Friday, September 12, 2008

WRAP: Pakistan/Incident in Paris/Sept. 11 (+7)/Oi, Jereusalem

Oi, Jerusalem

For political junkies, there's fodder aplenty in the cast of characters and machinations surrounding Jerusalem's November 11 mayoral election.

Let's begin with the super-charismatic, ultra-Orthodox Sephardi politician, former Shas leader Aryeh Deri. Can he circumvent the statute barring some ex-cons from running for local office within seven years of their release? Deri used his tenure at the Interior Ministry to funnel money to a project headed by his brother.

Victory would probably mean what he most wants - a return to the national arena.

Can Meir Porush, a Boyaner hassid and scion of one of the wealthiest and most well-connected haredi clans, solidify his position as "official" candidate of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community?

Polls show he'd have trouble winning. But victory would mean continued patronage to the haredi sector.

Should Mayor Uri Lupolianski, the likable ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi hailing from the Lithuanian camp, give up hope of retaining the job? Among the fervently Orthodox, Lupolianski is tarred as "haredi-lite." He's been known to attend state ceremonies where (gasp) "Hatikva" has been sung.

Is it curtains for Israeli-Russian billionaire tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak? He's supposedly been liquidating assets. For the campaign?

Then there's the wily Ya'acov Litzman, a Ger hassid and chairman of the United Torah Judaism Party. It was UTJ's rotation deal between its Degel Hatorah Lithuanians and the hassidim of Agudat Israel that forced Lupolianski to bow out in favor of Porush.

But there's bad blood between Litzman and Porush.

Maybe this will be Nir Barkat's lucky year, after all. He's the so-called secular candidate, a successful hi-tech entrepreneur who garnered 43 percent of the votes five years ago and stuck around to serve in the thankless role of municipal council opposition leader.

Barkat has made up with popular former Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy. All has been forgiven over that nasty incident in which someone hired a private eye to dig up dirt on Levy at the time the ex-cop was thinking about making his own mayoral run.

Is former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a venerated figure in the national-religious camp, now hospitalized, really backing the non-observant Barkat? Or is the rabbi's "blessing" a gracious gesture, rather than a political endorsement?

ALL THIS leads to the question of whether the haredi political machine that controls politics in the capital, doling out jobs and patronage in return for votes, can unite to overcome the threat of Barkat. But such a focus misses the most stunning question about this local election: Can a Zionist be elected mayor of Israel's capital?

Jerusalem residents - there are 746,300 - have their heartfelt day-to-day concerns such as not enough jobs being created, ever more unaffordable housing, and sky-high rents. And everyone's upset about the excavation work on a light rail system, now years behind schedule, that makes travel within the city a nightmare.

Modern Orthodox and secular Jewish parents see the education system tilting in favor of haredi pupils, who already comprise 58% of Jewish enrollment. Zionists are troubled about a migration of thousands of Jews annually from a city that is 33% Arab. Arabs, while refusing to vote out of opposition to Israel's control of Jerusalem, worry about atrocious city services.

Jerusalem desperately needs a mayor who can, without favoritism, minister to this complex mosaic. The capital of Israel begs for a Zionist mayor who understands that talk of an undivided Jerusalem is hypocritical when services and infrastructure in Arab neighborhoods are scandalously inferior.

In theory, such a mayor can easily be elected because the ultra-Orthodox comprise just 20% of the city's population and 30% of its Jews.

The haredim's advantage is that practically 100% of their eligible voters turn out to vote for the candidates endorsed by their spiritual leaders. In contrast, less than half of the non-haredi voters bestir themselves to cast a ballot, and often split their vote.

It is intolerable that our capital be administered by anyone who does not wholeheartedly embrace the ethos of Israeli society. Jerusalem deserves a mayor who embodies tolerance and a respect for tradition, someone who will distribute resources on the basis of fairness and pluralism.

Someone who won't feel uneasy when the national anthem is sung.

The majority rules - but only if it bothers to vote.

