What the Breaking the Silence Report Says about the Gaza War–and Doesn’t

Excerpt from my new op-ed in The Forward In its most recent report , Breaking the Silence does something different — it points its spotlight at the haze of a full-scale military operation, last summer’s Protective Edge incursion into the Gaza Strip and tries to draw from its testimonies bigger lessons about an Israeli army … Read more

Lincoln in Jerusalem?

Haim Watzman

Israel-Palestine polemicists have much to learn from Sean Wilentz’s thoughtful essay Who Lincoln Was in the current issue of The New Republic. Wilentz argues that politics is not an obstacle to the achievement of ideological goals, but rather a necessary and valuable means of achieving them. Lincoln ultimately succeeded in freeing the slaves, Wilentz argues, not because he put principle above politics, but because he was a genius at using politics to pursue principles.

Furthermore, he maintains, Lincoln understood that the preservation of the Constitution and the rule of law was essential if he was to achieve real and sustainable change. This necessarily meant accepting a Constitution that permitted slavery. Lincoln thought slavery was an unmitigated evil. But he understood that to end it he had to create a coalition of disparate groups that had been convinced that the end of slavery was in their own interest. Preaching principle would not do the job.

Quoting James Oakes, author of The Radical and the Republican, a study of Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, Wilentz writes:

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Beyond Unbelief: Bibi’s Speech and Fred Cavayé’s Pour Elle

Haim Watzman

Sometimes a mediocre film puts everything in perspective. When the lights went down in the Cinematheque last night I was in the middle of discussion with my companion (full disclosure: I’m married to her) how to parse Bibi’s two-state speech. One position (not mine) was that the prime minister had offered an honest and sincere statement of both Israel’s willingness to compromise for peace, whereas the other position (not hers) was that Bibi was just paying lip service to President Obama’s peace initiative and had no real intention of making any progress with the Palestinians.

The film was Fred Cavayé’s Pour Elle (Anything For Her), a thriller that calls for a willing suspension of more beliefs than does Christopher Hitchens writing about God.

Lisa and Julien are happily in love and have a cute little boy named Oscar. Lisa is arrested and convicted of a murder she did not commit. When all legal recourses are exhausted and Lisa turns suicidal, Julien, who teaches French in a high school, decides to free his wife by force. He consults with a former prisoner who has written a book about his many prison breaks (for a guy on the lam, the guy is startlingly easy to locate and oddly willing to speak freely to a total stranger). Then he carefully concocts a plan, scrawled all over the wall of his study at home, to grab Lisa when she’s being taken to the hospital because of her diabetes and abscond with her and Oscar to El Salvador.

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Unaerobics: Bibi’s Speech Tonight

Haim Watzman

It’s a hot afternoon and I’m still feeling heavy from overeating on Shabbat. So should I go to my Sunday night masters swim group or stay home and watch Binyamin Netanyahu’s much-heralded policy address? Which will get my pulse up higher?

I think I’ll go for the swim. By all accounts, Netanyahu will surprise no one. He’ll try to square President Obama’s circle by declaring how important the Israel-U.S. relationship is, while at the same time refusing to accept America’s lead in setting Israel on course toward serious negotiations over an accommodation with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

Netanyahu will follow the lead of his mentor, Menachem Begin, in insisting that Israel’s settlements in the territories have no connection to negotiations with the Arabs. President Jimmy Carter thought he had gotten Begin’s consent to a settlement freeze until the ultimate fate of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was determined; Begin insisted that he’d agreed only to a three-month freeze. Netanyahu might offer a similar sop,

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