Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I am not sure if Ariel Sharon and his close aides should be so happy with all the electoral "assets" who joined Kadimah these last few days. As much as I admire Shimon Peres, if I ran in an election I would rather have his sympathy and support from a distance than a public embrace. Also, it seems that the only two things that people like Ronit Tirosh ( the not very popular head of the Education Ministry under Limor Livnat ), Daliah Itzik and Haim Ramon have in common are their own political ambitions plus their conviction that Sharon is the one who can fulfill those ambitions. Could it be that men like Shaul Mofaz and Amir Peretz, rookies compared to Sharon when it comes to playing political games, are outmastering the master? Their bases of support within their parties seem to be more solid than the hotch-potch that is gathering around big Arik. It would be a shame if Mr Sharon is unable to deliver only because he tried to keep too many satisfied. On paper a Sharon-Peretz coalition ( together with one or two of the - according to the polls - smaller parties ) could produce a wonderful government, but four months until the elections are a very long time, and four years after the elections are an eternity.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

An article that I proposed to and wrote for the Jerusalem Report has been accepted and will be published in the magazine's next issue. As soon as the issue comes out I will post the article here as well. This article's publication makes me prouder than most other articles ever did. Not only was about 90% of the original preserved in the final version, but also the title ( a pun that I made up myself, you will see ) was adopted by the editors. Besides, while normally I send a finished product to a newspaper or magazine this time I only suggested an idea and asked if the JR was interested. They were, I wrote the piece and sent it to them. The editors' suggestions for improvement really improved the text, but they gave me the opportunity to make the changes myself. I save the final version of the article as a draft, so that I can post it here during my stay in Paris. I assume that will be towards the end of next week or in the beginning of the week after that.
Could it be that I have underestimated Amir Peretz? Could it be that he deserves more credit than I, together with many Israelis, have given him? His election to the Labor party leadership has directly or indirectly brought about what appear to be very meaningful ( and positive ) changes in Israel's political landscape. Ariel Sharon finally decided to start his own party ( something that had been brewing for a while, but the timing is a direct result of the winds of change in Labor ), the Likud is in disarray as a result of that, Shimon Peres seems to have finished his political career ( at least within the Labor party, and behind Sharon he will be allowed to play second fiddle at the most ), and Labor is witnessing some sort of revival. Yesterday Kadimah already presented a political platform, and it contains some very clear points, making clear once more that in the coming elections Israeli voters probably will be able to choose between real alternatives, something that they were unable to do in most previous elections. A high turnout at the elections would be the best thing that has happened to Israeli democracy in years, and if that happens we will have to thank Mr Sharon and Mr Peretz for that.
Within the framework of "good riddance", people like Haim Ramon and Daliah Itzik ( and possibly, with all due respect - and there is a lot of respect -, Shimon Peres ) have left Labor to join Kadimah, and new and highly promising, often quite young, faces are joining Peretz' party. Avishai Braverman - whom until know I only knew as the president of Ben Gurion University, but who apparently is a very talented and accomplished expert in economic and financial matters - did not accept any tempting offers from Sharon ( who will have a hard time keeping all those who joined Kadimah happy: most of the 'members' of his new party have enormous egos and definitely expect some quid pro quo for their public support ) and joined Labor, as did Shelly Yehimovitch, who as a high profile journalist has always stressed the importance of addressing social issues. The announcement of Shelly Y. joining Labor came a few hours after it became known that Daliah I. joined Kadimah, and some are already asking "Daliah who?". Another new member who could contribute a lot is veteran diplomat Alon Pinkas, former consul of Israel in New York. Of course Labor still has many members of the old guard in its ranks, but whereas apart from a few men and women ( Tsippi Livni, Michael Nudelman, I think ) almost all those who joined Kadimah are political opportunists, it appears that most of the fresh faces in Labor belong to people who ( take considerable career risks not because they believe in polls but because they ) have ideals that are larger than their political ambitions. Who knows, I might be a bit too optimistic now, but at least there is something that triggered that optimism, something that did not happen for a long time.
Hopefully Shimon Peres read the painful but oh so true op-ed that Yaron London wrote. This morning I saw Mr Peres in Barcelone, doing what he knows better than any Israeli: working for our interest from abroad. Sean Connery called him Shimon, as if they are childhood friends. Why is it that such an intelligent man does not understand that the best service that he can do to his country ( and to a cause that he so much believes in ) is to promote peace and co-existence in international fora, meeting with VIPs all over the world. He is one of the living Israelis whom I admire the most, but it is about time for him to understand that he will never get the respect and opportunities here in Israel that he receives abroad. Only when you know your limitations will you be able to realize your full potential, and I am sure that Mr Peres has not realized his yet.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Yesterday I saved an interview with Alain Finkielkraut on my parallel blog. It was published last week in Ha'Aretz and deals with the recent riots in France, the identity of the French and of immigrants in France, democracy, integration. As always, Mr Finkielkraut has some interesting and insightful things to say.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I am not as optimistic as Yossi Beilin about Marwan Barghouti's intentions and convictions, and winning 96% of a vote somehow reminds me of the percentages won by Soviet leaders in the good old days when communism still was communism ( on the other hand, the guy is immensely popular among certain parts of the Palestinian population ), but still, I think that Marwan Barghouti represents the kind of Palestinian leaders whom Israel ultimately will ( have to ) deal with. Therefore, when Mr Shalom says that Mr B. will "Never" be released I raise my eyebrows. Never is a very long time in politics, especially in the Middle East. This was probably the candidate for the Likud leadership talking. After all, the party's primaries will be held in less than a month, and the tougher he looks the more votes he might get.
An old, but still funny, cartoon by Tom Janssen. Mr Hussein says "The mother of all humiliations."
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Five weblogs and one website were added to my blog's sidebar. Israel-Palestina is a laudable initiative by two ( or more ? ) Dutch leftwing activists who want to present balanced information about both the Palestinian and the Israeli side of 'the' conflict. Most of the website is in Dutch but parts of it are in English as well. There is a lot of very good reading material, and it contains many links to interesting websites. Two German weblogs were added, one of them I found through a comment on DBI, the other I was refered to by Lila of Letters from Rungholt. I was sure that I already had a link to Brian Blum's This Normal Life, but I was mistaken, so now that blog has a link too. Finally, The Siren's Song and Lonelythinker were added, I think I discovered them after their authors left a comment on my weblog.
I am not really into sports but I thought I should mention this. For the first time in history there is a Dutch world champion in gymnastics ( or practice/perform gymnastics, I am not sure what is the right word ). Juri van Gelder, the reigning European champion in the flying rings category, won the title at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia. Congratulations to him. The Dutch daily De Telegraaf already called him The Lord of the Rings.
If you think that the advisers of Bibi Nethanyahu or president Bush have one of the most difficult PR-jobs these days, think again. Those who have the worst PR-job that I can think of are the advocates of Islam. Why, you ask? It is rumored that Wacko Jacko, aka Michael Jackson, aka the world's most famous children's 'friend' ( even more famous than Gary Glitter ), considers conversion to Islam. I can totally understand the reaction of one Abdel from Nablus, Palestine, on Ynet: "WE DON'T WANT HIM!!!" PS: On the Israeli satirical program "Wonderful Country" they said about Jackson's anti-Semitic comments "...and we thought only black people say such things."

