Saturday, August 22, 2009

Yer Doing it Wrong

Mike Huckabee tells Israelis that Evangelical Christians are "so much more supportive of Israel than the American Jewish community." This, of course, is part of a long line of Christians telling Jews they're better at being Jewish than we are. I wonder if it even occurred to Huckabee that if most Jews had a different conception of what "pro-Israel" means than he does, maybe he should, you know, reevaluate his own opinions on the meaning of the term, rather than just assume we suck at life.

Matt Yglesias points out the form Evangelical Christian "support" of Israel takes (I refuse to buy into the frame that they are actually "more" supportive than I am) is simply based off a affinity for violence as a tool for solving problems -- which goes into hyperdrive here since it isn't their people who will be counting the body bags if their apocalyptic vision is enacted. Being Jewish, I consider a bad thing to support policies which have a near-certainty of seeing more Jews killed. Non-Jews may not care quite as much on that score as I do, which is their business, but I think it is perverse that this lack of empathy gets translated to mean "support".

Friday, August 21, 2009

Foreman's Shot

I hate to rain on the ambitions of the tribe, but I am very skeptical of Russian-born, Israeli-raised, America-residing Orthodox Jewish boxer Yuri Foreman's chances in his upcoming title shot again Daniel Santos (32-3-1, 23 KOs). Foreman (27-0, 8 KOs) is an extremely strong technical boxer, but is very cautious and has precisely zero pop. Santos is much cruder, but is the definition of rugged and represents a huge step up for Foreman, with wins over Antonio Margarito, Joachim Alcine, and Yuri Boy Campos (among others). Here's how he beat Alcine to capture the WBA 154 lbs. title they're fighting for:

Foreman's best win, by contrast, is probably a split-decision over Andrey Tsurkan, who is double-tough but extremely limited. He also has a win over welterweight fringe contender Jesus Soto Karass, who jumped up in weight, and looked as good as I've seen him early against Cornelius "K9" Bundrage in his last match before that fight was stopped on a headbutt in the third. None of those guys, however, is anywhere close to Santos' level, or even folks that Santos has beaten.

Foreman's game plan will be the same that it always is -- make the fight boring (he would have had a title shot earlier, but the fight meant to set up the bout -- a 10 round split-decision over Anthony Thompson -- was so horrifyingly dull that the plan was called off). He's certainly very capable of that, but Santos is a come forward, gritty sort that (in the much less talented form of Tsurkan) has troubled Foreman in the past. I haven't heard anything bad about Foreman's chin (and there is no way he's stopping Santos), so it should go to a decision, but I'm predicting a comfortable UD for Santos.

Even still, the allure of combining two of my passions -- Jews and boxing -- is too much. So count down one supporter of Foreman -- even if I do expect him to go down in flames.


The Tax Policy Center defends the viability of its non-partisan model, in language that harkens back to my old, more moderate days. I agree with the argument -- so long as they're serious about it. That is, if one party is controlled by crazy Sarah Palin types, they're going to be pretty consistently and dramatically wrong on policy. A non-partisan think tank doesn't shy away from saying so.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ya'alon Gets Slammed

The entire Israeli governmental apparatus -- starting with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and continuing through the totality of his Likud Party -- have slammed comments by Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon attacking groups like Peace Now and promoting the settlement of all Israel, including the occupied territories.
Netanyahu summoned Ya'alon for clarification immediately following publication, and slammed his vice premier's comments as as "neither acceptable in meaning or in approach."

"[Ya'alon's comments] do not represent the stance of the [Israeli] government," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
Senior Likud officials called Ya'alon's comments "a downright shame" that represented "a bizarre alliance between a group of anti-Zionists who support draft dodging and the refusal to follow orders and a former IDF chief of staff."

The officials called on Ya'alon to apologize for remarks and said that his "race to the extreme right will not strengthen his position in the Likud, no matter what he thinks".

Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to the comments by saying: "Peace Now is an important part of the peace camp and an integral part of the democratic dialogue in Israeli society."

Every country has its embarrassments. In a parliamentary system, regrettably, they sometimes end up in government. The important thing is what the rest of the country does in response.

Kill Keller's Career

Back in February, I blogged on Judge Sharon Keller, a member of the Texas' highest criminal court. Long story short, she refused a request to keep the clerk's office open for 20 minutes to file an appeal for a death row inmate scheduled to be executed that night. The delay was required because a) the Supreme Court had the day before released a decision radically altering the legal terrain upon which the execution rested and b) a computer crash had prevented the lawyers from filing the brief earlier. But Judge Keller wanted to go home on time, so she said no.

