putin rides bear

Here’s the latest in my occasional series of links to interesting articles on the ex-Soviet Union (the last one in April), this prompted by David Remnick’s report in the August 11th issue of The New Yorker, “Watching the eclipse,” on the political evolution of Russia—and eclipse of democracy there—since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. The lede: Russia’s President sees himself as the leader of a new anti-Western, conservative axis, and his actions in Ukraine have made him a hero at home… Remnick’s narrative is framed by the experience of his friend Michael McFaul, political scientist and Russia specialist at Stanford, who was US ambassador to Moscow from January 2012 until resigning this past February. At some 11,500 words the piece is long but well worth the read.

While I’m at it, one good article I’ve saved, that dates from April 18th but is not time sensitive, is a special report by Reuters journalists David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed on “How the U.S. made its Putin problem worse.”

Here’s a 52-minute documentary that first aired on French public television in December 2013, “Russie, au cœur du goulag moderne.”

And in May M6 had a 1 hour 18 minute “enquête exclusive” entitled “Moscou au cœur de tous les extrêmes,” which may be viewed here.

Death to the Jews?


I have been bombarded for the past several weeks, mainly via social media, by reports from Anglo-American and Israeli websites—each one more alarmist and hysterical than the other—of an apparent upsurge of antisemitism in France. As for the comments threads accompanying these, the France-bashing has been such that I can no longer look at them. To read the Francophobic Jews and right-wingers—mainly American though not only—on these threads, one would think another Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv is imminent. I have much to say on this subject and will have a special post on it soon, but, in the meantime, need to say something right now about the latest brouhaha—that I naturally learned about via social media—, which is the letter sent two days ago by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to the French Ministry of Interior expressing shock at the discovery of a rural locality in the Loiret, some 100 km south of Paris, called “La-Mort-aux-Juifs,” and requesting that the name be changed. The Wiesenthal Center letter expressed particular shock, moreover, that the existence of a place with such a name could go “unnoticed during seventy years since the liberation of France from the Nazis and Vichy.”

The reason why La-Mort-aux-Juifs went unnoticed all these years was precisely because practically no one had heard of it. The story is presently all over the French media, which is precisely where Frenchmen and women are learning that such a locality exists. A couple of things. First, La-Mort-aux-Juifs has been called a “village” or even “town” in English-language reports, which is inaccurate. It is a “lieu-dit”—which may be translated as “locality” (literally: said place)—, in the commune of Courtemaux (population 239)—itself a place practically no one outside the eastern Loiret has heard of. Communes are the smallest administrative units in France (of which there are some 36,681 in the 101 departments of metropolitan and overseas France, the majority with populations of under 500). Most communes have lieux-dits—which are sometimes indicated, sometimes not—, referring to a bit of the commune that had a specific identity in centuries past. As for La-Mort-aux-Juifs, it consists of two houses and a farm (above photo), is on a country road probably taken by no one except the few people who live around there, and is not indicated on any sign. In other words, even if one drove through the place, one would not know of the lieu-dit’s name.

Secondly, it is not even clear what the name of this lieu-dit is supposed to signify. As a piece in Marianne pointed out—and that I had been wondering about—La-Mort-aux-Juifs does not, in fact, translate as “death to the Jews.” Without the definite article “la” and the dashes—which are generally the rule in place names in France—, it would indeed mean this. But the definite article and dashes change the meaning, which is indeterminate but may simply indicate a place where Jews were killed—maybe even massacred—eight or nine centuries ago. For all one knows, the lieu-dit may have even been named this to commemorate such an event, to remember a tragedy…

As has been reported, the anti-racist association MRAP in fact learned of the existence of the lieu-dit in the early 1990s and sought (unsuccessfully) to have the name changed. Pour l’info, the MRAP is left-wing—it was a longtime front group of the Communist party and retains an affinity with it—and has organizationally participated in some of the pro-Palestine/anti-Israel demonstrations in French cities over the past month. Just sayin’.

Amos Yehoshua-Shavit


Adam Shatz, LRB contributing editor and funny guy, has a very amusing parody on +972 of hand-wringing liberal Zionists, “‘Living with political depression in Tel Aviv is harder than dying in Gaza’.” As it happens, Max Blumenthal, who is somewhat of a dumbfuck was fast on the draw, took Adam’s satire in the first degree—thinking that “Amos Yehoshua-Shavit” was an actual “Peace Now leader & top liberal Zionist author”—, i.e. he thought it was serious, as he tweeted seriously before quickly deleting (happily there are screen captures)

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 02.27.45

Is Mondoweiss stupid?

