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{Friday, January 31, 2003}

In February of 2002 when I first took note of a group of Israeli soldiers refusing to participate in the occupation of Palestine there were just over 100 such objectors. Now there are more than 500 refuseniks from that group, Ohmets Le-sarev, and other groups have swollen the total ranks of conscientious objectors to over 1,000.

The movement now includes Ohmets Le-sarev, Yesh Gvul, and Shministim, to name just three organizations that have a web presence. It is growing although Israel has put nearly 200 objectors in prison (see here, here, and here).

In the US, the Refuser Solidarity Network runs "a web portal to unite international supporters of the Israeli Refusers." It offers ways that you can support the imprisoned refusers and promotes Refuser Tours:
One of the most important objectives of the Refuser Solidarity network is to assist refusers and their supporters in creating opportunities to tell their stories directly to people all over the world, but particularly in the United States and more particularly the American Jewish community.
The tour is bringing Amit Mashiah, one of the founders of Ohmets Le-sarev, to New York in February.

I was happily surprised to find that the contact for more information on the tour is none other than Aron Trauring, proprietor of Aron's Israel Peace Weblog. Aron and the refuseniks he supports are an Israeli hybrid of the abolitionists and civil rights protestors in the United States. I hope they have as much success.

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The Week in Craig
Because you are too lazy to actually read all of Craig's List yourself (via Gawker).

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Peace ... when?
I received an e-mail from a Peace Now activist in Jerusalem, asking me to publish the following article here on Objectionable Content. I am happy to oblige.


This article by Noam Hoffstater, Peace Now General Manager, is based in his speech at a Peace Now rally in Hebron, on Sunday 22 December 2002.

Leave Hebron Now!

"Peace Now" held a demonstration in Hebron on Sunday, 22 December 2002. Behind us stood a few of those from the most extremist of the settlers, not very satisfied that we had arrived to Hebron. On Thursday 19 December, following the symbolic evacuation of the new outpost these settlers tried to establish on the very place we intended to hold the demonstration, a police officer asked me, by telephone: "Is it still relevant? Do you still want to demonstrate?" In Jerusalem, a few days before the rally, I received some friendly advice: ‘Go to Gaza, demonstrate in front of Arafat’s compound’; even my friends sometimes ask in bewilderment: "What’s with all these demonstrations? What did you leave behind in Hebron?"

I first was in Hebron as a soldier. I was there to protect several settlers (who are still there) as they celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of one of Moshe Levinger’s sons in the Cave of the Patriarchs. At that ceremony, the father blessed his son with the words: "May you continue to overturn the stands of the Arabs in the marketplace."

I want to tell all of those people, and everybody else, “why we go to Hebron” and "what have we lost there".

We are in Hebron to give the government of settlements and its supporters – the fanatical settlers - a clear message: We too are committed. The Occupied Territories are not your private kingdom; they are not your special place for tyranny, not your special Apartheid Gardens, hidden in the back yard of the state of Israel. The Israeli opposition to the occupation knows no boundaries. We will show the entire country and the world this most ugly back yard and after we exposed it, we will return to Hebron – to ask whether or not it is something to be ashamed of.

We are in Hebron to deliver a message to Hamas, Jihad and those who share their ideology- the Goldstiens of Hebron, Itzhar and such: Your path of violence is killing us. We have stopped dying for you. We have stopped killing in your service. Every Jew and every Palestinian who has died is blood on your hands – you, who sanctify land and blood.

