Friday, January 30, 2009

Canada TQMs research

The Canadian Association of University Teachers analyzes the new Canadian budget. Here's the outlook for research:
Budget 2009 offers very little for the academic research community. There are no increases to the base budgets of the granting councils. In fact, the government has identified “strategic review savings” of $17.1 million in 2009-10, $43 million in 2010-11, and $87.2 million in 2011-12 for a total of $147.9 million over three years. These savings are to be used to support the infrastructure funding, and to upgrade Arctic research facilities.
Well, OK, that sucks, but after last year the budget was bound to suck for academia.

But this, on the other hand:
As well, $87.5 million of the savings will be returned to the granting agencies not for research but to temporarily expand the Graduate Scholarship Program. It’s also worth noting that government will require that these scholarships awarded by SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council] be focused on business-related degrees.
Wow. How deeply must you misunderstand academia in order to decide that that's a good idea? I guess first you need to think that the university ought to spend more of its time aiming at somehow generating money. You would then have to imagine that PhD research in business schools is somehow by nature more suited to that task. (They are presumably aware that MBAs aren't doing any research for this Research Council to fund.) It's hard to see how this decisions stems from anything other than a robust combination of both cynicism and immense ignorance--and while the former is probably inevitable in a Conservative government, one might have hoped that they would avoid the latter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quotable quotes from the Israel lobby

Obama has appointed George Mitchell as his envoy to Israel and Palestine. Richard Silverstein notes that this has the Israel lobby worried. Why?
“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed’ — it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support.

“So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.”
Major pro-Israel groups “tend to favor the kind of mediator with the least prospects of success,” said MJ Rosenberg, a longtime pro-Israel activist and policy director for the Israel Policy Forum (IPF). “George Mitchell worries them because he was so successful in Northern Ireland, a success that was built on his persistence and his utterly impartiality ... and a deal means Israeli concessions which they have never favored. The stronger the candidate for envoy or mediator — the more of an honest broker he or she would be -- the more uncomfortable they are.”
I do not think "pro-Israel" means what they think it means.

Quotable quotes from Israeli officials

On the real war--the propaganda one:
"There is an unequal war going on there between a power and a terror organization, and the only way to hurt us is to get those images to hurt us in the battlefield of public opinion," Danny Seaman, the head of Israel's Government Press Office, said last week before the strike on Abuelaish's [*] home. "In that sense, the less pictures coming out helping them the better."
There could hardly be another explanation for the fact that Israel banned the presence of international media from Gaza (contrary to a ruling from its own Supreme Court), but you wouldn't expect them to actually admit it quite like that.

On proportionality:
The following quote from an interview with Major-General Gadi Eisenkot that appeared in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in October, is telling:

"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these [the villages] are military bases," he said.

"This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised."
Which goes together nicely with this account of the IDF plan in Gaza City.

And then there's Olmert saying he got Bush to tell Rice to reverse America's vote on a cease-fire resolution.

They just say this stuff. Pretty remarkable.

* "Abuelaish" = "Abu Al-Aish", as in, the peace activist doctor with the three dead kids. Shouldn't we have a consistent romanization scheme for this language already?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"A Lost Opportunity"

"You, Ivan, are strong and free to go wherever you please, while I have been lying for years on the oven. You think that you know everything and that I do not know anything. No! you are still a child, and as such you cannot see that a kind of madness controls your actions and blinds your sight. The sins of others are ever before you, while you resolutely keep your own behind your back. I know that what Gavryl did was wrong, but if he alone should do wrong there would be no evil in the world. Do you think that all the evil in the world is the work of one man alone? No! it requires two persons to work much evil in the world. You see only the bad in Gavryl's character, but you are blind to the evil that is in your own nature. If he alone were bad and you good, then there would be no wrong."


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dr. Abu Al-Aish, CBC headline

The story of Dr. Abu Al-Aish became the lead story on the CBC site. It probably helps that he has a Canadian connection: a job offer at the University of Toronto. Canadians love Canadian connections.

His daughters were apparently discussing their possible future in Canada when those Israeli shells brought the house down on them.

I can't fathom it.

But the good doctor has not lost hope. Not for himself and his remaining family members, and not for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He remains a raging peacenik. Small mercies.

Paying for peace?

In the UK, there was a debate about Gaza. It sounds like it was a real debate. A powerful moment:
Sir Gerald, who was brought up as an orthodox Jew and Zionist, told MPs: "My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town .. a German soldier shot her dead in her bed.