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sinds ik gisteren een elektrische radiator vanuit onze opslagruimte naar mijn werkkamer heb omhoog gesjouwd is het in Israel uitzonderlijk warm voor de tijd van het jaar. Maandag ben ik door- en doornat geregend in Tel Aviv, en vanmiddag kon ik met een t-shirt met korte mouwen over straat. In Nederland is het noodweer, begrijp ik. Sterkte daarmee. Vanaf volgende week zondag wil ik droog weer in West-Europa, voor twee weken. Een beetje sneeuw zou leuk zijn, maar niet teveel, het treinverkeer is al zo gauw ontregeld. Shabbat shalom.
Two excellent cartoons, by Joep Bertrams ( "Mistress", depicting Germany's Bundeskanzler(in) Angela Merkel ) and Chappatte, that I found when I looked for cartoons about Sharon and his new party.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Clearly not only the Likud is starting to panic. Tommy Lapid and Shinuy also understand that they will almost certainly lose many voters to Sharon's new party. Since Shinuy did not do anything unforgettably positive during its short stay in the Sharon II government and because it can take no credit whatsoever for the best - or maybe the only really good - thing that this government has done, it knows that it will have to resort to tricks and punches below the belt. Uncharacteristically, Lapid made one serious mistake this evening. He said that Sharon's party bears the same name ( Kadimah in Hebrew ) as that of the party of Mussolini ( Ynet; according to Ha'Aretz the name is the same of a slogan used by the Duce; I checked the Hebrew websites of both newspapers, and the differences are the same ). Wrong! Avanti ( Forward, Kadimah ) was the socialist paper of which Mussolini was the editor before he switched to rightwing extremism, and it was neither a slogan nor the name of the fascist party. Of course, forward is a word often used in socialist and social-democratic contexts ( e.g. the name of Yiddish newspaper in America, or of a gymnastics club in the small city where I grew up ), but to me that hardly seems a reason why Ariel Sharon should have refrained from using its Hebrew equivalent. In fact, the offices of Avanti were burned by Mussolini's fascists in 1926, and the newspaper went underground, basically becoming a part of the anti-fascist resistance. Until the end of WWII it appeared irregularly in Italy, France and Switzerland. Lapid should have checked his history books or the internet before he said about Sharon's campaign managers: "They either don't speak Italian, or know nothing about history".
Apparently some people see the internet, and in particular search engines such as Google and Ask Jeeves, as some kind of oracle: you ask a question, any question, and an instant anwer pops out. According to my website statistics, provided by, at least twice someone arrived at DBI by asking Jeeves a question:

Jeeves does not really know the answer, he reminds me of some of the workers at a local supermarket, on the back of whose red jackets white letters tell us "Ask me", but when you ask them a question they rarely know the answer. I could easily answer the second question: 'leraar' does not mean anything in English, because the word simply does not exist in English. If you are looking for the most common English translation of the Dutch word 'leraar', you will find the word 'teacher'. As for the first question, I do not really understand it, but I am sure it would be harder to answer than the second one.

Joep Bertram's ( "Getting off" ) and Chappatte's views on Ariel Sharon leaving the Likud.
This morning I sent a revised version of an opinion article to Gershom Gorenberg, the Viewpoint editor of the Jerusalem Report, after he had suggested two minor changes to the original that I had submitted. Hopefully the article will be published in the next issue of the magazine or in the one after that, because it has to do something with the Nobel prize-giving ceremony that is to take place on December 8th in Stockholm. In the last issue of the JerRep Mr Gorenberg wrote an article that deals with - and links - two subjects that I have a more than average interest in: France's war in Algeria ( 1954 - 1962 ) and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These two conflicts are often linked, but Gorenberg, quoting Robert Aron and Albert Memmi - two of my favorite French-Jewish intellectuals -, points out the differences between them very well.
On the website of Sky News I read about an actor in a theater in London's West End who received a standing ovation when he banished a member of the audience when her cellphone went off three times. I think ringing cellphones and flashing screens are annoying when you are watching a play or a movie, so I agree with most of the views expressed on the website. If you are expecting a very important call when you are in a ( movie ) theater, or if your work requires you to be stand-by, you should make sure you have a phone with a silent/vibrate function. The following comment made me smile: Despite the insistence that we should not use mobile phones in hospitals, the surgeon who was performing minor surgery on me kept stopping to answer calls on his mobile. He ended the final conversation with "Can't talk now, I've got my hands full". I was quite flattered since he was performing my vasectomy at the time! RM, Birmingham

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

One more cartoon, this time by Ed Stein, and then I will stop blogging for today, unless something really urgent comes up ( let's hope not, urgent postings are hardly ever prompted by events that bring a smile on my face ).
Only to show you that I do not let Israeli politics depress me, here are two Wizard of Id cartoons that I enjoyed very much. While I am working I have five CDs in my player:
  1. a very-best compilation of the Dutch band Focus ( Jan Akkerman, Thijs van Leer and others, 1960-70s; right now "Sylvia" is playing at a high volume );
  2. "Rhapsody in Blue", an album with music of George Gerschwin, played by the Amsterdam saxophone quartet and the pianist Daniel Wayenberg;
  3. Grieg's Holberg Suite, Melodies and Dances, by Michala Petri ( recorder ) and the English Chamber Orchestra;
  4. Spanish Guitar Music ( Albeniz, Rodrigo, De Falla and other composers ) by John Williams;
  5. The Jazz Album, music of Shostakovich by The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the direction of Riccardo Chailly.

