Thursday, December 29, 2005

KICless... for now

In light of my heavy commitments to study for the law exams of the Israeli Bar Association, I am taking an extended break from the KICblog and will not be running further sessions in Israel for groups until April 30th 2006.

It has been a busy week. On Sunday night I drove to and from Tiberias to run a session with Philadelphian teenagers on Israeli Current Affairs and the upcoming elections. On Tuesday night, I provided Israel Advocacy Training to the Bnei Akiva MTA group of Australians and South Africans in Jerusalem. There are also still two upcoming units as part of the advocacy course that I will be teaching to the Ambassador students in the USA.

My last two lectures before this study leave will be for two AUJS groups (one in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem) where we will discuss the Israel-World Media Relationship. For the first time in 3 years, I will not be facilitating this semester's weekly Current Affairs evening at Ulpan Etzion for new immigrants.

In the meantime, it is my hope that a KICcolleague will be maintaining and contributing to the KICblog. He will continue to provide a means of keeping yourself current and I encourage you to continue the online debate of the issues at hand in Israel. Only through talking can we learn from each other and build bridges and he is likely to provide plenty of food for thought.

I look forward to working with your groups again from April 30th and I do hope that we will continue the KICing together here too at that time.

Have a great start to 2006 and keep it current!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Rocket Attack on IDF base

In the last 20 minutes or so, we are receiving reports of a Qassam rocket that has injured IDF troops at a base outside Gaza. Among those injured are senior officers from the Givati Brigade. (This is not the first time this week that an IDF base has been hit).

We'll have to wait and see the extent of the injuries caused but at this stage one would have to assume (to no surprise) that the government's fascination with using diplomatic pressure on the Palestinian Authority is not causing any reduction in Qassam fire.

I am well aware of Abbas' apparent 'weakness' within in his own people at this time. None of this however should encourage us to overlook the clear and present dangers that exist. We were promised that Disengagement would bring separation from these people who wish to harm us. In fact, it appears to have brought us ever closer to them, or them to us. (I distinctly remember that the orange anti-D team predicted that removing the Gaza Jewish communities would bring the terrorists to those abandoned areas and hence make the distance between launching pad and Israeli centers even smaller - and more enticing).

As the rockets fly ever closer to causing death and disaster in Ashkelon (and in other towns nearby), the question must be asked - when oh when is enough in fact enough? Are we truly determined to completely destroy the IDF deterrent factor? Must we wait for death to come knocking?

I'm not in for wide-scale bombings of Palestinian towns but the terrorists do in fact fire from within dense populated areas - they fire from their homes into Israeli homes and IDF bases. Something in our response doesn't add up.

Maybe it is time for some regrettable but notably non-violent communal punishment. If your home and business were without electricity or water for a few hours a day, wouldn't you demand that your cousin stop launching attacks? In a normal society this unfortunate means might bring this end. In the Palestinian areas... you tell me!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

KICing the BBC (and others)

Last night (Tuesday) I led a live Web Conference online with a class at the American Hebrew Academy in North Carolina, USA. As well as learning about Israel's current political landscape and reviewing the online Ambassador Course that we are involved in at this time, I gave them the opportunity to analyze and respond to several pieces of cruel media magic.

In this post, you can see one of the misleading cartoons that I presented online. It was published in Brazil after Sheik Ahmed Yassin's death. He was the founder and spiritual leader of the Hamas terror group that still maintains its rocket fire and homicide bombings against Israel to this day.

At the time of Israel's removal of Yassin, world leaders did their very best to defend this arch-terrorist. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went as far as to question how Israel's assassination of an old man in a wheel chair would benefit Israel and called it unlawful. Ironically, his assassination and that of his replacement Rantisi provided a new deterrent factor in the conflict and was the main cause of a great reduction in terror that followed for months afterwards.
Like many world leaders, Jack Straw had the chutzpah to back Israel's right to defend herself while expressing outrage at Israel's doing so. Very very strange indeed. (Still, you can't blame them when our own Shimon Peres called it a "misguided decision").

This damage to Israel's image is of course multiplied a thousand times over by the intentional misleading of viewers by media organizations like the BBC. I think this recent revelation that has sprung up from within internal BBC staff mailings gives us full insight into why BBC reports are so terribly bias and prone to explain away the carnage and cruelty that is Palestinian terrorism - oops I mean Palestinian armed protest. It explains why anti-Semitic and dishonest cartoons like this appear worldwide as soon as Israel seeks to defend herself.

If you did not find the courage to click on the link above, I do encourage you to do so. The BBC editorial instructions there reflect a deeply cemented desire to placate Islamic terror and I ask you to direct people to this KICpost so that they can also be made aware. Tom Gross gives us some further insight into the BBC trail of misdemeanors here.

Through its current instructions to staff and its subsequent reports to viewers, the BBC has succeeded in losing all semblance of moral bearing and in attempting to keep the Moslem world and justifiers of terror sitting happily in front of the box, they have proven themselves to be an unreliable, extremely unjust reporter of news.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Fork in the Road

Exit polls are indicating a large victory for former PM Benyamin Netanyahu in today's contest for the Likud leadership. It's not too unexpected of course but for some time, there has been a hint of optimism in the Silvan Shalom camp.

The two men represent two very different faces of the Likud. Foreign Minister Shalom focused on demonizing Netanyahu, Feiglin and Landau as too right-wing for the electorate and as extreme elements that will cause further shrinking of Likud support. He knows too well that unless the Palestinians kill too many Jews in the next three months, the majority of Israelis will go forward with Kadima (excuse the very intentional play on words) and re-embrace Sharon's "there is noone to talk to on the other side" policies which are bound to bring us a sequel to Disengagement #1.

Having been Foreign Minister for some time now and having played in the office corridors of the most powerful world leaders, Silvan Shalom feels nice, warm and fuzzy about the apparent shift in opinion and 'support' of Israel since Disengagement. He wants this to continue and sees it very much Sharon's way - that is, "we are not giving in to the Palestinians - we're giving up on them". In simplier terms, we can't live with them so we're separating ourselves from them - with or without a bilateral peace agreement.

He's not wrong is he? And is Sharon? Probably not. We do need to separate from those who wish to harm us and without a doubt, we gain nothing by overseeing the lives of others. I've lived here the entire brutal length of this Palestinian campaign of terror and frankly I've had enough of their crying games packaged together with steel bolts and nails strapped to the chest. We don't need to host them anymore and they could do with some scope to make lives for themselves.

OK, so you call me weak? Has Sharon turned soft? Or maybe, just maybe, the reality is that much of the country no longer wants to gift Hamas and co with the honor of controlling our lives - our every move, fear and emotion. Maybe, unilaterally, Kadima and the Shalom side of the Likud (among others) wish to take back Jewish destiny into their own hands. Nothing wrong with that now is there?!!

There being nothing wrong with wanting to keep the Palestinians away from us, why did the Likud choose Netanyahu? Simply, as I see it, because Bibi represents a little bit of something that is illustrated by the Uzi Landau approach. Sure, the former Finance Minister waited till time was right for him (only!) before he stood up against Disengagement but yet he still projects this confidence and this ability to convince the crowds that we must stand tough against terror and refuse to give ourselves over to the whim of a world that would happily allow a militarized terrorist Palestinian state to be developed next to Israel.

The crowds he has convinced so far are the Likud ticket holders. He will have to sit with the greatest strategists in the world now to decipher how to convince the Israeli people that this is not the time for further concessions and for the desired (far from perfect) default option - unilateral separation. How indeed can Netanyahu project the scraps of the Likud as responsible and correct in demanding reciprocity and an end to terror before any consideration of land-based compromise?

Personally, I'm a big advocate of reciprocity and of our demands for quiet. I'm constantly amazed that the world does not demand the same from the Palestinians. Yet, I'm conscious that Israelis (myself included) are fed up with guards on cafe entries and guards roaming bus stops. I've given up on the idea that Palestinians will use our concessions to build a fresh life for themselves and I'm convinved they'll continue to use goodwill work permits and hospital treatment as a means to carry out terror attacks. No doubt, they will also waste food and clothing money on trying to extend rocket range toward power plants and the like in Ashkelon.

Which leaves me where I was before the results of the Likud leadership race arrived. As Freddie Mercury once famously sang: "I want it all and I want it now". Unfortunately that's not an option in Israel. Sitting as I do, straddled across the sharp and painful Israeli-made political fence is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

If I Have Said It Once...

Well, if I've said it once, I've said it a million times. (I've posted it several times here recently)... Three months is a very very very long time in Israeli politics. Ask those Labor and Likud MKs who fled their parties to jump on the Sharon party boat. For some time now, commentators have been talking about what would happen to Kadima if King Arik was unable to compete in the next election. And here we are. Figures like Mofaz, Peres and Ramon (just to name a few!) sweating on the unknown results of Sharon's MRI after his sudden health scare tonight.

The road to Elections 2006 could not get any longer, could it? With Sharon hospitalized (even for a minor stroke), Gazan rockets now within a stone's throw of Ashkelon's vital industrial zone and countless attempted and successful terror attacks, you should set your watches to Israel time and get ready for a most uncomfortable but fascinating ride through modern Jewish history.

