14 October 2017

The neo-Luddites and their apples

Just to dispose of some inattentive readers' attacks: Neo-Luddism is defined quite well.

The above diagram (click to enlarge) includes a lot of known pseudo-sciences, superstitions, conspiracy theories etc. It mentions one of the most dangerous: the anti-vaxxers, the people who one of these days could be the undoing of us all, among many others. One addictive religious cult is missing from the list: the anti-GMO folks.

Not many people these days dare to say something in favor of genetic modification of any living thing, be it a carrot or a human being. The snowball of so called public opinion made any defense of this scientific domain an unhealthy business. Not that the work in this field stopped (I hope it never will), but the level of histrionics in the public discourse on the subject is so high, that it doesn't allow defense to be heard.

To state up front: I don't think that there isn't any potential danger in genetic engineering. Like many other sciences, it should be supervised, checked and rechecked. Thankfully, the institutions to do so are in place. In fact, the paranoid attitude of the above mentioned public made these institutions overbearing, increasing tenfold the time and effort in developing new products. Just as in the big pharma, where it takes about ten years and about half a billion dollars to develop a new drug.

Of course, cases like the Nuedexta or, much worse, Thalidomide, will remain as painful reminders of the need for careful study and implementation of every new compound. But making it a cause for Luddites? And no, these two examples don't have anything to do with GMO products. So far there has been 0 (zero) cases of proven deaths by GMO foods.

The fascinating subject of genetic engineering could be a source for a thousand long posts, but I have to be choosy for the purpose of relative brevity. It will be a long post anyway, so I shall start with:

Bad news for Neo-Luddites.

Dear GMO-haters: when you proudly stick your teeth into a certified non-GMO and (definitely) organic apple, brought to you courtesy of your certified organic non-GMO farmer (and paid for thrice as much as one would pay for a regular supermarket apple of same or better quality, of course), you should be aware of one thing. Your apple is a product of a long, probably hundreds of years long, chain of genetic engineering.

And, for the purpose, I am disregarding the genetic engineering as it was (still is) done by the evolution of the apple trees. I am talking about the selective breeding, performed by uncounted generations of apple growers all over the apple growing world. If any one of you, dear neo-Luddites, thinks for a moment that you are partaking of the virginal proto-apple, as it was created by nature/higher being, perish the thought. You are chomping down on a perfect example of genetically engineered fruit - if not of molecular biology with its frightening tools, then of many years of our forefathers selecting the trees with genes* most suited to produce your perfect "non-GMO" apple. Which apple, while being genetically engineered, will definitely keep the doctor away**.

Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons
[Michael Jackson]

I would dare say that when lies carry a negative charge, they tend not just to run sprints but fly like rockets. The pernicious lies produced by one medical charlatan, Andrew Wakefield, literally kill or maim people for life all over the world, where communities of anti-vaxxers keep popping up and condemn their children (as well as innocent bystanders) to many deadly dangers. Debunked? Yes, he was debunked and punished. Forgotten and not believed anymore? Far from it, the vermin is thriving and the followers of his false religion are quite frisky and multiplying...

Back to genetic engineering. Europe this days presents almost wall-to-wall united front against this branch of science. This in spite of a huge investment on safety studies:
In 2010, the European Commission published a detailed report on fifty research projects carried out between 2001 and 2010 through scientific grants from the European Union. 200 million euros were spent on these studies, they dealt with the impact of GMOs on the environment, the safety of GMO use in food, the use of GMOs as sources of biomaterials and biofuels and so on. 400 research groups participated in the project. The main conclusion of the report: "Biotechnologies and, in particular, GMOs do not carry greater risks than traditional technologies for breeding new varieties". The US, Russia and many other countries also financed  the studies of GMOs from their budgets, concluding that these products are no more dangerous than conventional ones.
But here comes another charlatan, this time from the field of biology.
The Séralini affair was the controversy surrounding the publication, retraction, and republication of a journal article by French molecular biologist Gilles-Éric Séralini. First published by Food and Chemical Toxicology in September 2012, the article presented a two-year feeding study in rats, and reported an increase in tumors among rats fed genetically modified corn and the herbicide RoundUp. Scientists and regulatory agencies subsequently concluded that the study's design was flawed and its findings unsubstantiated.
Following widespread criticism by scientists, Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted the paper in November 2013 after the authors refused to withdraw it. The editor-in-chief said that the article was retracted because its data were inconclusive and its conclusions unreliable. In June 2014 an amended version of the article was republished in Environmental Sciences Europe, and the raw data were made public.
Especially worthy of notice:
The journal did not conduct any further peer review; reviewers checked only that the scientific content of the paper had not changed.
And the results:
The press conference led to widespread negative media coverage for GM food, especially in Europe. Le Nouvel Observateur covered the press conference in a story called, "Yes, GMOs are poisons!".
The actions followed immediately:
At the time of the initial release, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that, if the results are confirmed, the government would press for a Europe-wide ban on the maize and The European Commission instructed the EFSA in Parma, Italy, to assess the study. In late September 2012, Russia temporarily suspended importing GM corn as a result of the study and in November 2012, Kenya banned all GM crops.
As it can be, unfortunately, seen, it takes one politically motivated charlatan to undo the good work of thousands.

