Monday, November 30, 2009
On the sensitive question of Turkey's role as a mediator in peace talks between Israel and Syria, despite statements by Netanyahu and Leiberman that Turkey could not be trusted as a mediator, the Turkish government acknowledged that Israel had officially requested Turkey to resume this role.
What was not the focus of the Israeli media that reported on this supposed rapprochement but which seems to be front and centre in Turkish media and is perhaps the true key to this "crisis resolution" related to drones. In 2005 Israel signed a contract with Turkey to provide 10 highly advanced Heron unmanned areal vehicles for the Turkish military. Delivery of these vehicles was significantly delayed and had been a source of contention between the two countries. The drones, which were due last year are finally on track to be delivered and according to Turkish media, this breakthrough of a commercial/military dispute has been the catalyst for the removal of many other contentious issues between the two countries.
This may well be the case, that the drones alone were the cause of such tension, but it's difficult to imagine that such a public international dispute would play out merely over a contract. Indeed, it's very possible that the roots of the conflict lie in a more profound ideological position adopted by the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. A quick scan of recent news discussing the Turkish Prime Minister shows an increasing alignment with Islamic and Arab countries, popular support for his rants and outbursts against Israel and a drift away from Europe and the west. If this is the real direction the winds are blowing in Turkey, it's hard to imagine that a contractual dispute being resolved between Israel and Turkey will truly bring relations to where they were.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
UNIFIL maintains that it has not received any official notification from Israel of any plans to withdraw from any part of the town. So, as far as the UN is concerned, things are status quo. Nonetheless, an obscure statement published in a Lebanese newspaper suggests that Israel has informed UNIFIL that they are ready to withdraw from Ghajar in a matter of hours. What makes this so obscure is that it's unclear if it means that Israel is about to withdraw, or that once the order if given to withdraw, it can be done quickly.
Meanwhile, on the domestic Israeli political front, the the Arab, Likud Member of the Knesset, Kara, continues to rail against the idea of any Israeli steps away from Ghajar. He warns against turning over any security along Israel's border to UNIFIL who he called "doll" soldiers--either to imply they were puppets being controlled or they were as effective as dolls, or both. As he rages, Lieberman the foreign minister, fumes and smolders that any news of any withdrawal from Ghajar has made the papers at all. The withdrawal, which many speculate Israel wants to make so as to reduce international criticism of/pressure on it was supposed to be kept very secret. Lieberman is so angry that any news of this story made it to the public that he now wants his staff and the cabinet to take polygraph tests to see where the leak is from.
This of course begs the question, why is this so secret? After all, this is not the first time a withdrawal from Ghajar has been discussed. On e reason to keep this quiet may have been that Lieberman, or someone else in the government (Kara, maybe?) is trying to scuttle the planed withdrawal and Lieberman would hate to raise expectations and then come off looking like the bad guy if the deal fails. Maybe Liberman is concerned about how such a withdrawal may look to his ultra nationalist base and he was hoping that any withdrawal could happen quietly, without too much media attention.
There are perhaps also security concerns. Maybe Israel wants to sneak agents into Lebanon through Ghajar before the opportunity is lost. Perhaps raising this in the media will place Lebanon on higher alert for such infiltrations. Perhaps Israel is concerned that Lebanon or Hezbollah will try to take advantage of an imminent withdrawal, trying to sneak their people into the town. Or, even worse, perhaps Hezbollah would use the opportunity of a withdrawal to attack Israel or Ghajar, to make the withdrawal appear as though it's happening under fire or to simply draw a connection between their actions and the recovery of Lebanese land.
Given the reaction to this story, it will be interesting to see if it ever even comes up in the media again, but if it does hopefully the next story will be that Israel has pulled out of Ghajar.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Piggybacking onto a conference dealing with desalinization in the middle east, top Israeli diplomats met with officials in Oman. These talks were officially considered secret, and there is little information available on their content. Nonetheless, not too long ago, Oman was one of a small number of Arab countries being pressured to normalize relations with Israel if Israel froze its settlement construction. As it happens, a settlement construction freeze was recently announced, just after the Oman meeting. It's not clear that there was any connection between the meeting in Oman and Netanyahu's declaration of the freeze, but the delegation to Oman contained some extremely high ranking officials of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is not much of a stretch to imagine that a diplomat of that level of seniority would have the authority to make certain agreements or carry high level messages. The coming days or weeks may tell if perhaps Oman agreed to certain aspects of normalization in exchange for the 10 month freeze.
On the other side of the Arab world, in the Magrheb, leader of the Israeli Opposition Kadima party, Tzipi Livni attended an international economic conference in Morocco, a country Israel once had beneficial relations with. There was much criticism of her visit since the Israeli government was uninvited at the last moment because it had approved the construction of 900 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. It's especially interesting that the invitation to Livni stood because apparently, she supported the Gilo construction. Nonetheless, the conference provided a unique opportunity for Livini to pass on the Israeli-non-partisan-message that Israel wants peace and that the two state solution is the goal that should be aimed for.
