Sunday, May 21, 2006

Haveil Havalim #70 – Soccer Dad’s Repeat Victory

The new Haveil Havalim (#70) is up – hosted once again by Soccer Dad. As always, there’s a lot to read – and as Vaguely Sinister Wife and I are leaving tonight for one of our trademark whirlwind trips through the States (almost three days in San Diego to lecture at a conference, almost three days in Texas, two days in New York, then home!), we won’t have much time to read it. So you’ll have to read it for us.

Nu? What are you waiting for?

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A “Palestinian Holocaust”?

I received the following AllExperts question last night, and I just sent in my response. I did not enjoy writing it; but I didn’t have any good excuse to refuse to answer.

The question:

Boker Tov and Shalom Don,
I have a question, I was watching Yulie Cohen Gerstel’s documentary about the Holocaust and the possibility of Israel imposing the same hardships on the palestinians that the jews went through and my question is, do you think that the past is repeating itself meaning are the israelis doing the same thing to the palestinians that the nazis did to the jews years ago, what is your stance on this? Thanks.

My answer:

Dear A_____ –

I haven't seen Ms. Gerstel’s film, so I can’t comment on it in any detail.

The idea that Israel “imposes the same hardships on the Palestinians as the Jews went through during the Holocaust” would be laughable if it weren’t evil. Even to suggest such an equivalence would require complete ignorance of the two conflicts, or else an anti-Israeli bias so strong that facts cannot penetrate it.

The Holocaust was the systematic, industrialized destruction of an entire culture: fully one third of the world’s Jews were killed, and European Jewry as a living community was essentially eliminated. In particular, the Eastern European Yiddish-speaking culture and the Greek-Sephardic Ladino-speaking culture were destroyed; all that is left of these vibrant, creative cultures is fossilized remains. These Jewish communities posed absolutely no threat to Germany: there were no Jewish suicide bombings on German buses (or anywhere else), no Jewish military threat, no Jewish boycotts of Germany (at least until after the Holocaust began). The Holocaust was a gratuitous, unprovoked, brutal, and unrestrained attack on a defenseless and inoffensive people.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an entirely different matter. Palestinian terrorists have been killing innocent Jewish civilians since at least the 1920's; the Palestinian terror organizations receive substantial backing and funding from much of the Arab world as well as from Iran. While Israel’s actions in relation to the Palestinians are not always legally or morally perfect, the idea that Israel is trying to commit genocide – either by killing huge numbers of Palestinian Arabs, or by destroying their culture – is simply not borne out by the facts.

While numbers don’t tell the entire story, they are illustrative. Remember that the number of Jews in Europe pre-1939 was roughly comparable to the number of Palestinians living in or near Israel/Palestine today. In 5 1/2 years of the “al-Aqsa Intifada”, fewer than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel – and of these, at least 55-60% have been combatants. Contrast this with the Holocaust: the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau were designed to “process” 12,000 people per day; and at the height of the destruction of Hungary's Jews in the summer of 1944, as many as 46,000 Jews were killed there in a single day. (Those not “lucky” enough to be “processed” in the standard way were simply burned alive in pits in the ground.) The average number killed daily at Birkenau was not quite that high, of course – but it was still at least a couple of thousand per day; the entire Palestinian death toll in 5 1/2 years of “Intifada” is the equivalent of a day or two at one extermination camp.

[Erratum: While the figure of 46,000 Hungarian Jews killed in a single day at Birkenau is indeed mentioned in several places, including the Israeli Foreign Ministry site referenced above, I am told by some serious Holocaust researchers that this number seems unrealistically high. A more credible maximum number killed in one day at Birkenau would be about half the figure quoted – somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 people – which is still a hell of a lot of killing to do in a single day. -DonR, 5 September 2006]

It is true that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, including checkpoints and roadblocks, are onerous and inconvenient, and harmful to the Palestinian economy. It is equally true that the terrorist organizations, while supposedly working for “the liberation of Palestine”, are doing everything in their power to ensure that the roadblocks remain in place – after all, Palestinian poverty and alienation are the terrorists’ best recruiting tools. Were the Palestinians, as a collective, to renounce terrorism unequivocally and decisively, the roadblocks would quickly disappear; and in fact, if the Palestinians had truly acted in good faith to achieve statehood, they would have had their own state many years ago. So while Israel is complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people, the Palestinians’ own leadership is very largely to blame for their people’s plight.

In the mean time, Palestinians are able to get an education (as Jews under the Nazis were not), follow professions (as Jews were not), and vote for their own leadership (as Jews were not). When and if the Palestinians decide to stop blowing up Israeli women and children, they will have their state handed to them on a silver platter, with generous foreign aid to build their economy and institutions. The Jewish victims of the Holocaust do not even have graves: those burned at Birkenau are just mud at the bottom of a lake.