These days European leaders not only prevent the entrance of genetically enhanced crops into Europe, they also sabotage introduction of such in Africa, in effect killing people.

The saga of ludicrous accusations, false "discoveries" and dirty politics around GMO issue could continue indefinitely, but there are limits to a post's length.

Strange that...

Suffice to add, that, strange as it is, the paranoid behavior of a good part of the public plays into the hands... of big corporations that produce GMO. What really happens is that the impossibly high thresholds, established for approval of GMO-based products reduce the number of competitors to those whose financial resources allow them to survive long enough to satisfy the necessary checks and controls.

So Monsanto***, which you so love to hate, gets that much stronger when you help to eliminate the competition.

Too bad.

(*) That, of course, if you believe that there are genes in your apple. Because:

According to the sociological survey published on the website of the Analytical Center of Yuri Levada, the question "Is it true that ordinary plants do not contain genes, and genetically modified plants - contain?" The correct answer "no" was given by only 29% of the respondents. By curious coincidence, the proportion of people who do not know the correct answer to the question about genes in tomatoes is roughly equal to the proportion of people who consider GMOs to be hazardous to health and subject to prohibition.

This and other tidbits were picked up by yours truly from an excellent book Summa Biotechnologiae (Сумма биотехнологии) by Dr. Alexander Panchin.
I hope the book will be translated soon enough.

(**) The biotechnology companies are perfectly aware of the nature tinkering with genes of its own babies. To avoid the enforced necessity to mark their products as GMO, several companies do something different: they analyse the plants' DNA, select the seeds that carry the preferable traits and grow and sell the seeds, without introducing any man-made modifications. Clever? Yes. Of course, it limits the ability to add some desired qualities, but what can you do with a hostile market?

(***) And no, Monsanto is not the biggest. Check this.

12 October 2017

California Reduces the Penalty for Transmitting HIV - explainer

Finally somebody who cared to do some research on the subject. Good.

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Jews excel at antisemitism, as they do at so many things

Welcome To Venezuela North AKA Illinois

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Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary — Democrat civil war

01 October 2017

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A Palestinian speaks the truth at the UN -- the shock is palpable

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29 September 2017

Labour Friends of Palestine group apologises...

Sometimes, when you have stuck your foot in your mouth quite deeply, in your feverish efforts to pull the said foot out, you make a wrong move, lodging it even deeper. This is what happened with the British Labour Friends of Palestine team, when they have started their urgent recovery operation after this unfortunate (?) turn of speech:

Of course, they have made it clear immediately that their reference to the final solution was just a sorry slip of the tongue, a typo, a... you know how it goes. They have done it verbally via many available channels, of which they have quite enough.

Then they have decided to issue a written notice, wholeheartedly apologizing for that slip. Here is how it came out (I have decided to mark by red the relevant part of it, sorry if you don't like this kind of leading):

Don't know about you, but I think it is still a marginal improvement. I feel that being in opposition to anti-antisemitism is better than praying for a final solution. Sticks and stones and all that, you know...

P.S. Corrected by now by the hapless author, after a few people pointed this out.

Amendment: I have posted this elsewhere with an addition of a true story, which happened in one of the Soviet big cities back then. The "opposition to anti-antisemitism" just has to come accompanied by this story:

It was the usual May 1 parade, when the happy workers are dragged through the central square of the city, parading past the tribune where the local bozos watch them with the usual sour expressions on their sour faces. As usual, the workers, singly or in pairs (depending on the size of their burden) carry some inspiring socialist placards: a picture of some chieftain or an inspiring text.