Al-Qaida lives, kill it

Make no mistake: The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.
- President George W. Bush, in his first public remarks after the 9/11 attacks, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Sept. 11, 2001

Today marks the seventh anniversary of al-Qaida's sneak attack against the United States.

Over the years, America has managed to kill or capture many of the organization's key figures, but Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri "continue to maintain al-Qaida unity and its focus on their strategic vision and operational priorities," according to Ted Gistaro, the US government's top al-Qaida watcher.

How did Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri manage not only to avoid retribution but to rebuild al-Qaida? Part of the answer: The Bush administration became distracted.

In October 2001, the US struck at al-Qaida training camps and Taliban military installations. Within a month, the Taliban were in flight and Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri lost their protectors. US forces cornered them in the battle of Tora Bora; but somehow they escaped toward the nearby Afghanistan-Pakistan border where, around December 10, they found sanctuary.

The view in Washington was that the two men were either dead or hiding scared, and no longer a threat.

The Bush administration, meantime, had become increasingly convinced that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destruction and that there was a relationship between him and al-Qaida. So in March 2003, America invaded Iraq - hoping, in addition, to spread democracy.

No weapons of mass destruction were unearthed, however; and the 9/11 Commission Report asserted there was no collaborative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi aligned his Iraqi jihadists with al-Qaida only in July 2005: In other words, the war began before "al-Qaida" arrived on the scene. Only the future will tell whether Iraq will evolve into the Arab world's first pro-Western democracy.

As the war dragged on, al-Qaida continued to export terrorism. Authorities suspect that the July 7, 2005 London bombings - three trains and a bus - in which at least 52 were killed and 700 injured, was al-Qaida's handiwork and not that of disaffected British Muslims acting on their own initiative. The same holds true for other plots, including the August 2006 conspiracy to blow up airliners en route to North America.

Bush's pledge to hunt down the 9/11 perpetrators thus went partly unfulfilled because America became sidetracked in Iraq. "Officials with the CIA and the US military said they began shifting resources out of Afghanistan [to Iraq] in 'early 2002 and still haven't recovered from that mistake,'" the Washington Post reported yesterday.

AL-QAIDA, along with the Taliban in which it incubates, has been rejuvenated. What to do?

Let's bear in mind what al-Qaida is, and isn't.

This is a small organization that specializes in terrorist attacks of staggering scope. It's a sort of venture-capital outfit for anti-civilian warfare; and perhaps the paramount Islamist think-tank. It's the home of the motivating icons of the Islamist struggle, Bin-Laden and al-Zawahiri.

Al-Qaida is not a synonym for every Islamist menace. It is not Iran (with which it has a multitude of theological and political differences); nor is it Hizbullah or Hamas. Conflating Islamist threats undermines our ability to confront each unique danger as needed.

The war against Western civilization is real, but the enemy is not a conveniently homogeneous body. Putting al-Qaida out of commission will not achieve victory against a metastasized Islamist threat.

Seven years on, the good news, according to the US Department of Homeland Security, is that America does not face imminent attack. Still, many analysts are concerned that al-Qaida will strike again on or around Election Day, November 4.

But the true nightmare scenario prognosticates that al-Qaida's terror-masters are devoting their efforts to obtaining a nuclear device; one that would be detonated in New York or Washington, perhaps, with results too ghastly to contemplate.

On this meaningful day, let us recall that the West is engaged in a war not against "terror," but against violent, expansionist Muslim extremism. The prospect of the forces of enlightenment prevailing will be immeasurably enhanced if the heteromorphic essence of the enemy is understood - and if that enemy is confronted judiciously, and with perseverance.

Incident in Paris

Though it boasts a popular science museum, a pleasant park and crisscrossing canals, relatively few casual tourists make it to the 19th arrondissement in northeast Paris.

This mostly working-class district of 180,000 has seen an influx of North African and sub-Saharan Africans who now live alongside a community of roughly 15,000 Jews.

In the past 10 years, petty harassment has become so frequent as to be almost unremarkable. Jewish schoolchildren have learned which streets - dominated by Muslim anti-Semites - to avoid.