"My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza."
Chris Mullin, the Labour former minister, says that war crimes are being committed by the Israelis. He accepts that Israeli civilians are at risk, but he says civilians were killed in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s by terrorists "and we did not go and level west Belfast".
And there were plenty of other criticisms of Israel, and of course plenty who spoke in defense.

But, regardless of who was right and who was wrong, the debate in the Commons did reflect something of the difficult nature of the issue, as well as (no doubt) the split in British opinion over the issue.

In America opinion is similarly split. Shortly after the attacks Rasmussen did a poll. In the general populace, about 44% supported the attacks, while 41% opposed -- a pretty even split. Among Democrats, 55% opposed, 31% supported -- so Democrats opposed the attacks by a rather large margin. And this was in the early days of the offensive; the numbers would be rather less kind to the IDF today.

But such a split in opinion is hardly registered at all among America's politicians. Glenn Greenwald noted this early on, and then we had the spectacle of a one-sided resolution passing in Congress 309-5, with 22 abstaining. The chorus-line of unconditional support for Israel in all it does was, apparently, broken only by Paul and Kucinich.

It is bad enough that the American government effectively gave Israel carte blanche. But that is not the deepest problem. It would be one thing if there had been a vigorous debate, of the sort that occurred in the UK, leading to the wrong conclusion -- if there had been a fight where the good guys had lost. But there was hardly any fight at all. It's not just that there was a wrong conclusion; rather the whole political discourse is so corrupt (so one-sided, so out of contact with both the opinions of the general populace and the nature of the issue itself) that it is impossible to see how the end result could possibly have been different.

Juan Cole places the blame on AIPAC, which he thinks is more or less uncontested in its rule over this issue in Washington. He argues that the only way to bring some sanity to American foreign policy with respect to Israel and the Palestinians is to have a lobby which can counter the influence of AIPAC. (He has more to say about it here, following a mind-boggling report of Ehud Olmert bragging about how Bush and Rice are his little puppets).

Such a lobby would have to involve money, which of course speaks louder than (say) protests or letters. But Cole thinks this is in fact doable. He argues that the main obstacle to his proposal is that there is a lack of organization. It is not that the cash is unavailable. He claims that AIPAC often gets its way with relatively modest sums of money.

But something feels dirty about the idea of paying money for peace. The direct beneficiary of that money is going to be some politician of dubious moral character. This does not satisfy the idealistic bleeding heart. But that's beside the point. The real question is one of effectiveness. And it is hard to see what could be effective, if not this.

Mission accomplished

Prof. John Mearsheimer in The American Conservative provides a handy summary of the crisis in Gaza, its recent history and prognosis (via). A particularly dreadful moment:
After the IDF killed 40 Palestinian civilians in a UN school on Jan. 6, Ha’aretz reported that “senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower.” One officer explained, “For us, being cautious means being aggressive. From the minute we entered, we’ve acted like we’re at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground … I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock.”
I'm sure they'll be describing it to each other clear through the next generation. If that was the goal, well done.

Dr. Abu al-Aish

Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish is a Palestinian gynecologist; he speaks Hebrew, and was trained in Israel; he lives in Gaza but works at a hospital in Israel. He lives in both worlds, and naturally desires that the two be reconciled; so he works as a peace activist.

Since the beginning of the Israeli offensive, he's been stuck inside Gaza, and has apparently been in numerous phone interviews on Israeli TV, describing the suffering and the medical situation within Gaza. On Friday he was scheduled for yet another interview, but when the studio called him up at his home, housing an extended family of 18 people, they found out that the IDF had just dropped a tank shell on the heads of his children.

To their enormous credit, the anchors and producers put the call directly on air. Watch the clip at your own discretion.

This man works for peace. He helps the wives and daughters of Israel have healthy babies, and Israel killed his girls.

Afterward he and some of his wounded relatives were allowed out of Gaza; they are being treated at the hospital where he works. This is not a service done for the average resident of besieged Gaza, but because of his high profile he received this great and absurd favour. While there:
Abu al-Aish spoke of his slain daughters - Bisan, 20, an economics and business management student at Islamic University in Gaza, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14, as well as his niece, Nur, 17.

