January 31, 2015
Sara, bottles, and the media

Is media serious business?


Is it at the core of our civilization?

Let's not exaggerate.

It's also a source of fun, tending toward the slapstick, as shown by what follows from the peak of Israeli and American media.

First the Israeli slapstick.

At the focus, once again, is Sara Netanyahu.

Criminal charges are being considered.

There is also a bit of confusion involving the Attorney General and the State Comptroller. The first makes decisions about what to prosecute, and the second is the equivalent of the GAO.

It's not clear if Sara's latest faux pas was appropriately reported and dealt with, or withheld in order to avoid embarrassing the PM during the election campaign.

The story deals with returnable plastic bottles, each worth about 0.30 NIS, or about $ 0.08.

The first lady allegedly asked her staff (who we've heard in numerous complaints to authorities work under draconian discipline and cruel verbiage) to return the empty bottles, and then took the money for her own use.

Now she has paid 4,000 NIS (about $1,000) for misappropriation of state resources.

Claims are that the payment short-changes the state treasury.

We can learn something about Israel politics by the treatment of the scandal by various media.

To understand what comes next, it is important to realize that Ha'aretz is on the left, Israel Hayom is the Sheldon Adelson newspaper which goes by the nickname Bibipress, and Yedioth Ahronoth is the arch enemy of Israel Hayom, fighting on the issue of the free distribution of Israel Hayom (which has taken the lead position from Yedioth Aharonoth in polls of media circulation) and just about everything else.

What follows comes from Friday editions, early in the treatment of the bottles.

The cartoonist for Ha'aretz treats it with his typically porcine portrayal of the first lady, telling a staff person "I need you to take something to the supermarket," while the scene on her television is of more important military action. She is surrounded by liquor bottles, which, as we have heard from one of her previous staff people, have become her habit and a trigger of her outbursts.

A lead item on Ha'aretz web site was headlined "State Comptroller delayed a report on expenses of the Prime Minister's household, by request of a family attorney," and "The report, that has rested for weeks in the State Comptroller's Office without publication, deals with extravagant expenditures presumably from taxpayers' money, hundreds of thousands of shekels for restaurant meals, and tens of thousands of shekels on flowers."

Yedioth Ahronoth featured the same story on its web site, along with another with the headline "The good life: 100 thousand shekels over two years for drinks in the Netanyahu household."

The first page of the Yedioth Ahronoth print edition has a story headlined, "Bottle Scandal . . . Small Money, Big Hutzpah."

Israel Hayom is predictably different.

Its front page features "Obama supporters come to help topple Netanyahu," which details an American public relations team that worked for Obama in 2012 now in Israel to help Bibi's opponents. Another front page item is headlined "Boehner: I invited Netanyahu, and that is within my authority." The second page features a story about Netanyahu recruiting Benny Begin (the son of . . . ) to his party's list for the coming election. Only on the ninth page are items about the bottles, with the headline, "Campaign at the lowest level: Instead of Basic Questions, Rumors and Insults."

The bottles have gone viral. Among the pictures received from sources skilled with cutting and pasting are two which depict the first lady as a bag woman, collecting bottles in trash bins for the 0.30 shekels that each is worth.

The Prime Minister has charged that the opposition has tried to defeat him with stories about returned bottles, while the real issues are who should be chosen to lead the country, i.e., him, or the leftists of Zionist Camp. Yet the multitude of stories about Sara may have their impact. Charges about her management of the household do not touch the Prime Minister directly, but there are also stories of her badgering him to fire government personnel who do not measure up to standards of appropriate obsequiousness.

Among those whose career was said to have been cut short by Sara is Naftali Bennett, who had served as Netanyahu's Chief of Staff. At signs of tension between the more Bennett as leader of Jewish Home and Natanyahu, there are commentators who see the shadow of Sara.

So far there is no clear sign that Sara has hurt Bibi. Polls continue to show Likud and Zionist Camp close to tied, in some polls one and in some polls the other in the lead. Forecasters continue to see Bibi having an easier task forming a coalition than Herzog-Livni.

Competing with the first family's bottles is a report that the football (soccer) player that Bennett recruited to the Jewish Home party list decided to save himself and the party the continued brouhaha by signing off. That may satisfy some of the rabbis in the upper echelon of Jewish Home, but it is leaving a nasty taste among Israel's Moroccans and other Sephardim. We've heard from religious North Africans that the farce is yet another indication that Bennett's party is a home for Ashkenazim only.

What is arguably a more serious event than either the Natanyahu bottles or the presence of a Sabbath-violating football player on the list of Jewish Home were coordinated attacks on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai, with responsibility claimed by a local branch of the Islamic State.

Looking at what was featured on a New York Times website, one wouldn;t know the potential importance of this latest advance by Islamic extremists, threatening not only the most important of Arab countries, but also close to its border with Israel. There the order of stories were

Rivalry at the peak of international tennis
A project to deal with "revenge porn" on the Internet
Death of a prominent author
Google's profit report

And finally,

"Bomb Attacks at Security Sites in Sinai Kill at Least 26"

So much for the world's leading newspaper.

Somewhat better is a long article that details a personal rift between Barack Obama and Benyamin Natanyahu, focusing on the latest uptick over Bibi's scheduled speech in Washington.

What's missing from that article is an examination of a rift in policy rather than personality. Iran is far away from Washington, and its leaders have not repeatedly threatened the destruction of the United States. It is a mistake to focus on the personalities of two experienced politicians, both good actors, rather than the issue of Iran's nuclear program, and what Israel--led by Netanyahu or someone else--might do if the US lets Iran proceed as it wishes.

