Saturday, January 31, 2009

"David: The Hell With Your Star"

In South Africa, government officials openly join in on rampant anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering. In Venezuela, the government is barely slightly less overt, but the results have been far worse.
Armed men forced their way into a Caracas synagogue, defacing its administrative offices with anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalizing an interior room where the Torah is kept, officials said.
Vandals smashed items in an interior room where the Torah is kept, officials said.

About 15 men forced their way into the Mariperez Synagogue in Venezuela's capital about 10 p.m. Friday, staying until about 3 a.m., police said. They tied up a security guard at the synagogue before vandalizing the rooms.

Graffiti left at the scene included the phrases "Damn the Jews," "Jews out of here" and "Israel assassins." The men also left behind a picture of a devil, authorities said.

The Jewish community in Venezuela has been very clear: it blames the government under socialist President Hugo Chavez for inciting this type of violence:
The president of the Jewish community in Venezuela on Monday accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of promoting anti-Semitism and giving the phenomenon legitimacy.

Speaking at the World Jewish Congress conference in Jerusalem on Monday, Abraham Levy Ben Shimol said "you probably hear of many anti-Semitic incidents, but where we live, the anti-Semitism is sanctioned; it comes from the president, through the government, and into the media. Since the government is very involved in the day-to-day lives of its constituents, its influence is much more effective."

Chavez had previously demanded with regard to Gaza that Venezuelan Jews speak "out against this barbarism. Do it. Don’t you strongly reject all acts of persecution?" Chavez has been at the forefront of the most hyperbolic and vitriolic condemnations of Israel, for example, claiming that Israel's conduct in the 2006 Lebanon war was worse than Hitler (for the record, the civilian casualty count for that conflict was roughly 1,200 Lebanese citizens killed, 4,400 injured. Israeli civilian casualties were 44 dead, 1,500 injured).

Meanwhile, pro-government forces in the South American nation have their own ideas on how to show "solidarity" with the Palestinians:
- publicly denouncing by name, the members of powerful Jewish groups in Venezuela, names of their companies and businesses in order to boycott them

- avoiding products, stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and where Kosher food is sold which either belongs or has links with 'Zionist Jews'

- questioning the existence of Jewish educational institutions

- shouting pro-Palestine and anti-Israel slogans at Jews on the street

- inviting anti-Zionist Jews living in Venezuela to publicly express their disassociation from 'Zionist war crimes' and the imposition of artificial State of Israel on Palestine

- nationalization of companies, confiscation of properties of those Jews who support the Zionist atrocities of the Nazi-State of Israel, and donate this property to the Palestinian victims of today’s Holocaust

- sending all type of aid to Palestinians including weapons

- hacking pro-Zionist websites including governments or institutions that have relations with Israel

- organizing an international conference about the creation of the theocratic - Nazi state of Israel as a genocidal European colony, and about the myths and facts of the alleged Jewish Holocaust or Holohoax (a blackmailing industry)

- support the dissolution of the artificial State of Israel

Holocaust-denial, at this stage, is simply par for the course. Joyfully arming groups like Hamas, too, seems to satisfy armchair revolutionaries who like the idea of violent conflict so long as other people are the ones shooting and receiving the bullets. The call to start screaming at Jews whenever they dare leave their homes, on the other hand, is a new one on me and represents significant escalation.

Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, but this sort of criticism is, because when anti-Israel criticism reaches the degree of fevered pitch as it has under Chavez, it ceases to represent fair-minded commentary on achieving justice for the inhabitants of Israel and Palestine and adopts a primary function of actively inciting violence and discrimination against Jews worldwide. Hiding behind the banners of "solidarity" or "resistance" or anything else is simply not a defense, nor is crying about how the neurotic Jews are "playing the anti-Semitism card" by preventing people from equating millions of Jews with the Nazis who would have seen them slaughtered.

One cannot say the things Chavez says and then be surprised or defensive when folks start physically assaulting Jews. There is an obligation on those who consider themselves allies of the Palestinians to restrain this sort of rhetoric because it indisputably leads to violence and it indisputably contributes to Jewish oppression. Moreover, the degree to which it is disassociated from any sort of reality concerning Israel/Palestine renders its claims to be "political speech" or "advocacy" virtually null. There is no chance that any informed, progressive-minded policymaker is going to make decisions based on the idea that Israel is a "Nazi state" embarking on a modern "holocaust", and the speakers have to know this. The only purpose for engaging in this sort of rhetoric is to stir up hate -- to render the opposition beyond the pale of humanity, and thus worthy of hatred, discrimination, violence, and ultimately, murder.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Into The Weekend

I have a ton of work to do this weekend (mostly so I can have a free next weekend with a certain special someone in Minnesota). So ... roundup time.

