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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

I’ve waited a few days to post this, in hopes that an English-language newspaper will pick it up, but it appears to be completely off the radar. Israel prides itself on being the Jewish home, where Jews always have been and always will be welcome, regardless of any other factor. Especially the color of their skin. Nevertheless, the residents of at least one neighborhood in Ashkelon seem to think they are living in the past. America’s past.

Ynet published an article (but only in Hebrew) about a couple trying to buy a home in Ashkelon. Their real estate agent tried to inquire about an apartment, on behalf of the couple, who are of Ethiopian origin, and was given a rather rude awakening by the owner who was trying to sell his apartment.

“There are no Ethiopians in this area. Never have been and never will be. That is our policy…anyone can come, but not Ethiopians. The whole building is like this. I hope so, at least, in order to maintain the value of the apartment and the value of the building.”

Apparently, this is not news to city hall. Former Deputy Mayor Avi Vaknin said he has “encountered this phenomenon numerous times, and shocked every time.” He also added that it is good that it is being “revealed in all of its ugliness because only [that] will help fight such ugly phenomenons.” Really? That’s the only way to fight this? This, coming from a city hall official (albeit former). I don’t understand.

Not only has this been going on for years, but the media does not think it is even newsworthy. That’s a great Aliyah draw.

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Shmuel Rosner, whose analysis is generally very good, has been pushing a theory over the last couple of days regarding the will of the Israeli electorate, claiming the elections were “a victory for the center,” and that the public wants a national unity government. Rosner argues that people did not vote along ideological lines, rather most were motivated by their personal preferences among Israeli politicians. With one caveat, I agree with that assertion. Israelis did vote mostly by personal preference, but within their general “camp.” In fact, I would say the strongest “personal” vote was the רק לא ביבי (Just not Bibi) vote, resurrected from Barak’s 1999 campaign.

Many pundits have been saying that the elections results show that the public has realigned itself further to the Right. While the public may have taken a step rightward, there was no real change in public opinion since 2006. In the last elections most still voted for “Sharon’s party” and still viewed Likud as a corrupt machine.

Most importantly, however, Kadima’s image was a right of center party. Kadima has since, pretty clearly, placed itself on to the left. People who see themselves as moderate left voted for Kadima, and fewer voted for Labor, leading to its collapse. That, however, does not account for all of Kadima’s 28 seats. As mentioned, Bibi is a rather polarizing figure in Israel, and the “Just not Bibi” vote helped Kadima immensely, but not enough.

Back to the issue of the public’s desire for a national unity government. There was a significant “Just not Bibi” vote, add to that massive disgust for Kadima and its corruption, and what you get is a significant concern in the “National Camp” (the religious Right). The Jewish Home party and the National Union party only have seven seats between the two of them, down from nine in the 17th Knesset, because many who traditionally vote for these parties (whichever versions are running that year) voted for Likud, concerned that Livni might be the next Prime Minister.

I do not see any strong desire for a unity government. What I do see is a very polarized society, made of many camps, each of which despises the other camps’ ideologies. That being said, I do think the press has been successful in scaring much of the public with their illustration of Lieberman, to a degree that many would prefer any government to one in which Lieberman holds high office.

In any case, the prospect of a national unity government is still pretty unlikely. For one, if Livni sits in this government she will be relegated to the position of Bibi’s sidekick. Next time around, she will be nothing but a has-been, and she doesn’t the stature, or the history, to forge a comeback (even Barak wasn’t able to do so). There is nothing particularly remarkable distinguishing her from others in her party (Meir Shitrit, Roni Bar-on, Avi Dichter, just to name a few). If Livni realizes this, she will not allow herself to disappear into oblivion. And it seems she has, as Kadima members have leaked that if Likud first forms a Right-wing coalition and only then turns to them, they will remain in the Opposition.

However, assuming Kadima does want to join Likud. With who else? The Jewish Home party is rumored to be mulling a merger with Likud – that’s 30 seats, along with Kadima, that makes 58. National Union has already said they will not sit with Livni, and Labor seems determined to remain the Opposition, leaving three parties that would even consider joining such a government: Shas, UTJ and of course, Yisrael Beitenu. Livni’s claim to fame was that she stood up to Shas before the elections, how would that look if she now joined a government that met Shas’ demands?

That leaves Lieberman. Setting aside Livni’s enormous personal price, if she does join a Netanyahu-led coalition, the government’s term will probably play out in one of the following ways:

  1. With Lieberman – Large stable government for a full term, that will get nothing accomplished (Extremely unlikely).
  2. With Lieberman – Large Stable government for 12-18 months until it implodes, and either Livni or Lieberman resign, leading to new elections, yet again. (Still unlikely – Israeli politicians are selfish).
  3. Without Lieberman – very, very unstable government, leading to either new elections, or to a realignment of the coalition in fairly short period of time. (If Peres puts a lot of pressure on Bibi, this is somewhat likely).

