Thursday, May 29, 2008

Finally the press wakes up ...

and realizes that the main charge against Olmert is not bribery, that is just the icing on the cake. The main charge is money laundering and tax evasion.

Money laundering the key charge in Olmert case

Money laundering appears to be the key charge the police fraud squad is looking at in the corruption investigation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, sources close to the investigation say.
"In the coming days we'll hear a lot of spins about Talansky's testimony and attempts by the various lawyers to discover cracks in it," a law-enforcement source told Haaretz.

"It is important to understand that these claims have almost no importance: Olmert admitted taking the cash, the money was never reported or documented. That in itself is enough to make an indictment stick."
Section 3b of the anti-money-laundering law is intended to make it easier for investigators to collect evidence to prove this offense: The clause does not relate to offenses for which the money was used.

Instead, it says a person has broken the law if he or she "takes action in terms of property, or provides false information with the intent that no report be made ... or of causing an incorrect report to be made."

This is what I have been saying all along. He has no defense. He admitted that he took the cash and he didn't report it, end of story. That in and of itself is a violation of the law.

Why Olmert's lawyers didn't cross examine Talansky

After all, this has caused tremendous damage to the PM to allow Talansky's testimony to go unrefuted. Olmert's attorneys could have cross examined Talansky yesterday. Their excuse that they needed more time to prepare is a joke, these are some of the best lawyers in Israel, I am sure that they could have managed in the timeframe given them

I believe that Olmert did this for a number of reasons:

1. Olmert is trying to buy time. By delaying Talansky's cross-examination for almost 2 months he thought he would buy that time. His line of defense is now, give me time to defend myself. This has also pushed out any indictment and in Israel's legalized society what the Attorney General and the courts say goes.
2. It allows them to easily negate Talansky's testimony. All you hear from Olmert's camp is "just wait until we cross examine him" and "we have an answer for everything he said". They can say that now because they don't have to back it up for another month and a half. I am sure that his lawyers on cross examination will be able to refute some minor points and score some points. However, I am quite sure that the overall thrust of Talansky's testimony will not be impugned. Therefore, if they had cross examined him yesterday, they would have no defense. Everyone would realize that the Emperorer has no clothes. By delaying for a month and a half they hope that things die down and people forget what exactly Talansky said.

Luckily, it seems that Olmert miscalculated. The fallout from Talansky's testimony has been overwhelming and will most likely not allow Olmert the time he so desperately wants.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The legalization of politics

With regards to Olmert, all everyone is talking about is the legal process. Olmert doesn't deny that he took envelopes of cash, he just says it was legal. This is a byproduct of the judicial dictatorship that rules Israel. The judges have the final word on everything, they decide whether government decisions are reasonable. Therefore, everyone has come to think that if something is legal there is no problem, it is ethical and moral. Because of this everyone is saying let's wait and see if he is indicted.

Unfortunately, this is completely false, Something can be perfectly legal but unethical and immoral. As the Ramban famously says at the beginning of Parshas קדושים, one can be a נבל ברשות התורה. I am waiting for someone, anyone, to get up and say I don't care whether he is indicted, I don't care if it was legal, the PM of Israel should not be taking cash in envelopes from rich Americans. It is unethical and he needs to go. If any President of the US was in the same situation, he would be out the door in a few days. Everyone in America would understand that the legality of his actions is irrelevant, a leader can't do that. Unfortunately, this kind of accountability and ethical sense is completely missing from Israeli politics.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Something I really don't understand about the Olmert - Talansky case

Forget about bribery. Olmert admitted to getting envelopes of cash, he claims for election purposes. Aren't there laws in Israel regarding campaign contributions? I am 99% sure that the simple fact of hiding them and not recording them is a violation of the law. In addition, Talansky is claiming that he gave Olmert money for personal expenses like business class seats, hotel rooms, expensive cigars etc. Again forget about bribery, what about taxes? All of these things are taxable and Olmert "forgot" to report them. Again I am sure that Olmert violated a number of tax laws by accepting the money and not reporting it.