Ha'aretz reveals an Israeli government report detailing the extent to which the settlement enterprise (even the "legal" ones) has been carried out without government permission and on private Palestinian land. Let's be clear: Settlements on open territory? Political problem. Settlements on private Palestinian property? Theft. Time to leave.

Al-Qaeda gains support in Palestine, drawing on rifts within the radical community over Hamas' acceptance of a cease-fire. Hamas claims that al-Qaeda affiliated groups are actually Fatah fronts, but I'm skeptical -- I just think Hamas doesn't want to get flanked on its right. Just remember: It can always get worse.

Former TNR intern Dayo Olopade comments on Samantha Power's appointment as an Obama foreign policy aide. She notes that government has not exactly been the protagonist in Power's books on human rights. Will she break through the quagmire, or be silenced by the bureaucracy? I don't know -- but I wish her luck.

If you want the Davos panel where Shimon Peres royally pissed off the Prime Minister of Turkey, Jeffrey Goldberg has the video (Peres starts at around minute 39).

Another rabbi prominent for his promotion of Catholic/Jewish dialogue flames the Vatican. I really wonder if the Catholic church realizes just how incredibly pissed off the Jewish community is right now.

Yes America, race still matters (I don't care what cartoons you read).

Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about having a "complicated" family.

2,000 Words

The story of the respective passages of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, as told in two pictures.

Steele to Head RNC

Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele has won the race to become the new head of the RNC, becoming the first African-American to lead the Republican Party.

First things first. Congratulations to Mr. Steele, and to the GOP -- this is a historic day for both them.

I also think that this is a good choice for the Republican Party -- which is to say, a bad choice for me, because I'm a Democrat. Mr. Steele is a talented politician. Getting crushed in a Maryland Senate race, one of the bluest states in the union, during a Democratic wave year doesn't change that.

Mr. Steele also has talked aggressively about increasing the party's appeal to non-Whites and women. And when I say aggressive, I mean it's more than just lip service -- he's saying that Republicans have to take these people and their policy commitments seriously, rather than just paying lip service to the ideal of "inclusion" at a cocktail party. Finally, Steele has a reputation as a moderate in his party. Indeed, it almost derailed his campaign for chairmanship. We all know that in primaries one cuts to the base, then tacks back to the middle once the deal is sealed. It will be interesting to see how Mr. Steele develops his approach towards the Democratic majority now that he is in the driver's seat.

Cutting Loose

Israel's chief rabbinate cuts ties with the Vatican (this is separate from Israel's diplomatic ties with the Vatican, which remain unchanged). It's unfortunate, but the Catholic Church's decision that bringing a fringe group of conservatives back into the flock was so important so as to require diluting its position against anti-Semitism is one that needed response. I'm glad, frankly, that Israel's Jewish community is standing up for itself in this respect.

I'm not going to pretend the Jewish community is powerful enough to change the Catholic Church's decision, or even really influence it. But we are powerful enough so that we can ignore them if they demonstrate they don't give a fig about what we think.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Power Has Returned

Pulitzer Prize winning author, anti-genocide activist, scholar, and international affairs expert Samantha Power will be entering the Obama administration as a top foreign policy aide.

This is fabulous news. When Power resigned from the Obama campaign after calling Hillary Clinton a "monster", I said it was the right thing to do. One simply can't tolerate that sort of language, particularly directed at a distinguished public servant like then-Sen. Clinton.

But I also hoped that she would rehabilitate herself and return to the fold. Samantha Power is simply too bright and too important a figure to be kept on the sidelines. Her and the now-Secretary of State have apparently buried the hatchet, and America is far, far better with both of these two incredibly impressive women at the forefront of our foreign policy in this critical time.

The Giant Speaks

"Conservative giant" Rush Limbaugh gives his idea for a bipartisan stimulus plan:
Limbaugh, who has sharply rebuked the president's more than $800 billion stimulus plan and admonished congressional Republicans for not doing more to stop it, says Obama should make a "genuine compromise" with Republicans wary the bill doesn't include enough taxes and calls for too much government spending.