But when the hooligans go on the prowl, trouble is unavoidable. Toward the end of this past Shabbat, three kippa-wearing boys 17 or 18 years old, Dan Nebet, Kevin Bitan and David Boaziz, were attacked by one such group of mostly Muslim Africans. Four or five assailants threw walnuts at Kevin. When he asked why they were hassling him, he was knocked down. The Jewish youths were then surrounded by a larger group of 10 to 12 louts and beaten with fists, chains and brass knuckles.

One of the boys suffered a broken nose and injured jaw. All were left bruised and traumatized.

In June, another kippa-wearing 17-year-old was attacked nearby by another mob of African youths. And recently a neighborhood store drew attention for selling T-shirts with the slogan "Jews are forbidden to enter the park" in German and Polish.

The revolting reference was to a prohibition imposed on Jews in Lodz, Poland, in the early 1940s against visiting a public park. Young Jews in the arrondissement got the hint: Muslim and African gangs were warning them to stay away from the neighborhood's Belleville Park.

WHAT ARE those of us outside France to make of this latest incident?

Not that life for the 350,000 Jews of metropolitan Paris - and, indeed, for the 600,000 Jews of France as a whole - is becoming increasingly untenable, says Dr. Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions known as CRIF. He and others familiar with the French Jewish predicament describe a "complicated" situation in which, for example, sections of the 19th and 10th arrondissements, as well certain suburbs, have become places where it is unpleasant to be a Jew.

The brutal killing of young Ilan Halimi outside Paris in 2006 comes to mind.

The tough areas, not all of them slums, are where Arab and African gangs are active, unemployment is high, and social and economic problems are endemic. Working-class Jews forced to share this turf all too often make convenient scapegoats for the youthful bigots.

Prasquier does not want Saturday's patently anti-Semitic incident to be swept under the rug, however. A number of Paris radio stations sought, absurdly, to portray it as an altercation between Jewish and Muslim gangs.

Prasquier's message is that violent anti-Semitism and ongoing harassment are all too real, but restricted to specific locales. The scourge, he says, does not typify Paris as a whole, let alone France.

As soon as the incident hit the news, high-level police and municipal officials contacted the French Jewish leadership to offer reassurances. Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie called Prasquier to discuss the attack and later issued a strong condemnation of "the anti-Semitic violence against young Jews going to the synagogue."

Police saturation of the area, especially during the High Holy Days, would bring a measure of comfort. But security is already high - a police cruiser was a block from the scene when the boys were set upon. They were not carrying mobile phones because of Shabbat; and passerby made no effort to alert police.

AFFLUENT, acculturated French Jews, those not easily marked by their ethnicity or religion, denizens of more upscale districts, have few personal fears. They neither want the impression to go out that France is seething with violent Jew-hatred, nor that they're unmoved by the plight of their co-religionists in the turbulent neighborhoods.

At a time like this, we in Israel should not be sowing panic. Instead, a fitting Zionist message to our French Jewish brethren is that they are not alone; that Israel was founded not only as a haven from anti-Semitism, but as a homeland where - when we Israelis are at our best - Jewish life can be lived to its fullest.

Pakistan's new president

The world's only nuclear-armed Islamic state has a new president. Asif Ali Zardari, 53, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, was chosen by Pakistan's electoral college on Saturday to succeed Pervez Musharraf, who was forced to resign August 19.

Zardari spent more than a decade, on and off, in prison on charges of murder, influence-peddling and money laundering. His moniker is "Mr. 10 Percent" - though others insist it is 30% - for the kickbacks he reportedly demanded from those wanting to do business with his wife's government.

In a country where fully two-thirds of the population survives on $2 a day, Zardari's personal fortune is estimated variously at $30 million to $1 billion. In a 2006 case involving how he came to own a 355-acre property in the English countryside, his own psychiatrists attested to the fact that was demented and thus could not participate in his own defense.

Zardari is an unlikely figure to stabilize the country or give average Pakistanis a reason not to side with its fanatics.

Under Musharraf, the economy expanded by 5.8 percent. With him gone, inflation is up, the stock markets and foreign exchange reserves are down and the country is deemed among the riskiest in the world for investors.