We are in Hebron to demand the return of those things that "we left behind in Hebron":
  • We demand the return of the vision of the democratic state of Israel that we left behind in Hebron. Therefore, we demand from the Israeli government to immediately stop ruling another people – here, in Jerusalem, and throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
  • We demand the return of the vision of the independent Israeli state that we left behind in Hebron. Therefore, we demand a political and geographic border for the state of Israel, not a messianic or Biblical one.
  • We demand a return of our humanity that we left behind in Hebron. Therefore, we demand that no Promenade will be built and no more Palestinian homes will be destroyed. We demand an end to the curfew and siege of the 150,000 Palestinians who live in Hebron and of the 3,000,000 Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza. In the name of our humanity, we stand upon our right not to deny the humanity of others: not directly and not indirectly; we stand for their right to live with honor and dignity; their right to provide for their families, to learn, to receive medical care, to move freely, to congregate as a nation, to create a state.
For the sake of all of these, we demand the end to the occupation, this accursed occupation, that is destroying us from within – the same occupation that Occupied Hebron and the road that we traveled to reach it symbolizes and actualizes above all else.

Peace is not sacred; it sanctifies: humanity, life, freedom and equality. All who say "Peace" but deny these basic essences of humanity are denying reality to embrace a mirage. We come to Hebron with a commitment to Peace. We come there in peace. We come in the name of those hundreds who were not allowed to be there physically because of security restrictions and in the name of those millions – from Palestine and from Israel- who value and seek Peace. Our commitment will tear down the border that you tried to create with an army; our path remains the path of Peace: it will defeat the settlements, the para-military outposts, the siege and even the pain and the hatred. And we will pave a new road: the road to Peace; peace between Israel and Palestine.

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In an interview with the New York Times, Hans Blix calls Bush and Powell out for mischaracterizing his report to the UN on the inspections of Iraq.
Mr. Blix took issue with what he said were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents.

Similarly, he said, he had not seen convincing evidence that Iraq was sending weapons scientists to Syria, Jordan or any other country to prevent them from being interviewed. Nor had he any reason to believe, as President Bush charged in his State of the Union speech, that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists.

He further disputed the Bush administration's allegations that his inspection agency might have been penetrated by Iraqi agents, and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad, compromising the inspections.

Finally, he said, he had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda, which Mr. Bush also mentioned in his speech.
While some cogent arguments for war have been presented by hawks, Bush and Powell seem addicted to spin when it comes to making the case. As Blix's interview shows, when spin isn't enough, claims that support the hawkish case are manufactured out of whole cloth.

The inspections are not proceeding 100% smoothly, but if the case for war is strong, it can (and must) stand on its own without embellishments. By now, these embellishments, particularly the administration's repeated attempts to link Iraq to anti-US terrorism, are embarrassing.

The misstatements by Bush and Powell only serve to make those who are paying attention skeptical as to the evidence and their motives.

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{Wednesday, January 22, 2003}

Dreams of a Nation
"The most impressive source of cinematic creativity in the Arab world right now is the emerging generation of Palestinian filmmakers."
- Richard Peña, Director, The Film Society at Lincoln Center

Columbia University’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures is sponsoring a Palestinian film festival called Dreams of a Nation. The festival will run from Thursday, January 23rd until Monday, January 27th, and will showcase over 34 films by Palestinian filmmakers.

The most famous film to be screened is certainly Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention, which won both the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes in 2002. A review in the New York Times gives the sense of the film:
Large emotions — and a smoldering political anger about Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, as well — are refracted through a series of quick, mordant vignettes, some of which are like cinematic riddles and visual puns, delivered in elegant deadpan.

The film feels less like a chronicle than like a loose shuffle of moments and ideas, like the cryptic Post-it messages that paper the walls of the hero's apartment.


But the appearance of randomness — of one curious, awkward thing after another — is itself misleading, for there is an oblique, elegant sense of structure here. The interlocking series of setups, punch lines and non sequiturs add up to something touching, provocative and wonderfully strange.
Unlike the rest of the films in the festival, Divine Intervention is running at the Angelika, one of New York's premier independent theatres. This means it can be seen outside of the context of the festival, and that good box office receipts could do wonders for the movie and for Palestinian film in general.

More heartening than the recognition received by Divine Intervention is the amount and diversity of films now being produced by Palestinians. Dreams of a Nation will screen 34 films, by both male and female filmmakers, running the gamut in theme and style: from politics to sex, from comedy to tragedy, from documentaries to surrealist fiction.