Instead, Limbaugh proposes that 54 percent — about the percentage of the vote Obama won in the presidential election — of the stimulus bill go to the infrastructure spending the Democrats are proposing while the remaining 46 percent go to the tax cuts pushed by Republicans.

“In this new era of responsibility, let's use elements of both the Keynesians and the supply-siders to responsibly determine which theory best stimulates our economy — and if elements of both work, so much the better,” Limbaugh told listeners Monday. “…The American people are made up of Republicans, Democrats, independents, moderates, whatever they want to call themselves, but our economy doesn't know the difference. Our economy should not be focused on whether or not one party gets reelected. This is about jobs now.”

Look, I can be a sucker for bipartisanship and cooperation. But this has to be taking it to a new level of stupidity such that even I'm not moved (to be fair, this might be Limbaugh's first effort at pretending to want a compromise, so....). The popular vote percentages that Obama and McCain received are not even remotely connected to the optimal mixture of tax cuts and infrastructure spending that should go into a stimulus package. It's at such a high reading on the stunt-o-meter it's breaking the machine.

And of course, the idea that some tax cuts might be a useful part of the stimulus is not indifferent to what types of tax relief are likely to be most optimal -- Republicans seem, to a person, solely in favor of cuts to the wealthy that will likely have the least positive impact on the economy. I'm not opposed to cutting taxes per se, but the cuts have to be targeted so as to put cash in the wallets of working class Americans -- and that ain't the estate tax or the capital gains tax.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Known Knowns, and The Known Unknowns

A writer named David Saks (via), from South Africa, has a column up on Israel, Gaza, and anti-Semitism in his country. My reaction to it can be divided into two parts, that in a lot of ways are quite distant from each other, and in other ways are very much connected.

Let's start with where he starts:
Let me state unequivocally from the outset that I fully supported Israel’s operations in Gaza. I have no doubt whatever that these were both justified and necessary given more than three years of almost constant missile attacks against its citizens, that Israel acted throughout with commendable restraint and that Hamas, through its cowardly and despicable policy of basing its terrorist infrastructure in densely populated civilian areas, is morally responsible for each and every civilian casualty for which Israel was so widely and unjustly blamed.

This is, to say the least, tremendously irresponsible.

I've been taking Torts at the University of Chicago, and one of the things that's become pretty clear is that apportioning liability is difficult even under the best of cases. And the Israeli campaign in Gaza was far from the best of cases. First, it was a war. Bad things happen in war, and it is difficult to determine which are simply things that happen in war, and which are actually blame-worthy above and beyond the fact that we might oppose war.

Second, normative claims, like who is to blame for civilian casualties, are highly fact dependent, and we don't have the necessary facts. There are a dozen and a half things which are relevant to any fair moral evaluation of who -- Israel, Palestine, or nobody -- is responsible for any given civilian death. What precautions were taken to avoid targeting civilians, and did they in fact reach the civilians in question? Did the precautions actually meaningful improve the security of the persons they were targeted at (e.g., leaflets warning of an attack are of limited effect if the recipients have nowhere to flee to, or if the act of fleeing at high speeds is taken as a sign they were militants). Were the civilians being used as human shields? How proximate were they to a legitimate military target? Was it known that they were in the area when the strike was launched? How much effort was made to ascertain this information (to the degree possible) prior to the attack? I could list off a dozen others, and I dare say that nobody has all of this information -- not the IDF, not the Palestinian government, not the civilians themselves, and certainly not the global commentariat.

Third, it is extremely unsettled what all the aforementioned factors, even if known, mean in terms of apportioning fault. The question of who is to blame (or what proportion they're blame-worthy) for civilian casualties when an urban-based insurgency operation bases itself in civilian areas is very, very hard, and it is certainly not one in which I believe there is a consensus. Same with issues of human shields, same for using "sanctuary" locations (like schools or hospitals) for military operations or storage. The "proper" response to such behavior is one that, at best, is hotly contested.

All of these points, taken together, make it impossible to ascribe blame as a general matter with any degree of confidence. It is an abdication of moral responsibility to say, then, that one has "no doubt ... that Hamas ... is morally responsible for each and every civilian casualty for which Israel was so widely and unjustly blamed." It is equally wrong to assert that Israel is totally and solely responsible for these deaths.

