February 28, 2015
A campaign messier than usual, or democracy in action?

For a political scientist committed to the view that democratic politics is the essence of civilization, an election campaign can be a difficult test.

The one we are experiencing, like some others I've seen, brings out the worst in those aspiring to national leadership. It's not like an academic seminar of carefully crafted efforts to reveal new information or insights via research and constructive criticism. Yet it's also true that not all seminars live up to aspirations.

If there is a discussion of alternative approaches to the nation's most serious problems, it is difficult to find that in the noise of competing candidates, often appealing to the lowest of feelings and fears in a society that has decent levels of education.

It's a collective scream of "Me first," or "Listen to me," with candidates in media discussions or "debates" talking over one another so that neither can get across the intended message.

Ariyeh Deri is doing what he can to emphasize the issue of ethnicity, i.e., the alleged misery of Sephardim under the self-appointed "elites" of Ashkenazim, along with his claim to being the only party leader genuinely concerned with lower income Israelis.

Several of his opponents are doing what they can to remind us that he is a convicted criminal, who served time in the big house for political corruption, and had to remain outside of politics for a number of years as part of his punishment.

Deri and Eli Yeshi, who split as partners in SHAS, are each claiming that the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef would choose him to continue revered traditions.

Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon are competing for the broad middle of the political spectrum by claiming to be more concerned about the needs of the middle class. Affordable housing is Lapid's major theme. The overall cost of living is Kahlon's.

Just about everybody is pursuing the theme of "anybody but Bibi," and hoping that will rebound to more votes for them than for their competitors.

Meanwhile Bibi isn't doing all that badly. A tough 10 days with two State Comptroller Reports that were interpreted as criticizing his management of the nation's housing shortage and his or his wife's management of the Prime Minister's official and private residences managed to drop Likud into a tie with Zionist Union or a couple of seats below Zionist Union, depending on the polls. However, the coming week, with the widely discussed, condemned, and praised speech to Congress may be his best opportunity of the campaign.

Israel's most widely circulated newspapers are adding more to the noise than to enlightenment.

Israel Hayom is justifying the label Bibipress, and Yedioth Aharonoth is firming up its standing as anti-Bibi, and anti-Israel Hayom.

The front page of Israel Hayom's Friday edition headlined Jeb Bush saying that Netanyahu had the right to speak about a bad agreement; the Legal Adviser to the Government saying that there is no suspicion that the Prime Minister was involved in the problems of the Prime Minister's residences, and that his investigation into the expenditures would commence after the election; and that an order preventing the leaving of Israel had been issued against the former manager of the Prime Minister's residence due to his bank debts.

The front page of Yedioth Aharonoth featured a former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, saying "Netanyahu caused the greatest strategic danger in connection with Iran," questioning what he would accomplish by his speech in Washington, saying that Netanyahu had not accomplished anything in the operation against Gaza, and that the Prime Minister was only interested in being photographed alongside a map. Another headline indicated that the Legal Adviser to the Government would begin an investigation into the management of the Prime Minister's residences after the election, without the qualification included in Israel Hayom that there was no suspicion about the Prime Minister. Two smaller headlines said that a Likud activist was suspected of false accusations against the former manager of the Prime Minister's residence, and that there was an unexplained building on the grounds of the Prime Minister's residence.

While Yedioth's headline describes an Meir Dagan's accusation against Netanyahu for the speech against the US-Iran agreement, the article itself indicates that the disagreement between the former Mossad head and Netayahu is one of tactics rather than substance.

"Dagan is not exactly a leftist. All who know his biography testifies to that. On the subject of Iran, he agrees with the concern of Netanyahu that a nuclear Iran is something that Israel cannot live with."

This pretty well sums up Israeli opinion. It is hard to find an Israeli of note who supports Obama's posture on Iran. Opposition to the US brokered agreement deals not only with details of Iran's nuclear program, but the willingness of the White House to overlook Iran's involvement in terror, its threats against Israel, and its actions seeking to undercut the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Gulf Emirates.

The concern of most who criticize Netanyahu is for his challenging directly the iconic head of the United States, for aligning himself with the President's partisan opponents (Sheldon Adelson, Mitt Romney, Congressional Republicans), for what they call the unproductive bombast and clumsiness of his long opposition to Iran's nuclear program, and for the risks from all of that to Israel's dependence on the United States for political assistance, economic help, and supplies of sophisticated military equipment..

Even among Netanyahu's supporters, it is hard to find anyone who expects a turnaround in American policy toward Iran as a result of Bibi's speech. Yet there is hope that the Prime Minister will make enough of an impression in Washington to harden those Americans urging a tougher posture with respect to Iran.

