Saturday, May 10, 2003

Have a Really Depressing Mother's Day

Have a Really Depressing Mother's Day

Boy, excessive political correctness can bum out even the most innocuous of Hallmark holidays.

"Forgive my cynicism about Mother's Day. After all, what kind of ungrateful mother wouldn't want to be honored with pesticide-laced flowers, chocolate that depends on children in slavery for its production and cards that deplete our forests and litter Mother Earth? Truly, it is the ultimate insult to honor life-giving with such toxic offerings."

From Alternet via Jeff Jarvis
OK, I'm REALLY Annoyed About Colin Powell's Visit...

For all the wrong reasons. My complaint has nothing to do with the Road Map. There are so few decent shows on Israeli TV these days, and because of the live broadcast of Powell's arrival, "Law and Order" isn't being shown tonight. Damn. I guess if I thought his peace initiative would lead to anything, I'd say that it was worth missing an episode, but it won't so, it's not.

Just so you know I'm focused on the truly important issues.

Guess I'll have to stare at the computer screen instead of the TV screen -- I don't really want to watch the Fox news anchors obsess about the Laci Peterson case.

Definitely, the most entertaining action on-line at the moment is Michele's safety sign-making contest. Laurence of Amish Tech made the funniest ones.
Good For the New York Times

It has got to be seriously painful for a newspaper to run a story about itself like this. The Times deserves credit for being as tough on their own as they are on everyone else.

A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.

The reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He stole material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.

Would an American Presidential Contender Survive An Admission Like This?

"I remember that when I was a teacher, at the age of 19, I worked the students really hard, but I also worked myself hard. I gave them hundreds of exercises to do but I invested a great deal in them. And if there was a kid who disturbed the class I would tell him to come to me and slap him as hard as I could - he went into shock and there wasn't another peep from the class. That was no big deal at the time; the whole thing of children's rights hadn't yet developed, and you didn't have this law or that law, or what the psychologists would say."

This is Meir Shitreet, minister-without-portfolio, a bigwig in the Likud Party, who considers himself a serious contender to be Prime Minister one day, interviewed in an expansive profile in Ha'aretz. In his defense, he does say repeatedly that he does not believe corporal punishment is appropriate today, and his remarks were in the context of his advocating deep reform in the Israeli education system (which is needed) including getting things more organized and disciplined in the schools (also needed.)

Still....if an American politician had a history that involved slapping students, he probably would go out of his way to conceal it, and would certainly not go as far as to practically brag about it in an interview with a national newspaper.
Plastic Trees and No Virgins....but Paradise IS Air-Conditioned

Palestinian Exhibit Depicts Paradise

By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, Associated Press Writer

NABLUS, West Bank - Plastic trees, goldfish swimming in a generator-powered fountain, posters of the dead on the wall: This is a model of the paradise Islamic militants say awaits those killed in fighting with Israel, including suicide bombers. The display at the West Bank's largest university, An Najah, was assembled by supporters of the violent Hamas group who said they wanted to raise students' morale after 31 months of fighting with Israel.

I read this story at first and was sure it was some kind of parody from The Onion or something, or that Laurence was pulling a fast one on us but no, it's real. According to the article, "hundreds" of students filed through the exhibit before it closed on Thursday. The university said that while it opposes attacks on Israelis, that it didn't want to stifle expressions of student opinion.

"The display, which closed Thursday after a weeklong run, did not ignore the fact that death precedes paradise. Those wishing to enter the room housing paradise had to walk through a candlelit passage with 26 mock graves. Each "grave" contained a green shroud and a photo of one of 26 An Najah students killed in the conflict with Israel, including six suicide bombers. Stairs from the open graves led down into the paradise section. A small generator pumped water through a fountain into a channel where goldfish swim. Brightly plumed green and yellow birds chirped in cages suspended from plastic trees. The floor was strewn with soft sand and plastic flowers. Pictures of the bombers and quotes from the Quran, the Islamic holy book, covered the wall. Paradise also was air-conditioned, a telling contrast to the sweltering summertime West Bank."

Some people will do anything to get out of the heat, I suppose...