Among the crowd marched a guy carrying a typical medium sized placard, saying: "We'll give a crushing response to the enemies of the capitalism!"

The man was cruising the square for half a day. Since the structure of the sentence was very standard, it took that much time for the local gendarmes to grok the joke...

27 September 2017

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26 September 2017

Bibi on Kurdish referendum: zigging and zagging

Politics is a tough business, crossing a minefield is nothing compared to it. It was barely ten days ago when Bibi, ahead of everyone else, declared his unequivocal support for the Kurdish independence.

Israel supports the establishment of a Kurdish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, as Kurds in Iraq gear up for a referendum on independence that lawmakers in Baghdad oppose.

Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, viewing the minority ethnic group -- whose indigenous population is split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran -- as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.
Well, it didn't take long for another zig (or zag, whatever).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred the Israeli government from commenting on Monday's Kurdish independence referendum in Iraq, two officials said, after his September 13 endorsement of Kurdish statehood irked Turkey.
Of course, there were a few developments since the Bibi's rush to support the Kurds. First of all, no one else joined the sentiment. The opposite is rather true: powers that be, of all kinds, including the countries that are rather on the opposing ends of the political globe, unanimously rejected the Kurds' plea for independence. It is not only the parties directly threatened by the outcome of the referendum (Iraq first of all, but also Turkey and Iran, having in mind their own Kurds possibly joining the exodus).

And then there was Bibi's latest visit of USA, which included a meeting with the POTUS and, most probably, with other VIPs. I bet that Bibi was told off regarding his hasty declaration of support, seeing as how US State dept doesn't share this enthusiasm at all.

Thus the sudden change of direction. Of course, the precarious existence of people oppressed for hundreds of years isn't a big factor in the political calculations. To be fair to Bibi, this consideration wasn't weighing too heavily on the minds of all other world politicians who refused to support the referendum and to promise assistance to Kurds.

To be even more fair to Bibi (!), there might be another consideration that the Ynet article mentioned:
But Kurdish officials said such rhetoric is unsolicited and damaging. ”Our adversaries attack us as a ‘second Israel in the region’ and this kind of Israeli talk contributes to that,” one Kurdish official said.
Indeed, the wave of conspiracy theories, ridiculous as they are, isn't very helpful to the Kurds. But then, why didn't Bibi take this into account before rushing forward with his initial declaration of support?

We know, don't we?

23 September 2017

On cognitive privilege and other animals

Don't even try to look for the definition of cognitive privilege in the dictionaries, it is too new. There is a definition of cognitive elite, though, that brings us close to the subject.
The cognitive elite of a society, according to Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, are those having higher intelligence levels and thus better prospects for success in life.
This definition brings you close to the steps needed for definition of cognitive privilege. Once defined, you can start happily operating this excellent tool for naming and shaming a new category of the privileged people.

The story started for me a few weeks ago, when the parents of my grandson met the teacher of his first school year. It so happened that the youngster was sent to a few private lessons to prepare him to school, for reasons not having to do with the story. He has some rudimentary reading and writing skills, nothing to brag about, but still. When the teacher heard about it, she went kind of pale. The reason, as she explained, was that she is used to receiving a bunch of schoolchildren from one single kindergarten, uniformly unable to read or write, so there was no need for her to treat anyone differently...

Of course, in this case the advantage of the boy is temporary, to disappear in a few weeks with the other kids learning and catching up. And, of course, as it is customary in schools, applying the famous peer pressure to those who dare to be different. Anyhow, the lesson here is that our schools are built for uniformity, one size fits all is the motto.

It so happened that in a few days after this meeting with the schoolteacher, I have stumbled on this disturbing discovery, made, most probably, by a millennial:

There are many kinds of privilege besides white privilege: cognitive privilege, for example. We now know that intelligence is not something we have significant control over but is something we are born with. We are living in a society in which success is increasingly linked to one’s intelligence. This is not to say that intelligence is the only factor that is important. All that is implied is that below a certain threshold of intelligence, there are fewer and fewer opportunities. These opportunities are being shifted upward to jobs that require heavier cognitive lifting or else are being replaced by robots. Thus, the accident of having been born smart enough to be able to be successful is a great benefit that you did absolutely nothing to earn. Consequently, you have nothing to be proud of for being smart.
Of course, the author, Dan Williams, doesn't have in mind any malevolent actions against the cognitively privileged folks. His goals are, for now, somewhat more relaxed:
But when doing so, we must also bear in mind the purpose of drawing attention to privileges. The purpose is not to instill a sort of Catholic guilt in someone’s psyche, nor is it an excuse to make oneself feel better by demonizing another. The purpose of pointing out someone’s privilege is to remind them of the infinite number of experiences that are possible and the very large number of experiences that are actual that they know very little about. The purpose is to enlarge their moral consciousness, to make them more sympathetic to people who are less fortunate than they are.
Not that I understand the items listed under "the purpose", but at least there is no reason for alarm. I think so. The whole "cognitive privilege" idea so far hasn't put roots among the other "privileges", like "white privilege", "cis gender privilege", "male privilege" etc. Hopefully it will remain dormant, at least for a while.

Taken together, the case of my grandson and the (so far) abortive attempt on raising the specter of "cognitive privilege" brought me to check the situation in schools with regard of treatment the bright children receive.

Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden: the results are similar and disturbing. A few quotes from the three sources sum up the situation pretty well:
For ordinary families with academically able children in the inner city or small town Canada, the everyday reality is bored kids seeking outside outlets for their creative or higher intellectual pursuits.
"The attitude at the moment is that you either fit in or go," says Clare Lorenz, the chairman of the support society, Children of High Intelligence (CHI). "It isn't how things should be."
Results show cause for concern. In particular, primary school appeared to be a hostile environment [for gifted kids].
It definitely doesn't look like the school system, at least the public one, is geared and ready to foster excellence and provide the necessary support to gifted kids, who are our hope and our future.

The only ray of light so far comes from Finland:
“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education.
Otherwise it is no surprise that private schools, that promise all kinds of special education treats (and frequently don't deliver), tend to proliferate and take the money off many credulous parents. Some are, of course, quite good, but why shouldn't the respective states invest more in their most precious resource?

Instead we are facing the rising waves of idiotic identity politics nitpicking and creation of harmful buzzwords like "cognitive privilege" and similar. Like this product of some festering minds*:

Standing Up to Pee Gives Boys an Unfair Advantage in Physics
In the latest example of identity politics taken to its absurd end, three Australian college professors believe that "playful urination practices – from seeing how high you can pee to games such as Peeball (where men compete using their urine to destroy a ball placed in a urinal) – may give boys an advantage over girls when it comes to physics."
Mind boggling? Not nowadays, I am afraid.

And, meanwhile, we are inexorably moving to the era of The Marching Morons.

Too bad.

(*) I am still willing to learn that the peeing advantage story is an elaborate spoof, but after reading the original article I am not so sure.

Update: A not insignificant cause for alarm:
A New York professor has sparked a debate among educators over whether or not algebra is too hard and should be dropped from the high school curriculum.

Andrew Hacker, a political science professor at Queens College, insists the difficulty of learning algebra is responsible for the United States' high dropout rate.
Sure, buddy. Let's all switch to nursery rhymes. Or political science, whatever.

20 September 2017

The bizarre bloopers of the computer age

The strange affair of two Spanish women flushing an impressive quantity of roughly €100,000 down the toilet might remain unexplained yet.

This, however, is not the point of the post. Take a look at the article chosen by the artificial intelligence behind CNN website as related to the above mentioned story:

While I wouldn't dare knock buses running on crap, the associative choice made by the AI in question is quite wondrous nevertheless. Unless, of course, you recall that one:
Freud famously retells the tale of the devil whose gifts of money turn to excrement upon his leaving. He uses this myth to buttress his findings from analysis which associate anxiety concerning money with an anal stage anxiety over excrement. Thus psychoanalytically speaking, money equals shit.
A Freudian AI behind the scenes in CNN? No shit?

18 September 2017

Israeli nuclear opacity and oversight: yes or no?

"We never had, don't have and will never have nuclear weapons. This doesn't mean that if someone decided to use such weapons against us, we wouldn't use them first."
Reportedly by Moshe Dayan*.

The above is an elegant (in an uncouth military way) prelude to the subject raised twice in three consecutive days by a Jerusalem Post writer:



First of all, the bomb (no pun intended, it is only in the sense of a scoop here):
Israel has less oversight of its nuclear program than other Western democracies, a study by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, which was obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, concludes.

