Friday, May 20, 2005


Proposed Gaza withdrawal ends in Israeli sparring match

Last February the Israeli parliament went along with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. The withdrawal has since been postponed till mid-August.

It has surely been the most tendentious decision by the Israeli government of recent times. The Israeli Gazans don't plan to move, and there is more than a little skepticism that the withdrawal will ever happen. It is said to be splitting Israeli society down the middle, with the result that even the wives of the diplomatic corps cannot live side by side peacefully.

Here's what happened in a recent bout. In one corner we had Anne Ayalon, wife of the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. In the opposing corner was Judy Nir Moses-Shalom, wife of the Israeli Foreign Minister, who would normally be the favorite in this challenge match.

Mme. Shalom entered the ring, fresh from her hairdresser, ready to pull someone's bleached hair out by the roots. You see, Mme. Shalom didn't get to meet Madonna when Madonna was in Israel, and this low blow came because someone at the Washington embassy—we won't name names—failed to fit Mme. Shalom into Madonna's itinerary.

Mme. Shalom—whose family is among the controllers of Israel's free and independent media—therefore allowed the family newspaper to report that Mme. Ayalon "mistreated domestic workers in the Washington embassy" and that she "called some workers 'retarded' and screamed at others." While no one disputes the veracity of the charge—least of all the workers—this amounts to a kidney punch in diplomatic circles.

But Ayalon was no pushover and gave as good as she got. Her husband the Ambassador fired off a letter of complaint to the Israeli attorney general alleging that the Shaloms (especially Mrs. Shalom) had been interfering in the embassy's work—a remarkable jab in view of the fact that an embassy would normally take its directions from the Foreign Minister.

But Mme. Ayalon has been under the guidance of a top Israeli trainer. A Sharon "senior figure"—who employed the royal "We" when speaking to the press—said that "Ayalon is an excellent ambassador. We are pleased with his work and as far as we're concerned he should continue." This effectively blocked the anticipated counterpunch.

If the Telegraph has it right, the public was invited to attend this little bout because Foreign Minister Shalom has been reluctant "to support enthusiastically Mr Sharon's policy of withdrawal this summer from Gaza and part of the West Bank."

Okay, okay. I support the withdrawal. So when do I get to meet Madonna?

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