Sunday, April 8, 2012

Titan exits Egypt for freedom at last

Titan, Pollyanna and Yanda all wish you all a happy Pesach (Passover) or Easter, whatever you celebrate.  May you all enjoy your holidays and let us look forward to a better world.

Can you imagine, Titan with nothing to rant about and as glad as his sister Pollyanna?  OK, we tried...
Our differences with Pharaoh did not yield to negotiation and we felt that we had to leave.

We did manage to get through the Red Sea with a little divine intervention and a leader who was almost good enough to please the Jews.
Seven innocent people were gunned down at Oikos University in Oakland CA, USA by One L. Goh, who  was reportedly looking for a particular female administrator before he went on his shooting spree.  The school, a small religious institution, devotes its efforts to helping immigrants, primarily from Asia and Africa, to  learn English and acquire work skills needed to integrate into American society.  Goh had been expelled and was carrying a heavy grudge against the school.  The victims were six women and one man, ranging in age from 21 to 40 and originally from Korea, Nigeria, and Nepal, according to police. Three others were also reportedly injured.  In Tulsa OK a gunman is on the loose, shooting at black people.  So far three persons  have been killed and the manhunt is still going on.   Titan is outraged that the high frequency of such events in the US has not led anyone from the political leadership to do something about the far too easy accessibility of firearms.
We also have this week the 20th anniversary of outbreak of the war in Yugoslavia.
Toys and flowers left on red chairs are displayed along a street in Sarajevo to mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian War on Friday, April 6. City officials have lined up 11,541 red chairs arranged in 825 rows that looks like a red river.
Amel Emric/AP
 We can add nothing to this picture, but you are invited to follow the link.
Burma presents a patchy picture.  On the one hand, we had reasonably democratic and open by-elections in which the Grand Lady of the struggle for freedom Aung Sung Suu Kyi along with other members of the NLD won seats In Parliament.  Let us hope that this is not some cynical ploy and that real democratic reform is on the way.  OTOH, we see the terrible situation in Kachin province where tens of thousands are in refugee camps and terror holds sway. 
Women in  particular are  targeted,
Twelve-year-old Myitung Brang Shawng found his mother shot and dumped in a cesspit

 “Rape is used in my country as a weapon against those who only want to live in peace, who only want to assert their basic human rights, especially in the areas of the ethnic nationalities. Rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by the armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country.”
—Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
We are told that the US plans to relax sanctions.  It might be said that this is premature, but then the  counterargument is the old carrot and stick metaphor.  Certainly we think that the license to rape of the Burmese army needs to be revoked.
Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen is serving a six-year prison sentence in China for "subversion of state power" -- simply because he dared to speak out about Tibetan human rights through his filmmaking.

Demand his release now!

For nearly 40 years, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been held in solitary confinement, mostly in the Louisiana State Penitentiary (known as Angola prison).
 Please call for an end to this torture.  It just takes a few minutes and a click.

When J Street went to Capitol Hill, one of our messages regarded the dangers of Israel/US/Iran war talk, and the necessity for committed diplomacy. Meanwhile, a 'citizen diplomacy' movement has been born between Israelis and Iranians, including this piece by gifted Iranian graphic artist, Mana Neyestani.  Thanks to Robbie Gringras of Makom for posting this cartoon on Facebook. We have shamelessly lifted it.

 More on Israel and Iran below.  A propos J Street, at their conference in Washington, there were some wonderful speeches, especially by three Israelis, Michael Biton, the Mayor of Yerucham, Stav Shafir, a leader of the protest movement and Amos Oz, the distinguished writer.  We recommend listening, especially to Oz.

We are please to pass on the word from Eric Lee that our campaign for workers in Auckland has succeeded.  If anyone still doubts the efficacy of protest by human rights activists, here is an example of how it works.
We would like to call your attention to the Women under Siege project  of the Women's Media Center.  The victimization of women is as old as the history of warfare, i.e. as old as our species, alas.  During the Yugoslav civil war, the Serbs ordered their soldiers to rape Muslim women in Bosnia, with the idea that a rape victim would have trouble getting married and  having children.  Thus the Serbs could attack the fertility of the people of Bosnia.  Similarly women have been the targets of brutality in Darfur, Syria, Afghanistan, you name it.  In the Book of Deuteronomy, there is an attempt to mitigate it by requiring the soldier who takes a female captive to marry her.  Whether she wants to marry her rapist is not even asked (vid.this blog two weeks ago on the law in present day Morocco).  Here in Israel, a rabbi who holds a senior position in the military rabbinate implied in a rabbinical opinion that not only is rape permitted in a combat situation, but even essential for victory.  The Army is of course jumping up and down with denials and indeed Israeli soldiers are not accused of rape in the long list of their abuses of Palestinians, male and female. We can refer you, if you read Hebrew, to the blog of Yossi Gurevich  for more detail.