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
January 29, 2015

We can't avoid it. There are a billion or so Muslims, and the rest of us are more or less dependent on what they do.

Oil and gas is one dependence, which we should not minimize despite the current dip in price.

Physical presence is another dependence, even in places where non-Muslims are large majorities and control government.

Israel's 20 percent Muslim population, with Muslim dominant countries all around is one setting with a disproportionate influence on world politics. European percentages between 5 and 10, higher in major cities also weigh heavily, as shown by recent events in Paris, continued problems in Malmo and Marseilles, disturbances by Muslims and anti-Muslims in Britain, Germany, Netherlands, and elsewhere.

Of all the religions that have significant numbers of followers in important places, Islam is by far the most problematic. Pretending otherwise, or adhering to the norm that nothing negative can be attached to religion is a recipe for self-delusion and greater disaster.

On the other hand, treating Islam like the plague is also foolhardy. It risks pushing nominal adherents to extremists.

We can quarrel about those cartoons in Charlie Hebdo and other publications. They offend Muslims like cartoons modeled on the Nazi stereotypes (also in Charlie Hebdo) offend Jews. Muslims are far more likely to respond violently is part of the story, even though the cartoons of Jews are equally in bad taste. We can cite Muslim violence as yet another indication of what is unacceptable, while asking if drawing cartoons is the best way to fight the war of civilizations.

Among the problems in assessing the magnitude of the Islamic problem is a lack of information about the intensities of Muslims' belief and inclinations to violence.

The barbaric activities apparent in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other places may be the most serious problems facing western governments, given the capacity of the extremists to recruit enthusiasts, send them back to their homelands, and expand the chaos from present concentrations.

What is less clear is the incidence of secularism, nominal identification but moderate levels of belief, practice, and politics among Muslims, equivalent to what prevails among Christians and Jews.

Also unclear is the capacity of non-Muslims to act in ways to combat the extremism and contain its spread.

Israel's military and other security organizations have acquired considerable experience, at great expense in resources and blood. It is not clear if American and European national leaders are equally capable, especially with respect to the greater problems of containing Islamic violence far from their own borders.

Muslims may be best positioned to deal with the dangers from extremism to themselves and others.

For some time now, the Internet has provided a platform for individual Muslims who set themselves apart from the stereotypes, condemn the backwardness of Muslim countries, praise Israel, and the successes achieved in science and living standards by western democracies.

Israelis are aware of sharp differences, even within individual families. Haneen Zoabi MK is among the most outspoken of Islamic radicals, while other members of her family have distinguished themselves as seeing the future in cooperation with Jews in a national culture that they value.

Even more promising than individuals are Muslim political and religious leaders who see the future of their countries and congregations threatened by the extremists.

Egyptian President al-Sisi has urged Muslim religious leaders to recognize the damage to their faith that comes from extremist preachers and the violence that they produce. Israel has learned to deal with a number of Muslim countries that make their own subtle contributions toward moderation, even while occasionally joining the anti-Zionist chorus.

You want complexity?

Shiite extremists, led by Iran are shedding their blood while fighting the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, and causing trouble for Israel alongside its northern borders. Saudi families and the Saudi government have provided major resources to the most extreme of the Islamists, as well as various groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the strongest Sunni rivals of Shiite Iran, while Turkey is somewhat of a wild card, with aspirations to align with Europe, compete with Egypt for great power status in the Middle East, side with Islamists against Israel while continuing to do business with Israel, manage its own ethnic complexities while coping with unrest over its borders with Syria and Iraq, and a sizable influx of refugees.

Among the tasks of western leaders is to get what they can from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, and other Islamic powers, while recognizing the conflicts between them working against the extremism that is at least potential in them all.

Also on the agenda are what might come from active centers of violence in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and a few other places with restive Muslims.

Among the tasks of Israeli leaders is to deal appropriately with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, whose leaders repeatedly proclaim their intentions to destroy Israel, and do what they can to arm themselves in ways that seem directed at that task. It is appropriate to remind the world about the threats against Israel, and the likely consequences for other countries if it comes to serious violence.

Those who see an objectionable political disturbance in Benyamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress may require additional lessons in the greater disturbances associated with Islam.

There is a religious as well as a nationalist element in rejections by Palestinians of proposals made by Israel. Among the constraints, even for Palestinians who might qualify as partners, are the Islamists among Palestinian activists, including the most violent of them in Hamas and various Jihadist gangs. Beyond Palestine are crowds of Muslims, educated to chant their hatred of Israel, and to curse as traitors any Muslim willing to do business with Israel.

Anwar Sadat paid with his life. Mahmoud Abbas awards the designation of martyr, and names public sites in honor of Palestinians who die while killing Jews.

It isn't a game for innocents.

So far the record of Barack Obama is less than encouraging. We'll see in his last two years, then the books he writes afterwards, if he's learned anything useful about Islam in his years at the top.

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 09:11 PM
January 27, 2015
Bread and circus

Israeli politics differs from the Roman in avoiding spectacles of death by gladiator or wild beasts, but it resembles the Roman, and what occurs elsewhere, in its ingredients of entertainment.

This week's highlight was the announcement by Naftali Bennett that Jewish Home was giving a high place on its list to a well known retired football (soccer) player.

The predecessors of Jewish Home, who created and managed the National Religious Party, must be spinning in their shrouds. They politicked for the sake of kashrut and Shabbat, including the opposition to Saturday afternoon football, which was the venue that brought Jewish Home's MK candidate to public attention.

Who knows if the middle aged former athlete prays three times a day, or what he thinks about the Land of Israel. Name recognition he has.

