October 31, 2008

While the American election is reaching a boil, Israeli elections are beginning to simmer. We go to the polls to select local mayors and councils on November 11, and again on February 10 to select a new Knesset.

Some commentators would have us believe that the American contest is all over but the shouting. Ancient scholars should be more cautious. We learned about the polls of 1936 that predicted Alf Landon, and remember 1948 "Dewey Defeats Truman." A self-designated leader of "70 million Christians" (Catholics and members of liberal Protestant denominations need not apply) predicted victory for Palin and her running mate. There is also the spectre of residual racism.

Americans in Israel are said to be voting heavily in favor of McCain, which reflects the large incidence of Orthodox Jews among recent immigrants from the United States. News from America is that 70 percent of Jews are in Obama's camp, along with some intense opposition to him from other Jews.

Israeli polls are showing a close race between Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud and Tzipi Livni's Kadima, with Ehud Barak's Labor in danger of falling into the dustbin. Neither of the major parties seem likely to get more than a quarter of the vote, so there will be a lot of work after the election to put together a coalition.

Nothing on the horizon speaks of major change. The ultra-Orthodox parties will get their 10-12 percent of the vote; the Arab parties 8 percent or so, whether or not their talk of uniting amounts to anything; National Religious and other right wing parties, also talking about uniting, will get 10-12 percent; left-wing Meretz perhaps 5 percent. The once mighty Labor may be left with less than 10 percent.

Polls are showing that the Pensioners' Party will disappear. It rode into the Knesset for the first and perhaps last time as a vehicle of protest against all the other parties. This time Netanyahu has reinvigorated Likud, and Livni has made herself a symbol of clean government. There may not be enough voters protesting everything to give the Pensioners' a chance.

We have yet to hear from the Marijuana Party, the Taxi Drivers' Party, the Party of Endangered Males concerned with better deals in divorce, or a host of ethnic parties (Romanian, Russian, Ethiopian, Georgian) that pop up to assert that their people on the lists of the major parties are not good enough.

Ehud Olmert is showing signs of being an active caretaker. He made a generous decision concerning money for the universities that will allow their presidents to cancel a planned closure and begin the academic year. Olmert's decision angered the Minister of Finance and key members of his bureaucracy ("He gave the universities more than they asked for.") An Israeli should always wait for the actual delivery of the cash. Bureaucrats have more than a few ways to delay, reduce, or even veto the decisions of politicians. I will begin my seminar on schedule as an volunteering pensioner, but not guarantee that the university's doors will remain open throughout the semester.

Olmert is also saying that he will continue negotiations with the Syrians and Palestinians. "Not kosher" are the responses from a leader of an ultra-Orthodox party and from Tzipi Livni, who is currently the Foreign Minister. The rules are that a transition government (sitting when an election is scheduled) is to continue existing policies, deal with emergencies, but not to take steps that will commit the next government. There are threats to enlist the Attorney General in order to keep Olmert in line. The Attorney General can rule that the sitting prime minister cannot engage in substantive talks, or he can issue an indictment against the prime minister for criminal violations. Israel's justice system moves with the speed of an injured snail. It may be time to push things along.

Two other lame ducks may be encouraging Olmert in order to get them all a better hearing from historians. George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice have scheduled meetings with Olmert, and Ms Rice with Mahmoud Abbas. It is not yet the end of the year in which they wanted a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

There are also sparks coming out of Israel's municipal elections. They produce more light than heat, insofar as governing is largely in the hands of national ministries. Jerusalem's contest is focusing on the efforts of a secular figure to take the mayor's office from the ultra-Orthodox. Tel Aviv finds a socialist-environmentalist, who won a seat in the Knesset as the one Jew high on the list of a largely Arab party, running against the Labor Party mayor.

Will the outcome of the American election affect Israeli politics? Israelis generally are not enthusiastic about Barack Obama. Officials stick to the line that they do not interfere in another country's election by stating a preference, and can work with whoever wins.

Obama and McCain have said they will devote increased energy to settling the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. That makes Israelis nervous about both candidates. If there is any good coming out of the world wide financial crisis, it may be that it keeps whoever governs the United States busy at home with economic issues, and overseas with the big players in international finance. Those do not include the Jews of this small place.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to me e-mail address below.