If you're feeling lost already, consider joining this brand new online Israel Elections 2006 course hosted by the eAcademy of the Jewish Agency for Israel. We all need the best preparation we can get!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jewish & Israel Blog Awards 2005

Time to have some voting practice before the more daunting decisions of March 2006. Have a look here and nominate your favorite blogs under different categories - including 'Best Israel Advocacy Blog' and 'Best Politics and Current Affairs Blog'.

Meantime, have you thought of adding a link to the KICblog from your site/blog? Always appreciated!

KICing Ahead & Writing Back

Over the past week, I have been up to my ears in KICsessions. I can't complain - it's a sure sign that the KICinitiative has an important role to play in Israel education.

As well as currently teaching an online Israel Advocacy course for the American Hebrew Academy in North Carolina, I have also provided three sessions of Israel Advocacy Training for the AUJS Academy groups from Australia and New Zealand. Next week I am off to a Tiberias hotel for a session with Philedelphian teenagers and then a further two sessions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

It's an exciting time for me and has cemented my belief that this KICblog and KICsessions can provide a forum for helping Jews and other Zionists who face tremendous anti-Israel or provocative challenges from overseas media or on campus and the like. For this reason and to help keep themselves current, many KICparticipants are signing up to this blog and receive an email each time I post. (You can register above, on the top right-hand corner).

I would like to use some of my posts as an opportunity to provide advice and appropriate responses to criticisms of Israel. In the coming months, my colleague Ashley Perry and I will be establishing a new branch of KIC which will operate around-the-clock online support to those who support Israel. We will keep you updated with progress in that regard.

In the meantime, you will notice the new live comments area on the right side of the KICblog. A man called Hugh Steadman has been raising some questions about Israeli policy and I feel it is appropriate to respond to him in this space.

I would welcome other's comments on Hugh's questions and I encourage readers who wish to raise issues to do so in that live comments area or in the regular comments section below.

Hugh's comments can be read in the live comments area on the right side of the KICblog. Here is my response at this point:

Hugh - the security barrier is indeed an unfortunate invention
which became necessary after countless horrific terror attacks in
restaurants, buses, nightclubs and on roads around Israel. In a
perfect world, we would enjoy peace that actually meant peace. Walls are not a perfect
peaceful answer. Noone denies that.
However, where possible the fence has been built on
the 'green line' and only dips into West Bank disputed territory for security
needs (as a result of terror) and to include large Jewish areas which will remain under Israeli

The Israeli High Court of Justice has proven Israel's solid
democracy and justice system in passing decisions that back Israel's right to
build the fence but has ruled that in certain areas the fence must be shifted in
order to lessen the detrimental effect on Palestinian life. Israel has followed these
orders and there are great delays in building the life-saving fence while we await deliberation over further applications to the Court.

It should be remembered at all times, that while the anti-terror fence may indeed cause distress and inconvenience to some Palestinians, this does not even begin to compare with the death and destruction which would unfold daily on Israeli streets should the fence still not exist at all.

As for your other point, a blanket condemnation of house and
orchard destruction overlooks the fact that houses are destroyed when
they are used for terror bases or locations from which to launch attacks.
The same is said for destruction of olive groves and the like from which
Palestinians have shot at civilian vehicles and then escaped. Wanton
destruction without reason however is unacceptable and I could not condone

I hope this clarifies these issues.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Likud Burning?

In the midst of my scanning the internet for reports on the London dramas, Shaul Mofaz has suddenly announced that he is off to Kadima too. This is a big blow for the Likud, as if they weren't already down for the count after the first rounds of this painful election contest.

This almost predictable and yet somewhat pathetic move by the Defence Minister sums up my respect for Uzi Landau you see. How can Mofaz stand a few days a go and say publicly: "I'm committed to the Likud. I'm staying where my home is and I'm going to lead the Likud to victory".

Where is the loyalty, the fight and the dedication? Is it possible to really know where any Israeli politician stands on any issue right now?

Here was Mofaz, considered a strong proponent of security and a Sephardi Jew from a working class background. He was said to have the only real chance of beating Bibi to the head of the Likud. Only he might have been able to attract mainstream Israelis, working class, Sephardim and even some religious folk back to the Likud.

Now Mofaz is gone too.

I can't decide whether the right-wing of the Likud is alienating its brothers (like Mofaz, Hanegbi etc) or whether Sharon and friends have simply changed their minds about the road to peace. Without a doubt, Kadima's policies are not in line with the traditional Likud and certainly not in line with what Sharon promised the electorate in 2001 and 2003. So maybe it was and is best that those who are truly 'rebels' find a new home to call their own.

As I see it though, I wouldn't worry about the Likud yet. (If their demise doesn't bother you then no need to worry anyway...)
There is a lot of dirty filthy water to pass under the bridge yet and probably some nasty Palestinian terror gangs will have a go at sending the electorate back rightwards. That's almost a ridiculous certainty!

For now then, a KICprediction. Of all the friends of Sharon that remain at the helm of Likud (and in the leadership battle), I predict that Silvan Shalom, the current Foreign Minister, will be the next to jump headfirst into the Kadima melting pot of a million ideologies. The Likud "needs someone who can return the Likud to the nation and I can do it," Shalom said. "The Likud is my home and it's a way of life for me. I'm sorry about anyone who leaves the Likud." (Jerusalem Post)

Shalom stood by Sharon throughout the Disengagement and no Mofaz-like words of dedication of "my home is in the Likud" will convince me that he'll stay around to fight for his home if he can't see himself winning that home for himself.

It is just such a shame that there is no consistency in what one Israeli leader says from week to week. How can we even begin to think about which party to support in the March elections when there is so much ship-hopping?

Democracy is a wonderful thing, but there has to be some semblance of leadership shown and some earnest commitment to the voter. Sadly, in Israel's party list system, there is little scope for voters to 'reward' or 'repay' individual Knesset members for their honesty and integrity or lack thereof.

London Burning

Initial reports are of 200 feet high flames at oil terminals and fuel depots. Reports that I have read include witnesses who saw a plane fly into one of the structures. Another London terror attack? A pilot's error? Aeroplane malfunction? (Shaking my head in disbelief at the state of this planet).

I will update this posting as details become clearer.
UPDATE: Reports of 8 dead. UK police saying there's nothing more sinister than an accident involved here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Uzi Misfires

With funerals taking place in various Israeli towns and as the Iranian military rehearses for 9/11: The Sequel, it's likely that Uzi Landau's decision to quit the race for the Likud leadership will be swept under the proverbial carpet. He was never expected to win but I believe he stood for something peculiarly rare today in world politics.

Here was (still is) a man with real and honest intentions. Throughout the planning and execution of Disengagement, he led the battle against the Sharon-led plan to take the IDF and Jewish communities out of the Strip and Northern Samaria. He led what was cynically named "The Likud Rebels" against all odds and in the face of a career threatening loss and embarrassment. That may yet unfold as we witness Likud's slip in the polls.

He often advocated his views quietly and other times with vigor. But whenever Uzi wore orange, he did it with forthright courage, pure intention and without consideration for personal gain. I was impressed.

Here is a man who will probably never appear at the peaks of the Israeli political command because he in fact represents the qualities I have mentioned. Often politics is not the place for the soft spoken, intelligent and honest human being. Uzi Landau probably doesn't have that arrogant, self-serving streak in him that might make him a winner on the election campaign. It is a damn shame that this is so often required in order to be a political force, in Israel and the world over.

Landau's decision to step back from the fray and back the confident Netanyahu might well please the righter end of the Likud. His decision might also be a further illustration of his willing self-sacrifice for the perceived greater good. In my view however, it does put a little chink in the Landau armor. A Matan Vilna'i attempt to steer Shimon Peres over the finishing line in the Labor primary did similar damage to Vilna'i's image and did nothing for the man he hoped to help.

It's a great disappointment for me that Uzi chose to give in and back a man who could not find the courage to stand up for orange when it mattered. Netanyahu's policies have wavered in the past and he straddled painfully across the fence until his resignation from the Government meant nothing to anyone but himself.

I only hope that should Likud have any place in the next governing coalition, that Uzi Landau is welcomed to the Cabinet table with his straightforward, honest and brave beliefs and approach to public life.

You don't have to agree with the man nor paint your pets orange. The way I see it, Uzi Landau did not reject Disengagement for arguments sake only. I believe that Uzi Landau in fact represents all Israelis, all of us who desire peace with our neighbors and I believe that he can lead the way for many of us who desire reciprocity and courage from the Arab side.

Landau has what to offer this country and I hope he will be given a realistic spot on the Likud list and a role in future Israeli policy making.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Netanya Terror Attack

Not just Qassams from Gaza but back to hitting major Israeli cities and shoppers with human wrecking machines. The Netanya terror attack that occurred just minutes ago is another reminder that 'strength through restraint' can only work if Israel Intelligence networks can stop each and every attempted attack. With tens of warnings every day, we do well but it's impossible to stop everything.

Similar to Mofaz' return to targetted killings in Gaza, so now we can expect a renewed anti-terror campaign in the West Bank. It is clear however that election campaigns play a part in such policies and Sharon will now have to prove to the average centrist Israeli that he can still engage with terrorists as well as he disengages from land. When I said yesterday that there's a long, long way to go before we vote, I wasn't kidding. The insane Palestinian efforts to lose another opportunity for a peaceful solution have them lining up with Hezbollah, Iran and others to make this election even more vital for Israel.

Shame isn't it, that just weeks out from PA elections, terrorists (even those who come from Abbas' Fatah who are claiming this attack as their own), are doing their best to force Israel to close territories, restore checkpoints and restrict the ability of Abbas and crew to organize a democratic and efficient electoral system.

At least 4 dead at this time. Sadly, as we know too well here in Israel, the numbers always rise steadily as the minutes pass.

Shame, shame, shame.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

We're Just Starting

Just when you thought we could loosen the belt a little, relax and get stuck into some horrifically fattening sufganiyot sold all over the country for weeks leading up to Chanukah, our nearest and dearest politicians have given us plenty of other food for thought (and heartburn!)

But then, never count your chickens till they're kashered because as well as fighting of calories we might well be dragged into strong retaliation for what is fast becoming a ridiculous expression of weakness as our leaders allow Israelis (not settlers even!) live in fear of injury and death.

Sharon has 'always' claimed that restraint is a sign of strength. Good on him! At times, it can be the safer, wiser tactic. Frankly now, it's looking like insanity. We should not have to wait to funeral time before the IDF is given a greener light to defend Israeli citizens. I'm not advocating willy-nilly missile fire into crowded Palestinian cities but if that's where terrorists cynically choose to fire them from, the difficult questions must indeed be posed. I've asked before and I'll plead for an answer again - where is the harsh response promised should Palestinians launch attacks from Gaza after Disengagement? On this basis of this promise, many hesitant Israelis backed Disengagement.

Maybe it's a matter of timing. Right now, the Right is slamming Sharon's Kadima Party as a Peres reincarnation and in fact Shimon himself is so happy with the makeover that he's jumped on board the ship himself. With Kadima perceived by some as a left-swinger, Sharon may well be waiting for the best moment to respond to the Palestinian (and even Hezbollah) provocation and stupidity. If he's going to fulfill the prophecy of the polls, Arik will have to somehow find a way to maintain some semblance of center in his new ideology.

It is felt among many that centrist parties don't do very well in Israel - possibly because the issues we live with here are not quite the "sitting on the fence" model. Yitzchak Mordechai and Amnon Lipman-Shahak tried fence dwelling in the past only to find themselves falling painfully with one leg on each side of the said fence. In a similar mold, it appears that Kadima is a one-man show and its future lies solely at his feet. He's a big man, but there's no hiding the suspision that for good or for bad, this looks like a repeat of Titanic - a one cruise, one election wonder.

Don't be fooled though! One election may be enough. Whether through forced negotiations or desperate unilateralism, Arik intends to draw the final borders of the two states. He intends to separate the cousins and at his age, it's clear one more mandate and 4-year term will have to do the trick.

All said and done then? Kadima will have 40 seats and we'll all watch as Sharon and Peres roll on into the 80s?

Yes the Kadima hype is still pumping and even Amir Peretz is still bathing in the continuous announcements of new candidates and supporters for his Labor party. But it's such early days. Without a doubt, the Likud is more than a step behind, maybe even the length of a football field in the background. Yet, noone knows (let alone the man on the street being polled) who will be the Likud candidate. Only once Bibi or Mofaz or another is selected will we gain a real perspective. Moreover, there's so much jumping ship that only when the party lists are finalized will we all be able to truly look at the options. And we haven't even started considering the smaller parties.

The political spectrum has changed considerably in the last couple of weeks. If you're breathless after two weeks, get some oxygen into you... quickly - there is still so so long till election day.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Royal Rumble

Would someone please tell me what is going on?!! After ten days in the frustrating and KICless fortress of car accidents, hospitals, police stations, junk yards, lawyers and insurance companies, I have finally found these few minutes to return to give you a KIC. And yet, the world of Israeli Current Affairs lacks the familiarity it had last week, or the week before. I am feeling a bit lost.

Ahhh here's some comfort! I am not the only Israeli shaking his/her head in disbelief and unimaginable discomfort. In one week in this magic country, the Knesset and the political system has taken on a new look - what I think I will coin, "The WWF Evolution".
Yes - Hulk Hogan, The Bushwhackers and Hacksaw Jim Duggan once graced the wall of my New Zealand bedroom and it does appear that Israelis enjoy a little display of their very own WWF Wrestling antics.

It was always tremendously exciting to watch a 'bad guy' team up with the good guys and vice-versa. The way someone unexpected (an arch enemy even!) would run in to the ring to 'clothesline' an unexpecting friend and save the enemy from certain defeat. It used to keep us up for hours at night, stacked in front of the TV waiting for the next interview, retirement, accusation, betrayal, reunion and dirty trick. Ahhh those were the days.

Wrong! These are the days! You can watch it all over again. WWF and Israeli politics - don't they just smell the same, look the same and amuse you similarly? Get practicing the rolled Israeli 'R' because we are in for one Royal Rumble to remember!

When I facilitate a KICsession on Israeli Politics or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I always give one piece of advice - in order to succeed in the understanding of Israel's relationship with the Arab nation and the world, you must first delve into inner Israeli politics and society, the electoral system and the political parties. To say that things are forever changing here is to state the obvious. More than that, the last week has changed everything. Nothing I have theorized before makes a great amount of sense right now. Israel is not quite the place it was last week and certainly its rainbow stage of political ideologies and stars is barely recognizable.

Keeping It Current for groups in Israel is bound to present even greater challenges now.

I can't wait!

(Back later with more than a little KIC...)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Disappearance Act

We are sorry that the KICblog has not been updated during this week's huge developments in the Israeli political system and the terror attacks by Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah in the North. Michael is currently dealing with a family issue that has arisen unexpectedly. He hopes to be back and KICing in the coming days.

In the meantime, we invite you to type your comments (by clicking below) and let us know your thoughts on Sharon's moves, the future of the Likud and the situation in the North. When you can't get KICed, KIC yourself a little!

Regards - the KICteam

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nervously Bordering on Reality

Various politicians and commentators have been scraping their fingernails down the blackboard in an expression of frustration over the 'Let My Gazans Free' agreement which was conjured up during late-night Condi sessions earlier this week.

From some parts of the security-focused Israeli public and even coming out of Israel's security agencies we have witnessed serious concern and skepticism. Even if Defence Minister Mofaz and PM Sharon have always spoken of strictly maintaining the security of the State in any agreement, there are signs that serious risks (in addition to Disengagement) are being taken now for what is coined 'the hope of holding up Abbas and jumping on the optimism train' which apparently and miraculously appeared after Israel's departure from Gaza.

In fact, the rocket fire from Gaza, terror attacks and sick Palestinian child abuse since Disengagement do little for the confidence of the risk-taker. Many in the Likud, including Yuval Steinitz (who heads the Foreign Relations and Defence Committee) are unhappy with the consequences that are likely to flow from Israel's accession to the latest agreement.

So what's the problem? Well, from an era when Israel rejected any idea of a foreign force providing for Israel's security in place of Israel herself, we arrive at a new day, where the openings of a Gazan seaport, the Rafah (southern Gaza) border crossings and Gazan road access across Israel to the West Bank, all rely heavily on the goodwill of the Palestinians and unarmed European monitors. Sadly, the goodwill of these parties to Israel can be collected in one hand... and it hurts the hand to hold it. Suddenly, Israel will be begging foreigners to stop the passage of suspicious or terror-linked individuals and goods.

Frankly, the nice European chaps will have no motivation, foresight nor courage to stand in the way of a Palestinian madmen or even the poor, weak Palestinian woman on her way to Soroka Hospital for Israeli treatment. As for the Palestinians and the Egyptians, the weeks (now months) of serious Al Qaeda weapon and personnel smuggling into Gaza is the best example yet of how little we have to look forward to.

Now let's assume that Sharon, Mofaz and co are not actually spies and buddies of Osama. Seeing as that is a good assumption, there must therefore be good reasons why these military-come-diplomatic men have let Condi reach the in-goal. (If she can make football analogies, so can I!)

Here's my thinking on it. I might be wrong (and feel free to tell me) but here goes...

When it comes to the crunch, we have begun to set our final borders and when you do that you are forced to face reality. Right now, we are bordering on reality. It might be a reality that many Israelis resent or wish to change but nonetheless it is current reality.

The reality is that Disengagement (agree with or not) has been and gone... and it is done. With that should come the understanding that having given the Palestinians some land for themselves, they must be allowed to use it. Sure, I am not in favor of the ridicuously pessimistic and unhelpful "Gaza is the World's Biggest Prison" slogan sponsored by Btzelem, but at the same time we must accept that when you give a nation autonomy, you must in fact allow that autonomy to prosper.

This means that having made the decision to disengage and in light of the fact that most Israelis (even if hesitantly) agree to a 2-state solution, there is going to come a time when we can no longer fully or even partially control the lives, politics and trade of the other state - the Palestinian state. The dream held by Rabin, by Sharon and by us all that Palestine would be a demilitarized State, is close to finished. That's not necessarily a good thing but represents the reality.

There will not be peace when we control their economy and their borders and therefore in giving them full access to sea, land and air, their society, their military capability and their international trade will develop as they see fit. Anyway, terrorists have always found a way to smuggle weapons and to kill scores of Israelis even without possessing a right to be a militarized state. (The utopian hope is that should poverty decrease, so will terror).

In line with this, we have a geographic nightmare whereby between Gaza and parts of the West Bank (which will probably constitute Palestine) lies an annoying little country called Israel :)
With that comes the reality that peace will never come while Gazans and West Bank Palestinians can not travel freely between the two. Reality bites when you realize that with that right fulfilled comes the transport of Gaza-based terror operations to Palestinian villages overlooking Netanya, Tel Aviv and the like.

Folks, the man who is elected Israeli Prime Minister in February or March will have his chance to finalize the borders of the state - through agreement or unilaterally. The sad tragic truth and reality is that whatever borders are drawn, the Palestinians will neither be satisfied enough nor sensible enough to avoid missing another opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Therefore, we are bordering on an internationally-backed reality that hurts and that encourages further risks for the sake of peace. Peace is the ultimate goal and it is worth taking some risk to improve the lives of both peoples. The only drawback is that we've been saying the same thing for 57 years and reality has kept creeping up on borders and slapping us in the face.

We are indeed brave, courageous and generous peace-loving suckers for punishment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jerusalem Seminar Series: Israeli Political System

With the labor pains (no pun intended!) of Israeli elections upon us, those in Israel might be interested to attend a FREE seminar series on the Israeli Political System. First of four seminars began last night (Tuesday) at 730pm.

(UPDATE: If you missed it last night, contact Reuven for details of the other 3 sessions in the series).

Last night, Reuven Grossman discussed "Legislative & Executive: Knesset, Prime Minister, Multi-Party System".
The series is held in English and takes place at YAKAR - 10 Halamed Hei, Katamon, Jerusalem. For details - 0525790958

(Make sure to let them know that we KICed you in their direction - and while you're at it, why not add a link to the KICblog from your own blog or website - thanks!)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hard to Catch One's Breath

It has been said that in Israel, life doesn't pass by, it just goes straight through you. It goes through, you live it but you don't quite have time to swallow it all. As a taxi driver said to be last evening - "Here in Israel, we breathe but we don't really live". Let's take a deep breath and get in over our heads.

Elections are on the way - so the headlines scream in harmony with new tough guy Amir Peretz and older tough guy Yosef (Tommy) Lapid as they agree to try to bring Sharon and the Likud to early elections. I was in the elevator with Mr Lapid and his entourage yesterday at the Knesset. From the look on his face (as if I'd know!), I'm not too sure that sooner is better as far as elections and Shinui is concerned. Many of its supporters are a little perturbed by the lack of shinui (change) in the religious status quo that was the basis of Shinui's election platform and subsequent 2003 success. Recently they have sat in the opposition and did so through Disengagement. The timing of their resignation from the government coalition did in fact raise a few Disengagement eyebrows.

The Knesset was a beehive of activity yesterday and flags and red carpets were being unrolled for the Rabin special session. The significance of the Rabin week of rememberance hasn't been lost on Amir Peretz and he has made several remarks about his commitment to the Rabin legacy and Oslo. It's all going to be very interesting to see whether voters are willing to back a man who does promise social and economic equality but couples this with a direct flight back to Oslo.

Many might have liked PM Rabin, but many also despised his policies on Arafat and co. As beautifully put by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin yesterday, there was a great deal more to Rabin than Oslo and we should base the Rabin legacy on the man himself and his horrific murder and not his policies with which many then and many now still vehemently disagree. In Rivlin's view, (a very wise view in my opinion), all of us have a right to mourn him and remember him without feeling alienated because we maintain the fight against his peace and security policies. Sometimes it hurts to hear these things but as I see it, they must be said. Sharon agrees.

Clinton and Rice (here for the Rabin occasions) have kept traffic in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv securely watched, stopped and bumper-to-bumper. Rice has also applied severe pressure on Israel to withdraw its security and surveillance demands on crossing points on the Gaza-Egypt border. We have seen what can happen there (and what can be smuggled in) should Israel not maintain an overall supervisory role. With Al-Qaeda now appearing out of every hole and cranny, Israel's concerns appear justified even in light of Palestinian "this humiliates us and imprisons us" claims. In a world brimful with terror, which sadly includes Palestinian society, it is interesting indeed to see what agreements have now been reached (and what pressure has successfully been applied once again). As of a few minutes ago, the Palestinians will now control a border and though there are some joint surveillance conditions, one gets the distinct feeling that Israel has succumbed to the need for the US and Israel to be seen to be strengthening Mahmoud Abbas before elections. Even in these few minutes after the announcement, security sceptics are plentiful and frankly it's never been good news for Abbas when he receives public Israel-US backslapping.

In a lead up to the "International Terror" video conference that I am hosting this afternoon, I, like most, have decided that terror logic becomes more difficult to understand each day. Wanting to create a nuclear meltdown in Sydney I can understand (but obviously condemn). Targetting Palestinian, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence officials in Amman is beyond my comprehension. I mean, I know that many Moslems classify other Moslems as infidels (along with the rest of us), yet if, as Islamic terrorists claim, Israel's treatment of Mr and Mrs Palestine is the cuase of all hate and terror, then why go out and kill the 'victims' themselves?

It's all lost on me and no doubt Al-Qaeda won't take long to surprise and confuse us again. Ahhh, finally something as irrational and unreadable as Israeli politics...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Things That Go Bang In The Night

They say dreams last just a few seconds but feel much longer. Shimon Peres must be begging to know how long this nightmare is going to go on.

Just when you thought he couldn't lose (but wondered as I did why he's bothering to compete again), he lost again for the seemingly infinite time in his career. Sad really that the man who did give us a great deal will leave behind him a strong stench of popularity loss and failure. Shame really that such a well-respected statesman will be remembered most fondly as a loser. As Peres' daughter said on Israeli radio the morning after, "you always call me when he loses but never when he achieves or contributes greatly to Israel". She also expressed that "while I am fully with my father on his דרך (path), it appears that the public is not fully".

The question is why.

The answer is not too clear. It's not as simple as "Israelis can't forgive him for Oslo and the terror it has brought". If that was the case, why did the Labor party choose a man who appears to represent a stance even more to the left than that of the great Peres? In all likelihood, Peretz will not gain extra election votes by prancing around in Oslo shoes and suits. This is not 1995 and it is not August 2000. The electorate wants peace and quiet and it wants to help the Palestinians but not at all costs and not without security.

So why did it all go bang that night then? I noted in my pre-vote posting, that Laborites are fed up with being a mistress to the Likud. They are now ready to fight and to be an active opposition until its return to power. Peres represented a stable buddy system for Sharon policies and staying buddies did nothing for Labor. And then there's the age factor? Peres as Prime Ministerial candidate at age 83? Was he expecting to hold down one of the most mentally and physically challenging jobs therefore till age 87? It was just a damn shame that he had to be humiliated like this. His arm-in-arm with Bill Clinton at the Rabin concert last night just didn't exude the magic it might once have done.

Amir Peretz on the other hand may have been able to pull the country to a standstill over union issues, but he is said to lack the Peres-Sharon diplomatic, defence and foreign affairs expertise. His experience politically is thin.

As far as his win goes though, I'm glad. I am not normally a Labor supporter but I'm truly pleased to see that Peretz has been able to win a campaign that based itself very much on social issues. I do not agree with him that settlements cause poverty elsewhere (that is a bit too simplistic) but it is about time (!!!) that the poverty and inequality in this country was at the forefront of Israeli politics. For too long, terror and conflict has suffocated any faint hope of putting time, money and effort into repairing education, health services, employment conditions and the gap between rich and poor.
With this approach Mr Peretz may well attract support from unlikely corners. It is a change of direction that has also arisen in the Mafdal (National Religious Party) and it is recognition that there is more to Israel than Palestinians.

The Labor bang in the night might have shocked Shimon and the rest of us, but feel for the Jordanians who are not quite sure what struck them. I am hosting a video conference on International Terrorism on Tuesday where a US school and a Maale Adumim School will attack the issues together. This ruthless act in Jordan will add even greater interest to the topic.

There just seems to be no logic in the operations of this theory called Al-Qaeda. Attacking Arab brethren, killing Moslems at a wedding that includes Palestinians (who they claim to support!), Jordanians, Iraqis and foreigners. It all points to an inevitable increase in international terror in the coming months. It's the greatest indication yet that all states must commit to fighting it now and without fear.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Two Die Hards

They are not going down without a fight and they refuse to bow out waving the white flag. The two old wise men of Israeli politics face one more fierce battle each - and whatever happens it probably will not be their last.

Today, Labor party members select a leader to take them into the next election campaign. With the unlikely Binyamin Ben-Eliezer refusing to pull out of the race, we watch with interest as that man Shimon Peres tries to win something - at last. After watching Ehud Barak and Amram Mitzna get bulldozed by Sharon and the Likud, the 82-year old eldest statesman is desperate for one more chance at winning an election. The polls show he might well get that chance, though turn out (as at 4pm) is only about 25% and that is said to favor Amir Peretz who for years has headed the battle for employee and union rights in Israel.

There is a little bit riding on this Labor election. Peres has shown to be quite content to sit in the seats of power even if under the controlling eye of the Likud. He keeps his Volvo (as do his Labor ministerial friends) but they keep a watchful eye on proceedings and have some power to control policy. Today's suggestion that Peres might pull Labor from the coalition sounds very much like inner-party campaigning more than anything of substance.

With their continuation in the Government after Disengagement, there has come some criticism from those like Amir Peretz who claim that Labor has simply become a mistress to the Likud. Peretz believes that Labor should be in the opposition and behave as such. They should not be helping the Likud stay in power but challenging from the opposite side of the Knesset debating chamber. Good point that but a little project called Disengagement has held priority till now and Labor ministers can not be too upset with the ever-developing change in Sharon's attitude to occupation.

But stop for a second. Let's face facts. Peres believes he has the team to win the next election. He might well have the team but frankly I don't think he has the electorate nor the environment to make it a reality.

The Israeli electorate has swung to the right over the five years of Palestinian violence and recent polls see no indications of optimism for quieter times ahead. Disengagement, as I have said previously, is not an indication of a sudden swing to the left. Gaza is a very different deal than the West Bank, Jerusalem and the like and this would be reflected in future election results, negotiations or unilateral decisions made by Israel. Equally, there is only a strengthening of terror activity in the Palestinian Authority areas - today an admission that shoulder launched missiles have arrived with the potential to strike Israeli aircraft - military and civil.

What's my point? Well, why does Mr. Peres keep on keeping on? Why go through the heartache again? Can anyone really see a Labor victory on the horizon? Is Peres simply hanging on to his dream of a new Middle East? Does he really believe that a Likud split would leave the way open for a Labor revival?
At 82, he's contributed greatly and continuously. Why not bow out with a little honor? At least a significant segment of the country do not trust him and the odds are not in his favor. Haven't you had enough already? Isn't it time for a change? Why not hand the reins over to the younger Laborites?

... ah ha! And there might lie the reason why Peres and good buddy Sharon (in his late 70s) fight on and on and on. Who exactly are the younger folk waiting in line? There does appear to be a massive gaping hole in Israel's political leadership stocks. Who would you recommend?

Since his failure to hold a majority in the Knesset over ministerial appointments on Monday night, the media, commentators and spokespersons have been rolling out every rumor, every theory and every prediction for what the future holds in the Likud. Will Sharon call elections? Will he split and establish a new centrist party? Will he retire to his ranch?

Today's Labor results will probably help Sharon make a few decisions. An Amir Peretz-led coalition party will do nothing for keeping the government together and Sharon is getting tired (politically and physically they say) of the struggle for survival. Still, Arik is determined to be the man who draws Israel's final borders.
He is a master tactician but the strategy might well have been lost on too many of those around him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Rabin - Leave The Man To Rest!

Through his murder, Yitzchak Rabin z"l has become the greatest, most admired of Israel's old battler men. Not admired by all might I add. Many who have suffered as result of the terrorism since Oslo believe that he and friend Shimon brought with them the tradition of capitulation, of giving and not receiving.

We have frankly been up to our eyeballs in Rabin this week. It would not be a bad thing if the focus was right. Bill and Hillary arrive in the coming days, as will other dignatories as Israel officially marks ten years since the horrific act that still has everyone guessing, dreaming up conspiracies and the like. The security failures have been debated again this year - take a look at the frightening video on this site. It's in Hebrew but you'll understand.

More than the security peculiarities, each Rabin Memorial Day greets us with the left, right, center, stupid and ridiculous trying to blame the other for the murder and everything that has gone wrong in their lives since. In my opinion, Rabin belonged to all Israelis and simply because one (or a few) religious right-wing Jews wanted to get rid of him does not immediately place all religious or all right-wing or any Jew for that matter outside a society who wish to remember the man he was and what he contributed to his country.

Sadly though, we talk alot and debate even more. What frustrates me more than anything is the endless publishing of opinion pieces that delve into "what we have learnt in the last 10 years", "whether Israelis have taken the message of the murder with them" and so on and so forth. Frankly I'm fed up with the analysis. Find something else to write about or better still - do something about it!

The Israeli media is so skilled and experienced in winding up the crowd for a good fist fight. What I have learnt in the last 10 years is that segments of Israeli society get their kicks out of using Rabin's death as a means of alienating others and as a means of creating even more walls across Israeli society.

Others are making moves to break down barriers. Rabin would have liked us to be saying and doing the things that are now appearing. Recently, a famous Religious-Zionist Rabbi (who I will not name because I did not hear him say it first hand), made the observation that many non-religious and left-wing Israelis could not identify with Gush Katif settlers and neither can they identify with those on the West Bank. The Rabbi feels this is due very much to the fact that the Religious-Zionist population has built many yishuvim for religious people only. The ultra-Orthodox do the same. His opinion is that the dati-leumi crowd must begin to reintegrate fully (not just in the workplace) and once again become the bridge between the secular and the religious like they once were. If we live different worlds, miles apart, how can we expect our brothers and sisters to understand our faith, our communities, our needs and our ideals?

I am in total agreement with him and hence my excitement at spending some Shabbatot in Tzur Hadassa where a new Ashkenazi community has been established in peace with neighbors who are mostly traditional or secular. Here, Israelis and olim are stepping outside their comfort zone. The work of Rabbi Levi Cooper and the community members has been exciting to see, a pleasure to experience and a taste of what could arise across the Land of Israel.

Of course it might be more comfortable at first to live with homogenous neighbors who think like us. But at the end of the day, this does very little for Jewish unity and for showing others the value of a Jewish, Zionist or Torah way of life. Secular Israelis should consider evaluating how they build their environment too.

Additionally, as traditional societal bridge-builder, we have the National Religious Party (HaMafdal) on the way to allowing non-religious Israelis to become members of the party and even to stand as MKs. It is a risk and a shaking of Mafdal foundations and one that will make many feel uncomfortable. Nonetheless it is a brave move which focuses on life beyond settlement and seeks to gather wider support for important Mafdal policies especially in the welfare and education spheres.

Yes we have much work to do but friends, it should be done without Rabin. We can always learn from him and his murder but we should let him rest now. Enough of hurtful analysis! He would not have wanted us to shoot him and each other in the back every time we mark November 4th. Rather, he would want us to put down the pen and pick up the hand of another Israeli - to walk forward and to build onwards, upwards and together.

Oh la la!

What's blue and white and red all over? An Israeli after a touch too much charif on the shwarma? Or maybe, the French after 11 nights of rioting across 15 cities?
Red in the face with exasperation, embarrassment and frustration. I mean, we the French were all so nice. We and the rest of Europe with our borderless existence and our happy-go-lucky immigration policies. How could this all have gone so wrong? Hmmm, ask Tony Blair, he'll explain it all!

Another French Revolution to match the real one? Maybe not. Another wake up call to Europe. Maybe. Poverty and inequality are always claimed to be the sparks for such violence. Regardless of sparks and from where they arrive, nothing can excuse barbaric behavior - not in terms of homicide bombers in Israel, massacres in Dafur, terror in the UK or in USA and not even in terms of wild destruction, petrol bombing and gunfire on the streets of France.

Other Europeans states have already started to crack down on their open immigration policies - slowly. French Jews have been afraid of the French Moslem explosion for years and have recently been buying up 'rescue real estate' in Israel.
Look, don't get me wrong, I am no white supremacist or anti-Moslem. Quite the contrary. Yet I am a big believer in 'when in Rome'... and this means that regardless of your personal religious beliefs, one must commit loyally to the state in which one dwells. Jews are taught as such worldwide and prayers are said for the local government in every synagogue.
When individual Jews have betrayed that understanding, they have faced the fullness of the law.

We have lived honestly and calmly in our adopted homelands and contributed equally to them. Jews have been proud to be Americans, British and New Zealand patriotic, full-blown citizens. Only persecution and the miraculous return of the Jewish homeland to our hands has encouraged us to move out.

I do not dislike Moslems or Islam. Still, is it just a coincidence that so many of today's world conflicts involve Moslem fighters? It does not matter whether or not it is the execution of a Moslem plan to take over the world or rather an illustration of young Moslems' frustration. It might be a mix of the two or one taking advantage of the other. Regardless, unless its leaders enjoy Islam's increasingly negative public image, the Moslem world would do well to take stock of itself and begin to redirect the obvious overflow of Moslem emotion, frustration, fundamentalism (or whatever it in fact is) towards more beneficial and honest endeavors.

At least one of yesterday's Israeli dailies screamed out "French Intifada" as its main headline. It's not at all surprising that there is more than a little Israeli interest in the situation, especially as France has been a great critic of Israel's handling of Palestinian violence. Warnings, advice and a sense of irony fill the Israeli street too.

We should not get too smug about it all though. We have proven to be no experts in quelling riots either - not without having to injure and kill. With shots fired at police overnight and a 12th night awaiting, the French may be about to embark on an uneasy educational Israel experience. Let's hope that the red of the French flag does not come only to symbolize spilt blood.

A little KICprediction (which I make with trepidation) - with riot encouragement spreading across websites and blogs, would anyone else be so chutzpahdik to predict that other Moslems in Europe might soon also give in to the urge for a good night out?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Home and Away

Home advantage is a huge factor in any arena. The crowd, stadium familiarity and so on. Ask the Kiwi cricket team - they can tell you what a hoodoo it can put on your play.

Now ask Ariel Sharon how things are going on the home front. No matter how many innings he has played and how many times he has walked out onto the pitch, there is currently no real advantage for him to play at home in Israel. In honesty, he probably, for the first time in decades, would rather be strolling down the corridors of the United Nations. Yes indeed, this government's form overseas is comfortable for the fans and in stark contrast to the lowly performances on home soil.

If Israel was an international sports team on tour, they would be quite enjoying the fixtures of late. Following on from a well-received ground (maybe heart) breaking Sharon speech from the UN pulpit, we have watched Israeli representatives rise to leadership roles in UN organizations. Iran has been widely condemned for its world map reconstruction addiction, Syria continues to spank itself repeatedly even in the the face of a unanimous (thought slightly toothless) UN Security Council resolution and today the word on the street is that an official UN Holocaust Day is set to be placed in stone.

All in all then, a grand way to spend the last rays of summer for Sharon - basking in the slip-ups of Israel's neighbors and bathing in the delights of what appears to be some healthy diplomatic spin-offs from disengagement. Sure, not all of these things are thanks in any part to Israel, but nonetheless they do strengthen the sense that changes in the world are set to continue.

Back home then though... and the last rays burn and Sharon is close to drowning in his own bath water. (Keep in mind that we have said that before and yet he's always found an emergency snorkel to get some extra air into his long-lasting political lungs). Still, the challenges are great and they go well beyond the efforts of Palestinians to get Israeli streets back on CNN Breaking News.

Unable to get his own Likud MKs to turn up for drinkies at the start of the winter Knesset session, Sharon has now postponed the Knesset vote that is supposed to approve 2 new Ministers and Olmert as Finance Minister. This Prime Minister who we are told has large support nationwide appears unable to pass important laws through the Knesset. In any normal democracy (oxymoron?) and such being the case, one would have to put a shekel on elections climbing over the horizon much sooner than we would have hoped.

Friends, it's no secret that there's something wrong with the electoral system that causes this instability. Five (maybe six) Prime Ministers and five (maybe six) elections in ten years. What does that tell you? Too many parties? Too lower threshold for a party's entry to the Knesset? Yes of course but also some quite incredibly controversial dilemmas that Israeli leaders (more than others) are faced with every morning. The challenge is to balance the desires of as many of the factions as possible. It might well be that Sharon has come to a dead end in that respect - even more so within his own party... (but the fat lady is nowhere in sight so don't put a shekel on anything yet!)

Still home is where the heart is so it's only right to end with a few positives. First, what a nice initiative - a virtual Ulpan class is set to hit our living rooms shortly. Nice! Not a moment too soon either.

And lastly, a heart-breaking, heart-warming story of ultimate belief, courage and commitment to life here in the Jewish homeland. David Hatuel, whose 4 children and pregnant were murdered by Palestinians has found the strength to move on - away from tragedy and home to new love where his lost loved ones will remain with him in spirit.
What an example for all of us. Makes you think twice about ever opening one's mouth to complain or bemoan the difficulties of life in Israel.
Mazal Tov!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Israel Advocacy Program

The Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Jewish Agency for Israel will be hosting another excellent online "Ambassador Course" starting 7 November. For a fairly small financial contribution (and even smaller for students), you can participate in a 4-week online course led by well-known Israel Advocate Neil Lazarus. "Ambassador" trains you to promote and defend Israel - in the media, on campus, in the elevator and so on.

The course includes video lectures and online forums. I have taught the course previously on behalf of the Ministry and the Jewish Agency and I found it both informative and enlightening (even from the perspective of a teacher). It allows you to meet other pro-Israel advocates online and to work together with them in building ideas and comparing experiences.

Click here to read more about the course and to register. Please send this posting to friends and family (by clicking on the envelope icon below) and encourage them to get involved in this online educational Israel experience.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Unusual Diplomatic Friends and Favors

Like obedient little boys, the Islamic Jihad School for Brainwash and Seventy Heavenly Virgins has visited the innocents of central Hadera. Basking in the warming light and encouragement of Iran's 'World Without Zionism' conference, a misled 20-year old Palestinian has returned shivers to the collective Israeli spine. We did not know which of the thousands of brainwashed, helpless creatures would actually take the bait this time, but we knew it was coming and we know that there will be more.

During my twelve days or so caught up between apple and honey, vacation and illness, I have had a little time to get some perspective. We who write and talk publicly often find ourselves needing to satisfy the urge to write immediately following any major breaking news. I have taken the liberty not to do so until now and it feels good to approach the keyboard with 12 days of contemplation behind me.

The new Jewish year has complicated my train of thought. Still, help comes from the strangest sources sometimes and there we have it, right when we needed it. Iran has delivered us the diplomatic gift of the century - this century is still young of course but let's not lose the moment!
After two ghastly terror attacks in the last 10 days or so, (one apparently against "young Jewish settlers" and the other against "innocent Israel civilians"), the Israeli leadership has been sent back to the Arafat era. In their own words, the Prime Minister and security chiefs are ready to embark on anti-terror operations like those we witnessed in the dark aftermath of Sbarro, Dolphinarium, Park Hotel and so on. In essence, they have been given no choice. Their political futures and Israel's sanity depend on Israel showing its strong hand in addition to its Disengagement and patient hand.

I have seen cynical little online comments from interesting folk who proudly claim that the Hadera massacre has proven that no wall, no helicopter and no tank will stop the Palestinian struggle. In the opinion of these people, only ending occupation will see an end to terror.
And you know what, they might be right - but there is only the slightest chance that Abbas and the terror groups will ever change their strategies for even a minute in order to allow for a Palestinian state to emerge and occupation (if that's the best word for it) to disappear.

Little comments online (even if I admit I make plenty myself) do not necessarily reflect reality nor truth. The way I see it, the IDF is quite capable of providing a fairly massive blow to Islamic terror in Israel and the Palestinian Authority regions. That's not to say that such a response would not further enrage the masses or that it will not indirectly lead to the loss of innocent life on both sides. I am sad to say that at this stage, in light of Disengagement and the upward terror sprial in the region, I can not advocate for staying the IDF hand for the sake of avoiding these regrettable consequences.

However, the hands may yet be tied, handcuffed and chained. There is no need to delve into the history of US and world pressure on Israel to respond with proportionality only. Whatever proportionality the world preaches, it is such that applies to Israel only. G-d only knows what Britain would be doing now if they had somewhere in the world other than Birmingham, Liverpool and London in which to retaliate...

... which is why I am pleased that Iran has played its joker - and what a joke! On the very day that Israel needs some means of getting the green light for taking care of Palestinian terror networks, Iran has less than gently, rather ridicuously jolted the world with one of the most arrogant and hopelessly undiplomatic statements in the earth's history. Thank you - you have done Israel a great favor and shown the world (in particular the Europeans) that your intentions, whether truly nuclear or not, smell of evil and of hate and of destructive terror.

Personally I am pleased to see countless world leaders expressing their horror at the Iranian rhetoric. Coupled with the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad performance of Wednesday, Palestinian terror and Iranian extremism are now seen for what they really are - connected at the hip and the bank and heading on a collision course to the great sorrow and loss of their people as usual.

Here's hoping that tomorrow the world will still be standing strongly and honestly in defence of Israel's right to exist and her right to defend herself. Please don't lose any sleep calculating the odds...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Untouchables of Aliyah

After my KIC session with Bnei Akiva MTA on Friday, one of the participants approached me to ask the following question: "Tell me why I should live in Israel when all I see is a rude and unfriendly society". Well for those of you who are educators out there, I am sure you have various pre-programmed answers ringing through your mind for the very moment he has finished uttering the challenge - and a massive challenge it is.

Only that morning, I had returned to the Renault dealer in Talpiyot (Jerusalem) where we bought our car just over 4 years ago. Again, the automatic gearbox is broken, having already been replaced twice. The first time they demanded we pay 13000 shekels, then offered it for 7000 and then for free when our lawyer came walking into their offices. Now on the third occasion when the gearbox has ceased to operate as it should, we simply requested the courtesy of a rental car for the period that they are fixing this recurring and unacceptable problem.

Sure they said - that will cost you 140 shekels per day. Hmmm. Nice. And how about the rip in the front passenger seat that your workers left after the last gear replacement. "Nothing to do with us" - apparently! And the fact that we have to bring the car in every month for mechanical repair. "Ummm, not our responsibility".

How about the fact that you are playing 'silly buggers' the day after Yom Kippur? "מה קשר" - "what's the connection?"

So two hours later, this Zionist Bnei chanich throws the Aliyah question at me and I feel myself beginning to symphathize with him, almost wholeheartedly. It took me some time to reach the true and honest conclusion in giving him a sensible and appropriate answer.

The KICview is that Aliyah is tough work and that it is not for everyone. Sure, it's a great mitzvah and a great achievement to make a life for oneself in this Land, but it's hard work and many will not have (or find) the time, energy or patience to carry it through. (However, in my humble opinion, lack of (enough!) money is not a reason not to at least try).

As I said to the Australian guy, Israel is not Bondi nor is it Florida. We all have to face the reality that though Israel is more or less first-ish world and great to be a part of most of the time, it is by no means fully Western - it is not England or New Zealand, USA or Australia - and in many respects that's a good thing!

But, Israel is in the Middle East and with it comes Middle Eastern weather, Middle Eastern moods, personalities and Middle Eastern attitudes. Many olim say that "while we hate living here, we couldn't see ourselves living anywhere else". That feeling doesn't exist among all or at all times, but it does raise its head often. Love it or leave it, that's Israel.

I left him with these thoughts. I listed him some of my reasons for living in Israel that are simply untouchable and immeasurable.
It is in this season, at this time of the year that I am often reminded of the beauty of living in this often frustrating Jewish state. I found great satisfaction from Aron Razel's Yom Kippur tefilot at Shir Hadash which included several dances during Neilah. But it was even more satisfying to know that I had so many shules to choose from within walking distance, one of them being the Kotel. Still, I particularly like Shir Hadash because it represents a community of olim (and some Israelis) who are committed to making a go of it in our homeland.

After almost 6 years in Israel, it was my first time in Jerusalem where I could see the wonderful sight of completely (I mean 100%) car-less, empty and peaceful streets for the 25-hour Yom Kippur period. The country shuts down and pedestrians re-take the roads. It was truly a holy sight in itself. Now, there are Sukkot springing up on every corner of empty bit of ground around the country. Sukkot are built at restaurants, bakeries, shules, hospitals, workplaces. Lulavim, etrogim and the like are on sale everywhere and there is a wonderul sense of the grand Chol Hamoed Sukkot national holiday week ahead. This morning I started davening among waiting patients at Hadasah Hospital and then joined a minyan in the hospital shule. People brought around free kosher sandwiches for patients and staff wished their patients Shana Tova and Chag Sameach.

I really could type about these things for some minutes. In essence, these examples are some of the untouchable reasons. These things make me feel that I am living a full Jewish existence everywhere I look and everywhere I go. Not just at the shule, in the kosher restaurant and when I arrive home from the office to my Jewish house. In Israel, we live Judaism everywhere and it is an inherent part of the way the country runs day-to-day. When I go to work, or to the mall, to university or to the hospital, people are not only tolerant towards me because I am different, but my Jewish-Zionist desires are fully accomodated automatically.

These feelings are personal and untouchable. Each prospective oleh needs to develop strength to recognize these incredibly positive aspects of Israeli life and to channel them in a way that they will help to overcome the societal challenges that do in fact exist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Big Picture

A couple of weeks ago, Melitz and Otzma asked me to provide their students with a view of 'the big or bigger picture'. That is, to facilitate a Israeli Politics 101 session which helps them to grasp the idea that there is more to Israel and Israeli current affairs than just Disengagement, Terrorism and Peace Processes.

Frankly, it's often difficult to decipher what exactly constitutes the bigger picture when it comes to Israel. What do I mean? Are the societal ingredients in Israeli society small fish in comparison to the bigger fish of terror, war, peace and everything in-between? Or does intra-Israel politics more clearly define Israel as it is today and provide a clearer bigger picture than the things that more often than not get CNN and BBC executives giggling with joy and excitement?

In this ten days of personal introspection and evaluation, highlighted by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at either end, it was very nice of the Shinui party and others to provide us with the opportunity for a little national self-evaluation on topics outside the army, borders and fences. The issues themselves raise questions about the Jewish character of the state and Judaism's relationship with democracy. In addition, the way the issues are beng handled gives us an uncomfortable reminder of how desperately controversial and hurtful such issues can become.
One can always rely on politicians to bring things to a head.

The Ganot interchange, as big and busy as it is, may not have thought she would attract quite the attention that it now finds itself swimming in. I am no halachic expert so I do not wish to comment in that regard, other than to say that I am, in general, in favor of maintaining strong Jewish character in the state. The lines between flavour and in fact enforcing views of one on another remain blurred. There is a great deal of sensitive legislative work to do in that regard.

Regardless, I am not impressed with the pretty horrific insults flying from Shinui mouths. Claims of extortion and blackmail and the like lead us nowhere but to hatred and hurt. I actually struggle to fathom the Shinui attacks in light of their own attempts to convince Sharon to carry forth the controversial policies that suit their supporters - civil marriage laws, for example. In reality, is there any difference between Shinui and ultra-Orthodox approaches to coalition building and power battles? Doesn't Shas have an equal right to push for extra benefits to the poor as well?

When it comes to the crunch, there is probably just one man enjoying this jostling for power. I am sure Ariel Sharon can still taste the sweetness of his upset victory over the Likud rebels - small but sweet nonetheless. As he looks to reshuffle the Cabinet seats, he will be playing fairly hard to get.

The other Shinui-inspired issue is less difficult for me. Like last year when their MKs made similar complaints, Avraham Poraz and friends are now demanding that any Government-backed initiatives to encourage involvement in Yom Kippur observance and prayer be cancelled and rejected. I might not go as far as Shas' Eli Yishai (in the above link), but certainly I am uncomfortable with this Shinui policy. A simple reading of the information provided by MK Rabbi Melchior makes it clear that the program's intention is by no means to "persuade people to become observant Jews". Rather, it appears to be a refreshing and creative means of allowing Israeli Jews to discover or rediscover aspects of their heritage and traditions and to mix with other Jews of different persuasions. Creative tefilah/prayer is a key element of Jewish education worldwide and would not do any harm here.

Of course the line between State and Synagogue in Israel is blurred and sometimes impossible to navigate. Still, a government of the Jewish state should be congratulated for supporting such seemingly harmless Jewish projects. How silly it would be if non-Jewish governments around the world encouraged maintenance of religious observance and culture but our own state refrained from doing so. I know that in New Zealand, we often applied to the government and the Lotto Grants Authority for Jewish educational funding and in fact the Government there supports the Jewish schools only if they maintain their Jewish character.

I hope all kinds of Israelis take advantage of 'Judaism for All' on Thursday.

Here we are then, just before Yom Kippur and I am still not sure what exactly anyone means by 'the bigger picture' - but that does not really matter.
What is important is that we are finding time to look at other issues and topics that require discussion and evaluation. It is important that Hamas Incorporated does not always dictate our lives and our thoughts.

As well as these intra-political issues, there is so much more that we Israelis should commit ourselves to working on post-Yom Kippur. The road toll is horrific, a full ten times greater than the terror toll. We still leave our weakest links to struggle. (A statistic that presents average salary as 7500 shekels per month means nothing to two-thirds of the population). Last but not least, crime and violence continue to spiral out of control. Work has begun and it is reaching the top of Israel's policy agenda slowly - better late than never.

Yom Kippur is always a special day in Israel. Streets are almost empty and there is a real sense of introspection. There is a lot of positive here and we need to do some good national self-evaluation on Thursday to make sure that the optimism can be harnessed and led down a path of tolerance, responsibility, national pride and security.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Stating the Case

I would like to encourage KICblog readers to register to an online course that will enhance your ability to advocate and defend Israel in the media, on campus, at your office and even among friends.

Stating the Case is presented by Israeli Foreign Ministry representatives and hosted by the eAcademy of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

I strongly recommend your involvement in the course which includes video presentations and thorough online direction and training my forum facilitators.

See the link above, read about the course and register now.

The KICblog will be back with full commentary on Israeli Current Affairs shortly...

Monday, October 03, 2005


Michael is currently being KIC-ed by some kind of flu. It is therefore unlikely that there will be another KICpost before Rosh Hashanah. However, we invite you to add a comment below and provide us with your highlights and lowlights from Israel & and the world in 5765 and to make your predictions for the months ahead.

Thanks for reading and shmoozing on the KICblog and for supporting KIC sessions.
שנה טובה ומתוקה לכולכם

PS - Help us to KICstart the New Year by adding a link to KIC from your blog or website. Thanks again...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Jerusalem "Human Rights in Conflict" Symposium

This afternoon (Thursday), there is a symposium taking place (in English) close to Jaffa Gate. Today's topic will relate to restriction on movement, legitimate security concerns and Palestinian welfare. Might be worth participating if you are interested in this field.

It will be certain to raise some central issues and it is important that all Israeli views are represented.