Most likely it will be more certain, more quickly how the speech rebounds in Israel. We can expect instant pro- and anti-interpretations. Weekend polls may show what the public thinks. Then we can parse the election results starting on March 18 to see signs of the speech's impact, being careful to note the problems in separating it from all the other influences on what the voters will have done.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:05 PM
February 26, 2015
Failed states, fragile states, and Palestine on life support

The concept of failed states has been around for a while, and has recently been morphed into the notion of fragile states. Perhaps the change is an expression of what is deemed politically correct in the halls of organizations that worry about such things, and claim to provide ranked lists of what a political simpleton would label the bad and the good.

The Fund for Peace has produced an annual index of states ranged from "Very High Alert" on the bad side of the Fragility Index to "Very Sustainable" on the good side.

South Sudan, Somalia and a cluster of other African states are on the bottom of the Very High Alert and High Alert clusters, along with Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.

Finland is the sole occupant of the Very Sustainable.

The Fund's methodology page claims highly sophisticated programs to crunch numbers under the headings of
Demographic Pressures
Refugees and IDPs (Internally displaced persons)
Group Grievance
Human Flight
Uneven Economic Development
Economic Decline
State Legitimacy
Public Services
Human Rights and Rule of Law
Security Apparatus
Factionalized Elites and
External Intervention
Nowhere in the methodology did I find sources of what was claimed to be analyzed. On at least some of those categories, e.g., Group Grievance, State Legitimacy, Human Rights, and Factionalized Elites, one can guess that there is an element of estimation based on someone's judgement of media reports and conventional wisdom.

Countries of western Europe, Australia, and Canada monopolize the most desirable categories of the Fragility Index. The United States doesn't do all that badly, but is in the third from the most desirable category ("Very Stable) along with Uruguay and Slovenia.

Israel does not get its own ranking, but is grouped with Palestine/West Bank in the category called "High Warning" along with China, India, Fiji and a number of less savory places.

One can analyze Israel's linkage to Palestine until the cows come home. It may be a sleazy way to punish a decent place by cleaving to the politically correct notion of illegitimate conquest and occupation, or it may be a reflection of Palestine's shaky status on something close to life support.

Other indicators, such as the rankings of universities, the incidence of scientific papers, Nobel Prizes, technological innovations, health and longevity, plus the quality of its military and judiciary suggest that Israel is something other than marginal with respect to its fragility, but political correctness being what it is . . .

Prominent indications of Palestine's dependence on Israel appear in connection with electricity and water, management of all the borders of the West Bank and what are sometimes the only partially-open borders with Gaza.

While it is conventional to assign blame to Israel for whatever Palestinians claim as their misery, the reality is far more complex. The failure of sufficient construction supplies to reach Gaza for the purpose of reconstruction owes at least as much to Fatah vs Hamas quarrels over management as it does to Israel's reluctance to provide the concrete and other materials. The issue of Israel failing to provide water to the partially constructed West Bank city of Rawabi resulted at least partly from Palestinians' reluctance to join with Israel in deciding about issues concerning sewage and water for Jewish settlements as well as Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

Involved in the disputes--now said to be resolved--were various Israeli governmental organizations and political figures. Looking beyond the details in open dispute, it is not hard to find political hardball. If the Palestinian leadership persists in its campaigns to delegitimize Israel and turn back history to 1967 or earlier, then Israel (perhaps more likely under Likud leadership than something softer) will minimize Palestinian opportunities.

Israeli security forces have contributed to the survival of the Fatah regime on the West Bank by dealing with the mutual enemies Hamas and other Jihadist organizations. Also involved are Palestinian security forces, trained and equipped by the US and Jordan, with Israeli cooperation.

The periodic threats coming from the peak of Fatah include warnings that the Palestinians will stop the security cooperation with Israel.

Realities here are hard to judge, given the lack of full information provided about who does what with respect to uncovering and acting against those who threaten Palestinians and/or Israelis. Yet it is fair to doubt that the Palestinians of the West Bank could, by themselves, act successfully against the Palestinians of Gaza who threw Fatah activists from the roofs of tall buildings.

Commentators see Israel playing a highly nuanced game of national self interest. Despite what many others, including current occupants of the White House have expressed, an Israeli perspective is that negotiations should start from now and not from a half-century ago. That means recognizing the movement of some 600,000 Jews over the 1967 lines, about half of them in neighborhoods of Jerusalem created since that date.

Such neighborhoods might be labeled "new" in a city with a history of 3,000 years, but in other places they would already be called well established, or even middle aged. Our own neighborhood of French Hill is well into its second or third generation, with many of the original residents gone elsewhere to senior housing, closer to the grandchildren, or their eternal reward.

The delicacy of Israel's actions appear in their concern to push Palestinian perceptions away from dreams and toward reality, without pushing so hard as to produce a collapse.