So after reading this, naturally, the question on everyone's lips is where are the virgins?

Missing from the display of heaven were the 72 virgins. Organizers said they weren't sure how to depict them. "We don't know what (heavenly) virgins look like," said one of the organizers, a Hamas member and engineering student who only gave his first name, Ahmed. Also, he said, "We don't want people to think we are dying for women. We are dying for God."

Laurence correctly challenges the organizers' and the university officials' contention that this exhibit doesn't constitute incitement.

Getting rid of incitement happens to be one of the confidence-building measure that the Palestinians commit to in the "Road Map."

Ya know, I'm trying real hard to be optimistic about acheiving Middle East peace in our time, but stories like this...make it challenging, to say the least.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Really, Never a Dull Moment

While I was at the swimming pool....

The ISM offices were getting raided


Hamas was hurling Kassam rockets at Sderot, injuring two.
Well, It's Definitely Never BORING Around Here

I just got back from exercising at the Country Club (less grand than it sounds -- it's basically a pool club and a gym with some tennis courts, a restaurant, lots of classes and activities for adults and kids, no golf. More like a well-equipped YMCA or Jewish community center than any American country club I've been too.)

It's hot out again, and everyone is already in summer mode, hanging out at the pool with the kids, doling out the popsicles, munching on the watermelon, looking pretty relaxed and happy. As I was swimming laps, I thought how long it had been since I had really been in an exercise routine, then had to think why it had been disrupted, and remembered, "Oh YEAH....we had a war with Iraq. I didn't want to be too far away from the kids." And suddenly it just seemed amazing to me that it had only been a month and a half ago that everyone was completely stressed out about the war, that we were carrying gas masks around, and were ready to seal ourselves in our bomb shelter at any minute.

Everyone's blocked it out already. The truth is that it's been this rollercoaster ride of events -- the war, Passover, strike, Holocaust Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day -- I feel like life hasn't taken any form of routine in a long, long time. Slowly, however, I think we're finally getting there (she says, knocking on wood.) Last night was the first time I got out to see a movie since the war -- "Bend It Like Beckham" -- which I highly recommend as one of those feel-good, bounce out of the movie theater films. I liked it better than "Greek Wedding," which I thought was overrated. And if you want to see a romantic comedy, much more original and interesting than the usual Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant/Sandra Bullock/Matthew McConnahaugh/Jennifer Lopez cookie-cutter movies.

Better to be out watching Fox movies than to be home tensely watching Fox News.
Another Excellent Debunking of the "Jews Control Bush and Blair" Ridiculousness

This one from the Guardian, where columnist Jonathan Freedland takes a look at the Tam Dalyell affair (the British parliamentarian who said in Vanity Fair that Tony Blair, like Bush, went to war with Iraq because he was unduly influenced by a cabal of neocon, pro-Israel, pro-Likud, pro-Sharon Jewish advisors. Freedland points out that the British advisors in question are not only not right-wing, most of them are not even Jewish -- either by religious definition or personal identifications.

As for the U.S., and this I would like to put in bold because nobody pushing this stupid theory seem to get it, he writes, "As it happens, George Bush's cabinet is the first in decades not to include a single Jewish member. The result is that those bent on sniffing out Jewish influence have to go to the second, third and fourth rungs of the administration to find it. Among the neocons the heavyweights are not Jewish: they are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld."

Actually, one of the Hebrew papers this week had an interview with Asst. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's sister who has lived in Jerusalem for 37 years -- and guess what? She's left-wing!

The Guardian piece continues:

"Tam Dalyell would have us believe that Bush stands against Yasser Arafat because the Jews made him do it - when the reality is that Bush has his own post-9/11 reasons for seeing all terrorism as an indivisible phenomenon that the US can never again indulge.

There is a wider lesson to draw from this sorry episode. In a way Dalyell is an easy case, because he presented his views so baldly. He did not completely hide behind "Zionist" or "Likudnik" euphemisms, but spoke instead about Jews. In so doing he clearly crossed the line between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism and made himself easy to condemn.