A summary of decades of work on the issue by Avner Cohen, a Professor of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and a Senior Fellow at CNS, and CNS Davis fellow Brandon Mok, but updated with recent developments, the study is being publicized just days before the issue of oversight goes before the High Court of Justice on Wednesday.
...the study shows comprehensively for the first time that the three Western democracies with nuclear weapons, the US, Britain and France, all manage to maintain a high level of secrecy while providing for comprehensive legislation and robust oversight that Israel does not have.
That it took decades of work to reach this earth-shattering conclusion is a sure pointer to the permissiveness of some institutions of higher learning (in this case Middlebury Institute of International Studies, which is an "American graduate school within Middlebury College, a private university located in Middlebury, Vermont"). Since Vermont parents apparently invest a lot in the college, they might want to finance a study that will research a difference between Israel and the three Western democracies as well. Maybe it will take less than several decades, who knows?

Professor Cohen doesn't want his research to end up as a purely academic exercise, he and quite a few allies are going further:
Still, the High Court’s September 6 hearing will be the first time in history that a judicial body will exercise broad oversight over the IAEC, with Cohen being one of leaders of the charge.
You will notice that professor Cohen, in his magnanimity, doesn't disallow us to keep the (alleged, of course) nuclear weapons ("the issue for me is not disarmament"). He has even changed his mind on opacity:
His original battle to get Israel to phase out its opacity, to openly acknowledge its nuclear status, Cohen has stopped fighting.
Of course, it is easy to notice the neat trick: forcing the HCJ (High Court of Justice) to discuss the issue of oversight, which is what professor Cohen fights for, immediately makes the opacity issue a thing of the past. But whatever...

The expert on nonproliferation, professor Cohen has only pure and noble goals in mind. He even assures us that:
I wanted to also have people behind it who would be apolitical and support the petition regardless and independently of the issue of disarmament.
Indeed, and this is why among the petitioners, only those mentioned in the article, appear the Israeli Disarmament Movement, led by Sharon Dolev, who initiated the petition; Moshe “Mossi” Raz, a former Meretz MK; and the attorney who filed the petition, Itay Mack. You can look up on the net the opinions of the former MK and of the attorney. The Israeli Disarmament Movement, bless their simple and stupid little brains, doesn't require a lookup, does it? Surely as apolitical as they come. Now pull the other leg, professor.

Well, I didn't want to get personal in that post, and professor Cohen deserves all possible benefit of the doubt. I certainly hate to use terms like "traitor" some less moderate folks throw around, but he made not a small misstep here:
We live in a different world with different questions.
We? Be interesting whom exactly Professor Cohen means by that "we", since he couldn't possibly mean "we" as in "Israelis", could he now? Not to mention that, even if we discard the thorny issue of that "we" as a moot point, looking around from our small hillock in our small swamp, the "different world" mentioned looks somewhat worse than it used to be.

But no matter. I hope the HCJ will boot the petition out quickly enough.

As for my personal opinion on the whole brouhaha, which you undoubtedly crave for: I can tell you with full confidence that Windows 10 in its 64 bit version is an extremely stable and reliable OS for my desktop. Really - imagine two weeks in a row without a single reboot!

Update: the HCJ did boot the petition out. Good.


Yonah Jeremy Bob, the author of the two above articles, did his best not to infuse them with his (or his editors') personal or editorial opinions. However, one passage in the second article filled me with wonder:
This issue has become all the more poignant with an ongoing public debate about the “Submarine Affair” plaguing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and multiple cases by IAEC employees hitting the labor courts this week and last week.
How exactly does the nuclear opacity/oversight case connect to the submarine affair mentioned will remain an open question for me. Why don't issues like Brexit, global warming or POTUS' recent shenanigans make that opacity more poignant will never be explained to me, I feel. More's the pity.

(*) It is not a verbatim quote, and attribution is somewhat difficult too. I have heard it several times, but couldn't find a source. Any contribution will be welcome.

15 September 2017

A tiny antisemitic fail

This post is nothing but cute. No ideology, no challenges.

Ethnic jokes, as we all know, are frequently rewritten, having one nationality replaced by another. The interchangeability of such jokes is endless, provided the person changing them is paying a minimal attention to details. Sometimes the results of inattention are unintentionally funny. Like it this case:
Two Jews argued which of them would donate less money. When a servant passed by, the first Jew laid a penny and looked victoriously at the second. "For two," the second man said humbly and crossed himself.
Yeah, crossing oneself was a giveaway. Not that the joke is bad, just that small detail...