Though quite distinct from one another, these two cases may be seen as a trend of sorts. Both Oman and Morocco are countries that have no real economic or military interest in not having ties with Israel, but perhaps have domestic political concerns. It's quite possible that the ordinary people in these countries may be more inclined to identify with Palestinian Arabs if even their governments want to try to build relations with Israelis. Dialogue is clearly possible and is clearly a good thing and economic ties will no doubt be useful in beginning to build a symbiosis of sorts that can lead to a further increase in relations. If the hatred amongst the people, however, remains as deep as it is (as recently illustrated by the Egypt-Algeria hacking incident) then there will remain a long way to go. It's positive that Israel can build political ties with these states, but it will need to start winning hearts and minds with cultural exchanges, demonstration of what is good in Israeli society and a sincere openness to the Arab world and to accept cultural and other imports from the Arab world, just as Israel would like to export its positive image to them.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The UNIFIL plan would have Israel withdraw from the town, have UNIFIL forces take up positions around the town, with a small internal police force, while all residents (who are Arabs) would maintain their Israeli identity cards. No barrier would be built dividing the town as residents have been explicit that they do not want any such barrier.
So far, it seems that Israel has not informed the Lebanese or UNIFIL of their plans to withdraw, but that's likely because the Israeli cabinet has not yet voted on the question. When the vote does come, it may face some vocal opposition. A Likud, Druze MK Ayoub Kara has dramatically pledged that he would fight even until his "last drop of blood" to prevent an Israeli withdrawal from the town. This position is probably taken because of the fear expressed by some Ghajar residents about what could happen to them--as Israeli citizens--if Hezbollah developed a presence in the area. Some residents have indicated that they actually fear for their lives.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu seems to have made up his mind and his decision is the right one. There is little or no strategic reason to hold on to Ghajar and if this small, relatively insignificant town is causing such extra tension, than certainly returning it, in compliance with the UN resolutions that gave UNIFIL their mandate, is the right thing to do. This is an easy one to get right and hopefully the stupidity and bluster of the likes of Kara will not have any impact at all.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
As explained here, Egypt and Algeria have seen their fair share of (probably really limited) civil unrest in the wake of World Cup Qualifying soccer (football) games between the two countries.
In one show of partisanship an Algerian hacker broke into the Egyptian Football team website and posted an Egyptian flag with a Star of David on in. He added the comment "You ******* deal with Israel all the time, you are not men."
In other words, the highest insult to masculinity and honor that this Algerian hacker seems to be able to proffer is that Egypt and Israel have dealings. I imagine that the elimination of this feeling that a nation's honor is assailed by dealing with Israel in any way would go a long way in taking that first step towards positive, low level relations which could eventually lead to a more lasting peaceful situation in the middle east. When such an option is foreclosed because of the fear of not being a man, it's hard to see how any progress can be made.
For example, despite the incidents which may lead one to conclude that things were not well between the two countries, they recently held military search and rescue exercises involving the Jordanian army as well in Turkey. This drill brought to mind memories of another, larger, NATO drill in which both Turkey and Israel were supposed to participate in recent weeks but to which Israel was "un-invited." This sudden change of heart was interpreted by many to be a slap in the face to Israel and a sign of Turkey's increasing criticism of and distancing from Israel since Operation Cast Lead. There may be some credibility to this interpretation, but the Turkish explanation for the cancellation also holds water.
In 2005, Israel Aerospace Industries signed a $150 million deal with Turkey to provide unmanned aerial vehicles for the Turkish military. This deal, however, has been hit by a series of delays and the Turks are apparently becoming quite frustrated with the finger pointing and attempts to deflect blame by the Israelis. The Israelis insist they have respected every clause of their contract and the delay is Turkey's fault, Turkey insists that Israel has been making up (bogus) excuses for their inability to meet deadlines. In either case, the details of what is essentially a business dispute is not relevant. What's relevant, is that Turkey doesn't have the drones and the issue has, or is coming to a head. The Turks are at this point so upset that the order from 2005 remains incomplete that they have sent a ministerial level letter to Israel suggesting that the whole, valuable contract could be cancelled if Israel does not deliver within 50 days.
Another complex aspect of the countries' relationship is the mediation that it lead between Israel and Syria and the proximity the two sides apparently came towards a deal until Cast Lead put everything back to square one. Turkey reacted when recently France suggested they would be well placed to take up the role of mediator instead of, or with, Turkey. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan suggested that Syria would not be willing to accept French mediation. The Israeli foreign minister, Lieberman, has stated he does not see how it's possible for Israel to accept Turkey as a mediator in further talks because the trust that existed between the two countries has been shaken.
Some, however, have been less deterred by Lieberman. Israeli Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the only Israeli minister to attend this year's "Republic Day" reception at the Turkish embassy, is heading to Turkey to mend fences. Ben-Eliezer is said to have particularly warm relations with Turkey and it is hoped that he can produce results. While he will be leading a trade delegation to Turkey, his goal is also to bring bilateral relations between the countries to what they were just over a year ago. His message will not only be one of trade promotion--an important facet of the bilateral relationship with trade in 2008 valued at over $1.5 billion--but the subject of mediation is also expected to come up. Ben-Eliezer will, it is reported, communicate that Turkey can continue in its role as mediator if relations return to the warm levels they once were.