When treasury officials recently challenged pressure from Zardari to bust the budget so he could subsidize Punjabi farmers, whose support he courts, he told them: Print more money.

WHAT HAPPENS in Pakistan is of more than passing interest to Israelis given that Islamabad may have 150 nuclear warheads and has a history of nuclear proliferation to pariah states, including Iran. So our security establishment is monitoring Pakistani events from every angle.

The integrity of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is, in fact, the world's number one concern. An 18-member National Command Authority, led by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, reportedly has control over Pakistan's nuclear bombs. Zardari now sits, at least nominally, as chair of that authority.

Pakistan is a violently fragmented polity. Suicide bombings - like the one in its northwest province that claimed 33 lives Saturday - occur with numbing frequency. The toll so far this year is 2,000 lives lost.

As Dexter Filkins explained in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Pakistan has long been playing a double game - supporting both the war on terror and the terrorists. Islamabad wanted to influence events in Afghanistan by championing the Taliban. In the process, it created an Islamist Frankenstein: Indigenous Taliban grew strong enough to challenge the central government's authority.

The penny may finally have dropped for the country's shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence Agency and the military, which explains why they've lately been cracking down on the fundamentalists. At the same time, because they may not have the capacity to defeat the monster they created, the authorities have been quick to reconstitute the old arrangement: So long as the fundamentalists focus their violence outside Pakistan's border, it's "Live and let live."

American security officials have become increasingly convinced that despite the $10 billion Washington has transferred to Islamabad since September 11, 2001, Pakistan is as much part of the problem as it is the solution. Exasperated by Pakistani duplicity, US forces have begun operating more openly within the borders of Pakistan - drawing the ire of Pakistani masses and officials.

SEVERAL lessons may be drawn from the Pakistan experience:

By definition, religious fanatics feel impelled to impose their way of life on others. If you try to buy them off - in Pakistan, Iran, Gaza or elsewhere - they will only come after you, with devastating consequences.

The forces of chaos exploit, yet do not respect, sovereignty. Never grant terrorists immunity from preemptive attack out of a misguided concern over a country's boundaries.

The real al-Qaida has gone undefeated as America's resources and energies are diverted in Iraq. Liquidating this threat, albeit belatedly, is therefore the highest priority - before Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri can engineer a spectacular attack, perhaps to coincide with the US elections.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, fresh from her Friday tete-a-tete with Muammar Gaddafi, described Zardari's election as a "good way forward."

Her successor may well wonder what she was talking about.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The race begins

John McCain accepted the presidential nomination of the Republican Party last night in St. Paul, Minnesota. But it was Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who came out of nowhere to become his vice presidential running mate, whose galvanizing speech was received on Wednesday with the kind of euphoria once reserved for Ronald Reagan.

Meticulously crafted, Palin's oration enchanted the delegates and reinvigorated the campaign. McCain might not be able to outtalk Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, but he now has someone on his team who has that potential.

Without overtly running against the incumbent of his own party, McCain wants voters to know he's no George W. Bush; that he'll rebrand the GOP and bring change - the catchphrase of the 2008 campaign - to Washington.

Party conventions were created to broaden political participation, even though traditionally the nominees were chosen by bosses in smoke-filled rooms. A series of reforms democratized the way in which delegates, committed to particular candidates, were selected. These days the nominee is known even before the convention. Still, to unite the party faithful and promote their candidate before the rest of America, the spectacle remains essential.

With both conventions over, there are now just eight weeks before Election Day. Strikingly, only 44 percent of Americans say they have been following news about the campaign - in what is shaping up to be a close race.

IT WOULD be sensible for Israelis to bear in mind that foreign policy does not drive American electoral politics. The big issue is the economy and jobs, with the war in Iraq a distant second. On that, Americans are evenly divided over who is "winning."

It is a salutary fact that the US-Israel relationship is rock-hard and bipartisan; that both Barack Obama and John McCain describe themselves as friends of Israel. Both party platforms are committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge; both take cognizance of the danger a nuclear-armed Iran would pose, and both favor stronger diplomatic and financial sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Democrats and Republicans also agree that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel.

