Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ScrappleFace: Iraq Constitution Approval Another Setback for Bush

ScrappleFace:Iraq Constitution Approval Another Setback for Bush: "

(2005-10-25) --

In yet another setback for the Bush administration, Iraqi electoral officials announced today that voters have approved the new Iraqi Constitution by a margin of 78-to-21 percent.
This new bit of bad news will likely drive President George Bush's popularity ratings into the single digits, according to an unnamed expert from a non-partisan, progressive political think-tank.

'The Bush foreign policy continues to be fatally-wounded by clarity of purpose, dogged persistence and a pathetic failure to capitulate in the face of opposition,' the source said. 'At a time when a real leader would be paralyzed with self-doubt over the meaningless deaths of 2,000 American troops, Bush continues to act as if freeing 25 million Iraqis from decades of oppression, torture and death is somehow worth the price paid by those who volunteered to fight.'

'It's sad to watch our international credibility crumble like this,' the anonymous policy expert said. 'In 2008, I'm afraid you're going to see voters leaving the Republican party in droves, desperate to find a leader who provides a stronger sense of nuance and ambiguity.'"

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Bush Reads Abbas the Riot Act

DEBKAfile - Bush to Abu Mazen: The Palestinians Must Start Helping Themselves:

The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did not get much chance to lay down his usual list of demands and gripes in his talks at the White House with US president George W. Bush Thursday, Oct. 20. Instead, in contrast to the jovial mood of their joint news conference, Bush crushed his visitor’s hopes of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. “Not during my term,” the president declared firmly, according to DEBKAfile’s Exclusive sources Washington.

Abu Mazen is described as coming out of the meeting pale and shaken, with nothing to show for his Washington trip. Most of their 45-minute conversation was one-sided. Bush scarcely let Abu Mazen get a word in edgeways, cutting him short several times.

According to our sources, the US president laid down a new set of rules, unfamiliar to the Palestinians. In a word, no one will help the Palestinians if they don’t help themselves – and that goes for me, the US President, too. If you think you can disarm Hamas by letting them take part in elections, go ahead, but you are on your own. We think you are making a big mistake, but we don’t interfere. But there is a price to pay. A regime dominated by terrorists cannot expected to be treated as a democracy.

He reminded Abbas that he was the first American president to envision an independent Palestinian state and make it a strategic goal of his foreign policy, but the Palestinians had not risen to the challenge. He informed Abbas that to achieve statehood, they must meet three categorical conditions:

A. A Palestinian state must live in peace with Israel.

B. Peace alone is not enough. The Palestinians must demonstrate they are capable of being good neighbors.

C. The Palestinian state must be clean of terrorism.

As matters stand now, said Bush, I see no prospect of Palestinian statehood coming into existence before I leave the White House.

The US president said he continued to support the Palestinian leader. However, his terms were the reverse of what Abbas wanted to hear.

1. Final-status negotiations must not begin yet. (This knocked on the head Abbas’ most cherished goal which is to skip the road map preliminaries and jump to the final stage.)

2. Washington is holding back the timeline for progress towards Palestinian independence. (This was a stunning setback for Abbas’ plans and his standing at home.)

3. The Middle East road map for peace will not for now be activated. It will remain on paper as long as Palestinian “armed gangs” are in charge.

Abu Mazen tried to put in a word on Palestinian demands, such as the unresolved status of the Egyptian-Gaza border crossings, a direct, sovereign Gaza-West Bank link, a halt on the Israeli defense barrier and various complaints, but Bush brushed him off, saying he is familiar with the problems and he leaves them to advisers – “Jim Wolfensohn,” or “General Ward.”

He gave some ground on the Palestinian demand for weapons and ammunition to arm their security forces, but said this would have to wait until a new military coordinator takes over from General Ward. The US president said he was still looking for a suitable candidate, a military man with the right intelligence background who worked well with the CIA. He also agreed to raise the granting of more economic concessions with Ariel Sharon.

All in all, the meeting ended without results or decisions.

Outside, when they both faced reporters, President Bush took advantage of a question put by a Palestinian correspondent to drive home his new message. Asked if a Palestinian state would come about during his term as president, he replied: My purpose is to lay the foundations for a state. Whether it comes about or not is not my problem; is up to the Palestinians.

Clearly the US president has taken several steps back from his first concept of Palestinian statehood as a top American policy goal. He is leaving it to the Palestinians to make the running. For the first time, they have been put clearly and firmly on notice that as long as they harbor terrorists, they can forget about attaining their own state.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Column: Regarding the Harriet Miers Nomination

Do a search for Harriet Miers on the web sites of The Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, and Arutz 7, and you find nothing. That’s interesting considering that her possible appointment to the Supreme Court may have a considerable impact on the direction America takes over the next decade or more -- no doubt greatly impacting the world and Israel.

What’s my opinion? I am with those that hope she withdraws, forcing President Bush to nominate someone who has a record of originalist opinions that can be relied upon. Another Blackmun, Kennedy or Souter – Republican appointments gone astray – would be bad for America and bad for Israel. Judicial activism that pushes for progressive causes and the looking towards international law and precedent not only dilutes American sovereignty, it is a great encouragement to the Judicial Imperialism of the High Court of Israel which in its post-Zionist drive to become part of a transnationalist and post-democratic EU/new middle east would be greatly encouraged by the subjugation of the American Constitution to those diluting forces. Not only would I hate to see that happen, I am greatly concerned about it.