Yesterday evening I watched "Politika" while folding a medium pile of laundry. Wow, the Likud is really panicking. Bibi Nethanyahu was unable to control his anger, and also Michael Eitan and Yisrael Katz did not manage to control their emotions very well. Of course the media got most of the blame for the mess the Likud and Israel find themselves in. What's new? Unfortunately, Ronny Bar-On, one of the opportunists who joined Sharon's list/party, showed very well that his 'party' does not intend to renew Israel's political anti-culture, by shouting and interrupting more and louder than the other participants in the discussion. By the way, he was the attorney who was supposed to become attorney-general in the Hebron - Bar-On deal that involved Aryeh Der'i, Bibi and others; interestingly enough, the journalist who exposed that story, Ayalah Hasson-Nesher of Channel 1 ( one of the few journalists at that channel whose opinion and analysis are interesting and worthwhile ), also was there. Yuli Tamir, a former professor and Peace-Now activist who never succeeded in impressing me as a politician, tried to get across Amir Peretz' election message, but her insistence on using the word "hevrati" ( social ) over and over again, plus the succesful efforts of Ronny Bar-On and the other male politicians to shout her down, did not help her really.
Anyway, we have four annoying, hot, stressful but entertaining months ahead of us. Thank G'd I do not have the time to follow everything seriously, I am simply too busy with more important things. Let's just hope that most of this will result in changes for the better. On the other hand, we have been hopeful before, only to be disappointed again and again.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Things are more or less getting back to normal in most parts of Northern Israel. I find it strange and irresponsible that the name of the soldier who "killed most of the [ Hizbullah ] gunmen" is mentioned. Did the radio station want to stress that yeshiva students can be good soldiers? I don't think that many Israelis had any doubts about that. Not for the first time Hizbullah shows that it can do a good contractor's job not only for Iran but also for its secondary master, the Assad regime, by trying to divert attention from Syria's political and diplomatic problems through attacks against Israel. I would not recommend Hizbullah and the Syrian president to continue pursuing this path, because it will weaken Hizbullah and might speed up Assad's own downfall. Also, the Lebanese government has a great interest in restoring the calm at its southern border. With the disengagement only months behind us and elections coming up, Israel's Prime Minister and Minister of Defense - both of whom are doing their best to curry electoral favor with Likud voters, for different reasons - will do everything to make sure the Israeli public feels that Israel won't be trifled with. As for Israeli politics, while reading Rushdie's book in the train yesterday I saw other people reading two articles with an identical title ( "Earth quake" ) in different Hebrew dailies ( Ma'ariv and Yedioth ). I am not sure if earthquake is a proper description of what has been and still is happening here, especially because earthquakes mostly come as a very unpleasant surprise, whereas Sharon's leaving the Likud did not surprise many of us anymore, and I could think of more unpleasant things than seeing at least six Likudniks compete in order to become leader of a party that for many years has been dysfunctional already.
The most positive result of Sharon's decision to leave the party of which he was one of the main founders seems to be that in the coming elections Israeli voters will have two very clear options to choose from, at least as far as our presence in the territories is concerned. That is, I would be surprised if Sharon will use phrases like "The fate of Netsarim - one of the settlements that were evacuated in the Gaza Strip - is like the fate of Tel Aviv" like he did in previous election campaigns. Sharon will probably not outline Israel's exact borders as he envisages them, but it is clear that a vote for him is a vote for ending the naturalness of the occupation and for allowing 'painful territorial concessions' to be discussed and considered seriously. In that respect, Israel's Right has changed profoundly. Under Peretz, Labor will support every move that is aimed at ending the occupation ( in most of the territories ), by negotiations if possible, unilaterally if necessary. Still, let's wait and see, opinion polls and election results are not one and the same thing ( I almost added this cynical remark: ..."in particular when you have Shimon Peres on your team" ).
Two things I do not like, though. First, after the disengagement I am convinced that Sharon is capable of taking and carrying out at least some of the decisions that are absolutely necessary to make life much better for most Israelis ( disengagement II for instance, but also social issues ), but as with Rabin, it seems that 'Sharon's way' is totally dependent on one person. There is no solid and ideological movement behind him, only or mostly political opportunists have supported him in the last couple of years. If, heaven forbid, something happens to Ariel Sharon, we will be back to square one in most respects. If I know this, our worst enemies within and without know it as well, don't you think? Second, we pin our hopes on septua- and octogenarians such as Sharon and Peres, and there is not a young alternative or replacement ( with vision, leadership qualities, integrity - not Sharon's strongest asset, by the way -, etc. ) on the horizon yet. Amir Peretz does have some positive qualities and characteristics, and if he manages to lead Labor to some good election results he could become a key member of the next government and a driving force behind some of the changes that have to be made , but calling him already an alternative or a serious candidate for Prime Minister is premature.
This morning I had a nice breakfast: two glasses of milk and four slices of ontbijtkoek ( my dictionary translates this as gingerbread but I believe that is something different ). Yesterday was a very productive day, and I also managed to pamper myself a bit. I had a quite healthy ( a large salad, tehina ) and very savoury ( two eggs, fresh bread, cheese, 'fresh' strawberry-apple juice ) breakfast at the Yotveta restaurant in the Azrieli mall. When I entered the Tower Records shop, only to see what is new, without any intention to buy, I saw that Enya has a brand new album. Although the lyrics that she uses are too wooly and New-Agy to my taste, her albums contain beautiful melodies and are perfect background music when you are working, sleeping or relaxing. I have all her CDs, except for Paint the Sky with Stars, because I won't buy a compilation because it has one or two new songs. I would not have bought Amarantine if it did not have such an attractive price: twenty shekel less than the regular price of new albums ( and of all the other Enya CDs ). It is in my CD player right now, as expected it is more of the same, you feel a nice kind of familiarity already from the very first time. When I looked on Enya's website this morning I saw that the album came out only yesterday. I also treated myself to a new book, that I will take with me to Paris: Philip Roth's The Plot against America. For a long time I have not really read any serious literature, but the last week I have enjoyed a wonderful book by Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. With beautiful words and phrases and a lot of wit and symbolism - much of which I failed to pick up, I am sure - Rushdie, who wrote this story in the late 1980s when he was hiding from the Shi'ite colleagues of OBL, tells us a fantastic and entertaining story, in which he deals with censorship and free speech, tyranny, language and much more. If I am not mistaken the book has already been made into a play and an opera, I think it would be perfect for an animated feature as well. In reviews influences of the Arabian nights and Indian literature are mentioned, I was also reminded of books and movies like Through the Looking Glass/Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz. Very much recommended, this book.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Less than 24 hours I am cut off from my regular news sources and all hell breaks loose. The government falls, Sharon starts a new party and what has all the appearances of an all-out war is being fought in the North of the country, with all residents being urged to enter the bomb shelters.
This morning I left home at 5.10 AM to make it to the 6.00 train to Tel Aviv, where I had not been for over a year, except for passing through parts of it on our way to my wife's uncle, aunt and cousins on Saturday once in a while. In the last 38 1/2 hours I have only slept about four hours, so I am quite bushed ( this is the Am-En equivalent of afgepeigerd that I found ). Last night I wanted to go to sleep early but around 9.30 PM our neighbors asked if one of us could go down to babysit, they had to go to the hospital to see their newborn son who has jaundice ), so I went to bed only at 1 AM.
In Tel Aviv I had a number of meetings ( one of them with the initiator and teacher of the Dutch school in Tel Aviv, I made some copies from microfilmed primary sources for my research, I ate Dutch fries/chips in a snackbar located at Allenby street nr. 40 ( pretty good, I had a patatje oorlog, with real Dutch mayonaise and peanut-sauce ), and in the Dutch shop ( Rashi Street 19, right next to King George Street ) I bought some things for myself, my wife and children and my father-in-law: Peijnenburg ontbijtkoek, bakkers speculaas ( a good brand ), Koopmans poffertjesmix + a real poffertjespan, Drost cocoa. Sorry for those who do not understand some of the words here, I am really too tired to start translating and explaining them.
In the next few days I will probably provide some comments on the political and military events that have been taking place these last few days. Layla tov.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Preparations for my trip to Paris in another two weeks are the main reason why I have not been posting very much during the last couple of weeks. One of the things that I have been doing is to give my mailboxes ( I have two, one at Yahoo and one through our internet provider ) a thorough 'cleaning'. One of the things that I came across ( and deleted ) was sent to me more than four months ago by a good friend of mine, whom I will be seeing in Utrecht in less than a month. The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English". In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter. In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away. By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v". During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru. Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

