For those who doubt that Israel is a normal country, the arrest of a messiah with who knows how many wives and children should establish its credentials. The most complete report I have seen in English appears in the Times of London. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6988614.ece
This puts us firmly in the league with the Mormon sects of southern Utah, Arizona and Texas, and the occasional European story.
The Tel Aviv location firms up the claim of normality. That city has no more claim of being "holy" than Dallas, or wherever it was that the most recent polygamous Mormon sect was discovered.
Jerusalem is another case. No such extensive messiah-centered family has been exposed here, but we have a recent case of an ultra-Orthodox woman whose treatment of her children brought on the police and social workers, and caused several rabbi-induced demonstrations by members of her congregation against their intervention. For those who might think such behavior is limited to Middle Eastern fanatics, the woman spoke--when she did speak--in English with a British accent. She may not have been here long enough to learn Hebrew.
There is no end of cases where Jerusalem provokes individuals to have spiritual visions, and to behave in ways associated with them. Google "Jerusalem syndrome" and start looking through the 129,000 items that appear.
Politicians also deal with Jerusalem in a spiritual fashion. Barack Obama is only one of the latest world leaders to exhibit a political version of the syndrome. Demanding an end to Jewish construction or residence in certain neighborhoods qualifies as a kind of micro-management of someone else's turf on the border of political madness. That he got what he deserved (Jewish ridicule for his demand, and then Arab ridicule when he reversed himself) has not kept him from making yet another try to reform what the world sees as sacred ground (Jerusalem especially, and the rest of the vaguely defined "Holy Land").
Just as unusual, when viewed by conventional political norms, are Israeli politicians, including the current prime minister, who swear that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli control. Likewise my internet friends who cannot tolerate my skepticism about such an idea.
I am by no means alone in the view that Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, especially those not surrounded by Jewish neighborhoods, can be traded away in a reasonable deal. Most of the city is like any other, that does not qualify as "holy" under any doctrine that I know, except the recent declarations of politicians that everything with the name "Jerusalem" is sacred. The madness is not restricted to Jews. Muslims express the same, talking about a vaguely defined al Quds (holy city) as properly theirs. The Roman Catholic Church joins the fray, claiming that Christian rights can only be assured by internationalizing Jerusalem, under an authority in which it will have an important role.
My pragmatic response to this spiritualism is that Jerusalem works as well as other cities of its size, with substantially lower levels of violence, illegitimacy, and related pathologies than many cities elsewhere. Honor killings among Arabs present problems, but limit much of what bedevils other places. Arabs complain that they are deprived in Jerusalem as currently structured, but they have themselves to thank. Stopping their boycott of municipal politics would give them considerable weight in the allocation of resources.
If the Palestinians ever come to the point where they are willing to accept a reasonable compromise, I expect that some neighborhoods of Jerusalem will be part of the deal. Until then, we can put these ideas on the shelf, hope that Americans and others will ratchet down their spiritualism, and deal with issues that lend themselves to rational bargaining.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem