September 28, 2014
Strategic mistakes

What do the 1861 attack on Fort Sumter, Germany's 1941 attack on Russia, Pearl Harbor, and 9-11 have in common?

They represent an adversary's error that brought upon it a greater power, and--in the case of the first three--eventual destruction.

We're still seeing the playing out of 9-11, principally now in Iraq and Syria. The end game has not been reached. Moreover, insofar as this is the first of the examples where organized states are dealing with non-state violence fueled by religious fanaticism, it may not end in anything like a surrender. Hopefully it will peter out, after who knows what impacts on the sources of terror, whether they be in the Middle East, or Muslim communities elsewhere.

Israel has also felt the effects of strategic errors by its adversaries. The instances are nowhere near the international importance of Fort Sumter et al, and their implications are still playing out. One risks predictions, but there are parallels worth pondering.

Early on, the Arabs rejected efforts by the British to arrange Jewish and Arab areas. Then their 1948 attack on a small Israel produced a larger Israel.

In 1975 the Arabs engineered a declaration by the UN General Assembly that Zionism was racism.

That increased Israel's already intense suspicion of Palestinian and Arab intentions, and prompted a strong response from the articulate Daniel Patrick Moynihan, at the time the most powerful country's UN Ambassador.

"The United Nations is about to make anti-Semitism international law." and "The [United States] does not acknowledge, it will not abide by it, will never acquiesce in this infamous act ... A great evil has been loosed upon the world."

In 1991, Israel succeeded in demanding the UNGA's revocation of that resolution as its condition for participating in the Madrid Peace Conference. That, in turn, led to the Oslo Accords of 1993, whose grant of limited autonomy freed Israel from governing most Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians have yet to achieve the most important element of statehood, i.e., the recognition of such by its powerful neighbor.

The Palestinians have done it again, twice in recent months.

First was that rain of missiles that produced Operation Protective Edge.

Now Mahmoud Abbas has blasted the UN General Assembly with the political equivalents of the most scatological of four letter words, genocide and apartheid. Neither are new in this discourse. Jimmy Carter is the most famous user of apartheid in his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Especially bizarre was an interview in which he described Israeli actions in the West Bank as, "even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa."

The screeds of Carter and Abbas will serve as the slogans shouted in unison by crowds led by overseas Palestinians and joined by a motley collection of anti-Semites and know-nothings attracted to political fashions.

The two non-Palestinian entities most important for the future of Abbas' chronically disappointed population responded in ways suggesting that he did not choose wisely.

Israel's Foreign Minister employed his own choice of a four letter political term as he accused Abbas of "diplomatic terrorism."

The spokeswoman of the US State Department:

"President Abbas' speech today included offensive characterisations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject . . . (such provocative statements are) counterproductive and undermine efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties"

So much for the peace process initiated by the spokeswoman's boss.

There may also be implications for other Palestinian aspirations.

The Israeli delegation to Cairo talks meant to deal with the fall out of the recent Gaza conflict may now have even less incentive to help along what the Palestinians have proclaimed (for the nth time) as their Fatah-Hamas unity government.

There is also a unresolved issue in the West Bank, concerned with the supply of water for the new Palestinian city of Rawabi. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is refusing to authorize the supply of water to the city as long as the Palestinians are dragging their heels about other accommodations concerned with water on the West Bank.

According to the New York Times,

"The first 600 apartments in Rawabi, a short commute from Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority's administrative capital in the West Bank, were sold over a year ago and should have been turned over to their new owners in the spring. But there are no people living in Rawabi, because there is no water here. Connecting the new city to a nearby water main depends on long-awaited approval from Israel. As a result, the future of the whole enterprise is hanging in the balance. . . . (The investor in Rawabi) is facing a major cash flow crisis because he cannot collect the $70 million due from homeowners and mortgage banks for the first 600 apartments until they are delivered. Contracts for further construction have been frozen, and up to 700 of the 4,000 people working on the project could lose their jobs by the end of September."

We can expect an international campaign about the sanctity of human rights and their dependence on water. As ever, prediction is risky, but Rawabi may be dry for some time. With no water, no residents. Will the impasse remain long enough for vandals and the weather to destroy what has been built?

We--or our descendants--will see.

