Friday, May 27, 2011

Oh Hi

Sorry I wasn't blogging today. I was too busy finishing my last law school final exam ever.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conflicting Data

Reading about a Kadima voter who was exceptionally pleased with Bibi's speech to Congress, I was demoralized but counseled myself with "the plural of anecdote is not data." Unfortunately, new polls in Israel show Bibi's support soaring, with his approvals at 51% (they were, uh, pretty bad before).

On the other hand, a different poll found that 57% of Israelis believing that Israel should have supported President Obama's initiative. I'm not sure how to reconcile these two data points. The best answer I can give is that Bibi locked down his right flank. Except for the radical wings of the settler movement, for whom even contemplating a Palestinian state is heresy, there was little in what Netanyahu said that wouldn't be very appealing to, say, a Yisrael Beiteinu voter.

Still -- these numbers in tandem are very strange.

Joe Walsh is not a Friend of Israel (or Jews)

Chalk up another installment in my ongoing series: Christians lecturing Jews on why they're bad at being Jewish.
President Obama has effectively abandoned the 50-year-old U.S. alliance with Israel.

So, where is the outrage from the American Jewish community? Don’t they understand that the president is not pro-Israel? Aren’t they troubled by his history of pro-Palestinian writings, speeches, and actions? The short answer is that most American Jews are liberal, and most American liberals side with the Palestinians and vague notions of “peace” instead of with Israel’s wellbeing and security. Like the president, the U.N., and most of Europe, too many American Jews aren’t as pro-Israel as they should be and too many share his belief that the Palestinians are victims of Israeli occupation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I've said before, if you're a Christian legislator who observes that most American Jews have a particular framework by which they view the conflict -- one in which ending the occupation and getting a deal signed are crucial to maintaining Israel's long-term security and status as a Jewish democratic homeland -- one reaction is to say "hey, maybe that perspective has something to it!" But Walsh, of course, prefers to lecture Jews for being insane.

As I argued yesterday, it is people like Rep. Walsh who aren't "pro-Israel" in any meaningful sense. Read his piece -- I defy you to find a workable strategy for securing Israel that carries with it any more sophistication than a Michael Bay movie. There is no indication at all that he has any understanding of Israeli political dynamics, Palestinian political dynamics, the questions which are the major sticking points in negotiations, or even a basic framework of justice that could provide a future framework for piece. It's just macho bluster that could be put in bullet point form. It's embarrassing to read.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Winning (Losing) Strategy

I've had various people who claim to care about Israel say that "time is on Israel's side." One person I know said that Israel should keep building settlements until Palestinians agree to a deal, as a "price" for not negotiating.

These people are crazy. They are literally insane, and their delusions will see Israel destroyed. Jeffrey Goldberg makes the case that I've been making for months now -- the only thing Palestinians have to do to win everything is wait:
If I were a Palestinian (and, should there be any confusion on this point, I am not), and if I were the sort of Palestinian who believed that Israel should be wiped off the map, then I would be quite pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance before Congress this morning.

I would applaud Netanyahu for including no bold initiatives that would have suggested to the world that Israel is alive to the threat posed by its seemingly eternal occupation of the West Bank.

In fact, I would make support for Netanyahu the foundation stone of my patient campaign to dismantle the world’s only majority-Jewish country. I would support not only Netanyahu, but the far-right parties of his governing coalition, the parties that seem uninterested in democracy and obsessed with planting more Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

The settlements would have my wholehearted backing. I would encourage my brother Palestinians to help build settlements at a brisk pace. I would ask the Israelis to build an even more intricate system of bypass roads on the West Bank that would connect Jewish settlements to one another and to Israel proper. I would ask my ostensible allies among the Arab nations to provide interest-free mortgages to Israelis in Tel Aviv, so they could move out to the settlements for some fresh air and a little more yard. And, while I was at it, I would insist that my leaders abort their campaign for United Nations recognition of an independent state of Palestine.

