April 27, 2008
Politics is aspiring to what is possible

Someone out there should convince the Palestinians that their side lost the wars of 1948 and 1967. Moreover, they did not score a stunning victory in the first intifada 1987-93. Currently some of them are threatening to begin a third intifada. That suggests that the second is finished. If so, it passed without any Palestinian success. Some might claim that it is still on, with the IDF having to add nightly to its stock of more than 11,000 prisoners, and keeping the people of Gaza on short rations.

We do not want to educate Palestinians about history for the sake of Israeli bravado, but for the sake of Palestinians' future. Until they accept reality, they will not achieve a state, or significant control over their own lives.

Why is it necessary to make this clear now?

Mahmoud Abbas is complaining to President Bush that the Israelis are not willing to begin discussions from the borders that existed prior to the war of 1967. He said that the Palestinians need help in pressuring the Israelis if there is to be an agreement before the end of the Bush presidency. Reports are that Bush did not give Abbas what he wanted.

Perhaps we should view it as a Palestinian concession that Abbas is not demanding a return to the allocations for Jewish and Arab states that the United Nations indicated prior to the 1948 war. Prime Minister Olmert is quoted as telling Abbas that the Palestinians can forget everything on Israel's side of the security barrier that Israel is building. Much of that is close to the 1967 line, but on the Palestinian side; and it encompasses the major Israeli settlements built since then.

Abbas also says that he cannot give up the right of refugees to return home.

He is on a yellow brick road; not a path to peace.

In terms of territory, Abbas is saying that he is willing to concede to Israel, at most, three to four percent of the Palestinian West Bank. He is saying that Olmert is willing to grant, at most, 65 percent of the Palestinian West Bank; insists on Israeli control of the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem, with provisions for Palestinian autonomy in parts of Jerusalem.

There is likely to be some wiggle room in these details, but the reality is that Palestinians have not done well when they threaten, or embark on violence. They succeed in killing Israelis, but usually lose more of their own people, and end up losing more of the land that they say is theirs.

Hamas is not doing any better in Gaza. After Israel rejected the cease fire that Hamas claimed to draft along with Egypt, it is saying that it is not a Hamas proposal. It is an Egyptian proposal, which Hamas will consider only after Israel has accepted it. Moreover, Hamas has hardened details of the offer since they first became public. It also proclaims that if it decides to accept the Egyptian proposal, its move will only be tactical and temporary. It will not give up the goal of destroying Israel. If Israel rejects the Egyptian proposal, it will suffer the consequences.

Goody. The proud people in charge of Gaza must be satisfied that they have electricity a few hours a day, and enough gasoline for 20 percent of their vehicles. They enjoy watching Israeli tanks in their streets. They like walking in the heat and hitching rides on donkey carts. We will rely on the United Nations to assure that the donkeys have enough to eat.

I aspire to a Palestinian state that is run responsibly alongside of Israel. It should prevent Palestinians from terrorizing one another and the Israelis, and provide decent levels of social services. I doubt that a Palestinian state will exist until the Palestinian leadership accepts the reality of its mistakes, and the weakness that has resulted from those mistakes. They cannot turn back the clock that has been running through several waves of Palestinian violence over the course of six decades. If their expectations and demands are much greater than Israelis are willing to concede, they will not get an agreement, their own state, and a decent future for themselves as a nation.

We should not expect the Palestinian leadership to approach Israel on their knees. Arabs have pride.

Israel will make concessions. Good sense also demands that Israel minimize its efforts at self-defense in order to avoid exerting so much pressure on the Palestinians that they erupt in yet another wave of violence, no matter how futile.

Negotiators can maintain their pride, but they must remain within the range of what is likely.

Palestinians negotiating with Israel must perceive what is possible, and persuade their people about the wisdom of accepting it. They cannot erase 60 or 40 years of failed efforts at violence.

The essence of warfare is that fighters aspire to hold what they can take, or hold onto what they are defending. The essence of politics is to seek what is possible. As the Prussian soldier and theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote 180 years ago, war and politics resemble one another, except that politics is far less costly for the participants than warfare. And in politics done with skill, no one loses everything.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:53 AM
April 24, 2008
Someone is blowing smoke

There is a lot of smoke in the air. No fire is apparent. The smoke may be nothing more than what is coming from the bellies of politicians. The energy source may be mischief or some greater motive. For us poor folk sitting on the sidelines, the result is a great deal of confusion. What is happening, if anything, that may affect us?