Latest news is that Israelis and Palestinians have agreed on water for Rawabi, and paying the Palestinians' electric bill from the taxes Israel collects for Palestine at the ports. Not yet clear if this means that other funds that Israel collects will again flow to Palestine, if Palestine will modify its campaign against Israel, and when the water will actually flow to Rawabi.

The last thing Israel wants is a return to pre-Oslo responsibility for day to day policing, education, and general administration of who knows how many Palestinians.

The unreliable numbers of Palestinians said to be living in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those overseas, are part of the fuzzy nature of what is Palestine, who are the Palestinians, and how far is Palestine from life support.

Among the issues are claims that many said to be Palestinian are Arabs, Turks, Greeks, and who knows what else who moved into the region when Jews began its economic development, and counter charges that such allegations are nothing more than Zionist fiction.

Involved in the issue of Palestinian life support are the heavy dependence of Palestinians and their institutions on international aid, the concept of refugees extending unto the nth generation, the notorious shortfalls of promises and actual delivery of aid, as well as how much of the aid ends up in the pockets of well-placed Palestinians, or provides the wherewithal for the relatives of well-placed Palestinians to find places in the public workforce or as concessionaires for profitable lines of cell phones and other consumer imports.

Among the great open questions are the future of Palestine, how many other states, organizations, and individuals will recognize its claims to statehood, and how far down on a politically correct ranking of fragility it deserves to be placed if not linked with Israel by the Fund for Peace.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:09 PM
February 24, 2015
On Palestine and Israel

There are many--some of them well placed, and some of them Jews--who feel that on the short list of the most worthy causes is to create a Palestinian state and to downsize Israel, perhaps down to the size of nothing.

Against them are several instances that question such grand aims, either as being unsuitable or unattainable.

One is an occurrence alongside Jerusalem's Old City, at one of the places where every so often a Palestinian seeks to express the intensity of national or religious feelings by attacking a religious Jew. The site is on the route of ultra-Orthodox Jews from their neighborhoods to and from the Western Wall for occasions of prayer, and close to Palestinian neighborhoods both inside and outside the Old City. It is also close to Jerusalem's City Hall.

There was a stabbing this week just as Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat and his bodyguard where passing the site. It also occurred within range of the street cameras placed at troublesome locations as well as countless personal cell phone cameras of other pedestrians and drivers.

What we've seen is Hizzoner leading the charge against the attacker, forcing him to the ground, and then looking after the victim once others had secured control.

Adding to the stature of Barkat was the modesty with which he described his actions. He assigned to his guard the initiative, even while the pictures show that it was the Mayor who jumped on the man who had a knife and was looking for other victims.

With all the plaudits directed at Rudi Guliani, Richard Daley, Fiorello LaGuardia, Michael Curley, Teddy Kollek and other iconic mayors, I don't recall anything like this, capable of reminding the world of Jerusalem's status and capacity to defend itself.

Alas, Barkat's feat is not the only indication about the character of Israeli society.

The episode might do a bit to overcome the problematic reputations of two former mayors (one of also a former Prime Minister) appealing convictions on charges of corruption, and stories about current occupants of the Prime Minister's residence.

At the lower end of Israeli society--as well as reflecting the pervasive presence of cell phone cameras--is a scene on a cheap weekend vacation flight to Varna, Bulgaria. It shows a passenger, her sister, and a nearby man screaming at stewards about not being able to buy duty free chocolates. You can find the widely broadcast video by Googling "chocolate flight," and won't need Hebrew to get the drift. The cartoonist of Ha'aretz labels his rendition, "Land of wild creatures."

​We must be careful how we behave. Chances are there'll be a cell phone with video capacity alongside any notable outburst.

The heroic actions of Jerusalem's mayor against Palestinian violence is not the only event that ought to cause the Palestinian chorus to reconsider expectations.

The Palestinian leadership may think of itself on the high ground as it threatens Israel via the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and parades in behalf of BDS by college students and faculty, labor unions, and politicians. However a decision of a Federal Court in New York City to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for terror and to award $655.5 million in damages will, at the least, dirty the hands of Palestinian applicants to the International Criminal Court. Israel has also taken steps to remind the Palestinians of how far they must go in order to gain anything close to independence. It is withholding the funds collected at Israeli ports for Palestinian imports. Palestine is a long way from having an air or sea port of its own. The Israel Electric Company cut for a while the current supplied to Nablus and Jenin due to a large unpaid bill owed by the Palestine Authority. And the long touted new Palestinian city of Rawabi has been unable to go forward without an agreement with Israel over the supply of water.

