Busy busy week here in the "Holyland", so I'll try to keep it as compact as graphomanically possible:
We have a date for elections! Tuesday, February 10th 2009, Israelis will choose between Tzippi Livni's centrism and Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu's strident right-wing approach.
The week was spent by Sephardic-Orthodox party Shas flexing its muscles after blowing off Livni. Accusations were exchanged between Shas and the Livni camps. Livni accused the orthodox party of extortionist behavior, and Shas played the ethnic card claiming Livni was racist to call its "legitimate political demands" thus. Livni shot back that her head negotiator is a Sephardic Jew, and therefore its absurd to accuse her of ethnic (read: race) baiting.
So far, public animosity towards Shas seems quite high, allowing Livni to come off as principled. A poll published early in the week gives Livni, for the first time, a 1% edge over Bibi, 29%-28%.
The most significant political development this week has been the conirmation that Justice Minister Daniel Friedman will not be continuing even if Livni's Kadima forms the next government. Friedman has been very controversial in his short tenure, due to his incessant battling with Supreme Court Chief (we call it "president"), Dorit Beinish.
A little background: In Israel, justices (Supreme court included) are appointed by a comittee comprised as following: 3 reps from the supreme court, two from the Bar association, two from the Knesset and two from the government. Now, since Lawyers, particularly high powered ones of the sort that get to sit on such a committee, antiicipate arguing more than once on front of the SC, they need to remain in the good graces of the justices. This basically gives the court a veto on appointments. Imagine that John Roberts could simply block any liberal appointments to the bench - regardless of the wishes of both white house and Congress.
In recent years, the court, first under Aharon Barak (not to be confused with Ehud) and now under Beinish, has used this veto flagrantly, blocking the appontment of numerous world class jurists because of ideological differences (ideology both political and legal).
When the court was led by Barak - a towering intellectual, whose giant academic status even his enemies concede, who is considered a guru the world over (Alan Dershowitz is a worshipper) - this tyranny was tolerated to some degree, though still a serious political flash-point. Beinish, however, is a total mediocrity, who has published nothing, whose opinions matter not a fart in a shitstorm to anyone except for the political importance they carry due to her positions - first as Prosecutor General, then as justice. Friedman, on the other hand, is a world-class tort expert, winner of the prestigious Israel Prize, and a close friend of Nili Cohen, another world-class legal mind whose appointment to the bench was blocked by the Barak-Beinish cabal.
The latest Beinish-Friedman spat concerns the appointment of judges. Israel has a hellish shortage of judges (tho some say it's much more an org-flow problem). Be that as it may, barring a serious structural reform, case loads are insanely heavy, and just recently a trial for gruesome murder of a woman and her child (missed gangland hit) has been postponed till June, despite the fact that this is an open-and-shut case (police were on the scene, knew about the hit, botched ambush, don't ask...). So why postponed? Because the court in Israel does what it feels like and fends off any criticism as a sinister plot to undermine democracy.
The bench service list is short some 30 district and peace justices out of a total of some 580 (as well as 3 supremes). Beinish refuses to appoint more judges until a new government is established, which means late march at the earliest. She is relying on an ealier ruling by the court which prohibits appointments during a transition government. But that ruling dealt with appointments to the SC, not to lower courts. Even the Attorney General Menny Mazuz (no lover of Friedman) says the vacancies need to be filled pronto, but Beinish doesn't care that the business of the court isn't being done.
Beinish's only luck is that Friedman didn't realize that once you're in power, you can't pick fights like you did from the opposition. On the contrary, you talk softly, lull the opposition to sleep as best you can and make the changes you want with their guard down. If you got them so worked up they have a def-con script to start every time you open your mouth to suggest what to get for lunch, you ain't gonna get much done. Also helped her that Friedman, for all his tort chops, is a shockingly simplistic authoritarian and free market ideologue, which prevented folks like me, who hate this judicial tyranny, from giving him our full support.
OK, back to the mud-pit with two sardonically amusing moments in the early engine-warming towards the election:
1) Shas, feeling its oats, has declared that in the next coalition it will demand the education ministry, which it never had even when it had 17/120 MK's, from 1999-2003. Netanyahu (a man famously described by the now-comatose Ariel Sharon as a "stressed-out, pressurable individual") lived up to the billing, and interrupted his own eulogy for the seventh anniversary of tourism minister (and transfer-advocating racist) Rehav'am "Ghandi"* Ze'evi's murder by Palestinian assassins, in order to make it clear that "the education portfolio will remain after the election with us, with my party". In the middle of a memorial service! Yup, that's the dude I wanna trust in a crisis. Cool Hand Benny.