How can anyone think that Olmert will not be indicted? What am I missing?

I understand that bribery sounds a lot better and makes a much sexier case, but remember, Al Capone went to jail for income tax fraud.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The so called "negotiations" with Syria

In an interview to the London-based daily Al Hayat, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem reiterated on Thursday Syria's demand that Israel fully withdraw from the Golan Heights. Moallem said, "Syria cannot progress even one step forward in negotiations before it receives assurances that Israel will fully withdraw from the Golan Heights. This is not a precondition, it's Syria's right."

What a joke. So what exactly are we negotiating? Withdrawal from the Golan Heights is a fait accompli. Where did Olmert and company learn to negotiate? Why say we are going to need to make painful concessions? I don't hear the Syrians saying that. What exactly are we going to get from this? Who wants a cold peace with a Syria which has practically melded its foreign and military policies with Iran? The Golan has been peaceful for 40 years what exactly is a peace treaty with Syria going to change? Does anyone really believe that Syria will abandon Hamas and Hizbullah and stop trying to take over Lebanon?

It is just amazing that anyone with half a brain can support this.

Some things never change, Shas is staying in the government

This is amazing. Eli Yishai the head of Shas said the following:

"It is forbidden to negotiate with the axis of evil and certainly to abandon the Golan to the axis of evil," Yishai told reporters.

How exactly does this fit in with yesterday's dramatic announcement of peace talks with Syria? It is Shas and only Shas that is keeping the government alive. Olmert right now has a coalition of 64 MK's, if Shas leaves he only has 53 and the government falls.

Of course Eli Yishai made the following statement as well:

"At the moment when we see that there is real danger of giving the Golan to the axis of evil, Shas, of course, won't be in the government. We are constantly evaluating whether we should remain in the government."

When is that going to be? 5 minutes before they actually sign the peace treaty? The damage is already done, every minute that Shas stays in the government is just allowing Olmert to cause more and more harm.

So why is Shas staying in the government? Very simple, Olmert is bribing them. This time is is 286 new settlement homes in Beitar Illit, a Haredi "settlement" in the West Bank.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Peace talks with Syria now?

Is anyone surprised by the timing? A day after the Supreme Court rules against him and allows Talansky to testify next week, the day when the court imposed gag order expires, Olmert makes a big announcement that Israel is negotiating with Syria using Turkey as a go-between.

Even a left winger like Shelly Yachimovitch sees this announcement by Olmert as desperation move to save his job:

MK Shelley Yachimovich (Labor) called the announcement a "meaningless spin," saying that Olmert was using the declaration of negotiations to try to steer public attention from the corruption scandal embroiling him.

"Olmert is cynically trying to fool decent, peace-advocating citizens to deflect attention from the cash envelope," she said.

We saw the disaster that happened when Sharon acted out of desperation to keep himself in office and out of jail, hopefully it won't happen again.

This statement sums it up best:
כעומק החקירות, כך עומק הנסיגות

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why does the Torah prohibit lending money with interest?

In last week's parsha (בהר) we have the prohibition of lending money to a Jew with interest. The question is why? At first glance we can ask why should money be any different then anything else? After all, I can rent out a house, car, tools, etc. Any possession I have I can rent out for money so why not my money? Interest is really rent for the usage of money.

There are a number of different approaches.

1. In בהר we have many mitzvos that are socio-economic, shemitta and yovel for example. These mitzvos come to teach us that ultimately everything belongs to Hashem and therefore for example, land goes back to it's original owners during Yovel. The prohibition of interest is coming to emphasize this point. You can't rent out your money because it is not really yours, rather it is Hashem's on loan to you. Hashem only gave it to you to use to serve him. Therefore the Torah prohibits interest.
2. R' Hirsch explains in Parshas Mishpatim that the prohibition of interest makes for a more fair society. When capital can only be used for investment or to pay for labor and cannot be used to just make more money, the gap between rich and poor becomes smaller. This also aligns the interest of the capitalist and his workers as money is used to pay the laborer. R' Hirsch is clearly coming to answer Marx's Communist Manifesto which was written in his lifetime.
3. Money is fundamentally different then other things. When I rent out my car, house, etc. the use of the object causes a loss in value. Even if the renter returns the object in perfect condition, the object devaluates simply because it was used. In addition, the price of commodities fluctuates. If I rent out my house for a year, at the end of the rental it may be worth less simply because prices dropped. Because you have the possibility of loss (the use devaluates the object and the value can go down), the Torah allows you to take payment in return to compensate.

