Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Unreported Truth

...during operation cast lead the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

- British Colonel Richard Kemp

Friday, April 24, 2009

One man's torture is another's Friday night

The faux outrage and response to the [torture] memos recall an old international law class, from some years ago, where the discussion turned to the immorality of coercive interrogation. The United States was torturing prisoners, the professor suggested, because the al-Qaeda detainees were subjected to female interrogators, barking dogs, and loud music. As fundamentalist Muslims, the detainees were not “comfortable” with women “speaking down” to them, the professor contended. Nor were they fans of the heavy metal music played in their cell. Additionally, as Middle Easterners, they were accustomed to a society where dogs are undomesticated, dangerous animals — think: the way Westerners perceive wolves — or so the professor’s argument went.

It was at that moment that I realized how similar these “torturous” acts were to my own everyday lifestyle. “Wait a second,” I interjected. “Being in the same room with a dog, listening to Metallica, and getting reprimanded by a female for something she thinks I did wrong? That’s not torture. That’s my Friday night!”


To afford captured detainees the ability to determine what is and is not objectively torture based upon their subjective cultural preferences, religious sensitivities, or personal dislikes and fears is not only asinine morality and poor practicality — but bad law, as well. Imagine if we enforced this logic to the fullest extent or at least to its natural conclusion.

Would, say, placing bananas in the cell of a cibophobic al-Qaeda detainee constitute torture? Would it be torture if an unattractive and homely interrogator pleasantly asked a cacophobic detainee a few questions? What about a murderous dikephobic captive, who simply couldn’t stand being brought to justice? Perhaps imprisonment itself is torturous, for a koinoniphobe. Or maybe, for an eleutherophobic jihadist, the true torture occurs during those soccer matches outside in the Gitmo courtyard. What if the detainee’s “religion” required frequent conjugal visits — and a few Budweisers, while we’re at it?

Nicholas Guariglia @ Pajamas Media

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What does Netanyahu really think?

Binyamin Netanyahu will take the premiership of Israel in two days after managing to form a goverment with both the left and right hands of Israeli politics. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has yet to show his hand on the contentious issue of the two state solution.

This 1978 video shows a 28 year old Ben Nitay (aka Binyamin Netanyahu) arguing that the US should oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

Whether Netanyahu still believes that is arguable. I think that while the idealist Netanyahu does not necessarily believe that Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza have an assumed right to self determintaion, he is pragmatic enough to realise that a two state solution is all but inevitable.

The political landscape has changed somewhat since 1978:
  • Israelis are under a constant threat of war or terrorism, and are willing to pay a dear price to end that state of living (even if yes, it is giving in to terrorists)
  • The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan (from which Gaza and the West Bank were conquered) were concluded without the inclusion of the disputed territories in the peace agreement - due to objection from the Arab states. Thus the proposal of the paletinians receiving full citizenship in Jordan and Egypt are no longer realistic.
  • The demographic threat that Ben dismisses back in 1978 is very real today, such that granting Palestinians full Israeli citizenship would undermine the Jewish majority in the state of Israel and its ability to preserve itself as such.
  • The multi state solution (two-state; or three - incuding Hamastan; or four - including Jordan) is therefore seen as the only other realistic alternative. The global acceptence of this principle is such that rejection thereof would lead to diplomatic isolation for Israel. Netanyahu of saged hair is well aware that he may need to shed some of the ideals of his days of youth.

Netanyahu can't say much of this publicly as it conflicts with the idealism of his power base. His aggressive pursuit of a left wing party in his government and the expensive price he paid for it suggest that he is pursuing strategies that are consistent with the two-state solution.

Another possibility is that the next 3 years will focus on the Iranian threat and ignore the Palestinian issue, an issue that is seen as impossible to resolve while the Palestinian population and leadership is so fractured. On this issue Barak and Netanyahu see eye to eye as the existenial threat Iran poses to Israel breaks all barriers of left and right.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Israel serenading India

An Israeli government-owned arms company, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, produced the Bollywood-esque video in aims of strengthening Israeli-Indo defence ties. The clip, which was recently showcased at the Aero India exhibition in Bangalore, features a man (Israel) who promises to defend and shield a woman (India) asking for protection and security. Dancing on a stage flanked by flower draped missiles, the actors jointly sing: ‘Together, forever, I will hold you in my heart. Together, forever, we will never be apart' The Obsevers
I'm not quite sure what to make of this. The love affair between Israel and India is nothing new. In fact, the selection of the Mumbai chabad house as a target by the Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba had little to do with the middle east conflict and much more to do with Israeli-Indian military relations. The masculination of Israel and feminisation of India may be somewhat insulting to India but is far more natural than the reverse. 