2) Ehud Barak, who as I've mentioned lives in an $11 million dollar condo in Tel-Aviv's "Akirov Towers" (kinda like Trump towers) without actually exlpaining where he got the dough, got a big laugh from stand-up connoisseurs when he claimed that "the voters will back us because the difference between us and the other parties is that we understand the need to put an end to porcine capitalism**". This would be like Dick Cheney saying "voters will like me cause I understand why torture is bad".
The big non-story of the week was the interview Channel 10 and Channel 2 did - and then didn't broadcast - with the convicted murderer of Prime-Minister Itzhak Rabin, Igal Amir. The interview itself was utterly devoid of any new revelations - Amir has backtracked on his statements of having had rabbinical blessing for the deed, and now claims to have been motivated only by the military opinions of men like Ariel Sharon and the aforementioned Ze'evi. Yeah, we believe you, scumbag.
Anyway, the real story was the very decision to give said scumbag a platform, which caused a veritable shitstorm of negative publicity for all involved, and in the end the channels chickened out. Instead of showing their interviews on the Friday Night News, they ran a navel-gazing piece on "why we did the interview and why we ain't showing it after all." Hah!
Finally, tensions are escalating between police and settlers, who simply do not understand why they are not allowed to plunk down a trailer anywhere they damn well please, or terrorize the local Palestinians and prevent them from getting to their olive groves, which need picking lest the crop go to waste. Over the past few weeks, every other day we hear of an incident where settlers attacked police and army personnel, injuring them (lightly, so far). Today two border patrol men were hit by rocks while guarding Palestinian homes near an illegal (even according to Israeli law) settlement called "Federman Farm".
Had these been Palestinian protestors attacking forces protecting Jews, they would have been shot and even I would have been forced to admit that such shooting is just, and consistent with the RoE. These jehovah junkies? not even arrested, most times. Definitely not struck back in any manner. Of course, they are "our blood". In a curious quirk of DNA, Left wing Jewish protestors are empirically shown to be less "our blood", because they get shot and beaten for much less.
Culture: As metioned last week, the brilliant Laurie Anderson will be playing here on her "Homeland" toura day beofre the US election, i.e. this monday. What's even cooler is the dude who will be sitting in for a few songs - The fresh Mr. Laurie Anderson, aka Lou Reed. I'ma definitely walk on that wild side if I can scrounge the admission fee.
The Godfather of Israeli Rock'nroll, Shalom Chanoch, is on an acoustic tour with old-time collaborator Moshe Levi. I'd catch that too if you're around. Tour's still in the intimate venue phase.
Sports: Maccabi Natanya tied with lowly Bnei-Yehuda, while Maccabi Haifa won against HaCoach Ramat-Gan, and captured 1st place in the soccer premier league. In hoops, Maccabi Tel Aviv got its first Euro win of the season vs. Italian club Avelino, but did not terribly impress.
Finally, Palestinian and regional wrap-up: Negotiations continue interminably between Fatah and Hamas, but at the same time the Fatah is stepping up a campaign of arrests against Hamas activists in the West Bank, and Hamas is threatening to walk out of the talks if it doesn't stop.
Palestine's national soccer team hosted its first ever official international game, tying Jordan 1-1. Ahmad Kashkash staked Palestine to an early lead, but it didn't hold up, to the mild disappointment of the crowd at A-Ram stadium. The event was honored by FIFA (World Soccer governing body) president Sepp Blatter.
Hamas announced a competition for hackers geared at breaking into the websites of "radical Israeli political entities". Hamas announced the competition at a communications exhibit in Tehran. The competition was described by the organizers as an "initiative of peace and of ending violence" (They's funny that way). Winners to receive $2,000. This comes after a pretty long win streak for Israeli hackers (not officially sponsored, mind), who two months ago managed to hack into the website of Hamas' military wing and redirect all surfers to porno sites...
Osama Bin Laden is reported to be close to publishing a book on his terror group, al-Qaeda. Bin-Laden is actually a gifted writer, and much of the early popularity of his underground tapes is explained by their clever puns, rhymes and word games.
Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani has defected to the US, after her appearance as the love interest of Leo DiCaprio in "Body of Lies" has enraged the mullahs, as did her appearance at the movie's premier, in a sleeveless dress with her hair showing. "I love Iran, I have family there, but if they want to see me they'll have to leave", said Faharany.
A Saudi religious verdict ("fatwa") allows a woman whose husband is beating her, to hit back
In Iran, authoroties claim to have apprehended "suspicious pigeons" near a nuclear site.
And in the US, Sony has decided to postpone the release of the "Little Big Planet" game, after Muslims protested the inclusion ofi Quran verses.
(Palestine and regional news from Jonathan Gonen's "Arabs Online" feature at Israel's Nana10 portal)
Rate and comment if you want there to be more next week.
* nickname not ideological, but stemming from an incident when he showed up at the mess-hall wearing a bed sheet
** As per Shimon Peres' fabulous phrase.