These are just two demonstrations of the complex ties between the two countries. The question of water imports, for example, is another. It's interesting though that despite the reputedly poor relations and criticism of Israel by Turkey for Cast Lead, the Turks still want to purchase military equipment that was even used in the operation that Turkey is so critical of. It also cannot be ruled out that Israel is deliberately delaying delivery of the drones, as a reminder to Turkey that the two countries need one another, and that just as Turkey can proffer harsh public criticism, Israel can hold back on things that Turkey wants as well. Erdogan's reaction to the possibility of French mediation is also interesting. There may be more to this aspect of the relationship, but it seems as though Erdogan is actually concerned that this prestigious position as mediator may slip away from him. Acting as a mediator would work well for Turkey. It positioned it as an honest broker to both Arabs and Israelis, it made Turkey look moderate and a contributor to peace in the Middle East and probably gave it serious credibility in the EU. For this chance to slip away because of undiplomatic behaviour by Erdogan must be very troubling. In other words, it's in Turkeys interests to improve it's relations with Israel and be accepted as a mediator again.
It will be interesting to see what the outcome of Ben-Eliezer's trip is and to watch any subtle changes in this complex relationship.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
If the other segments of this documentary were as accurate as the portion on the wall in Israel, then this whole documentary will need to be written off as heavily slanted, inaccurate journalism.
The segment in questions begins by showing footage and background on the wave of suicide bombings in Israel at the start of the current decade. It mercifully spares the viewer from much of the carnage but makes the point that these attacks were horrific and drives home the point with a short interview of a man whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber at the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem.
Then the viewer is presented with footage of Israeli soldiers monitoring the fence and explaining how they respond to incidents. There is also an interview with a former Israeli Military official who contends that the fence is nothing more than a land grab. A map of the settlements and the route of the fence within the "green line" demonstrates his point. A very short, inarticulate statement by an Israeli official contradicts that the fence is a land grab. This is the only opportunity given to an Israeli official to speak in support of the fence.
The segment then turns to shots of the wall, the ugly, imposing concrete section of the wall which actually only comprises 3% of the entire barrier. The many shots of the fence focus in on the graffiti it bears, notably some that compares the wall to the Warsaw Ghetto, a fallacious comparison if there ever was one, and a reflection of naivete on the part of the filmmaker. The viewer is also presented with shots of the many checkpoints set up in the West Bank and a woman living in a house that the wall passes directly in front of is interviewed. The viewer is also presented with interviews with Hanan Ashrawi a Palestinian legislator who rails against the wall as well as a Palestinian doctor/politician who critiques the checkpoints and notes the hardship they cause to ordinary people, notably pregnant women. There are also mentions made of Palestinians being cut off from their olive groves and images of Israeli civilians coming to help with the harvest. Strikingly, the viewer also is given a glimpse of the weekly, often violent clashes that take place between those opposed to the wall and the IDF on a regular basis.
The documentary makes the case at the outset that Israel has security concerns and that this was the impetus for the wall. The remainder of the 15 or so minutes for which it was discussed, however, focused almost exclusively on Palestinians explaining how it has caused them hardship. This hardship is impossible to deny and it would be callous to do so.
Nonetheless, the documentary fails to provide any continued justification for the wall. For example, no mention is made of the wall's effectiveness, that Israel began constructing the security fence in early 2003. In the year prior to that, there had been 55 suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. In 2003, after the wall there were 25, 14 in 2004, 2005 saw 7, in 2006, there were 4 and only one in 2007. These statistics are not in "Up Against The Wall." Neither is there any statement of fact about how much of the wall is merely a chain link fence with sensors, or a rebuttal of the allegation that the fence is a land grab or that its route has been subjected to the scrutiny of Israel's Supreme Court.
"Up Against The Wall", if it were a documentary about how the fence was impacting ordinary Palestinians, could probably be considered to have done a good job. The viewer is left with no doubt about the wall's impacts on Palestinians. Unfortunately, however, this was a documentary whose goal was to ask "Do walls, in fact, work?" In the case of the security barrier, though it does not provide a clear oral verdict, its imagery and editing alone lead to the false conclusion that no, this barrier does not work. In the documentary's last mention of the wall, it is suggested that terrorists continue to strike Israel with rockets, and footage of a rocket launch is shown. The viewer is then led to believe that despite all this hardship the wall has caused innocent Palestinians, it has been for naught.
The rockets, however, are launched from Gaza and the wall in question is constructed around the West Bank. These rockets exist independently of the wall which even terrorists acknowledge has made it difficult for them to carry our their murderous violence. Terrorism from the West Bank, where the wall exists has been dramatically curtailed by the presence of this security barrier and has saved lives. Not only Israeli lives, but the lives of Palestinians who could have been hurt if Israel retaliated for suicide bombings. "Up Against The Wall" does not lead the viewer to this clear and simple solution. Combine this with its fallacious comparison between the security barriers and all the others it discusses to the Berlin wall, and the naivete and lack of true historical understanding involved in the film-making becomes obvious.
The study was conducted by professors working at Ono College who presented their findings on November 10, 2009.