I wouldn't refer to the source, suffice to say that it is an essentially not anti-Semitic site, sometimes bringing up good and funny stories, pictures etc. But here is the original text, in Russian, for doubters.
Два еврея поспорили, кто из них меньше пожертвует денег. Когда мимо проходил служитель первый еврей положил копейку и победоносно посмотрел на второго. — За двоих, — смиренно произнес второй и перекрестился.

09 September 2017

BDS real face - lest we forget.

Nothing new in this, but bears refreshing from time to time. Omar Barghouti, in his past a student at Tel Aviv University and founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI):

A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically….Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.
For doubters, check the text at 5:50 in this link.

30 August 2017

There are still judges in Jerusalem. For how long?

It is not news that our illustrious Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, is fighting the HCJ (High Court of Justice) for several years. It is not news that she and several other "patriotic" MKs are hell bent to reduce the authority of HCJ, especially its power to strike down the laws HCJ considers unconstitutional*.

The latest flare-up is related to the treatment of illegal aliens.
Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked attacked Tuesday the High Court of Justice's (HCJ) Monday decision—in which it ruled that illegal aliens refusing to be transferred to a third African country cannot be detained indefinitely—insisting that the principle of Zionsim will not be subordinated to 'a universalistic system of individual rights.'
Of course, as always with Ms Shaked, her unhappiness with this decision caused another eruption of bile, directed at HCJ. Not at the border guards that let the immigrants in, not at the (undefined) authorities that bussed the immigrants to the poor neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and left them there, mostly to cope for themselves. Nope, it is HCJ that is supposed to bear the brunt of her unhappiness, in her superbly demagogic crescendo.
In a speech before the Israel Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv, Shaked addressed the hot-button issue of demographics and the Zionist goal of preserving a Jewish majority in Israel at the expense of human rights for asylum seekers, genuine or otherwise.
Despite the vitriolic protests of some in the crowds, Shaked promised that "Zionism will not continue bowing its head before a universalistic system of individual rights."

"Israel of 2017 is a country that's constitutionally made up of crisscrossing individual rights, without its Basic Laws referencing Israel being the nation state of the Jewish people," Shaked lamented.

"Zionism has become a blind spot for the judiciary," she continued. "Questions concerning it have become irrelevant. National challenges are a judicial blind spot, not at all to be considered in today's climate, and certainly not to be ruled in favor of when faced with individual rights issues.
And of course, it is HCJ that stands in the way of Ms Shaked's dreams.
Shaked said the Israeli judicial branch operates as if in a "dream," adopting a "utopian and universal worldview sanctifying individual rights to an extreme degree and ceasing taking part in the struggle for Israel's very existence."

At this point, she called for an overhaul of the system that enables individual rights to displace the importance of national identity.
I have already dedicated two posts to this particular firebrand's and her colleagues' incessant attacks on HCJ. There is hardly anything to add but a short history lesson. To start with - Menachem Begin's view of democracy:
Begin’s deep commitment to democracy was also expressed in his belief that there is no democracy without the rule of law. In this matter as well, Justice Zamir attested that Begin served as an outstanding role model, who practiced what he preached. This was reflected, for example, in Begin’s respect for the independence of the Prosecutor-General’s Office and for the need to comply with judicial rulings, as evidenced by his saying “there are judges in Jerusalem.” A memorable example is the case of a High Court ruling declaring the Elon Moreh settlement to be illegal. Justice Zamir recalled that at the tempestuous cabinet session that followed the ruling, several ministers demanded that the Court’s decision be ignored. Begin, however, silenced them, declaring that “the courts in Israel have made their decision and the government is obligated to honor and carry out whatever they decided.”
There is more in that document, but let's see a more powerful example.
In 1952, on the eve of the reparations affair that year, the head of the Herut movement, our teacher and leader MK Menachem Begin, put in his writings ("a view of life" as his favorite expression) his view of the three elements of a national liberation movement: freedom of the individual, improvement [Tikun] of the society and the superiority of the law. ...

"The supremacy of the law will be expressed in the fact that an independent panel of judges will be granted not only the authority to determine, in the case of a complaint, the legality or justness of an administrative order or regulation issued by the executive branch, but also the power to adjudicate in the event of a complaint, whether the laws, enacted by the house of representatives (created, as we have seen, under a considerable influence of the government) are compatible with the Basic Law or the civil rights set forth in the law. "The right to a legal complaint in relation to the laws must be granted to every citizen if he considers himself directly or indirectly harmed by them.
Quite clear, isn't it? As well as timeless, but not for Ms Shaked and her bunch of supporters.

