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 12, 2008
WRAP: Pakistan/Incident in Paris/Sept. 11 (+7)/Oi, Jereusalem
WELCOME TO MY BLOG - I am a Jerusalem-based journalist and political scientist and a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report focusing on the Jewish World. I’m a former editorial page editor at The Jerusalem Post and was founding managing editor of Jewish Ideas Daily. Over the years I’ve written for Newsmax, Israel My Glory and a range of other outlets. I was also editorial director for www.balfour100.com and recently completed a book on the Balfour Declaration (now being edited at the publisher’s). Before making aliya in 1997, I worked in NYC government and as an adjunct assistant professor of political science. My memoir about growing up on the Lower East Side (well, it is more than about that) The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness is available via online booksellers, Amazon kindle, and (select) in brick and mortar bookshops. I enjoy the chance to brief individuals and groups visiting Israel on the conflict and Jewish civilizational issues. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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