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. This is important information regarding the knowledge behind how people are actually able to concentrate and focus on their work from time to time. This is the type of information that is needed when people want to get focus supplements to help their brain work at the best possible level. 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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McCain, Hagee, and Sympathy for the Assassin

John Hagee – pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, founder of Christians United for Israel, and eager herald of End – has endorsed John McCain for president of the United States. One reason that Hagee gave for his choice was McCain’s “support of the state of Israel.” Hagee also claimed that he personally backs Israel because it is a democracy, not because of its place in apocalyptic scenarios. One must presume that after saying these words at a San Antonio press conference, the good minister turned and gave an immense wink to anyone who has read his books.

In 1996, Hagee turned out “Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist.” It fits a genre of “prophecy” works churned out by popularizers of dispensational premillennialism: To prove that the final seven years of history are about to begin, he presents a standard list of verses and his own collection of headlines that supposedly fulfill scriptural predictions. His description of the last seven years – the so-called Tribulation – is pornographically violent. (Despite Hagee’s disrespect for Catholicism, I’d bet Mel Gibson would love to film the gore that Hagee describes, which includes a 200-mile river of blood.) The ultimate proof that the End is coming is the creation of the State of Israel. Hagee manages to bend the murder of Prime Minister Rabin into additional evidence. As a good dispensationalist, Hagee portrays the seven years ending with Jesus’s return and the Jews accepting him en masse.

Before getting to the End, Hagee express uncommon sympathy for Yigal Amir,

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A Pre-Post-Zionist?

A ritual seems to get played out every time a new and original work of Israeli history comes out. Sooner or later, a major review pronounces the book and its author to be “post-Zionist.” What this usually means is that the book has suggested a new way of looking at Israel that is not a knee-jerk confirmation of the reviewer’s right-wing prejudices.

The common wisdom—summed up, for example, in Yoram Hazony’s The Jewish State—is that once all Israeli historians were staunch and loyal Zionists, and that sometime around the 1980s or so a vicious cabal of self-hating eggheads decided to launch a frontal attack on Israel’s founding principles.

But wait a minute—a similar attack was mounted long ago against a man who today resides in Israel’s pantheon of Zionist historians—Jacob Katz.

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