What I am sure of is that Israel is responsible, in a morally negligent way, for at least some of the deaths. It is possible (as it is in all wars -- I have absolutely no idea about any specific instance in this conflict) that some Israeli troops are criminally responsible and deserve prosecution. Hamas is likewise responsible for some of these deaths as well, perhaps criminally responsible (the firing of rockets deliberately targeted at civilians is a facial war crime in of itself, but I don't know if any of their actions vis-a-vis Palestinian civilians are criminally negligent, both because I don't know the necessary facts and I don't know the relevant law). And some of the deaths are not properly attributed to the moral failings of either party. The proportions that lie in each category, however, are not known to myself or Mr. Saks, or any other person, and I believe it is prejudicial, unwarranted, and and a function of pre-existing biases to assert otherwise, in either direction -- particularly in the sort of universal ascription of culpability that has quickly become the norm.

So that's the first thing. But why, exactly, was Mr. Saks writing this? It wasn't to begin a column discussing his views on Operation Cast Lead. Rather, it was as preface to an ugly anti-Semitic episode in his country of South Africa. I've been reminded that people who are under conditions of extreme oppression, stress, or threat will sometimes say things that aren't strictly justifiable, and this cannot be a bar to expressing our sympathy with them.

What was the proximate cause of Mr. Saks' article, then?
“They in fact control [America]. No matter which government comes in to power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush. The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else”.

That statement was made by South African Deputy Foreign Minister Fatima Hajaig, at a Palestinian "solidarity" rally. The South African Jewish community has officially filed a complaint alleging hate speech. The Israeli foreign ministry had also previously complained about Ms. Hajaig, alleging that she accused the Israeli ambassador of bringing a diplomat of Ethiopian descent to the embassy "only because he was black."

This does not serve to justify Mr. Saks' preface, but it does serve to contextualize it. Ms. Hajaig's comments, unfortunately, were neither isolated nor the worst of the lot:
[V]arious other speakers at the Lenasia rally made threatening statements against the local Jewish community. This included calls that anyone with Zionist sympathies be expelled from the country, that “Israeli” businesses be boycotted (a list of Jewish-owned businesses is in fact now doing the rounds within the Muslim community and further afield) and that action be taken against South African Jews who served in the Israeli military.

One presenter said: “The common enemy is making inroads in South Africa … the Zionists in South Africa must be kicked out of the shores of South Africa”. Another speaker praised “our Jewish brothers and sisters” who had come out against the Israel Defence Force, assuring them “there is a place in the world we are building in South Africa for you”. Those who had not done so, he warned, had “better watch out because the winds of change are blowing”.

Regarding local Jews allegedly serving in the IDF, another presenter shouted (again to rapturous and sustained applause): “We are going to become impimpis, we are going to become impimpis … the business that we are going to carry out with the Jews, with these Zionist entities. We are going to talk to them, were going to find out if their sons have gone to fight our brothers and sisters in Palestine and then we’ll say to them come and fight us at home”.

Other speakers included ANC Provincial Secretary Nazeem Adams and Eddie Makue, general secretary for South African Council of Churches. Makue denied that the fight against Israel and Zionism was anti-Semitic, saying that he and his fellow activists only wanted to bring their “Jewish brothers and sisters onto the right path”.

“This is a global struggle. We are inviting you to join us in it, otherwise you will be mowed down in the annals of history as people who refuse to support justice and peace” he said, as the crowd bellowed its approval.

If I were a Jew in South Africa, I would surely fear for my life upon hearing this. The threats of expulsion, the threatening of Jewish owned businesses, saying we will be "mowed down". This is violent language. This is borderline genocidal language. It is not, unfortunately, uncommon language -- even by members of government, even by socially prominent figures. And it is language that, when heard by Jews worldwide, echoes unnervingly of Nuremberg.

I've had comments similar to Ms. Hajaig's stated to me (more accurately, yelled at me) right here at the University of Chicago. At the time, my adrenaline was pumping too much to notice, but in retrospect, that was an extremely dangerous situation for me. He was bigger than me, he was screaming in rage, and while there were other people in the room, he knew them better than I did and none of them ever really tried to intercede. If he had started physically attacking me, what would have happened? I don't think they would have joined in. Would they have stopped him? Would they have sympathized (even if they think maybe he "over-reacted")?