The full list of films screening during Dreams of a Nation is here. Here are a few that caught my attention:
  • THE SATELLITE SHOOTERS, dir. Annemarie Jacir. Fiction, 16’, 16mm (USA/Palestine, 2001).
    Using the conventions of the Western genre, The Satellite Shooters satirically tells the story of Tawfiq, a young Palestinian boy in Texas trying to find his place in America, and The Kid, a local gunslinger. Tawfiq and The Kid embark upon a mission to change the world. But things don't turn out like they do in the movies.... (Official Selection: 2002 Tous Courts International Film Festival)

  • JEREMY HARDY VS. THE ISRAELI ARMY, dir. Leila Sansour. Documentary, 52’. Beta SP (U.K./Palestine, 2002).
    British comedian Jeremy Hardy makes a rash decision to travel to Palestine in March 2002 just before the invasion of Bethlehem and the siege of the Nativity Church. He joins a campaign to protect Palestinian farmers against the hostility of settlers but finds himself caught up in the events of the invasion. He decides to return later, but this time - in a manner of speaking - to take on the Israeli army. (World Premiere)

  • THE MOON SINKING (Ofol al Qamar), dir. Ahmad Habash. Fiction, 50’, Beta SP (Palestine, 2001).
    This is a story about the final days in the lives of seven people before the collision of the moon into the Earth. It is about the daydreams of a young man, the silence of a lonely widow, the ramblings of a village idiot, the anxiety of a boy with a toothache, the cravings for freedom of a prisoner on a hunger strike, the fantasies of a young woman in love and the plans for a better future of a couple about to immigrate. (U.S. Premiere)

  • RANA’S WEDDING: JERUSALEM, ANOTHER DAY, dir. Hany Abu-Assad. Fiction, 87’, 35mm (Palestine, 2002).
    Rana, a young Palestinian woman sneaks out of her father's house at daybreak. She is supposed to go with her father to Egypt, but she doesn't want to leave. She wanders through East Jerusalem and Ramallah, looking for her true love. Upon finding him, she decides to try to marry him that very day. While abnormal things like roadblocks and barriers, soldiers and guns have become the reality of Palestinian life, normal things like love or a wedding become fiction. A Palestinian Run Lola Run. (NY Premiere) (Official Selection: Cannes Film Festival, 2002)

  • TALE OF THREE JEWELS (Hikayatul Jawahiri Thalath), dir. Michel Khleifi. Fiction, 107’, 35mm (Belgium/Palestine, 1995).
    A mixture of realism and allegory set against the backdrop of the Palestinian uprising in Gaza. Youssef, a 12 year-old boy, tries to win the love of Aida, a gypsy girl. Aida offers her heart, on the condition that he finds her grandmother’s lost jewels. Youssef is so smitten with Aida that he embarks on a mystical pursuit, leading him to a wise old man, a mysterious scroll, death and resurrection. (Director’s Fortnight: Cannes 1995).

  • BREAD (Le Pain), dir. Hiam Abbas. Fiction, 18’. 35mm (France, 2002).
    In rural France, a couple and their son are about to have lunch. There's no bread left. The father goes to buy some. Time passes and the mother goes off in turn to buy bread… This is the first film by noted Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas, most recently seen starring in Satin Rouge. (U.S. Premiere). (Grand Prize: 2002 Montpellier Mediterranean Festival)

  • FORD TRANSIT, dir. Hany Abu-Assad. Fiction, 80', 35mm (Palestine, 2002)
    An often-humorous portrait of the day-to-day reality of a Palestinian taxi driver caught between checkpoints and political discussions. In his circumambulation of roadblocks and innovation of short cuts, his passengers make up a heterogeneous company – ranging from ordinary people to local celebrities such as politician Hanan Ashrawi and filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg (Promises). (US Premiere)
  • STAYING ALIVE (Bidna Na’ish), dir. Ghada Terawi. Documentary, 28’, Beta SP (Switzerland/Palestine, 2001).
    An examination of the motives of Palestinian youths who risk their lives to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. Why don't they fear death or injury? How aware are they of what is happening around them? What political thoughts drive them to go and possibly fight to their deaths? (U.S. Premiere).
Before anything, the essential product of humanity is culture. Culture is what we produce in our cities, it's what determines how we react to each other and how we react to our own creations: one people embraces science and technology, one fears it. One people produces great literature, another music.