Friday, November 18, 2005

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Today I will post some comics that I saved early this year for future postings. Posted by Hello
Om dit bericht, dat ik las in het nieuwsbulletin van de Wereldomroep dat vanmorgen in mijn e-mailbox zat, moest ik toch wel erg lachen. Gelukkig maar dat het weer rustig is in en om Parijs. Over twee weken ga ik er voor anderhalve week bivakkeren. Wees maar niet bang, het apartement dat ik gehuurd heb ligt ver van alle rotzooi af, vlakbij Pigalle.
* Rust weergekeerd in Franse voorsteden
Na drie weken van onlusten is de rust weergekeerd in de Franse voorsteden. Volgens de politie is de toestand in het hele land genormaliseerd.In de nacht van woensdag op donderdag werden bijna honderd voertuigen in brand gestoken en arresteerde de politie 33 mensen. Dat zijn gebruikelijke aantallen voor een doorsnee nacht.[...]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In the latest issue of the Jerusalem Report I read a good opinion article that was written by a very young person. Titled "Giving in to the bullies", its conclusion is something that I can largely sunbscribe to: [the settlements] "are a physical barrier between Israel and Palestine, but in addition, as long as they exist, they are an insurmountable barrier between Israel and security, and more importantly, between Israel and morality." As an experiment I made a photocopy of the article with my digital camera. The result can be seen here. Click on the photo and you will be able to enlarge it once, which makes the article readable. The original picture ( i.e. not within the confinements of the weblog but on the screen of my laptop ) can be enlarged even more, and it can be read easily on a computer screen. This is how I made photocopies of tens of thousands of newspapers and documents for my research. My Nikon CP 5400 has a function that enables you to make high-quality black-and-white photocopies without a flashlight, perfect for working in archives and libraries.
Two days without a posting, that does not happen very often. I am working on a paper that I will present at a seminar in Paris in less than three weeks, and on an article in English for a magazine. With the world going crazy as it is I do not miss the news that much. In Holland two of the main news items have to do with animal ( and human ) abuse. Two youngsters tried to rob a disabled woman, who was driving a 'scootmobile' and taking her lap dog for a walk. When she told the boys that she did not have any money on her they attacked her and hanged the little dog, tying it to an iron fence. The poor animal did not survive the ordeal. In the north of the country preparations are under way for Domino Day, a yearly event in which an attempt is made to break the previous year's world record of bringing down as many dominoes as possible. This year the record is supposed to be more than 4 million dominoes. A sparrow, which - I did not know that - is a protected species, somehow entered the exposition hall where the event will take place on Friday. The little bird managed to bring down 23.000 dominoes before one of the protection mechanisms stopped any more pieces from falling down. The organizers hired a company that specializes in vermin control, and one of its employees shot the bird with an air gun. This animal also did not survive. Obviously many Dutchmen and -women are outraged by the fact that an animal was killed for what in some comments ( if you understand Dutch read this; even 'Conny Mus' reacted :-) ) is called a futile occupation for the unemployed. At least one death threat has been issued against the shooter. A radio dj has promised a 3000 Euro reward for the person who succeeds in bringing down the dominoes before the official attempt on Friday. He called on all roadworkers in the Netherlands to come with pile drivers and other equipment to the exposition hall and speed up the attempt. In Israel I stopped following the political events closely, knowing that none of our politicians will bring about redemption any time soon. Three other items got my attention, though. Yesterday evening I cried when I saw on television how the parents of 13-year old Ahmed Ismail Khatib, who two weeks ago was shot to death by IDF soldiers ( who supposedly mistook his toy gun for a real one ) and whose organs were donated for transplantation, visited an Israeli hospital and met the children who received their son's organs. His heart was given to Samah, a girl who before the transplantation was unable to get out of bed and who now was standing and hugging them. Ahmed's father told Samah's mother "We feel as if we are looking at our son. If this girl asks you something and you cannot attend to it, come to us. We are her parents too." One of Ahmed's kidneys was transplanted to the body of 5-year old Muhammad Gaboua. Also Tovah Levinson came to thank the Khatibs, her 3-year old daughter received the other kidney. A Druze girl, a Bedouin boy and an ultra-orthodox girl, it could hardly have been more symbolic. On the same day an IDF officer was acquitted of all charges relating to the 'confirmed killing' of a 13-year old Palestinian girl in October last year. From a legal point of view the Givati captain's were apparently right ( some soldiers who testified against their commander admitted of having lied because they wanted him ousted; also, what he did is said to be "a known IDF practice employed to eliminate immediate threats" ) but the whole affair leaves a very bad aftertaste. I am not a military expert and do not know the exact circumstances of the event, but if the reports in the media at the time and today are correct ( the officer confirmed the killing of the girl by emptying a whole magazine of bullets ) there is at least a slight suspicion of overkill. I am afraid I have to agree with the poor girl's father, who said something that we already knew: "there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs, ...had an Arab killed a Jewish girl, this would not have been his sentence ". Another proof of that was given yesterday by the Supreme Court. Shimshon Sitrin, who allegedly led the attack, by a small mob of settlers, on a Palestinian youth in June in the Gaza Strip, was released to house arrest. What is interesting is the motivation of judge Edmond Levi. Accoring to the honorable judge, Shimson S. "understood the error of his ways", and although the man "continues to stand by his belief in the Land of Israel, he has understood that violence is not the way to fulfill it, but rather a way of life that combines Torah studies with manual labor." Personally I think that with so many prisoners being or becoming religious, a prison would be a perfect place for Mr S. to combine such studies with manual labor. This morning I saw his father being interviewed on television. If S. jr understood the error of his ways, his father certainly does not. He attacked the media ( extensive footage of the attack has been shown on all major national and international networks ) and "you Leftists" in general, said that the Palestinian was a terrorist and only pretended to be wounded, etc. etc. It is sad and worrying that on a day such as yesterday the most beautiful side of human nature is shown by two parents who are proud members of a people that is said to be our enemy, whereas we ourselves exposed some of the ugliest sides that Israeli society has come to know. "And God created humans in his image. In the image of God did He create him." ( Genesis 1:27, from this verse the Israeli NGO Betselem took its name ).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I very much liked this picture, that was taken yesterday evening in Tel Aviv by a Reuters photographer. I found it on the website of the Dutch daily De Telegraaf.
( Yes, provided that....)
Some not too recent but still relevant and funny cartoons by Tom Janssen, dealing with Turkey ( Turkije ) and the EU.
A few more remarks on yesterday evening's rally in Tel Aviv. Amir Peretz implied that all violence that threatens Israeli society from within is a result of the occupation ( "Had we stopped the violence in the territories, we would have stopped violence among us." ). I think that is exaggerated and untrue, although I am convinced that at least some of the violence and the apparent 'loss of values' that have been an integral part of life in Israel for many years can be traced to our presence in the occupied territories.
Bill Clinton insisted to be on stage when the "Song for Peace" and Israel's national anthem were sung, something which provided those responsible for security at the event with additional headaches. You could see him and Mrs Clinton trying to mumble the lyrics of the songs, loudly singing the word "Yerushalayim" at the end of HaTikvah.
When I say that we miss him and Yitzhak Rabin I am not saying that Oslo was perfect, far from that. I studied with one of the process's original architects, Yair Hirschfeld. While I admire the intellectual qualities, courage and optimism of people like him and like Peres, they are in many respects what I would call "Luftmenschen", or 'astronautim' as they are called in Hebrew. I do not believe at all that any solution will be reached by military means alone, but politicians and academics who conduct the negotiations and make the deals that affect our lives should have at least a clue about the - physical, military - realities on the ground, and - believe me - Hirschfeld does not have such a clue. There were many faults in the process's planning and implementation, faults for which not only Arafat but also the Israeli and American governments were to blame. Still, it is obvious that the best way out of the mess that Palestinians and Israelis find themselves in will be through some sort of agreement.
Whatever agreement will be reached one day, without Oslo it would never have been possible. As for American involvement, what we miss today - in contrast to the Clinton days - is an honest and inspired commitment to help us and the Palestinians achieve some modus vivendi. For too long the Bush administration has let Sharon and Arafat and Abu Mazen bungle on, never did either of the parties involved get the feeling that somehow ending the conflict was a national priority for the Americans, even though such an end would probably contribute significantly to a victory for the West in its war on terror.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Half an hour ago I finished watching the official mass rally that marked ten years since Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. My wife and I sat down on our bed to fold some laundry together, and we started watching the broadcast somewhere in the middle of it. We were told that more than 200.000 people attended, it was very impressive and moving. Many young people could be seen in the crowd, and not all of them came to see one or more of the first- ( and world-)class artists that performed, such as Ahinoam Nini and Gil Dor, David Broza, the Fools of Prophecy ( whose performance was amazing, sung very well ; according to their website they just returned from a tour at university campuses in the US), Gali Atari, Aviv Geffen. Defintiely more interesting names than the few artists ( Ariel Zilber, who said some very nasty things about IDF uniforms; that Elbaz guy who once sang the famous "He is innocent" for Aryeh Deri when the latter was sent to prison ) who gave acte de presence at the pro-settler rallies this year. It was nice to see such a peaceful mass gathering, without any calls for refusal to enlist in the army, without any physical confrontation with soldiers or police(wo)men. Of course some of the speeches ( I only started watching when Amir Peretz spoke ) were very political, but most of them were very much to the point, touching and inspiring. Try not to be political when you are remembering a political murder. One of the best speeches was given by Justice Minister Tsipi Livni. She stressed that she did not agree with Rabin or vote for him but that the murderer of Rabin killed the Prime Minister of Israel, the state in which she lives, and that his bullets were aimed at this country's democracy, at all of us. Also Shimon Peres said some beautiful words, it almost seemed his was some kind of political farewell speech. He urged the young people to dedicate their lives to this state, to peace, and to build not only a wall against terrorists but also gates to enable cooperation with our neighbor and with the world. The biggest star, as could have been expected, was Bill Clinton, who for some reason was called "President Clinton" time and again by the MC, Aharon Barnea. If ever Israel had a true friend in the White House it was William J. Clinton, and it showed again tonight. You can see that he means what he says when he expresses his love and admiration for someone like Rabin, or his hopes for this country and the people that live here. As much as we miss Rabin - and believe me, we miss him a lot -, I am not sure if Israel does not long even more for a US President such as Clinton.
Van mijn broer, wiens twee weken vakantie in de VS al weer bijna voorbij zijn, hoorde ik dat Gretta D. weer eens van zich doet spreken. Lekker negeren, zou ik zeggen. Onwillekeurig deed de weduwe Duisenberg me denken aan een Sam en Moos mop, als ik me niet vergis vertelt de vader van Olga die aan Erik in Turks Fruit. Sam loopt over de wallen en ziet zijn vriend Moos, die net weduwnaar is geworden, uit een peeskamertje komen. "Oy vey, Moos, wat doe jij hier, je hebt gisteren net je vrouw begraven?" vraagt Sam, waarop Moos zegt "Weet ik wat ik in mijn smart doe?"