My worry is not just about the Ms. Hajaig's of the world. It's about those who, at the end of the day, don't recognize the tremendous peril her words put me in. There are many people who I am quite sure wouldn't join in that speech, but whom I am very unsure as to whether they would support sacking her from her position in the government, or whether they would consider her someone they could continue to associate with, someone whose opinion and perspective (including on matters that affect Jews) is still worthwhile. That does worry me. Sometimes, it terrifies me.

And one day, it may very well yet kill me. We don't know.

Back Into Line

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is a very conservative Congressman. He also criticized Rush Limbaugh. This did not make some of his colleagues happy. And one day later, he's running for cover. Take a look at this press release:
Now more than ever, we need to articulate a clear conservative message that distinguishes our values and our approach from those of liberal Democrats who are seeking to move our nation in the wrong direction. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and other conservative giants are the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience. Everyday, millions and millions of Americans—myself included—turn on their radios and televisions to listen to what they have to say, and we are inspired by their words and by their determination. At the end of the day, every member of the conservative movement, from our political commentators and thinkers to our elected officials, share an important and common purpose in advancing the cause of liberty, reigning in a bloated federal government, and defending our traditional family values.

The emphasis is my own. "Conservative giants"? Hey, you said it, not me.

Via Balloon Juice, who notes that we can add Limbaugh to the long list of persons Republicans cower in fear of. A lot of conservatives I know try to dismiss folks like Limbaugh and Hannity as basically prop acts out for entertainment. Wrong-o. These people are major players in your movement -- "giants", I'm now told. You have to deal with the consequences.

All Praise Google!

Perhaps the most active comment thread on this entire site is my post from last May entitled: Fuck You Google. Seriously. A bad sign for this blog, but possibly a good one for Google that little ol' Debate Link comes up so high on the search for "Fuck you google".

Anyway. Google's offense? If you typed in "Maryland" on Google maps, the pinpoint it gave you was in ... Virginia. Oooh, that's low. But I'm pleased to report that they seem to have rectified the problem. Now, if you type in "Maryland", the pinpoint is a little southeast of a town called Millersville, a little ways outside Annapolis. So, a part of Maryland where no one actually lives, but Maryland nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Well, This is Troubling

One of the oft-cited goals by those interesting in getting Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table is to have a unified Palestinian government, representing both Hamas and Fatah. The thought is two-fold: first, that the presence of Fatah will moderate or at least dilute the radicalness of Hamas, and second, that by negotiating with the two groups in tandem, one can get agreements that are more likely to actually be enforced (whereas an agreement only with Fatah doesn't really stop Hamas from doing whatever it pleases).

It's a good thought, but it may run into trouble given what Hamas says are its preconditions for joining a unity government:
The Palestinian Authority must end its peace talks and security coordination with Israel if it ever expects to reconcile with Hamas, one of the group’s senior officials said Sunday.
Speaking at a rally in Beirut, [Osama] Hamdan said his organisation welcomed an inter-Palestinian dialogue but linked reconciliation with Fatah to the Palestinian Authority ending peace talks with Israel and backing Hamas' armed resistance against the Jewish state.

"We say clearly that we welcome a national Palestinian dialogue but this dialogue must include those who really belong to Palestine and to the Palestinian cause," he said.

Hamas officials have accused Abbas' government of working with Israel against the militant group.

"Those who committed mistakes must correct their mistakes through a clear and frank declaration to stop security coordination with the ( Israeli ) occupation, release ( Hamas ) prisoners and later end negotiations (with Israel ) because the peace process is irreversibly over," said Hamdan.

"It's time for us to talk about a reconciliation based on a resistance program to liberate the (occupied) territory and regain rights," Hamdan said.

Okay, problem.

This via This is Babylon, who notes (accurately, as best as I can tell) that Hamas is not taking the majority position here. Most of the Palestinian public has been relatively amenable to the idea of a negotiated solution to the conflict and recognition of Israel (which isn't to say they believe it will actually happen). Unfortunately, the folks with the guns disagree, and the Palestinian political arena does not yet have an entity which is both explicitly pro-peace and credible in the community.

So what do we do? My intuition is that one attempts to keep short-term peace, even with Hamas, alive as long as possible, while hoping that a period of quiet allows a homegrown Palestinian movement to provide an alternative to Hamas that Palestinians can get behind. There are murmurings even within Hamas that they would accept Palestinian recognition of Israel if it were agreed to by the Palestinian people as a whole. Unfortunately (aside from whether we expect they'll hold to that commitment), it's unlikely things will ever reach a point where such a proposal would seriously be on the table until there is an alternate base of power in Palestine aside from Hamas.