One source of smoke is Syria, in an announcement that President Assad has heard from the Turkish Prime Minister that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is willing to return the whole of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace.

Jewish residents of the Golan and their supporters are in high panic. Knesset members, including leading figures in Olmert's own party, say they would not approve such a deal.

So far, no one is selling bus tickets to Damascus.

Saner heads are asking what does Olmert mean by the whole of the Golan, and peace. Israelis and Syrians have scuttled agreements in the past by not agreeing about the geography. "Peace" is likely to involve a great deal that Syria is not willing to concede, such as ending its role as Iran's agent and support for Hamas and Hizbollah. Iranian officials have already said that they oppose any accommodation that Syria might be seeking with the Zionist devil. We may be a long way from that bus ride to Damascus.

The source of this smoke may be involved with other smoke that is confusing us. Since last September Israel has not quite admitted bombing a Syrian nuclear facility.

An explanation for Olmert's interest in a peace process between Israel and Syria, via Turkey, is to keep Syria from retaliating for that strike. An explanation for Assad's interest is to keep the Americans at bay. The United States is not happy with Syria for serving as Iran's agent, for supporting terrorist organizations, and for aid to the fighters who kill Americans in Iraq.

Smoke is also coming from the United States Congress, in the form of hearings into North Korean aid for Syria's nuclear activities. This has something to do with the Bush administration's concern that North Korea really give up its nuclear program, and not simply transfer technology to another rogue state. Israelis are not altogether happy with American revelations of the IDF's destruction of the Syrian facility. We have known this for at least six months, but the news has not had the imprimatur of the United States Congress. Syria is denying allegations that there was a nuclear program with military intentions, done with the aid of the North Koreans. We are hoping that they are not prompted to move forward with plans to retaliate against targets in Israel, or Jewish institutions elsewhere.

Our American friends might want to increase security at their synagogues and community centers, and bill the United States Congress for the cost.

Yet other smoke is coming from Egypt and Hamas. They have produced the draft of a cease fire that could prevail between Israel and Gaza for six months, with an option of expanding it to cover the West Bank. Optimists see this as ending Hamas' firing of rockets toward Israel, IDF's activity in Gaza, and lifting Israeli sanctions that have produced suffering in Gaza.

The agreement is conditional on other Palestinian organizations accepting the cease fire. One has already rejected it. It also does not cover two items of importance to Israel: the movement of munitions from Egypt to Gaza, and the manufacture of rockets in Gaza. Moreover, its mention of the Israeli prisoner has increased considerably the price that Hamas is demanding by way of Israel's release of Palestinian prisoners.

United Nations officials in Gaza are upping their support of Hamas. They are threatening to declare once again a humanitarian crisis because there is not enough fuel and other supplies. Israel responds that it has shipped a great deal of material through to Gaza, despite Hamas' attacks on the transfer points. If there is a crisis in Gaza, according to the Israeli view, it is the result of Hamas' efforts to create the impression of suffering by preventing the distribution of supplies from the depots it controls.

There is another bit of smoke that may turn into something larger. Hamas has announced mass marches toward Israeli positions on the northern edge of Gaza, and Egyptian positions on the southern edge. The purpose is to break the blockade on Gaza. In keeping with the proposed cease fire, these are said to be warning marches only, and not full invasions of Israel or Egypt. Perhaps Israeli and Egyptian soldiers can relax.

During the time I have been writing this, four rockets have fallen near Ashkelon, and two Israelis were killed while guarding an industrial facility meant to provide work for Palestinians on the border of the West Bank. One Knesset member has already linked the killings to Israel's reduction of security in response to demands by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And an Israeli official has announced the rejection of the proposed cease fire for Gaza, saying that it is nothing more than Hamas' effort to buy time while it continues to arm itself.

Even more curious that all of this is news that the Americans have arrested an aged Jewish engineer for transferring secret information to Israel more than 20 years ago. Individuals involved with the prosecution of Jonathan Pollard say that this proves that Israel lied when they said that it had stopped spying in the United States. Currently serving Israeli politicians say that they have no recollection of this newly revealed spy; and that the work he is alleged to have done was prior to the Pollard case.

Israeli antennae are quivering with the hint of conspiracy. Why now, when the alleged spy must be helped in walking from the court room to a car, and then from the car to his residence in a retirement community? One explanation is that it comes from the Justice Department, where bureaucrats are working to frustrate any prospect that George Bush may order the release of Pollard as a gift to Israel on its 60th anniversary. Or that it is simply the effort of ranking Americans who think Israel is getting too feisty, and must be brought down a bit.