The most favorable interpretation is that Bennett wants to convince us that Jewish Home provides a home for all kinds of Jews, but at least a few of the party's Orthodox core are now looking for some other party.

He's the only jock I recognize as such among prominent candidates.

More common is to parley a career as a media personality. Most prominent is Yair Lapid, who did not finish high school but did well as a TV talk show host, and no doubt learned how to do it from his father, who also came to politics from the media. Tomy Lapid led Shinui (Change) to a level of success close to that of his son's There is a Future. The younger Lapid's decline in the polls also recalls the fate of Dad's party, which began its fatal decline when it became known that one of its MKs hired a private detective to investigate another party MK thought to be conspiring against him.

Yair's party includes one prominent media personality other than himself. Yisrael Beitenu has sought to pull out of a decline due to corruption charges with the help of another media figure. One of the Labor's former leaders and presently ranked high on its list also came from a career in media, as did one of the most prominent figures in the Meretz delegation.

The higher echelons of the IDF have been well known as a source of political talent. To be considered a serious contender for leading the government, a party should have a former general on its list, who could be a candidate for Defense Minister. No history of Israeli politics would be complete without chapters on Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and at least a few paragraphs about Moshe Ya'alon, Shaul Mofaz, Yoav Galant, Amnon Mitzna, Benyamin Ben Eliezer, Yigal Yadin, Yigal Alon, Amos Yadlin, Haim Bar Lev, Ezer Weizman, and who knows how many others. Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir did not come out of the IDF, but are worth extensive treatment about the linkage between national security and politics.

There is a Future recruited a well known senior police investigator to its Knesset list, but he announced his retirement after one term.

Leading ranks of the police are not likely to supply candidates for ambitious parties in this election, although several who reached the ranks equivalent to general may be looking for work. There has been a plague of investigations and early retirements, which has now reached the Deputy Police Chief. Several have been accused of corruption in getting benefits from individuals under police investigation, but the more common cause has been improper conduct or sexual harassment, as accused by younger female officers.

The advantage of a parliamentary system is its many steps from a political novitiate to the top. No Israeli jumped directly from prominence outside of politics to the position of Prime Minister. Being a general in a serious army requires some of the broad information and manipulative skills useful in politics. It also brings name recognition. Between George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, the US list of Presidents also includes Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, and a number of lesser knowns who made it in the 19th century.

Rabin, Barak, and Sharon climbed through minor or middle-ranking ministries before getting to the top.

So far no Israeli has climbed from the media to become prime minister. Yair Lapid's rocketing from media to Finance Minister without high school credentials or any other governmental experience was a mistake for him and the rest of us. His party's drop from 19 seats to current polling in the range of 9 reflects the gap between extensive promise and meager accomplishment. His quarrels with ministerial professionals about his iconic proposal to solve the housing problem by forgiving first time buyers of the 18 percent Value Added Tax helped to keep the idea from passing through all the political hurdles. It may have contributed to a worsening housing situation during the months when it languished, contractors delayed putting units on the market, and buyers waited.

It's not hard to find American flashes in the pan who climbed too high too fast via their platform skills and the lack of steps between party primaries and the White House. One can quarrel whether GW Bush or Barack Obama did the most damage in the field of foreign policy, where neither was ready to lead the world's most powerful and intrusive country.

We can estimate the harm by the people killed as a result. GW Bush is arguably in the lead with a million or more Iraqi deaths on his debit. Obama's toll is still climbing from the time of a Cairo speech which got applause from some as a decent essay on democracy, but criticism from others for not taking account of culture. Subsequent actions in working against the Egyptian leadership, then flabby gestures with respect to Syria, Ukraine, Iran, and ISIS, plus continued reluctance to link extremism with Islam, may get him to numbers like those of his predecessor.

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 09:03 PM
January 26, 2015

It ain't easy deciding about the upcoming Israel election.

First one should decide if you want to influence what the next government does, or find a party (or a party leader or some other individual) who comes closest to your political ideal.

If you are looking for an ideal candidate or party, you have lots of choices. Polls are showing eleven parties likely to get enough votes to pass the minimum and enter the Knesset.

If you want to influence policy, you are more limited. Only two parties are polling enough to be able to name the prime minister and other major figures (i.e., defense minister, finance minister, foreign minister), or maybe three. Likud and Zionist Camp (i.e., Labor's current self-designation) are leading, and virtually tied in most polls, with Jewish Home polling enough so that it might leverage its support in exchange for one of those key ministries.

Israeli voters select a party, whose candidates get into the Knesset depending on the number of party votes and the ranking of each candidate on the party list. Each of the candidates sufficiently high to become a likely MK may affect voters' choices, but except for those high enough likely to get a major ministry, the voter's calculation is more in the range of who do I like or do not like?, rather than how is my party vote likely to have an influence?.

Benyamin Netanyahu has led in most polls over Yitzhak (Boji) Herzog with respect to Israelis' preferences for a Prime Minister. Moreover, Netanyahu's party Likud has impressed most commentators with the best chance to form a government with majority support in the Knesset.

The simplest arithmetic looks like Likud, Jewish Home, Kolanu. Yisrael Beitenu, and the ultra-Orthodox parties, amounting to 68 Knesset Members. The addition of Lapid's There is a Future (problematic) would bring the total to 75.

The most obvious calculations for Zionist Camp do not get above 38 MKs, with Meretz, and There is a Future. It's conceivable that they could add Kolanu, Yisrael Beitenu, and the ultra-Orthodox parties to reach 68, but that would require left-leaning Zionist Camp and Meretz MKs and the outspoken secular MKs of There is a Future to accept the ultra-Orthodox and Avigdor Lieberman.