Friday, November 11, 2005

This really makes me mad. On the website of Sky News I read a photo-article on Hammasa Kohistani, the winner of this year's Miss England competition, who happens to be the first Muslim ( born in Uzbekistan, she lived in Afghanistan but fled the country with her parents ) to have ever done so. Muslims who see her decision to enter the beauty contest as un-Islamic have made death threats against her. So what do you think the editors of the Sky News site have to say about this thing? A critical comment about the fact that some Muslims find it hard to respect basic values of a democracy such as having the right to choose what you do in your spare time or for a living, or the right of not having your life threatened by a bunch of medieval fanatics? Think again. Sky found this the perfect item to address a much more important issue: " Her story brings into focus once more the whole debate surrounding beauty contests themselves, which many would prefer to see consigned to the misogynist dustbin of history."
Again, a picture found and adapted at
Today France and other countries remember the armistice that ended World War I, and honor the soldiers who died in that war. Two years ago I attended the beautiful ceremony near the Arc de Triomphe, for the first time using my Nikon Coolpix 5400 digital camera. I went together with our very good friend Avraham ( aka "sabba Avraham", as our children call him; they basically have three grandfathers: opa - my father -, sabba - or sabba Shmuel: my father-in-law -, and sabba Avraham ), who spent almost a month in Paris while we lived there. He took the above picture from where we stood. I took almost the same photo, but it is on one of the backup CD-ROMs with our family pictures from France 2003-4, which I do not have at hand right now. The weather was beautiful that day, I just saw that today it is mostly cloudy in Paris.
Remembering the security measures that we saw two years ago I can only imagine what today's ceremony must have been like. Still, it is nothing compared to what we have become used to here in Israel after Yitzhak Rabin was murdered.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

In case you wondered why Shimon Peres lost in the Labor party primaries, here is part of the answer. Five minutes ago I answered the phone, only to hear a recorded message from Shimon Peres who told me to come and vote before eight o'clock, and not to let chance decide the elections. For more than a week I have received such calls on a daily basis, on Monday evening even twice. For some reason I do not think that urging me one day after the elections to come and vote is very usefull, but it could be that I just do not have enough political experience to understand such matters, of course. Anyway, I voted for Fuad, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. Originally I wanted to vote for Matan Vilnai, because he seemed to me to be the only one who is not a real politician ( i.e. he appeared to believe in what he says ), but after he left the race I thought that it was a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee and I saw no reason not to do my father-in-law a favor by voting for Fuad, especially since the latter took the trouble of personally calling my wife and thanking her for her help in his campaign. I don't know why, but hearing a real person talk on the phone is much less annoying than hearing a recorded message over and over again.
These are the bride and groom at whose wedding one of three terrorists killed and maimed scores of people yesterday in Amman, Jordan. The fathers of both the bride and the groom ( whose name is Ashraf al-Khaled (*), the bride's name I do not know ) were among the dead, as were numerous other dead and wounded. According to Mr Al-Khaled "this has nothing to do with Islam". PS: This is the name that was mentioned on Sky News, where I also found the picture. Normblog quotes the Guardian, according to which the broom is named Ashraf Mohamad al-Akhras.
So Amir Peretz was elected as the new leader of the Labor party. If this is a revolution I am not sure if it is a good one. The party needed to be shaken up a bit, but the question is whether Peretz was the ideal man to do that. He symbolizes much of the less positive sides of the Histadrut labor union, not only as an employer, but also as an apparatus through which it is relatively easy to further one's political career. That the economy and the citizens of Israel sometimes had to suffer because of strikes that furthered Amir Peretz' political interests much more than the interests of the workers involved did not really bother him. All the way through his campaign for the chairmanship of Labor his position was last among people who said they would vote Labor, while it was very strong among those who registered as party members. This only confirms what was already a known fact: many of the Peretz-voters within the party were men and women who were enlisted through or within the still very powerful Histadrut labor union. Since that labor union is an employer of thousands it is often difficult to know whether a Histadrut worker or another employee who was registered by/through one of his superiors became a party member and voted for Peretz because (s)he believes Labor should lead the next government ( and will vote for the party ) or because (s)he does not want to rub his/her employer up the wrong way.
Of course Shimon Peres should have quit a long time ago. Maybe now he finally will realize that he has done enough for Israel, someone who is 82 is not the right person to lead a party or a country. His contributions to the security of the state ( both through his diplomatic skills and because of his work for the defense ministry; Israel's nuclear deterrence is due largely to his efforts and contacts with French officials in the 1950s and early 1960s ) are enormous, but as a politician you need much more than that to gain popular support.
If Ariel Sharon sets up his own party before the coming elections, I am positive that he will gain many votes from those who in the last elections voted either Shinuy or Labor. The biggest shake-up to which Amir Peretz contributed or will contribute is probably in the center of the Israeli political spectrum. Just like the Likud might ( or already has ) split up into a far-right part and a part that represents the political center, Labor now will be divided more than ever before into a pragmatic, non-ideological and a more stubborn, pseudo-ideological part. As I said earlier, the coming six months will be entertaining and fascinating for everyone who is interested in Israeli politics.
I read an insightful analysis of the riots in France, written by Sophie Masson, on Normblog. The clever cartoon that I added was found on Cox & Forkum. Mrs Masson points out something that is worth noticing: the riots and protests are simultaneously very French and un-French: "Revolutionary agitation is a bug that was caught by the French 200 years ago, and it's never left the French bloodstream. In fact, it could be said that the rioters in Paris and their copycats in the rest of the country are expressing on one level their alienation from French society - yet on another are displaying their assimilation. This isn't yet an Islamist-inspired mob; it is the traditional Paris mob, feared since 1789. And the government's reaction, veering in panic-stricken indecision from one wildly contradictory solution to another, is also traditional."
This shot I found at "Willemijn's TV", a Dutch weblog that discusses part of what can be seen on Dutch television. The subtitles say "Those who, like Hitler and Mussolini, made an unholy pact...". I post it here because I liked Willemijn's comment very much: "Human rights activist Robert Mugabe puts the crimes of George Bush and Tony Blair in a historical perspective."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Just a reminder: today the primary elections for the leadership of the Labor party take place.
Two views on what has been going on in France for the last week or so. The first cartoon is by Chappatte, who happened to be in Israel for an international cartoonists' convention this week. I saw him being interviewed on Israeli television the other day. Dutch cartoonist Joep Bertrams ( " City of lights " ) made the other one.
As for the riots themselves, I think that - as with terrorism - poverty, discrimination, social gaps etc. are adopted as excuses for random violence and local tugs-of-war, while you do not hear or see much of those who are truly at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. I found it ironic to see that some of the vandals who were interviewed on television wear designer clothes and shoes that I cannot afford. Why is it that when in Europe ( second and third generation ) immigrants run wild you never see any people of Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese or Indian descent cause major problems? Could it be that those immigrants are too busy studying, or working to make sure their children can advance in their new homeland? Sure, France is not exactly the land of liberty, equality and fraternity anymore - I wonder if it ever was - but the current events seem to be rather a case of chaos pour le chaos than understandable efforts by desperate participants in a just social struggle.
There is not much of a chance that you will ever see me join a George W. Bush fanclub. I have my doubts about the man's competence, and based on what I know about him and his policies I would say that his worldview and mine do not exactly run parallel. For a funny but unfortunately quite true picture of the Republican Party under Bush jr. have a look here ( thank you, Avraham, for the link ). Nevertheless, if I had to choose between the different global, regional and local bullies in the world I most probably would not hesitate for a moment and pick the US ( if you consider Israel a regional bully I will choose Israel as well ). On the eve of the latest invasion of Iraq I wrote an article in a Dutch newspaper in which I said that I supported Great Britain and the US - not wholeheartedly -, partly or even mainly because I could not think of any interest that I have in common with many of the anti-war coalition members. A similar argument applies when I see the very diverse members of the anti-Bush ( or anti-US ) coalition. Much of the Bush-bashing has become just as cheap and populist and has just as little substance as Bush and much of his administration seem to have. I agree with much of the criticism expressed by American Democrats against their own government, but too much of the worldwide demonstrations against Bush appear to be more anti-American than anti-Bush. There are numerous social and other abuses in American society, and on all too many occasions American foreign policy makers have chosen what can only be seen as the absolutely wrong side in (in)ternational conflicts, I am sure, but I cannot help feeling a kind of gratitude and relief that a country such as the US exists, because without it most democracies might be left at the mercy of much worse bullies. Look at the picture above. How can you expect me to take such a protest seriously? A former soccer player - who today is remembered more because of a goal that should have been disallowed and of his drug addiction than as a result of his sometimes genial performances on the field - and one of the world's most veteran dictators ( I know he did some good things to his country as well, and yes, the previous - US supported - regime was probably worse, but still (*)) join forces by demonstrating their hatred of GWB, using a symbol that is totally inappropriate and that was uncritically adopted by thousands of demonstrators all over South America and elsewhere in the world. That in the past Diego Armando M. has been rather friendly with good old Mr Qadaffi doesn't make what he wants to tell us any more convincing. America has a lot of work to do if it really wants to win over the rest of the world for the causes that it believes in. A deep gulf between rich and poor, gun laws, the death penalty, demanding free trade while continuing to subsidize its own farmers, no true separation of church and state, supporting dubious regimes in different parts of the world, utter disdain for environmental concerns, there are many subjects that the most powerful country in the world should address before it can expect anybody to listen seriously when Bush & co. lecture us on issues such as democracy and freedom. Still, unless I discover what for me would be the perfectly balanced anti-Bush coalition you won't see me demonstrating against the man or against his country. (*) Talking about faulty American foreign policy: wouldn't an end to the ridiculous American boycott of Cuba have terminated Castro's rule years ago?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ayalah Hasson of Channel 1 just had a scoop on the channel's news broadcast. She was able to tell us that Ariel Sharon has decided that if elections will be moved forward ( there is talk of elections in April or May 2006 ) he will run at the head of a new party. One of the stars who will join him in such a party ( in addition, most probably and naturally, to most of the MKs and ministers who have supported him in the last two years ) is Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Beth security service.
This will make politics in Israel very interesting in the coming six months. It will be very hard for the Labor Party to keep thousands of voters who normally would vote for Labor from giving Sharon the benefit of the doubt for one more time. Only if it gets its act together - and its ranks closed - fast will it be able to equal the far from impressive results that it achieved in the last elections.
I found ( and adapted ) this picture at
Our daughter, who is in first grade, asked us about Yitzhak Rabin. Her teacher told her and her classmates to ask their parents to tell them what they know about the man and his work. We spoke with her about him, bought her the book "The Redhead from ( the ) Kadouri ( school ) who became prime minister" and showed her many pictures that we found in a book and online. While we did that I thought how slight the chances are that the next generation will continue to honor Rabin's memory. It is very hard for me to explain to our daughter why Yigal Amir hated Yitzhak Rabin so much that he wanted to kill him, but I find it almost impossible - and of course decided not - to tell her that Yigal Amir was not the only one who wished Rabin dead, and that today many Israelis would not shed a tear if Ariel Sharon was murdered too. We did try to describe to her the pain and anger of the settlers before and during the implementation of the disengagement plan, but we thought it was a bit too much to explain to a six-year-old the link between that plan, the slogans of the Right that she could read everywhere for many months, and the first - and G'd willing last - murder of a Prime Minister in Israel. I wonder - but have some idea - how the more extreme supporters of the settlers talk about Rabin, if at all. On national television we heard Yigal Amir's mother, who is a kindergarten teacher, tell us that Rabin basically got what he deserved, and she probably is not the only parent or educator who thinks so. With the Left being more ineffective and divided than ever before, the Right busier with infighting than with ideology, and the government in the hands of someone who played an important negative role in the months that preceded the murder of Rabin, only to do part of Rabin's job ten years later, the only national consensus surrounding what is so beautifully named "Rabin's legacy" is that few things evoke so little consensus as the memory of that man. Just so that I will be able to read the articles in the future ( for example on the day that, heaven forbid, Yigal Amir will be released from prison; that seems unthinkable to many today, but on the other hand, who would have believed you if you had said in 1982 or 1995 that Ariel Sharon would be Prime Minister one day, or that he would be the one who would take us out of Gaza; nothing is impossible in - Israeli - politics ) I saved some of the articles about ( the memory of ) Rabin and his murder that appeared this week on the website of Ha'Aretz. You can find them here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. The most interesting and moving posting on the subject I read in German, on the weblog of my friend Lila at Letters from Rungholt. Two excerpts I will translate here: "It is ten years ago. My eldest was then in kindergarten, we told him in the morning about the murder of the Prime Minister. His reaction: Mommy, from now on I will also stand still for Rabin, when the sirens remind us of the dead soldiers. [...] It is a real problem to keep the remembrance alive and not to lapse into schematic and obligatory memorials, at least as far as the ceremonies at schools are concerned. For all adults it remains unforgettable how terrible the murder was. A sad day.[...] "...what is supposed to become of [...] peace [...], nobody really knows. I believe that today we do not aim our hopes so high anymore. A good, solid agreement, with which both sides can live, would be enough for us. Today I see peace as the fruit that will slowly grow out of that. But even this modest vision is in doubt. Whatever, I have no idea either."