But not all such anti-Jewish feeling expresses itself so directly. A search of the BNP's own musings shows that even they - the fascists and racists of our age - do not call themselves anti-semites. They too claim merely to be anti-Zionists. Now of course anti-semitism and anti-Zionism can be neatly distinguished, and many learned minds do so all the time.

But it's worth wondering if that distinction cuts much ice at street level - where anti-Jewish incidents in Britain have gone up by 75% compared with the equivalent period last year. If Zionists are constantly accused of having dual loyalties, of wielding untold power, of pursuing a secret agenda to reshape the world, all classic charges long hurled at the Jews, then one has to wonder whether one is hearing the same racist slur now voiced by Tam Dalyell - just expressed less openly."

With all of this hullabaloo going on over some mid-level advisors, no wonder many Jews in the U.S. are hesitant regarding a successful Lieberman candidacy....maybe America isn't as ready for a Jewish president as we think?

(Thanks, Roger L. Simon)

Thursday, May 08, 2003

What Do You Picture Yourself Doing When You are 80 Years Old?

Shimon Peres sees himself leading Israel's Labor Party. His 80th birthday is in August. I guess the word "retire" simply isn't in his vocabulary, as it seems not to be in Ariel Sharon's. According to the Israeli pundits, most of the (decades) younger contenders for the leadership support the idea of a temporary appointment for Peres because it would give them time to regroup and organize their forces, which they weren't able to do because Mitzna resigned so suddenly. The fight is going to be over exactly how temporarily Peres gets to hold the post. The contenders naturally want it limited to a few months, when the "real" leader will get picked. Peres wants it open-ended, so, I presume, he can keep the job till he's 120.

Update -- It looks now as if Peres' desire for the appointment to be an extended one may have cost him key support. So maybe he's headed for the rocking chair after all.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Prediction: Salam Pax Will Get a Book Deal

The man can write. I posted below before I got a chance to read his entries, and it's fascinating stuff. You don't get more "embedded" than he is. He has many opinions on many aspects of what is happening on Baghdad. My favorite was his take on the fedayeen "martyrs" bent on jihad, and the attitude of the locals towards them.

"I still can’t bring myself to sleep upstairs, not that anything too serious happened after that night but I rather sleep under as many walls and roofs as possible, fist size shrapnel gets thru the first wall but might be stopped by the next, seen that and learned my lesson. So the million dollar question is of course “what the fuck happened?”. (Syrian/Lebanese/Iraqi) Fedayeen were somewhere in the area.

It has become a swear word, dirtyfilthy and always followed by a barrage of verbal abuse. Syrian, Lebanese and of course Iraqi sickos who are stupid enough to believe the Jennah-under-martyrs-feet rubbish. They want to die in the name of Allah, so what do they do? Do they stand in front of “kafeer infidel aggressor”? No they don’t because they are chicken shit. They go hide in civilian districts to shoot a single useless mortar shell or a couple of Kalashnikov shots which bounce without any effect on the armored vehicles. But the answer they get to that single shot is a hell of mortars or whatever on all the houses in the area from where the shot came. This has been happening all over Baghdad, and in many places people were not as lucky as we have been here in our block.

Sometimes you didn’t even know that those creepy fucks have moved into your street for the night. All over Baghdad you see the black cloth with the names of people killed during these things. It is even worse when the Americans decide to go into full battle mode on these fedayeen, right there between the houses. I have seen what has happened in Jamia and Adhamiya districts. One woman was too afraid to go out of her house hours after the attack because she had pieces of one of these fedayeen on her lawn.

Now whenever fedayeen are seen they are being chased away. Sometimes with rocks and stones if not guns. If you have them in your neighborhood you will not be able to sleep peacefully. The stupid fucks. For some reason the argument that if he wants to die then he should do it alone and not take a whole block down with him does not hit home."
Wow -- Obviously Saddam Had Some Nasty Plans

This is no big surprise, but it's still chilling to think of what might have been..

Iraqi Documents on Israel Surface on a Cultural Hunt

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 6 — What began today as a hunt for an ancient Jewish text at secret police headquarters here wound up unearthing a trove of Iraqi intelligence documents and maps relating to Israel as well as offers of sales of uranium and other nuclear material to Iraq.