The 64 shekel question is What about the united Arab list?

Most expect it to increase Arab turnout and the number of MKs beholden to it. It's polling along with other middle-range parties at about 11 MKs. A minority view sees the united list as reducing the Arab representation, due to the more secular and Islamic Arabs not wanting to vote for a list that includes the other.

And will the MKs of the united list seek to align with a coalition headed by Zionist Camp? The name itself might put off some. And at least some MKs of a Zionist Camp led coalition might object to the price demanded by the united Arab list.

There are tensions in several of the parties that provoke some interesting questions, likely to bother voters who have not made up their minds.

One problem has occurred to Jews who had considered supporting Hadash, which derived from the Israeli Communist Party, attracted mostly Arabs, but some Jews, had a prominent Jewish MK Dov Khenin, with impressive academic credentials and may be the best informed MK in the field of environmental policy. The party had recently attracted Avrom Burg, a former Labor Party MK, former Knesset Chair and former head of the World Zionist Movement and the Jewish Agency, who aspired to political cooperation between Arabs and Jews. An Arab intellectual who is close to such things estimated that the Jews who voted for Hadash did not amount to the number necessary to elect one Knesset Member. He described Khenin as "the minority's gesture to the majority." Hadash has four MKs in the outgoing Knesset.

Dov Khenin supported the unity of Hadash with the more entirely Arab parties, and joined other prominent figures in the new alignment in a media appearance indicating that they were considering support of Yitzhak Herzog in a joint effort to unseat Benyamin Netanyahu.

However Burg, and presumably other Jews seeking a party that encourages cooperation between Jews and Arabs, has been put off by Hadash's alliance with Arab parties that are explicitly Islamic and/or anti-Zionist.

Burg attended a meeting of Hadash members, and stressed his objection to a unified list with a nationalistic agenda. He had left the Jewish political arena because it turned nationalistic and did not intend to support another form of nationalism.

Arabs who have been prominent in the Labor Party are having a similar problem from an opposite perspective. One candidate likely to get into the Knesset, Zuhair Bahlul, and other Arab activists object to the name Zionist Camp, asserting that they are not Zionists. They prefer the old name of Labor, or calling the party Israel Camp. Their demands have fed into the Likud campaign that its most prominent opponent is not Zionist, but post-Zionist or anti-Zionist.

Jewish Home is carrying the flag of Israeli rightists both against the name Zionist Camp and its prospective MKs. One of the Jewish Home candidates has demanded that the Election Commission ban the use of the name Zionist Camp due to the anti-Zionist expressions of its activists, and the regulation that forbids a list of candidates to adopt a name that would deceive the voters. Other Jewish Home campaigners quote one high ranking Zionist Camp candidate saying that the national anthem is racist, and others speaking against sending children to the IDF, saying that the expression Jewish State is deceptive and offensive, allowing IDF soldiers to opt out from being posted to the "occupied West Bank," and proposing that Memorial Day for Holocaust victims be linked with the Palestinian Day for the Nakba.

Likud is pondering a step that might complicate its campaign in behalf of the experience, skill, and moderation of Benyamin Netanyahu as a national leader. He is said to be mulling the appointment of Caroline Glick to one of the sure slots on the party list that is his prerogative as party leader.

Ms Glick has an impressive resume academically, as a columnist for Jerusalem Post and in several other functions, but her place on the ticket would not sit well with Netanyahu's earlier success in rid Likud's list of the religious-nationalist extremist Moshe Feiglin. Glick is arguably a secular equivalent, known for opposing the two-state solution and favoring the extension of Israel to all of the West Bank.

Getting in the way of Netanyahu deciding to give her a sure place on the Likud list is what she wrote about him in connection with her opposition to the exchange of prisoners for Gilad Shalit.

"At best, Netanyahu comes out of this deal looking like a weak leader who is manipulated by and beholden to Israel's radical, surrender-crazed media. To their eternal shame, the media have been waging a five-year campaign to force Israel's leaders to capitulate to Hamas. At worst, this deal exposes Netanyahu as a morally challenged, strategically irresponsible and foolish, opportunistic politician."

Her latest column is Bibi-friendly.

It begins with "The role of an Israeli leader is to adopt the policies that protect Israel, even when they are unpopular at the White House." It proceeds to detail the charge that Iran is intent on producing nuclear weapons.

"With Obama's diplomatic policy toward Iran enabling rather than preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, members of the House and Senate are seeking a credible, unwavering voice that offers an alternative path. For the past 20 years, Netanyahu has been the global leader most outspoken about the need to take all necessary measures to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, not only for Israel's benefit, but to protect the entire free world. From the perspective of the congressional leadership, then, inviting Netanyahu to speak was a logical move. . . .

For the past generation, the Israeli Left has insisted Israel's role on the world stage is that of a follower. . .

All resistance to White House policies is dangerous and irresponsible, leaders like Herzog and Tzipi Livni continuously warn.

Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu exposes the Left's dogma as dangerous nonsense."

Bibi has a few more days to finalize his party's list. Then the rest of us will have until March 17 to decide, or not to decide.
We should remember that much of politics is theater, the language is slogans, and the actors have overdeveloped egos. Neither Paradise nor disaster is likely to result from this, or any other election in a democracy.

For that we can thank those politicians who understand the nuances, and the professionals (i.e., senior bureaucrats) who guide them through the realities.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:01 PM
January 24, 2015
The UN and the US

The UN may do good somewhere, but the case would take some convincing.

Its people are spread throughout the Third World. All told, they are probably not worse than the governments they are meant to help.

We often see UN vehicles and personnel in our neighborhood. They are here to help the Palestinians, but living in Israel because it is more desirable.