But where the rubber hits the road is how these generalities are to be transformed operationally. It is worth reiterating that every Israeli government and every US administration have had disagreements. The interests of the Jewish state and those of the United States are not always in harmony.

Still, by urging Barack Obama and John McCain to move from sweeping statements to specifics, the pro-Israel community needs to assess which of the candidates is the better deal.

Iran: Which man best understands that this is not Israel's problem alone; that the mullahs threaten regional stability and even have imperial ambitions beyond the Mideast? Which one can best restore America's standing in the world and spearhead an accelerated drive to get Europe behind biting sanctions against Teheran? And which - if push came to shove - would be more likely to lead the free world against Iran, rather than wait for Israel to do the dirty work?

Peace: Which man best understands that Israel does not need to be "catalyzed" into peace-making, that it is Palestinian intransigence that has left the negotiations stalemated? Which one is likely to stand by Israel as it resists pressure to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines? Support "1967-plus" - meaning the inclusion of strategic settlement blocs in any final peace deal? Call on Palestinian leaders to abandon demands for millions of Arab refugees and their descendants to "return" Israel proper? Which one will tell Syria to negotiate directly with Israel, without preconditions?

Islamism: Which man would defuse, where possible - but face down, where necessary - the Islamist threat to Western civilization? Which one best comprehends that Hizbullah, Hamas and al-Qaida are embarked on a winner-take-all jihad against freedom and tolerance - and that they must be routed?

For America, foremost, but also for all of us whose reality America so significantly influences, it would be well if, on November 3, Barack Obama and John McCain echoed the sentiments of Adlai Stevenson on the eve of Election Day, 1952: "Looking back, I am content. Win or lose, I have told you the truth as I see it. I have said what I meant, and meant what I said."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Sarah Palin shocker

Wasn't it impressive how Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain was able to keep the selection of his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, 44, a secret until an hour before the official announcement last Friday?

Sen. Barack Obama had earlier done a good job of keeping the Democratic vice-presidential choice, Sen. Joseph Biden, a surprise.

It's reassuring that there are still some politicians who can keep a secret.

Less classy, however, was how Palin diverted attention - when she was introduced to the media - from the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, by having the girl hold the governor's new baby. More on this later.

OBAMA'S CHOICE of Biden left me unmoved. Obama should have swallowed his pride and begged Hillary to be his running mate. She would have jumped at the chance - and old Bill could have been shut up with an appointment to the Supreme Court. An Obama-Clinton ticket would have been pretty unbeatable.

Biden first captured my attention in the 1970s because of the publicity he got over a series of partially successful hair transplants - let's just say it's an issue I track.

Since 1988, Biden's been a perennial presidential candidate. He roots for Israel when we're under attack, but probably won't support Israel's quest for safer boundaries. He's long opposed the presence of Jews in Judea and Samaria. And it's unlikely he'll be leading the charge against keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Still, in picking another liberal senator, one with a strong Washington and foreign policy resume, Obama has done himself no harm.

WHEN YOU apply the "above all, do not harm" yardstick to McCain's selection, the results are far less straightforward. Sarah Palin's trajectory runs from her PTA to the Wasilla city council and mayoralty - Wasilla is 50 km. north of Anchorage - to, in December 2006, the governor's mansion.

John McCain reportedly met Palin just once, six months ago, before summoning her last week and offering her the job. She must have made a good first impression.

There's little question that in selecting Palin, McCain was focusing more on his electoral strategy than on what might happen after inauguration day. In that sense he reminds me of Ariel Sharon, who assumed he'd be around to manage politico-security affairs for years to come.

Politically, the choice of Palin seemed smart - at least until the story about Bristol's pregnancy broke.

McCain is distrusted by social conservatives. Palin's credentials as a reform-minded, pro-life, pro-gun, family values, frum Christian - someone who didn't hesitate to tax big oil or challenge the country-club wing of the Republican Party - certainly help shore up this important Republican constituency, which might otherwise have stayed home on election day.