I mentioned at the time that I was skeptical Judge Keller would face any repercussions for her outrageous conduct. But perhaps I had too little faith in the Texas system (you'll have to forgive me). The state's Commission on Judicial Conduct is holding a special hearing to address charges she committed "willful or persistent conduct that cast public discredit on the judiciary, among other things." If found guilty, she could be stripped of her status as presiding judge or removed from the court entirely.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anti-Healthcare Thug Shouts "Heil Hitler" at Israeli

An Israeli man talking about the virtues of Israel's national healthcare system faced a woman who yelled "Heil Hitler" to him at a conservative townhall meeting in Nevada.

The man is understandably agitated, more so when the woman (wearing an IDF t-shirt, for crying out loud) lectures him that he should be the "most against President Obama" (I just love it when conservatives lecture Jews on what we should and shouldn't support). Then, when he tells her of his experience with the American health system (namely, an $8,000 bill for a two hour emergency room visit), she makes mock crying noises at him.

ThinkProgress cites this as the clearest example yet of the anti-Semitism burbling beneath the far-right populist revolt the right has been staging these past few weeks (yes, photo-shopping Obama as Hitler qualifies)*. Meanwhile, the conservative Legal Insurrection blog is so embarrassed that he denounces it in the strongest terms immediately assumes it's a set-up. Ah, responsibility.

Meanwhile, YNet reports that the woman considers herself to be a staunch supporter of Israel (but clearly not its health care system), which, as we've long since figured out, means "support for Israel insofar as it advances a American conservative vision of global politics". It's support I can do without.

* Though I think photo-shopping Bush as Hitler is also remarkably distasteful, the fact that over 3/4 of American Jews voted for Obama does make a difference, because it buys into the trope that Jews are "the new Nazis" (which one often sees nowadays in particularly virulent attacks on Israel -- and why those attacks are more anti-Semitic than the same words directed at another, random country). Nazi comparison in general are usually diminishing of Jewish suffering and the genocide we experienced ("having the option to get publicly financed health care is just like what Hitler did!"), and wrong for that reason, no matter who the target was. But certain targets are worse than others because of the heavy implication that Jews are now complicit in the Nazi ideology that murdered us. Jews were victims of Hitler in the past, but now they're backers of Nazism through their continued support of President Obama and the Democratic Party. It's difficult to imagine a message more disrespectful to the Jewish community than that, regardless of who the source.

The Radical Clerics

Anti-peace radicals deserve nothing but scorn:
On Monday, a radical cleric issued a statement rejecting a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, suggesting that one of the two parties involved in the conflict should be made to find a homeland "elsewhere." Strangely, conservatives, who can usually be counted on to condemn such statements, have thus far been silent about this denial of the right of two peoples to two states in the Holy Land.

But perhaps it's not so strange, given that the cleric in question is Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, non-ordained Southern Baptist pastor, and former (and likely future) Republican presidential candidate. Speaking to reporters while on a tour of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, Huckabee insisted that there is no room for a Palestinian state "in the middle of the Jewish homeland" and that the international community should consider giving the Palestinians a state some place else.

Huckabee was (rightfully) met with about 100 Israeli protesters who said that they were "not pawns in your Armageddon". In any event, I oppose anyone who tries to legitimize a one-state solution, regardless of who they imagine will rule over it.

The Ultimate Baller

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) may be my favorite person in the world right now.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Enjoy the Silence

Ha'aretz reports that Israel apparently has frozen settlement construction (Peace Now concurs, saying that projects currently in progress are continuing but no new construction has been approved). They're just not officially saying its frozen. So a tangible victory without the symbolism. Good enough?

Zionist Agents

CQ has a long article on the rise of J Street, the progressive pro-Israel lobby which is seeking to build support for a muscular pro-peace agenda on the Hill. It's an interesting read, but my favorite part came here:
An AIPAC spokesman declined to comment on the record about J Street. But a person familiar with the organization’s thinking slams J Street for prescribing policy solutions, such as a settlement freeze.

“AIPAC does not take an ideological position on this stuff,” he said, adding that, by contrast, J Street, in lobbying for policy prescriptions for Israel to follow, is effectively saying, “We know better.” That is a far cry from AIPAC’s approach, which he described as building a close relationship between the United States and Israel, but respecting Israel’s choices as a democracy.

He also portrays J Street as a tool of the Israeli left, which is trying to accomplish in the United States what it couldn’t get done in Israel.

