Sunday, September 26, 2004

I just read the NYTimes magazine article in today's newspaper about political weblogs - and was disgusted to discover that they only pay attention to the high-profile left-wing blogs. They don't even mention Little Green Footballs, which was one of the blogs that was instrumental in proving that the memos Dan Rather had received about President Bush's service in the National Guard were faked. Much as my liberal heart wishes the memos had been real, they weren't, and Dan Rather and CBS blew it.

I certainly don't always agree with LGF (and certainly not with many of the commenters there), but on the other hand, this is just ridiculous! The article is crowing about how wonderful the left-wing blogs are and how they are acting like right-wing talk radio in their political impact - but how can you just ignore the importance of the right-wing blogs as well? This was not a news story, it was advocacy journalism masquerading as a news story. Charles Johnson at LGF is absolutely correct to say, "The New York Times, with help from Matthew Klam, is trying to make us all disappear." I have thought for many years that the NYTimes Magzine has gone way down hill from its glory days, but this is a particularly egregious example. As far as I'm concerned they should stop pretending it's a newsmagazine, and turn it into what they obviously really want it to be - a style magazine that operates as an appendage to the fashion industry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

For those of you interested in the Zayed Centre in the United Arab Emirates Jim Davila at has a long report on how the UAE government is trying to pretend that never had anti-semitic speakers or sponsored anti-semitic conferences. The Centre has been closed down for a while, but in its heyday it ran a conference on "Semitism," i.e., the evil things that Jews do that has to be combated by "anti-semitism."

Sunday, September 19, 2004

I am apparently Purple and Proud of It (, as Richard Cohen argues in the Washington Post.

I nevertheless cannot bring myself to hate Bush or, as someone here told me, to consider his possible reelection as a reason to leave the country. In fact, Bush haters go so far they wind up adding a dash of red to my blue, pushing me by revulsion into a color I otherwise would not have. For instance, I have just read Nicholson Baker's novel "Checkpoint," an audacious and repellent work about whether the assassination of Bush would be warranted. What concerns me is not one man's loss of perspective but the milieu, the zeitgeist, that produced it. Lots of people must have told Baker he had a capital idea -- a book that just had to be published -- and with alacrity. He was Paul Revere in print.

I bump into these anti-Bush alarmists all the time. Recently an extremely successful and erudite man I much admire told me he viewed the upcoming election as something akin to September 1939, the time when World War II started and, among other things, European Jewry was all but snuffed out. I add that bit about the Holocaust because the man I was talking to had been born a European Jew. I could hardly believe my ears.

This is not the place to examine why Bush is so hated by some people, though the war in Iraq surely takes pride of place. But even before that particular war, I heard people denounce the one in Afghanistan, that Taliban-controlled horror that harbored Osama bin Laden. These people are infected with a corrosive doubt about their own country. A recent Pew Research Center poll found, for instance, that 51 percent of Democrats agreed with the proposition that "U.S. wrongdoing" contributed to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (only 17 percent of Republicans agreed). Those are astounding numbers, an indictment not really of America (for what?) but of those people who compulsively blame their own country for the faults of others. You can believe that U.S. support of Israel and the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, but the term Pew used was "wrongdoing." In this respect, these people and Osama bin Laden are in agreement.

The demonization of Bush is going to cost John Kerry plenty if it hasn't already. It so overstates the case against Bush that a levelheaded listener would be excused for thinking that there isn't one in the first place. It squeezes the middle, virtually forcing moderates to pick which bunch of nuts they're going to join. It's hard to know whom to loathe more -- religious zealots who would censor my reading and deny me the fruits of stem cell research or fervid hallucinators who belittle Saddam Hussein's crimes (or even Sept. 11) and wonder, in the throes of perpetual adolescence, whether the assassination of the president would not amount to a political mercy killing. It's all pretty repugnant.

But some of us cherish moderation, recoil from conspiracy theories and would like, if possible, to stick to the facts. We may dislike Bush's policies, but we do not vitriolically hate the man, think he stole the election or blame our own country for the crimes of Sept. 11. We are the proud Purples -- once the royal color, now the tattered banner of common sense.