There are also the unremoved piles of rubble and unrepaired structures and infrastructure in Gaza. It can't be pleasant for the people in the cold and rain, but that's what living under Palestinian authorities may produce. The head of the Arab League assigns the delay in reconstruction to the enormous shortfall in donations promised by Middle Eastern and other governments, and the failure of Fatah and Hamas to settle their quarrels about control of Gaza and the management of construction supplies.

There has been an uptick in Palestinian and Israeli activity in the West Bank, with a renewal of stone throwing at light rail trains as they pass Palestinian neighborhoods, and the death of a Palestinian while Israeli security forces were going after some wanted individuals and searching for stores of munitions. Parents of the young man claim he was an innocent bystander.

The top headline on the New York Times International Home site was, "Israeli Troops Kill Palestinian in Overnight West Bank Raid." The article repeats the Palestinian claim that the man shot was an innocent observer.

There should be no surprises in any of the above for sober observers of the Middle East, as opposed to those who dream of a Palestine state joining a community of democratic, humane, and well governed Muslim societies.

None of this will settle the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. Americans who brought the legal action against Palestine due to terror attacks that killed and injured family members can expect lengthy appeals of the initial verdict. Palestinians and other Muslims will continue to express with knives and other weapons their religious and national animosities against Jews. US and European governments will continue their pressure on Israel to release Palestinian funds and supply electricity. Many of those demonstrating for the sake of Palestine will not take notice of the events described here, or see in them additional justification for their continued clamor.

Next up is Bibi's speech. Then Israel's election. Then something to be decided in Washington and Europe about Iran. And don't forget ISIS.

Whatever the flow, no one should expect Israel to go belly up, or the early emergence of an enlightened, independent, and well governed Palestine.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:15 PM
February 22, 2015
It can go either way

There is a near balance in the run-up to the Israeli election.

Likud and Labor have been trading places one or two Knesset seats in the lead, and often tied in the various media polls, all of them with samples on the border of being unreliable. Labor is still going by the name Zionist Union/Zionist Camp, but is showing signs of abandoning the idea that Herzog and Livni would rotate in the Prime Minister's position, on the assumption that the party is able to form a government.

Likud leads in assessments of which would have the easiest task of forming a government. The obvious partners of Likud--Jewish Home, Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman), Kahlon and the ultra-Orthodox--would have in the latest tallies 67 seats. However, Kahlon's contribution of 8 seats is problematic.

Labor can currently put together a combine of itself, Thre is a Future (Lapid), Meretz, and the combined Arab list either supporting from the outside or actually joining the government (a topic of speculation), with 53 Knesset seats.

If Kahlon trades his votes for a good seat at the ministerial table, Labor would get the government with the support of 61 MKs.

Some possibilities could tip things one way or the other. Both Lieberman and Meretz are down there on the border of not getting the minimum number of seats to enter the Knesset. Insofar as Lieberman was prominent in promoting an increase in the required minimum, at least partly to squeeze out Arab parties, one of the favorite topics of Israeli cynics is that his tactic moved the Arabs to coalesce, become a force capable of tilting the government away from the right, while Lieberman--due to later developing scandals that have put several of his senior party colleagues in the dust bin and may yet come to his door--may end up squawking about the government from outside the Knesset.

There are several hot issues that have the potential of helping or hurting Likud in its efforts to move ahead of Labor.

One is Sara's management of the Prime Minister's household, or the joint Bibi and Sara management, depending on how this plays. The police have moved into the issue with interviews of the man who used to be the household manager, is suing the Netanyahus for ill treatment, has been blamed by them for the faults in management described by the State Comptroller, and in turn has accused them again of cruelty along with distorting the facts.

It will become the task of the Attorney General/State Prosecutor to decide whether to move forward with a police investigation of the Netanyahus, and the opening of a criminal case.

Left of center commentators are salivating over the prospect that this will occur within days and affect the election. However, other commentators are noting that the criminality, if found, is marginal at best. You might think of a high official pulled over for driving a bit over the speed limit.

On matters of this kind, the Attorney General/State Prosecutor has been known to dither for months and even years about moving forward with a criminal case, especially when the subject is a ranking government official.

Moreover, the parties who could exploit the State Comptroller's report have been quiet. Labor and Lapid have shied away from attacking Sara Netanyahu, seemingly out of concern that it might backfire among marginal voters who sense that it is she and not the Prime Minister who is at the heart of the household problems, and that it isn't fair to pile onto a politician's wife no matter how much she may deserve it.

So far the religious parties (Jewish Home and the ultra-Orthodox) have not made an issue of a Jew called to work on the Sabbath or Yom Kippur. That may be due to doubts about the accuracy of the report, as well as doubts about the role of the Prime Minister. Also among the maybes are those parties' calculations about Netanyahu getting the nod from the President, and wanting the best deal possible in the creation of the government, the assignment of choice jobs, and budget allocations for their favorite programs.