Selecting what everyone assumed was a super-mom with charm - a mother of five, the youngest a Down syndrome child - has its appeal. Her main concerns, like those of most Americans, are domestic. If Biden tries to embarrass her in a debate by asking about the capital of Tajikistan (Dushanbe), he'll only make himself look smug. Most regular Americans don't know it, either.

At first the only controversy surrounding Palin involved her attempt to get her former brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper. She's said her sister's ex threatened to kill their father.

But Bristol's pregnancy generates lots of questions: How can we believe that McCain knew about the 17-year-old's condition yet still selected Palin? My bet is he didn't know. And if he didn't, what does that tell you about the people McCain turns to for advice?

On the other hand, more than a third of births in America are to unmarried mothers. In places like New York City, a majority are out of wedlock. It's not the pregnancy that's such a big deal, it's the sense that Palin is a hypocrite. But maybe that's not the way Christians will see it. After all, didn't Jesus teach: "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone..."

PALIN'S LACK of experience outside Alaska is very troubling. But I'm hoping that if he wins, McCain, 72, is going to be around long enough to mentor her.

In truth, as the Democrats correctly pointed out when Obama was being criticized for lack of experience, the Bush II administration was top-heavy with seasoned national security types: Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney - and they managed to lead America into a pointless war in Iraq.

Speaking of Iraq, let's pray that McCain will do an about-face, decide that the government of Iraq is "capable of governing itself" and honor Baghdad's request for a troop withdrawal by 2011. He'd also be wise to rethink his commitment to keep US troops on the ground until the first Jeffersonian democracy in the Arab world takes shape.

But what if Palin does have to become the commander-in-chief sooner rather than later?

The Obama campaign is dismissive: "John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency." I'm not going to make believe they don't have a point. But for me, the even bigger question is whether Palin has the temperament, judgment and wisdom to be president. She doesn't have much executive experience - Alaska has only 700,000 people. Obama, of course, has no executive experience at all.

It's OK with me if she believes God created the world, and that maybe the threat of global warming is not quite as dire as Al Gore would have us believe. I'm more concerned about her character. Can she keep an open mind, can she analyze situations on a case-by-case basis - or will theology and ideology predetermine her decisions? Can she - for example - accept that abortion is a personal choice and should not be criminalized?

As for the Jewish angle, I'm relieved that McCain passed over two Jewish politicians - Congressman Eric Cantor and Senator Joe Lieberman. He also passed over a Mormon, and you don't see them getting their knickers in a twist. I live in a country where practically the entire government is Jewish - and, let me tell you, I sometimes long for a sympathetic Alaskan or Mormon to set matters right.

Something also tells me that Palin will be a powerful voice for making the US less dependent on Arab oil.

Am I bothered that Palin - like a majority of US Jews - has never been to Israel?

If only visiting here inoculated politicians from leaning on Israel to make dangerous concessions. Sometimes it does work out that way. But while Jimmy Carter could draw a topographical map of Israel blindfold, he's become an apologist for Arab intransigence. Bill Clinton was no stranger here, and yet he helped bring about Oslo.

Still, it's too bad that Palin was not on the radar of any major pro-Israel group, and that we know little about her attitude toward Israel, except that she has a tiny Israeli flag in her office.

OF COURSE, Israel isn't at the top of the agenda for most US Jews either. If it were, they'd be pressing Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin to oppose an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines; to support the inclusion of strategic settlement blocs in any final peace deal. US Jews would be demanding that the candidates denounce Mahmoud Abbas every time he openly demands the "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel proper; and they'd want the candidates to say whether they consider the Jerusalem neighborhoods of East Talpiot, Pisgat Ze'ev and Har Homa to be part of Israel's capital or not.

PALIN reportedly wore a "Pat Buchanan in 2000" button. She claims she really didn't endorse the affable anti-Semite. Whatever. I doubt she has a clue about Buchanan's attitude toward Jews. No one has suggested that her brief encounter with Buchanan is akin to Obama's long-term relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Like I said, most Jews won't be voting on the basis of what's best for Israel. And the last time I checked, Moses hadn't returned to say that Judaism and the liberalism of West Side Manhattan were one and the same. So it's outrageous to discount Palin because, in the words of one Jewish political operative quoted in the Post, "There is no Jew outside of Alaska who has had a relationship with her."