One thing though I now know for certain - Indians make far better bollywood clips than Israelis.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Morning After: An Analysis of the Israeli Political Landscape

The Israeli elections ended with two and a half victory speeches and one concession speech.

The biggest loser was clearly the Labor Party (HaAvodah). Despite Barak’s star performance in the recent Gaza operation as Defence Minister, the party that had dominated the Israeli political landscape since inception, that had ruled without loss for the first 30 years of nationhood (as Mapai and the Alignment) is tonight no longer a force in Israeli politics. It came in a dismal fourth place, having secured only 12 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset. Israel’s voters, the sons and daughters of socialists, have firmly rejected the left. The Labor party would do best to stay in opposition and regroup, as Likud has done in recent years. The only scenario in which it is likely to be in government is in a national unity government alongside Likud and Kadima (where it may place the national interest over party politics).

Livni, the woman who called these elections having failed in her previous attempts in coalition building, claimed victory after securing first place. Kadima’s 28 seats reflect a one seat margin over Likud and a one seat loss from its position in the last Knesset. Within the span of three years, Kadima experienced two elections; the loss of its founding fathers (Sharon and Peres); a bogged corruption scandal; a worsening security situation; two controversial wars; and a likely recession. Livni delivered an excellent result for her party and should be proud of beating the pollsters. She ran a good campaign, and made the most of the last minute momentum Kadima experienced, buoyed by a high voter turnout. That said, having secured first place, she is back where she was when she called these elections, unable to form a stable coalition.

The other victory speech came from Netanyahu, the man most likely to be Israel’s next prime minister. With all the cards stacked against Kadima, this was his election to lose, which he did. He ran the classic frontrunner’s campaign (firmly rejecting Livni’s repeated requests for a debate) and ended up in second place. On the flip side, Netanyahu led the Likud back from its meagre 12 seats in the last Knesset to a political beast of 27 seats and most importantly, as the leader of the national block, he can thwart attempts by Livni to form a government. He is therefore most likely to become Israel’s next prime minister.

The Russian-immigrant- secular-nationalist party, Israel Bateinu (‘Israel is our home’) claimed half a victory, having delivered 15 seats that may well hold the balance of power in the next Knesset. This result (below polling expectations but above its 11 seats in the last Knesset) moves it from fifth place to third place, surpassing the Labor party. Avigdor Lieberman will play both sides to his advantage. Having ran on a platform that is more nationalist than Likud, he has recently proclaimed that his party cannot be assumed to recommend Netanyahu as the next Prime Minister and may indeed recommend Tzip Livni (if the price is right) or indeed himself for the top job.

Over the next few days, Tzipi Livni would be trying to mend fences with all those who would be happy to see the end of Kadima and try to ensure Shimon Peres gives her the first crack at forming a coalition – an unenviable task. Meanwhile, Bibi Netanyahu would be forming a block that would prevent her from governing. In between the rounds of meeting with political allies and foes, they may well play with Ynet’s recently-released game Build Yourself a Coalition. No doubt, Bibi would be having more fun than Livni. He is more likely to get the message “You can form a government” and far less likely to get the annoying popup: “Your coalition is politically unreasonable”.

Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, may find himself in the awkward position of handing the premiership to his former nemesis, the man who beat him in the 1996 elections, and the man who lost the current elections. He would probably much rather hand the reins to the woman whose party won these elections, to the party he co-founded, and to the people continuing the vision of the partners he lost along the way (Rabin and Sharon). Peres may well facilitate the formation a national unity government with a rotational approach, like the one he entered with Yitchak Shamir following the 1984 election deadlock. Barring that, Peres is bound to choose the candidate most likely to form a stable government, and like it or not, that person is Binyamin Netanyahu.

Only in Israel

  • Will you hear two victory speeches and one concession speech
  • Will you be able to vote for Holocaust Survivors and Grown Up Leaf Party, the party advocating for pension reform fo Holocaust surviors and marijuana legalisation.
  • Will you find a ticket promoting the environment and the separation of religion and state headed by the Chief Rabbi of Norway (son of the former Chief Rabbi of Denmark). Unfortunately, the party did not make the cut and Rabbi Melchior’s exemplarity conduct will be sorely missed in the next Knesset.