I still think the most probably outcome is a 65-seat Right wing coalition, which will not be extremely stable, and is likely to implode over religious-civil disagreement between the Haredi parties and Lieberman, in 1-2 years.

Does anyone have a more optimistic prediction?

EDIT: My math was a bit off, and the only way options 1 and 2 are even feasible is if the Jewish Home-Likud merger does happen. In this scenario a “large” Likud-led government with Kadima would be 78 seats, with both UTJ and Lieberman and a “narrow” one would be 63 seats, with UTJ (even less stable the Right-wing government Bibi can put together).

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googleelectionsEarly results are trickling in (official Knesset site, but only in Hebrew), and calculations of electoral math has begun. Results, which have been relatively stable seem to suggest that the largest party will be Kadima, headed by Livni, with 28 seats. Yet, she will only be able to claim the premiership if one of the parties to her right sells out.

Right now, the Left-wing bloc (Kadima, Labor, Meretz, Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad) has 55 seats. In theory, this would mean Livni has seven fewer seats than she needs for a majority. However, Ahmed Tibi, of Balad, said before the elections that the Arab parties would not help Livni form a bloc, no matter the price. This effectively leaves Livni with a 48-seat bloc.

In the past, Shas has joined a Left-wing government, and seemed willing to do so only a few short months ago, when Livni was tasked with forming a coalition following Olmert’s resignation. She refused to give into Shas’ demands (monetary and Jerusalem), and today was the result. One of her biggest selling points during the campaign was that she refused to capitulate to Shas.

Furthermore, Shas chairman, Eli Yishai (projected: 11 seats), said tonight that “there is no doubt that the people have chosen the Right,” (Hebrew source) implying they would throw their support behind Netanyahu, and not Livni. Then again, Shas has shown in the past that in return for Shas’ support, one must only, literally, pay a price. And even then Livni will only have 59 seats (maybe 63, if Hadash votes along with Shas).

The other kingmaker in these elections is the man the media loves to hate – Yisrael Beitenu chairman, Avigdor Lieberman, and his projected 15 seats. While he did say that he prefers a Right-wing coalition, he refused to endorse either Netanyahu nor Livni. I think that is more of a power play than anything else. The odds of Livni forming a coalition with him are not particularly high. Livni would have a hard time convincing Labor, not to mention Meretz (3 seats), to join such a coalition. This coalition would be pretty unstable, only narrowly adding up to a majority, with 63 seats (unless pigs start flying and Hadash sits in the same government with Lieberman, making it 67). It is more likely that Lieberman is trying to play hard to get, in order to squeeze a better coalition deal out of Netanyahu.

There are two remaining scenarios paving Livni’s way to the Prime Minister’s Office. The first is highly unlikely – Likud joining a Kadima-led coalition. The scenarios I have already described, all lead to a quick collapse of the government and the Knesset, with elections yet again on the horizon. If he joined Livni’s government, he would only be breathing life into a government comatose before it would even be sworn into office, not to mention he has already declared victory.

The last option Livni has is a rotation government. In such an arrangement, she would serve as PM for two years, and then Netanyahu would serve for two years (or vice versa), or some other similar schedule of rotation. This sort of agreement would not be unprecedented, as Yitzchak Shamir and Shimon Peres had a similar agreement in the early 1980s.

This would only happen, though, if Netanyahu would truly be convinced that he could not form the coalition on his own. Despite calls for a unity government during the campaign, if Netanyahu is able to maintain the support the 65-seat Right-wing bloc, Peres will have no choice but to nominate him to head the next government. In the meantime, however, more chaos shall ensue.

EDIT: The soldiers’ votes will only be counted Thursday, and with nearly 200,000 votes (though many vote in their regular polling places, so the numbers are still unclear) they have the potential to change the results by a few seats.

EDIT2: Numbers have been changed to reflect the latest, slightly different results (100% in, as of now – but in Israel, as in Israel – numbers are not yet final).

EDIT3: It should be recalled that, in 2001, Netanyahu essentially gave up the premiership to Sharon, arguing that he could not form a coalition on the basis of already formed Knesset (elected in 1999, with Barak). Considering Sharon’s meteoric rise and mega-stature since, one can only assume that he has regretted that moment ever since. History is a powerful motivator. He will not let this one slip by, and I think he will do everything in his power to prevent Livni from assuming the country’s highest office – even if the current chaos deteriorates into new elections without any new government.

UPDATE: Jameel adds an accurate clarification, that the “100%” of votes tallied, does not include special ballots (soldiers, diplomats, sailors, prisoners and hospital patients.)