There is another kerfuffle for the sake of Palestine coming from the Danish Foreign Minister, and his threat of sanctions.

if Israel does not commit to end its "blockade" of Gaza and stop "illegal settlements," then tougher steps should be adopted. "If nothing happens in the peace talks this time, and if we don't see a new pattern of response from Israel's side, then we will need to discuss the possibility of taking new steps, including changes to our trade relations with Israel . . . I hope that it doesn't come to that, but I think that the EU's policies are moving in that direction,"

Such comments, even from one of the smallest of the European countries might give Israelis pause for thought. However, the Foreign Minister's colleagues are not all on the same page. According to Denmak's Trade Minister,

"Only when a broad international coalition can agree on sanctions do I think it is reasonable to consider that action. I'm not at a point where I can say that there is a need for sanctions."

The Jerusalem Post reported that "Israel did not seem particularly troubled by (the Danish Foreign Minister's) comments, nor interested in turning them into a full-blown diplomatic incident with Copenhagen."

If it is necessary to defend Israel against charges of apartheid with respect to the Arabs of Israel, one can start with the integration of Arabs and Jews in Israeli higher education, workplaces, sport, parks, and residential neighborhoods. One can quarrel about the extent of Arab opportunities, but the incidence of integration is a world apart from that of apartheid in South Africa. With respect to the West Bank and Gaza, both have presented rather clear indications of aggression that require measures of defense, and occasional intervention.

Israel has sought to negotiate accommodations with the Palestinians. Some Israelis demand that Israel offer more, but Palestinians' rejections have been so thorough as to suggest that their problem is Israel's existence rather than any details about its extent.

Genocide is a word best reserved for the Holocaust of the Nazis or the mass slaughter directed against ethnic civilians in various places of Africa and the Balkans. Those who would use the curse against Israel's efforts to defend itself against Palestinians who do target civilian Jews deserve the counter curses of anti-Semitism or madness.

The front page headline of Israel Hayom Sunday morning was "Speech of Lies."

There are those (Israelis and others) who view Benyamin Netanyahu as inflexible on issues important to Palestinians. The Sunday morning headline on the website of Ha'aretz described him as "Mr Status Quo."

Abbas has provided Netanyahu with all he needs to ignore Palestinian claims and assure support from his Israeli constituency.

Currently Israelis are as close to relaxing as is common for Jews, thanks to the intensity of the post-9-11 conflict between Western powers and Islamic extremists. International worries are now more focused on Syrian refugees than the several generations of Palestinians claiming to be refugees.

Abbas' outburst at the UN is looking like a desperate rant to remind the world of Palestine's existence.

In a situation where Hamas' rockets and tunnels brought considerable more misery to Palestinians than Israelis, and a tough reaction to stone throwing in the West Bank is keeping a substantial number of Palestinian children in Israeli custody, it may only be with the dirtiest of political words that a Palestinian can achieve a place in the headlines.

With Western journalists and aid workers being filmed having their heads removed by a killer who expresses his version of Islam in a British accent, a Palestinian leader seems unlikely to get what he wants with an impassioned speech that reminds Jews of what they read about at Nuremberg.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:00 PM
September 27, 2014
Israel's illegals

One of Israel's recent headline grabbing political event was the decision of the Supreme Court, against the government policy to place, without individual trials, illegal immigrants in something between a prison and an open facility deep in the desert for a period of up to three years.

Insofar as the Court decision came a few days before the long New Year holiday and weekend, the issue may slip below our radar due to what claims more attention. The Court demanded action consistent with its decision within 90 days, but as we have seen in numerous other instances, Israel's politics and government tolerate long delays in dealing with what some see as pressing matters.

More likely to be in the coming headlines is Mahmoud Abbas use of the dirtiest of four letter political words, i.e., genocide and apartheid, in describing Israeli actions, while calling on the international community to give him what he wants.

Israel's treatment of illegal immigrants hardly seems to have differed from that of Australia, which brings illegals picked up while still at sea to distant Pacific islands. However, this is Israel, with its Jewish politics and operating as the world's most examined society widely condemned for its imperfections.

Complaints of the law and order crowd came a day after Supreme Court decision.

The civil rights crowd applauded the Supreme Court's action.

Widely praised was the news that Israel's population had reached, in the annual New Year count, to nearly nine million. Six million of us are Jews, which is an important milestone for a country created less than a decade after the Holocaust.

There are somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 illegal immigrants, mostly visibly Africans from Eritrea or Sudan, with a high concentration in the poor neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv.

The numbers do not come with a high level of reliability."Illegals" hide, and governments wanting a measurement--whether Israeli, American, or European--must cope with murky estimates.

What had been over a thousand arrivals a month over the Sinai has virtually stopped, thanks to a fence and military patrols.

The government has had some success enticing thousands to take a cash grant of some $5,000 per person and return to an African country willing to accept them, perhaps for another cash grant to the government.