In one huge room in the flooded basement of the building, American soldiers from MET Alpha, the "mobile exploitation team" that has been searching for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in Iraq for the past three months, found maps featuring terrorist strikes against Israel dating to 1991. Another map of Israel highlighted what the Iraqis thought were the locations at which their Scud missiles had struck in the Persian Gulf war of 1991. The strikes were designated by yellow-and-red paper flowers placed atop the pinpointed Israeli neighborhoods.

Team members floated out of the room a perfect mock-up of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, as well as mock-ups of downtown Jerusalem and official Israeli buildings in very fine detail. They also collected a satellite picture of Dimona, Israel's nuclear complex, and a female mannequin dressed in an Israeli Air Force uniform, standing in front of a list of Israeli officers' ranks and insignia.

The whole NY Times piece is a good read, especially the whole concept of a U.S. military squad going on a mission to find an ancient copy of the Talmud!

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Happy Independence Day

Of course, I had a great time at the Independence Day bash last night, so ignore the whining in the previous post. Even though they moved the celebration off of the main street and into our expansive fenced-in park for security reasons, it was a great success, and I bet they will keep it there for years to come. And the fireworks would have done any Fourth of July proud -- nice to have HAPPY explosions around here for a change. We danced, we sang, we ate. Damn the torpedoes -- despite it all (and you don't have to remind me of the downside, trust me) -- we have a state, it's 55 years old -- and it's a wonderful, dynamic, fascinating place to live. Imshin has her own in-blog fireworks -- I think it's time for me to upgrade and get some images around here.

Did anyone notice that I switched to a blue-and-white template just before Independence Day?

UPDATE -- Cooooool Fireworks! Click right here! Great if you want to celebrate Independence Day and you're not in Israel. And my kids are going to love it. Thanks, Imshin
Well, I'm Off to Suffer -- I Mean, Celebrate

Well, it's the end of an era. For my first ten years in Israel, I was able to send peaceful evenings at home watching the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day on television, and then settling in for a good movie or two, resting up for the barbecue the next day is officially over.

But then I had kids. And now they are big enough to have a clue and they are suckers no longer. They've heard about the fun of the big public celebrations, and nobody's going to talk them out of going. Attempting to explain to them that noisy crowds and loud fireworks aren't much fun has been futile. All it has gotten me are teary eyes, trembling lower lips and guilt-inducing cries, "But, Mommy, we have to go to the park with everyone else! We have to celebrate Independence Day!" Their teachers did a wonderful job of instilling patriotism. And now I have to pay the price.

In Ra'anana, the celebration has traditionally been downtown on the main street, which would have put it conveniently just a few blocks from our house and we could have strolled over easily. But the security situation (or lack of security situation) means that it has all been moved over to our large park, which is fenced in. So I'm off to sit in traffic, battle for parking, wait in line as everyone gets checked for security and then face the crowds.

But the kids are going to be happy and that's what counts, right? Right.

Whee. Happy Independence Day.

Alitalia pilot stuns passengers landing in Tel Aviv

"Welcome to Palestine," said an Alitalia pilot as he landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, causing a stir among passengers and the airline's Israeli employees, a spokesman for the company said.

The incident happened on an overnight flight from Rome to Tel Aviv and touched a nerve on Memorial Day, when Israel pays homage to the 21,540 people killed in Israel's wars. A bereaved family coming to pay respects on Memorial Day was on board at the time.

Whoops. If that was an error, it was badly timed. If it wasn't, I hope that pilot gets in big trouble. Alitalia says they'll take care of it and the pilot won't be assigned to fly to Palestine -- I mean Israel -- ever again.
Bill Bennett and Family Values

Michele absolutely nails it on the Bennett scandal:

"Gambling is not merely a sin. For something to be a sin, you have to subscribe to the religion that holds it as such. For some people, gambling is simply a vice. And for others, gambling is a disease, a home wrecker, a short trip off of a long pier in which the person who drowns is usually someone other than the gambler. See, it's not about the millions Bennett poured into the casino slot machines. Bennett is a man who preaches the sanctity of family. A person with a gambling problem cannot possibly practice that preachiness. Gambling consumes time the way a twister can consume a town. Gambling is an acid that eats away at the very core of your family, destroying it from the inside out."