Monday, November 07, 2005

Vanochtend heb ik Leon de Winter's De Hemel van Hollywood uitgelezen, die ik twee jaar geleden van mijn broer voor mijn verjaardag kado kreeg. Net als alle andere boeken van De Winter die ik las was dit een heerlijk onderhoudend boek. Het plot is aardig ( en bedoeld verwarrend, wat het misschien nog wel leuker maakt ), het 'joodse gehalte' is zo schmalzy als maar weinigen dat ongestraft kunnen doen, soms is wat de schrijver wil zeggen wat onlogisch of ongelukkig geformuleerd (*) en de stijl is niet altijd je dat, maar al met al is het prima entertainment, of - zoals iemand in een Duitse recensie van een van De Winter's romans schreef - briljante kitsch. Hiervoor las ik Ischa Meijer's De Interviewer: 50 interviews uit 25 jaar interviewen ( ik kon de editie die ik gelezen heb niet online vinden, vandaar dat hier geen link staat ). Ook daarvan heb ik - bij vlagen, niet alle interviews zijn even geslaagd natuurlijk - genoten. Sommige van de meest boeiende persoonlijkheden in het amusement, de politiek en het openbare leven in het Nederland van eind jaren zestig tot halverwege de jaren negentig van de vorige eeuw komen in in het boek aan het woord. Het interessantst vond ik ( in de meeste gevallen omdat ik van de desbetreffende geinterviewde personen niet erg veel af wist ) de interviews met Sylvia de Leur ( ik wist niet dat zij uit Breslau kwam, W.L. Brugsma, Willem Breuker, Annie M.G. Schmidt, Karel van het Reve, Huub Oosterhuis ( ik wist niet dat hij zo'n 'eng'-katholieke achtergrond had ) en Liesbeth den Uyl-Van Vessem. Bram Peper komt er echt slecht af in het interview dat Ischa Meijer met hem en zijn vrouw hield, en in het gesprek met Friedrich Weinreb en zijn vrouw zag ik het weinige bevestigd dat er bij mij over zijn werk en 'zijn' affaire bekend was. Nu ben ik begonnen in The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish policy, September 1939 - March 1942, geschreven door Christopher Browning ( schrijver van o.a. Ordinary Men, een studie die wat bronnenmateriaal betreft raakvlakken vertoont met maar voorafging aan en veel overtuigender is dan Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners ) met medewerking van Juergen Matthaeus. Dit boek ( 433 pagina's tekst, plus nog eens bijna 200 pagina's noten, bronnen en index ) wil ik voor mijn vertrek naar Parijs uithebben. Tijdens mijn verblijf daar zal ik o.a. een lezing van Juergen Matthaeus bijwonen waarin hij zal spreken over "Controlled Escalation - The Holocaust in the Soviet Union, 1941/42". (*) Bijv.( Derde druk, januari 2000 ):
  • p. 168: Het was haar niet aan te zien dat ze intelligent was; hij dacht dat ze een filmgroupie was of een kledingassistente.
  • p. 169: Het was geheim wat ze deden en het maakte spannend wat anders vermoedelijk vrij middelmatig was geweest.
  • p. 317: Afkomstig uit een gebroken gezin uit South Central heeft zij de lange weg van getto-kind tot hoofdinspecteur van politie afgelegd, een tocht die te vergelijken valt met de eerste maanreis.