Certainly, deeply entrenched societal racism and prejudices are major factors in this discrepancy. It may be possible to imagine how the political climate sees Arabs ranked as the most discriminated against, there is no excuse for this type of prejudice. In one of the more revealing comments made to the researchers an advertising agency employee said (as reported in Ynet): "The haredi, Arab and Ethiopian needs many more things in order to be like a normal Ashkenazi." It's difficult to imagine how anyone can interpret this as a reasonable, liberal (as opposed to racist) view. What this respondent was saying was that everyone should just be mainstream, just like the majority and that this majority is itself incapable of tolerating or understanding why minorities would want to be different.
Another quote highlighting just how marginalized some of these groups have become and how unwilling the majority is to accept those who continue to make Israel a diverse country appears in the JPost: "There is a real concern about the awkwardness of shaking hands with a haredi Jew, telling army stories in front of an Arab and the 'coarse' Israeli mentality in front of the Ethiopian." If these groups were better integrated into society perhaps Israelis would learn that a diverse society must adapt to include minorities and weave them into the fabric of what the whole society is. Otherwise, what is being demanded is assimilation and a refusal to recognize real differences.
Aside from racism, another, and perhaps even larger, obstacle to the unemployed is that Israeli society has firmly entrenched networks of personal and family connections that many Israelis rely on to find work. While there's nothing wrong with a cultural practice of relying heavily on personal networks to help find work, it becomes problematic when qualified individuals from outside these networks cannot break into the system. If one needs a contact to secure a job, and these contacts may be based on anything from having served in the army together or grown up in the same neighborhood, and Arabs and Haredim rarely serve in the army while Ethiopians do, but may live in different neighborhoods, how can these groups expect to break into the job market without their own contacts. They key for these communities is to have their own champions, their own visible communities inside industry which can help see other members of the same group promoted.
The author of the study, speaking at a conference contradicted the optimistic works of the Minister of the Treasury, Dr. Yuval Steinitz, with the ominous warning that things were deteriorating, not improving, and that without major attitude shifts, things may go very awry. There may already be signs of this taking place. For example, recent Haredi riots in parts of Jerusalem and repeated complaints by Israeli Arabs of discriminatory treatment as well as sympathetic attitudes towards the last intifada are important warnings of what can happen should Israel fail to bring these disadvantaged groups into the mainstream and allow their communities to be full members of Israeli society.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
These wonders (and Petra is truly, without a doubt a wonder of the world) face threats, however, and not only from the obvious sources--conflict and human destruction. Places like both Masada and Petra are at risk from earthquakes in the region and even (believe it or not) flooding.
Encouragingly, however, Israeli and Jordanian officials are beginning to work together and cooperate to help prevent and respond to archaeological disasters which may be caused by natural disasters. Apparently, an Israeli university professor from Ben Gurion University has developed a system to mathematically model past earthquakes in the region and the impacts that these earthquakes could have on sensitive sites.
These types of conservation measures and others were recently discussed at a UNESCO sponsored conference on the protection of archaeological sites. Held at the International Conservation Centre, newly founded in Acre.
While this conference does not seem particularly groundbreaking, I wanted to write about it just because I thought it was a nice example of how states could cooperate and build ties with one another for the purpose of protecting the common patrimony of mankind. Really, it was an interesting way for me to write about archeology and a case where it can have a positive impact on international relations.
Brazil is not a particularly water poor country, but nonetheless, it's officials have made a decision--reflective of great foresight--that the water cannot be squandered and that now is the time to work towards conserving it. Brazil has already begun innovative water saving activities, such as this television spot about how urinating in the shower can save water. Apparently, it's working!
Brazilian officials will be turning to Israel for the Water Technologies (WATEC) confernce to be held begining today (November 17) in Tel Aviv. The confernce is expected to attract experts from around the world to discuss tools for efficient use of water, new technologies to help with water conservation and sustainable development.
Israel has already been branded the "Silicon Valley" of water technology for its global leadership in this feild and WATEC is just an example of this. It's also an example of how countries with no obvious interests in common (Brazil and Israel) can be brought together to cooperate and to build bridges and relations by sharing ideas about that universally needed, precious resource, water.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was Translated into Yiddish! This should not be too shocking as it has been translated into over 360 languages, but Yiddish!?
A little information of the translation itself is here.
"Just Journalism is an independent research organisation focused on how Israel
and Middle East issues are reported in the UK media. We produce analysis of
print, broadcast and online media and regularly publish research on trends in
the media’s coverage."
What I find particularly interesting about Just Journalism is that they have what appears to be a somewhat unique focus on how public international law is reported in the media. Public International Law, like any area of law, can be incredibly nuanced and complex and is difficult to fully express in a short news report or article. Law is also rarely black and white, and lawyers are often mocked for regularly answering questions with: "well that depends..." Just Journalism has concerned itself with how these difficult issues are dealt with in the media.
There was a recent Just Journalism "round table" on international law as reported in the media. The round table featured journalism experts as well as at least two experts on international law, Professor Robert McCorquodale and Dr Ralph Wilde (bio at the bottom of the page.)
The round table found, in a nutshell, that international law is a highly politicized subject, that its concepts have precise meanings and the application of international law concepts to a given situation can be legitimately, hotly contested. They also point out that given the subtle, but important, nuances that may exist journalists are not necessarily qualified to identify the areas that may be contentious when interviewing one expert or another.