Culture separates one society from another. Much, much more rarely it unites them.

The films that are part of Dreams of a Nation serve as reminders that culture is produced even in a war zone. Humanity struggles to be human, to do more than eat, run, hide, kill.

As an entire people, Palestinians are attacked -- both literally by Israel and metaphorically, when people characterize them as terrorists, killers, liars. But we are artists, too. We are producers of culture, like every other human group. It springs up like a weed or a flower even in the midst of suffering.

Culture is not what a people is called, but what they call themselves.

And culture is also what they do. According to Human Rights Watch, there have been 52 Palestinian suicide bombings since January of 2001. Fifty-two people committed themselves to despair and to murder. How many more balance the scales against these fifty-two? If only two people worked on each film in Dreams of a Nation that number alone would be greater than fifty-two. Perhaps the real figure is five, ten times greater.

Perhaps the real figure is closer to the total population of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Think of that number, that four million, and ask yourself if they would rather be making films, or making war.

If you aren't sure, then come see Dreams of a Nation before deciding.

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{Monday, January 20, 2003}

"One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries."
- A.A. Milne

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The Sardine Run

"In the fall of the year, a very thin tongue of cold water creeps between the warm current and the cold coast... Sardines, about 5% of this incredibly huge population, follow this current, and it becomes a river of sardines.

And that attracts the predators ... swimming sometimes a thousand miles, chasing this bounty in the ocean.

You have major predators numbering in the thousands, and they begin to isolate pockets of this long chain of sardines, carve them up into balls ... and begin to feed on them, squishing the balls closer and closer together. The dolphins ... come screaming through the balls of sardines. The sardines panic, move in a circular direction with beautiful mathematical precision, and the dolphins carve through them as if they're slicing a loaf of bread or peeling the skin of an apple away -- a living, moving, silvery apple of fish."


"The result is an eruption of fin and flesh. Dolphins squeal like sirens as they make strafing runs at the edges. Eight-foot (two-meter) copper sharks thresh their way through the shoal, biting and gulping. Cape fur seals, elastic underwater acrobats, corkscrew up through the middle then flip backward, snapping up fish on the way over. And all the while gannets rain from the sky, so fast and so many that it looks as if they are being sucked into the ocean by a vacuum cleaner."

[ Oceans of Plenty | National Geographic, August 2002 ]

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Helping the Chinese
During our brief back-and-forth a few weeks ago, Geoff Meltzner of Grasshoppa pointed out that "the US has done more to help China down the yellow brick road to superpowerdom than Israel ever has."

Geoff references transfers of satellite technology that occurred under the previous administration. Just another reason to dislike Clinton; and a reminder that, no, Israel is not the root of all evil.

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{Tuesday, January 07, 2003}

That word's meaning is so much less interesting than it ought to be. I'm back from a trip that involved much more driving around in Florida at 2am than I'd planned. Thoughtful posts, responses to your thoughtful stuff, and heinous beatdowns all coming when I've got time (this weekend?). Until then, low culture.

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Pickup lines
These are for everybody, because I love you all.
  • Are my undies showing? ["No."] "Would you like them to?"
  • "Do you know the difference between a hamburger and a blow job?" ["No..."] "Want to have lunch?"
The next one works best spoken in a Jeff Daniels from Dumb and Dumber sort of voice:
  • "Are those space pants? Because your ass is out of this world!"
  • Them: "Do you have the time?"
    You: "Sure, do you have the energy?"

Trust me, people.

PS: Ok, the space pants one was for fish. I mean, come on.