"I raised my children to work, and to be soldiers of peace. I believed medicine could be a bridge for peace between Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "During all of my work at Soroka people would ask me, 'Where are you from - Haifa, Nazareth? I wanted them to know I'm from Jabalya refugee camp, a Palestinian. That we can live together."
Dream on, doctor. (Please.)



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Early Christian class warfare

The Didache is a Christian document from somewhere in the first three centuries, a sort of manual or handbook (an early edition of Christianity for Dummies).

One section of the Didache contrasts "the way of life" (good) with "the way of death" (bad). Here are some of the vices associated with the latter.
"They love vanity," "look for profit," have no pity for the poor, do not exert themselves for the oppressed, ignore their Maker, "murder children," corrupt God's image, turn their backs on the needy, oppress the afflicted, defend the rich, unjustly condemn the poor, and are thoroughly wicked. My children, may you be saved from all this!
There's a lot of stuff about the rich and the poor in there, over and over again. The author(s) in the Didache were apparently highly concerned about emphasizing this point -- almost as if there was a risk that Christians would forget about their obligations to the poor!

And it's evil to even defend the rich. Wow -- possibly the primary meaning there is legal, in which case it seems to be saying that the rich deserve to lose every court case. Or maybe it's being used in a broader sense. It's actually a pretty important word there: "parakletos". This is used in the NT to refer to the Holy Spirit. Now, I think that use of the word might only be found explicitly in John, which might not have been available to the author(s) of the Didache (possibly the Didache predates John). But it sure is fun to think that that part of the Didache was written in light of that connotation of "parakletos".

"A Sderot Woman Speaks Out against Gaza War"

Here (via). The woman is Nomika Zion (what a name for a dissenter). She argues that the war is unjust, and that furthermore it will not lead to peace for Israel. Sderot is less than a mile away from the border of Gaza, and possibly the most popular target of rocket attacks from there. People who blather on about how critics of Israel ought to imagine rockets raining down on their neighbourhood -- I wonder what they would have to say to her.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

If terrorists were raining rockets down on my neighbourhood....

I hope I would be able to maintain as much sense as these folks.
Despite the ongoing rocket attacks on their town from Gaza in the last several years, some 500 Sderot residents have recently signed a petition calling to stop the IDF operation in the Strip and renew the truce with Hamas.

Arik Yalin, 43, from Sderot told Ynet that over 1,800 Israelis and Palestinians have already joined the petition. "About a month ago we realized that the situation was about to deteriorate into total chaos," he explained.

"It's important for us to voice an opinion that represents quite a few residents who live within the rocket range but who believe that we can, and should try to resolve this ongoing conflict in a peaceful manner.

"We have experienced the terrible hardship of life under rocket fire for the past eight years, and it has deeply hurt us both mentally and physically. Our need to voice a different stance stems from the strong desire to change the situation and begin negotiations with the other side in order to stop the violence," he added.

According to Yalin, a military operation will only deepen the hatred on both sides and reduce the chances of reaching a settlement.
Via Tikun Olam.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I heart this marine

A former marine and Iraq vet writes the following at the NYT:
I am dismayed by the rhetoric from US politicians and pundits to the effect that “if the US were under rocket attack from Mexico or Canada, we would respond like the Israelis”. This a gross insult to US servicemen; I can assure you that we would NOT respond like the Israelis... Israel has indeed taken a small number of casualties from Hamas rocket fire (about 20 killed since 2001), but we have taken thousands of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many civilian personnel. [...]

Americans do not, I repeat DO NOT, respond to that fire indiscriminately. When I say “indiscriminately”, I mean that even if we can precisely identify the source of the fire (which can be very difficult), we do not respond if we know we will cause civilian casualties. [...]

With that in mind, I find the conduct of the Israeli army in Gaza to be brutal and dishonorable, and it is insulting that they and others claim that the US military would behave in the same way.
These people defending Israel's actions in Gaza are thereby insulting American soldiers? OK, rhetorically that basically tops anything any of us peaceniks could possibly have to say on the issue.

