February 27, 2007
Esterina Tartman

Esterina Tartman is one of those women who is overlookable or fantastic. When she is in full flight of articulating something provocative, with a wide smile and bright eyes, there is no doubt in my mind that she is beautiful.

She first gained headlines by trashing the appointment of an Arab as a minister in the Israeli government. To her, it was "a lethal blow to Zionism." A bit extreme for those concerned about giving something to the non-Jewish minority, but not out of keeping with her standing in the Israel Beitenu party (Israel Our Home). Among the signature issues of the party leader, Avigdor Lieberman, is a proposal for ethnic cleansing. He would transfer Arab towns in Israel to Palestine while attaching to Israel the Jewish settlements over the pre-1967 borders.

Due to political shuffles, the party had the opportunity to select the Minister of Tourism. It is not the most distinguished or most powerful of appointments, but it carries the title of minister, as well as car, driver, overseas trips to tourism events, and the opportunity to favor one or another interest with the money spent on advertising Israeli sights for potential visitors. Ms Tartman won the nomination, and was at the height of her fame.

Then it started to unravel.

First were revelations about her status as handicapped due to an accident some years ago. Journalists revealed substantial insurance payments due to claims that she suffers from chronic pain, confusion and memory loss, that keep her from working for more than 4 hours a day.

Could a minister, or even a member of Knesset without ministerial appointment function with those disabilities?

Next were questions about the academic credentials that she has claimed on the Knesset web site and on other occasions. Masters degree in business administration? Apparently not. Bachelors degree from Bar Ilan University? No record of that in the university archives.

Ms Tartman cited her memory loss and confusion to explain the academic muddle.

Her nomination as minister may not survive the inquiries underway by the head of her party. And if it does, there are likely to be problems in getting the approvals required by the entire government and the Knesset.

Should we be wary of beautiful women, or only those who claim disability, lie about their qualifications, and issue racist declarations?

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:00 PM
February 26, 2007
Two sad stories

A religious resident of Gush Etzion (a "settlement" south of Jerusalem with a history from before 1948) made a habit of going into a nearby valley, and saying his evening prayers beside a spring. Two 18 year old Arabs noticed his pattern, and waited in ambush. They stabbed him numerous times, and left his body to be discovered.

They went back to their village and bragged about killing a Jew. It took the Security Service (Shin Bet) an hour or two to solve the crime. If all goes according to pattern, the young men will spend the rest of their lives in an Israeli prison. As Jew killers, they will enjoy a high status among their comrades similar to that of those who kill their sisters for soiling family honor.

Equally depressing is the news that an Israeli film producer has prepared an extravaganza depicting the discovery in a suburb of Jerusalem of the tomb of Jesus and his family members, including his child and Mary Magdalene. It is scheduled to appear on the Discovery Channel, and has already been the subject of a New York press conference. For those who have read The Da Vinci Code, the inspiration is obvious.

Religious Christians will have trouble with the "child of Jesus," as well as the burial place of Jesus. As I understand the story, he rose from the dead and went to Heaven. There should be no body.

Part of the current announcements concern an ossuary revealed a year or so ago, said to be the final resting place of Jesus' brother James. Israeli archaeologists determined that the ossuary was, indeed, an old box meant as the repository of bones, but that the writing on it was produced in the last several years. There is an indictment charging forgery waiting judicial processing. Claims of Jesus' final resting place have not reached that far, but an archaeologist with the Antiquities Authority used the term "nonsense" for the claims to be aired on the Discovery Channel.

The Gospel of Matthew includes several canards against the Jews. According to the 28th Chapter:

When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

This is a tale of the Jews' efforts to counter the truth of the Resurrection by concocting a story about the snatching of Jesus' body by Roman soldiers.

As a result of the fame sought by an Israeli film producer, and the commotion that it will cause, some not-so-friendly Christians can say, "We told you so. It is a modern version of Matthew."

Maybe we are cursed. The questions are, How? and By whom?

Is the curse to live alongside of neighbors who hate us to the point of glorifying those who kill us, with the killers brazen enough to brag of their crime in a village that is sure to have an Israeli informant among its residents?

Or is to have among us individuals so enamored of fame as to tell a fantastic story with no credible basis, that is capable of reigniting hateful sentiments engendered by old stories?

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:37 AM
February 22, 2007
Amir Peretz

For those who wonder about Israelis who doubt the capacity of our Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, it is worth glancing at a picture that appeared on the front pages of the two most widely read newspapers, Ma'ariv and Yedioth Aharonot.

You can see it at http://myrightword.blogspot.com

It shows him posed to watch a military maneuver on the Golan Heights, alongside the Chief of the General Staff and other military heavies. The problem is, he hasn't taken the lens caps off the binoculars.

Not only does the picture suggest a man out of touch with the most elementary of hardware, but on this occasion he is not likely to learn much about the maneuvers said to be the most extensive in several years, and part of the IDF's effort to prepare better for the next war than it was prepared for the most recent war.

Funny? Sad? Or more likely the good fortune of a photographer who caught the minister in an embarrassing moment, before he realized that he hadn't slipped off the lens caps. It can be exciting to be next to all those generals for a big exercise. Maybe the minister was so afraid to do something wrong that he couldn't do something right for a second or two.

Israeli politics are tough. The minister's competitors in the Labor Party began to ridicule him when he was a possibility for Defense Minister, and have not stopped since he took the job. To be sure, he lacks a military background. This picture will not add to his reputation.

Greater experts than I are still arguing over how badly the IDF did in the recent war in Lebanon, and who was responsible. The general who was the Chief of the General Staff has resigned, and accepted his share of responsibility. No one expects a politician to be so willing to admit failure. Several rivals have announced their candidacy for his job as Labor Party chair. If he loses the party election scheduled for May, as presently expected, he will not last as defense minister. We have heard several times that the Prime Minister is considering dismissing Peretz as defense minister, but he seems reluctant to meddle in the problems of the Labor Party.

Although I never made it above the rank of private in the IDF, I will risk taking on the conventional wisdom about the recent war, and even about Peretz's performance as defense minister.

It appears to me that both Peretz and the Prime Minister, who also lacks professional military expertise, performed within the realm of the reasonable. They went along with the strategy of the chief of the general staff, which was primarily to pound Lebanon from the air. Clearly there were some mistakes in that campaign, and perhaps even more in the ground actions, but there are mistakes in every war. I have seen reports that about one-third of casualties in military operations, of Israel and other armies, are either self-inflicted by misdirected "friendly fire," or due to accidents. Battle is likely to be clumsy, full of panic, and dependent on the actions of an enemy intent on doing as much as possible to frustrate one's own actions. The only heroic war in Israel's record was that of 1967, and that saddled us with the West Bank which in hindsight was less than a optimal accomplishment. The last heroic war of the great armies was World War II, and that killed lots of soldiers and civilians before it was over. Israel agreed to stop the most recent fighting in Lebanon without getting bogged down in anything like the earlier Lebanese war that began in 1982, or the situation of Americans and others in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To me, the Defense Minister, along with the Prime Minister, deserves a bit of credit for the balance of accomplishments and cost. As someone more informed than me once said, war is hell. It should be the wisdom of leaders to keep the costs as low as possible, especially for one's own troops and population, and to keep the war as brief as possible without the continued occupation of hostile people.

If we view the larger picture, rather than the detailed shortcomings, what Israel did in Lebanon might have been just right. It created a lot of damage, much of which is still a long way from being repaired. It killed, injured, and destroyed the property of many Lebanese, mostly in the areas heavily settled by Shiite supporters of Hezbollah. Compared to other wars, there were relatively few Israeli casualties. There were civilian casualties and property damage in the north of Israel due to Hezbollah rocket attacks aimed at civilian targets. The balance sheet shows considerably more damage to Lebanon and the Lebanese than to Israel and Israelis.

If any degree of rationality prevails in Lebanon and other places that like to dream of hurting Israel, the lesson should be clear.

Many express sadness and anger at the loss of Lebanese civilians. Innocent and decent people died on both sides. We should do what we can to avoid war. When pushed to it, however, the balance of loss should be as uneven as possible in order to convince the enemy to think again before starting on another adventure.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:52 PM
February 18, 2007
Travel, CNN, and Fox News

What to do two weeks in Spain when tired of walking and looking?

Two of the options were CNN and Fox News.

For those tired of America bashing, read something else.

The hits of our watching hours were the death of Anna Nicole, what would become of her body, and which of two leading candidates and perhaps as many as 30 other possibilities would be recognized as the father of her child.

Until this occasion, I had lived my life without ever hearing of Anna Nicole. What amazed me was the time and energy devoted to the various details, none of them above the moral level of a bull fight.

On the basis of tuning in during both our afternoon and evening rests, it seemed that there was a full day of "breaking news" devoted to unrest on the Temple Mount/Nobel Sanctuary. We saw CNN interviews with several Muslims claiming evil Israeli intentions, and only a brief interview with a police spokesman. He noted that it was unlikely that any damage would result to Muslim holy places as a result of Israeli efforts to refurbish an entrance to the site, and to continue on some nearby sites where archeologists have been working on and off for more than one hundred years.

CNN's people seemed anxious for a photogenic event, hopefully with pictures of force and suffering. Among their fears was that Israel was provoking the onset of the third intafada. I took that as official news that the second intafada had ended. Israel's military and police can now tone down their efforts to intercept suicide bombers on their way to work. When we reached Mattan he said that local media coverage had barely penetrated his day getting ready for exams.

We did not hear any mention on CNN about the construction done in recent years by Muslims under the surface of the Temple Mount. This is not careful archeology done with hand tools and soft brushes, but gross destruction with bulldozers and power shovels of what might be there for the purpose of building an underground mosque. Israeli archeologists demanded that the work be stopped, but a series of governments decided (by not deciding) that it could not fight everything our neighbors were doing. So the archeologists have been sifting the dump sites created by the Palestinians for remnants of ancient Jewish construction.

Peace Now has signed on to the Palestinian view of what Israel is doing alongside the Temple Mount. I did not perceive that CNN reported that as breaking news.

It did show President Bush speaking before a banner of the American Enterprise Institute. Afghanistan was on his mind, and he called for continued support of his program to nourish that "young democracy." Other news indicated that the Taliban were coming back. They have less fire power, but they know their country better than Bush. I remember seeing the shields of British regiments carved into the rock of the Khyber Pass somewhere between Jalalabad and Peshawar. Afghan tribesmen mauled them in the 19th century. A later generation of the same people embarrassed the Soviet Union and contributed to the collapse of that empire. I hope that Bush and the Americans will do better, but I am not optimistic.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:29 PM