“They’ve gone offshore,” he said. “They couldn’t succeed inside the democratic framework of Israel, so they’re trying to get Americans to push their ideas and accomplish what they couldn’t get done inside their own country.”

Is everyone a Zionist agent? My God, the network is everywhere!

This is the Test

There is a form of defending criticisms of Israel from the charge that they are anti-Semitic that seeks to hermetically sealed off from each other. Under this hypothesis, criticism of Israel, so long as it is expressed as criticism of Israel, cannot be anti-Semitic no matter what form it takes. The idea seems to be that since Israel and Jews are distinct (true), it isn't targeting Jews qua Jews, and thus it is insulated. I admit I never found it persuasive in the first place, because I think prejudicial treatment of an entity affiliated with a marginalized community implicates prejudice towards that group (particularly, though not necessarily, when expressed through tropes that are typical associated with racism towards said group). But apparently some people do.

And now we have an excellent test case. A Swedish newspaper is actually accusing the IDF of harvesting Palestinians for their organs, a new twist on the classic blood libel that has rival papers calling them out for anti-Semitism.
But the liberal Sydsvenskan - southern Sweden's major daily - had harsh criticism for the rival paper, running an opinion piece under the headline "Antisemitbladet" (a play on the name Aftonbladet [the paper which published the original accusation]).

"We have heard the story before, in one form or the other. It follows the traditional pattern of conspiracy theory: a great number of loose threads that the theorist tempts the reader to tie into a neat knot without having been provided with any proven connection whatsoever," writes leading columnist Mats Skogkär of Sydsvenskan.

"Whispers in the dark. Anonymous sources. Rumors. That is all it takes. After all we all know what they [the IDF] are like, don't we: inhuman, hardened. Capable of anything," the opinion piece says. "Now all that remains is the defense, equally predictable: 'Anti-Semitism' No, no, just criticism of Israel."

Are they right? I think the paper is engaging in pretty classic anti-Semitic conspiracy mongering. But perhaps this, too, is just "criticism of Israel"?

I suppose there is an out here -- the article ties the accusations to the recent arrest of an Orthodox Jew in New Jersey accused of brokering a kidney sale. So it's tied to Jews, not just Israel. And the cognitive dissonance survives another day.

UPDATE: Apparently the author of the piece has been walking down this road for quite some time now.

UPDATE #2: But of course he's "no anti-Semite". They never are.

UPDATE #3: A must-read post by Barry Rubin.

Monday, August 17, 2009

IDF Responds on Cast Lead

The IDF has released its own brief regarding the factual and legal issues raised by Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. I've read nothing but the executive summary; I thus neither endorse nor refute any specific claims regarding factual events or legal theories detailed therein.

But as is often the case with my blogging, I wanted to flag a few things that caught my eye (generally from other folks excerpting from the materials). First was this summary of the relevant standard regarding civilian damage and death in war situations:
[C]ivilian deaths and damage to property, even when considerable, do not necessarily mean that violations of international law as such have occurred. In particular, the principles of distinction and proportionality are only violated when there is an intention to target civilians or to target military objectives with the knowledge that it would cause harm to civilians that is excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.(I.10)

To my knowledge, this is an accurate synopsis of the doctrine; however, I welcome correction as to its doctrinal status (that is, not whether this is a good standard, but whether it is the actual, applied standard).

Second, apropos this post, we have a passage worthy of repetition:
The final core proposition that runs through this Paper is that, while the principles of customary international law may be “basic” and can be simply stated, they nevertheless must be applied with analytical rigor. Reports by non-governmental organisations and rapporteurs and committees acting under mandates from international organisations too often jump from reporting tragic incidents involving the death or injury of civilians during armed combat, to the assertion of sweeping conclusions within a matter of hours, days or weeks, that the reported casualties ipso facto demonstrate violations of international law, or even “war crimes.”[n. 14] Often, these leaps of logic bypass the most basic steps, such as identification of the specific legal obligation at issue and explanation of how it was violated. The depth of feeling in the face of civilian losses is understandable, but it does not excuse this rush to judgment. It is a fundamental precept of the rule of law that any legal inquiry about events relating to armed conflicts cannot assume the conclusion, particularly a conclusion that — as shown below — proper application of the law does not sustain.[n. 15]

14 See, e.g., Report, Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction, Amnesty International (29 June 2009); Report of the Independent Fact Finding Committee on Gaza, No Safe Place, League of Arab States (30 April 2009); Report, Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza, Human Rights Watch (March 2009).