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Song of the day: "I wanna be your man," by the Beatles


Allow me to take this moment to say that Michael Jackson is an asshole.

It is his purchase of the Beatles' library that prevents me from providing even a 30-second clip of this song (go ahead, click the link and hear for yourself).

Are you out looking for new ways to make the world hate you, you sick freak?

You ruined my happy post!

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Big Apple Blogger Bash 2003!

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{Sunday, January 05, 2003}

Scary Thought...

"2003 is the new 2001."
(via AccordionGuy)

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China Rising
An unmanned Chinese spacecraft has returned safely to Earth. Buoyed by the success of this trip, China has announced plans for a manned flight this year. If that flight is successful, China will be only the third nation to have achieved manned space travel.

The top contender for #2 superpower is getting stronger all the time (thanks in part to Israel).

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Megacorps Rising
Jim Henley has the scoop on the emerging reality of this trope of dystopian sf. And he gets his news from Bryant Durrell, who I swear is an old Amber player.

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More Tragedy
Islamic Jihad has killed at least nineteen Israelis in a dual suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

[ Update: The link above now says that 23 are dead and that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has claimed responsibility. ]

I saw this first on Google news, but it was also mentioned on a blog called Grasshoppa, by an MITer named Geoff Meltzner. The title of Geoff's post ("The Most Righteous Victims in the World: Part 4303") appropriates my style in a manner obviously meant to be satirical. It's nice to be noticed.

Geoff's point seems to be that "two can play at this game." Well, he's right. Two do play at it.

I've never denied that Palestinian terrorism exists, and I've always condemned it. It's the defenders of Israel who usually paint their side as morally pure and argue that only Palestinian evils really count. Friends of Palestine are the "moral equivalence" types, after all. Whether you like the reasoning behind the moral equivalence idea or not, the fact is that we acknowledge both Israeli and Palestinian injustice.

And, I think the evidence is on our side (thanks to Geoff for the link to the NY Times piece).

As I mentioned in the comments section to this Exit Zero post, even the Israeli Institute for Counter Terrorism, a group whose Board includes the former head of Mossad (guess which side their bread is buttered on), lists 734 Palestinian non-combatants killed by Israel between September 27, 2000 and December 30, 2002. Of these, 58 were under twelve years old.

Israel would have the world believe that these deaths represent over seven hundred unavoidable accidents. I don't believe it.

My central point is that evidence of Israeli injustice -- even of systematic injustice -- is there in front of anyone who cares to look. Palestinian terrorism does not change this. Both facts exist and must be dealt with.

Islamic Jihad are murderurs. The fact that they take responsibility for their crimes doesn't erase the blood from their hands. The IDF and its defenders justify the wholesale oppression of millions of civilians, and the murder of hundreds, by saying it is unavoidable. The fact that Israel can lie about its actions doesn't make it any better in my book.

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All the ways here are mine
The New York Times Magazine gives a look into Turkmenistan:
Niyazov's bizarre antics, an Alice in Wonderland marvel to outsiders peering through the looking glass, are actually an instrument for political domination. Last summer, Turkmenistan's nominal Legislature passed the president's request to change some of the names of the days of the week and the months to his first name, his new last name and words associated with his name. (In an act of filial generosity, he ordered April to be renamed for his mother.)
The current sad situation in Turkmenistan (25% unemployment, rampant corruption, an attempted coup, the destruction of the educational system) can be read as the result of the collapse of empire -- in this case, the Soviet Union's.

The Soviet order brought its own problems, of course, but one thing most successful empires can be counted on to do is set limits on the amount of corruption that will be tolerated in the provinces. Limiting local abuses serves an important function for an empire: it ensures that nothing can interfere with the centralized corruption.

One hopes for the sake of the Turkmen that there is some alternative to each of these poles of exploitation.

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{Friday, January 03, 2003}

Where you stand depends on where you sit
Jessica over at The Blog of Chloë and Pete has been thinking about politics. The result is a post about the two Koreas that begins like this: "Pretend you have relatives in Iraq."