As a useful example of how international law is sometimes used--if not by journalists than by politically oriented groups--to advance political positions, consider this article by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting--also quite punny!) FAIR is a US
"...media watch organization offering constructive criticism in an effort to
correct media imbalance. We advocate for media access on behalf of those
constituencies in our society that do not have the wealth to purchase their own
TV stations or daily newspapers. We scrutinize media practices that slight
public interest, peace and minority viewpoints."
In other words, it's a group advocating against centralized control of new media and encouraging media to be more aggressive and critical of the powers that be.
The FAIR article linked to above discusses reporting on international law in the US in the wake of the Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza. It laments that more mention of international law was not made and that Israel was not more forcefully criticized for its violations of this law. Indeed, it criticizes the New York Times for saying that “In the debate over civilian casualties, there is no clear understanding of what constitutes a military target.” This being of course a reflection of the difficulty of answering the question when does a target become military. Is a soldier off duty a military target? Is a member of a terrorist group not in uniform planning an attack a target, on the way to an attack, attempting to attack? The lines are unclear and it would seem the New York Times was right to note this uncertainty. Nonetheless, groups like the "Electronic Intifada" have picked up and republished reports like this one from FAIR in furtherance of what is their, distinctly political agenda. They are asking that media make more pronouncements on international law precisely because it is useful to have mainstream sources making unequivocal legal claims.
One of the round tables key outcomes is that "Journalists must strike a balance between providing detail on the complex legal concepts they refer to, and ensuring their reports remain accessible to their audiences. There is a lack of consensus on the right way to strike this balance at present and this needs further discussion." Or in other words, law is complicated, is hard to communicate in the space often available to journalists and there are no simple solutions to rectify this problem.
Certainly, the laws that apply in a courtroom, do not apply to public opinion. In a court if a witness, even an expert witness, says something, the judge need not accept the statement as true and more often than not, the opposite party will bring in their own witnesses and experts to contradict the claims. In journalism, an interview with a single law professor may suffice for the journalist or the audience to feel convinced that they are hearing the authoritative legal position. It may not be sufficient, but it would be a positive step in the right direction for journalists to remember that pronouncements on the law can nearly always be contradicted. It could also be useful for them to acknowledge this somehow in their reporting. For example, if interviewing a law professor adding the caveat, to be perfectly clear, that this opinion is only that of this professor and there may be other, valid legal opinions. Or, perhaps in an interview asking the interviewee to honestly consider if there would be other international law experts who may disagree with him or her could rectify this imbalance.
In all cases, Just Journalism raises interesting points about the confluence of law, the media and politics and their work is worth watching.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The weather was perfect, unseasonably warm and not a cloud in the sky. The ceremony itself was impressive, involving members of all branches of the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP, dignitaries including the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales, Charles, who was on a Canadian tour and of course, veterans.
There are a few points I wanted to make after having seen the ceremony which was complete with a military band, pipers, buglers a 21 gun salute with Howitzers and a flypast by 4 CF-18s.
First, it’s hard not to notice the soldiers in the honour guard at the memorial. In particular, their age: they’re all so young. Really young! It’s hard not to consider, as they go marching by, that these are the people who have volunteered to go though harsh training, and accept the most dangerous jobs Canadians could have for pay that is certainly not extraordinary. It’s these young people that we all rely on because they will stand up for us when push comes to shove.
Second, the crowds. At the event, I couldn’t tell how many people were there, but there were thousands. I was near (but not at) the front of the crowd and we were pretty well packed in. After the ceremony, people were given the opportunity to place their poppies on the tomb of the unknown soldier, the crowd that lined up to do so was so thick that I decided to pass up on that opportunity. People were also unusually polite, respectful and quiet. I couldn’t help but notice that even after the moment of silence, even when there was nothing to really see or listen too, the crowd was so still. There were also no cases that I saw of people jostling for a position, arguing, or anything of the kind. In fact, people were talking to strangers, asking if they had veterans in their families, where did they serve, what they did and thanking one another for the service of their relatives.
The crowd was also, naturally, very appreciative of the veterans, but to a point I didn’t expect. As the veterans marched passed, the crowed broke into applause. This appreciation, however, was not reserved just for the parade. Some veterans arrived late and walked to the ceremony site by themselves or were pushed in wheelchairs. The crowed broke into separate rounds of applause for each and every veteran that passed, no matter what the circumstances.
Third, the flyby and the 21 gun salute. I’ve been to air shows before and have seen fighter planes pass by, even at low levels, but it’s impressive every time. The CF-18s came in low, in a tight formation and while they may not have screamed passed, they were yelling very loudly. The earth shook and the planes were gone before the sound of their jets reached the people below. That sound followed like a wave passing over the crowed. It’s hard not to be awed by such power.
The Howitzers made an impression too. I think it was the first time I had ever been physically present when such a large weapon was fired. The first shot startled me. The earth shook and I felt the sound echo in my chest. A friend of mine who I spoke to afterwards—who has been around artillery far more than I have—dismissed the salute as somewhat tame. But for me, it was shocking. The sound; the trembling of the earth; the plumes of smoke; and all this after firing shells that weren’t even live ammunition, it made an impression.