Her very personal take on Bennett is brilliant. When Michele's irreverent and sarcastic, she's hilarious, but when she's serious, she's amazing.. Read the whole thing.
So Young, and Yet So Practical

So we're sitting together as a family watching the Memorial Day ceremonies on television last night, and trying to impart some of the importance to our 6 and 4 year-old as best we can on their level.

This year, the memorial torch was being lit by a mother and her six-year-old boy, the same age as my son, whose husband was a fallen soldier. We explained to our son solemnly how this boy's daddy was a soldier and died, and how he doesn't have a daddy anymore.

My son had a worried expression on his face, and as he spoke, I was sure he would identify with the sadness and grief of the little boy.

Instead, he expressed concern about the family's financial security. "But where will they get their money from? Will the bank give them money if they don't have a Daddy?"

Monday, May 05, 2003

Memorial Day -- Yom Ha Zichron

Memorial Day means something very different in Israel than it does in the United States.

Here, there are no Memorial Day sales or Memorial Day picnics. It's a sad and somber day devoted to one thing alone -- remembering and honoring the soldiers who have fallen in Israel's all too frequent wars. In recent years, it has become common practice to include the victims of terror attacks in the memorials. It was impossible not to.

At 8 PM, a siren sounds and the country stands still together and pays tribute to their memory.

Silently. Without talking, without arguing politics, without trying to prove who is right or what is whose fault or how it can or can't be fixed. Just remembering those who aren't with us any more -- fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, mothers, wives and daughters. Orthodox, secular, right-wing, left-wing, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. And there is no such thing here as not knowing somebody who has lost a loved one: if you are lucky enough not to have lost anybody yourself -- in which case, Memorial Day means a sad pilgrimage to a cemetery.

The somber mood lasts for a full 24 hours, until Memorial Day transitions into Independence Day, when the celebrations can begin. Some find this one-two punch more than a bit schizophrenic. But others find it very powerful.
On Memorial Day this year, my community -- the English-speaking community of Ra'anana, feels loss on a very personal, raw, and fresh level. Among the 254 soldiers killed since last year's Memorial Day was one of our own; St. Sgt. Ari Weiss. Every day, as we see the grief etched in the faces of his family members on the streets as we go about our lives, we think of him. But today we think of him more than ever.

This was written by his father, Rabbi Stewart Weiss.


No thinking, believing, feeling Jew can experience a devastating tragedy without enduring a crisis of faith. There may be those who appear to be accepting of their loss, who seem calm and quiet amid the storm. But don't be fooled; their crisis will come. They are undoubtedly too numb, too overwhelmed by the enormity of their loss to react now. But react they will.

Six months ago, our eldest son, Ari, was killed in a raid on Hamas terror headquarters in Nablus. This week, with our own sense of terror in our hearts, we face our first Remembrance Day as grieving parents.

I have grappled with death and mourning before. As a pulpit rabbi for more than two decades I counseled hundreds of families who suffered a loss. I have lived through the deaths of my grandparents and my parents. I have helped to bury uncles and aunts, even an occasional colleague.

But all that was different. Those were "normal" deaths, the passing away of an older generation, one expected to give way to those born later.

Nothing can prepare a person for this kind of trauma. It is jolting, sudden, unnatural. It is not supposed to happen this way, neither by the laws of nature nor by the tenets of Divine justice. And so it must generate the deepest, darkest questions.

Does God exist? Is He alone in control of the universe? Is He a God of compassion and love? Does He care? And if He is all of these - as we are taught from day one in heder - just what is He thinking when He lets a brave, gentle, giving, pure-hearted boy die before he has begun to taste life?