On the other hand, a truly conservative appointment would mean that the Supreme Court’s activism would be reigned in and looking to international law and precedent would end – or be consigned to dissenting opinions. For the Israeli High Court, this could make the difference between having a co-traveler in the legal deconstruction of the nation-state or the opposite – a contrasting and disturbing reminder that the Israeli High Court is choosing a course of its own will, not born of American pressure and example, and a clearer perspective, through contrast, of what just exactly it is doing. That perspective, and an example set in America resisting the swallowing up of sovereign law into the progressive transnationalism of international law, precedent, and tribunals, might even help bring public awareness in Israel to the point where real change to the old-boy network of internal Israeli judicial appointments of leftist elitist judges might become possible through reform of the apparatus of appointments. That change is one that is recognized as needed by a vast majority of Israelis who know that the High Court is completely out of touch with them.

So, while the appointment of Harriet Miers might seem of little interest to Israel, I think the opposite is true and while it may be, as president Bush assures us, that Harriet Miers is a true conservative in the spirit of Justices Rehnquist, Thomas, and Scalia, the president’s assurances of “trust me” shouldn’t be enough for conservatives who have been working long and hard towards this opportunity to fill the next vacancies on the Court.

At stake for America in the long run may be American sovereignty itself. International law applied to the United States in the way that Justices Breyer, O’conner, and Kennedy have advocated would clearly be a blow to American sovereignty just as John Kerry’s election eve proposal of a “global test” for the use of American forces would have been had he been elected.

I know that I am sensitive to these issues as a result of living here in Israel, a country where post-nationalist elites have taken control of the country and moved it in a direction that follows the direction the EU has taken – a transnational one where unelected buerocrats in the EC hold great power over legislation and unchallenged power over economic and foreign policy matters. The EU has set the trend and it is attractive to elites on both the right and left that seek to amalgamate power but in the end it means the end of the nation-state as a truly sovereign entity and with it American Exceptionalism or a Jewish state, as the case may be. So it is, that I see Israel as a canary in the coalmine for America because Israel has gone further down that road, being as it is, unprotecting of the will of the people due to the lack of constitutional restraints, a fault laden party system that lacks seperation of powers and truly representative government, and a High Court full of elites that appoint themselves.

And so, I would much prefer that America returns to original intent, protects its sovereignty, and holds off the transnational horde. There is a lot at stake for America and the world and the nomination of Harriet Miers is at the very heart of it.

Chag Samayach!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Column: Ushpizin

Read a blurb like this on the movie “Ushpizin” and you might ask yourself why you should see it all:

“In the customarily closed world of ultra-Orthodox Jews, Moshe and Malli, a married couple, are suffering through a financial crisis. They pray for help, but instead of a miracle two suspect strangers with criminal pasts appear on their doorstep.”

Ignore this and the reviews (I read one by Le Apprenti) as well.

Instead, listen to me and hear a bit about the depth of this movie and how it speaks to each and every one of us.

As I understand it, the old criminal friends (they are not strangers) that show up, Eliyahu and Yoseph, represent beautifully one of the major obstacles, and in fact the first one that everyone faces, in learning how to pour out ones heart to Hashem – (see “Outpouring of the Soul” by Aryeh Kaplan). That obstacle is the inner voice that says, “Who do you think you are to talk to G-d?” That question seems reasonable and correctly humble and brings most of us to answer, “It’s hopeless.”

But that answer is wrong. In truth, Rabbi Nachman tells us, the question is merely an obstacle and a test to keep us from drawing near to Hashem. It is false humility that comes to tempt us to despair from being heard by the Almighty -- a powerful obstacle that is difficult to overcome if one lacks the knowledge to ignore it, trust in the great mercy of G-d, and speak to Him.

Overcoming this temptation (as per Rabbi Nachman’s advice) is the major theme of the film. Eliyahu and Yoseph represent the physical manifestation of that question -- that obstacle. Moshe, who desperately wants to have a child, purchases an etrog for a great sum of money, showing his faith in G-d that he would be rewarded for this effort with a child by his wife Malli. What happens? Eliyahu and Yoseph show up and remind him of what he used to be before he gave up his criminal ways – but more than that – they tell him that they know who he really is behind what they see as a charade. They succeed in bringing him to doubt that he really has changed, that he has any real connection with and hope in Hashem, and they succeed in bringing him to anger and nearly to violence -- which they remind him are at the very heart of his “true nature.”

But Moshe catches himself and is not brought down by his guests. Reaching deep inside to the place where the very essence of his most essential nature is being questioned and tested, he screams out to Hashem with all his heart for help and faith and miracles -- and he is answered – restoring his faith in himself and in Hashem.