I take from both the artillery and the planes that the power we have created for ourselves, the awesomeness of the force we can bring to bear is overwhelming. The sights sounds and smells of an actual war, with its cannons, and planes and guns must be a terrible, terrifying, chaotic clamour and into this, we send those young people.
Finally, there’s the veterans. They were young once too, just like the young soldiers in the parade and they had all seen the worst of war. It just drives home the point of what they must have really gone through and what they have given so that we can live in a free country, where I can write this blog and say whatever I wish, where I can vote, earn a living, and pursue anything I choose. It’s hard to know how to properly express gratitude to these mostly—there were some young Afghanistan war vets there—old people, some of whom marched in the parade with canes. It seems that applauding them as they walked by is so insignificant. I think that perhaps the best way to appreciate their sacrifices to be sure to know about them, read about them, speak to the veterans and be able to pass their stories on.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Jordanian news did not report the story at all (at least not in English) while Syrian media did report on the exercise and framed it as a situation where "the Zionist Entity" would need help from Jordan. Syrian media is also the only outlet that noted that this type of drill is an annual occurrence.
Most Israeli media that reported on this story did so only in sketchy detail and pointed out that the event took place in the shadow of tension between Israel and Jordan over Jerusalem and that the event was only announced after the fact to avoid domestic pressure on the Jordanian government to cancel.
The event must be taken as good news. Cooperation between two countries with a somewhat cold peace cannot be considered anything but a positive step. The deepening of relationships, forging of institutional and personal ties and an increased compatibility and ability to function together in mutual interest is valuable to deepen ties between countries, especially Israel and Jordan.
The secrecy of this drill, however, underscores how this peace is not grassroots but rather political only. It underlines the need for further cooperation in this vein and in others: cultural, educational and the like. Indeed, after the fact, one should hope that this drill and its success and benefits be promulgated widely in Jordan and the Arab world. The breaking of the taboo of dealing with Israel and the opening up of a willingness to try developing ties with Israel and to reap the benefits of such ties could be a key component in creating a wider regional peace.
One also needs to wonder how much cooperation of this type takes place without any publicity. Certainly there is important Israeli-Egyptian cooperation, notably in agriculture, but unfortunately, its benefits are not promoted, as they should be.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Anne Bayefsky, a law professor at York University in Toronto stepped to the microphone after a media scrum and made the point that the resolution does not condemn Hamas, that barely more than half of the UNGA voted for the resolution and that it's hard to imagine that any real democracy expects Hamas to investigate itself and that such an expectation discredits the UN. The actual statement is here.
After making her statement, however, Professor Bayefsky who was speaking on behalf of an NGO the "Touro College Institute for Human Rights" was surrounded by security guards, taken to the UN security department where she was stripped of her ID and then escorted off UN property. Professor Bayefsky is adamant that she would not have been escorted away had she been speaking in support of the UN resolution. When a journalist mentioned to the Palestinian Representative that a "pro-Israel non-governmental organization" had spoken, the diplomat asked the journalist "did we capture them?"
The Lybian delegate who had also spoken to the media commented that Professor Bayefsky had no right to be speaking at all and so she should have been removed from the microphone where she had no right to be. This is because NGOs are not allowed to speak at UN media scrums like the one in question. The same journalist who mentioned the incident to the Palestinian diplomat did some digging and found several cases where NGOs had spoken to media at UN scrums. He also claims that despite requests, he has not been shown any policy explaining who may or may not speak to the media at the UN.
The whole incident, especially the "did we capture them" line is telling of something other than a desire for justice amongst those who support Goldstone's report. It seems that it's more about an opportunity to find Israel guilty and to pass judgement without considering that there may be two sides to the coin. It is a case of a political tarring and feathering rather than a legitimate juridical process which is nonetheless wrapped in the cloak of a juridical process.
Take for example the UN press release which states that the report "...found that Israeli forces and Palestinian militants had committed serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law..." Meanwhile, Goldstone himself states that "Ours wasn’t an investigation, it was a fact-finding mission...We made that clear...We had to do the best we could with the material we had. If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.” In other words, the nuance of what Goldstone himself was trying to say and the point he was trying to make, that his report proves nothing but that an investigation is warranted, is lost on the UN itself which treats Goldstone's "findings" as conclusive, though he himself says they are not.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Apparently, however, I may now be vindicated!
Estelle Irizarry, a linguist at Georgetown University has published a book which argues that not only was Columbus likely Catalan (not Italian) but he was probably also a Jew. This, she argues, is due to similarities in Colombus' writings with Ladino, a language spoken by the Jews of Spain.
It's not the first time Professor Irizarry has proposed that Columbus was Jewish, but the evidence does seem somewhat dubious: a comment made without the benefit of reading the book. Still, others point out that both the financier of his voyage and his interpreter were both Jews (and were baptized at a later date.) Other arguments, such as Colombus' use of Hebrew letters and refusal to baptize slaves are refuted with relative ease.
Still though, the story is interesting and dramatic, but, perhaps not as dramatic as the story of Esther Brandeau, a name probably unfamiliar to most Canadians. In September, 1738, Esther became the first Jew to arrive in New France, and possibly in any part of what is today Canada.
