Haggai's Place

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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan
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:: Saturday, May 10, 2003 ::

The finals are early this year
Almost every winter, it seems like I hear at least one person say "Wow, Hanukah is really early this year!" No one ever says that it's late, or right on time.

With that non-sequitir out of the way, the NBA Finals are earlier this year than they've ever been. As in the last couple of seasons, the actual championship series will be largely pointless, as all of the best teams in the league are in the Western Conference. But with the news that Chris Webber of the Kings is out with a knee injury, the only team left with any realistic chance of beating the Lakers is their current opponent, the Spurs. Having a second round series deciding the title is unfortunate, but what can you do. I was pretty optimistic about San Antonio's chances against the hated Lakers after the Spurs dominated Game 2, but LA was in top form last night in Game 3 while the Spurs were crap. I definitely think San Antonio will have to win a game in LA to win the series, even though the Spurs have home-court advantage overall.
10:38 AM
:: Friday, May 09, 2003 ::
A big difference
I mentioned the Tom Segev book "1949: The First Israelis" in a post below regarding the Lebanon war, and there's something else in that book that I was reminded of today. There's this article in Slate that gives suggestions for reducing ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq before they descend into major violence. Among other things, David Plotz urges some restrictions on the Iraqi media:
Freedom of the press is essential to a democratic Iraq, but it has a dark side. As the past decade has shown, in divided nations the press tends to break into ethnic camps: a Bosnian press, a Serbian press, a Croatian press. These ethnic media outlets often become vehicles for extremists. They act as loudspeakers for separatist politicians, spread rabble-rousing rumors, and even—as in the case of Rwandan radio stations—help goad people to murder.
Makes sense, and Plotz gives some suggestions for how to handle the problem. Now back in the early days of Israel, as Segev documents, the level of rhetorical combat between the MAPAI establishment under Ben-Gurion and the right-wing Herut opposition under Begin was totally insane. My mom once told me that she was scared to listen to Begin on the radio back in the '50s because his speeches were so extreme. Here's one of the milder examples of Begin's bombast that Segev gives:
"Frightful bloodshed still awaits us," he said following the armistice agreement with Jordan. "This is not a tactical error, nor is it a strategic one, but an historic crime, and we must demand that those who conduct our foreign policy pay for the defeat they have inflicted upon our people."
But contrary to the potentially damaging effects of public incitement in Iraq today, the new state of Israel might actually have avoided some violence thanks to the public rancor:
The verbal violence--in speech and in writing--which often verged on hysteria, tarnished the image of the political scene, but, paradoxically, it may have been one of the reasons why the violence almost never became physical, rather like steam being let off and evaporating.
Incitement can obviously be a problem today in democracies, inasmuch as it contributed to Rabin's assassination. But it is interesting that it might have helped Israel through its fragile and difficult earliest days, unlike in Iraq today where it's a reason for caution. The difference between the two situations is obvious, as Iraq has never really been a proper country with any shared national identity or non-autocratic political framework, while the Israeli national project had been ably led for more than 50 years when it gained statehood. More from Segev's book:
Beyond the everyday rivalry, and even beyond what looked to many of the first Israelis of all parties like an eternal enmity between the forces of good and the forces of evil, most Israelis agreed with the basic aims of Zionism and felt a deep commitment to the national struggle, a commitment which was intensified by the Holocaust and the War of Independence. Israeli politics had learned a good deal from 50 years of Zionist activity, and the Israeli administration had learned a good deal in the 30 years of British rule. Both the Zionist movement and the mandatory government were heirs to a tradition of parliamentary democracy.

7:35 PM
Thumbs way up
The Jewish Film Festival ended here last night with a really great movie, Nowhere in Africa. It won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for 2002. It's about a German Jewish family that moves to Kenya in 1938. The father has been there trying to secure a farming job, and he sends for his wife and their young daughter. The wife doesn't want to go and hates it when they arrive, but the girl adjusts quickly. Some weird developments follow when the war begins, like when the British authorities round up all the Germans as potential enemy agents, even though many of them are Jews and all of them are refugees from the Nazis. It isn't even all that much about the family's Judaism, though of course that plays an important role. It's also about preserving their family in a more primitive society while their supposedly civilized homeland collapses, among other things. It probably isn't playing in very many places yet, but it's a must-see for anyone who gets the chance to check it out.
11:28 AM
:: Wednesday, May 07, 2003 ::
"The Bomb in the Basement"
I saw a really interesting documentary last night that was part of a Jewish Film Festival in Ann Arbor this week. It was an Israeli TV special made a couple of years ago about the development of Israel's nuclear weapons program in the '50s and '60s. There was an article in the London Telegraph about it in late 2001. It had a lot of interview clips with Shimon Peres, who headed the project when Ben-Gurion decided to pursue it in the early '50s. Peres was pretty candid about a lot of the details of his meetings with French officials, who provided a lot of technical information and material for the project. France developed its own nuclear weapons in the early to mid '60s, and the documentary also had some interview clips with a French journalist who recently wrote a book about the details surrounding the nearly simultaneous progression of the two countries' nuclear weapons programs. Peres also talked about how most of the other people in the Israeli government were against the project, and some of his claims were disputed by the long-time Mossad chief Isser Harel (recently deceased), in what was clearly a continuation of old rivalries within the Israeli political establishment at that time.
4:04 PM
:: Tuesday, May 06, 2003 ::
And I'm #2
A truly perplexing search:

Google: No terrorist network will get weapons from Pat Moynihan, either
11:18 PM
:: Monday, May 05, 2003 ::
I met that guy
Via CalPundit, I saw this cover story in the American Conservative magazine comparing Israel's invasion of Lebanon with America's invasion of Iraq. I've met the writer, Michael Desch, a professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky. My dad (a physics professor at UK) saw a talk by Desch last year about the Middle East and spoke to him afterwards. Late last year, my dad invited him for lunch when I was in town, and the three of us discussed various Middle East related things. He was more forgiving of the Palestinians than I am, but it was a great conversation. He's not even remotely part of the bigoted/reactionary camp of one of the founding editors of The American Conservative, Pat Buchanan.

Reading the article, I was reminded of something from Tom Segev's book 1949: The First Israelis. Quoting from the diaries of Ben-Gurion and Israel's first foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, Segev wrote (only in a footnote) about how some Israeli leaders at the time wanted to undertake a Lebanese expedition of their own, which thankfully didn't happen. The resemblance between their ideas and the secret plans behind the 1982 Lebanon war are (perhaps not surprisingly) strikingly similar:
Ben-Gurion aimed at dividing Lebanon from the beginning of the war. "The Muslim rule in Lebanon is artificial and easily undermined. A Christian state ought to be set up whose southern border would be the Litani river. Then we'll form an alliance with it." Ben-Gurion raised this idea repeatedly in the coming years. Sharett noted in his diary that the Chief of Staff (Dayan) supported Ben-Gurion: "In his view, all we need to do is to find a Christian Lebanese officer, perhaps no higher than a captain, and win him over or buy him with money, so that he would declare himself the savior of the Maronite population. Then the Israeli army would enter Lebanon, occupy the territory in question and establish a Christian government which would form an alliance with Israel." Sharett himself considered this an "awful" idea.

6:36 PM
:: Sunday, May 04, 2003 ::
Interesting ideas
There are some pretty detailed plans out now in various circles for a US-led international trusteeship to take over the West Bank and Gaza. Ha'aretz had an article up this weekend about a British think tank's work on such a plan. The article mentions a similar suggestion made last year with an interesting idea for who should lead the effort on the ground:
Last August, Peter Mandelson, the former British cabinet minister, also called for an international protectorate to be declared in the Palestinian areas, backed by a strong peacekeeping force led by America. He suggested former president Bill Clinton as "high commissioner" of the trusteeship, to liaise with Israelis and Palestinians and prepare the Palestinians for statehood. However, the words "trusteeship" and "protectorate" can also be called "mandate" - not a word cherished with fond memories from pre-Israel Palestine. "The last British high commissioner left in 1948," sniffed an Israeli diplomatic source. "We don't need another."
The Ha'aretz article is short on details, but a full proposal along these lines by former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk is in the current edition of Foreign Affairs. Here's a link to the Brookings Institute page that has the full article in PDF form. He attempts to deal with some of the major questions about this sort of plan, like the issues of timetables and risk to American troops. Indyk says there should be a performance-linked timetable:
The Palestinians would be assured that if they fulfilled their commitments they would get their state in three years, but Israelis would be assured that if the Palestinians did not live up to their commitments the trusteeship would continue until they did.
As for American troops being targeted by terrorists, he points out that:
This concern has not deterred the United States from fighting Islamic militants in some 50 countries across the globe, and today the American people are clearly prepared to pay a higher price than before because they now see a direct connection between threats to their own security and terrorist activities far afield.
A lot of the forces could come from other countries:
Even though an American would have to command the operation for it to be acceptable to Israel, the main work on the ground would be done by troops from countries such as the UK, Australia, and Canada.
He also observes that this project, as ambitious as it is, would cost only a small fraction of the Iraq war and reconstruction in terms of both money and US troops on the ground, and that:
Put simply, the psychological and political context for committing American troops has changed dramatically. Whereas before September 11, 2001, it was unimaginable that American troops would be fighting Palestinian terrorists, it now seems quite thinkable.
Indyk makes a pretty good case for this plan. As he points out, the "road map" already centers around international monitors and supervision, so why not go for a more radical outside intervention? Not a bad question.
12:24 PM

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