Just across the river in Jordan we have an egregious case of repression of public protest and expression of opinions. A  law which allows the Jordanian authorities to detain activists on the basis of “insulting the king” must be repealed, Amnesty International said after 30 to 40 apparently peaceful protesters were detained in Amman. This sort of behavior on the part of the regime is totally unacceptable. 
We might mention that in Israel there is on the books a law mandating punishment for "insulting a public servant", which is apparently something left over from the days of British colonial rule.  It is usually not implemented, even when Rabin was depicted in SS uniform at a Likud rally, shortly before his assassination.  The publication of photomontages showing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in SS uniform and giving a Nazi salute do not constitute “insulting a public servant,” Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan informed the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.  Nitzan’s statement was made in reply to a request by Attorney Hila Cohen, on behalf of the  Forum. Cohen asked the Attorney General to launch an investigation against the Haotzer Haezrachi blog that published the montages.
This decision follows an earlier one, not to investigate the blog’s publisher for incitement, either.  Nitzan wrote the Legal Forum that, while the photos are offensive, he has “decided not to launch a criminal investigation in the matter.  While there was “suspicion” of an offense of insulting a public official, as defined in Section 288 of the Criminal Code, in order for such an offense to exist, the insult needs to be “a deep one, which strikes the core of the public servant’s dignity in discharging his duties.” In addition, near certainty is required that the insult “will lead to a serious disruption of the public servant’s ability to carry out his duties.”  Since these two elements will be very hard to prove in a court of law in this case, the AG decided not to launch investigations, Nitzan added. He expressed hope that “public discourse will eject from its midst people who use offensive comparisons like this.”
We concur and think that Nitzan was right in refusing to sell out freedom of expression for political correctness.

Now that we are on the subject of Israel, let us share the Pesach goodies with you.  We will start you with an interview with Michael Sfard, a renowned human rights lawyer, who has brought many Palestinian cases to the courts in Israel including the Supreme Court.  He discusses where we are on the road to fascism--we have gone quite far.  In general, the "Putinization" of the body politic in Israel is gathering pace and it seems to go over well with the general public, which is frightening.

We would like to bring you the views of three pundits on the situation in Israel/Palestine and add our comments.
Thanks to the New Yorker
 Let us start with the gloomiest, Gideon Levy, who essentially throws up his hands and says that the shared wet dream of the radical right settler community and the radical left anti-Zionist camp is being realized and that there is nothing we, the rational Zionist left-liberal segment of the political spectrum, can do about it.  Indeed, the one state solution will lead to an end of Israel as we know and  love it.  The right wing phantasy is an apartheid state and the left wing vision is a democratic state with a Muslim majority.  In either case, the ideal of  realization of political independence and self-determination for the Jewish people in a liberal democracy goes out the window.
We beg to differ with Gideon.  Indeed things look terrible, but we cannot give up.  In all our work on human rights in the framework of Amnesty International, we always took our cue from Rabbi Tarphon (executed as a rebel by the Romans in 135CE for teaching Torah) who says in Pirkei Avot  "It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it."
Carlo Strenger takes a different tack.  He agrees that there is no hope of selling the liberal agenda to the Israeli public and that talk of peace and human rights are anathema here.  He points out that what we have to sell is not marketable and our moral protests fall on deaf ears. This is a tough world. Indeed Obama has ordered more assassinations than Israel has.  He points at the ideas of a Palestinian leader and philosopher:
"It is time to regroup and to rethink what realistic position Jewish Liberals can take at this juncture in history. We might take some pointers from Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian philosopher and long-time peace activist. In his unsettling book What is a Palestinian State Worth?, he argues that given Jewish history, from pogroms to the Holocaust to the second Intifada, it is completely unrealistic to expect Israel to give up security control over large parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
He calls up on his compatriots to give up on the idea of a Palestinian state for the time being; to accept that they will live without political rights for the foreseeable future, and to focus on their human rights.
What does accepting Nusseibeh’s realism mean in practice for Jewish Liberals? "
Strenger then proceeds to delineate several short of peace options.  He at least sees some hope and thinks that we and the  Palestinians can possibly work out a modus vivendi based on a pragmatic rather than an idealistic world view.
It looks to us that if an apartheid state is established with the tacit agreement (brought about by despair) of the Palestinian side, Israel will do a better job of perpetuating it than the South Africans did, if only by waving the Holocaust flag forever.  We hope we are wrong.

