The Muslims and the Banks

“This Obama, is it true he’s a Muslim?” Iris, my bank clerk, asked me this morning. My immediate reaction was to dismiss the charge scornfully. It’s an urban myth of a vile kind, I said. But as the conversation proceeded, I realized that Iris had asked the question because the prospect of a Muslim president of the United States intrigued rather than frightened her.

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More On Stories and Histories

The need to combine storytelling and historical inquiry that I discussed in my previous post obviously has implications for modern history as well. When we teach kids about Jewish and Israeli history, we can’t teach just the narrative and ignore the facts. But neither can we teach only the facts and ignore the narrative. In practice, it’s hard to find the right balance.

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Telling the Story and Doubting It, Too

On Shabbat afternoon I walked over to the Ramban synagogue in the Greek Colony to attend the popular weekly talk by Rabbi Binyamin Lau. This week’s topic was Daniel.

Daniel, as related in his eponymous biblical book, was a boy from a family exiled by Nebuchadnezzar from Judea to Babylonia. He is educated in the school at the royal court and achieves fame—and avoids execution—when he succeeds in solving a problem even tougher than the one Joseph faced in Egypt. Pharaoh had a dream and needed to know what it meant; Joseph interpreted it for him. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream but didn’t remember what it was; he needed someone who could both tell him what he’d dreamed and what actual events it portended.

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Math of Democracy, lesson 2

Shas is claiming credit – or should we say “responsibility”? – for the recent approval of construction in the bedroom settlement of Givat Ze’ev. The ultra-Orthodox party was looking for a justification to stay in Ehud Olmert’s coalition; now it can say it melted the settlement freeze. Who wants to bet that Secretary Rice will not provide any counter-pressure?

On the surface, Olmert has little choice but to give into Shas. Without its 12 Knesset members, his coalition shrinks to 55, and he needs more than 60 to rule. Inside and outside Israel, this leads to criticism of proportional representation, of weak coalition government and of the power of the ultra-Orthodox to blackmail the majority. That’s a mistake.

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A radical idea becomes conventional

In Ha’aretz this morning, eternal pundit Yoel Marcus comes out for including Hamas in peace negotiations:

Abbas and his buddies no longer reflect or represent the Palestinian reality of spring 2008.

…America must initiate and accept a change in the makeup of the Palestinian delegation, namely, the addition of a Hamas representative. This will allow the Israeli side to speak to those who are really running the Palestinian show today. Will Hamas want to? Will it say yes? That is the ultimate test of the Bush administration.

Marcus usually represents stolid, mildly left-of-center establishment thinking, as soporific as a Labor pol’s speech. For him to argue that Hamas must be included in talks indicates that the idea is moving from radical to conventional.

Other not terribly wild-eyed types have been voicing similar ideas.

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Good Arabs, Bad Arabs

It’s such a pain when reality proves to be too complex to fit our favorite theories. A new book, Hillel Cohen’s Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 (University of California Press 2008), shows how varied the Palestinian Arab response to Zionism was, by investigating those Arabs who chose to collaborate with the Jews. As he demonstrates, the negative connotations we attach to the label “collaborator” can be misleading.

(I translated this book into English. I have not discussed these issues with Cohen and the view I offer here is mine alone.)

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The Ministry of Dangerous Statements

Israeli Housing Minister Ze’ev Boim has given instructions to renew building of a major development in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev, northwest of Jerusalem. (Here’s an earlier Hebrew report on the affair.) The development is planned for ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party has been pressing to go ahead. So much for the “total freeze” on settlement construction that Vice Premier Haim Ramon described at a press briefing several weeks ago. What’s even scarier is this:

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Indivisible tragedy, murderous symbols

Across the page of my morning paper are the pictures of eight teenage boys murdered in the terror attack at Merkaz Harav yeshiva last week. They demand of me to imagine lives that will not be lived. The pictures have a dark magic; they try to conjure up the thought that a parent must force himself not to think, because otherwise it would be impossible to get through the day.

The sound of the newspaper page as I turn it is a whisper: The season of killing has not ended. There was a lull, like a few sunny days in the midst of the winter rains in Jerusalem. We must think about whether the children should ride the bus, whether to set appointments in cafes. I went and had coffee this morning anyway on Emek Refaim. An act of sumud, sticking to the soil.

Of course there has not even been a lull in the killing in Gaza or in Sderot. The dead of one’s own city are more noticeable, and the dead of one’s own side: No Israeli paper prints a long line of pictures of those who died on a given day in Gaza. The one-sided mourning is inevitable, and is a dangerous illusion. The tragedies are indivisible.

Friday, the morning after the attack, Ha’aretz reported that Prime Minister Olmert said

“It shows the extent to which the Palestinian Authority is insufficiently fighting terror. We will not make our peace with such events.”

A reflexive and foolish response.

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Why I Like South Jerusalem

Yesterday, Ilana and I attended a funeral at a moshav near Netanya. And as always happens on our occasional trips to places where there’s lots of space, we momentarily longed to sell our tiny apartment and move out to the country.

The two-hour drive back was enough make me appreciate the city and remind me why we returned to Jerusalem after our year-long sojourn at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi in 1990-1991. In the country, you have to spend a lot of time driving to get pretty much anywhere. And I hate spending time in car. Living in Baka, our Jerusalem neighborhood, we don’t even own a car.

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The Math of Democracy; the Miscalculation of Occupation

How many Palestinians live in the West Bank, and does it matter?

On Thursday, right-wing think-tanker and publicist Yoram Ettinger will lecture (in Hebrew) at Bar-Ilan University and will make a might effort to prove that there a lot fewer Palestinians than the Palestinian Authority claims, and that this matters tremendously. Or so I judge from the title of his talk (“Palestinian Demography: Myth or Fact”) and from articles he has written and a major study in which he collaborated. Unless Ettinger has decided to recant, in fact, you can learn what he has to say on the subject online, without shlepping to Ramat Gan. I’m agnostic about Ettinger’s numbers. But I’m sure he flunks the mathematics of democracy.

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Computers on the Brain: Why We Need Philosophers

 

Everyone says that brains are like computers. Well, maybe not everyone, but neuroscientists and philosophers of mind use this analogy in their attempts to understand how brains work. On the face of it, the comparison is clear. We know what computers are and we know what brains are, after all. Just like we know that a rock is a rock and an apple is an apple and a democracy is a democracy, right?

 

Actually, it’s not that simple, as Hebrew University philosopher Oron Shagrir explained yesterday in a talk he gave at Bar-Ilan University as part of its Science, Technology, and Society Colloquium.

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