Obviously, I could continue in this vein - but I think I've made my opinion on the topic clear enough. I'll be happy to deal with any follow-up questions you may have.

Best regards,

-Don Radlauer

(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Haveil Havalim #69 is up!

This week's Haveil Havalim Jewish Blogs Carnival is up! Soccer Dad has done a great job putting it all together. Click on over and enjoy!
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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Caroline Glick’s bogus math

I try to avoid commenting publicly on what other commentators write; I dread becoming that lowest of all literary creatures: a critic. My act of self-restraint is often most difficult (dare I say heroic?) in the case of Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick. Ms. Glick is a fine writer with strong Zionist values, excellent qualifications, superb contacts, prestige – and, in my personal opinion, a remarkable knack for being wrong about the issues we both care most strongly about.

Still, I have held my peace in public, while complaining bitterly to my wife, my dog, and any other captive audience. But in her latest column, Caroline Glick has gone too far: she has trespassed into the realm of statistics. I may grudgingly tolerate a split infinitive or two (albeit not in my own home), but misuse of numbers is an affront not to be suffered in silence.

Ms. Glick refers to a factoid that has been repeatedly trumpeted since Ariel Sharon unveiled his Disengagement Plan: the supposed dominance of soldiers from the national-religious community in the Israel Defense Forces. The argument goes that as the national-religious provide the backbone of our defense capability, they deserve extra consideration; and certainly we wouldn’t want to offend the sector that keeps us safe from invading Syrian hordes while we wait for Iran’s nukes to arrive.

Glick claims that “the national religious sector makes up some 15 percent of the overall population, yet its sons make up more than 30 percent of combat soldiers in the IDF” – clearly implying that national-religious youngsters are twice as likely to become combat soldiers as their non-national-religious (a.k.a. unwashed heathen) peers. But this is a statistical nonsense.

Remember that Israel does not have universal conscription. The vast majority of Israeli Arabs do not serve in the IDF. Neither do the Haredim (a.k.a. the “ultra-Orthodox”). Israeli Arabs represent about 20 percent of the population, and Jews represent about 76 percent (a figure of 80 percent is often used; discrepancies are likely the result of different definitions of categories). Of the Jewish population, around 9 percent (7 percent of the total Israeli population) are Haredim. This means that non-Haredi Jews constitute about 69 percent of Israeli citizens; this is the population sector that provides the IDF with nearly all of its recruits.

If 69 percent of the Israeli population constitutes the IDF’s recruiting base, and (as Glick affirms) 15 percent of Israelis are national-religious, the national-religious should constitute at least 22 percent (i.e. 15/69) of the available recruits. Considering that the average non-religious Israeli Jewish family has about 2.2 children and national-religious fertility is double that (see Section 4.0 of this article, in PDF format), it would be surprising if the number of eligible recruits coming from the national-religious sector were not at least 30 percent of the total – in fact, based on demographics alone, we might well expect as many as 40-45 percent of all IDF recruits to be national-religious! (Note that since virtually all IDF combat soldiers are male, we don't have to worry about discrepancies in female recruitment rates between the religious and non-religious sectors.)

So if something betwen 30 percent and 45 percent of the males recruited to the IDF each year are from the national-religious sector, it’s no more than natural that a similar percentage of combat soldiers come from this community; in fact, it's quite possible that national-religious soldiers are less likely than average to become combat soldiers! The contention that the 30-percent-in-combat-units figure demonstrates some kind of national-religious superiority in patriotism or capability is either the product of mathematical incompetence or else simply an attempt to deceive.

Ms. Glick makes other numerical assertions regarding supposed national-religious dominance in various spheres of IDF excellence. I do not have all her source data, so I’m not in a position to comment on each claim individually. But it’s clear that since she bases all her claims for national-religious superiority on their supposed 15-percent share of the IDF personnel pool, essentially all her conclusions should be cut in half, or even reduced by two thirds.

All this does not mean that everything is rosy. A significant part (but by no means all) of the national-religious community is feeling alienated from the IDF and Israeli society in general. And there is no question that the national-religious sector is important to the IDF and to the State of Israel – after all, by my own calculations the national-religious sector represents a very large portion of the manpower available for IDF recruitment. My principal argument is with the contention that national-religious soldiers are, on average, qualitatively superior to other IDF recruits; at my most charitable, I would say that the numbers fail to support this belief.

Bogus math never strengthens an argument. Caroline Glick is intelligent and well-educated enough to get her numbers right; at the very least, she shouldn’t try to bamboozle us with figures that don’t add up.
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Monday, May 08, 2006

Mixed Mideast Metaphor of the Day

From this article in today’s Jerusalem Post:

The financial tensions combined with the fight for control of the security forces has turned Gaza into a tinderbox, with tensions constantly bubbling just under the surface.

Sounds like a rather wet tinderbox to me…
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