Alexander Gerst 23 Jul 2014

Or, I should ask, the people who edit Mondoweiss, plus the blogger Roland Nikles, whose post on Moshe Feiglin Mondoweiss published the other day (and that was uncritically posted on FB by a prominent MENA historian, which is where I saw it). Now I have no objection to anything Nikles has to say about the unspeakable Feiglin. On the S.O.B., we are in 100% agreement. What got me was this

Over the past month Israel bombed countless targets in Gaza, killed more than 1,800 Palestinians (mostly civilians), wounded in excess of 9,000, destroyed in excess of 10,000 homes, the strip’s only power plant, hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure, and lost 64 Israelis in the process (Haaretz’s tally). The onslaught lit up the sky to outer space.

The paragraph was followed by the above photo, followed in turn by this

If this bombardment speaks a language, it speaks the language of Moshe Feiglin.

The photo of the apparent bombardment was taken by German astronaut Alexander Gerst on July 23rd from the International Space Station. Gerst, who’d been tweeting numerous photos from outer space, had the above one and with this text (as Nikles does not explain or link to the tweet, here it is)

My saddest photo yet. From #ISS we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over #Gaza & #Israel

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the pic, as various persons posted it in social media. So where are the explosions and flying rockets?

What I see in the photo is Israel (on a west-east axis), with Ashdod to Haifa in the upper right quadrant, Amman the lit up splotch on the bottom right, and El-Arish, Egypt, on the upper left. The streaking lines—what are apparently taken to be flying rockets—link Beersheba with Qiryat Gat (upper right) and Dimona (bottom left; I can’t say where the other little ones emanate to or from). I have no idea what these streaks are but they have nothing to do with Gaza and are definitely not rockets. And they certainly do not involve explosions (who knows, maybe they’re highways, all lit up like in Belgium).

In this outer space photo, Gaza city is the less lit up bit of what it geographically south of Ashqelon. Now I do happen to find this sad, but because so relatively little of the densely populated Gaza strip is lit up, not because it’s exploding or being hit by rockets, of which one sees none at all in the pic. Do people have any idea of what they’re looking at? Don’t they know their geography? Astronaut Gerst may be forgiven for his ignorance of this but the editors of Mondoweiss—who spend their waking hours obsessing about I-P—and all the others who approvingly linked to the pic? Not at all. They have no excuse.

ADDENDUM: In the interest of fairness and balance I should say that Mondoweiss is not stupid 100% of the time. It can, on occasion, run a worthy piece, e.g. the post on July 15th (with updates) by Sam Knight, on the Rue de la Roquette synagogue incident in Paris, which is the most accurate and comprehensive I’ve seen on it in English. I’ll link to it when I do my (long overdue) post—in the coming days, inshallah—on the Gaza war demos, French Jews, and antisemitism in France.

The Gaza war – XIII

Northern Gaza, August 5 2014 (photo: AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Northern Gaza, August 5 2014 (photo: AFP/Mahmud Hams)

[updates below]

With the ceasefire holding—for now at least—voilà a few bilans of the month-long war.

Aaron David Miller, writing in FP (August 6th), asks “Who won the Gaza war?” Assigning a grade to each of the principal actors, the rank order is: Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Authority, the US, Hamas. In other words, Israel won (more or less), Hamas did not.

Nahum Barnea, in a different take (August 7th), says that “In some wars, both sides lose.” He explains why he believes Israel lost, less so why Hamas did.

In an op-ed (August 6th), TOI’s David Horovitz, offering “10 thoughts at the end (maybe) of the summer 2014 Israel-Hamas war,” says that “Israel might have won [but that] Hamas certainly lost.” This sounds right to me, for the moment at least.

More bilans to follow in the coming days, très certainement.

UPDATE: Yehuda Ben-Meir, a former academic and member of the Knesset, asserts in a Haaretz op-ed (August 8th) that “Israel won the Gaza war in a big way.” The lede: After wreaking destruction on the population of Gaza and losing its only strategic card, Hamas is agreeing to what it rejected three weeks ago. Could there be any greater and more obvious defeat?

2nd UPDATE: Gershom Gorenberg, writing in The American Prospect (August 7th), has a very good analysis, “It isn’t about the tunnels. So what is the Gaza conflict really about?” The lede: The Israeli government’s tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision.

3rd UPDATE: Gershon Baskin posted a must read commentary on his FB page today (August 8th): The end of the ceasefire, the renewal of war and the end game.

The Gaza war – XII

Khuza'a, Khan Yunis, August 3 2014 (photo: Reuters)

Khuza’a, Khan Yunis, August 3 2014 (photo: Reuters)

Roger Cohen’s NYT column today (August 5th), “Start with Gaza,” nails it. He gets it absolutely, precisely right.