I feel no heresy raising these questions. After all, I'm in good company. The Prophet Ezekiel looked tearfully upon the dry bones of those who died before the Exodus and bemoaned their fate. Moses, who witnessed the brutality of Egyptian servitude, petitioned the Almighty to "show me the mercy of Your ways." The tzaddik Noah stepped off the Ark, saw his world in ruins, and turned to excessive drinking.

Answers are long in coming, if at all. I know all the standard platitudes: "Ari is in a better place now"; "God always picks the prettiest flowers to adorn His garden"; "His death was a blessing that helped others to live"; etc. These well-meaning pieces of wisdom may provide intellectual or philosophical consolation, but the pain we feel is so deep, so pervasive, so suffocating, no real solace can flow from human sources.

As the traditional Jewish expression so aptly advises, only Hamakom, God Himself, can supply the salve that will ultimately soothe a shattered soul.

AS A rabbi, I cannot - yet - make spiritual sense out of this catastrophe. But I can at least offer some insight into the feelings of the survivors - yes, survivors - of the terror war that has devastated our people.

We express our grief in wildly different ways. Some weep continually, even in public; some stoically hold their feelings in check. Others may burst out in fits of rage or hysteria without warning.

Don't judge any of us. We are walking paradoxes: strong as tempered steel, yet fragile as glass; in dire need of companionship, yet thirsting to be left alone; needing to talk about our loss, yet craving some space from the tragedy that perpetually surrounds us.

Some days we are social; other days we are maddeningly non-communicative. Don't try to guess what mood we're in at the moment or be put off by our precipitous mood swings. Just follow our lead.

Any given event may evoke our tears: While the latest terror attack tends to bring back memories of our own disaster, happy occasions can be even more painful. A brit reminds us of the shattered promise of youth; an engagement or wedding reminds us that our own son will never stand under a huppa or bring children of his own into this world.

Don't assume any particular stimulus will evoke a particular response.

Avoid the cliches. Time does not heal all wounds; Hashem does not always give a burden to the one who is able to bear it.

Try not to tilt your head and look at us with puppy-dog eyes. We prefer friendship and love to pity.

Most of all, don't abandon us. We need you, even if we don't always show it. We appreciate you, even if we don't always respond. Knowing you are there for us is a major source of strength.

The siren that sounds on Remembrance Day is a fitting symbol of our plight. On the one hand, there is a loud noise that reverberates across the city. It evokes the sound of that dreaded knock on the door when the army delivered the staggering news - the screams that split the night, the wailing that formed the soundtrack of the funeral and every moment since.

Yet behind the siren there is silence - dead silence. It is the silence of a voice that will never again fill the house with laughter, that will never again announce, "I'm home!" to a waiting mother, never again learn a Mishna or talk sports with dad. It is the silence of a life snuffed out and muted, the silence of youthful exuberance frozen in time.

Between the sound and the silence, I pray, we will find our answers, we will make our peace. Most of all, we will know God again.
They Called Themselves "Alternative Tourists!?"

More on the movements of the "Mike's Place" bombers from Ha'aretz, including their attendance at an ISM meeting. Apparently, the two men trained in Syria, then headed to Gaza, where they introduced themselves to the ISMers as "alternative tourists." Yeah, I'd call their form of tourism alternative.
No, Let's Have a Candidate with a Personality Next Time

The lead headline on the Ha'aretz site right now is unintentionally funny:

"Labor seeks mechanism to replace Mitzna"

Um, wasn't part of the problem that Mitzna was too much of a "mechanism?" Much of the country liked his ideas, he just had no clue how to connect with people, either within his own party or the public at large. Ehud Barak had the same problem, by the way, and so did Rabin, before he became a martyr.

This seems to be a big problem in Israeli politics. We've got these ex-generals, who, for understandable reasons, throughout their military careers have not exactly been in touch with their warm and fuzzy people-person sides, which doesn't serve them well when they turn to politics. The interviews with their wives make me sad, stories of what is essentially single motherhood, raising the kids themselves because their husbands are busy being a general, and when they are home, don't seem to have a clue how to show them affection (Mitzna came closest to losing my vote when his wife said in a newspaper that he never told her that he loves her.) They have track records, they know how to handle responsibility, so people trust them....but don't like them.