I don't like many of President Bush's policies, and certainly don't agree with his prejudices (for example, his insistence that we need an amendment to the Constitution to protect the U.S. from gay marriage), but I do not hate him as an individual person.
Rabbi Yossi Dayan, who said that he would be willing to perform the Pulsa Denura ceremony against Prime Minister Sharon, may be indicted for inciting to murder, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I named this weblog "Mystical Politics" in part to discuss the nexus between mysticism and politics. For the most part, I have sometimes discussed mysticism, and often politics, but rarely together. Today a news story from Israel expresses the connection between them very acutely. The Pulsa Denura curse is back, this time potentially targeting Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. A rabbi from Kiryat Arba, a settlement next to Hebron, is calling for Sharon's death.

Rabbi says would hold Kabbalah ritual calling for PM's death
By Haaretz Service

Jerusalem police are stepping up their probe of phoned threats to murder Prime Minister Ariel Sharon if the Gaza disengagement plan is not called off. On Tuesday night Rabbi Yossi Dayan, a former member of the outlawed Kach party, declared on Channel 2 that he would be prepared to carry out a ceremony putting a curse on Sharon.

The ceremony, called Pulsa Denura, was carried out before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.

Dayan, a resident of Kiryat Arba, said that he would be willing to conduct the ceremony if other rabbis instructed him to do so, and added that when he was asked to perform the ceremony against Rabin, he did so. The rabbi said that the security services and the police had questioned about this. "We are forbidden from talking now. We cannot pray. We cannot think. We cannot feel," Dayan said. "The head of the Security Service, [Avi] Dichter says that there are people wishing that Sharon would die. I am among them. What? Can't I wish?" he said.

Following Dayan's statements, the Judea and Samaria police are initiating an investigation against him of incitement to murder. Ilan Franco, chief of the capital's police, said priority has been raised of investigations into telephone threats against Sharon and Yonatan Bassi, who is in charge of implementing the disengagement plan. Franco also said that the police were tightening the security around the offices of the Disengagement Directorate in Jerusalem. He added that the police are also making preparations for securing the Temple Mount against extremists as the date for the implementation of the disengagement plan approaches.

"We intensified the security around the Temple Mount, security that was already in place. We certainly took into account the fact that extremist elements on both sides, not necessarily Jews, will seek to carry out an attack, in an effort to block the diplomatic process," Franco said.

Police and State Prosecutor officers are also continuing to examine the statements made and posters carried during the rightist mass rally in Jerusalem on Sunday for illegal incitement. "We culled banners during the rally that we thought should be examined by the Prosecutor's Office. If the prosecutor sees fit to instruct us to do so, we will initiate an investigation into the matter," Franco said.

When I read this, I went to the Lexis-Nexis database to try to find out about the Pulsa Denura curse carried out against Prime Minister Rabin before his assassination.

In the November 16, 1995 issue of the Jerusalem Report, in an article obviously written before Rabin's death, Peter Hirschberg reported on the ritual directed against Rabin, which was also invoked earlier, during the 1991 Gulf War, against Saddam Hussein. Although he does not name him in this article, Rabbi Yossi Dayan was apparently the rabbi who conducted the ceremony against Rabin, as this Reuters story points out.

YITZHAK RABIN DOES NOT have long to live. The angels have their orders.

Suffering and death await the prime minister, or so say the kabbalists who have cursed him with the pulsa denura - Aramaic for "lashes of fire" - for his "heretical" policies. "He's inciting against Judaism," says the Jerusalem rabbi who, clad in tefillin, read out the most terrifying of curses in the tradition of Jewish mysticism - opposite Rabin's residence on the eve of Yom Kippur.

"And on him, Yitzhak son of Rosa, known as Rabin," the Aramaic text stated, "we have permission... to demand from the angels of destruction that they take a sword to this wicked man... to kill him ... for handing over the Land of Israel to our enemies, the sons of Ishmael."

The rabbi, who won't have his name published but identifies himself as a member of the far-right Kach movement, says the curse generally works within 30 days. That put the expiry date - for Rabin or the curse - in early November.