Many of the immigrants work illegally, for cash only and most likely less than the minimum wage, in the kinds of jobs illegals do elsewhere: washing dishes in restaurants, cleaning houses, working in car washes and gas stations, tending to suburban gardens, and minding children and aged parents.

There are attractive and Hebrew-articulate young men and women, some with babies or Hebrew speaking children who express their quandaries in the media and serve as poster-people for Israeli activists seeking to improve their situation.

There are also young men who hang around the streets and parks of South Tel Aviv, preying on one another as well as on Israelis who due to their own misfortunes live in Tel Aviv's least attractive neighborhoods.

What occurs there is the classic confrontation between poor natives and poor migrants. The veteran residents of South Tel Aviv claim that migrants take job opportunities due to their willingness to work cheap, and make them fearful of leaving their homes. Right of center politicians emphasize the priority of Israelis' rights to life peacefully over the rights of illegal immigrants to reside and act as they wish.

Israel's problem appears to have been reduced by the border fence to a minor version of what troubles Americans, Europeans, and their politicians.

The issue here is illegal, non-Jewish immigrants. Israel is proud of having absorbed millions of Jews from elsewhere. Now those of us who are foreign born comprise only about 25 percent of the Jewish population. Newly arriving Jews are allowed to stay in Israel as long as they wish, provided they are not wanted for criminal activity in some other country.

Israel has joined the group of wealthy countries, whose natives are disinclined to fill the dirty, hot, or otherwise undesirable tasks demanded by the economy. It also is the sole developed country having a land border with the world's most underdeveloped continent, many of whose teeming hordes demonstrate their willingness to risk all for better opportunities.

The outside estimates of 100,000 illegals include Africans who have paid Bedouin guides to bring them over the Sinai, East European prostitutes brought by Jewish pimps, workers from China, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere who have overstayed their visas as temporary workers.

At about one percent of the population they are less than the three to ten percent estimated for the United States. Greece may be the only European country with comparable figures for illegal immigrants, but several European countries are troubled--arguably more than Israel--by the criminality, violence, and cultural affronts linked to legal immigrants from Muslim countries.

Israel's foreign workers originally were almost entirely Palestinian day laborers from the West Bank and Gaza, until a shut down of their opportunities came with the onset of the intifada in 2000. There followed the recruitment of replacements from various countries of the Third World for construction and agriculture. For some years now, foreign care givers for aged and handicapped Israelis have been women and some men who come with work visas from the Philippines. Filipinas so nearly monopolized the occupation that the Hebrew word for care giver has become "Filipino," which is applied to men and women care providers, whether they come from Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, or the Philippines.

With the relaxation of tensions, there are now perhaps 50,000 Palestinians coming daily from the West Bank, but not (yet) Gaza. They have replaced other foreign construction and agricultural workers, and provide one of Israel's economic incentives to maintain acceptable relations with the Palestinian Authority.

In a world currently worried about the high profile threats of the most extreme of Muslim extremists ("New ISIS recording urges Muslims to kill civilians in US-led coalition countries"), there is so far no indication that the Muslims among Israel's African illegals have affiliated with groups advocating violence. The media has reported on a few cases of Israeli Arabs, or individuals from Gaza or the West Bank who have made their way to Syria in order to join the fighting. These cases do not seem likely to evade established routines and intelligence directed against individuals coming to Israel from enemy countries.

Israel's most recent Supreme Court decision had at least a momentary impact on political discourse, but appears to be less troubling than Barack Obama's back and forth efforts to satisfy a Hispanic constituency on the issue of legalizing the illegals without endangering Democratic chances in the upcoming House and Senate elections.

Left of center Israelis are active in campaigns to provide the illegals currently in the country an opportunity to work legally and receive health insurance and other social benefits. Right of center politicians and activists are seeking ways around the Supreme Court's decision.

Commentators find indication that the justices were not united, and that some voting against existing procedures were reluctant to go against the government and Knesset majority on such a sensitive issue. This opens the possibility of wiggle room around the Court's current majority.

Speedy trials justifying incarceration are one possibility, along with more active police patrols in South Tel Aviv. The Interior Minister has proposed changing the Basic Law on Civil Rights to exclude illegal immigrants from the general grant of rights to all residents, and increasing efforts to send illegals elsewhere.

Another possibility is incarceration during extended court proceedings.

As Ehud Olmert and Avigdor Lieberman can testify, Israeli prosecutors and courts can spend a decade on individual cases.