To make the voyage, alone and at a time when non-Catholics were not welcome in the French colony, Esther actually disguised herself as a man, and got away with it for a while, until she was discovered. When attempts to convert her failed, apparently the King himself took an interest in having her removed from the colony and returned to France.
There it is, two stories of (potential) Jewish History in the New World!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Israel's Constitutional Discussions: Towards an Israeli Version of the Canadian "Notwithstanding Clause"
"33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15.
(2) An Act or a provision of an Act in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to in the declaration.
(3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.
(4) Parliament or the legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1).
(5) Subsection (3) applies in respect of a re-enactment made under subsection (4)."
In a nutshell, what this means is that the federal government or a provincial legislature can choose to ignore, or overrule the decision of a court if that court declares that a certain piece of legislation is contrary to the constitution and should be "struck down." Basically, it gives elected officials a way to go ahead with a policy decision even if unelected judges decide that this policy violates fundamental, constitutional rights. It is a type of legislation that may be unique anywhere in the world.
The notwithstanding clause has been used only rarely, and in one of the most (in)famous uses, was when the government of Quebec decided to invoke section 33 so as not to have to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that declared Quebec's Language laws (laws that give French predominance over any other language) were unconstitutional. This use is not the only controversy that surrounds section 33, it is only likely the most visible one.
It seems, however, that Canada may not be alone in having this type of legislation for much longer. Israel is apparently considering something similar.
Israel does not have a written Constitution like Canada does, but rather has a series of "basic laws." Nonetheless, there is an effort afoot to develop a constitution for Israel and this interesting website has a lot of very interesting information on the subject. Indeed, there is even a page dedicated to constitutional discussions between Israeli officials and Canadian ones. This effort, however, is a slow one and faces many political obstacles such that the current Israeli minister of justice, Neeman, commented that he thinks the only way to introduce such a constitution will be gradually.
This leads to Neeman's stated intention to introduce an Israeli notwithstanding clause. The purpose of this proposed bill would be to allow the Supreme court to nullify a law it deems unconstitutional (called "judicial review") and to then give the Israeli parliament the power to ignore the Supreme Court's decision so long as 70 members (out of 120 in the Israeli Parliament) agreed.
In other words, if the Israeli parliament were to ignore a supreme court decision, nearly 60% of its members would have to support such an action. Theoretically, this would make it very difficult for the Knesset to overturn a Supreme Court decision. Compare this to Canada where a simple majority is needed to apply section 33. This means any Legislature where there is a Parliamentary majority could overturn a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada. The reason it does not happen more often is because invoking section 33 is an acknowledgement that basic rights are being violated and so only the most extreme policy or political imperatives justify such an action.
The Israeli situation is very different than the Canadian one. Israel is a country at war, that faces threats both internal and external and has a very fractious political landscape. The Israeli government is also almost always guaranteed to be a minority or a coalition government which gives smaller parties and special interests within the country a great deal of power. The Israeli Supreme Court now stands as one of the most respected in the world for the challenging and wide ranging legal questions it is charged with resolving--and does resolve well--often on very short notice. This bill proposes taking power from this court and placed in the hands of Parliamentarians. These Parliamentarians, however, could find themselves in a position where they must cave to the interests of small parties in order to preserve their political lives, or to pander to a constituency that reacts not based on a desire to adhere to the law but rather to meet a specific policy objective. There should be great concern that the Israeli "notwithstanding clause" could see significant abuse.
If Israel were to take such a gamble on a law that could shift power from well trained, expert jurists and place it into the hands of Parliamentarians whose interests are not always 'justice' then at the very least, raise the number of Parliamentarians needed to invoke the law from 70 to something closer to 85 (just over 70% of a 120 seat house). Such an option should be difficult for parliamentarians to use and should underscore the seriousness of such a decision.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
It's difficult for most Canadians to imagine the concept of a drought and a need to adopt drastic water-saving measures, but as this article from Jordan illustrates well, living in that part of the world, rain truly is a blessing.
It also has its costs, as both the article from Jordan and this story about two Israeli construction workers killed in a mudslide caused by the rains illustrates.
Israeli media seems to disagree on exactly how beneficial the rainfall was. YNet cites a 4 centimeter increase in the levels of the Kineret (Sea of Galilee) as of November 3, whereas Ha'Aretz puts the water level at about an 8.5 centimeter increase.
The Israeli Water authority (in Hebrew, but should be clear enough for anyone to understand) shows on it's tracking of the Kineret's levels, that the Kinnert rose 3 centimeters on the 3rd of November and prior to that had risen 4 centimeters over the course of the weekend. This would make YNet more accurate considering the time of publication and would make Ha'Aretz closer to accurate (though still a bit off) at the time of this writing.
What's particularly fascinating, for those interested in water issues, is the quote in the YNet article that reads: "Most of the rivers in northern Israel did not see substantial water flow. The first storms of the season prepare the soil, but the prolong aridity has not allowed the rain to seep through to groundwater yet" and "this kind of rainfall is very important. The soil is ready for the next rain and future watercourse and floods will surly seep into groundwater."