My goal: To hopelessly, ineradicably, entangle the two peoples wedged between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Then I would wait as the Israeli population on the West Bank grew, and grew some more. I would wait until 2017, 50 years after the Six Day War, which ended with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I would go before the UN and say the following:

"We, the Palestinians, no longer seek a homeland of our own. We recognize the permanence of Israeli occupation, the dominion of the Israeli military and the power of the Israeli economy. So we would like to join them. In the 50 years since the beginning of the ’temporary’ occupation, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis build communities near our own communities. We admire what they have built, and the system of laws that governs their lives. Unlike them, many of us live under Israeli military law but have no say in choosing the Israelis who rule us. So we no longer want statehood. We simply want the vote."

And this, of course, would bring about the end of Israel.

That's it. Wait until you've got 50.1% of the population, and then just say "all I want is to vote. That's all." Game over, thanks for playing. This "Jewish, democratic homeland" thing was nice while it lasted.

As Adam Serwer observes, the label "pro-Israel" should be reserved only for those who recognize the critical, existential threat Israel faces from this demographic time bomb. Folks with a lot of bluster but little knowledge don't count. Certainly, the National Union thugs who promise to resist the creation of any Palestinian state don't count (if I had it my way, these people would literally be excommunicated from Judaism). And craven leaders better at shoring up short-term political coalitions than taking the bold steps Israel needs to survive? They don't count in my book either.

Palestinians have time on their side. They have the UN on their side. They have the Arab World on their side. They have growing chunks of the international community on their side. We can whine and moan about how unfair it all is, or we can suck it up and realize that we're living in an unfair world, and deal accordingly.

Not a "Right of Return" Question, or, Josh Rogin Needs To Read Better

Foreign Policy Magazine blogger Josh Rogin has a piece up announcing "White House: Jewish 'refugees' right of return should be 'on the table'".

I read that, and I was rather shocked. "Right of return" for Jewish refugees? That would be rather bizarre. While there were a little less than a million Jewish refugees forced to flee from their homes in Arab countries during the time surrounding the War of Independence, they've never asked for or desired a "right of return". Rather, there demand has always been for monetary compensation for the property they lost (or that was expropriated from them). This, of course, parallels the generally proposed restitution for Palestinian refugees (that it should come via monetary compensation, not a "right of return" to Israel proper). As JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) puts it, the Jewish refugees and their descendants don't want to return back to Libya or Yemen or Iraq. "They want the international community to recognize their plight and integrate full compensation of their lost property as part of a final Middle East peace agreement."

So again, it would be very strange and very interesting for someone to ask about a Jewish "right of return", and it would be stranger still for an Obama administration official to say it is "on the table".

Alas, as it turns out, the simplest explanation appears to be the right one here--Rogin just made the entire "right of return" thing up. Here's the "full exchange", as relayed by Mr. Rogin:
"While Palestinian refugees have concerns that are understandable and need to be dealt with in the peace process, there was no reference in the president's speech to the approximately one million Jewish refugees that emerged from the same Middle East conflict. I'm talking about Jews from Arab and Muslim countries who were forced out of their homelands where they had lived for centuries," said B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield.

"The international community has never acknowledged their rights and their grievances," Fusfield continued, "[C]an the U.S., as the peace process move forward, play a role in advancing the rights and concerns of these Jewish refugee groups and help ensure that as refugee issues are dealt with... that the focus will not just be on one refugee group but on all refugee groups emerging from the same conflict?"

[Obama administration official Ben] Rhodes responded: "Certainly the U.S., in our role, is attuned to all the concerns on both sides to include interests among Israel and others in Jewish refugees, so it is something that would come up in the context of negotiations. And certainly, we believe that ultimately the parties themselves should negotiate this. We can introduce ideas, we can introduce parameters for potential negotiation."