For Jewish mystics of both North African and East European descent, curses taken from the tradition of "practical Kabbalah" are heavy weaponry - not to be used every day, but certainly available in wars, religious struggles and even political battles. Not only the ultra-Orthodox but many traditional-leaning Israelis regard them with the utmost seriousness.

Curses like the one against Rabin, explains sociologist Menachem Friedman, an expert on the ultra-Orthodox, are ways for the powerless to deal with impotence. "Magic," explains Friedman, "isn't used by the regime or the group in power. It's used by the powerless. When they do abracadabra ceremonies it shows that they're terrified. Magic gives them a sense of power."

Invoking the pulsa denura is a perilous undertaking, for if the ceremony is not performed in a strictly prescribed fashion, it can strike the conjurers themselves.

Before Rabin, the last person so cursed was Saddam Hussein. One day during the 1991 Gulf War, as Scuds rained down on Israel, a minyan of fasting kabbalists gathered at the tomb of the prophet Samuel just outside Jerusalem. There they entered a dark cave, where one of the holy men placed a copper tray on a rock and lit the 24 black candles he'd placed on it. As the mystics circled the candles, they chanted the curse seven times, calling on the angels not merely to visit death upon "Saddam the son of Sabha," but to ensure that his wife was given to another man.

That done, small lead balls and pieces of earthenware were thrown on the candles and the shofar was sounded. "The black candles," explains Yediot Aharonot journalist Amos Nevo, who documented the ceremony, "symbolize the person being cursed. When they're put out, it's as if the person's soul is being extinguished." Lead, he says, is for the ammunition in the war against the cursed one, earthenware symbolizes death, and the shofar opens the skies so the curse will be heard.

Saddam Hussein is still alive, although in prison, but Rabin is dead.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Friday, September 10, 2004

Once again, Sudan: The Passion of the Present reports superbly on what is happening in Darfur. My friend Gary Farber also has links to a very interesting article by Alex de Wall in the London Review of Books for August 5, 2004: Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap. One of the interesting points that the author makes is that the distinction between "Arabs" and "Africans" that often comes across as a "racial" distinction is relatively new in Sudan itself (new meaning in the last 20 years), as a result of political and ideological changes. He says, "Despite talk of 'Arabs' and 'Africans', it is rarely possible to tell on the basis of skin colour which group an individual Darfurian belongs to. All have lived there for centuries and all are Muslims." I am reminded of the "racial" distinctions between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi, created in large measure through Belgian colonial policy in the early 20th century. Or of what happened when Yugoslavia was falling apart - people who under the Communist regime had married people of other religions or ethnic groups who now had to choose which one they belonged to, because they had to know which side of a war to fight on.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

On the day that we Americans are mourning over 1,000 Americans, mostly soldiers, who have died during the Iraq War, the AP reports that Thousands of Iraqis Estimated Killed. As with Vietnam, we mostly gaze inwards at our own losses, but to know the true cost of this war, we must notice all of the Iraqi dead as well.

A year ago, I supported this war. But then, a year ago, I thought that there would be no Iraqi insurgency right now, and that the U.S. military would not have lost control of important cities in Iraq like Fallujah. I thought that we were genuinely bringing a better life to Iraqis. Even though it seemed that there had not been weapons of mass destruction, the war was still justified by the fact that it destroyed a horrible dictatorship.

Now, I am not so sure. I cannot imagine turning the clock back to the regime of Saddam Hussein -- but what are we doing in Iraq? Do we have any goals? It seems that the Bush Administration is just hoping that things will turn around. I hate to say it, but this is starting to remind me of Vietnam.