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 11:27 PM
October 29, 2008

My recent posting critical of the "Women of the Wall" brought a bit of applause and an argument: it is the right of Reform Jews to express themselves, and even to create some disturbance in the effort to change Israel.

This is not an issue with an obvious solution. Rather, it is one of numerous campaigns that Israelis and others are pursuing to make Israel in their image. The country serves as a platform for people with vision. We should expect no less for the Promised Land. Individuals and organizations, with views we might call messianic, want to define the promise and achieve it.

The following list is not meant to support or criticize, or to rank the issues with respect to their legitimacy. Its sole concern is to describe an agenda crowded by intense advocates, some of whom have achieved success. Among the successful are those who have caused problems for people with contrasting visions.

There are quarrels as to how to describe each of the groups. I aspire to neutrality, but that is difficult to obtain in a field marked by great passions.

Most prominent are the contrasting visions of religious Zionists and Palestinian nationalists. Each demand part or all of territory with as-yet undefined boundaries, and have proven themselves willing to shed blood in order to achieve their visions.
Related to them are Jews and Christians who come as immigrants or visitors to lend their support to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank; and Jews and others who identify with the Palestinians. Among both groups are individuals who have paid with their lives. Some have died in terrorist attacks. Others put themselves in the cross fire between the Israeli army and Palestinians, and died while calling for peace or justice.
Political activists from Israel and overseas identify groups that should be brought to Israel. Most prominent are the Ethiopians. More than 100,000 have come since the 1980s. More controversial are unknown thousands of additional Ethiopians. They and their supporters claim that they have family relationships with those already here, or that they are Jews, were Jews in the past, or want to become Jews, and should be brought to Israel.
Peruvian Indians, and Asian Indians, plus others in Africa and elsewhere, some of which have rabbis convinced that they are Jews, or potential Jews, and should be given preference as immigrants.
The Black Hebrews, mostly African Americans from Chicago, who have described themselves as the true Jews. Among supporters are those who admire their music. After more than two decades as unrecognized outsiders tolerated partly due to the pressure of African American politicians, Israel has granted this group the status of residents. They have access to public schools, other social services, and the army's recruiting offices.
Numerous Africans have made it across the Sinai and entered Israel. Advocates claim that they fled from the genocide in Dafur, and must be given the status of refugees. However, many or most of them are Nigerians or other West Africans, seeking opportunities better than at home.

Political intensities among the major secular parties have declined in recent years, reflecting the emergence of the Kadima Party out of leading members of both Labor and Likud. As we face a national election in February, several commentators have wondered about the differences between Kadima, Labor, and Likud, or even the differences between them and the left-of-center Meretz. There are policy and personality nuances. However, voters might consider an expression that comes from American politics: "Not a dimes worth of difference."

Israelis wary of boredom can relax. The leader of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party has uncorked the bottle containing the ethnic issue. He charges Kadima leader Tzipi Livni with racism because of comments about his political demands.

One can wish for the quiet, as well as the peace and prosperity of places like Norway or Switzerland. The fear is that Jews would wither from boredom in those countries. Emigration is greater to places of challenge like the United States, Canada, Britain, and Germany. A high incidence of international travel suggests that many Israelis seek an opportunity to rest from the fray, but nonetheless come back.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

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 01:02 AM
October 27, 2008
Religious tolerance

What prompts this note is an advertisement for a documentary film in behalf of a "courageous struggle" for religious freedom in Israel, i.e., the rights of women to pray as they desire at the Western Wall.

The ad came with a clip from the film. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-xjZWX5rlE). It features the "Women of the Wall," with comments by women rabbis and other activists, mostly from Los Angeles. They complain that women are not allowed to read from the Torah, or to appear in prayer shawl (tallit), skullcap, and phylacteries (tfillin) at the Western Wall. They complain about the curses and violence they may experience at the hands of the Orthodox (mostly, but not entirely men).

I do not view myself as religious, or participate regularly in the services of any synagogue: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist. When I visit my daughter and son-in-law, serious Reform Jews in Boston, I enjoy the Friday night service at their Reform Temple, including the female cantor and the musical instruments that accompany her.