Excuse me? We're going to demonize Palin because she doesn't know from knishes?

Palin's husband, Todd, is part-Eskimo. I'd venture to say that, outside Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, few liberal Jews have met many Eskimos. That's probably because for all these folks' cosmopolitan pretenses, if you don't shop at Zabar's, you don't count. Talk about being parochial.

THE PALIN pregnancy business erupted as I was writing this column - the latest twist in an extraordinary campaign. It's shaping up to be the most fascinating presidential race since I moved to Israel - and stopped voting in US elections.

Protecting Israel's home front

Unlike apartment buildings in New York, London or Melbourne, most homes in Israel come equipped with bomb shelters. Newer dwellings have reinforced concrete "safe rooms," while older buildings rely on communal shelters.

Though they are ubiquitous, Israelis seldom give shelters much thought. Maybe we ought to - given recent statements by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that in any future war, life will not go on as usual. The next conflagration could well "reach the cities and homes of Israeli citizens."

Some, including former defense minister Moshe Arens, argue that such talk moves Israel perilously close to accepting the proposition that nothing can be done to protect the home front. In an interview with the Post, he decried what he sees as the abandonment of Israel's long-standing determination to make the protection of its civilian population the highest imperative.

THE HOME front first came under assault in the 1948 War of Independence, when the Egyptian air force bombed Tel Aviv. Once the IAF came into its own, the skies above were secured and the main threat facing civilians stemmed from terrorism.

Israeli strategists emphasized engaging the enemy on its territory. But, unfortunately, as the instruments of war available to our foes became more varied, shielding the home front wasn't always possible.

In the 1981 Gulf War, 39 crude (in terms of accuracy) SCUD missiles launched by Saddam Hussein's Iraq exploded in metropolitan Tel Aviv, causing damage but relatively little loss of life.

In May 1982 Palestinian terrorists, who then reigned supreme in south Lebanon, unleashed a barrage of 100 Katyushas on northern Galilee. Then, on June 3, Israel's ambassador in Britain, Shlomo Argov, was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt. Israel responded to these Palestinian provocations by launching Operation Peace for Galilee, whose immediate goal was to remove the rocket threat.

On average, two IDF soldiers lost their lives each month in the buffer zone Israel subsequently established in south Lebanon to protect the home front. Yet Israel's new enemy, Hizbullah, nevertheless managed - in April 1996 for example - to send rockets our way. While Israel's tough retaliation helped deliver a period of relative quiet to the civilian population, its stationing of troops on Lebanese soil proved unpopular. It was also a militarily dubious approach, prime minister Ehud Barak claimed.

Barak's abrupt pullout from Lebanon in 2000 allowed Hizbullah to set up shop flush against the border with Israel.

During the Second Lebanon War in summer 2006, Hizbullah's onslaught of 4,000 rockets and mortars reached practically as far south as Netanya, forcing a third of the population into shelters. Forty-three citizens were killed, including seven children. Hundreds were wounded.

In the south, meanwhile, following Israel's 1994 post-Oslo withdrawal from Gaza's Palestinian population centers, terrorists launched thousands of rockets and mortars against Israeli civilians. The situation deteriorated further after disengagement in 2005, when all Israeli citizens and soldiers pulled out of Gaza entirely.

The temporary cease-fire now in place, episodically violated by the Palestinians, is likely to end in grief.

The threats facing Israel's population from enemy projectiles - short- and long-range - are daunting: Iran has recently provided Hizbullah with missiles capable of hitting just about every part of Israel, reports say.

The strategic threats emanating from the arsenals of Iran and Syria, and the more tactical menace posed by Hizbullah and Hamas, demand individual assessment and appropriate counter-measures.

AS RECENTLY enunciated by Olmert, Israel's war strategy is "to bring about a quick victory at minimum cost" without conquering enemy territory yet without showing the kind of restraint the IDF manifested in Lebanon.

