blow, personalized, anti-Olmert campaign ads portraying him as a “leftist” combined with the charms of the charismatic Binyamin Netanyahu will likely garner it the chump vote.

What Likud says it stands for is anti-unilateralism. Netanyahu claims he isn’t against cutting a deal with the Arabs, but any concessions should be based on give and take.

So, anyone who actually expects the Arabs to cut such a deal, or anyone who prefers the status quo more than anything else, might want Likud in power – assuming they actually believe Netanyahu would be faithful to his campaign promises.

The rational Left, I suppose, would vote for Amir Peretz’s “Labor Party.”

Peretz stands for unconditional negotiations with the Palestinians – but even he is hard-pressed to find Palestinians to talk to (and even he has ruled out dealing with a Hamas-led PA).

He’s just met with the ever-irrelevant Mahmoud Abbas, presumably to show that there is Palestinian partner.

A Labor vote would also be an expression of support for the party’s domestic agenda which includes increasing the minimum wage.

The more hardcore leftwing vote will go to “Meretz” under Yossi Beilin. But the party is in serious straits and there is a chance it won’t make it into the 17th Knesset. Good riddance.

Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) will vote for the Ashkenazi “United Torah Judaism” or the Sephardi “Shas” parties because they have parochial interests and want to see them funded.

And, of course, the Arab citizens of Israel, will vote for the various Arab parties. But there too, the level of fragmentation and vote dissipation, may mean that fewer Arab Knesset members will meet the threshold necessary to be elected this time around.

THOSE of us who plan to vote for Kadima think we know what our party stands – at least on security issues.

This sense was reinforced by Avi Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief, and top Kadima Knesset candidate, when he described over the weekend how Kadima would seek to re-draw Israel’s map based on the still under construction security fence and settlement blocs.

Sunday’s “Yediot Aharonot” tabloid even published a map which purported to show the settlements that would likely remain and which would be evacuated under a Kadima-led government.

Any “second disengagement” would be from settlements, not the land itself – meaning Israel would retain military control over all of Judea and Samaria.

Dichter said “We have no intention of carrying out a military disengagement because we have no partner who will fight terror. The stage of a full hand over of the area will only take after place after a Palestinian Authority arises that proves that it is able to and will fight terror.”

According to “Yediot Aharonot,” there are to be seven settlement blocs:

* Ma’aleh Adumim (east of Jerusalem), Ariel, the Gush Etzion (south of Jerusalem) as well as the Jordan Valley.
* Karnei Shomron-Kedumim; Ofra-Beit El; and Hebron-Kiryat Arba

Smaller isolated settlements would be evacuated inside the larger settlement blocs closest to them.

This is not a plan to make life better for the Palestinian Arabs (though it may reduce the number of military checkpoints), but to enhance Israeli security.

The plan will reduce the number of enemy civilians under Israeli jurisdiction (and thus friction between the two sides) and increase the land available to the Palestinians.

But the main goal would be to reduce the number of isolated Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria that the army has to worry about.

This would presumably make it easier for the IDF to defend access to those communities that remain.

Is the Dichter plan Kadima’s final word on how it would re-draw our security map? I hope not.

It obviously makes security sense to retain the Jordan Valley. Not only don’t we know what the future will bring for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (whose population is overwhelmingly Palestinian Arab), but we can have no illusions about a Palestinian polity led by the Islamist rejectionists of Hamas.

Jerusalem can hardly allow the Palestinians to control the gateway to western Eretz Israel.

But I am curious why, under Kadima’s plan, the settlements of Shiloh and Eli which sit high on strategic mountaintops are slated for abandonment while Karnei Shomron (and Ofra) which sit relatively low are slated to be retained.

From a purely military viewpoint – why not retain Shiloh which sits literally midpoint in the very heart of the country?

Kadima’s bottom line philosophy blends unilateralism (vis-a-vis the enemy) with a desire for international support.

Sunday’s “Haaretz” reported that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is hoping to enlist international backing – hoping that for starters Washington will formally recognize Israel’s new defense lines – for redrawing the map. I fear he will be disappointed, certainly by the EU and in all probability by the US as well.

Nevertheless, Kadima represents a pragmatic, centrist approach that accepts the status quo can’t go on; that the strategic, demographic and diplomatic balance of power demands Israeli unilateralism. And that the Israeli home front must made more cohesive if we are to overcome what the enemy (on all fronts) has in store.

The Right wants voters to believe that Oslo and the war it wrought have had no lasting deleterious diplomatic or military impact on Israel’s position.

The Left remains deluded that unconditional negotiations will lead to two states living side-by-side in peace.

Only Kadima seems to have a firmer grip on reality.

But that does not mean they have all the answers.

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