When I saw Bill Clinton being interviewed by Yonit Levy of Israel's Channel 2 I realized just how much we miss him these days. Sure, he was not a saint and he certainly did not choke on his first lie, as we say in Dutch, but he was able to give me and so many others here and elsewhere in the world some kind of feeling that he cared. While there many things that he should have taken care of but did not ( it appears that Islamist terror was not taken seriously enough, for instance ), he at least gave me the impression that he tried to do what he thought was necessary to bring peace, dignity and prosperity to as many people as possible. Today his legendary public personal warmth and his intellectual abilities are lacking, and while I am sure his administration - like the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority - bears partial responsibility for the failure of Oslo, the lack of commitment to and interest in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the side of the current American government caused much more damage than Oslo ever did. One of the faces of Clinton's foreign policy was James Rubin. After leaving the Clinton administration Rubin started working for various media and now presents a news show at Sky News. On that network's website I just read the following column by him, which contains some very important - and very obvious - thruths. Most if it I have read elsewhere as well, but some things cannot be said and written enough. "There's probably no subject in international affairs that can get tempers flaring and voices shouting quicker than the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. To some, it is the cause of all the problems between America and the Islamic world. To others, it is proof that Islamic extremism is the fascism of the 21st Century. After hundreds of hours in negotiating sessions with people like Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and Saeb Erekat, I can't honestly say that I know any more than anyone else as to how to bring peace to the Middle East. But I have drawn a few conclusions: First, Jihadists don't fight for the Palestinians or speak for the Palestinians. Their movement is driven by a view that Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are illegitimate and controlled by Washington. Second, until the Palestinians truly accept the importance of the Holocaust in historical terms and in the psyche of Jews in Israel and around the world, Israel may pursue carefully calculated agreements but will never pursue a deep and permanent peace settlement. Third, until Israelis understand and empathise with the misery of the Palestinian people and their legitimate desire for freedom and what President Clinton has called "the quiet miracle of a normal life," Palestinian leaders will never be able to achieve the control of terrorist groups necessary for a two-state solution. And finally, nearly every observer knows what the final outcome is. As Barak told me on Friday: the final agreement will differ only in tiny details from the one that President Clinton offered, Barak accepted and Arafat turned down. The destination is well known. The only question is how long it takes to get there." James P. Rubin
That this conflict is so absurd I have written several times before, but it still amazes me when I read about yet another proof of its senselessness. Last week a 12-year old Palestinian boy, Ahmed Isma'il al-Khatib ( see also here ), was shot by IDF soldiers in Jen when they mistook the toy gun that he played with for a real one. Severely wounded, he was transfered to an Israeli hospital ( Rambam in Haifa ), where he died. His parents decided to donate his organs to save the lives of other people. "His heart was given to a 12-year-old girl; his liver was divided in two and given to two patients, a six-month old baby and a 56-year-old woman; his kidneys were given to a 5-year-old boy and his lungs were given to a 5-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, Israel Radio reported." Every now and then we read about Arab ( Palestinian ) children or adults receiving organs of Jews ( Israelis ) who died, or of Jewish ( Israeli ) adults and children being given an opportunity to return to a normal life with the help of organs donated by an Arab ( Palestinian ) family. In this case the story is even more touching. This just goes to show that we all live with the same hearts, lungs and kidneys, we all breathe the same air, and we all depend on each other. If only all of us would be allowed to scrape off some of the outward labels that make life so difficult for us, and if only our lives could be lived on the most basic, human level, without the interference of politicians and religious 'leaders', we would in all likelihood get along quite well. This does not mean that we all should give up our religious or national identity, but it would be nice if we stopped defining and labeling others without first seeing them as human beings, with the same human needs and passions that keep us going. If we see the person on the other side first and foremost as someone who in most aspects is identical to us, we fill find it harder to blow ourselves up right next to him while he is buying some groceries, or to shoot him in the head when he is playing in the street.
The optimism among some Labor party members and leaders is somewhere between endearing and pathetic. On Wednesday the party members will choose the party's leader for the coming elections. The two main contenders are the 80+year-old Shimon Peres and the populist Amir Peretz. Of the two remaining candidates, Benyamin Ben-Eliezer ( 'Fuad' ) and Matan Vilnai ( both former highranking officers in the IDF ), at least one ( Vilnai ) has quit the race, the other is expected to give up his candidacy as well. Matan Vilnai - who probably would have received my vote, even though he did not stand a chance - expressed his support for Peres. He would have done that anyway, I am sure, but I really had to laugh when I read that "Shimon Peres won the loyalty of senior MK Matan Vilnai with a promise to name the former general as defense minister in a future Peres-led government." I respect and in more than one way admire Shimon Peres, but I would not bet even one shekel on him winning any elections soon, no matter who will lead the Likud, Sharon or Nethanyahu. As for Amir Peretz, supposedly he already announced that he and his 'One People' faction will leave the Labor Party if he loses on Wednesday. Yet another reason not to vote for him, if you ask me. The party is a shambles, with no vision and no leader whatsoever, but the last thing that it needs is a man who leaves and joins the party at will, depending on whether it yields to his whims, and whose main political asset - a social agenda for Israeli politics - appears to be less sincere than his personal ambitions.

Friday, November 04, 2005

While the Weather Channel says it is cloudy ( about half an hour ago it said partly cloudy ) in and around Haifa, the rain has been pouring down here already for more than half an hour.
This is the birthday cake that my wife made yesterday evening for our son's party that we will celebrate this afternoon ( we celebrated his third birthday on Wednesday ).