The alternatives to these generals are slippery charismatic career politicians like Haim Ramon and Bibi Netanyahu who know how to charm, know how to work a room, but we all seriously doubt know how to run anything. And we don't trust them as far as we can throw them.

For all his many flaws, Ariel Sharon seems to have been able to merge these two extremes a bit -- he's a general/grandpa/deeply bereaved widower (except to those who see him as the devil, obviously) Which is why he seems to be political teflon these days. None of the scandals swirling around him seem to stick.

(and YES, I do realize that the Ha'aretz story is actually about finding a way in which to CHOOSE a new Labor leader. I just enjoyed misinterpreting it.)

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Yup, He's Quitting

Another leader of the Labor Party bites the dust.

Barak, Ben-Eliezer, Mitzna.....who's the next sucker in line?

According to the Ha'aretz article, several names were being mentioned as potential challengers for the party leadership, including Ben-Eliezer (AGAIN) Matan Vilnai, Avraham Shochat, and party whip Dalia Itzik.

Mitzna's fatal mistake? (besides a complete lack of charisma..) In my opinion, it was his promise during the election campaign that he would never agree to join a unity government. That left him utterly impotent with no room to maneuver, and gave Sharon no real incentive to make an effort to entice him in.


His press conference is in 10 more minutes but that's the speculation, according to Ha'aretz.
Quote of the Day: "I'm No Anti-Semite. My Children Worked on a Kibbutz"

It doesn't appear to be such a great Sunday morning to wake up British. First, there's all those suicide bombers to worry about. The lead headline in Israel today comes out of England, with this Sunday Times story:

50 suicide bombers in UK
Nicholas Hellen and David Leppard
A leading British Islamic radical and self-styled recruiter of British volunteers for the Islamic holy war is claiming that the country is harbouring nearly 50 would-be suicide bombers

I can't link to it because the Times now wants overseas subscribers to not only register, but PAY. If any Brits want to E-mail me the story, or point me to a free link, I'd be grateful. (UPDATE: see full text for free at the end of this post. My pal Fiona in Brighton, England came through)

I can, however, link to the lead story in the Independent reporting that the British Security Services are losing sleep over this situation -- and rightly so.

The relatively short career of a suicide bomber may not seem so attractive at first glance. But The Observer reports that Brits are busy printing leaflets to spread the message of the glory of martyrdom.

"Leaflets published in the Midlands urging Muslims to become suicide bombers have been found in Israel's occupied territories. The discovery fuels fears that Britain has become a haven for Islamic extremists. Now Israeli authorities have demanded that Britain launch an immediate investigation into al-Sunnah, the organisation based at Birmingham's Centre for Islamic Studies, which published the leaflets.

One leaflet published just before the outbreak of war against Saddam Hussein urges Muslims to become martyrs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. Supporters are asked to send donations to a NatWest bank account at its Digbeth branch in Birmingham."

If that wasn't enough, also this morning we've learn that the American "conspiracy of Jews, oops, I mean neo-cons" who twisted Bush's arm and just forced him to go to war with Iraq, also cast their evil spell over Tony Blair.

Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House, sparked outrage last night by accusing the Prime Minister of "being unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers".

In an interview with Vanity Fair, the Left-wing Labour MP named Lord Levy, Tony Blair's personal envoy on the Middle East, Peter Mandelson, whose father was Jewish, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who has Jewish ancestry, as three of the leading figures who had influenced Mr Blair's policies on the Middle East.

So I see that Dalyell uses Hitler's definition of being Jewish. All it takes is "ancestry" to have the disease.

This is my favorite quote: "I am not going to be labelled anti-Semitic. My children worked on a kibbutz. But the time has come for candour."

Well, of COURSE, I mean, if your children worked on a KIBBUTZ, picked oranges and washed dishes for the Jewish state in exchange for free room and board, then NATURALLY we wouldn't dream of calling you anti-Semitic. Perish the thought. They have clearly redeemed you by participating in Israel's "manual labor in exchange for immunity from racism" program.