The UN reached the limit of its peacekeeping role in Korea, and has not returned to anything close. That exercise, which like later ventures in Vietnam and elsewhere, was managed by the US, and decorated as international with a smattering of other participants. Most of the fighters in behalf of South Korea were Koreans, with about half as many American as Korean troops, and other countries contributing about one-sixth of the American contingent. It was only because of a Soviet walk-out from the Security Council over the seating of the Republic of China that the US was able to manage a joint effort under the UN flag.

A vastly disproportionate amount of the UN's political efforts are directed at Israel and Palestinians, not justified by geography, population, or the nature of what occurs here and elsewhere.

UN personnel meant to be peacekeepers in Lebanon do no more than record what happens, and have not shows a willingness or capacity to enforce anything.

The publication of statistics may be the UN's most notable accomplishment. With the information, despite doubts about some of what they convey from national reports, we can assess how dismal much of the world remains after 60 years of UN efforts.

The UN's actions with respect to Palestinian refugees are a swindle to the refugees and others. They have maintained their status and dependence for decades, pass it on to unlimited generations of descendants, learn from UN schools about the fault of the Jews but not the fault of the Arabs who--with the exception of Jordan--do what they can to maintain the Palestinians as refugees and a demonstration of Israel's unmet responsibility to disappear.

If delegates voting in the various UN organizations think they are deciding about the justice of Palestinian or Israeli claims, the reality is comic opera. Israeli representatives have an opportunity to express themselves, but no chance to affect a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, a host of clearly more damaging actions elsewhere get little or no hearing.

One can argue as to what has the force of international law, but again we are closer to comedy than a serious judicial process capable of enforcement.

More like an effective World Government is the United States.

Its advantage is a capacity to decide without pretending to represent everyone in the world. It sends troops who shed blood in order to accomplish their tasks, and its agencies distribute great amounts of aid, not noticeably less effective than the UN. Those wanting to credit various countries for UN aid must recognize that the US pays for much of it.

US efforts are far from perfect. Post-war Europe, Japan, and South Korea were positive accomplishments. The US did more harm than good in Vietnam and Iraq. Obama's efforts to democratize the Middle East contributed to the spread of barbarism. Afghanistan has been a waste of human and material resources, not clearly better than before the US involvement.

The European Union is closer to the UN than to a body that can accomplish anything worthwhile outside of Europe. There are too many governments involved for any resolute action.

The brouhaha involving the Israeli Prime Minister and the American administration is a product of the convoluted character of a national government that has become a world government.

True, it ain't quite there, but it does more serious international work than the UN or the EU.

Majorities of the US House of Representatives and Senate may be more concerned with their own careers than with international affairs, or even national policy. GW Bush and Barack Obama have shown themselves innocent of what moves things outside of the United States. The inner rooms of the Defense and State Departments have experts in just about everything, but executive and legislative branch politics reduce them to yespeople. Obama is trying to fight ISIS with troops from Muslim countries. Kerry is claiming success, but sources in the Pentagon are saying something else.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of Israel, the US is far ahead of any other world body in being able to decide and act with at least a bit of wisdom and fairness.

Israel's advantages begin with six million American Jews who are disproportionately informed and active in politics. They have something to do with US foreign policy devoting a disproportionate amount of energy and resources to Israel.

The structure of the US government lends itself to what Americans with excessive ethnocentrism may call "outside interference." The national legislature is independent of the executive. When one branch is inclined away from the interests of Israel (or any other country), the other branch provides an open playing field.

American rules of free expression lend themselves to all comers. Pressure groups are for sale to all who will pay, or to all who work with Americans who have created a group. AIPAC for example.

American wealth and power are part of the picture. They have been employed to shape the world since December 7, 1941, or a year earlier, when Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to trade destroyers for bases. American traditions of isolation appear in the Tea Party and among Republicans generally. Also in those organs, however, are Christian Conservatives with concerns for Israel. So far they have helped to balance Jews who lost their sense of direction, and see Palestinians when they look for the moral high ground.

There is no doubt which is the senior partner in the uneasy relationship between the US and Israel, but the dependence is not entirely one-sided. While some see Israel as the biggest disturbance for pax Americana, the reality is closer to Israel being an outpost of civilization and stability in a region on the cusp of volatility and violence. American pressure may keep Israel within bounds of moderation, or it may be Jewish good sense that does the work. We can argue the point without being certain as to which element kept Israel from destroying more of Lebanon's infrastructure in 2006, laying greater waste to Gaza in 2014, or using its arsenal to deal directly with Iran whose leaders have worked assiduously toward nuclear weapons and means of delivery, and miss no opportunity to call for Israel's liquidation.

It'll take a while to know the outcome of the latest Bibi-Barack set-to. There is widespread media criticism of the Prime Minister's timing and style. A common theme is that his overt cooperation with Congressional Republicans is an insult to the American President, with inevitable costs for Israel among Obama, his supporters, and Americans generally who see the presidency as an icon that should be honored.

Israel Hayom is a prominent exception in focusing its criticism on Barack Obama.

The news pages of Ha'aretz are predictably critical of Netanyahu, but the cartoonist has poked at Obama. The caption explaining his barring the door is "High alert."

Those who see this as essentially personal have not paid attention to the substance of Netanyahu's claims about the dangers of a nuclear Iran, or Obama's insistence on a political solution that does not seem to be coming.

If all is fair in national defense, then Bibi has a case in siding with the Republicans in Congress against an administration that has been unreliable on a matter of vital importance to Israel.

National interests may come to override personal feelings, with some overlay of pique. When push comes to shove, we can hope that the White House, State Department, and US military do not want Israel feeling that its survival depends only on itself.

