Three Cheers For The Levy Report (Sort Of…)

This week at Open Zion, I analyze the Levy Report, and why its claim that settlement is legal is actually not so different from the supposedly lefty Sasson Report:

I’ll say this for the Levy report: It filled my inbox. After the Israeli blue-ribbon commission, headed by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy, concluded that “Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria,” the usual suspects leapt into action. J Street wants me to “Urge US Opposition to Israeli Settlement Report,” Americans for Peace Now wonders whether it is “1984” in Israel. Lefty friends sent gripes, shrieks, and mockery (best joke so far: a takeoff on a painting by surrealist Magritte, entitled “ceci n’est pas une occupation”).

So what’s the big deal? Well, as Likud MK Danny Danon wrote on Facebook, “The report removes the values of the radical left from the court of law in relation to Judea and Samaria and buries the dangerous report of attorney Talia Sasson.” The Sasson report, commissioned under Ariel Sharon and published in 2005, revealed the widespread clandestine financial support for “wildcat” settlements (which had not been authorized by any formal governmental process, and were not necessarily on land claimed to be Israeli state-owned) by the Israeli Ministry of Housing, the Ministry of Defense, and the World Zionist Organization. The Levy report, by contrast, recommends legalizing those outposts.

Frankly, though, I think this difference is much less than either Danon or J Street suggest, and that the Levy report is so much hot air.

To find out why, go read the rest.

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Why We (And Especially Lefties) Should Read “Israeli Army Fiction”

In my latest piece for Open Zion, I look at a supposedly racist story in The New Yorker, and I argue that anti-Zionist Phil Weiss cannot read Israeli fiction well because he doesn’t have much moral empathy for Israelis:

I have a fantasy in which I tell all of America about William Empson. Yes, there are more pressing topics than a dead literary critic. But every time a political polemicist badly misreads fiction—as the anti-Zionist writer Phil Weiss has misread Israeli author Shani Boianjiu’s short story (just out in The New Yorker) about IDF soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators—the English major in me cries, and I dream again of subjecting the nation to a semester of Remedial Irony. Because even if New Criticism is not exactly news, Weiss’s inability to parse Israeli art points to an intolerance for the Israeli perspective, a hostility to complexity.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Weiss quotes disapprovingly the following line from the story, about a gory photograph of an injured Palestinian in Gaza, “The world said that the Israeli Army had done it with artillery fire, but the Israeli Army knew that the family had been killed by a dormant shell that Palestinian militants had left by the sea.” Weiss thinks that’s Hasbara, but he’s wrong.

To find out why he’s wrong—and why it matters—go read the rest.

Why Is Eli Yishai Smiling?

My latest at Open Zion:

Why is Eli Yishai smiling? By all accounts, the leader of Israel’s Shas party should be having a bad week: everyone seems to agree that the puzzling Mofaz-Netanyahu merger, while it won’t affect dealings with Iran or the Palestinians, is a death knell for draft exemptions and massive subsidies for Haredim. David Horovitz calls it a “genuine opportunity”; Jeff Goldberg thinks Kadima’s seats means Netanyahu won’t fear “the loss of his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners”; here at Open Zion, Bernard Avishai’s expressed hope for a new “globalist” coalition against religious and other extremists. And yesterday, the new coalition unveiled plans to replace the Tal Law (which granted Haredim draft exemptions) with Kadima’s plan for universal national service.

Instead, Yishai praised the deal, saying, “The prime minister shared the whole move with me… the move does not contradict the coalition agreement with Shas.” Nor are other Haredim freaking out: Ynet reports that Bibi met with—and palliated the fears of—ministers from United Torah Judaism, the party of Ashkenazi Haredim. If real reform were in the air, Shas and UTJ would be bouncing off the walls.

So why aren’t they? Well, in the first place, they outnumber Kadima. In the now-hypothetical elections, Haredi parties would have won seventeen seats to Mofaz’s eleven. If Netanyahu is ever forced to choose between Kadima and the Haredim, it’s that number that matters, not Kadima’s current electoral position: the fact is, Mofaz commands fewer votes than it might seem. Worse, those eleven are a steep decline from Kadima’s earlier results (28 seats in the last elections). In the long-term, a party built on Ariel Sharon’s personal charisma and mostly made up of ex-Likudniks never had much of a future. If Mofaz hadn’t joined Netanyahu, he was headed for political irrelevance anyway.

Go there to read the rest.