As well as being a critical issue that might be a first attempt to seriously undermine our democracy, the situation is a serious test for our (frequently spineless) prime minister. Does he understand the gravity of the attacks on HCJ? Is he aware of the dangers inherent in these attacks? Will he stand up to populism?

We shall see.

(*) To avoid nitpicking: there is no constitution in Israel, like in some other democracies, and the term "unconstititional" here means contradicting the basic laws of the state.

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27 August 2017

Putin and Netanyahu or journeys of a bibliophile

Netanyahu's trip to Sochi to meet Putin and to persuade him that Iranian corridor to Mediterranean is not a good idea, doesn't seem to be a great success story.

The Russian version of that same article in Pravda is titled: "Netanyahu's Fiasco in Sochi...". For the English version the Pravda's editors have chosen a softer version:

Benjamin Netanyahu’s nightmare comes true as Putin crushes his plans

The author of that article is slightly derisive of our Bibi, as could be seen in the opening paragraph:
Benjamin Netanyahu's nightmare is coming true. The guards of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and Hezbollah fighters prepare to attack Israel by using Syria as a springboard. The Israeli Prime Minister shared the "terrible news" on August 23, 2017 during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi (the meeting lasted for almost 2.5 hours). Despite Netanyahu's emotional state, the Russian leader remained calm.
The article, however, is not wholly unsympathetic to Israel's stand on Iranian expansion:
According to experts, Netanyahu does not exaggerate too much when he talks about Tehran's plans to expand its influence throughout the Middle East.
Putin, as usual, displayed his majestic indifference:
"Iran is Russia's strategic ally in the Middle East," Putin said. "But Israel is also an important partner for Russia in the region," he added.
In other words: nothing doing, Bibi. As a matter of fact, Russia is not as neutral as the above quote might make you think. The article doesn't mince words:
The truth is that Tehran is the only counterbalance for Moscow to the powerful alliance of wealthy Arabian monarchies that try to establish an Arab analogue of NATO in the endeavor to impose Washington's rules in the entire Middle East.

Therefore, the Kremlin is interested to further strengthen Tehran's influence in the region. The question of accepting Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has almost been resolved. It is Russia that advocates the early adoption of Iran at the SCO. When it happens, the fact itself will remove US plans for air strikes on the Iranian territory.
And the conclusion is quite unequivocal:
Benjamin Netanyahu failed to convince Russian President Putin of the need "to stop Iran's expansion in the Middle East." Israel is a friendly country for Russia, but it is not up to Tel Aviv to teach the Kremlin how to structure Russia's policy in the Middle East.
Makes sense if you sit in Kremlin, of course.

The uncharacteristically brief statement by Bibi, after he emerged from the meeting, seems to confirm the Pravda's points. Very unlike the usually bombastic overwhelming success reports from same source.

Jerusalem Post, which in most cases is sympathetic to Bibi, has a completely different view of the meeting and its purpose(s). In the article What Netanyahu hoped to gain from meetings with Putin, its author, Herb Keinon, explains:
So why did Netanyahu go? Because the objective is less to try to convince Putin of Israel’s position, and more to look him in the eyes and tell him squarely what Israel will do if Iran begins to militarily entrench itself in Syria.

Israel’s message to Putin, which is the same message that was conveyed to the Americans last week via a blue-ribbon security delegation headed by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, is that Israel will act militarily.

Netanyahu wants this to be a factor in Putin’s decision-making process.
That, of course, puts the visit in a totally different light - if you believe it.

Whatever. In any case, Bibi might (deservedly) claim that he didn't return from Sochi empty-handed. Because:
At their meeting in Sochi on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a copy of the first-ever Bible printed with Rashi’s commentary.
Putin certainly knows how to sweeten the bitter medicine, after all it is not the first time:
Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu received a special gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow on Thursday — a nearly 500-year-old copy of Roman-Jewish historian Josephus’ book The Jewish War.
Well, at least there is a beginning of a library, if not much else.


Update: Apparently there is a third version of the meeting coverage and its results. By Environmental Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a Russian speaker who was present at the meeting:
While refusing to comment on whether Netanyahu was able to convince Putin to rein in Iran’s regional military ambitions, Elkin said the meeting would have “very important implications.”
So, which version is your preferred one?