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 09:07 PM
January 22, 2015
Bus stabbing and a speech to Congress

Two items that seem much different have in common a capacity to teach us something about politics.

Politics, and the government associated with it is a messy business, even while essential to civilization. It ain't easy to serve numerous and contrasting purposes at the same time, and a common result is static.

The static associated with the bus stabbing may be more painful for those injured, but the screeches from the White House suggest a bit of pain from that direction as well.

To summarize for those who don't notice what really is important in their world.

1. On Wednesday a Palestinian, illegally in Israel, sought his revenge for Israel's recent operation in Gaza and insults by Jews against al-Aqsa mosque by getting on a local bus in Tel Aviv with the crowd at rush hour, then began by stabbing the driver and other passengers, left the bus along with panicked passengers and stabbed a few more before being shot and subdued by prison guards who happened to be in the area. Twelve people were injured, four of them seriously, but none is likely to die.

2. Also on Wednesday, the US Congress announced that Benyamin Netanyahu would be addressing a Joint sessino of House and Senate two weeks before the Israeli election, in the context of disagreement between the Republican majority and the White House on sanctions/negotiations/concessions to Iran on the subject of its nuclear program. The White House and State Department expressed upset about an improper protocol, even while saying that the Israeli Prime Minister was always welcome to speak in the United States.

Israeli media devoted much of a day to the bus stabbing with its well established routine of interviewing individuals who were injured, had to flee amidst the panic, or happened to be near. Politicians expressed themselves, with the Prime Minister going beyond others and saying that it was the fault of incitement from Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas, and extremist Israeli Islamic preachers, with hints of accusation at naive Americans, Europeans, and Israelis who think that Abbas is anything but a leader of terrorists who could be a partner for peace.

The stabber's uncle said that he was a nice, quiet man, who is not likely to have said what investigators say that he said about revenge.

The problem associated with the stabbing derives from the perpetrator's ease in coming into Israel illegally from the West Bank. The borders are supposed to be closed to all except those with permits, presumably given only to individuals who are not security risks.

But there are Palestinians who find a way to get here, most of whom only to work. Employers risk charges for taking on those without the appropriate papers, but it's a way to get cheap work where there is a shortage of legal applicants. Americans are in a similar situation when they insist on halting illegal immigration, but don't pay attention who is cutting their grass, washing their car, or cleaning dishes in the restaurants they patronize.

Israelis demand safety, but they also want someone to do the dirty work, as cheaply as possible.

Now they are having another lesson about competing wants.

Involved in the issue are the checkerboard nature of Jewish settlements and Arab land in the West Bank, and court cases brought by Palestinians and Israeli civil rights activists against planned sections of the physical barrier. Officials have praised individuals who acted against the Palestinian in the most recent violence, and have urged greater vigilance by civilians, police, and other security personnel.

There is not likely to be a hermetically sealed border, with patrols complete enough to keep out individuals intent on violence.

Israeli commentators are wondering about Netanyahu's speech before a Joint Session of Congress. Will he stick his finger in Obama's eye as another tit for tat in their intense disagreements about Iran's nuclear intentions and a peace process? Will the timing give him a bump up in the Israeli polls prior the election? Will it contribute tangibly to Israel's safety with respect to Iran, or hurt Israel with respect to security cooperation with the United States?

Those who think that the speech will be an offense to domestic American politics have not noticed that there hasn't been any solely domestic American politics, at least since the end of World War II. If the US asserts itself as a world leader, then it opens its institutions of government, media, and pressure groups to figures from the world who seek to influence what is likely to affect them. Especially eligible is a leader like Netanyahu, whose English is as good as most Members of Congress, whose supporters include several million Americans, and whose personality and national problems appear frequently in American media.

Call it another element of globalization. The phenomena of US domestic politics, fortress America, and politics stopping at the water's edge ended long before 9-11, the global reach of the President's agenda, and 24 hour coverage of the world by US media.

Still hanging is what Netanyahu will say in Congress and associated interviews with media personalities, and how he will say it. How sharp will his focus be on the nuclear threat of Iran, the naivete of the Democratic White House and State Department about international issues, and how much will the speech be tailored to his Israeli election campaign?

The White House tats for Bibi's tit were to announce that neither the President nor the Secretary of State would meet with him during his visit to Washington (ostensibly to avoid involvement in the Israeli election campaign), and to release a report that a ranking Mossad official urged Senators not to harden sanctions against Iran, in order to keep the Americans' diplomatic efforts on course.

Then the an Israeli tat was to announce that the White House had misquoted the Mossad official. The official had indicated that organization supported strict sanctions on Iran.

Bibi's opponents in the Israeli election campaign began to squawk minutes after they heard about the planned speech.

There'll be lots of talk between the Prime Minister and his advisers, and a good deal of consultation with Americans about the details. We'll all hear leaked portions of the speech before it is delivered.

A lot can happen until the speech. The IDF is beefing up its forces in the north and positioning anti-missile batteries in anticipation of something from Lebanon, Syria, and/or Iran. Jewish institutions in the Diaspora ought to be checking their own security. Yemen is boiling along with continuing chaos in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and Nigeria, each with their own problems, but with implications for Israel and the US.

Wonder of wonders-- even Thomas Friedman is chastising (coming close to ridiculing) the Obama administration for its reluctance to identify extremism with Islam.

The US Government ordered all of its employees to avoid venturing within two kilometers of Israel's borders with Lebanon or Syria, and to avoid riding on buses within Israel.

That'll keep 'em safer than Israeli civilians, provided that they also stay away from the Damascus Gate after nightfall, Isaweea and a few other neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and don't have too many drinks before they drive.