What's missing in that passage? Any mention of a "right of return". It's just not there, Rogin made it up out of whole cloth. I'm not sure why; possibly because he didn't realize there are other ways of "advancing the rights and concerns of these Jewish refugee groups" other than via a "right of return"? That would be weird -- it's not like monetary compensation for historical wrongs is some sort of novel and outlandish proposition. It's frankly baffling how this error was made -- and again, this wasn't a single slip -- he put it in the item title. But whatever -- however it is Rogin went astray, the point is, his post is flatly and flagrantly inaccurate, and needs to be corrected.

I emailed Mr. Rogin informing him of his error earlier today, but I haven't heard back (and he hasn't issued a correction). And in the meantime, since folks on the internet are already making hay over how this is an embarrassment for the Obama administration, it's important to push back against this egregious journalistic error now. Let's be clear -- if an Obama administration official had said this, it would be a grievous mistake. But he didn't say that. This was a case of a journalist completely blowing it, and other folks running with it.

And, as someone who has written before about the history of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their (typically ignored) claims for restitution, I think it's a terrible thing that -- when a Jewish official (here, from B'nai Brith) finally got that question on the table, and an administration official responded positively to it -- the issue immediately got misrepresented and contorted in a way that only makes it less likely that these people will ever see a dime. Folks like Noah Pollak, who were smugly talking about how there "are no Jewish refugees today", effectively dismiss these people's claims for historical compensation, and betray ignorance of Israel's internal political dynamics, where such restitution is a must-have for certain political parties (notably, Shas) to sign onto any peace deal.

UPDATE: Here was my stab at delineating a just solution for all refugees, a couple years back.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Exam Time Roundup

It'd feel more like "these are my very last exams!" if I wasn't already at work studying for the bar exam.

* * *

Are social conservatives seeing the writing on the wall with respect to gay marriage? The youth is just gone on this issue for them.

Congrats to newly elected Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY), who scored a massive upset (by a surprisingly comfy margin, too) to flip a historically Republican seat in upstate New York. The race was widely seen as only being competitive because of the Ryan Budget, which proved to be massively unpopular.

Remembering that the plural of anecdote is not data, it is still incredibly demoralizing to hear that Bibi's speech to Congress might have flipped a Kadima voter over to Likud.

Remembering that the plural of anecdote is not data, Bibi's speech seems to have caused Kevin Drum to reevaluate is previously staunchly pro-Israel position.

Putting the above to bits together, we manage to have a situation where both Americans and Israelis are moving in the wrong direction off this. As Ori Nir put it: "Good speech for Netanyahu; Horrible speech for Israel."

Eve Gerrard says the UCU is beyond salvation, after its latest ploy to abandon Europe's commonly-accepted definition of anti-Semitism because it was hitting a little too close to home (actually combating anti-Semitism in the union, of course, appears entirely off the table).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Big BLACK Convicts

Jesus, Scalia, at least try to hide it:
Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.
[...]
[Justice Scalia, dissenting] added that the prisoners receiving inadequate care were not necessarily the ones who would be released early.

“Most of them will not be prisoners with medical conditions or severe mental illness,” Justice Scalia wrote, “and many will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.”

Not to be left out, Justice Alito wrote his own dissent warning Californians that "The three-judge court ordered the premature release of approximately 46,000 criminals — the equivalent of three Army divisions." Ladies and gentleman, Rodney King is back -- and he's brought enough friends to fill the I Corps.

Yes, Californians, the Supreme Court has just unleashed an army of huge, muscular, probably dark-skinned convicts, coming to rape you and your family. Probably while you're sleeping (well, they'll wake you up to make you watch).

I don't mean to demean the problem of criminals being released before their sentences are up -- though California's three-strikes rules mean that some of these inmates are serving life sentences to ensure they never steal a set of clubs again. One way to avoid the hellscape of violent criminals running free is for California to release non-violent offenders, like our aforementioned golf-club thief.

But the bigger point is that violating the constitution has consequences. It means criminals go free, for instance. It means local budgets have to pay settlements to persons abused -- money that comes out of police, education, and sanitation budgets. It's a bad thing to violate the constitution. And if California wants to maintain the hyper-carceral state its been building up, well, it either has to pony up the dough for it, or it's going to have to settle for letting folks loose some of the time. Because maintaining a prison system with inhumane conditions isn't the American way.