If household management might hurt the Prime Minister, his trip to Washington seems likely to help him.

Polls among Israelis and Americans (sampling Jews or the entire population) vary greatly. They show majorities or large pluralities in favor or against the speech, supporting or opposing White House efforts against the speech, as well as showing Netanyahu or Obama scoring higher in the evaluation of those polled.

In Israel, the speech may figure along with recent attacks on Jews in Europe and commentary about a spread of anti-Semitism to strengthen support for Netanyahu among those who view him as the best spokesman for Israeli national interests, as well as for Jews' welfare in a hostile world.

There are prominent Diaspora Jews demanding that Netanyahu stay out of their community affairs, but those critics do not vote in Israeli elections.

Supporters see signs of the speech pushing the American administration in the desired direction, even while there are other signs that the White House/State Department/Democratic loyalists continue to maneuver against the Prime Minister. First there was an announcement that senior Administration personnel will boycott the AIPAC convention by way of punishing Netanyahu, Israel, and Bibi's American Jewish supporters. Then there was an announcement that there is no such intention. The Secretary of State has been talking about Iran's need to come forward with appropriate statements and behavior, that there will be no extension of the talks beyond their June deadline, and that the United States may have to abandon the diplomatic effort.

The State Comptroller is about to issue another report that may affect the election. This one is about housing. Politicians are already accusing one another of responsibility for the details leaked or expected. Lapid is saying it's all Bibi's fault; Bibi's people are saying that Lapid's term as Finance Minister was a national disaster for housing and other issues, and that the country's housing shortage is traced back to Ehud Olmert.

It won't be over with the March 17th balloting and vote counts. There may not be an obvious choice for the President to select the party leader with the best chance of forming a government. He has two weeks to decide. Then whoever gets the nod will have to sort through demands from his own party and potential partners about who gets what ministries and other goodies, as well as the demands of one and all about the policy commitments to be agreed upon. Those commitments have the negligible weight of campaign promises, but they can do their part in delaying the formal presentation of a government to the Knesset for its approval. The law allows up to 42 days for this to happen, assuming that the President's first choice succeeds in forming a government

Chances are slim that it will be done by Pesach (this year beginning on April 3). Optimists are hoping it will be done by Shavuot (May 24).

Further into the future is the question of how stable will be the next government, and whether it will outlast its predecessor to get into the second half of its allotted four years.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:05 PM
February 20, 2015
If it walks like a duck . . .

Barack Obama is not a Muslim, but, he shows signs of a Wannabe.

He emphasizes his middle name and his father's origins when talking to Muslim audiences.

That's not a sin, but an effort to establish identity. He'd be a lousy politician if he didn't play that game.

However, he also contributes to the delusion of himself, and others with his frequent assertion that the war against terror is not about Islam.

He says, "They are not religious leaders; they are terrorists."

No doubt that they are terrorists, but they are also religious leaders, capable of recruiting people and sending them into battle or suicide, with heroic expressions of Islamic history, doctrine, and eventual conquest of the world.

Obama labels ISIS "violent extremists," and adopts the Muslim line that they have "perverted Islam."

One has to be careful. We don't know how many of the billion nominal Muslims are inclined to violence against those labeled as infidels or heretics, inclined to tolerate those who are violent, or likely to be pushed toward extremism by a frontal attack on Islam.

Notions of perverted or distorted doctrine might be applied to all who practice one or another variety of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. All rely on centuries of created and interpreted spiritual doctrine, much of it fuzzy, with passages that lend themselves in support of peace, war, socialism, capitalism, tolerance or hatred.

We don't know how many of ISIS fighters or supporters are knowledgeable about the doctrines of Islam, or are attracted by the thrill of joining a crusade.

A counter crusade against Islam would not be wise, but neither is demanding that we put our heads in the sand.

The terrorism many of us would like to defeat comes from, has its support, and is arguably inherent in Islamic doctrines.

To be sure, there are other doctrines of Islam that oppose what the promoters of ISIS et al proclaim.

Insofar as virtually all of the terrorists now active are Muslims, it would appear best to follow the line of Egyptian President al-Sisi and enlist Islamic leaders to work against their violent co-religionists, who are making life uncomfortable for moderate or nominal Muslims who may be the large majority. al-Sisi is also doing as much as anyone in acting forcefully against Islamic violence. It's not pretty, wouldn't pass muster for being politically correct and showing appropriate concern for innocent civilians, but it may be more effective than Obama's effort to combat ISIS from a distance, without boots on the ground, and seeking solution by pleading for increased individual opportunities..

The US President is doing his utmost to minimize involvement. He authorizes air strikes, and uses US troops to train the soldiers of Arab countries, perhaps on the soil of Turkey if that country agrees to join his coalition. Obama's rhetoric might pass muster in a school debate, but it doesn't ring out as world leadership.