While I think of myself as far from being a religious fanatic, it appears to me that the Women of the Wall are violating an elementary rule of religious courtesy, as well as a norm well established in Jewish tradition: observing the customs of the place.

Judaism has been developing for at least 2,500 years, and has been touched by experiences in many places. Israel claims that its people came from 100 countries. That may be a convenient round number for something more or less, but it does indicate our diversity.

Observing the customs of the place is a way to avoid conflict. The "place" may be a country, locality, or synagogue. Israel has synagogues serving Ashkenazim, Sephardim, numerous national cultures within each of those major divisions or outside both of them. There are synagogues that mix cultures, following one ritual or another depending on which member of the congregation is taking a turn as the reader. Almost all the synagogues are Orthodox. Prevailing custom in them is for men only to read from the Torah, or to don a prayer shawl, skullcap, and phylacteries.

When my mother died, I was expecting to say Kaddish at her funeral in Massachusetts.. As the only son, I expected to say it alone. I was a bit surprised when the Conservative rabbi invited all those present to say the prayer. I thought for a moment that he should have asked my preference, but it was not the time or place for a comment. I prayed along with everyone else.

The Israeli Jewish establishment is Orthodox, as defined in numerous laws and regulations. Orthodox rabbis monopolize the functions that deal with marriage and divorce among Jews. Individuals married outside of Israel by non-Orthodox rabbis or in civil ceremonies are recognized as married by official bodies. Recent estimates are that as many as 25 percent of Jewish couples choose a non-Orthodox wedding overseas, in addition to the overseas marriages involving interfaith couples and individuals not recognized as Jewish.

Non-religious Jews are likely a plurality, and perhaps a majority of the Israeli Jewish population. Those affiliated with non-Orthodox congregations are a small minority.

The plaza at the Western Wall has an area set aside for women to pray according to Orthodox norms. The police are likely to enforce bans on women in prayer shawls, skullcaps, and phylacteries, or reading from the Torah. The Supreme Court has upheld these bans, on the principle of maintaining public order and safety.

On the same principle, Muslim religious authorities are granted control over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary. Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, may not be allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock or al-Aqsa Mosque, and are not allowed on the Temple Mount during Muslim holy days or when the police perceive that tensions are high.

Some of the rules are flexible. Not all are enforced all of the time, and the courts have decided in ways that are sometimes liberal and sometimes conservative. It is possible to find an increase in permissiveness, but it is not coming rapidly and is less extensive than many desire. Women in religious garb or reading from the Torah at the Western Wall, and Jews on the Temple Mount are not the only issues that reach the courts. There are also problems with the sale of non-kosher food, advertizing posters that feature women dressed (or not dressed) in ways considered modest, commerce on the Sabbath, and marches by gays and lesbians.

Justice? That is not a term that lends itself to conflicts about religious practice. Being wise in context may require people to avoid insisting on what they think are their rights. Protestant tourists are wise not to hold an impromptu religious service in the Vatican. Jews who campaign about religious coercion in Jerusalem might think again about customs of the place.

On account of spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, shown below.

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 03:46 AM
October 25, 2008

The three regimes important to this little place are deep in uncertainty. Israel and the United States are facing elections and political change. As ever, it is difficult to know if we should define Palestine as tragedy or farce. Its nominal president may or may not continue in office, with or without an election at the end of his term in January, with or without popular legitimacy in Gaza or the West Bank.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's prime minister designate, has decided that she cannot, or will not form a government, and has advised the calling of a national election. Excluding the possibility of an indictment, Ehud Olmert will remain as a care-taker, virtually powerless prime minister until the voting sometime in January or February, plus another month or so while the new prime minister designate tries to create a coalition.

Guesses at this point are most tentative. Livni is defining herself as clean and responsible: not giving in to the financial demands of the ultra-Orthodox parties, or their insistence that she not negotiate the future of Jerusalem. In a population tired of corruption in high places, and always unsympathetic to the ultra-Orthodox, those images may be weighty enough against Benyamin Netanyahu. Reports are that he urged the ultra-Orthodox parties to stay out of a coalition with Livni so that he could offer them twice as much when he becomes the prime minister designate. He has also been beating the drum about not negotiating the future of Jerusalem. He is a great speaker, but a record of claiming more than he delivers will be the hallmark of all who campaign against him.