The right of center Israel Hayom defined its posture with a large front page headline, "Storm after rejection of the law against Illegals." However, one of its most popular daily columnists, Dan Margalit, headed his item, "Correct Decision, and Thanks to the Fence."

Little problem or serious? A court decision that would bring compliments to Israel from decent people of the world, or jeers from those concerned to maintain the borders between the First and Third Worlds? Or, as Margalit suggests, a minor occurrence likely to add to Israel's status in the First World, concerned with a problem largely solved by the border fence?

We'll see.

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 05:01 AM
September 22, 2014
Political stink?

Does something smell especially bad?

Or is it just the normal smell of political infighting and mutual accusation?

Front and center is Martin Indyk, his past and present roles as a leading figure in the Brookings Institution, Qatar's multi-million dollar gifts to Brookings, the failure of Indyk to broker a deal between Israel and Palestinians, and the blame that Indyk has directed against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Qatar has received headlines for its financial support of Hamas, the desire of Indyk's bosses to include Qatar and Turkey among the mediators between Israel and Hamas over the recent operation in Gaza, and the refusal of the Israeli government (along with the Egyptians) to accept Qatar or Turkey.

The New York Times has recently published a long article probing foreign government contributions to American research institutes, and what the donors receive by way of so-called objective analyses of public issues tilted in their favor.

The headline leaves nothing to doubt, "Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks." The text mentions a host of countries, giving prominent attention to Norway. Its reputation for having a squeaky clean government and enough oil to give it a high enough score on lists of the richest countries per capita suggesta it needs no outside help on anything. Yet it wants support from the US on Artic drilling and environmental policy. Also on the list of donors are Japan and Germany with their better than average reputations, and a number of Muslim countries which, along with Qatar, are likely to be using their money for less than Utopian purposes.

The article notes that Brookings and its cousins insist on scholarly independence, but also cites scholars who admit that

"donations have led to implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments. . . . 'If a member of Congress is using the Brookings reports, they should be aware -- they are not getting the full story,' said Saleem Ali, who served as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and who said he had been told during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government in papers. 'They may not be getting a false story, but they are not getting the full story.'"

The Times article does not mention Israel among the donors.

If that means Israel does not play in this game, the reason is obvious. Why spend our tax dollars when American Jews are shelling out their money for AIPAC and no end of other channels to those who make policy. Sheldon Adelson's $100 million in the 2012 presidential campaign dwarfed anything going from Qatar to Brookings.

The Jerusalem Post published an article focused even more narrowly than the New York Times on the Indyk-Qatar-Brookings linkage. The Post's article is headlined "Jerusalem doubts Indyk's institute after Qatar funding reports." It notes that Qatar's $14.8 million makes it the largest foreign donor to Brookings.

The Post's article goes on to summarize Indyk's criticism of Netanyahu.

"After stepping down as Middle East envoy, Indyk - in speeches and interviews - was highly critical of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and placed a large share of the blame for the breakdown of the talks on the prime minister's shoulders. In a recent interview with Foreign Policy magazine about the Gaza conflict, Indyk said US President Barack Obama became "enraged" with Israeli criticism of US Secretary of State John Kerry. Indyk said Gaza has had a "very negative" impact on the US-Israel relationship. (Indyk also said) "There's a lot of strain in the relationship now. The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister has been fraught for some time and it's become more complicated by recent events."

The same article notes that American-Israel film and television producer Haim Saban, known for a stridently pro-Israel posture, donated only slightly less than Qatar to Brookings,

". . .some $13 million to the institute to set up the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. In July the Saban name was dropped from the title, with the director - Tamara Coffman Wittes - writing on the center's website that the Brookings partnership with the Saban Family Foundation was entering a "new phase." The Saban Foundation and Brookings, she wrote, would continue to work together on the annual Saban Forum dealing with the US-Israel relationship."

There was a time when I knew several of the top scholars of Brookings and other Washington think tanks well enough to call one of them and inquire about the internal politics beyond that change in name. However, those years, and my friends, are long gone.

Other sources note that Saban ranks as one of the biggest individual donors to the Democratic Party, and recruited Martin Indyk to head the Brookings' Center that he funded.

Money may affect what research institutes publish and neglect to publish. As the New York Times article makes explicit, there is a thin line, often breached, between research institutes claiming objective scholarship and lobbyists for hire.

While holding our noses against the likelihood of stink, we should also remember that information does not control policy. It may influence policymakers, but not likely all of them in the same direction.