"We have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence . . . We need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion, and we especially need to do it online."

I have received two e-mails from Abraham Foxman, addressed to Dear Ira, headlined "We've got a seat at the table," going on to say that

ADL was honored to present critical information to the Countering Violent Extremism Summit at the White House, a meeting convened by the President to develop an action plan to address the phenomenon of violent extremism here and overseas."

The note closed with ADL's conventional request for money to help the organization continue its good work in our behalf.

Can I refer to him as Abe, and bring to his attention that even the New York Times is doubtful?

"Despite the president's call to arms, many of the leaders and officials attending the conference expressed doubt about the ability of the Obama administration to counter extremist messages, particularly from the Islamic State, which has a reach and agility in social media that far outstrips that of the American government."

There is another head in the sand element in the current war against terror. It appears in efforts to avoid the nasty label of anti-Semitism.

There are historians who make the point that Jews fared better under Muslim rule than under Christianity. Maybe. It's not an easy call. There were pogroms and campaigns to convert or die in the Middle East as well as in Europe.

There should be no doubt, however, that Muslims are now the leading advocates of anti-Semitism. Whether that is all the fault of Israel for existing and succeeding amidst Muslims is another quarrel without a clear winner.

As in failing to focus on Muslims and Islam as somehow responsible for the world's problems, the failure to describe part of what they do as anti-Semitism gets in the way of appropriate measures.

White House and State Department efforts to describe murders in the Paris kosher market a "random shooting in a deli" deserve condemnation as approaching the sin of being oblivious to anti-Semitism.

No surprise that Jews and the New York Times are part of the problem. In response to the Copenhagen shootings, a lead paragraph on the international web site of that arguably Jewish newspaper

"A manhunt was underway after a gunman opened fire at an event featuring a cartoonist who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, and another person was shot dead near a synagogue. The police, who said it was unclear if the shootings were linked."

A later posting noted that one of the shootings occurred "outside the city's main synagogue That article went on to emphasize the focus of Danish terror on those who insult Muhammad, with no mention of Jews.

Involved in the criticism of Obama and his aides in avoiding the issues of Islamic terror and anti-Semitism is the President's concern--some would say obsession-- more apparent than among other western leaders, to strike a deal with Iran. While Iran has sent troops against ISIS, the best explanation of that is Shiites fighting Sunnis. Iran also is a major source of finance and munitions for other Islamic terrorists, including Hezbollah, sometimes Hamas, and other Jihadists, frequently proclaims its enmity toward Israel, and is seen as a threat by other US allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Would a frontal campaign against Islamic anti-Semitism complicate the war against terror?

The avoidance of the Jewish issue recalls the concern of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to avoid describing his war as something for the sake of Jews. That came along with limitations on granting visas to Jews fleeing Europe, and a refusal to bomb the railroads that brought Jews to the death camps.

The point is not to join the distortion that claims that FDR was anti-Semitic. That's best left to fear mongers. In his time, the prospect of linking isolationism with anti-Semitism was a serious concern. Its present equivalent appears among Jews and others who may think that too much publicity about the Jewish issue would make things worse.

With violent Islam out of the bag and making its mess across the Middle East and down into Africa, the rest of us may be in for a long struggle. It's not only with a concern for truth, honesty, and candor that we should call the duck by its proper name. It should also aid the pursuit of cooperation with moderate Muslim leaders if we define clearly our mutual problem.

It is clear from the statistics that Muslims suffer more than others from Islamic violence. Despite efforts to avoid ethnic profiling or discrimination, one can guess that Muslims also pay a cost in limited opportunities.

Sweeping dirt under the rug is never a good way to clean house. It shouldn't be hard to make the case that the best way to deal with a problem is to recognize its existence.

The point should not be persuading Muslims that the problem is not Islam, but persuading Muslim leaders to deal with the problems of Islam from inside.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:01 PM
February 18, 2015
Bibi, Sara, and the media

The State Comptroller (government auditor) has finally issued his long delayed report. The results do not add to the reputation of the Prime Minister, his spouse, or Israeli media.

We're being inundated with an over abundance of small details about the larger picture we've know for years. The Netanyahus have been living high on the hog in two palatial residences, one public and one private, both financed by the public treasury. Excessive amounts spent on food, drink, facilities, clothes, and personal care (hair stylists for her and him), and an electrician whose employment violated the rules about working in both public and private buildings, as well as being a Likud party activist. The report mentions possible criminal charges with respect to moneys received from returned bottles, and the use at the private residence of furniture purchased for the official residence .

The State Comptroller's report also documents an increase in the extravagance of the Presidential Residence during the term of Shimon Peres. However, Peres is not on the ballot, his late wife never was a public figure, and the attention paid to those details are a small fraction of what we are hearing about the Netanyahus.