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ik geloof niet dat ik ooit eerder op dit weblog een stemadvies heb uitgebracht, dit is volgens mij een primeur. Bij de "Website van het Jaar" verkiezingen kun je je stem uitbrengen op verschillende sites in elf categorieen. Tien ervan zullen me worst wezen, maar in de categorie "Nieuws" vind je de website van Teletekst. Een goede vriendin van me is al weer een tijdje een van de verantwoordelijken voor Teletekst en dus ook voor de website, en het zou natuurlijk leuk zijn als zij zou winnen. Klik dus hier, en stem op Teletekst. Tenzij je natuurlijk wilt dat Jort Kelder of de lui van GeenStijl met de eer gaan strijken.
Ik was blijkbaar niet de enige die zich verbaasde over het zo weinig kritische enthousiasme en de warmte waarmee de Russische president Poetin in Nederland is onthaald. Drs. Naftaniel van het CIDI heeft het over de actieve rol die Rusland speelt in Iran's pogingen om nucleaire technologie te bemachtigen. Tijdens de persconferentie die Poetin gaf ging hij zelf in op Tsjetsjenie, door te zeggen dat als Rusland een minuut zwakte toont in de strijd tegen de terroristen er nog meer slachtoffers zullen vallen en dat de tegenstanders van Rusland beesten in menselijke gedaante zijn. Als Sharon iets dergelijks over de Palestijnen en over 'ons' conflict zou hebben gezegd zouden de Nederlandse pers, tientallen organisaties die het zo goed menen met de mensenrechten in het algemeen en met die van de Palestijnen in het bijzonder, en de regering over elkaar heen gevallen zijn om hem te veroordelen, en ze zouden nog gelijk hebben ook. Mensenrechten, persvrijheid, de twijfelachtige gang van zaken rond het proces van Michael Khorodovsky, het kan zijn dat ik het gemist heb maar ik heb niets gehoord of gelezen over massale demonstraties tegen de minder frisse kanten van het bewind van Poetin. Er zijn natuurlijk wel degelijk mensen die zich bezighouden met het kritisch volgen van wat er in Rusland gebeurt, en ik behoor niet tot diegenen die altijd klagen dat een land als Israel oneerlijk wordt behandeld door de buitenlandse pers, de EU en allerlei NGOs ( veel kritiek in de richting van Israel is volgens mij meer dan terecht ), maar het zou de mensenrechten ten goede komen, de geloofwaardigheid van de critici en dus ook de oppositie in Israel zelf versterken als ook in het geval van landen als Rusland en China ( om over de volkomen foute landen maar te zwijgen ) kritiek iets hoor- en zichtbaarder zou zijn op alle mogelijke niveaus.
Het volgende artikel, waarnaar ik gisteren verwees, stond gisteren in het Reformatorisch Dagblad.
Van Gogh en Rabin, 1(0) jaar later
Deze week herdenkt Nederland de moord op Theo van Gogh en is het precies tien jaar geleden dat Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv werd doodgeschoten. Op het eerste gezicht hebben deze twee moorden, hun daders, slachtoffers, en de context waarin ze plaatsvonden weinig met elkaar te maken. Niettemin zijn er minstenst twee duidelijke paralellen te trekken tussen Israel op en na 4 november 1995 en Nederland op en na 2 november 2004. De belangrijkste overeenkomst is dat in beide gevallen de moordenaars in meer dan één opzicht hun zin kregen. Yigal Amir, de moordenaar van Rabin, kan helemaal tevreden zijn. Zijn wandaad schakelde de enige politieke leider uit die destijds genoeg steun bij de Israëlische bevolking had kunnen krijgen voor verregaande concessies tegenover de Palestijnen. Het al zo wankele vredesproces werd totaal verlamd, iets wat niet alleen op Amir's conto kan worden geschreven maar waaraan hij wel degelijk een belangrijke bijdrage heeft geleverd. Alle hoop op een min of meer werkelijk vreedzame, onderhandelde oplossing voor 'het' conflict – een gruwel in de ogen van alle extremisten, joods en Palestijns – is sindsdien eigenlijk vervlogen. Pas tien jaar later lukte het Ariel Sharon, in 1995 ironisch genoeg één van de belangrijkste politieke tegenstanders van Rabin, met veel pijn en moeite om Israël uit slechts een klein deel van de bezette gebieden terug te trekken. Het hele terugtrekkingsproces liet zien hoe weinig de joodse staat na die zaterdagavond in Tel Aviv geleerd heeft. Het wezenlijke gevaar van Rabin's moordenaar en van het milieu waarin zijn ideeën tot wasdom kwamen wordt nog steeds onderschat, en zijn ideologie wordt vrijelijk de wereld ingestuurd, zij het bij monde van zijn familie of van deze of gene religieuze leider, of via websites zoals de homepage van de familie Amir. Begin deze week nog kon de moeder van Yigal Amir op de televisie zeggen dat Rabin zijn lot in feite verdiende, en dat haar zoon dus veel te zwaar gestraft is. Ook werden voor en tijdens de terugtrekking uit Gaza verbale en fysieke uitingen van grof geweld niet of nauwelijks serieus genomen. Veel van de rechtse militanten die soldaten, politieagenten, ambtenaren of politici bedreigden of aanvielen gingen vrijuit. Niet minder dan 20 % van de Israëlische bevolking is er voorstander van om Yigal Amir gratie te verlenen. Ook Mohammed Bouyeri kan zeggen dat zijn misdaad vruchten heeft afgeworpen. De vervreemding tussen de Nederlandse maatschappij en een belangrijk deel van de in Nederland wonende moslims is groter geworden. Polarisatie, iets waar vrijwel elke terrorist op uit is, werd meer dan voorheen een sleutelwoord in veel discussies over de multiculturele maatschappij. Veel intellectuelen lijken zich in sommige gevallen meer dan eens te bedenken voordat ze moslims op hun tenen trappen. Terwijl meteen na de moord slechts een derde van de bevolking in Nederland dacht dat Theo van Gogh het noodlot toch wel een beetje over zichzelf had afgeroepen is dat nu de helft. Wat terreurdreiging betreft schippert de regering tussen een levensbedreigende onderschatting en overdreven hysterie. Het tweede – gevaarlijkste – element dat de twee moorden en hun nasleep gemeen hebben wordt gekenmerkt door wat ik een ‘ problematisch maar ’ noem. In Israël wordt door zo goed als alle burgers en hun politieke en religieuze leiders moord als politiek wapen afgekeurd. Desondanks kun je regelmatig rechtse Israëliërs horen zeggen dat je iemand niet om zijn politieke ideeën of daden mag doden, maar dat Rabin en Sharon natuurlijk wel bij veel mensen enorme woede, verdriet en frustratie hebben gewekt met hun ‘verraad’ jegens het Land Israël en hun ‘toegeeflijkheid’ naar de Palestijnen toe. Sommigen klinken bijna hoopvol als ze waarschuwen voor een extremist wiens frustraties tot de volgende politieke moord kunnen leiden. Evenzo in Nederland, ik schreef het hierboven al. Maar al te vaak wordt er gezegd, ook door vrij denkende en alom gerespecteerde geesten: "Je mag niemand om zijn ideeën vermoorden, maar die Van Gogh schoffeerde moslims toch ook wel heel bewust." Dit maar zorgt voor problemen, het geeft namelijk in beide gevallen aan dat er in wezen geen grens is die niet mag worden overschreden in iemands streven naar politieke doeleinden in een democratische maatschappij. Het is zowel in Israël als in Nederland de taak van de overheid – en in zekere zin ook van de media – om duidelijk te maken dat bepaalde dingen gewoon niet mogen en kunnen, ook niet in een religieus kader. Iedereen die aanzet tot politiek of religieus geweld moet juridisch hard worden aangepakt. Politieke en religieuze extremisten monddood maken heeft geen zin en kan zelfs averrechts werken, maar media moeten er wel voor waken om als spreekbuis voor zulke fanatici te dienen. De grens tussen vrije meningsuiting en verbaal politiek geweld moet door de overheid duidelijker worden afgebakend. Met een doorgedraaid individu kunnen de meeste Westerse maatschappijen nog wel omgaan zonder terreur de overwinning te gunnen. Dat wordt echter een stuk moeilijker als de mensen die de moed missen om 'daden te stellen' maar die zulke daden wel openlijk aanmoedigen of toejuichen niet worden aangepakt, of als begrip voor terreurdaden salonfähig wordt.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Just to show that Theo van Gogh remains a controversial figure, after his death as much as when he was alive and kicking ( in almost every possible direction ), here is a cartoon by Tom Janssen ( " Theo van Gogh commemoration; for/in favor of Theo, against Theo " ). For various commentaries - in English - on many aspects of Van Gogh's murder and its aftermath ( including the trial of his murderer ) I recommend Peaktalk, a weblog written by Pieter Dorsman, a Dutch expat living in Canada.
Last week Ha'Aretz had a book review in which Ze'ev Sternhell tells us how Raymond Aron tried to convince his fellow Frenchmen that keeping Algeria French was incompatible with the country's national interest. The Algerian war of Independence - one of my fields of interest, I wrote my MA thesis on the ways in which French Jewry dealt with it - is often used as a frame of reference for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although I am not in favor of making historical comparisons, it cannot be denied that there are some parallels. Professor Sternhell finishes his review with a very good aphorism: " It is doubtful that anyone has ever learned anything from history, but there is nothing like observing the present to shed light on the past. "
One year ago the Dutch publicist and director Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered in Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist. For me it is easy to remember the date, because on the day of Van Gogh's murder our son celebrated his second birthday, 87 years after the Balfour declaration was issued. Van Gogh was not exactly the saint that some people turned him into right after his murder, but it is worrying that today about 50% of Dutchmen and -women believe that the man more or less called down misfortune over himself by provoking Islamists and other intolerant, humorless Muslims. Except for a few rightwing politicians and for the member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali - who is courageous and outspoken but who tends to overstate her case - Dutch intellectuals and public figures seem to think twice before they say or do something that might anger Muslims.
Early this week I wrote an article - in Dutch - about the murder of Van Gogh and of Yitzhak Rabin, claiming that these crimes have two things in common: the murderers got their way, at least partially, and both in Israel and in the Netherlands many people use what I call a 'problematic but'. You will often hear someone say or hint that of course nobody should be killed for his ideas, but obviously Rabin/Van Gogh hurt, angered and frustrated many Jews/Muslims by 'betraying the Land of Israel' and giving in to the Palestinians/needlessly shocking and provoking them, and it is almost natural that someone might take the law into his own hands and act violently. After both religious-political murders it was said that a red line had been crossed, but it seems that many people do not really believe that such red lines exist, too much understanding ( and, by some, admiration ) is shown in mainstream media and by not necessarily extremist members of the public for those who use violence to further their religious-political causes. The boundaries between free speech and verbal political violence should be clearly defined, not only by the authorities but also by the media.