For Arens, the failure to conquer and hold enemy territory to put the guns out of range is anathema. He would employ ground action to promptly "eliminate" the "insufferable" threat of rockets in Gaza. He'd do the same with regard to short-range Hizbullah rockets, employing the IAF to handle their longer-range weaponry.

Jews did not return to Zion to sit in shelters, he says.

We urge current policymakers - whatever their chosen strategy - to discard any approach that embraces the irresponsible proposition that Israel's population cannot be protected. The mistakes of the Second Lebanon War must not be repeated, on any front.

Ramadan, 1429

From Granada in Spain and Aubervilliers in France, to Cairo and Jakarta, more than a billion Muslims are this month marking the "handing down" of the Koran. Through daytime fasting, Ramadan, which this year falls September 1-30, is a time to subjugate the body to the spirit.

The advent of Ramadan, which most Westerners would hardly have noticed a decade ago, now merits coverage in such disparate media as the Dallas News and London's Times.

In a passage that Jews who observe communal and personal fast days can identify with, a Muslim contributor to the Times explained that "The late afternoon is always the hardest part of the fast." The Los Angeles Daily News tells its readers that the fast is over only when the "crescent of the moon has been sighted," while The Iowa City Press Citizen empathizes with how difficult it must be to keep the holiday in a place where Muslims are a small minority.

This is also the period when the faithful try to resolve their differences peaceably.

The Pakistani military said it would suspend offensive operations against the Taliban.

As a Ramadan goodwill gesture, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza.

And Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement announced it is committed to negotiating with Hamas rather than fighting - even though the two sides can't even agree on the time of day. Daylight Savings Time in Gaza ended Saturday, but will last for several more days in the West Bank. Also in Gaza, thousands of government employees, among them teachers and medical workers associated with Fatah, are on strike against the Hamas government.

Curiously, this is also a time when some non-Muslims are prone to blame anyone but Muslims for the violence and frustration so prevalent in Islamic civilization.

For instance, an Agence France-Presse dispatch begins: "As most of the rest of the Islamic world welcomes Ramadan... Palestinians in the Gaza Strip warily brace for another holiday under a crippling [Israeli] blockade."

No mention is made of Hamas's adamant refusal to recognize previous Palestinian agreements, end violence against non-combatants, or even accept the right of the Jewish state to exist. There's nothing about Gilad Schalit; or about tons of humanitarian aid Israel has allowed in; or about the 200 Hamas-authorized (and revenue-producing) tunnels between Sinai and Gaza which funnel, among other commodities, arms, missiles and explosives; or about concerted preparations for further aggression. AFP notes only that "Israel has kept the sanctions in place despite a two-month-old truce with Palestinian militants which has mostly halted rocket fire on southern Israel."

DESPITE the fact that the second intifada was launched from the Temple Mount in September 2000, Israel is going to great lengths to accommodate Muslims from Judea and Samaria who wish to attend Friday prayers on the Mount. Married men between 45 and 50 and married women 30-45 can request entry permission, with the expectation that it will be granted. Men over 50 and women over 45 can enter freely.

In addition, for this month the opening hours of checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel proper are being extended. Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons will be allowed to receive special Ramadan packages from their loved ones. And Arab citizens of Israel will be permitted to enter PA-controlled Area A, from where all Israeli citizens are normally barred.

To sensitize Israeli soldiers who come into contact with Palestinian Arab civilians during the holiday, the Civil Administration has distributed leaflets explaining the times, dates and customs of Ramadan: "Soldiers [are] directed to show consideration for the population and instructed to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in populated areas, with an emphasis on the crossing points."

RAMADAN may be an appropriate time for Muslims to reflect on the challenges of faith and modernity. Much of the bloodletting in the Mideast and other Muslim population centers takes place among believers themselves - between those who appear ascendant, who want to return Islam to its most bellicose and imperialistic path, and those who seek coexistence with the "other."

Only when Muslims who aspire to live in harmony with those who do not share their faith are able to triumph over the fanatics will peace between civilizations become a reality.

For this, we too pray.

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