Commentators are counting out the Labor Party, bothered even more than usual with internal problems, and polled to get only 12 seats in the 120 seat Knesset.

The Pensioners Party may disappear entirely, troubled by internal disputes, charges of financial and sexual misbehavior. It should have accepted what Livni was offering, but that might not have been enough to save her from the ultra-Orthodox.

The future of Jerusalem is prominent among the problems that kept Livni from forming a government.

Dividing Jerusalem is either an obvious part of a Israel-Palestine solution, or a insoluble nut that will continue to challenge well-intentioned negotiators.

The attractive idea is to slice off Arab neighborhoods for the benefit of Palestine. So far no one is talking about a referendum. Maybe the residents do not want to become Palestinians. It is not clear if they would lose Israeli medical insurance, other social benefits, and access to jobs in Israel. Moreover, religious and nationalist Jews, with financial support from overseas enthusiasts, have been planting themselves in Arab neighborhoods.

The Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary has proven difficult enough to scuttle any deal. Who would get what with respect to its several archaeological layers, and competing demands for control, construction, visitation, and prayer? A prevailing Muslim view is that the Jews never were there, and have no rights. Few Jews visit the place, but many are intense in opposing full rights to the Muslims.

Netanyahu makes a shrill case about the importance of a united Jerusalem for Israel's security. He has no convincing solution about the quarter million or so Arabs living in what he calls Jewish Jerusalem, or the fully Arab cities that are within easy range of Jerusalem's northern, southern, and eastern borders.

Frustrated Israelis and overseas friends have no end of ideas to solve the problems, or how to adjust the political process so that a respectable party wins a national election and can govern efficiently. None know how to unite a population divided on several dimensions of religion and ideology, or how to satisfy Palestinians even more affected by extremism.

Whatever happens, it is not likely to satisfy George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice. Israel's political calendar will not enable elections before the end of the Bush presidency. Early in their campaigns, both Barack Obama and John McCain promised even more assiduous efforts to solve the problems of the Middle East. Since then, the American and the world economies have pushed themselves to the fore. Optimists see indications of American progress in Iraq, but not in Afghanistan. There may no quick visits or neat solutions for Israel and Palestine.

This is the season that religious Jews pray for rain, along with their daily prayers for peace and prosperity. The prospects are best for rain.

Due to spam, I do not allow comments on the blog. I do welcome responses to my e-mail address below.

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 09:43 PM
October 22, 2008
After the holidays

It is "after the holidays." They begin with Rosh Hashana and end three weeks later with Simcha Torah.

Last evening we stood on our balcony and saw the congregants of a nearby synagogue dancing with the Torah scrolls. We also saw a line of cars inching their way along the road from Eilat, the Dead Sea, and the Jordan Valley, as families returned from vacation.

It is time to stop postponing unpleasant things, and go back to work.

Tzipi Livni has two more weeks to form a government. It is unheard of for a person designated by the president to create a coalition to fail in the task. It is also unheard of for potential members of the coalition to make it easy.

The Labor Party agreed in principle to a coalition agreement, but its Knesset members are still quarreling about the details and threatening that nothing is final. The Pensioners' Party is saying that the provision in the Kadima-Labor agreement concerning pensions is ridiculous, and will not get them into the coalition.

The ultra-Orthodox party, SHAS, is saying "no deal" due to Livni's lack of generosity with respect to payments for families with numerous children, and her refusal to promise not to negotiate with the Palestinians about the division of Jerusalem. Commentators say it is not entirely about those issues, but reflects a power struggle at the summit of SHAS. The Knesset member currently holding the title of party head is doing everything he can to torpedo the efforts of a rival, who is likely to be more flexible about joining the coalition.

Lacking enough votes without SHAS, Kadima is making overtures toward the left-of-center Meretz party. If it joins, Labor stays in, and the Pensioners come on board, Livni will have a enough votes to win Knesset approval, if she has the support or at least the abstention of Arab parties. With Meretz in the coalition they are likely to cooperate.

However, Shaul Mofaz, who barely lost the leadership contest to Livni, is threatening to jump if the coalition includes Meretz. Mofaz is more hawkish than Livni, and has spoken about attacking Iran. Meretz would work to make Livni more accommodating with just about everybody who may be threatening Israel.