Julie's checklist of Gentile privilege makes for excellent reading. If there's one angle through which this Feministe thing wasn't a debacle, it's in the meta-discussion it's generated. The stuff going up at Alas, a Blog, It's All Connected, and Modern Mitzvot has all been excellent.

And in the comments to Julie's post, a link was given to this checklist of White privilege in a Jewish context (the blog itself, "This is Babylon", looks fabulous as well). Particularly in America, the idea of Jews-as-White is very heavily enforced, both within and without of the Jewish community. I think it's bad for the Jewish community as a whole, as it contributes to this image of the Jew (anywhere, including Israel) as part of this lily-White hoard, but unfortunately it is imagery that is very, very common amongst Ashkenazi Jews as well. So it's definitely a good thing to get out into the open.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Vengeance is Not Jewish

Do people enjoy vengeance? Getting back at those they see as hurting them?

I don't really, but I wonder if that's due to my generally conflict-averse nature. Don't get me wrong -- I understand the motive for retribution, and I feel it as strong as anyone else. It's maddening to sit back and be hurt by someone, and do nothing about it. Obviously, sometimes there are constructive paths to "do something about it", and I prefer to pursue those, but sometimes there aren't. Sometimes it really feels like you either have to sit and take it, or hit back.

But I do know that when I hit back, I don't actually feel much better. I just feel sad in a different way. More conflict. More hurt. More pain.

Drag and Abandon

The Thai army is alleged to have been dragging rickety boats of refugees out to sea, and abandoning them in the middle of the ocean.
Extraordinary photos obtained by CNN from someone directly involved in the Thai operation show refugees on their rickety boats being towed out to sea, cut loose and abandoned.

One photo shows the Thai army towing a boatload of some 190 refugees far out to sea.
In one hamlet, villagers had captured a Rohingya man they believed had been living in the jungle for days.

The refugee, who identified himself as Iqbal Hussain, told CNN he was on one of six boats in a makeshift refugee fleet that arrived in Thailand in December.

He said all six boats with their refugee cargo were towed back out to sea in January, and five of the six boats sank. His boat made it back to shore, and he hid in the jungle for days until nearby villagers captured him.

In broken English and using sign language and drawings, he described what happened to the other men on the boats:

"All men dead," he said, putting the number of dead at several hundred.

Simply horrifying.

Breaking Out of Rikers

Horrifying allegations in the NYT about Rikers Island, where guards are alleged to have run a unit for teenagers "like an organized-crime family", with themselves as the bosses. Three officers are now charged in relation to the death of an inmate, allegedly at the orchestration of the conspiracy they ran.

Laura Appelman notes that this dynamic had real implications when she was a public defender. Rikers holds many inmates who are merely accused -- warehousing them until they can be tried and (if convicted) sentenced. She says that many of her clients rapidly plead guilty after experiencing Rikers -- feeling it preferable (and safer) to go to prison upstate than to stay on the island. Obviously, some (probably many) of these clients were guilty anyway. But some might not have been, and in any event the criminal justice system doesn't work when people plead guilty merely because they're being terrorized during the duration of their trial and simply want it end as fast as possible.

EU Official Calls Out Gaza Hamas

(UPDATE: The original title of this post was highly misleading, and has thus been modified)

The Jersualem Post headline ("fully responsible") is a bit exaggerated, but the statement is strong:
"At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas," Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told reporters.

"I intentionally say this here - Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such," Michel said as he visited the town of Jabalya in northern Gaza.

"Public opinion is fed up to see that we are paying over and over again - be it the European commission, the member states or the major donors - for infrastructure that will be systematically destroyed," he said.

Reuters quoted the EU official as saying that the Islamic group had used civilians as "human shields" by placing operatives in residential areas, and said that the years of terrorist rocket-fire on southern Israel served as a "provocation."

The report also quoted Michel as saying that, "When you kill innocents, it is not resistance. It is terrorism."

A Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, was quoted by Reuters as saying his group was "shocked" at Michel's comments. He lambasted the official for "giving cover to massacres and terrorism committed by the Zionist enemy against the Palestinian people… Palestinian resistance is as legitimate as the resistance of European countries that fought against foreign occupiers."