It'll be easy to ignore it all, but it's stuff like that which affects our politics. And with all its mess, like it or not, politics and governing are the heart of our civilization. Recognizing the mess, and coping with it, is what separates us from barbarians who kill those who depart from their holy writ.

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 09:07 PM
January 20, 2015

Sunday's news was of Israel's liquidation of a prominent Hezbollah officer, the son of an even more senior Hezbollah officer who Israel liquidated some years ago. Along with him went five other Hezbollah and six Iranian combatants, including one general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The Hezbollah officer was said to be planning attacks on Israeli civilians in the Golan. We do not know if the others were part of a targeted group, or just happened to be in harm's way.

Also in the news was the arrest of several Israeli Arabs who had identified with ISIS, and were preparing to leave the country to pass through Turkey in order to fight in Syria or Iraq.

Both items reflect the weight of Israel's investment in intelligence, which has given the country a leg up on Europeans and Americans, and makes this a safer place than any Western European country or the US.

Intelligence comes from a variety of sources. In the nature of the business, commoners do not know very much. Yet we hear stories from the media, from individuals who know and hint about their activities, and from some of our own experiences that--with a bit of imagination--allow a partial description of what is likely to be happening.

Some of it comes from technology. We may presume that all of our phones are subject to screening. Should we speak or text in ways that fit an algorithm, or make contact with someone on a list, then we might come in for closer attention and follow up from a human being.

Intelligence from informants may begin with someone from a target community who has fallen afoul of economic, sexual, family, or other personal behavior that is forbidden, and may be fatal if revealed. Or it may come from someone who has been shunned, insulted, or simply feels different. Or wants money.

It's dangerous business. Individuals thought to have provided information to the Zionist devils are not accorded a defendant's rights. Even a suspicion may produce torture and execution on a crowded street, meant to demonstrate the risks in being a traitor. At least some of the people killed have been innocent, and were targeted only because they were convenient for someone with power. or wanting power.

Whatever the means Israel uses to get information, the results are impressive, as shown by knowing the precise location of a targeted individual, and putting an attack helicopter, armed drone, exploding telephone, or some other weapon at the right place and time.

Ethnic profiling plays a part in intelligence gathering and the maintenance of security. It may not be politically correct in the eyes of the naive, and it may insult the innocent who are picked for special scrutiny at an airport, but it's efficient in keeping little old Jewish ladies from taking off their shoes for inspection

Commentary in the Israeli media after the latest liquidation has been quick and varied.

Some has questioned the wisdom of the action, and are certain that it will bring a costly response from Hezbollah and/or Iran.

Another view begins with the phrase from the Talmud, often heard in connection with Israel's aggressive mode of defense. "If a man comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first."

Hezbollah may have the capacity to reach all of Israel's cities with its rockets, and perhaps even to capture settlements in the Galilee and liquidate their residents. However, Israel's capacity to bring wreck havoc among Hezbollah and Lebanon's infrastructure is vastly greater.

It's a tough region. Israel has sought to keep its own actions measured and appropriate, with signals to its adversaries that they do the same.

Both Hezbollah and Iran are threatening Israel with an Apocalypse. It may take a while for Hezbollah and Iran to decide what to do, if anything, plan and implement. There may be serious action in Israel, and Israeli responses in Lebanon, Syria, and/or Iran. Or maybe only a limited attack on an Israeli target, an overseas Jewish facility, or a tourist site visited by Israelis or Jews.

That's what we think about in the Middle East.

There is no doubt that Israelis suffer from the high costs of national defense and the personal threats that come from being always in the focus of those who want to kill or only to criticize, sanction, and downsize.

Some of the enmity comes from classic anti-Semitism, with stereotypes that Muslims acquired from an earlier generation of Christians, who got them from an earlier era of Greek domination (See Josephus Against Apion). Some comes from fatigue with this "shitty little country" that is so often in the headlines and so often condemned that it must be doing something wrong. Some comes from great power calculations that the Jews have done well, and must suffer a bit in order to appease the far greater numbers of Muslims. Some comes from the naivete of individuals who get to the top of western governments, think they know the secret of solving Israel-Palestinian issues that have eluded others over the course of a century, then blame Israel when they fail.

Israelis recognize the ambivalence in their situation. We have made life unpleasant for Arabs, who make life unpleasant for us. Jewish morality allows us to claim that we have not produced social pathologies equivalent to those suffered by Native Americans or African Americans.

Some years ago, when the style of Arabs inclined to violence was to attack individual Jews with knives, we told our young children to avoid insulting Arabs, but to be careful. If they sensed an Arab walking behind them, it would be best to step aside in an unobtrusive manner and allow the Arab to walk ahead.

A Jewish source records 3,728 instances of death by terror between from 1920 through 2014 among people associated with Israel or the pre-state yishuv, Other sources record many more deaths from Muslim against Muslim terror elsewhere in the Middle East. Only in one year since 1920 did the incidence of Israeli terror deaths approach the incidence of traffic deaths. Those statistics show that Israel scores well according to common ways of measuring traffic safety, better than many western European countries, the US and Canada. During several recent years, the incidence of Israelis dying as a result of traffic accidents has been in the range of 40-50 times those dying from terror.

Like others, Israelis must be careful when driving and when crossing the street, and they must be avoid places known to be troublesome. Thanks in large part to those who gather and act in response to intelligence--neither of whom do things considered nice in polite society--this is a safer place than many others.

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
irashark@gmail.com an overses

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:32 PM
January 18, 2015
Where's the peace process?

Waiting for someone in authority to say Kadish.