15 Cf. Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 14 June 2000 (hereafter “NATO Bombings, Final Report to the ICTY Prosecutor”), ¶ 51, available at (“[m]uch of the material submitted to the OTP consisted of reports that civilians had been killed, often inviting the conclusion to be drawn that crimes had therefore been committed.” Yet in truth, “[c]ollateral casualties to civilians and collateral damage to civilian objects can occur for a variety of reasons.”). (III.34)

That was found from this analysis; the first excerpt (and the document itself) was found from Harry's Place.

Again, this doesn't mean that no violations occurred -- as the brief itself is quite clear enough, investigations (including criminal ones) are ongoing, and it would not surprise me in the slightest if some yielded prosecutions (or should do so). Nor am I suggesting we take every assertion of fact at face value. It should be taken for what it is: a very well researched, calmly argued, adversarial brief. That's not Divine Word. But it's not illegitimate babble either.

Research Assistance

A new study indicates that 90% of U.S. bills carry on them traces of cocaine. $1 bills are less likely than other denominations to be contaminated, leading the head researcher to make this observation:
"Probably $1 is a little too less to purchase cocaine," [U-Mass Dartmouth Prof. Yuegang] Zuo said "I don't know exactly [why]. It's an educated guess."

Not that ... I ... would know anything about that. I'm just guessing. Who knows why? Who says I'm paranoid!?!

Stork Tales

I wrote my spin on the last big flurry of commentary aimed at discrediting Human Rights Watch here. My take was that I don't have a problem fundraising amongst civilians in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, but I'm not sure that one should market based off the putatively secondary clashes with the "Israel Lobby" as opposed to the human rights violations themselves. Moreover, I agreed with Jeffrey Goldberg that there was something disconcerting about the way the "Israel Lobby" was being referred to in the part of the world where the discourse surrounding it is less "group with outsized influence" and more "Zionist puppet-masters controlling the world". But by and large, I thought the controversy was overblown.

I am more concerned about this expose (via) of Joe Stork, a top official in the Mideast bureau of HRW. Stork opposes "Zionism" writ large, wanted to abolish Israel, attacked "Academic neutrality" as "deceitful", and wrote of the Munich massacre:
“Munich and similar actions cannot create or substitute for a mass revolutionary movement,” the statement said, “But we should comprehend the achievement of the Munich action…It has provided an important boost in morale among Palestinians in the camps.”

This is completely antithetical to the notion of human rights and the impartiality that HRW (claims it) strives to achieve.* Even if Stork has moderated his views (and the indication is that he has, but only from extreme to marginal), this is the sort of history that at the very least should have raised some serious red flags to hiring him. I have difficulty believing that there is not anybody in the whole wide world who a) is qualified to do human rights analysis and b) isn't loaded with this sort of baggage.

HRW's role is not to pick fights and flaunt its independence from the pro-Israel lobby. It's job is to be a fair and objective advocate for human rights the world over (including Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East). Obviously sometimes the latter may involve actions resembling the former. But they are distinct, and Ms. Whitson's statements in Saudi Arabia, and the hiring of Mr. Stork, are signs that it might be mistaking them in terms of equivalency and primacy. And that would be something worth worrying about.

* UPDATE: David Bernstein contextualizes the statement on the Munich massacre (which was a collective editorial by his organization). He notes that the statement did say it was unjustified, though it engages in several apologetics for it and reiterates that, naturally, Israel is worse.

Davis Execution Stayed

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Supreme Court has stayed Troy Davis' execution to allow him to present new evidence (over a dissent by Scalia and Thomas). I've written about the case here -- virtually all of the witnesses have since recanted, alleging the police intimidating them into saying what they wanted to hear (namely, that Davis is guilty). The prosecutors, for their part, say the high levels of recantations are themselves suspicious and raise the specter of guilt-tripping by groups like Amnesty International. It's an argument I do not find compelling, and this is a textbook case of why the death penalty just isn't working in American society.

UPDATE: Judging by these posts from Orin Kerr and Kent Scheidegger, the Court's move here was unusual bordering on unprecedented. My understanding was that "actual innocence", on its own, has never before been considered a valid ground for Habeas review -- there needs to be some sort of irregularity at trial to hang the hat on. Here, though, we might be seeing a rather significant turn in the Court's jurisprudence. Stay tuned.

Dancing with the Sludge

Tom "Snapping Turtle" DeLay, former Texas Representative, former House Majority Leader, and almost definitely current jerk, has signed on to the latest season of Dancing with the Stars.

What's Next

Interviews have started -- for obvious professional reasons, I won't be talking about them any more. What matters from your perspective is that I have solid internet at the interview site. So hopefully, I should be able to get some blogging done during the down times.