And I know what the "Speaker of the House" is, but what is the "Father of the House?" It sounds like someone who presides over parliament with his pipe and slippers sitting in a recliner, grumbling over his newspaper.

UPDATE -- FULL TEXT OF SUNDAY TIMES STORY (Can you believe this guy's last name is Butt?)

50 suicide bombers in UK
Nicholas Hellen and David Leppard

BRITAIN is harbouring nearly 50 would-be suicide bombers, according to a leading British Islamic radical.

Hassan Butt, a self-styled recruiter of British volunteers for the Islamic holy war, said he had been approached by the men for guidance on how to carry out "martyrdom operations" in Israel.

The warning came after last week's suicide bombing at a bar in Tel Aviv which killed three people. The attack by Asif Mohammed Hanif, from Hounslow, west London, and Omar Khan Sharif, from Derby, was the first suicide strike by British citizens. Hanif blew himself up but Sharif fled when his bomb failed to detonate. He is still on the run.

Security sources said Sharif was known to police in Derby. "He was a known Islamic activist and there were reports that he was involved in handing out fundamentalist leaflets," said one. However, police denied there was any reason to suspect he would act as a suicide bomber. Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch is questioning six people it suspects might have been linked to the blast.

This weekend Butt said he knew both British bombers but refused to elaborate. He claimed they were just the first of a significant number of Britons who were preparing to conduct similar attacks. "The number is getting close to 50. They are aged 17 to their late thirties. They are contacting me about organisation."

He said he believed "about 20" of them were "absolutely serious". Most of the men were living in Britain but had family roots in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. "They are waiting for the right time, the right people. You don't just do it as individuals, you do it as an organisation. It's about screening them, testing them, making sure they are sincere. Then, when it's right, believe me, they'll all be used."

In the past, security officials have been sceptical about Butt's claims. However, last November he was arrested and questioned by Special Branch detectives who believed he had information relating to terror attacks. At about the same time he warned that he knew British-based fundamentalists were preparing to carry out suicide attacks abroad. He was also proved correct in his claims that scores of Britons had gone to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, introducing some of them to journalists.

One of the six being questioned by police yesterday was Tahira Sharif, the failed bomber's 26-year-old wife. Detectives want to know if she had any knowledge of the attack and are examining mobile phone records, personal computers and religious literature seized at their Derby home. Other members of Sharif's family are also being questioned. One source said: "The family are victims as well as suspects. There will be parts of the family that will be genuinely gobsmacked by all this and there will be parts that probably won't."

Senior security sources last night dismissed reports that MI5 had been aware of the bombers' extremist activities and decided they were not potential terrorists. "The security services did not know who these people were until they let off the bombs," a senior Whitehall official said.

MI5 believes the attacks were planned abroad. Sharif and Hanif attended Arabic language courses at Damascus University. A student there said: "Asif was a cheerful guy, we knew him better than Omar. He was around for a couple of months and then disappeared. It was a surprise. No one knew until they saw the news."

Security sources believe the two men may have been indoctrinated by radical clerics there who introduced them to terrorists from Hamas. The bombers may have also received financial backing, spiritual support and an introduction to contacts from supporters of Al-Muhajiroun, a fanatical group that wants to turn Britain into an Islamic state.

The group yesterday denied the men were members but Omar Bakri Mohammed, its leader, said he had acted as spiritual adviser to them. Bakri said Sharif had attended six two-hour sessions in Derby, with the last on April 14, just over a fortnight before the bombing.

Sharif had asked Bakri to become his spiritual "companion", a status accorded to extreme fundamentalists who are willing to be imprisoned and to suffer for their faith up to death. Bakri said he declined the offer because he was too busy. He denies encouraging Sharif to carry out the attack.

Officers from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, are probing links between the bombers and Al-Muhajiroun. A senior detective said: "Al-Muhajiroun says it just sends people out there for religious instruction. The question is: at what point does spiritual advice become incitement to murder?"

Israeli security sources said the men used an explosive not previously employed in suicide attacks. They claimed they were trained in Syria by Hezbollah and instructed by the head of Hamas's overseas operations.