For this we can thank the multitude of policymakers, policymaking institutions (i.e., the executive branch with its many quasi-autonomous agencies, plus the plurality of houses, committees, and high-ego members of Congress), as well as the multitude of research institutes, the donors who support them, and journalists who report about them.

Political scientists and journalists who contribute to the field of policymaking and the subfield of policy implementation provide numerous insights that support both skepticism and cynicism about the power of any one donor or policymaker.

The slippage between policy preferences, formal declarations by authoritative bodies, and the actual implementation of programs is likely to be considerable. Sometimes it is 100 percent. That is, nothing may get done, even about an issue that a key policymaker describes as most important.

Among the reasons are that other policymakers or key administrators succeed in foiling the effort.

Getting back to Indyk, his appointment suggests the naivete or duplicity of Obama and/or Kerry. No one should have thought that a leading J Street activist would be a good fit with Benyamin Netanyahu. There are lots of other reasons for the failure of the Obama-Kerry process to broker an agreement between Israel and Palestine, but if Indyk contributed to the failure or the nastiness of the post-mortem, those looking for an explanation had best look at his initial appointment.

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 08:53 PM
September 20, 2014
Layers of Israel

It risks the charge of banality to assert that Israel is a place with a multitude of historical layers, many of which intrude into its politics and international relations.

The people who migrated, fought, conquered, suffered defeat, left, or stayed have made their mark on the names of places, changes in the landscape, ruins from ancient times and only decades past, monuments old and new, as well as yesterday's graffiti.

Jerusalem offers a greater density of this stuff than other parts of the country. Current competition to build here or there, to expand one's neighborhood or to keep out the interlopers (Jews, Arabs or Haredim, depending on place and perspective) are only the latest chapters in something that has been occurring since David.

The Politics of the Trail: Reflexive Mountain Biking along the Frontier of Jerusalem (University of Michigan Press, 2014), by my friend and colleague Oded Löwenheim, derives from several years of impressions while bicycling in the area between his home in a Jerusalem suburb and the Hebrew University, with detours and side trips to what has remained from more than two millennia of occupation and settlement by Romans, several varieties of Christians and Muslims, and the history of modern Israel, including what was built in the last decade or is currently under construction.

Oded is a member of the Hebrew University's Department of International Relations, which is a close cousin or a hived-off step child of Political Science. He does not ride his bicycle through that interesting bit of Israeli history. He writes mainly about his encounters with people, stones, and place names reflecting the conflict between Jews and Arabs.

I used to see Oded regularly in the university pool. Then after years of wondering what happened to him, we met in the corridors of the university. He explained that he was bicycling instead of swimming, and that he had written a book about bicycling. This intrigued me. I spent much of my youth and some of my adulthood on a bicycle, until coming to Jerusalem and deciding that the narrow streets and hills were not for my kind of riding. As I was reading Oded's book, my younger son, Mattan, and his fiance, Channa, were riding from London to Paris. Years ago, my older son, Stefan, set the family standard pedaling from Palo Alto to North Carolina, then up to Nova Scotia and down to Fall River.

Oded said that his book was not really about bicycling, but about the various sides of history and politics he encountered on his rides. This, too attracted me. My own walks between home and the university bring me to sites and personal encounters that force one's thoughts to migrations, conflicts, feelings of threat and friendships that--to me--are more fascinating than troubling.

Oded's rides have been far richer than my walks from French Hill to Mt Scopus, but he writes as someone more troubled than fascinated. He firmly plants himself as an academic leftist, who sees the state (Israel, and perhaps states in general) as oppressive to their own citizens and aggressive to others. He writes that the choices made by Palestinians and other Arabs have forced Israel into a strong defense posture, and that Palestinians no less than Israelis have distorted history in order to justify their claims and ugly actions.

His book is as good a collection as I have seen about the interplay of history, legends, myths, distortions, justifications, ethnic, religious, and national politics that permeates the area around Jerusalem.

He interacts with Arabs who remember their homes in villages overrun by the Israelis in 1948, including those built upon by Oded's suburban town, and meets with a retired Jordanian colonel who fought against the Israelis close to that town in 1967. Oded curses the barrier which cuts off the town from a nearby Palestinian village, whose residents used to sneak into Israel for day labor. He recognizes, but does not quite accept the rational for building the barrier, and is proud to have been part of the protest that resulted in shifting its route to provide more access for the Palestinians to their fields.