There is not always fire where there is smoke. Sometime there is nothing more than people wanting air time. On the other hand, there may come a blaze that has not yet shown itself through the smoke.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:20 PM
April 20, 2008
So much to know

It is tempting to yearn for the good old days of warfare, when the forces of one state fought against the forces of another, until those leading the governments decided that they had enough. Most fighters did what they were told, and few journalists or non-governmental organizations muddied the issues with their pictures and demands.

Current wars are complicated by so many players, and more confusion than clarity in the nature of the conflicts, and what it may take to end them.

Perhaps the geniuses directing American combat in Afghanistan or Iraq can figure out who they are fighting and how to end it.

I am more aware of Israel's problems. Or to put it more accurately, I am more aware of what no one seems to know about the numerous groups and individuals claiming to be responsible for Palestinian fighters, as well as organizations making demands about Israel's activities in defense of itself, and individuals wandering the region and talking about peace with various other individuals who claim to have some influence. The number of journalists and photographers, and the ease of sending stories and pictures internationally, make it impossible to isolate the battlefields in the fashion of the British in the Falklands. There is a flood of material, some of it fabricated, used to glorify Palestinians and condemn Israelis.

Currently Israel is talking peace with the President of the Palestine National Authority and head of the Fatah Party, Mahmoud Abbas. His power base is in the West Bank. However, various armed groups that claim an affiliation with Fatah, but do not accept Abbas' leadership, are continuing the armed struggle from their bases in the West Bank. A substantial portion of the Palestinian population is in Gaza, where the Hamas organization has forcefully expelled many of the Fatah operatives it did not kill. Hamas usually rejects a peace process with Israel, and does what it can to kill Israelis. But sometimes it expresses a willingness to arrange a long term cease fire that does not involve a formal recognition of Israel's right to exist. Occasionally the message is blurred further when the Hamas leadership in Gaza is out of step with the Hamas leadership in Damascus. A person claiming to speak for one may be talking cease fire while a person claiming to speak for the other asserts that there are no conversations about a cease fire.

Hamas seems to have the military power to impose its will on Gaza, yet it tolerates other organizations that operate independently. One of these has been holding an Israeli soldier for almost two years, and has its own price for his release. Another fires its rockets toward Israeli civilians, even when Hamas may be testing the prospects for a period of calm by not firing its rockets at Israel.

Non-governmental organizations compete with one another in judging the participants and advancing their own solutions. They do not wield arms, but they do affect the agenda. Several put their words into the reports of foreign ministries and the United Nations. Within two days of the recent death of a Palestinian news photographer, Human Rights Watch concluded, without anything close to a serious investigation, that Israeli soldiers had targeted him on purpose.

Foreign governments also pursue their own interests. Saudi Arabia and the Arab League claim to have offered peace, but on terms that would require Israel to turn back the clock by 40 or 60 years. At times it appears that Egypt would like to negotiate peace or a period of calm, while Egyptian soldiers look the other way as Palestinians "smuggle" munitions over the Egyptian-Gaza border. An Egyptian official has indicated that a deal is close whereby Hamas and Israel will agree to a cease fire and an exchange of prisoners, while a Palestinian claiming to speak for Hamas claims there is no such thing. Iran has bought a stake in continued Palestinian violence with money, munitions, and training. Syria is involved with Iran, Hizbollah, and other factions in Lebanon that are holding Israeli prisoners (or their bodies), and arming themselves for what may become another round of serious fighting.

Jesse Jackson was here a few years ago, and was roundly ignored. Jimmy Carter is weightier, and presents his own complications. His outspoken condemnations of Israel, including a book that accuses Israel of apartheid while he tries to deny making that accusation, has produced a situation where the three Israelis holding the most important positions (prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister) could not find time in their schedules to meet with him. Yet at least one other government minister urged Carter to work toward accommodations between Israel and its adversaries. Carter himself seems confused. He is both flogging the details of a deal between Israel and Hamas, and telling Hamas leaders that he does not want to be an intermediary between them and Israel.

He is still at work. By the time you read this he may have produced a real peace, and I will be embarrassed.