I find it intriguing that Mr. al-Masri is "shocked". I understand that he, of course, doesn't subscribe to Mr. Michel's view. But it is quite telling that he is "shocked" by it, in that I imagine he would not be "shocked" at all if this statement was released by an American.

A Congo (and Rwanda) Roundup

I do Israel roundups all the time. Why can't I do a Congo roundup?

CNN reports on calls for rebels to lay down their arms and reintegrate into the national forces. So far, it seems like they're making some progress.

Meanwhile, the joint Congo/Rwanda offensive in the east seems to be going apace, though understandably the locals are very nervous about the prospect of more conflict (and particularly the presence of Rwandan troops -- Rwanda being quite unpopular for its role -- hopefully now in the past -- in destabilizing the region).

Unfortunately, there is growing nervousness that the arrest of rebel Gen. Laurent Nkunda is a facade and will not hold up on the Rwandan's end. The problem? Nkunda -- with deep ties to the highest levels of Rwandan politics and society -- might "know too much" about the going-ons of that nation's regional ambitions and practice.

And because of all the uncertainty, I agree with Dylan Matthews that some well-placed pushes by American diplomacy would be very well-received at the moment, to make sure everyone stays on the straight and narrow.

The Other Baird

So titled because I don't want the University of Chicago's own Douglas Baird to feel awkward.

Cara at Feministe has a good post up with her thoughts on Bill Baird. Baird was an early and vociferous advocate of a woman's right to choose -- taking on causes and risking his career and, frankly, his life to secure victories in cases nobody else would touch. He actually saw his focus as providing reproductive health to all women, at a time when much of the feminist movement was still basically an exclusivist enclave of White middle-class heterosexuals.

At the same time, he's extraordinarily bitter at the feminist movement in all its incarnations for his perception that they "rejected" him. He does not have any expressed interest in actually talking to women's groups or working with them to pursue an integrated political agenda. He's self-promoting, and acts, as Cara puts it, a bit like a "one-man show". He's extremely hostile to religion (he wants to picket churches).

But then, he goes off and attacks men who arrogantly assume they know what women are feeling when their rights to their own body are (often violently) stripped away from them. He lambastes those who take it upon themselves to say who gay and lesbian persons can and can't love, have, and hold.

In short, he's complicated. And I think Cara's post, talking about a guy I had never heard of until she brought it up, is a really interesting sketch.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Israel Roundup

I'm posting a lot on Israel lately. I'm not sure why -- it can be a very depressing subject. I guess my eye is drawn to it at the moment.

A pro-Israel rally in Sweden was crashed by a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli mob, which pelted them with eggs, bottles, and even a tear gas grenade. The Israeli rally was holding signs saying "Stop eight years of Qassams" and "Peace for children in Israel and Gaza". I always wonder if (given this is a news story sympathetic to the pro-Israeli advocates) there are any signs that are more troubling, akin to what one sees at Palestinian solidarity rallies (Israel = Nazis, chants celebrating the Holocaust, etc.), and the news just reports the signs most amenable to co-existence. But I certainly hope that the reported signs were representative, and that the Swedish Jewish community, like I do, views being "pro-Israel" as wanting peace for the children of Israel and Gaza alike.

Palestinian children return to school, but mourn their friends who were killed in the bombing.

In related news, Andrew Sullivan has a picture of a Palestinian schoolgirl inspecting her now-wrecked classroom, and writes "If Israelis believe that this little girl above will blame Hamas for what was done to her school ... then their judgment is even more impaired that many of us feared."

Hamas has formally rejected a long-term truce with Israel, saying it "will kill the resistance" and furthermore unconditionally affirms its right to smuggle in weapons.

Harry's Place says that Israel's friends need to make a concerted push right now to freeze settlement construction (generally by leaning on Washington to put the heat on). One fact I didn't know was that the US has already slashed Israel's foreign aid by the approximate cost of the settlement construction ($300 million), but it seems like more pressure is needed.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting history up of Hamas, and specifically how Israel nurtured it as a counterweight to Fatah before realizing just how dangerous and radical it was. Clearly, one of its biggest strategic blunders of the past 30 years.

In the midst of an article on how Israel uses spy drones to try and distinguish between civilian and militant, Noah Shachtman quotes an Israeli official who indicates that the goal of Israel's operation was to convince the Arab world that Israel is a "crazed animal" which one cannot provoke without fear. Robert Farley explains why, if true, this is a bad strategy.