David Shulman also has an absolutely must read piece (August 2nd), this on the NYRB blog, “Palestine: The hatred and the hope.” On David Shulman, a friend—and college prof of mine some 36-37 years back—thus described him a couple of days ago on FB, where I first posted this essay

David Shulman is one of the most noble souls I have ever met. A Jew from Iowa, he emigrated to Israel in 1967. A recipient of the prized MacArthur Fellowship, he is one of the world’s foremost Sanskrit scholars and a professor at Hebrew University. His work as a peace activist is best described in his book Dark Hope, an indispensable text to understand the Israeli peace movement, struggles to help Palestinian villagers in the West Bank, and run-ins with the Israeli authorities trying to block his activities. That background should be kept in mind when reading this essay, especially those who see no hope in what he writes. There is hope, but it is “dark.” Nevertheless he perseveres, malgré tout.

Human Rights Watch has (August 3rd) some “questions and answers address[ing] issues relating to international humanitarian law (the laws of war) governing the conflict between Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza that began on July 7, 2014.”

The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch has a short piece (August 2nd) on “An honest voice in Israel,” that voice being Amos Oz. In his praise of Oz, Gourevitch finds the time to critique Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi, who had a piece in the NYer four days earlier. Speaking personally, between Oz and Khalidi, I will, like Gourevitch, choose the former over the latter any old day.

À suivre.

The Gaza war – XI

Gaza, July 30 2014 (photo:  Oliver Weiken/EPA/Landov)

Gaza, July 30 2014 (photo: Oliver Weiken/EPA/Landov)

[update below]

Voilà the latest links.

Nathan Thrall of the ICG’s MENA program has a must read piece in the LRB (August 1st) on “Hamas’s chances.” This is one of the best analyses I’ve seen of the Hamas side of the current equation. Read it. The whole thing. Now.

For the record, Ariel Ilan Roth, Executive Director of The Israel Institute in Washington, had a piece in Foreign Affairs, dated July 20th—that I was going to post earlier but forgot to—, on “How Hamas won.” It thus begins

No matter how and when the conflict between Hamas and Israel ends, two things are certain. The first is that Israel will be able to claim a tactical victory. The second is that it will have suffered a strategic defeat.

The JDF’s always interesting J.J. Goldberg has an essay (August 1st) on “How Israel refuses to learn [the] lessons of ground invasions past.” The lede: Israel is reliving mistakes of Lebanon and [past wars in] Gaza.

Hussein Ibish, who is also invariably interesting, has an op-ed (August 2nd) in The National on how “For Hamas, [the] war in Gaza is a step[ping stone] towards the West Bank.” Thus the imperative need—for Israel, the US, everyone—to increase the “clout, credibility, [and] centrality” of the PA.

Lefty journalist Haim Har-Zahav has an account (with video) of a far right-wing demonstration in Tel Aviv on the 26th that he witnessed and in which horrible slogans were chanted. The demo, he stresses, was far smaller—albeit much louder—than the left-wing, anti-war demo held in TA the same day. That’s good to know, I suppose.

BTW, there’s a good movie on the type of persons who attend such far rightist demos—i.e. lowlife Jewish hooligans—, ‘God’s Neighbors’, which I wrote about last year.

On the diplomatic front, all sorts of people have been beating up on John Kerry lately, among them Adam Garfinkle, who, writing on his blog on the The American Interest website (July 29th), wonders if the Secy of State is guilty of “Malice or incompetence?” The lede: John Kerry’s ceasefire proposal for Gaza has probably destroyed what remained of the United States’ influence in the Middle East, at least for the duration of this administration’s tenure.

Garfinkle is being a little harsh here and no doubt excessive, but he’s fun to read. And I like his sens de la formule, e.g. here

Then it got worse. By ministering to Qatar, where the head of the Hamas political wing lives at the invitation of the Al-Thani, Kerry strengthened that troublemaking little pissant of a country.

That little pissant of a country Qatar. I love it! Garfinkle continues

Then worse still: Kerry ministered to arguably the world’s foremost anti-Semite, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Richard Cohen’s piece today, “Erdogan’s anti-Semitic fetish”, also leaves me bereft of criticism in the face of another Washington Post columnist who also regularly irritates me.)

Garfinkle gets it exactly right on both RTE (anti-Semite) and Richard Cohen (irritating but sometimes on the mark).

Re US diplomacy and the I-P conflict: For those who haven’t seen it, Jerusalem-based journalists Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon have an essential, must read enquête in TNR (July 20th) on “The explosive, inside story of how John Kerry built an Israel-Palestine peace plan—and watched it crumble.” It was a fool’s errand but Kerry really tried. And it could have maybe, possibly worked—if Israel had had different leadership. The article is long—25 pages printed out—but well worth the read.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Yedioth Aharonot editor Sever Plocker has an op-ed in Ynetnews.com (August 8th) asking “What if John Kerry was right?” The lede: US secretary of state’s ceasefire outline was not driven by hostility towards Israel, but rather by concern. He realized that Hamas would drag Israel into an entanglement with unimaginable results.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 181 other followers

%d bloggers like this: