October 28, 2011

Koch plays Israel bluff, but too late

After first scaring the kishkes out of Jewish voters, Ed Koch now says we can relax: Instead of being a threat to Israel, President Obama is now a friend, and worthy of re-election. Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but you're too late.

Plenty of American Jews were already apprehensive about Barack Obama, even some who voted for him in 2008. I have blogged previously about why the President's critics are wrong about his alleged antipathy to Israel, but this post is specifically about Koch's strategy.

Using his own New York and Israel clout, Koch called on Jews to vote against the Jewish, pro-Israel Democrat in a House race as a message to President Obama that his administration's approach to Israel was going to cost him at the polls, this year and next. Koch endorsed the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, and campaigned vigorously for him.

Whatever impact Ed Koch's endorsement -- and whatever impact of Jewish voters who cared -- Bob Turner won by an impressive margin. Koch was happy to take credit. Within days, President Obama was at the United Nations, warning against premature recognition of a Palestinian state, and Koch took credit for that, too. In response to that one speech, which actually fits the pattern of the President's prior support for Israel at the UN, Koch has announced his endorsement of President Obama -- and he'll even campaign on his behalf.

Having confirmed the suspicions of so many Jews, including many who are suspicious of any African American (or so they tell me), there is nothing Koch can do that will win back votes. His shot across the President's bow was so convincing to those ready to be convinced, that all Koch can do now is erode his own credibility by declaring the President suddenly "kosher".

For his part, Obama will play along. He can't afford to be seen rebuffing Koch's support, lest he provide fodder to his more unwavering opponents. When Obama wins re-election, with a convincing majority of the Jewish vote, Koch can take credit for that, too.

October 27, 2011

The Arab counter-revolution... finally

For better or worse, the other shoe has finally dropped in the Arab world. It only took a half-century.

So far, the regimes that have fallen at the hands of the new Mideast phenomenon known as "Arab Spring" all originated as part of decolonization that began in the late-1940s and continued through the 1960s. The despots being overthrown this season have largely profited from a legacy of defiance against the West, and new claimants to that title have challenged their rule. So far, no Arab monarchy has fallen or faced a serious existential challenge from the current movement for change.

October 24, 2011

From Joseph, to Jonathan, to Gilad

It's been pointed out that the patriarchal Joseph was released from captivity in Egypt, and that the Hebrew Bible (Torah) refers to him as ruler ("shalit") over that land, and that Gilad Shalit was released on the very day that Jews traditionally welcome the spirit of Joseph into our succahs around the world.

There are other, more immediate historical tie-ins. Watching Prime Minister Netanyahu greet Gilad Shalit as he stepped off the rear ramp of a military helicopter was a striking throwback to the July 4, 1976, Israeli raid on Entebbe, Uganda, after which the rescued Air France hostages stepped off the rear ramp of their Hercules C-130 aircraft, greeted by then-Prime Minister Rabin and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, among others. Netanyahu's legendary brother Yoni (Jonathan), who had commanded that operation, was the only Israeli soldier to not make it back alive.

Thirty-five years later, Benjamin Netanyahu repeated the gesture of an Israeli leader welcoming the freed hostage. Had his older brother made it off that first ramp in 1976, he might well have been the one standing as Prime Minister to receive Gilad Shalit.

For all the ins and outs, ups and downs, tough calls and political calculations, that moment last week was the most evocative for me.

October 23, 2011

Qaddafi was right about Jews

The stark images of Muammar Qaddafi being dragged through the streets of Sirte this past week reminded me of the hour I spent with him during his last visit to New York City a couple of years ago.

As a bonafide "Cold War Brat", this past week was not the first time I saw graphic images of a brutal, delusional dictator meeting the summary justice of his former subjects. Watching Nicolae Ceaucescu's execution 20 years ago on TV brought back memories of my childhood stay in Bucharest, surrounded by banners with his face, on every major street.

When our small delegation visited Qaddafi in his country's UN mission in Manhattan, we were continuing a dialogue on matters Israel and Jewish, which had even included visits to Libya -- though this was my first (and now, last) foray.

The scene was ad hoc and even surreal. The street outside was sealed off, and the entrance to the building was shrouded by scaffolding. In the lobby, behind a makeshift partition, we sat on cheap-looking, oversized sofas, while senior Libyan diplomats were perched on the arms. Halfway through our audience, the President of a major African nation arrived for his own meeting with Qaddafi, and rather than dismissing us, Qaddafi convinced his counterpart to join us, sandwiched meekly for another 25 minutes among a few American Jews.

October 17, 2011

Good for Gilad and Israel, perfect for Netanyahu

Personally, I am very moved by the tribulations of Gilad Shalit, and I was moved to tears when I learned of the deal for his release. If he actually walks free after five years in a Hamas dungeon in Gaza, I shall genuinely rejoice. But the backstory to this is both obvious and complex. Here's a slice:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs the Shalit deal both as a duty to the family of every Israeli soldier (true at any time), and for his own political goals. But it comes at a cost, and not only in releasing Palestinian terrorists and other prisoners -- Netanyahu's political ATM is settlement construction, and the value has increased as President Obama has made it more of a sticking point.

Immediately following last spring's Itamar massacre came the announcement of new housing for Israelis over the Green Line. Now, as Israel prepares to release 1,000-plus prisoners in exchange for five-year hostage Gilad Shalit, Netanyahu's government just happens to announce plans for yet another entirely new "Jerusalem" (West Bank) neighborhood overshadowing Bethlehem. I've blogged previously about the magical expansion of Jerusalem's borders.

October 16, 2011

Occupy Wall Street -- You want fries with that?

The mass delivery of pizzas and restaurant fare to express support for Occupy Wall Street is especially ironic, if not perverse. Would animal-rights activists ever use a barbecue to raise money? But has anyone stopped to consider who delivers the food in Manhattan: hourly workers on rickety bikes with no benefits, often no bike helmets, no job security, and obviously no unions.

I am sympathetic to many of the stated goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity or that of the many students and union members who have joined them. However, if they truly want to liberate our society, they cannot do so on the backs of others who are being exploited right before their eyes. Real change must come to Wall Street, but it has to start with those willing to change themselves first. Otherwise, "OWS" is no more than "the feel-good hit of the season." #goodluckwiththat

October 12, 2011

If Tea Party, then Occupy Wall Street

How is Occupy Wall Street analogous to the Tea Party? 

1. It is rebelling against the Democratic establishment at least as much as it opposes the Republicans.

2. The Democratic elite (including the unions) has embraced and pandered to the nascent movement as a grassroots expression of the Democratic Party's aspirations.

3. The Democratic establishment will never succeed in taming or deflecting this populist undercurrent.

4. The zealotry of the movement could end up costing some Democratic incumbents their seats, by defeating them in the primaries or by exaggerating the liberal agenda of nominees.

One difference: I can see OWS from my window.

According to FoxNews, OWS represents anarchism and a threat to democracy, or something. But the Tea Party, with all its gun-toting and intimidationist tactics, is supposed to restore our faith... or something. In reality, there is no evidence that OWS is being bankrolled by any secret sugar daddy, unlike the Tea Party, which for all its populism is subsidized by the Koch brothers and other arch-conservative, monied interests. Regardless, both movements are out there, and we already have a democracy, so this should be an interesting campaign season.

October 10, 2011

South Africa chooses interests over principles - again

I do not hold South Africa in lower regard than most other countries, but it bothers me to see such a supposedly righteous country treat a global icon -- and his oppressed people -- with such disdain and hypocrisy.

Post-Apartheid South Africa has consistently staked a claim as (1) the leading edge of Africa's future, and (2) the global champion of human rights. Once again, that perfect image has come up lacking, as the Dalai Lama failed to get a visa to attend the birthday celebration of his fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- and the same week that China (with Russia) vetoed sanctions against Syria in the UN Security Council. 

South Africa's military and economic relations with China trump human rights, even those of a persecuted indigenous people like the Tibetans. Ironically, South Africa and the leading African National Congress have been staunch supporters of Palestinian rights for decades -- I know they share Marxist roots, but isn't it convenient that the Palestinian cause is bankrolled by oil money?

Speaking of money, China has been saturating the entire African continent for several years now, so barring the Dalai Lama should come as little surprise. South Africa continues to act like Nelson Mandela was just released from Robben Island, though it is now prone to the same flaws and fallacies plaguing other great and minor powers around the world.

South Africa has made great strides in many fields, despite a legacy of hardship, but there's more: Last month, the United Nations marked the tenth anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, in the absence of many Western delegations, a nagging reminder that the "Durban" conference brought disgrace to South Africa right before 9/11 eclipsed all else. 

South African President Jacob Zuma has been relatively constructive in his mediation effort in neighboring Zimbabwe, but the pathetic favoritism of his predecessor -- Thabo Mbeki -- toward Zimbabwe's savage dictator Robert Mugabe leaves a permanent stain on South Africa's credibility as a symbol for democracy and human dignity. Mbeki's refusal, as President, to allow accurate information or proven medication to combat HIV/AIDS was a death warrant for hundreds of thousands of his own people.

Who is responsible for romanticizing the post-Apartheid state? Friends in Africa tell me it's the Western media, egged on by the impassioned political drive 25 years ago to free Black South Africans. Either way, it's not helping anyone, including a South African elite that has yet to face reality (as reflected in Mbeki, their compromised standard-bearer). South Africa has a bottom line, and it's not about human rights. It's about what every other country (except Canada, mostly) seeks -- power and prosperity. That's fine. But let's stop pretending otherwise.

October 3, 2011

Turkey, the crazy old man of Europe

Not so long ago, at Davos, seated beside United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan picked a very personal and undiplomatic argument with Israeli President Shimon Peres before storming off the stage (The video is astounding). Shortly after that, he headlined a hate-filled anti-Israel rally back at home. He also appeared at a rally in Ankara where at some point a giant banner was unfurled depicting Peres bowing before Erdogan.

It didn't help matters that some senior Israeli diplomats who definitely knew better set up Turkey's ambassador for a calculated, unprofessional, televised hazing over some minor pretext for what was still a very valuable account.

In March 2010, Turkey's new Ambassador to the United States was temporarily recalled following a non-binding (but taboo) "Armenian Genocide" resolution that was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but never even made it to the full House of Representatives, let alone inform U.S. policy.

The May 2010 Gaza Flotilla incident is well known, if disputed. Despite a United Nations finding that Israel deserves only partial blame for the deaths of nine violent, mostly Turkish blockade runners, Erdogan continues to demand a formal and unambiguous apology from the Israeli government.

Curiously, Erdogan expelled Israel's ambassador only AFTER the UN inquiry issued its report. Now he demands Israel end its embargo of Gaza, even though the UN findings supported Israel's right to enforce the weapons blockade.