PS: Anybody remember The Boondocks parody reality TV show "Big Bruthah"? Which White guy can last the longest living in a house filled with big BLACK convicts? God, I miss that comic strip.

Polling Israelis on '67 Borders

972 Magazine collects an amalgam of polling asking Israelis about their support for withdrawal to 1967 lines (with agreed-upon swaps). Standing alone, withdrawal is close to break-even amongst Israeli Jews (add in Israeli Arabs, who of course also have a vote, seems to push the numbers up by about 2-3%). But that number rises if withdrawal is considered part of an all-encompassing peace agreement.

What do we glean from this? One answer is that, like Bibi, Israeli voters do view '67 borders as a concession -- one they're willing to make, but a substantial concession all the same, and one they expect other things in return for. Another answer, which I think is closer to the mark, is that the Israeli public is very leery about withdrawal actually accomplishing anything. The lesson of Gaza and Lebanon were that withdrawal is greeted not by peace but by rockets, rockets, and more rockets. What both those withdrawals have in common is that they did not come as part of any larger agreement -- Hamas obviously still doesn't recognize Israel, and Lebanon has been rather pugnacious in announcing it will be "last Arab country to make peace with Israel." (Incidentally, the comments to this post on how its Palestinian policy has affected the country's internal dynamics are really interesting).

Obviously, one could say a deal is worth no more than the paper it's written on. But even paper is worth more than no deal at all. At the very least, there is a considerable difference between making a deal and reneging on it, versus explicitly holding out that no deal had ever occurred.

In any event, I still am a little baffled as to what other basis for borders there could possibly be aside from 1967 lines. So I'd be shocked if any future agreement doesn't end up tracking the Green Line relatively closely.

Marital Troubles

United States Representative Kurt Schrader, of Oregon's 5th congressional district, is getting a divorce. Why is this interesting? Because Schrader is the fifth straight representative of the OR-5 to divorce while in office. How many representatives has the Oregon 5th possessed since its creation? Five.

So the next time you see a politician bowing out of a race in that district for "family reasons", give it a little more credence than normal.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cain's Palin Moment: "Right of Return" Edition

Hey, remember when Sarah Palin had no earthly idea what the "Bush Doctrine" was? Herman Cain must be having flashbacks, as he just utterly bombed a question regarding Palestinian "right of return" to Israel.
But this morning on Fox News Sunday, Cain showed just how limited his understanding is of the Middle East peace process. Asked by host Chris Wallace what he would be prepared to offer Palestinians as part of a deal, Cain responded, “Nothing.” Just moments later, Cain was dazed and confused when Wallace referenced the issue of “right of return” of Palestinian refugees:

WALLACE: Where do you stand on the right of return?

CAIN: The right of return? [pause] The right of return?

WALLACE: The Palestinian right of return.

CAIN: That’s something that should be negotiated. That’s something that should be negotiated.

Wallace then helpfully offered Cain a definition of “right of return” — “Palestinian refugees, the people that were kicked out of the land in 1948, should be able to or should have any right to return to Israeli land.” Cain again showed his lack of knowledge, veering completely off his pro-Likud script. “I don’t think they have a big problem with people returning,” Cain said.

This is a guy who was just talking a big game about Obama throwing Israel under a bus. And yet here he is, blundering across the biggest Israeli red line there is.

Now, obviously this isn't a thought-out position from Mr. Cain. He was clearly ignorant about the question, took a wild stab at the answer, and happened to miss completely. So let me make an easy cheat-sheet for the political novice:

(1) Two-state solution, roughly tracking 1967 lines with mutually-agreed upon land swaps = the basic template of a negotiated solution for the past several decades.

(2) Palestinian right of return to Israel proper = the one thing no Israeli government will ever, ever accept, because it means the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

But don't sweat it. It takes practice to pretend to care about Israel and Jews in an effective and persuasive manner. I'm sure you'll improve with time.