Debates about foreign policy necessarily rely on some amount of speculation -- but I'm beginning to think that we don't often engage in the right kind. Jessica does. Go, read her.

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Google Viewer
If you've got a high-bandwidth connection, you may want to check out the Google Viewer.
"The Google Viewer displays the pages found as a result of your Google search as a continuous scrolling slide show. You can view your search results without using your keyboard or mouse and you can adjust the speed with which the images move across your screen. Each image of a page's contents is accompanied by a short "snippet" describing that page."
(via Bruno Haid's freememes)

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Zip it!
The word on the street, my little chickadees, is that I don't have a discrete discreet bone in my body. But I do. None of you will ever know the details this post could've contained, the horrible secrets that it might have revealed. So there.

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That's the rumor
In other news, I am going to marry Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Yes. I decided after seeing her on Conan.

Typical pathetic celebrity stalking, you say? Let's look at the facts.

First, I was down with Secretary way before anyone else even heard of it. Second, we have the same birthday. Third, both of us have one parent who is a writer. Fourth, her hit movie is about S&M, while my hit blog is called Objectionable Content. Fifth, we are both Ivy grads. Sixth, she is a woman and I am a man. Seventh, she lives here in New York, near me and only 8 million other people who probably don't even share a birthday with us.

As you can see, the evidence is incontrovertible.

It will be a May wedding.

(The future
Mrs. Content
Image stolen from here

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{Wednesday, January 01, 2003}

New Year
It's two-thousand and three. A new year. What do you believe in? What do you want? What are you going to do?

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Cliff's Jim's Notes on Israeli Politics
Sharon's policies have helped make 2002 the worst economic year Israel has seen in four decades. It is also the year that saw more Israelis killed in terrorist attacks than in any other period. Luckily for Sharon, political scandal might distract the Israeli electorate from his horrendous destruction of their country.

Israel's Likud-led coalition government has banned an Arab political party from participating in the upcoming elections in January. The Arab nationalist party, called Balad (which literally means country or homeland), was "ruled out of the elections over the objections of the chairman of the Israel’s elections committee, Judge Mishael Cheshin."

While Arab parties are being denied participation in "the only democracy in the Middle East," the ex-leader of Kach is being allowed to run for office. Baruch Marzel has won approval from election officials to stand on behalf of the right-wing Herut Party. I've mentioned Herut before. Their platform is that "Israel should be Jewish." That sounds benign compared to Kach, a movement Marzel took over after the murder of its founder.

Kach calls for the ethnic cleansing of Arabs by expelling them from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Kach was and still is outlawed by Israel as a terrorist organization. Why? Aside from calls for transfer, Kach proclaimed its support for a 1992 grenade attack in Jerusalem. The next year, Kach members claimed responsibility for murdering four Palestinians, and in 1994 Baruch Goldstein, a man affiliated with Kach, murdered 29 Palestinians while they prayed in a mosque at the tomb of Abraham.

Goldstein's attack is, incidentally, the event that got Hamas into the suicide bombing business. The first ever suicide bombing of Israeli citizens was carried out by Hamas just two months after Goldstein killed the Palestinian worshippers at the tomb of Abraham.

Now the former leader of Goldstein's terrorist organization will be running for office in an electoral climate where Israeli-Arabs are gradually disenfranchised.

The "good" news is that if January's election resembles the recent primaries, the whole thing will be a sham anyway. Ariel Sharon's Likud party is reeling from a vote-buying scandal. How serious is the affair? Says one political analyst quoted by Reuters, "This is like Watergate and it can ultimately reach the top."

Likud is having a tough time of it. The vote-buying scandal even stands a slim chance of putting Labor, and Amram Mitzna, into power.

Until news of vote-buying surfaced, Likud was sitting pretty. That's Israeli politics for you: We don't care if you destroy the economy, incite terrorism, endanger Israeli civilians, and murder and oppress Palestinians, but God forbid if you're corrupt!

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