Sunday 17 August 2008


Martin Indyk's recent visit to Australia seemed to raise questions about where the middle ground on Israel resides.

I recently had an opportunity to hear Martyn Indyk, twice US Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton Presidency, speaking here in Sydney. Indyk has been of special interest to me not least because he lived much of his childhood here in Australia and ascended to some of the most senior foreign policy positions in the United States government. In addition to his Ambassadorial roles, Indyk has served as a special advisor to President Clinton and has also advised the Presidential campaigns of both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama on Middle Eastern issues. This is a man of influence and a reputed moderate.

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Which way moderation?

Indyk's speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney did not offer lots of optimism - especially on Iran. But he did look forward to the end of the unilateralism of the Bush era and the beginning of a new more humble but engaged US Middle East policy. Indyk held out the hope that a diminished US with a new President may be able to finesse a more effectual policy approach than the unilateralism of the Bush era.

Towards the end of his speech, Indyk was asked whether there was any support in Israel for the notion that Iran's quest for nuclear weapons might simply be for deterrent purposes.

Indyk's response seemed reasonable. He said

"If you are the prime minister of the Jewish state. And you have the responsibility for ensuring the survival of the commonwealth. And that is your primary responsibility because the state has been destroyed and was recreated in a kind of a miracle."

And there you've got in this generation, a leadership in Iran that is saying they want to wipe Israel off the map" "What would you do?"

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The Dome of the Rock from nearby the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Invoking Israeli "miracles" may be unhelpful.

Indyk's argument that a strong Israeli response to repeated Iranian threats of annihilation makes sense. It is not hard to take sides when Iran's President is at one side of the ring.

That same evening I saw Indyk on the Lateline TV programme.

My ears pricked up when I heard him again reference the Israeli "miracle" and Israel's previous destruction. He said "And you know leadership of Israel which has a special responsibility for preserving the Jewish Commonwealth. Having been destroyed before and recreated is some modern miracle. They are not going to tolerate it."

Indyk's references to Israel's "miracle" and its destruction in ancient history are both disturbing. That he referenced the "miracle" twice in a day - seeming to elevate Israel's raison detre beyond the mere human machinations that we assume to be at the heart of the creation of the rest of the world's nation states, represents to me, a drift from moderation. That on both occasions, "the miracle" is described as a "recreation" linking back to an Israel that existed in ancient history concocts a lethal religious - historical fusion that is not unlike that which inspires most of the world's most deadly troubles from the Middle East to South Asia. Those who use ancient history fused with religious allusion as a platform for contemporary claims to statehood are not normally viewed as moderates.

Indyk did not dwell on this issue. Rather, it was a fleeting reference to the ideological platform from which he operates. His references to Israel's "recreation" seemed to imply that its destruction had occurred in a time so recent as to be vivid in the memories of contemporary Israelis. It was remarkable that a man on the progressive side of politics could make such a sweeping and controversial historical assertion and not feel the need on either occasion to acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, the troubled circumstances of the founding of Israel and the contemporary Palestinian claims to land now occupied by Israelis.

No one can deny the remarkable achievement that Israel's creation and survival under threat represents. History is full of "against the odds" stories and Israel has notched up more than its fair share. But that's what they are - "against the odds" stories. It does nothing to diminish their historical significance or the commitment of the founders of Israel to focus on the human elements of their achievement.

George Bush was excoriated for using the language of the Crusades in his post 9/11 speeches. In a region permanently on the brink of bloodshed, it is remarkable that one of the most experienced diplomatic voices of moderation should use references that would not sound out of place from the mouths of the most rabid Islamic or Hindu extremist.

It is hard to believe that someone as practiced in the art of diplomacy as Mr Indyk could use such inflammatory language by accident.

What is important about the "miracle" and "recreation" characterisations is that they are neither even handed, nor moderate.

Monday 4 August 2008


Apple has escaped the botched launch of its MobileMe service largely unscathed. It's a sorry story of a monumental tech stuff up, an infatuated media and a woeful service response. It should make alarming reading for anyone dependent on email.

Apple's Iphone launch must be one of the most comprehensive hijackings of a fawning infatuated media by any company in the history of journalism. It's staggering. For weeks the Iphone's image has been more visible in the editorial pages of newspapers and on their websites than it has been in advertising. And it still hasn't stopped.

Apple's much vaunted "cloud" became ethereal for nearly two whole weeks for many users

The Iphone is impressive. But not that impressive.

I have a strange sympathy for the likes of Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Motorola all of whom make very good phones and have had models with similar features to the Iphone for more than a year.

But the real story of the media's unhealthy love affair with Apple concerns the launch of the company's new MobileMe software suite - the software companion that synchronises desktop email, calendars and more with the Iphone. Selling for $139AUD, MobileMe is the updated version of Apple's .mac email product. It's impressive in its ambition. It's implementation has been a disaster.

I have been a .mac customer for four years. My email account was down for almost two weeks. Communication and customer service were nonexistent. Apple in Australia pleaded that they had no information and there was no local service for the product.

The company was more concerned about maintaining public confidence in the intergrity of the MobileMe and keeping the Iphone juggernaut afloat than communicating openly with affected customers. It was assumed that the outage would last a day or two. Apple did nothing to advise of likely duration but the tiny coverage (a single line message) the issue received hidden well away in the user accounts section of the MobileMe page seemed to imply that the outage was a minor glitch that would be quickly addressed. At two weeks, the glitch was anything but minor.

As the outage approached a week, I became concerned about the status of messages received into my account during that week. Would they be lost?

It took Apple one week to start to engage in a meaningful way with affected customers on these issues. This followed ever increasing outbursts of anger and disgust on Apple's messageboards and other websites.

When Apple finally restored my service after twelve days, their new synchronisation system wiped four years of archived messages from my laptop. After nearly two weeks of no email, the wiping of my archive was too much. Remarkably though, on the fourteenth day, my archive was restored in full and MobileMe service has been working fine ever since.

The experience has raised some fundamental questions about the trust we bestow in our email service providors - not to mention the media that should be alerting us to the big issues.

Apple botched the launch of MobileMe and it barely rated a mention in the press. And the failed MobileMe launch was the story. It showed how vulnerable we are as we depend ever more on companies like Apple, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to manage email - the backbone of so much of our personal communications. It also showed how remote and unaccountable Apple is when things go wrong.

And the Apple service is paid for. What standards can we expect from Google, Yahoo and Hotmail when their services are free?