Finally Thomas Friedman writing in the NYTimes outlines a process under which progress can, in his opinion, be made towards a settlement of the conflict.  In fact, he offers two separate ideas, both in the form of suggestions to the Palestinians. They are both good and reasonable suggestions.  The first is the Barghouti idea of passive resistance and civil disobedience, since the armed struggle is getting them nowhere.  He qualifies it with the demand that the Palestinians come up with a realistic plan including border maps.  He says that to win you must cause Israelis to feel morally insecure and strategically secure--to quote:
"By Palestinians engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience in the West Bank with one hand and carrying a map of a reasonable two-state settlement in the other, they will be adopting the only strategy that will end the Israeli occupation: Making Israelis feel morally insecure but strategically secure. The Iron Law of the peace process is that whoever makes the Israeli silent majority feel morally insecure about occupation but strategically secure in Israel wins." 
The second idea that he puts forward is that the Palestinian Spring if it comes about as a break from Islamist obscurantism will give them a better life than the Hamas can offer them in Gaza.
We take issue with Friedman on several counts.  His analogy to the Sadat-Begin agreement is factually flawed.  Begin had difficulty selling the idea of giving up Sinai for peace and needed the support of the Labor opposition to get it ratified.  He had difficulty in his own cabinet with it and coupled it with a vague idea of autonomy for the Palestinians that ensured that the West Bank would never be evacuated nor settlements there dismantled.  As long as the Hamas and its splinter associates find it politically expedient and advantageous to sell the phantasy of a successful armed struggle against Israel, the Israeli mainstream will not feel strategically secure.  A few rockets fired from time to time into the Negev suffice to block any real progress towards peace.   Friedman is also deluded if he thinks moral insecurity is an option of the Israeli mainstream.  As Strenger points out correctly, the component of the population that is morally troubled by the occupation and the repression is totally marginalized and in general despised.    Below we give a link to an analysis of the general political scene in Israel.
The issue is indeed complicated and our prognosis is not good.  This BEK cartoon from the New Yorker says it all.

Anyone who looks at the political landscape in Israel must shudder unless he or she is an insider of the right wing or one of their tycoon buddies.  The public seem to have been mesmerized by the fearmongering of the government, coupled with the story of Grandpa's DDT at the port inflicted by those terrible leftists, and it would appear that for the foreseeable future  we are stuck with the Likud and its neofascist buddies.  Zvi Barel points out how badly we too need a political horizon and suggests that we try to get it from the Palestinians...lots of luck Charlie Brown.
Iran has become the big boogieman of Israeli politics.  It is also causing waves in the US and it is not clear how the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of the regime there is to be handled.  Computer hacking and assassinating a physicist here and there will certainly not provide an answer, but an attack on Iran will not pull it off either.  Seymour Hersh writing in the New Yorker describes the approach taken by the US government, namely support for violent dissident groups in Iran itself.  It is discouraging that anyone believes that the efforts of the Iranian government to achieve nuclear energy, peaceful or warlike, can be derailed by investment in what amounts to a terrorist organization.

We apologize for leaving out the solar system tour and the book review.  The blog is overlong and we have had complaints about too much text.  We are trying to strike a balance between text and links and to keep the blog interesting to both readers. 

IN A LIGHTER VEIN, our friend at xkcd explores the future of boy-girl relationships in our high tech world: (click to enlarge)

We also should devote some thought to the issue of the safety of Somali pirates who are at risk of hijacking cruise ships that can go up in flames without warning.  Andy Borowitz updates us on the problem and the steps being taken by the cruise industry to reassure their pirate colleagues.  Frederick and his Pirate King would certainly have empathy for the poor blokes.

No comments:

Post a Comment