Money however, is different. Money does not lose value through use. In fact, when you lend money the borrower generally pays you back with different money. In addition, the Torah views money as never changing it's value. Money doesn't fluctuate only commodities change values. Therefore, when I lend you money there is no risk of loss. At the end of the loan you will pay me back the same amount that I lent you. It is worth the same amount. Therefore the Torah does not allow you to charge rent for your money.

It is fascinating how due to the exigencies of life this prohibition has been basically wiped off the books. The Heter Iska although technically not interest but rather an investment, basically allows us to borrow and lend money with interest. The Heter Iska is clearly a circumvention of what the Torah wanted.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

בה"ב and פסח שני

This year we have a relatively rare occurrence, the last day of בה"ב falls out on פסח שני. The question is what takes precedence? The Minhag in EY seems to be that פסח שני takes precedence and you simply skip the last day of בה"ב. Interestingly enough when בה"ב falls out on Yom Haaztmaut those who say Hallel say both Selichos and Hallel.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ashkelon Rocket Attack launched from what used to be Dugit

To all of those disengagement supporters what do you say now? The disengagement was supposed bring security and yet, now Ashkelon is under rocket fire from the very Jewish towns that were evacuated. Can anyone in their right mind still think that the disengagement was a success? Will any disengagement supporters apologize?

Why are you turning into a schnorrer?

This is the question the Jonathan Rosenblum asked a Charedi Yeshiva Bachur who was trying to hitch a ride for a few blocks. The answer was, מקובל, it is accepted practice.

In his latest column (in Hebrew) in the Mishpacha magazine, Jonathan Rosenblum talks about his encounter with a Yeshiva Bachur who was trying to hitch a ride a few blocks.

His point was that today's Yeshiva Bachur has no compunction and feels no shame to take things for free even if he could do it himself. He points out that the idea of נהמא דכיסופא (literally free bread), which means that Hashem put us on this world so that we could earn our עולם הבא so we wouldn't be embarrassed by being נהנה מזיו השכינה for free, is a completely foreign concept to today's Yeshiva Bachur.

The only point I disagree with him on is that he blames it on Israeli Socialism. IMHO this is just not true. The same attitude can be found in American Yeshiva Bachurim as well. When your whole lifestyle is predicated on you sitting and learning and someone else supporting you (in style), of course you can't understand נהמא דכיסופא, it is a contradiction to your whole lifestyle.

More threats and more threats but no action

The Israeli governments of the past 15 years (since Oslo) have been great at making threats and not carrying them out. Remember Rabin's threat about what would happen to the Palestinians if they used the rifles against us? Was the threat carried out? Do you remember Barak's threat right before we pulled out of Lebanon? Do you remember Sharon and Mofaz's threat right before the disengagement?

Israel has become the boy who cried wolf. The governments have made so many threats and not carried them out that threats now have zero credibility.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Peres: I didn't imagine Qassams would be fired from Gaza after pullout

Here is a list of things that Peres didn't think were going to happen:

1. He believed the separation between the West Bank and Gaza would make things easier not harder.
2. He did not imagine that we would leave Gaza and they would fire Qassams from there.
3. He did not imagine that Hamas would show so strongly in the elections.

(taken from here)

In other words on some of the most important issues of the past decade he was absolutely wrong. The thing is he is not embarrassed at all for being wrong on every single one of these. It isn't just Peres, everyone on the left made the same mistakes. The problem is that they don't learn from their mistakes rather they repeat them over and over again.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Some facts about the Palestinians

Dov Bear is spouting his stupidity again about the Palestinians.

Here are some facts. These are in no particular order.

1. There has never ever in history been a state of Palestine Here is a great quote about Palestine and Palestinians Myths of the Middle East

The truth is that Palestine is no more real than Never-Never Land. The first time the name was used was in 70 A.D. when the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, smashed the Temple and declared the land of Israel would be no more. From then on, the Romans promised, it would be known as Palestine.
Palestine has never existed -- before or since -- as an autonomous entity. It was ruled alternately by Rome, by Islamic and Christian crusaders, by the Ottoman Empire and, briefly, by the British after World War I. The British agreed to restore at least part of the land to the Jewish people as their homeland.

There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc. Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the landmass.

2. In the late 1800's every travelogue written about the area (the most famous being Mark Twain's) invariably said that the country was desolate and void of inhabitants, where were all the millions of Palestinians? For instance, a travel guide to Palestine and Syria, published in 1906 by Karl Baedeker, illustrates the fact that, even when the Islamic Ottoman Empire ruled the region, the Muslim population in Jerusalem was minimal. The book estimates the total population of the city at 60,000, of whom 7,000 were Muslims, 13,000 were Christians and 40,000 were Jews. So much for the myth of Arab East Jerusalem.

3. In the Middle East there are 22 Arab countries occupying 99% of the land. Israel occupies less then 1% of the Middle East

4. There is no distinctive Palestinian culture, language, etc. Palestinians are Arabs, they speak Arabic, they are mostly Moslem. The leader of the Palestinians, Yasir Arafat was born in Cairo. What makes Arafat more of a Palestinian then me?

5. From 1948-1967 Israel did not occupy the West Bank and Gaza, where was the call for a Palestinian state?

6. There actually is a Palestinian state already, Jordan. The mandate of Palestine included what is now Jordan, in 1922, the British created an Arab state from 80% of mandatory Palestine called Jordan

7. The 20th century has seen tremendous movement of population. When India and Pakistan were created more then 20 million people moved one way of the other. Yet, no one is calling for a right of return.

8. About 800,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948 (mostly on the urgings of Arab leaders), from 1948-1953 about 800,000 Jews living in Arab countries became refugees. Contrary to the Palestinians, these Jews were absorbed by Israel and are now productive citizens

9. In 1948 the Palestinians were offered a state they rejected it, the same happened in July 2000.

Let's double click on the 1800's.

When the Jews first started coming back in numbers in the 1800's, the land was desolate, this is not me talking but Mark Twain and every other traveler to Palestine in the late 1800's. And I quote from Twain:
"Desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given over wholly to weeds—a silent mournful expanse…A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely…We never saw a human being on the whole route…

"There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country…

Stirring scenes ... occur in the valley [Jezreel] no more. There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent-not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings

"Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Palestine is desolate and unlovely."

Lamartine wrote:

"Outside the gates of Jerusalem we saw Indeed no living object, heard no living object, heard no living sound, we found the same void the same silence…as we should have expected before the entombed gates of Pompeli or Herculaneam…a complete eternal silence reigns in the town, on the highways in the country…the tomb of a whole people."(Recollections of the East, vol. 1, pp. 268, 308, London, 1815).

The British Consul in Palestine reported in 1857 that

The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population.... 18 In the 1860s, it was reported that "depopulation is even now advancing."19 At the same time, H. B. Tristram noted in his journal that
The north and south [of the Sharon plain] land is going out of cultivation and whole villages are rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth. Since the year 1838, no less than 20 villages there have been thus erased from the map [by the Bedouin] and the stationary population extirpated. 20

Where were all those indigenous Palestinians???????

The fact is that the Jews purchased land from absentee owners started to work the land and revived the economy. Because of that Arabs from all over the region migrated to Palestine.

This old post Is Gaza "captured" territory? is very relevant as well.