And on the attack on the UN school:
In particular, I am stunned at the Israeli explanation for the 30+ civilians killed at the UN school. The Israelis say they were responding to mortar fire from the school. Mortars are insidious because their high trajectory and lack of primary flash make it very difficult to trace the source of the fire; you have to have a spotter locate the crew. The Israelis claim that they traced the source of the fire precisely to the school; if so, they must have directly spotted the crew. Thus it is inconceivable that the Israelis did not know that the target was a crowded UN school, yet they chose to fire on the school anyhow. [...] US servicemen do not behave that way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we face much deadlier adversaries (Hamas mortar crews are apparently not very effective: I believe that all but one of the total Israeli combat fatalities have been from friendly fire).
Via Juan Cole, who provides caveats (and lots of other commentary).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A good blog

Tikun Olam, a liberal Jewish blog. Can't recall how I came across it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I heart Dr. Mads Gilbert (and Dr. Erik Fosse)

Mads Gilbert is a Norwegian doctor. He is well-spoken, capable of sounding passionate while maintaining a reasonable and objective tone. He has an accent, but it's slight, and it's one of those respectable European accents. He is white. And he is working at Al-Shifa, the largest hospital and Gaza. And CBS put him on the news twice.

(via Juan Cole)

Thank you, Dr. Gilbert.

And thank you, CBS, for not being all bad.

Edit: Dr. Gilbert also got on CNN. Erik Fosse is another Norwegian doctor, who also got covered by CNN online, but I'm not sure if he's gotten on the all-important idiot box. 2nd Edit: I just noticed that the white doctor guy in that first CNN link is identified as Dr. Fosse, but he sure looks like Dr. Gilbert. And BBC.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Gaza letter

So I wrote this letter. Different versions went out to different politicians. The one for was quite a bit different near the end. If I were writing to a Republican, I'd have to take out the references to Bush -- I would probably also not bother at all.

* * *

[So-and-so, we're in your constituency.] We are writing to encourage you to join us in calling for an immediate end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza, and to join us in supporting a long-term renewal of constructive American involvement in the peace process.

We agree wholeheartedly that Israel has a right to self-defense. However the right to self-defense does not justify any response whatsoever, and we believe that the Israeli offensive is clearly causing excessive death and suffering among the civilian populace of Gaza. Furthermore, we believe that the current attacks are ultimately contrary to Israel's long-term security interests. This is not a matter of taking sides with Gaza against Israel, or with Israel against Gaza: it is in the interests of everyone concerned that the Israeli assault ends immediately

For the sake of the civilian populace of Gaza, it is imperative that the current attacks cease immediately, in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. Since Hamas gained control of the region in June 2007, Israel has placed an economic blockade around Gaza. The stated aim of the blockade was to halt rocket attacks, but this has not come about. Instead the blockade has served to cause shortages of food, fuel, and electricity. These problems have been greatly exacerbated by Israel's recent attacks. Hospitals and medical supplies are stretched thin, and sewage has begun running in the streets. The UN, the Red Cross, Oxfam, and other organizations are calling for an immediate truce, and demanding that Gaza get full access to humanitarian aid. (Please see references below.)

We believe that these attacks are both unjust on a moral level, and unwise on a pragmatic level. Convincing arguments for these points have been made, for example, in an article in the Economist and by former National Security Advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (please see references below). We will summarize the main points here.

Israel's attacks are unjust because they fail three crucial tests: they are not proportional to the threat posed by Hamas; Israel has not exhausted peaceful means of resolving its conflict with Hamas; and the attacks have no reasonable chance of ending the threat posed by Hamas.

First, the attacks are entirely disproportional to the threat posed by the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. According to the Economist, about a dozen Israelis had been killed by rocket attacks coming out of Gaza during the time period from Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, up to the beginning of Israel's attacks on Gaza a few days ago. So that is about 12 Israeli deaths in over 3 years. Since the beginning of Israel's attacks, Hamas has fired rockets killing 4 more Israelis. Meanwhile, according to the UN, over 400 Gazans have been killed by Israeli attacks so far, and 25% of these are civilians. That is 100 Gazan civilians killed by Israeli attacks over the course of just a few days, compared to 4 Israeli civilians killed in the same time, and about a dozen in over three years prior. There is no comparison.

Second, Israel did not exhaust peaceful means of seeking an end to the conflict. One of Hamas' major demands has been that Israel drop this blockade. Israel has not tried in good faith to meet this demand in exchange for peace.

Third, the attacks cannot end the threat posed by Hamas. No Israeli military action has ever been able to end Palestinian terrorist activity, and there is no reason to suppose that the current military action will succeed where past military actions have failed. The attacks cannot be effective in achieving their stated goals. The civilians of Gaza are suffering and dying to no real purpose.

So that is the moral case against Israel's attacks. In addition, the attacks are unwise: they are contrary to the long-term interests of Israel, and contrary to America's interests in achieving peace in the region. Israel's attacks on Gaza are further radicalizing the population of Gaza, and the West Bank as well. Indeed, they are further radicalizing Arab and Muslim populations around the world. And this in turn is undermining popular support for those Arab leaders who have been most cooperative with Israel. Moderate Arab leaders like Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak are partners which Israel and the peace process can scarcely do without, but in light of Israel's recent attacks the Arab masses are condemning them as collaborators. Meanwhile regimes unfriendly to Israel, such as Iran, are gaining in popular support and influence as a result of the attacks.

But if the attacks are so clearly immoral and unwise, why did they ever happen? There is reason to think that the decision to attack was motivated by domestic Israeli politics (see references below). There is an upcoming election in Israel. The hawkish rhetoric of Benjamin Netanyahu has become popular among Israeli voters, and this threatens to cost Israel's current leaders (Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni) the election. This gives them excellent motivation to show some muscle in Gaza, in the hopes of convincing Israeli voters that their hawkish credentials are just as strong as Netanyahu's. So it is likely that the attacks are politically motivated.

This ought to sound all too familiar to us here in America. Israel's leaders are simply following the precedent set by the Bush administration: immoral, unwise, and politically motivated military ventures are precisely what we have seen coming out of the Bush White House. Indeed, as Dr. Brzezinski rightly points out, the Bush administration's failure to take a serious role in the peace process is largely to blame for the current tragedies on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. As might be expected, the Bush administration has in effect condoned Israel's military actions against the people of Gaza.

[So-and-so], we hope and pray that President-elect Barack Obama will correct the errors of the Bush administration in this regard. But no matter how things change after Inauguration Day, we do not think that the civilian population of Gaza can afford to wait until then. So please join us in calling for an immediate end to Israel's attacks on Gaza. And please join us also in urging President-elect Obama to lead America towards a more reasonable, responsible, and constructive engagement in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: a form of engagement which does not condone the deaths of innocent civilians and the further radicalization of Arab and Muslim populations, and which takes a serious interest in renewing the peace process.





[Oxfam] Gaza crisis: Crisis critical with supplies of food and fuel perilously low

[Red Cross] Gaza Strip: civilians at risk as attacks continue

[BBC] Gaza facing 'critical emergency'


[Economist] Gaza: the rights and wrongs

[MSNBC] Zbigniew Brzezinski interview


[BBC] Israel's mixed motives for strikes

[Chicago Tribune] Israel's politics in play as it hits Hamas,0,3825693.story

If 4000 people protest in Chicago, but the AP isn't around to hear it....

You can never be sure if you'll get decent media coverage.

Yesterday I linked to a decent news story about the Gaza protest in Chicago. It quoted some protesters saying basically reasonable things, and cited the city's estimate of the size of the protest: 4000 people.

"The news coverage so far has been all right", I said. I was hopeful. Since that article was by a Tribune writer, I sort of assumed it would be appearing in the Tribune.

But now I can't find it at the Tribune. Here is what I did find at the Tribune: a tiny story saying the protesters numbered in the "hundreds", with precious little background information; and this set of pictures, which is all right as far as pictures go, but not a real news story. Other local coverage was similarly dismal, like this TV segment which did not mention any statistics, but did feature rebuttals (both before and after the protest) by Jewish groups.

Meanwhile American protests are invisible in the major national media.

CNN covers the London protest, and that's it. This story is actually relatively defensible, since it was arguably the most visible protest -- although the 12,000 in London was smaller than the 20,000 in Paris, the London protest featured some big-name people, including Annie Lennox, who is awesome.

The NYT dittos a Reuters article which covers protests in Europe and parts of the Middle East. Some of those protests are smaller than the Chicago protest, but they get mentioned while the Chicago protest does not.

This CBS article is the worst. It copies an AP article describing protests only in Europe, and supplements it with some bizarrely chosen anecdotes of tiny protests here and there in this part of the world: 50 people in Sioux Falls S.D., a protest in Bogota (no number given), a small group (no number given) in Calgary which seems full of crazy people. Of course, by mentioning these protests going on in the Americas, the article implies that it has told you all you need to know about protests in the Americas. And meanwhile, at the very top of the article, the bit people actually read:
Meanwhile, thousands of Jews and Christians are expected at demonstrations to be held this weekend in New York, London, Toronto, Miami, Washington, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv to protest Hamas' rocket attacks from Gaza.

Some activists are billing the demonstrations as counter-rallies against what they call "assemblies of hatred for Jews and Israel."

Sunday's protest in Miami, to be held at the Holocaust Memorial, is billed as the Rally For Israel to Destroy Hamas.
And, finally, this interactive map from the AP, of protests all over the world. What is conspicuously missing from this map? The better part of the western hemisphere.

I found decent coverage of American protests in China, in Pakistan.... But in America, here is what the news coverage says: "Dear Americans. Here at home, no one really objects to the attacks on Gaza. Here at home, good Christians and Jews are rallying in support of the attacks on Gaza. With very few exceptions, only people in foreign places are against the attacks. These people are strange, they probably aren't members of reputable faiths like Christianity and Judaism, so you can dismiss their opinions with your usual prejudices."

So, WTF? Is this a media conspiracy? Well, maybe in part. Israel is waging a propaganda war, and doing it pretty well:
Israel appears to think its [PR] efforts are working.

One of its spokespeople, who has regularly appeared on the international media, Major Avital Leibovich, said: "Quite a few outlets are very favourable to Israel."
But I think the other side of this may be that the organizers of these protests are not doing the proper media liaison work. Jewish groups responding to the Chicago protest had proper press conferences in rooms with microphones and chairs; I don't think the protest organizers attempted any such thing. Nowadays the national news outlets mostly just ditto AP and Reuters, so you need to get the ear of those services in order to get heard, and I don't think this was attempted either. I might like to have a word with them about that -- except there were dozens of organizations "organizing" the rally, so who knows who was actually doing any real organizing at all. Maybe things could be better next time, but as things stand it looks like 4,000 people marched in the cold for next to nothing.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaza protest

A bunch of us grad students went to a protest today.

It was the first protest I'd gone to in a long time.

One of the problems with protests nowadays is that you can never be entirely sure what the protest is for. In this protest, as in so many, different protesters seemed to have vastly different messages. On the one hand, I saw people holding signs declaring themselves to be Jews opposed to the attacks on Gaza. On the other hand, I saw people holding signs reading "Gaza will never forgive", or equating the Star of David with a swastika. Still other signs said generic things about imperialism or racism -- not false, but, again, not helpful.

Some of the chants called for an end to the siege of Gaza, others called for a free Palestine, still others called Israelis (all of them, I guess) liars.

The speakers were a similarly mixed bag (there were too many, it was cold, and standing still is not good in the cold). The best was a woman from the Quakers (yay, Quakers). She said reasonable things, and voiced reasonable demands. She was the only one to acknowledge that were Jews standing in the cold among us. Meanwhile others seemed to think we were all filled with the spirit of Palestinian patriotism, or that we all spoke Arabic. One of the main organizers kept going on about "movements" and "mobilizations" and how the plight of all oppressed peoples (she tried to list all of them) are connected.

Worst of all, we got handed a flier from ANSWER inviting us to a form where the following questions would be addressed: "What's behind U.S. & British attacks on Zimbabwe? What's at stake in struggle for an independent Africa?" I'm not sure what they're thinking of discussing there: perhaps Mugabe's theory that the cholera epidemic is actually a western conspiracy.

But it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Considerably more focused and serious than the stuff you get back in Vancouver. The news coverage so far has been all right. And hopefully this will help correct some of the stories I've seen which mention the existence of protests around the world, but not in the US -- as if Americans could rest assured that only whacky foreigners are outraged by the attacks on Gaza. The crowd of 4000 people was really quite impressive considering how cold it was.

As for our little group, we had a pair of homemade signs, one calling for a ceasefire, one calling for immediate increased access to aid (because). This is a reasonable and feasible goal. If the White House decided it would happen (instead of making empty statements that in effect condone the attacks), then it would happen.

What's more, it's in the interests of everyone. Some of the media coverage called the protest a "pro-Palestinian rally", but I rather think that it would be pro-everyone to end the attacks on Gaza. On our way in, we passed a counter-demonstration, a "pro-Israel rally". I actually agreed with every one of the signs being waved at that rally.

Here is a pro-Israel stance: stop these attacks on Gaza and the blockades around Gaza, which are against long-term Israeli interests. Stop perpetuating the radicalization of Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Stop undermining the popular support of those Arab leaders who are most cooperative with Israel. Listen to people who aren't at all crazy leftists, like the Economist, or Zbigniew Brzezinski:

We left the protest a little early, came home, and ate sushi.