Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Graffiti in Paris' Belleville district (photo: gillesklein)

Steven Erlanger wrote a perceptive piece on Muslim-Jewish relations in Paris' 19th Arrondisement in today's NYT, which contains much of the kind of quotidian testimony one must take into account when discussing Europe's "New Anti-Semitism." Erlanger's picture is Brooklynesque: hipsters, immigrants, Lubavitch, aggressive teenagers, and a darling park where they all meet up. In recent months, a couple of religious Jewish boys have been involved in altercations with young blacks and Arabs. When 17 year-old Rudy Hadad was beaten into a coma in June French President Nicolas Sarkozy publicly shuddered at the specter of anti-Semitic motives. But what's really going on in this neighborhood?

In 2002, when worries about anti-Semitism in France were peaking, I was hanging out with a Tunisian Jewish friend of mine on these very streets, the Rue de Belleville to be exact. Alex worked in jewelry manufacture. He had attended a local technical high school where he would have interacted quite often with non-Jews, many of them Muslim immigrants from North Africa. According to the article, Jews are fleeing such schools. Along the avenue, Alex pointed to phone card signs advertising rates for Morocco-Mali-Togo-Chad. "Would you ever think this was France?" he asked, incredulously. He was French, he wanted me to see. He was different. In fact, I often felt he was desperate not to be taken for an Arab, for a "Beur" in argot slang.

Erlanger's article chalks up much of the tension between young Jews and Muslims in the 19th to simple group-think and bravado. What happens in Israel bears little on whether or not two cliques of different faiths scrap in the park. I'm very sympathetic to this viewpoint. Some of the interviews here also raise the possibility of class grievances manifesting themselves in Muslim on Jewish violence. I think one has to be very careful with such explanations. For the Jews I knew in Belleville, Jewishness was the epitome of classy; something the more well-to-do Parisian Jews, with their Arab friends and cosmopolitan attitudes, laughed at over drinks on Sunday afternoon in the Marais. What do these brawlers in the 19th think? Who knows. Maybe they just want to fight.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Mysterious Resignation

Shaul Mofaz, Israel's current Minister of Transportation, former Defense Minister as well as retired Chief of Staff announced his "temporary withdrawal" from politics today. He made this resignation in the wake of his very narrow defeat to Tsipi Livni in the Kadima primaries, which Mofaz, contrary to the exit polls released yesterday. lost by less than 500 votes; pollsters had predicted a 10% margin of victory for Livni. Mofaz's sudden withdrawal makes little sense. He could have easily challenged it, or at least brought pressure to bear on Livni to demand a cabinet post. It is all quite fishy, to say the least. 

There were two sets of rumors circulating before and after the vote yesterday. As with every election and party primary, there were allegations about vote-buying and electoral irregularities in the Arab sectors, where particular communities or towns often vote en bloc for one candidate (see for example this story on Ghajar). Perhaps more importantly, the state comptroller is apparently investigating fiscal improprieties in the Mofaz campaign (Ha'aretz Hebrew). Apparently, the Mofaz campaign accepted donations in excess of the allowed sum per donor, which is set at 40,000 NIS. According to Ha'aretz, Mofaz received the following donations from four American businessmen:

$99,970 from Allan Meder (?)
$100,000 from Lucian Salls (sp?)
$50,000 from  Yakov Menahem
$18,000 from David Amrani

I couldn't find anything on these individuals - I'm sure that more will emerge shortly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Day after the Kadima Primaries

People have been wrongly predicting the downfall of Ehud Olmert for two years now. Has his reign finally come to an end?

If exit polls for the Kadima primaries prove accurate, Tsipi Livni will be elected leader of Olmert's Kadima Party tomorrow. Prime Minister Olmert has previously announced that he would tender his resignation immediately following the results of the Kadima primaries. But there is a chance that we will be seeing Olmert on the throne for quite a bit longer. Both the legal (by which I mean the Basic Laws, not the possible indictment of Olmert by the Attorney-General) and political situations are complicated. 

According to Israel's Basic Laws on the Government 30 (c) (Hebrew, English), 
A Prime Minister who has resigned shall continue to carry out his functions pending the constitution of the new Government. If the Prime Minister has died, or is permanently incapacitated, from carrying out his duties, or if his tenure was ended because of an offense, the Government shall designate another of the Ministers who is a member of the Knesset and of the Prime Minister's faction to be Interim Prime Minister pending the constitution of the new Government.
Thus, when Olmert resigns, he can continue to run the country as head of an interim government until new elections are called. 

The Jerusalem Post claims that
Should Olmert resign after the primary, the cabinet also resigns and the government becomes a transitional government, with Olmert at its head, that remains in power until a new government is formed. This could take least a few weeks, but might only happen after a general election, probably in the spring.

By law, no minister or party may leave a transitional government. Thus, even if he is subsequently indicted, Olmert would be locked in as head of the transitional government, whether he - or anyone else - likes it or not.
I am not sure on which article of the Basic Law on the Government this interpretation is based, but if true, we may be seeing a lot more of Olmert.

Meanwhile, the political situation is dynamic, with the Labor Party threatening to leave the government, Shas trying to extract concessions in return for staying, and the opposition, led by the Likud, renewing calls for elections. 

Elections would not be held until the spring, at which point many things can change dramatically. In the next few days, we should see whether Olmert decides to stay on as interim Prime Minister or whether he will suspend himself from his post and let her take the reigns until elections are called. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008


South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Speaking in Sochi and appealing to the "world Jewish community" and to Israel, the president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity blamed Georgian troops for destroying the Jewish cultural center in Tkhinvali, the separatist region's capital. He also claimed that a "genocide" had been committed by the Georgians in South Ossetia (Ha'aretz Hebrew).

The Russians, South Ossetians, and Abkhazians appear determined to perpetuate the allegations that the Georgians engaged in deliberate killings of non-Georgian civilians. Of course, Russia has given almost no access to independent organizations for the verification of these claims, and the main victims of ethnic cleansing are the thousands of Georgians who used to live in South Ossetian villages. 

Notwithstanding the idle rhetoric of the West, the integration of South Ossetia and Abkhazia into the Russian Federation is quickly advancing. It now looks very unlikely that these territories will be restored to Georgian sovereignty any time soon. The president of Abkhazia, Sergey Bagapsh, is imagining a similar status under Russian auspices for his country as the one enjoyed by Taiwan under U.S. protection. 

Israel, in the meantime, appears determined not to antagonize the Russians and is directing Israeli military contractors to freeze business in Georgia. Russia's message has reached Jerusalem loud and clear. Israel will not risk retaliatory Russian arm sales to Syria, Iran, and others. Meanwhile, the precise nature of Russian-Israeli relations since the Georgian crisis awaits further elucidation.