It isn't prominent in any of the major party platforms.

To be sure, one must be wary of making any conclusions about what candidates say and write in the midst of a political campaign. If they are not lying outright, the chances are that they are not telling all the truth.

In a context such as Israel, where a coalition government is inevitable, the importance of campaign promises is even dicier. No matter what politicians really think and intend, the unpredictable politics of a coalition may make it impossible for them to realize their most deeply felt intentions.

We've known for a long time that politicians are not likely to feel deeply about what they say and write.

This is not cynicism, but realism. Politics is a tough business. One must somehow find a way to satisfy contending and irreconcilable expectations.

Our uncertainties about what is said or highlighted in a campaign also apply to what is not said, or given limited emphasis.

With all those appropriate reservations - - -

Candidates of Jewish Home are most outspoken in rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state.

Avigdor Lieberman is talking again about trading Arabs for Jews, along with the land they are living on. He hasn't specified what he'd do about the citizenship of those Arabs traded away, or if the Supreme Court would allow it to happen. He is also campaigning to dissolve the Palestine National Authority, or replace its leadership; and persuading the prominent sources of money for the International Criminal Court to stop paying.

Meanwhile, one member of his Knesset delegation after the other has announced that he or she will not run in this campaign, and his corruption-wracked party, Yisrael Beiteinu, has declined to the point where it may not reach the minimum for putting anyone in the Knesset.

Likud and Kahlon are talking past the issue of a peace process, making it clear that there is no partner in the the Palestinian leadership. Likud is more concerned about protecting Jews from Muslims. Kahlon is playing on his reputation for reducing the cost of cell phones, and promising reductions in the prices of food and housing.

Elsewhere it is possible to hear what may be small sounds of support for the peace process, but they are indirect, and packaged as part of a louder attack on Benyamin Netanyahu. He didn't convince the world that Israel was trying. His competitors would do better. It's not clear what, if anything, they would offer the Palestinians. The greater concern is to convince others that they would appear to be more honest, straightforward and convincing than Bibi..

Tsipi Livni is speaking as the Israeli most experienced in seeking peace, but is talking mostly about Zionist unity and the faults of Benyamin Netanyahu. Insofar as she is blaming Abbas and his colleagues for the failure of her recent efforts, and--along with Herzog--criticizing their campaigns in the UN and International Criminal Court, it is not at all clear if a Labor led government would make a serious effort at talking with the Palestinians.

Most candidates on the Labor list are more concerned about social justice, without saying much about the economics associated with it.

Likewise Yair Lapid. His focus is more clearly the middle class than anything below, and his primary campaign pitch has been that it's all Bibi's fault. Lapid has also joined the chorus criticizing the Palestinians for going to the International Criminal Court.

Even the Americans seem tired with the Palestinians. They have been at half volume in opposing a return of the Palestinians to the UN Security Council, and at even high volume in opposing the actions of the Palestinians in going to the International Criminal Court, and criticizing the Court itself for opening inquiries into the Palestinians claims against Israel.

Neither the US nor Israel have signed on to membership in the Court. Both are distrustful. Americans, as ever, will not concede sovereignty to a foreign body. Israelis are rightfully concerned that the Court is aligned with the majority of the UN General Assembly, and not likely to give a fair hearing to Israel's claims in its defense, should it bother to cooperate with the Court.

Meretz is supporting a peace process, but it's hard to discern if that is more or less important than its concern for social justice.

The ultra-Orthodox parties are--as always--willing to go with whatever coalition will give them money and go lightly on recruiting their Yeshiva bochers to the IDF. Ariyeh Deri is basing his comeback on an emotional appeal that the lower income voters of Sephardi background are being screwed by everyone else.

Whose fault that the peace process is in deep coma, or actually dead?

One can parse the story to blame Americans as well as Palestinians. The Americans for not understanding the history and pushing a losing proposition to the top of the agenda, and the Palestinians for doing what they have always done in rejecting what others offer. They have now abandoned a process of negotiation for the sake of getting what they want from the UN or the International Criminal Court.

Continuing his idea a day, Mahmoud Abbas has proposed canceling the procedures begun in the International Criminal Court on condition that Israel begin a settlement freeze. With that came a threat to stop security cooperation if Israel did not resume the transfer of import taxes collected for the Palestinians.

Europeans, and especially the French, are targets of pity or anger. Pity for having to deal with all those Muslims, a portion of whom are serious threats to civilization. And anger for downplaying the Jewish story associated with the Islamic threat. Asking Natanyahu not to come, and then putting him in the second line behind the President of Mali was a blunder in terms of dealing with the Jewish issue. Ha'aretz responded with predictable criticism of Bibi's behavior, while Forward was more inclined to see comedy in Bibi's pushing himself forward...

What comes next?

Expectations are that the International Criminal Court will find greater reason to condemn Israel for defending itself than to condemn Palestinians for attacking civilians. The Court is also expected to put whatever weight it has on the side of the condemning the illegality of Israeli settlements over the lines of 1967, or perhaps over the lines of 1947.

It may take a while for the Court to act, enough for several rounds of Palestinian demonstrations for one or another reason.

Ideally there would be more of the same that we saw before the Americans got excited about their peace process. That is, thousands of West Bankers coming to Israel and the West Bank settlements daily in order to work, individuals coming through the checkpoints in order to receive medical care not available closer to their homes, family visits, weekly trips to Jerusalem for prayers, and movement through Israeli checkpoints on the way to Jordan.

We should also expect individual acts of violence, but recognize that they have been less costly than traffic accidents.

Can it go on forever?

That's too long to contemplate. Currently it's one day at a time.

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