For more information on the speakers and the topic:

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One Murder and Five Years Later

Yesterday marked the Palestinian anniversary of five years since Intifada II began. Yay - break out the bubbly and the balloons. A few weeks ago, optimists among us may have thought we were about to begin disengagement from this horror movie. Amazing really how often they show repeats of some episodes these days!

It is all so deja vu that it truly is verging on ridiculous. Have a read of the Palestinian rhetoric. Sad sad sad. Makes me really sad! I'm not just sad for myself or for Israelis. Even if the horizon does not look so pretty right now and it is bearing down on us far too quickly, I am still committed to feeling sorry for the Palestinians too. Why do their leaders, diplomats and terrorists persist on raising expectations. Why do they play with the emotions of a people, who like us, have suffered so much? Where is the willingness to embrace reality and reciprocity. Israel has begun to do so and it has caused a tsunami of painful bubble bursting nationwide. It needs to happen in Palestinian society too.

Why should it ever happen though? I mean, is there really any pressure on them to seal the new weapons flow from Egypt or the rocket fire or the planning for suicide bombings? For decades the UN has flirted with the Palestinian victim card on the diplomatic poker table. The Arab media provides their readers and viewers with such misleading and false reports and paints a picture of Palestinian victimhood, weak and occupied and yet able to defeat the IDF - apparently! How could any Palestinian ever be swayed to seek peace over war and negotiation over terror? Why should they when Arab states provide them with the green light and the resources for terror? Why would they when al-Qaeda and other terrorist support is allowed to freely enter Gaza?

For me, answers sometimes come in small packages - small but treasured packages. The murder of Sasson Nuriel may not have caught the world headlines as it should have. Had it done so, they might now have a better understanding of the inherent problems in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

What bothers me about this story is not only the arrogant, horrific and non-humane way by which Hamas dealt with this family man, but the relationship that in fact existed between him and Palestinians. The much less common murder of one's Palestinian colleagues and workers by Jews is equally horrific.

This is not the first time that Palestinians have murdered the person who actually provides them with business and income. Why do they persist on cutting off their nose to spite their face? Like the Gaza woman who recently tried to blow up the Israeli hospital that was treating her for burns. Why amputate the hand that feeds you? Here lies one of the greatest obstacles to peace. If they kill those who cooperate and work with them, there can never be trust. You can not complain about occupation and poverty on the one hand and then hurt those who do business with you.

The very fact that these 'hostage videos' have become so popular worldwide is a sad illustration of the world's morality. Why do we allow ourselves to become immune to such horrors? Why do we wait for buildings to fall and trains to explode before we take action?

What action to take is always controversial. The way I see it, while military action risks the creation of greater anger and extremism, terrorists will always make their own justification for launching attacks, just as Hamas did so misleadingly last week.

Israel has now embarked on what I see as a military strategy unlinked to internal Likud battles. As is being repeated daily, post-Disengagement brings new rules and Israel will not hesitate a moment longer. Defence Minister Mofaz says terror from Gaza will be stopped - period. He and his compatriots are using tough, direct and uncompromising threats that we have not witnessed for some time. Israel only ever used about 2% of its real strength in the last five years. Something tells me that from Peres to Sharon and everyone in-between, there is very little patience remaining and the IDF will now do the PAs job while they refuse or are unable to do so.
Where to from here then? The good news is that we 'only' lost as many to terror in the last year as the UK did. (Isn't that ironic?!!) Though no room for bubbly and chocolate cake here either, other than congratulating the IDF and police (which Haaretz did not!) on stopping the countless attempts to undermine our constant struggle for peace.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Ever-Powerful Underdog Tag

In the world of sport (to which I have a full membership), teams try desperately to get labeled as the underdog before a big match. It seems to provide an extra motivation to win and keeps arrogance and over-confidence on the sidelines.

Well, I am not sure Ariel Sharon intended to be placed in the underdog corner of the 'all gloves off' Likud boxing ring, but that's where he found himself leading up to yesterday's vote. And today, well he's proven to be a real survivor and warrior once again. No one expected him ever to be Prime Minister after the Lebanon fiasco and not many backed him to overcome the Netanyahu challenge, even at the first of several inner Likud hurdles that lie ahead.

And yet, here he is now with a victory, against all odds. Honestly, I was happy to buy some lines for last night's 50 million shekel lotto draw. I am not sure I would have placed an agara on Sharon had I been given the option to do so. The odds of 1:2000000 for lotto appeared somewhat encouraging in comparison.

Victory it is though, thanks very much I would say to the Israeli media which has doubled as a powerful Sharon fan club for some time now. Together with Sharon advocates, they did very well to paint him not only as the underdog, but as a true representative of the majority and the only realistic alternative to "extreme elements" like Landau and Netanyahu. Coupled with a little help from the infamous microphone and ironically from predictable post-Disengagement terror, I think many chose the devil they think they know well over the devil that they're still not quite as comfortable with.

When it comes down to it, the close finish (Sharon by a nose) is a fair reflection not only of the 'no holds barred' difficult times ahead for the Likud, but also of the significant split that still remains nationwide, especially when it comes to land for peace when the peace is not forthcoming. Equally, the result illustrates that some norms of political logic still remain in the Likud - that is, don't vote for new elections when you are in the government and you have a very popular leader.

Still, logic normally plays little place in our lives here. If it did, we would have all left and gone to live in New Zealand by now. This country runs on something else quite undescribable - for good and for bad.

Victory is sweet and defeat is indeed bitter for Mr Bibi who now appears under some pressure. Some are already calling him "Loser Peres of the Likud". A little unfair but I would not discount the possibility that there might be a push to find someone more widely respected who could unseat Sharon. Uzi Landau maybe? DEBKAfile predicted that recently too.

If you don't continue to win matches, you can't call yourselves 'the best in the world'. Sharon still has some tough assignments ahead of him and he'll have to show his best political skills yet if he's still to be standing at the end of this season. Deciding what to do with those who backed Bibi will be a good indication of where the Likud family is heading. Unity calls are well and good but you can't help feeling that Sharon will take the 104 vote majority in the Likud and take his friends with him toward his next policy goals. Own goal that might turn out to be. Let's face it, almost 50% did in fact vote against him.

A day is a very long time in Israeli current affairs. Don't take your eye off the ball for a second!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Suitless & Speechless

Having just been at a רמת כוסית (Raising of the Glasses - a toast) in the presence of Attorney-General Menny Mazuz and the Likud's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, I thought I would comment on a few personal observations.

In addition to the microphone ironically failing during Minister Livni's short address, I noticed the following:

1. Even if important figures are giving public speeches within two meters of you, it is still Israeli custom to answer your mobile phone and at least begin a conversation with the caller. Attempts at hiding one's voice behind a book or folder does not do the trick as clever as it might appear at first!

2. In New Zealand, people who paraded up and down main streets in their suits and ties were called 'the suits', not by their suit-wearing peers of course. At this function, there was barely a soul dressed like 'a suit' or even sporting a tie other than the Attorney-General of course. In Israel, one goes to work, to interviews and to synagogue in whatever you feel is respectful. It's normally something casual but appropriate. I don't know if it's a reflection on the 9-month hot summer we live in or rather just an illustration that to Israelis there is just so many bigger priorities and concerns than what you wear. What you say and do, and what kind of person you are means so much more.

3. Most strikingly, it felt refreshing to be at a toast for Rosh Hashanah rather than Xmas. What I mean is that while I have nothing against those Xmas season toasts and lunches in New Zealand, it is simply more pleasant to be able to eat and drink what is on offer and to actually identify with the religious festival that is approaching. I am all in favor of us being a light unto the nations though I'm not so sure if we're very good at that or whether the nations want our 'light'. Still, there's something sweet about the new year when your leaders wish you Shana Tova (A Good Year) rather than ask you to explain Chanukah, matzah, shofar, cholent and tefillin. All this just makes me satisfied to live in the Jewish state.

Explaining the advantages of 11am Saturday cholent may however be simple in comparison to finding the meaning behind the microphone debacle of last evening. There are more conspiracy theories floating around now than there are working microphones. In a country where corruption and dirty politics increases each year, it is not as simple as assuming that Bibi and Landau supporters pulled the plug. There are those who believe it might have been a perfectly executed sympathy and attention collecting stunt from Ariel Sharon's side of the Likud battle.

Microphones and conspiracies aside, today is truly a big day for the Likud and Israel as they vote in essence for or against Disengagement (bit late isn't it?) and Sharon. It might have been the perfect payback to the Prime Minister who turned off the microphones (and careers) of every Minister and MK who disagreed with him on Disengagement. Or it might constitute one of the most major dents in Israeli democracy for some time. You decide.

Of those who succeeded in speaking from the podium, many were surprised by this man. Having been taken from his home in Gaza, he argued that Sharon did not disengage alone. Ministers and Netanyahu stood by and watched it all happen.
Still the blame often falls heavily on a leader and hence the microphone troubles for Sharon only.

At midnight tonight we may know what all this really means, if anything. The Likud is looking like one big (40 MK) unhappy family that looks unlikely to avoid a split. Strange but true.

Never a dull moment here - even when the Palestinians are keeping us busy, we can also find something internal to add to the workload.

!אכן איזה שנה
What a year indeed!