I will risk the conclusion that the multiplicity of organizations and individuals involved in the conflict between Israel and Palestinians renders impossible the complete description of who is fighting who. One should never say never, but so far these conditions have frustrated anyone who would produce a pause or an end to the violence.

At the least, this should soften criticism of Israel's leaders. They may know more than us common folk, but not enough to know exactly how to cut through the swamp of so many competing players.

Unlike them, we can avoid the struggle, and choose instead to have another portion of matzoh ball soup.

Chag sameach.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:55 PM
April 16, 2008
Happy Passover

On the verge of Passover I hear about Christian churches that celebrate a Seder.

Ecumenicalism is welcome. The story of the Exodus is one of the great themes of literature. It emphasizes freedom from slavery, which we can revise to be a release from all kinds of oppression or limited opportunities.

The Haggadah (loosely translated as "story") used to guide the Seder tells the story of the Exodus. It includes rabbinical teaching about the holiday, as well as instructions on how to work toward the festive meal (blessings, hand washing, ceremonial glasses of wine and food meant to symbolize slavery and freedom), as well as prayers and songs to be done after the meal.

There are no Haggadah police to insure that each family does it all, and properly. There are different versions of the Haggadah, and families vary in how much they read, in what language, what songs they sing, what food they eat, and how the more well-informed explain the ritual to the less well-informed. The kibbutzim of Israel, feminists, Reform and Conservative Jews, humanists and others have produced their own Haggadot (the plural of Haggadah) to emphasize, add, or eliminate what serves their perspectives.

Given the wide tent that has been constructed over the themes of Exodus, Passover, and the Seder, we should not be surprised that some Christians add Jesus to the ceremony. In one version he comes into the celebration along with the prophet Elijah. For Jews, this is bizarre and goes against more than 2,000 years of tradition. For Christians, it fits with the notion that Elijah has a role in bringing forth the Messiah.

Reform Jews have also laid a hand on the Seder. After the meal, conventional Haggadot include a passage that asks God to pour out his fury against the goyim that do not know him.

The Reform Haggadah rejects that perspective. "In . . . times of terror, some (Jews) shouted defiant words into the night. . . . Other voices call for a different response to hatred and prejudice, for the Jewish spirit burns with a passion for peace. In every generation, courageous souls seek understanding with those who oppose us . . . "

No doubt this is more politically correct than the conventional Haggadah, especially for Jews living in a Diaspora. Reform rabbis describe their Haggadah as suitable for all those sitting around the table. Consistent with other features of the Reform ritual, its language is gender-neutral.

One can view the request to curse the goyim as an anachronism or current. That depends on whether the goyim in mind are the Christians who slaughtered Jews in the Middle Ages, those who carried out the Holocaust, or Arabs who aspire to kill Jews today.

If a Jewish passion for peace clashes with Jewish defiance, Israel's morning headlines encourage defiance. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has decided to award the highest decoration for bravery for two women in Israeli prisons. One of them drove the bomber to Jerusalem's Sbaro restaurant in August, 2001 who took 15 lives and injured more than one hundred. Another used the internet to seduce a teenager to meet her in Ramallah, where her friends killed him. Other headlines report on IDF casualties in Gaza, and rockets falling on Sderot.

For those unfamiliar with Hebrew, "goyim" is not necessarily a negative term. It appears in traditional writing from the Bible onward, and means nations or people who are not Jews.

Religious ritual is an open code, subject to change according to one's circumstances.

Jewish men who follow the Reform ritual do not thank God for making them men, and the Reform prayer for the end of the Sabbath does not thank God for separating the Jews from the goyim.

Some of the more curious elements in Christian traditions include
Joseph Smith's translation of Genesis that begins with a conversation between God and Moses about Jesus. (Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses, Chapter 1) My reading of Mormon texts has not uncovered the language from which Smith translated Genesis.
Christians translations of Isaiah add explicit predictions of the stories told in the New Testament. Chapter 7:14 has been read as, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel." The conventional Jewish translation of "almah" is young woman or maiden, not necessarily a virgin.
A Christian translation of Isaiah Chapters 52-53, about a suffering servant, says that the Lord revealed his power to a man who was "pierced." This fits the story of the Crucifixion but is not supported by the Hebrew "mokeh," usually translated as "struck." Traditional Jewish commentators view the suffering servant as a symbol for the Israelite nation or as Isaiah's view of himself.
Alterations of conventional rituals or aged text should not surprise anyone familiar with the varieties of religious experience. We should guard against an emotional response to spiritual oddities.

However you practice (or do not practice) the Seder, may you have a pleasant Passover, as kosher (or not) as you desire. And may we all be liberated from everything unpleasant.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:57 AM
April 10, 2008
A contest: solve our problems in 50 words or less

A Palestinian official has complained that Israel is currently offering less than was offered in the last serious efforts at reaching an accord, in 2000-2001.

This seems like a ploy to get the sympathy of the world, and put some pressure on Israeli negotiators.

Not from me. If this is true, (and truth is a problem with one-sided reports about ongoing negotiations) then I applaud the Israeli posture. In response to the Palestinians, I ask if they expect a reward from the Israelis for seven and one half years of violence under the heading of intafada.

The Americans are pressing the Israelis to make concessions to make the Palestinians' lives easier while negotiations proceed, and the Israelis are responding, at least partly. Against the advice of the military, the government agreed to remove a number of road blocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank. And the Defense Minister announced a renewal of a program that was suspended some years ago, to allow several thousand Palestinians of the West Bank into Israel in order to work.

Later in the same day that we heard about the entry of Palestinian workers, we read that security forces had seized two Palestinians working illegally in an Israeli restaurant, who were on the verge of adding a deadly poison to the food being served.

An early headline reads, "We give them a chance to earn a living and they try to poison us."

One wonders about the chances that Israel is taking for peace. Admirable, or foolish?

It will only be a matter of time until there are further efforts at violence. Sooner or later, one of those efforts will succeed.

Will it be possible to attribute the efforts and the success to loosened security demanded by the Americans and agreed by the Israelis? The connection between loosened security and incidents of violence is not likely to be obvious. Nonetheless, it will be argued in one way or another by politicians and commentators who have a commitment to a policy of strong defense or efforts at accommodation.

Perhaps the basic problem of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians is, Can Israel afford to maximize security by walling itself off as hermetically as possible, yet claim to be pursuing peace?

I can frame the question, but I cannot envy the officials who have to decide in the midst of a dilemma confounded by the appearance that Palestinians do not seem serious about delivering their own parts of prior commitments, i.e., to control violence and incitement to violence.

Another part of the dilemma is that Israel is bound to live alongside Palestinians. Yet another part is that Israel must make reasonable efforts at accommodation, if only to tempt the Palestinians to cooperate, and to convince the world that we are trying.

Israel is not like the United States or Russia, i.e., strong enough to do what it wants, no matter how its actions are received elsewhere. It needs access to foreign markets, capital, and technology, as well as opportunities for its people to travel and enjoy cultural exchanges. Israel feels threatened by potential or real antagonism in capital cities of those countries that supply the markets, capital, technology, and culture that it wants. It seeks support by showing some flexibility toward its difficult neighbors.

One can quarrel with the timing and details of Israel's efforts. This week Palestinians attacked the transfer point through which Israel moves fuel to Gaza, and killed two of the civilians working there. Israel closed the transfer point, but is likely to open it again in a few days.

Since Hamas took over in Gaza, there have been two Palestines, one there and one in the West Bank. At least for the time being, Israel treats them as separate entities. Its government is pursing a peace process with the West Bank, but not with Gaza.

In the case of Gaza, the question is, Should Israel pander to international sentiment and continue providing fuel, electricity, and other basic needs in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, despite this latest incident and continuing attacks by rockets and mortars directed at Israeli civilians? The Israeli population, military, government, and opposition politicians are each a long way from anything approaching unity on this question.

I am sure several of you have solutions for our problems. Taking my model from the radio programs I heard as a youth, I ask you to write your proposals in 50 words or less, and send each one along with a box top of your favorite cereal and 25 cents as a processing fee, to the address below. Useful suggestions will receive generous prizes.

There are some rules to this contest. Participants should realize that Israelis have considered complete surrender to Palestinian demands, and massive onslaught to Gaza and/or the West Bank for the purpose of doing away with the terrorists once and for all times. The first has been discarded by all by a small fringe of Israelis, some of whom make their ideas even less attractive by calling themselves anarchists. The second has been rejected, at least temporarily, for a number of reasons. It is likely to provoke extreme actions by other countries due to Palestinian casualties; it is likely to have high costs for Israel in terms of soldiers killed or wounded, and civilian centers bombarded by missiles from north or south; and it is likely to provide only partial and temporary solutions against the tactics and weapons that Palestinians can produce.

Those suggesting complete surrender to Palestinian demands must be prepared to provide appropriate housing and employment for at least one Israeli family, insofar Palestinians may not be satisfied until all of us are elsewhere. Those suggesting a heroic onslaught must volunteer themselves for service if their are physically fit and under the age of 25, or send a close relative in their place who is young enough, and fit enough for military service.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:54 AM
April 06, 2008
Oy gevalt

The world of the ultra-Orthodox is fascinating, and varied, but largely closed to outsiders. Numerous communities live according to their own rules, as determined by their rabbis. They maintain their own schools and academies, and resist efforts of the government that provides most of the funding to influence even part of the curriculum. They adhere to their own styles of clothing, and maintain courts for settling disputes. While many of the ultra-Orthodox employ Hebrew for daily conversation and instruction, some communities insist on Yiddish as the mother tongue at home, in school, and on the street.

Social scientists who are Orthodox in their own practices have described some of these behaviors, but have found themselves limited in the communities and practices they can investigate. Some of what they write has the tone of anthropologists who visited exotic tribes in far corners of the world, but must rely on hearsay and speculation when they write about others that remain hidden in the jungle or on distant islands.

A wave of police reports and news stories about behavior that is bizarre even for the ultra-Orthodox has provoked shock and speculation. Several families and rabbis are in the spotlight for the brutal treatment of children, incest, and rabbinical use of sex for treating problems. One woman has been pictured repeatedly as she waddles into court under the 12 layers of garments and full covering of her face that she insists is required. Another enters with her face buried in a book of Psalms.

Among the charges are the beating, burning and prolonged enclosure in luggage of children said to be possessed by evil spirits; parents' knowledge of sexual relations among their numerous children; one rabbi who treats family problems by having sex with the woman of the family, with the consent of her husband and perhaps in his presence; and a woman in the process of divorce who says that she was pursuing revenge against an abusive husband by having sex with her young boys.

Religious observers have spoken of sects that have settled in religious neighborhoods, are made up of Jews who have recently become ultra-Orthodox, and are led by charismatic figures who call themselves rabbis but who may not have had traditional religious training and received the authority of a rabbi from a recognized teacher.

Why not? Should Jews be immune from the forces that create charismatic behaviors in the outback and suburbs of North America, the shantytowns and villages of the Third World? Most people who believe in the Almighty and the miracles described in sacred texts behave in ways that are well know and acceptable. Others show no conventional limits to what they teach and practice.

The conventional ultra-Orthodox adhere to the responsibility of parents to educate and discipline their children. When charges of child-abuse surfaced, religious figures quoted Scripture: spare the rod and spoil the child (Proverbs 13:24). Since then, commentators have asserted the differences between conventional ultra-Orthodox and these recent converts and their unknown rabbis, especially with respect to the puritanical regulation of sex. Families with long histories of being ultra-Orthodox, and whose rabbis learn religious law in established academies are as different from behaviors recently exposed by the police as is night from day.

As they distinguish themselves from these newcomers to their neighborhoods, however, the established ultra-Orthodox have not yet openly examined their own responsibility for permitting the activities to exist. They identify other behaviors that disturb the peace in or near their communities. Committees of decency beat up men who prey on children or disturb someone else's wife, destroy kiosks that sell secular newspapers, spit on women who wear slacks or short sleeves, rip down offensive advertising posters, and burn shops or restaurants that sell non-kosher food or remain open on the Sabbath. It is difficult to believe that conventional ultra-Orthodox, participants in committees of discipline, and their rabbis have not heard about peculiar behavior within families or by men who claim to be rabbis.

It will take awhile for all this to be sorted out by police investigations, court proceedings, and commentators who claim to know. One of the rabbis said to advocate what the police term "sadistic punishment" for dealing with children, and sex for other family problems is said to have fled Israel for Canada.

Israeli authorities move slowly through one deliberation after another. The police and judges say that they are understaffed.

The former president, Moshe Katsav, accused of rape and other ugliness is said to be having second thoughts about agreeing to reduced charges of sexual harassment. His story has been in the headlines over the course of almost two years.

Ultra-Orthodox politicians have not emphasized the issues of child abuse or improper sex in their communities, or on the fringes. They have been speaking prominently about a lower court decision that would allow the sale of bread in Jewish cities during Passover. There may be an accelerated appeal to the Supreme Court. Passover is less than two weeks away.