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There is an article in today’s travel section of the New York Times about street food in India. More specifically, the article deals with the migration of “street food” from the street to more restaurant-like establishments. I have not (yet) been lucky enough to see Mumbai, and although the piece is mostly about that city, I think street food is an universally Indian enough for me to comment.

Apparently, recently “a slew of restaurants are sanitizing street food, serving it in clean (if not always pristine) surroundings. At most places, you can eat like a king for less than $2.” First of all, $2 for Indian street food is a rip-off comparable to a McDonald’s competitor selling Big-Macs for $30. Second, part of what makes street food in India so great is the fact that is on the street.

There will always be those Mumbaikars who tell you that street snacks eaten in restaurants just can’t compare with the authentic fare of “Raju the blind chaatwala at the second open drain behind the Churchgate Railway Station.” They are probably right. There’s something about the down-and-dirtiness of real street fare that makes it all the tastier.

Typical Hot Indian Street (Varanasi)

Typical Hot Indian Street (Varanasi)

Like I said, I don’t know about Mumbai, but this is definitely true in other Indian cities, as well. The relatively uninformed traveler doesn’t know about Raju, and doesn’t know where his food stand is. So, in choosing where to eat, a slightly different process takes place. Stage 1: Walking down hot, crowded, smelly Indian street, impossibly trying to take everything in, and avoiding most vendors’ calls to buy their merchandise, not to mention being gored by a stray cow or run over by rickshaw driver. Stage 2: Surprisingly, amongst the heat, humdity and insects, hunger strikes. Stage 3: This depends on the level of familiarity with Indian street food (usually directly correlated with the amount of time spent in India). If familiar with Indian street food- decide on sweet fried food (Jalebi/Emarti/etc) or something only slightly more wholesome (Pakora/Samosa/etc). Stage 4: Pick best looking /smelling food cart. Stage 5: Enjoy.

The Only Way to Drink Chai

The Only Way to Drink Chai

It does take somewhat of a “brave tourist to sample the wares from a street vendor who is casually mashing potatoes with his bare and grubby hands, as flies buzz happily around.” That remains, however, the best way to eat your first Samosa, after escaping to a nearby alley when the “tourist bus” (I was the only non-local on the bus) to the Taj Mahal dropped us off at a way-too-expensive restaurant (kickbacks are rampant in the service industry in India).

In Amritsar - Not Street Food, but Still Great

In Amritsar - Not Street Food, but Still Great

The article “After all, what’s good enough for Anthony Bourdain …” Assuming that someone who travels with an expensive entourage, stays in fancy hotels, and eats at places suggested by Western-knowledgable locals is inherently more adventurous, is wrong. It might be a safer course of action – an upset stomach that starts in Varanasi, continued through the festival of Holi and a 24 rickshaw+train+jeep journey to Darjeeling and only ends after finally adhering to a strict, bland diet is well… an experience.

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As entertaining as the New York Times’ The Ethicist is, I find myself disagreeing with Randy Cohen’s conclusions rather often. I think the first question he answered in this week’s column is too complicated to be boiled down to a two paragraph response. However, that is not my real concern.

In writing about a parent’s dilemma about whether or not a child should be allowed to smoke marijuana on a family trip to the Netherlands, Cohen makes the following comparison:

While there may still be good reasons for your son to avoid marijuana there — concerns about pot’s long-term effects, belief that time spent not looking at Vermeers is time wasted, the risk of tumbling into a canal — fealty to U.S. law is not one. When a Saudi visits the U.S., she has no ethical obligation to forswear driving simply because it is illegal for a woman to do so in Riyadh.

To reiterate, he has compared a law banning marijuana to a law forbidding women from driving. Regardless of what one thinks the legal status of narcotics should be, there is a world of difference between such a law and one drafted to shield the public from the horrors of women leaving the house more often. By making this comparison, Cohen has, in effect, placed the US law forbidding the use of marijuana on the same moral plane as the systematic discrimination against women practiced by Saudi Arabia.

The country who says that “establishing houses of worship for non-Islamic religions was too sensitive an issue,” no longer shocks me. Somehow, the New York Times still does. Randy Cohen should know better.

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Michael Totten has long been required reading if one wants to keep up with international affairs, in my view. Recently he posted the transcript of a briefing with Khaled Abu Toameh. Of course, I don’t agree with Abu Toameh on everything, but his analysis is the best thing I’ve read in a while.

The West, either delusional, anti-Israel, or downright antisemitic, has long thought that a Palestinian state will solve everything. Abu Toameh, native of Tulkarem, seems to think that’s funny, and almost sounds like Nadia Matar:

Talking about a Palestinian state today is a joke. Where would that state be established? Israel controls nearly half of the West Bank. These PLO people can’t deliver. If Israel gives up the West Bank, you will have to go to Cairo or Amman to take a flight back to America because snipers will be sitting on the hilltops above Ben-Gurion airport.