Oded ridicules the establishment and the design of the American-Israel memorial to 9-11, whose construction he links to the money and political weight of American Jews, who saw the memorial as somehow adding to the legitimacy of their bi-national loyalties. He chides the designers for putting the memorial on what had been a choice bit of land, but which will be overshadowed by a high bridge being built as part of the high speed rail link between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

This brought to mind what an earlier generation of rich American Jews had built on another choice spot in the Judean Mountains, to commemorate John F. Kennedy. Initially that was a popular stop for tour buses, then went through a long period of abandonment and broken windows, more recently with repaired windows but locked doors to the memorial floor, with a lower level used for offices of the Jewish National Fund.

Liberty Bell Park scores far higher than either the Kennedy or the 9-11 memorials. The bell itself and its inscription do not take much space, or mar what is a useful urban park close to the center of Jerusalem, and used by Arabs as well as Jews.

Intellectual balance is a concept impossible to measure with precision. If the question is one of balance between analysis and affirmation of a political position, Oded's book tilts, at times heavily, toward the side of affirming his leftist animosity to much of what Israel has done and continues to do. Yet the book is not entirely lopsided. There is much to admire here by way of analysis, and illustrations of the conundrums encountered and reinforced by Israelis and Palestinians.

Oded's conception of the 1948 war illustrates his perspective

" . . . following the initial stage of the war, which was indeed a defensive one, Israel fought a war of occupation and committed many acts of ethnic cleansing . . . the invading Arab armies were inferior in military method, lacked motivation, and, eventually, were low in numbers and the quality and quantity of their armaments. It was not exactly the heroic story of "the few against the many" that is taught in Israeli schools and repeated in the media." (p. 151)

Oded relates this as part of a conversation with old friends at a family picnic, during which insertion of his politics into a social gathering caused the friends to bristle, and then announce that they had to go home.

At various points Oded laments his posturing, but cannot extract himself from what he sees, and thinks, and what shapes his nightmares.

"Forgetting and erasing the memory of the Nakba as a moment of founding violence, means not recognizing the disaster that made us, Israelis, into a people of conquerors that still live on their swords and who came to cherish this way of living. . . .I hope I am not an "ambassador of harassing hypocrisy" now, I think as I mount the bike and pedal away from the ruined (Arab) estate . . . I feel the unresolved tension between my desire for authenticity and native like connection and knowledge of the land, on the one hand, and my being a product of the politics of occupation, exclusion, and dispossession, on the other hand. I feel the tension between my wish for an apolitical human and personal mutual contact, recognition, and understanding and the all-encompassing conflictual political context, in time and space, from which this wish stems from the outset. I feel my fear of the "sea of hatred and revenge," as well as my fear of living in a society that fetishizes the "steel helmet." (pp. 137-38).

There are several vignettes about Oded entering Arab homes or accepting a ride with an Arab when his bicycle breaks down, and facing the encounters with a mixture of fear and excitement.

These reminded me of being led by a GPS not to the hotel in East Jerusalem where I was scheduled to speak, but to a dead end where two young Arab men were either fixing or dismantling a car. "This may be my last chapter" I thought as I left my car and asked directions. Their response was as polite as I was trying to be. One of them left his work, led me to the top of the road and did a better job than my GPS of guiding me to my destination.

Oded drafted the book while on sabbatical at the University of Victoria, and close to the end ponders another national history, perhaps no less unpleasant than what he experienced at home.

"The months passed, and I became aware of the colonial and postcolonial situation of the Canadian state and of the crimes committed against the First Nations there. I learned about the residential schools that shattered the family structure and aboriginal culture, and about the devouring of the ancient rain forests by the logging companies." (pp 205-06)

There is much in Oded's book that will infuriate Israelis and our friends, just as a careful reading may lead those who hate Israel to be uncertain about cheering or cursing.

My guess is that the book will advance Löwenheim's academic career at the Hebrew University, perhaps not without some argument in the committees that decide about his next promotion. It is not outside of the range of dispute that ought to be considered fair, given Jews' admirable tolerance of argument. It is a decent portrayal of what many of us may sense about Israel and its neighbors, the things we have experienced and the people we have known.


The year 5775 (תשע"ה) is almost upon us. שנה טובה לכלכם. May it be a good one for you all.

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 08:53 PM
September 17, 2014
Messy realities

It's been a week since the great speech, and there has been little beyond solemn statements of support, along with reservations about doing anything concrete.

The President boasted of a multi-nation coalition. In one statement it was claimed that 40 nations had signed on, with no American boots on the ground.

So far there are no boots headed for the ground.

The coalition may now be down to 10 or a dozen, depending on who is talking, but with little more than talking involved. Several Muslim countries have offered their support, but without troops. Turkey has forbid that American planes use NATO facilities in Turkey for their missions.