Later, Moshe and Malli are blessed with a son and Eliyahu and Yoseph, in the last scene,at the brit milah, show that they also have been touched in a deep way as they recognize that Moshe truly is a changed man and that Hashem has indeed heard his prayers and blessed him as a reward for his faith. One even gets the sense as the film ends that their restored friendship with Moshe may very well be a new beginning for them.

Some of you may recall that I wrote briefly about the film a week ago and then switched subjects to talk about an essay by John Fonte, called “The Ideological War Within the West.”

There I wrote about how in explaining a term that is key to his piece, transnational progressivism, Fonte identifies eight characteristic key concepts. One of them is “Deconstruction of national narratives and national symbols of democratic nation-states in the West.” I noted that this concept is of particular interest to us because it speaks of what is happening in Israel as an example:

“In Israel, a "post-Zionist" intelligentsia has proposed that Israel consider itself multicultural and deconstruct its identity as a Jewish state. Even Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres sounded the post-Zionist trumpet in his 1993 book, in which he deemphasized "sovereignty" and called for regional "elected central bodies," a type of Middle Eastern EU.”

I go back to this now because of the critique of my last week’s piece by a good friend of mine who is an anthropologist. He said that he liked my piece but that I should have tied the two parts together – that is the part where I briefly discuss the film and the part where I shift to Fonte and the threat of transnational progressivism to the nation-state. I was confused. “What do you mean?” I asked. “You could have shown how the life and culture so well expressed in the film is within the crosshairs of the post-Zionists – and what a loss it would be if in the name of some utopian transnational dream a culture as rich as this would be lost.” How right he was.

Chag Samayach!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Column: Just After Rosh HaShana

I was at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashana and it was great. Many of my friends were in Uman, Ukraine, at the site of Rabbi Nachman’s grave. This year there were 40,000 people there. This is incredible -- the numbers are doubling at least every two years. Interestingly, many non-religious Jews made the trip as well, including some pop stars. This has become a phenomena that is hard for many to understand – it usually takes a trip to Uman to get it, but some of the lure of going to Uman can be understood by reading Rabbi Nachman’s books, some of which have been translated into English. For moviegoers, there is now even a chance to get a glimpse of what it is all about by seeing the movie “Ushpizin” which recently opened in NYC.

The film, which is a great hit here has brought many orthodox people to the theaters who have never been before, but it is not only a hit amongst the orthodox, it is a hit with the secular as well who are inspired by some of Rabbi Nachman's most important teachings brought to life in a modern story set in Jerusalem. The film is about the struggles of a newly religious couple and how they break through the difficult realities of their lives with prayer and then miracles and in the process learn to believe in themselves too.

Written by Shuli Rand -- an accomplished actor who became orthodox and a follower of Rabbi Nachman and who also won Israel's best actor award for his part in the lead role -- the film is the first made by orthodox Jews in Israel, offering a window into a world that some viewers would be hard pressed to find access to, and perhaps, as well, some insight into why Uman has become such a magnet. Additionally, the film is set during the holiday of Sukkot, and so now is a particularly good time for it to be released and seen.

To a different subject:

Looking at the desire of the Israeli Left to dismantle the state and have it swallowed up into the EU or the New Middle East or what have you – some post-Zionist entity devoid of its Jewish nature as a nation-state -- has brought me to some interesting reading.

“The Ideological War Within the West” by John Fonte, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, describes the struggle on a global scale of what we have witnessed in the post-Zionist microcosm of Israel, where unfettered by a constitution, balance of powers, and a bill of rights, the Left, and I now include Sharon, has embraced what many of us have come to recognize as program of national suicide.

Fonte describes the conflict as one between the liberal democracy of nation-states and the transnational progressivism of post-nationalists.

He describes what is at stake in the struggle:

“Thus, it is entirely possible that modernity—thirty or forty years hence—will witness not the final triumph of liberal democracy, but the emergence of a new transnational hybrid regime that is post-liberal democratic, and in the American context, post-Constitutional and post-American. This alternative ideology, "transnational progressivism," constitutes a universal and modern worldview that challenges both the liberal democratic nation-state in general and the American regime in particular.”

In explaining the meaning his term, transnational progressivism, Fonte identifies eight characteristic key concepts. One of them is “Deconstruction of national narratives and national symbols of democratic nation-states in the West.” It is of particular interest to us because it speaks of what is happening in Israel as an example:

“In October 2000, a UK government report denounced the concept of "Britishness" and declared that British history needed to be "revised, rethought, or jettisoned." In the U.S., the proposed "National History Standards," recommended altering the traditional historical narrative. Instead of emphasizing the story of European settlers, American civilization would be redefined as a multicultural "convergence" of three civilizations—Amerindian, West African, and European. In Israel, a "post-Zionist" intelligentsia has proposed that Israel consider itself multicultural and deconstruct its identity as a Jewish state. Even Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres sounded the post-Zionist trumpet in his 1993 book , in which he deemphasized "sovereignty" and called for regional "elected central bodies," a type of Middle Eastern EU.”

To say that Fonte’s essay was an eye opener is an understatement. He explains clearly what we have been witnessing but have had such a hard time understanding. He also shows that the struggle is global – one in which the nationalist camp in Israel is not as isolated as the Left would have us believe.

G’mar Chatima Tova