Opinion

The Great Debate

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Tzipi Livni – man of the moment?

jfl_mg_7797-2Sex has rarely been far from centre-stage in an otherwise low-key campaign for Israel's election on Tuesday. The fact that the ruling Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni is a woman has, however, been largely debated by allusion and suggestion, often in a  far from gentlemanly way in the still macho world of Israeli politics. So it's striking then, in the campaign's final days, to see Livni herself, bidding to become the country's first woman leader since Golda Meir in the 1970s, putting the issue front and centre. Take a look at this poster, photographed in Jerusalem by my colleague Jerry Lampen.  It reads, in French, "Tzipi Livni - Man of the Moment", or perhaps "The Right Man for the Job". It looks like a direct response to repeated attacks from right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu especially that "she" is not ready to lead a country facing threats on numerous fronts. "She's not up to the job," runs one ad from Netanyahu's Likud party. It shows Livni, slumped, with her head in her hands.

On Tuesday at 10 p.m.  (2000 GMT) we should know if Livni has been able to turn around Netanyahu's opinion poll lead. Even if she does, it is not guaranteed that she can form a coalition government. The reason this election is being held over a year early is because Livni, taking over from the corruption-hit Ehud Olmert, was unable to cobble together a workable coalition. As my colleague Jeffrey Heller had predicted when she took over her party's leadership, many believed the former soldiers running the other leading parties found it hard to accept her. Some saw the refusal of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to join her cabinet as a reflection of religious sexism. That wasn't the official reason. But Livni, a secular denizen of liberal Tel Aviv, did go out of her way, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to appeal to religious tradition. She donned monochrome clothing and swapped her favoured pant suits for long skirts when meeting Shas leaders. Even so, the Orthodox press would not even print her picture. They would airbrush her out of group photos. Or, as for other women, they might photoshop her into "a tree, or something", one journalist at an ultra-Orthodox paper told my colleague Dan Williams.

Livni seems to have been reluctant to "play the woman card" early in the campaign, focusing on her record. But observers have detected a clear strategy to play the men at their own game. Both Netanyahu and Labour party leader Ehud Barak were commandos, Barak indeed is Israel's most decorated soldier. Livni has pushed her family credentials - her parents were famed guerrilla fighters against the British and Arabs in the 1940s - and her own shadowy past in the Mossad intelligence agency.

This TV ad showing a pixellated figure intones a list of career highlights down the years: "... he served in the Mossad ... he served as foreign minister..." and so on. "No one would doubt he could lead the government." Then the figure is revealed as Livni and the narrator says, "If only he wasn't... a woman." Hitting back at snide chauvinistic comments that, as a Mossad agent in Paris in the early 1980s she did only menial chores, Livni told an audience in Tel Aviv last week: "I make decisions, not coffee."

golda-meir2With the poll gap narrowing sharply in the final days, the gender issue could be crucial.  Rina Bar-Tal, chairwoman of the Israel Women's Network,  told my colleague Allyn Fisher-Ilan that Likud's poster jibe at Livni that "the job is too big for her" - with clear emphasis on the final pronoun - could backfire on Netanyahu. Bar-Tal said: "There are women who pass by these posters and say, 'I wasn't going to vote for her but I certainly will now.'"

So is Tzipi Livni the man of the hour? If she makes it through, she can always recall what Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion said of Golda Meir: "She's the only man in the cabinet."

from For the Record:

Reporting in Gaza: Striving for fairness

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

Let’s say it up front: Almost all of you will find something in this column to take issue with.

That’s because the subject is the conflict in Gaza and perceptions of bias in reporting on it. News consumers detect media bias on any number of subjects, but there is nothing like the continuing Mideast conflict to bring out the passions of partisans on all sides.

In Gaza war, lions led by donkeys?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

It’s not often that a senior member of Washington’s usually staid and cautious foreign policy establishment likens Israeli political leaders to donkeys and questions their competence. But the fighting in Gaza prompted Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to do just that.

“Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s action seriously damage the U.S. position in the region, and hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.

“To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys…The question is not whether the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) learned the tactical lessons of fighting in 2006 (in Lebanon). It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them,” he writes in an analysis on Gaza.

EU enters lame duck year amid challenges

Paul Taylor Great Debate– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The European Union is entering a lame duck year just as new challenges are mounting from Israel’s assault on Gaza, Russia’s gas cut-off to Ukraine and the impending inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The EU’s active crisis management in the Georgia war and the global financial meltdown last year under the energetic leadership of French President Nicolas Sarkozy was an exception, not the dawn of a new, more effective Union.

from India Insight:

U.S. on Israel — double standards or a double-edged sword?

December 24 - Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire towards Israel after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire.

December 27 - Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response killing more than 200 people in Gaza, the highest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 27 - The United States blames Hamas for breaking the ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes.

from Global News Journal:

A Braveheart Christmas in the Holy Land

In the big battle scene in the movie Braveheart, terrified whispers ran up and down the ragged ranks of sword-waving Scots that the English were ranged before them with “500 heavy horse” – armoured cavalry of devastating power in those days.

But the wild-haired hero-general William Wallace (actor-director Mel Gibson) rode his pony up and down the front ranks shouting: “We don’t have to beat them. We just have to fight them!”

That was in the 14th century. But 700 years later it seems to be the same cry  from the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian fighters allied to the Islamic fundamentalist cause led by Hamas pursue a lopsided battle against Israel, pitching erratic, homemade rockets into nearby Israeli lands, until they trigger a major offensive and start taking the heaviest casualties in 60 years of conflict, from Israel F-16s and Apache helicopters.

Can Obama avert an Arab-Israeli disaster?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Time is running out for Israel and the Palestinians. Barack Obama is probably the last American president to have the option of pursuing an accord leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the so-called two-state solution.

If that fails, another generation will be locked into bloodshed and strife. That is the bleak scenario painted by two senior American Middle East experts in a new book, Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President. It is the product of an 18-month joint study by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, two pillars of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

from Global News Journal:

Saudi king basks in praise at UN interfaith forum

The price of oil may have dropped by more than half in recent weeks but the Saudi petrodollar appears to have lost none of its allure, judging by the procession of very important visitors to the New York Palace Hotel this week and to the U.N. General Assembly. With President George W. Bush in the lead, they have all come to present their compliments to King Abdullah, the Saudi ruler, who has turned the Manhattan hotel and the world body into an extension of his court, complete, it would seem, with a Majlis to receive petitioners.

Naturally, all the VIPs visiting him are eager to congratulate his majesty on his interfaith initiative, a gathering of religious and political leaders which took place  this week under the auspices of the United Nations. The meeting has attracted extravagant praise from, among others, Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister,  and Shimon Peres,  the veteran Israeli president.

It is a fact that the king's initiative is unprecedented and bold, taking place despite the displeasure of many influential religious clerics at home. It is also a fact that he is the first Saudi leader to have travelled to the Vatican, opening dialogue between the two largest religions.

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