The Netanyahus have retaliated with claims that it is all the fault of the house manager and/or his aide, who made the wrong decisions. The manager is one of the former employees who is suing the Netayahus for cruel and abusive treatment, and failure to pay him what is owed.

Sara has gone public with a video tour of the official residence given to a "celebrity interior designer" who expresses along with her in flowery language and theatrical gestures his amazement at pealing paint, water stains, doors that do not fit properly, a worn carpet, and the need for a general do-over of floor tiles, furnishings, electric connections and a total paint job. Release of the clip was timed to detract from the publication of the State Comptroller's report by asserting the run down nature of the building. It may do that for some viewers, but it has also earned its own barbs from critics. Was it proper for the interior designer to insert a mention of his business for hire? And his joke about a door behind which Anne Frank might be hiding earned high marks for poor taste in a country founded on the ashes of the Holocaust. Those with Hebrew skills might view the clip here.

Among all the other details is one tiny bit that can scuttle the ship. The State Comptroller reported that the Netanyahus had the electrician, a Jew, work on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur. The family is denying it, but there it is in the official report. The Jewish calendar being what it is, a record of work done on a certain date may be said to have been ordered and done after the end of a holy day on sundown.

How voters and politicians come to view that detail may end Bibi's career, either via a lost election or the refusal of Jewish Home and the ultra-Orthodox parties to join his coalition.

Or it may cost us all. If Bibi does well enough to create a coalition, he may have to persuade the religious parties of his piety, and pay them to view things correctly by increasing investments in settlements and religious academies, his willingness to accept ultra-Orthodox party demands about the recruitment of young men to the IDF, and Orthodox demands about procedures for converting those who want to become Jews.

Likudniks are telling us that none of this is significant, compared to the choice the voters are facing between a party capable of leading the country, and parties, especially those to the left, who deceive the people with empty promises, would make bad international agreements, and spend money that doesn't exist.

The web site of Israel Hayom features Sara's video about a sub-par residence, and Alan Dershowitz saying that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon Obama will be Chamberlain. The front page of the print edition headlines commentators who write that efforts to brainwash the public about the Netanyahus' corruption is the work of the enemy paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, and that the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot that should be dealt with by a simple apology.

No surprise that opposition parties are upping their rhetoric against the Prime MInister and his personal failings. Ha'aretz charges that the State Comptroller and Attorney General tried to delay publication and treatment of scandalous behavior until after the election, and that the official report does not go far enough. A cartoon shows Sara scowling at the disgraced house manager, and telling him to show the State Comptroller the hole in the carpet.

The headline on the Yedioth Ahronoth web site is "Attorney General being tested: Will he order a criminal investigation?" Another headline quotes the house manager who is suing the Netanyahus and is now being accused of all the faults, "Mr and Mrs. Netayahu, Shame on you."

Yitzhak Herzog is pondering his response, worrying that criticism of Sara might boomerang as an improper attack on a politician's wife.

For the next few days it will be difficult to learn from the media updates on the Prime Minister's Washington trip, Russia, Europe, and Ukraine, negotiations with Iran, the latest beheadings by the ISIS and its sale of other body parts to people willing to pay for transplants. It seems that ISIS has medical personnel able to remove the parts properly, if not to put them into someone else.

We'll have to see the impact of the report, political defense, charges, and commentary on the next round of media polls, then a month later to see the fate of Likud, then another month or more while a half dozen or so parties, their spokespeople and critics argue in the media about participating in the government coalition, who gets what ministries and Knesset committee chairs, and the prospects of policy change.

And all that along with what the worthies and vicious of the world do between now and then to affect our concerns.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:00 PM
February 16, 2015
Peace, two-states, or whose bombast?

We're into another round of charges that the Israeli right worked to squash a deal that had been possible with the Palestinians.

The last big campaign was the Geneva Initiative, still somewhat alive, and perhaps associated with the latest effort.

This one appears in a headline of the Internet newspaper The Times of Israel,

"When Netanyahu closed the door on peace talks
The inside story of the negotiations between Peres and Abbas that almost led to a framework agreement in 2011"

The first paragraph sets the political agenda of the campaign

"The following story probably won't dispel the widespread notion among the Israeli public and leadership that since the Second Intifada there has been no partner on the Palestinian side. This is a notion that is based on statements from politicians from the right, among others, who claim that every time the moment of truth comes, PA President Mahmoud Abbas rejects peace agreements.

But in at least one instance, that preconception proved unfounded, even false. Less than four years ago, it wasn't Abbas who ran away from the table, but rather Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declined to advance talks between Abbas and then-president Shimon Peres.

