Tuesday, May 31, 2011

By the Numbers

By the Numbers - by Liel Leibovitz > Tablet Magazine
A worthy read regarding Netanyahu's recent speech to Congress.
Ours, alas, is the era of unreal numbers, from the falsified spreadsheets of Bernie Madoff to the felonious schemes of the equally criminal yet tragically unpunished swindlers behind the subprime mortgage bubble. Bluffing discreetly on balance sheets is bad enough; do it in the open, on the largest imaginable stage, and we’re headed down a dangerous road.
Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the Congress earlier this week was a master class of numeric (and other) inaccuracies. Because these things matter—they matter very much—let us, in the spirit of this week’s parasha, do the Jewish thing and set the record straight.
Netanyahu said: The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and Greater Tel Aviv.
Actually, there are 304,569 Israelis living in the West Bank, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Add to that East Jerusalem—which, according to most credible sources, is home to about 200,000 Israelis—and you hit the 500,000 mark. Even if one chooses to be generous and give the prime minister these East Jerusalemites in his count, one has to wonder, as Jonathan Lis recently did in Haaretz, why Netanyahu, who later on in his speech roared that “Jerusalem must never again be divided,” would possibly choose to include the residents of the undividable capital in the overall tally of the contested populace.
In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We are not the British in India. We are not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the Land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath.
David, actually, swung his fateful sling in the valley of Elah, near modern-day Beit Shemesh, which is squarely within the boundaries of Israel proper. And if Netanyahu truly believes Israel is nothing like the Brits or the Belgians, he is welcome, of course, to do with the West Bank as had once been done with Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and annex them. Until then, however, the prime minister has to choose: If he wishes to follow the Bible as his unsurpassable guide to realpolitik, let him declare so openly and allow his constituents to support or reject his theological aspirations. But if he wishes to guide the ship of state according to the acceptable, rational norms of Western democracies, all that blessed biblical stuff is, alas, rather irrelevant. Seen from that perspective, asserting martial law on a territory and its citizens, setting up an intricate bureaucracy of governance, oppressing any aspirations for self-governance, and insisting time and again that the natives are too corrupt and incompetent to govern themselves sounds like it’s one punch bowl away from feeling right at home at the Bengal Club.
But instead of hurling oneself against the firm wall of slurs and untruths Netanyahu erected in his Washington speech, let us read the parasha instead, and recall the spirit, sacred and fierce and urgent, that urges us to keep our accounting strict and strictly honest.
Netanyahu's and Obama's speeches are only the beginning of the debate.  Given that we are unable to agree about the "facts" makes this discussion even more vexing.

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