In other words, it appears that the environmental consequences of drought were so severe that the soil was not even able to absorb the water. It appears that even though the rain was beneficial and "important" much of it that may otherwise have recharged groundwater sources was instead needed to prepare the soil for the rains that Ha'Aretz's weather forecast seems to indicate, may not happen for a while.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The sharp contrast between the arguments of Mr. MacShane and the ADL are not necessarily contradictory. For example, the ADL survey may have been faulty, for any number of reasons. Mr. MacShane may have overstated the case (he is apparently the author of a recently published book on the subject) or he may be shining too powerful a magnifying glass on a small number of unrepresentative cases. There could also be a real divide between attitudes in the US and elsewhere.
The CPCCA, before which MacShane appeared on November 2, 2009 is not actually a government committee. Instead it is merely a coalition of Canadian MPs from all parties who meet to discuss antisemitism in Canada and how to confront it.
Having lived my whole life in Canada, and being very proud of where I'm from, I'm not sure I have ever encountered an act of antisemitism aimed directly at me. Of course, I have seen and heard of antisemitic incidents, but I, as an individual, was never the intended target, it was aimed more generally at the group to which I belonged. That being said, I always considered antisemitism to be a fringe position, held by a tiny minority of people. This may well be exactly the case. However, recognizing that they are not in any way a representative sample, when I read some of the comments of readers, and ostensibly ordinary Canadians on the Ottawa Citizen website or the CBC I shudder.
The Ottawa Citizen article written by MacShane lists a number of incidents he sees as a rise in antisemitism and opens with a reminder of a recent desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Ottawa, taking this incident as a signal of a resurgence in antisemitism. Some of the pearls of wisdom written on the site by readers are (all comments copied and pasted, no edits, no spell-check):
"We need to investigate why there have been many instances where Jews have been caught spraying hateful symbols on dormitories, synagogs and cemetaries."
"Why is there so much focus on the Jews? They comprise of about 4% or less of the world's population and yet they get a disproportionate amount of media coverage. Is this because they own almost all of the main media outlets and therefore control what is being said? (Thought control) This is very dangerous and I am happy that people are waking up."
"And the guy from Hungary was right about the global capital being Jewish capital, thats not anti-anything, the Elite Jews own just about everything there is to be owned... Maybe they are trying to destroy Hungary, have you ever been there?"
As well as a number of other comments saying, in a nutshell, it's not nice to vandalize a cemetery, but look at what Israel's doing in Gaza. As though the actions of Israel would in any way justify the defacing of an Ottawa cemetery with swastikas.
Over at the CBC, which merely reported on Mr. MacShanes Citizen article, neither Israel, nor Zionism nor anything in the middle east is mentioned even once. Nonetheless, comments immediately lash out at Israel. Some of the gems from the much longer thread of comments at the CBC:
"Tsk tsk tsk!! Some politicians are really taking us for idiots. “The beast of Anti-Semitism is on the rise”, they say, but yet, they don’t offer ANY explanations. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to face the truth!!! Since talking about illegal Israeli Occupation is no longer forbidden, in the Media world, and since more and more ppl get their info on the internet, I would say with certainty that there’s a direct correlation between the rise of Anti-Semitism and the truth coming out, about Israel’s ILLIGAL activities! But, you go ahead, Mr. Politicians, try to delude us from the truth and see where it will get you…don’t under-estimate our intelligence….you’re the one who should wake up!!!!!"
"Rwanda, Zimbabwe, the Congo. Check out the numbers of people killed there? Don't they matter? No, because they are black and conveniently forgotten. The Jewish population, especially the Zionists, will be happy once again that their cause of the "great opressed" will be in the news again. How about other culture and genocides there. They should share the stage and this MP should talk about those also."
"Every time someone sais one peep about a jewish person it's ati-semitism. I think it's a load of crap. I despise the Nazis for what was done to 6 million Jews and countless others, but the fact that the holocaust happened does not give Jews the right to scream bloody murder every time someone shows disstain for there religion. I think every religion is retarted....in the eyes of some of these folks that makes me an anti-semetic nazis. Meanwhile who took over the fascist charge when germany was defeated??? The Jews and christians of Isreal and America!"
"Zionists love anti-semitism ( which is a misnomer. Arabs are semites.)"
And so on...
Many comments also deny that there is such a thing as antisemitism, pointing out that Arabs are Semites as well (true) but ignore the actual meaning of the word antisemitism in the English language: "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group."
What is so shocking is that so many of these comments will gloss over real hatred and real intimidation of their fellow citizens, who happen to be Jewish, by simply lashing out at a political entity or policies they don't like. The willingness to, and the ease with which so many comments on these two websites ignore this hate crime and excuse hatred of a minority group that includes their neighbours is truly appalling.
It is similarly appalling, that these two websites, which claim to have moderated comments, allow this type of drivel to be published. Freedom of expression is, of course, a central Canadian value and it should not be limited, nonetheless, do these media outlets have standards that they're willing to uphold? Just because someone writes a comment, does not mean that it's worthy of being published.
I will be very interested to read what the CPCCA recommends and I hope they will provide worthwhile recommendations. In the interim, I remain concerned about some of the rhetoric on these mainstream media sites and would encourage those concerned to write to these outlets asking them to explain their online comment "moderation" policy and procedures and to bring some of these hateful comments, which slip past the moderator, to their attention.