1. Barghouti and Oron
The meetings between MK Haim "Jumes" Oron and Marwan Barghouti began in October 2004. There have been dozens since then. The meetings have played a decisive role at critical junctures, from the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), to the "prisoners' document," to the cease-fire this week. If I were a publisher, I would have already approached Oron in the hope that he is keeping a diary.
It is highly doubtful that the cease-fire will last. If Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, Dan Halutz and Yuval Diskin believe that they can continue to operate in the West Bank at will, I have old news for them: The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are one, and the Palestinians in both territories are one people. When you beat them in Nablus, it hurts in Gaza.
The contacts between Barghouti and Oron are officially sanctioned and encouraged, and the reason is clear: Barghouti is Abu Mazen's trusty support staff, and it was clear to Ariel Sharon in his day that without this support to lean on, the Palestinian Authority chairman would not survive. Sharon bequeathed that understanding to Olmert.
The recommendation to release Barghouti as part of a prisoner- and hostage-exchange deal that would include the return of Gilad Shalit appeared in this column two weeks ago. That call is now being heard more insistently since the revelation of the thread that connects the Prime Minister's Office to the PA chairman's office, by way of Hadarim Prison.
The Israel prison system has made Barghouti a shahid - a martyr - in his own lifetime. He is seen as a courageous figure, uncorrupt, a man of the people. He is the most popular Palestinian leader today. True, Abu Mazen commands admiration for his own courage, but the chairman cannot do it alone. And there is no one who can and is willing to help him more than Barghouti. With the latter at his side, Abu Mazen will sit down at the negotiating table and talk about a permanent agreement without his chair wobbling beneath him.
There is another lesson to be learned from the Barghouti-Oron story, which has gone on for two years with the blessing of the government and the Shin Bet security service: If you will it, there will be no leaks - and let nobody say otherwise. Just eliminate instant gratification, and even your buddies will wait until they hear about it somehow.
2. This is not Kazakhstan
Last night they began screening Sacha Baron Cohen's movie, "Borat," whose hero is an idiotic Kazakh journalist. The critics predict you will laugh till you cry, and have praised Baron Cohen as a genius. The box-office receipts have never been better.
It is a film about racism, anti- Semitism, homophobia and misogyny. It defames Kazakhstan as a murky and boorish country, but it was an arbitrary choice for Baron Cohen to end up in Central Asia. He could have picked another country instead of Kazakhstan, perhaps any other country. There is no country on the planet that does not have its repugnant Borats. Have we not seen a few of them in Jerusalem lately?
Kazakhstan was deeply insulted - and that is only natural. At the beginning, the Kazakhs seethed with anger and indignation, but they soon regained their composure and the tone changed. Even the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, spoke about the much-discussed movie in an amused and conciliatory way. The minister of culture of the former Soviet republic invited Baron Cohen to visit as an official guest, to get a first-hand, unbiased impression of the country.
The important Kazakh writer, Sapabek Asip-uly, called on the Kazakh Club of Art Patrons this week to give Baron Cohen its prestigious annual award. The fictional character Borat "has managed to spark an immense interest of the whole world in Kazakhstan, something our authorities could not do during the years of independence," said Asip-uly.
As a citizen of the world, I take my woolen cap off to the Kazakhs. It is easy to predict what would have happened if Israel had been chosen instead of Kazakhstan. There would have been a global scandal, with cries for boycotts and ostracism, and calls for Jewish organizations to show the flag and stand up and be counted. The nation's wise men would never have tolerated it, and they would have sallied forth in full battle-array. We are proud Jews, standing tall. No one dares humiliate us, especially not some Cohen, some Jew-boy in London exile.
By chance he picked Kazakhstan, and it was no coincidence that he didn't choose us. Baron Cohen has family in Israel, and he loves his grandmother who lives in Haifa. He would not throw them to the wolves.
3. Nor is it Finland
Finland leads the world in quality of education. In all international examinations, its students take top spots. The Finnish recipe for success is so well proven and obvious that they have no need for a committee to sit for years stirring the pot.
The Finnish prime minister, Matti Vanhanen, explains: "We have been successful in attracting talented young people to teaching. A teacher in Finland is an important professional." Only 15 percent of applicants for teaching positions are accepted, and no one is allowed into a class without at least an master's degree. Annual continuing education courses are mandatory.
In the 1970s, 35 years ago, a Social Democrat government in Finland opened the schools to all comers. Since then, education is completely free, and not only in theory. The system feeds without charge those with a hunger and not only those in need. Expulsion and streaming of students is forbidden. Equal opportunity, according to the Finns, is the most important key to achievement and excellence, and the national obligation is first of all toward weak and mediocre students. Not only is there no contradiction between equality and achievement, but the opposite is true: Without maximum equality there is no maximum achievement.
After Hurricane Livnat, which left a swathe of destruction in its wake, there is a strange calm in our education system. The cutbacks have been reduced but not revoked. In the coming year, the budget of the academic education colleges will be slashed by another NIS 40 million. That is not the way to narrow the gap between Israel and Finland.
Eight months have passed since Yuli Tamir was appointed minister of education. Time is passing, the task is heavy and the rehabilitation has not yet begun. Make haste, sister, make haste. Quicken your stride, because here one is only rarely chosen twice for the same position.
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