My parents were initially supportive of the Vietnam War - I remember talking to them at the time (I was 12 at the time). In 1968 my mother turned against the war and worked for Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign. I'm starting to understand how her thinking turned around.
This self-criticism is very good, in reaction to the mass killings at the school in Beslan, Russia - School Siege in Russia Sparks Self-Criticism in Arab World - but one wonders if there would be the same reaction if Hamas had besieged an Israeli school and killed an equal number of children and their parents. I notice that in this article, it says that "A Palestinian columnist, Hassan al-Batal, wrote in the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Ayyam that the 'day of horror in the school' should be designated an international day for the condemnation of terrorism. 'There are no mitigating circumstances for the inhuman horror and the height of barbarism'" at the school, he wrote. Has he ever condemned terrorism against Israeli civilians (for example, the two recent bus bombings in Beersheva?). If any of my readers have evidence that he has, I would be happy to post it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I was watching a PBS Nova program tonight on how the World Trade Center towers collapsed. I was marveling again at the people who had the presence of mind to videotape what was happening - especially the people who videoed the planes crashing into the towers. And I thought again about those who deny that the planes were hijacked, and who blame Israel for the attacks.

Carol Valentine, the notorious Holocaust denier who put up the site Come and Hear to demonstrate the wickedness of the Talmud, has many articles on her web site Public Action that purport to prove that Al Qaeda did not carry out the attacks and that it's the Mossad's fault. This article, Operation 911: NO SUICIDE PILOTS, claims to show that the four planes hijacked on 9/11/01 were actually piloted by robots and were not passenger planes.

LGF calls our attention to another version of this vicious slur.

For a slide show of the towers and the attack on them, see this LGF slide show.

And here are a series of stories from 9/11/01, collected last year by LGF.

The Black Day provides a different slide show of photographs from 9/11/01.

The New York Times has put online all of its Portraits of Grief, biographies of all the 9/11 victims that originally appeared in the newspaper in the months after the terrorist attacks.

CNN has a very useful site of all their stories about the terrorist attacks and the fight against Al Qaeda, including links to the 9/11 Commission report.

The lies and anti-semitism of the conspiracy theorists should not blind us to those who perpetrated these attacks and who still want to attack the United States. One does not have to accept what the Bush administration says about Iraq or the war on terror (for example, Vice President Cheney's ridiculous charge today that it will encourage Al Qaeda to attack again if Kerry is elected President) to recognize that we are, in fact, at war.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

On this same note of why certain things become causes -- the Catholic Worker in Ithaca has taken up the issue of the separation fence in Israel/Palestine. In the last week of August, they erected a sham "wall" on the Ithaca Commons with slogans on it, saying things like "end Israeli apartheid." I wish someone here could explain why this has become one of the "causes" of the local Catholic Worker group, especially because they deal with it in such a one-sided way. (on the wall was also written a slogan about something like "angels in Palestine") Why, for example, has the Sudan not become an issue for them?
This story -- The Scene: 52 Hours of Horror and Death for Captives at Russian School -- is truly horrifying. I don't know how the story is going to shake out -- i.e., how much the Russian security services are responsible for the high death toll, and how much the terrorists themselves -- but in any case this makes me feel that our world is sliding further into barbarism. Of course, there's also what the Russian government and military have been doing to the people of Chechnya over the last ten or so years - also truly horrifying, and with a much higher death toll, thus far.

I wonder why our good American left and right have not gotten exercised about what's happening in Russia and/or Chechnya. Is it simply because the U.S. is not involved, except through inaction? Why is it that certain causes become "fashionable," while others, in which thousands or millions of people die, remain totally unknown to most people except those who read the page 18, bottom of the page stories in the New York Times or Washington Post?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Passion of the Present reports that the UN has concluded that the Sudan has done nothing to stop the Janjaweed in Darfur from killing, raping, and driving people out of their homes. The report, however, does not recommend sanctions against Sudan, instead calling for a peace-keeping force of African Union troops to make humanitarian aid possible.

This is how genocide happens. Power politics between states prevents any action to help people in mortal danger. Does anyone remember the Evian Conference, in 1938? That was the conference where the U.S. and European countries discussed what to do with the Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, and with Jews who desperately sought to flee those countries. No state raised its immigration quotas to permit more Jews to enter. In fact, during the 1930's, the US immigration quotas for Germany were filled only one year to allow Jews from Germany to enter.

There's a poster available from Passion of the Present about the genocide in Darfur, plus a fact sheet.