Israel is a free country. One can chose the abominations that merit a public campaign.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:27 PM
April 01, 2008
Its not the settlements, stupid

It is not the settlements, stupid.

Remember "It's the economy, stupid," which helped Bill Clinton send George H. W. Bush to the coast of Maine and the environs of Houston.

Can this twist change the priorities in Washington, other capitals, and lots of universities? The feeling is widespread, but wrong, that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are the crucial hindrance to any agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Land is one of the Palestinians' slogans, and they do not miss an opportunity to accuse Israelis of stealing theirs.

Israel made a difficult and testing gesture toward the Palestinians in 2005 by withdrawing all of the Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The result? More than 2,400 rockets, mortars, and assorted other attacks from Gaza directed at civilian settlements in Israel.

In various agreements Israeli governments have committed themselves to stop the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, to remove what are called "illegal settlements," i.e., those not established under the aegis of an Israeli authorization, and to lessen the pressure against Palestinian movement that comes from the roadblocks meant to frustrate terrorists.

In parallel, Palestinian authorities committed themselves to work toward an end of violence and the incitement toward violence, and to reform their government in the direction of greater transparency, efforts against corruption, and judicial proceedings that truly are law abiding.

One can argue as to which side has accomplished the least of its commitments.

Incitement and preparation of violence continues in the West Bank, despite substantial numbers of security personnel employed by the Palestinians. Often it is members of those Palestinian security services who are seized in the IDF sweeps against perpetrators, or killed at the site of their efforts by the IDF.

Palestinians demand an absolute halt to building over the line that separated Israel from the West Bank prior to the 1967 war. Israel responds that it did not commit itself to stop further building in neighborhoods annexed to Jerusalem, or to stop all construction within the borders of other settlements.

The settlers who are most vocal are religious nationalists fanatic about Jewish occupation of the Land of Israel. Secular Israelis and numerous religious Israelis have limited tolerance for their intense and selective quotations from Torah, their implacable hatred of Arabs, and their occasional actions against individual Arabs and olive trees. Yet when the fanatics and moderate settlers remind us what happened when Israel removed settlements from Gaza, the tendency is to listen. When they carry the argument against withdrawing further settlements, it is by persuading centrists and not because of their raw political power. The principal political party that represents them (National Unity-National Religious Party) has only 9 members in the Knesset; and neither it, nor its right wing allies (Likud and Israel our Home) are in the government.

Religious nationalists have tried for 40 years to populate the Land of Israel with their kind of people. They have a larger than average rate of reproduction, but neither that, nor recruitment efforts among religious and secular Israelis has met their aspirations.

There is a new player in the settlement game. Two sizable and growing communities of the ultra-Orthodox are over the pre-1967 border south of Jerusalem and across the road from Modiin. The ultra-Orthodox are not intense about settling the Land of Israel. They want low-cost homes. Their needs reflect large families, early marriage, further generations of large families, the shortage of apartments and increasing prices in their established neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. There is also the desire of ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis that the ultra-Orthodox live in their own neighborhoods. There they can close the roads on the Sabbath, ban television, the internet, secular newspapers, non-kosher food, and abominable music, make sure that women dress modestly, and send their young toughs against those who violate the rules.

Until now, Palestinians have campaigned against the settlements on what they call their land, and demanded help in their efforts from the United States and other foreign governments.

In the absence of any serious and prolonged efforts to convince Israelis that they can end violence and incitement in order to live at peace alongside us, their campaign against settlements has limited success. Construction gangs employing Palestinians along with Chinese, Romanians, Turks, and Israelis continue to build within the neighborhoods of Jerusalem and established settlements outside of Jerusalem. Left-wing Israelis and occasionally government ministers speak about withdrawing illegal settlements, but responsible officials show limited enthusiasm for the task.

Most Israelis want to make concessions. But the intensity of those who respond positively to survey questions is not great enough to carry the issue. For people here and abroad who think that Israeli action on settlements would solve the problems of the Middle East, the missing ingredient is Palestinian violence. Gaza remains as the best argument that settlements are not the issue, and the complacency of West Bank Palestinians toward violence reinforces that conclusion.

Palestinians can achieve a state of their own on the West Bank. It will not be a large place. If current realities continue, it will not include Gaza. The road to statehood is not to emphasize Jewish settlements, but to emphasize Palestinian efforts to end the violence. Only that can stop the growth of settlements, and preserve something for a Palestinian state. Without that, the road to Palestinian statehood will end about where it is now.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:47 PM