Among the nastiness of various comments are
coalition of the uncertain
coalition of the unwilling to be identified by name
coalition of the willing and unable
lackluster coalition of the willing
how willing is Obama's coalition?

It could have been predicted by all perhaps except the Secretary of State, noted for his ponderous platitudes that have produced a minimum of results here or throughout the Middle East.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has weighed in with another blessing of Islam. Perhaps we should be forgive him, bothered as he must have been by the threat of Scotland's secession along with the ugliness of his countryman's beheading.

"They boast of their brutality. They claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims, they are monsters,"

On the same day I had been on the fringe of a conversation between Muslim friends, which they conducted in Hebrew for my benefit.

One said that violence has been inherent in the history of Islam. Another said that Sunnis have generally been more peaceful than Shiites, but that there were too many factions within Islam for him to comprehend.

Arabic speaking Israeli commentators, supposedly experts of the subject, speak about a multitude of groups whose names they do not know for sure, competing for headlines, recruits, money and body counts across Syria and Iraq, as well as in the Sinai and various other spots across Africa and the Middle East.

The rest of us should admit that we cannot comprehend the continued blather of Cameron, Obama, and others about Islam being a religion of peace.

Sure, they do not want to ignite the millions of Muslims already among their voters, or the billion Muslims worldwide. At the same time, a simple standard of intellectual honesty suggests that they should avoid fibbing about the obvious. Cameron's speech writers could have crafted something that condemned murder without that nonsense about a religion of peace.

The more honest among us should admit that none of the religions is without the blemish of violence in its history, doctrines, or the current practices by some of those claiming to be faithful. However, those saying that they are the most faithful of Muslims are now the most violent, brutal, or barbaric individuals operating under the umbrella of a religion.

We should not envy the task of Obama, Cameron, and whoever might join them, perhaps determined by whose citizens find themselves the center of a filmed beheading.

The coalition mentioned includes European countries with competing economic interests in the Middle East, and Muslim countries competing on a variety of theocratic and political issues.

Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia are potential allies of the US with military assets to oppose ISIS and other extremists, but each have strong reservations about cooperating with one another or with the United States.

Those intent on understanding Turkey must reckon with its concern for Kurds, as well as whatever may happen right over its borders with Iraq and Syria. The Turks are most likely assessing the prospects, including the chance of American bungling.

Figuring out who to aid in Syria is its own set of mysteries, given the record of the Assad regime as well as the multitude of groups claiming to fight Assad and/or one another.

Obama's promise of keeping American boots off the ground in Syria and Iraq may already be crumbling.

According to General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

"My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward . . . I believe that will prove true. If it fails to be true and there are threats to the U.S., then of course, I would go back to the president and make the recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces."

With no Muslim countries sending their boots to the American led coalition, one can imaging the tensions within the Obama White House with competing assessments and pressures about what is good for the President and for his country. The President followed Demsey's comment with his own affirmation of not sending troops, but we have learned never to say never.

On another front, President Obama has announced plans to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to fight the spread of Ebola.

The mission is to construct and staff care centers and supply medical kits meant to protect from, or cure Ebola..

One can hope that Obama's advisers have done the analysis that weighs the benefits of this action to the President and the United States, against the prospect of easing the passage of Ebola to the United States.

The director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota has said that it is difficult to care for Ebola patients without becoming infected, and there is no proof that the kits being sent will work.

There is no shortage of messiness closer to home.

A Palestinian, UN, Israeli agreement on construction materials for Gaza, without a commitment to de-militarize the area, but with UN supervision to assure that they will be used for civilian purposes.

Israeli officials say that the move is meant to dampen the prospect of suffering among Gazans that would work to provoke further violence against Israel.

A missile landed in an Israeli field late on Tuesday, followed by Hamas claims of good intentions and the arrest of the perpetrators.

One measure of Gaza's misery appears in the 15 migrants drowned on their way from Egypt to Italy. According to a report by Aljazeera, they were among the 10,000 Palestinians who have fled Gaza via tunnels under the Egyptian border.

We can couple our mourning for 15 dead Palestinians with the concern for still-functioning tunnels to Egypt, and worries about what flows in them to Gaza with munitions from Iran or Libya.

Assuming the UN will monitor the use of construction materials in Gaza is equivalent to declaring that Islam is a religion of peace.

In case no one noticed, UN personnel allowed their schools in Gaza to be used for storing weapons and fighters, as well as launching missiles toward Israel. And UN troops are the ones recently seen going to safety in Israel from their posts in Syria.

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
September 15, 2014
Refusing to listen

Forty-three reserve officers and other personnel of IDF Intelligence Unit 8200 have received local and international coverage for a detailed letter of protest and a refusal to serve further in their function of listening and reading Palestinian communications.

Their letter claims that the unit's work violated the civil rights and privacy of Palestinians, often without relevance for Israel's defense. They complained about colleagues who laughed while hearing telephone calls concerned with sex, and said that some of the material they uncovered was used for political, rather than military purposes.

Their protest has brought forth claims that the bravery of the 43, and standing up for civil rights shows the decency of Israeli military personnel and will aid Israel's concern for international legitimacy.

Others have said that it will add to the campaign of those who seek to de-legitimize Israel, by describing the nasty stuff the IDF does over the border among Palestinians, other Arabs, and perhaps among the Arabs of Israel.

It has also produced criticism from Israelis across the political spectrum for the cardinal sin of refusing military service, and the even more serious violation of revealing military details meant to be kept secret. Ranking politicians and retired senior military officers have said that the 43 should be tried for disobeying orders. At least one source has mentioned the charge of treason.

Critics compare the 43 to Anat Kamm, an IDF draftee who served more than two years in prison for passing secret information to a journalist. Kamm's political motives appear to resemble those of the current protesters. Among the details she leaked were indications that senior IDF personnel had planned and carried out target killings of individuals in violation of a Supreme Court ruling limiting the circumstances of when such a tactic could be used.

"There were some aspects of the IDF's operational procedures in the West Bank that I felt should be public knowledge... history tends to forgive people who expose war crimes."

Opponents of the 43 have noted that the IDF has mechanisms for officers and enlisted personnel to express their grievances. However, one of the initiators of the protest said they had tried, without success, to bring their complaints to the attention of their superiors.

The IDF spokesman said that only 10 of the protesters had been actively involved in the work described. Others were no longer involved, or were support personnel.

In this, the current group of protesters resemble 27 IDF pilots who said some years ago that they would stop flying targeted assassination missions that violated their conscience. Most of those protesters were retired, or pilots of transport planes not involved in assassinations.

As in previous cases, senior officers and other critics of the present protest see it as seeking to politicize a military that should operate only according to orders coming down through its professional hierarchy, whose senior members take policy direction from the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, or Security Cabinet.

No one should assert that "political considerations" are absent from decisions involving national defense, e.g., who to attack, when to attack and how to attack. However, the politics are expected to enter the IDF only at the top of the command structure, from the top of the Israeli government, and not be the province of every private, corporal, sergeant, lower- or middle-ranking officer.

More than 200 other personnel of Unit 8200 have signed a letter against their colleagues, stating their own commitments to the unit and affirming their belief that it is contributing in important ways to national defense.

What the protest reveals is what many of us have known, or suspected, on the basis of occasional reports or conversations with individuals doing the work. Unit 8200 is an intelligence unit, with personnel from graduates of the Arabic language classes of elite high schools, doing their compulsory military service by listening to telephone conversations, reading text messages and e-mails picked up wherever the intelligence staff hopes to receive useful information.

The material may be screened electronically for key words, then reviewed by lower level personnel who decide what ought to be sent higher in the organization. Among the concerns are communications about plans to attack Israelis or overseas Jews, and the kinds of personal communications that may identify individuals who could be tapped for other intelligence. Conversations about pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and adultery would fit the protesters' concerns about privacy and civil rights, but would expose individuals who could be pressed into Israel's service against the threat of disclosures that would bring significant sanctions from Arab society.

The work may be dirty, but hardly less so than training other high school graduates how to kill, and then sending them out to do it.

It should not surprise us that some of the information is used for "political" as opposed to overtly "military" purposes.

Here the protesters could learn something from an introductory course in political science. "Politics" is not all that precise. Leverage against a ranking member of an organizations that participates in terror, or against a ranking politician in a hostile regime (such as the Palestinians leadership of the West Bank, Gaza, one of the overseas refugee communities, or someone important in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, or Iran) may serve the purposes of Israel's national defense.

Someone claiming to be an English gentleman once said that people like him do not read other people's mail.

Against this is the epigram that all is fair in love and war. What can be learned about the love affairs and other personal secrets of one's adversaries may be useful in international politics, if not directly on the battlefield.

Among the defenders of unit 8200 is the claim that "everyone does it." Those doubting it can Google Edward Snowden. Whoever insists that Israel operate according to higher standards than all others should come back to earth.

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 09:57 PM