The article claims that Peres had brought Abbas to "far-reaching understanding" on a framework deal, or principles according to which talks would be restarted. At the last minute Netanyahu changed his mind about the agreement. That change of mind, and undercutting, was responsible not only for an effective end to the idea of the two-state solution, but for a souring of what had been decent working relations between Peres and Netanuyahu. By implication, it also defined the failure of the 2014 Kerry round of talks before they began.
Who is really at fault?

This depends on one's view of a reasonable deal. The Times of Israel describes the framework for the onset of detailed negotiations. Each can decide if Peres had gone too far, or Netanyahu was being the typical rightist nay-sayer.

Principal details included in the article

Negotiations would begin with the 1967 borders, with Palestinian concern that land swaps be equal in size and quality
Jerusalem would be the capital of both states, Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty, with open borders between them
Control over the Old City and Temple Mount was left for later
A joint municipal body for administering electricity, water and sewage in Jerusalem
The issue of refugees was put off for later, with Abbas saying that he wanted Israel to accept 10,000 refugees per year over a 15 year period, for a total of 150,000
The Palestinian state would be demilitarized, with a third party deployed at the borders and crossings
While there was no clause indicating an end of the dispute when things would be settled, Abbas may have been ready to include such a detail
A good deal or another expression of grandiose Palestinian demands and Israelis willing to make peace at any price?

There have been uncountable proposals and tweaks of proposals over the course of a century to solve the problems of Israel and its neighbors. So far, and again, nothing that fits a Must Do.
No mention of Israel as a Jewish State, the state of the Jewish people, or acknowledging the legitimacy of Israel's Declaration of Independence.
No Palestinian commitment (already committed under Oslo but not implemented) to end incitement in school lessons and texts, and to include Israel on school maps
Why start with the lines of 1967, rather than settlement patterns that exist today, almost half a century later with some 600,000 Israelis over the 1967 lines?
Likely to be major problems for Netanyahu and others would be the prospect of 150,000 refugees (including, presumably, descendants of the original refugees), Abbas' insistence on Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount, at least the partial internationalization of Jerusalem, and the third-party control of border crossings
Involved in these periodic assertions that it's all the fault of the Israeli right are two related issues employed by those convinced that Israel must accept much, if not all of Palestinian demands.

One takes the form of "we are losing the battle of world opinion."

Another takes the form of "if we do not agree to a two-state solution, we will be forced to accept a one-state solution where the Jews will find themselves living with an Arab majority."

World public opinion and imposed solution are frightening prospects, offered with the support of movements, prominent Jews of Israel and the Diaspora, political parties, and government decisions demanding the recognition of a Palestinian state, and an obsessive UN always willing to pass another resolution and appoint a commission sure to condemn Israel and overlook Palestinian actions.

The rightist explanation for rejecting what is described in The Times of Israel article begins with distrust of Palestinians and extends to a concern for Islam, elements in the Muslim community not prepared to accept a non-Muslim state in the Middle East, the ascendance of radical Islamists with their violence, barbaric treatment of those who do not accept their rule, and aspirations to extend Islamic rule worldwide.

How many troops has the Pope? (he's among the many in favor of a Palestinian state) has its equivalent in how many troops has international public opinion?

We can assume that the vast majority of people can't locate Israel on a map and don't care. Polls, editorials, parliamentary resolutions and government willingness to allow Palestinians to open an Embassy and appoint an Ambassador to Palestine tell only part of the story.

It overlooks the opinions of Israeli Jews, as well as Diaspora Jews on the right and many in the center. Moreover, it overlooks the capacity of Israel to operate within its means, with the friends it finds overseas. Israel's capacity, and the weakness of international institutions seem sufficient to resist the imposition of a one-state solution.

History goes on, with incidents that affect opinions. The latest are attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, Bibi's invitation to the Jews of Europe to migrate, with the leader of Danish Jewry expressing his dismay at the message.

Jewish communities, their organizations and rabbis look after themselves, and political leaders of western countries do not want to lose their Jews. The French PM said that without Jews there would be no France.

Those attitudes might contribute to an understanding, and even support of a Netanyahu-like posture.

The day after Copenhagen was news of Islamic beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians captured in Libya.

Current polling suggests that the Israeli public is inclined to vote on the Netanyahu side of the dispute. Likud has trailed Zionist Union in only one of the most recent media surveys. Other major parties are quiet on the issue of further negotiations with the Palestinians.

Israel's neighbors shouldn't count on world public opinion. The idea of a Palestinian state must wait its turn while the worthies ponder Islamic violence in western countries, as well as across the Middle East and deeper into Africa.

Israel and the Internet provide opportunities for argument without the threat of beheading or even serious insult.

In that spirit, as always, comments are welcome.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:00 PM