Perception of power is important, very important, and I’ve harped on that topic enough times, but it really cannot be stressed strongly enough that leaving without the losing side surrendering, is the same as losing.

They think Israel ran away from Lebanon, that Hezbollah defeated them. They thought the Jews were scared and would not come into Gaza. They were really confident that Israel wouldn’t fight back. Really. They were.

Another common misconception is that economic improvement within Palestinian society will lead to peace. They will stop hating us, and the streets will suddenly be paved with gold. Well, no.

Max Boot: There does seem to be this sense that the West Bank has been doing better economically.
Khaled Abu Toameh: Yes.
Max Boot: Does that translate into better politics?
Khaled Abu Toameh: No.

Most of our neighbors do NOT like us. They will not start liking us anytime soon. They hate us and it has nothing to do with the fact that they are poor. Or that they are more religious or less religious. Or that they call themselves Hamas or Fatah.

I don’t think the majority would like to see aid from Norway, Switzerland, or Canada instead of from Iran and Hezbollah… You know what? Believe me, if you listen to Hamas and Fatah in Arabic there isn’t much of a difference, especially these days. Fatah fought alongside Hamas in Gaza. Today they said they lost 36 fighters and fired 900 rockets at Israel. Fatah.

The world loves to blame Israel. It’s not just our delusion. Sudan? Blame Israel. Gazans are hungry? Blame Israel.

Listen. The Egyptians are hypocrites. They are busy killing African refugees who are trying to get asylum in Israel. They opened fire on an African mother and son who were trying to run away from Sudan and were trying to seek refuge inside Israel. I haven’t heard that the Egyptians are destroying tunnels or anything. I haven’t heard it.

And finally, this is not the West. Stop trying to treat it like a Western issue with Western actors. It’s not going to end anytime soon.

General Tom McInerney, Fox News Military Analyst: Is there a solution to this problem?
Khaled Abu Toameh: You Americans are always asking us that. Why are Americans always asking me if there is a solution? A solution to what?
Michael J. Totten: The whole thing.
Khaled Abu Toameh: What is the whole thing?
Anthony Cordesman: Is there anything useful that could be done this year?
Khaled Abu Toameh: Listen. Look. We must stop dreaming about the New Middle East and coexistence and harmony and turning this area into Hong Kong and Singapore. If anyone thinks a Palestinian will wake up in the morning and sing the Israeli national anthem, that’s not going to happen. If anyone thinks an Israeli Jew will go back to doing his shopping in downtown Ramallah or to see his dentist in Bethlehem or eat fish in Gaza City, that’s not going to happen. There has been a total divorce between Jews and Palestinians. We don’t want to see each other.

It’s much longer, but it’s worth the time – go read.

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Ynet reports: “Israel declares unilateral Gaza truce.” Wrong. A truce cannot be unilateral. A truce is agreed upon. This a capitulation, yet another mistake in a long line of errors, collectively known as Olmert’s policies.

Regardless of why this operation was initiated, or why now, Hamas is an enemy that doesn’t only need to be “hit hard.” It needs to go. That is not an easy undertaking, but it is necessary. Nevertheless, the Israeli government is cowering in the face of international opinion, instead of even completing the limited task they set out for the IDF: stopping the rockets. How does Hamas respond? In words – The victims of this war will be the basis for the continuation of the fighting and hostility vis-à-vis the Israeli side.” And in actions – only today, several more rockets were launched at Be’er Sheva.

Finally, a military operation was finally started, again (as in 2006), and again the IDF will cease its fire while Gilad Schalit is still held by the enemy. The reason for Cast Lead is the same as the reason for its end: politics. The troika (Olmert, Livni, Barak) do want to lose to the Likud next month, and after Hamas did not cease its murder attempts for the past few years, they thought they could gain popular support by appealing to what the public wants just before the elections. Nevertheless, their campaign failed. Labor did rise slightly in the polls, but Kadima stayed at more or less the same level, still trailing Likud.

If this is the end of Cast Lead then it is a failure. Yes, many battles were won. Yes, Hamas’ capabilities have been severely damaged, and numerous key figures have been eliminated. However, if they still refuse to surrender, if they still disparage Israel by declaring “if this is all the strength they have, they failed in defeating the Palestinian people,” then Israel cannot claim to be victorious.

This “truce” will only serve to hurt Israel in the future. It will cost more Israeli lives. There was no legitimate strategy, were no real aims, from the very beginning. Nor is there a legitimate strategy in endng now. This is all very disheartening.

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