Some problems seem to be waiting for Israel to return from its holidays. Reports are that Hamas is interested in a continuation of the cease fire that has kept the southern front quiet. Syrian officials say that there has been progress in indirect talks with Israel, and they are waiting for a new prime minister. Mahmoud Abbas wants more progress, but he has not threatened anything lately.

However, nerve-wracking sharp drops and gains in various stock exchanges provoke worry about a world recession. Economists are talking about a wave of bankrupcies and worker dismissals reaching Israel.

Right-wing American Jews have not given up on their campaign against Barack Obama. A lengthy letter written by Anne Bayefsky, of the Hudson Institute, is circulating, sent on by individuals no closer to the political center. Bayefsky sees Iran's nuclear program assuring another Holocaust if voters neglect to choose John McCain.

Wake up. There is a genocidal maniac on the verge of reaching the point of
no return in his ability to make a nuclear weapon. A fanatic with the stated
ambition to murder five million Jews living in Israel -- to start. A villain
who has already funded and armed a terrorist war against the Jewish state
that in 2006 forced one-third of Israel's population to live underground for
almost a month. . . .

So when you cast your ballot this election, make no mistake: you are voting
for or against a nuclear holocaust. Not because Barack Obama wants such a
horror, but because he will not prevent it. He will still be talking when
the point of no return in Iran's nuclear program is reached. And the balance
of power in the world will -- with terrible consequences -- have changed

The prominent weakness in Bayefsky's argument is Sarah Palin. Palin has more than the average Vice President's chances of becoming president. She wants to stop Iran, but may not know how to do it without causing more problems than she prevents. A few more wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the American empire may go the way of the Soviet, British, French, Ottoman, and Roman.

Where will that leave Israel?

It would be great if the holidays would last forever. The problems are not simple. Someone has to work, sometime.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

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 01:29 AM
October 17, 2008

The central picture on the New York Times web site is of a "Peace Symbol (that) Sits Along Jerusalem's Divide." http://www.nytimes.com/pages/index.html?partner=rssyahoo The article tells about a statue erected at one of the meeting points between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, donated by a Polish billionaire, and goes on to report about the tensions, violence, and accommodations between Arabs and Jews.

I had to read the New York Times to learn what happened in my home town. Perhaps the monument went up when we were visiting family and friends in the United States. If it made an impression on the Israeli media, I missed it.

When we were overseas I did not miss a report about a Jerusalem Arab who drove a BMW into a group of soldiers who were on an educational tour of the city.

The new monument is called the Tolerance Monument. It did better than the Center for Human Dignity Museum of Tolerance, planned to be financed near the city center with a $150 million gift from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It stalled before the basement could be excavated due to its location on a Muslim cemetery. The site lies hidden behind a construction fence erected more than two years ago, while the courts ponder claims from Muslim religious institutions that the planners are concerned with something other than tolerance.

One does not need Polish billionaires or donors to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in order to find accommodation between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. I experience it twice a week when I go to the university gym. At my normal hours there are likely to be a half-dozen Arabs in the locker room. They include social workers, an accountant, and the owner of a shop on the main tourist street in the Old City. Some are Hebrew University graduates, including one of the best students in my workshop on policy analysis.

I cannot testify about the conversations in Arabic, but from the tones and body language they seem similar to the conversations in Hebrew. Mostly they resemble the banter I have heard in locker rooms over the course of several decades in different places. Humor is more prominent than philosophy or political preference. Multi-cultural themes include queries about one another's religious holidays, and whether or not someone has fasted on Yom Kippur or Ramadan.

A day after the riots in Acre the humor seemed forced, but that observation may reflect excessive sensitivity. I participated in one conversation that featured an Arab saying that the Arabs of Acre were known for their involvement in illegal drugs, and a Jew noting that the Jews of Acre were nothing to write home about.

One of my Arab students has made the point that the university remains a place of mutual accommodation. That is true in a limited sort of way. I never experienced a class discussion that got ugly, or even resulted in Arab students united against Jewish students. Occasionally an event will prompt Arab students and their left-wing Jewish allies to demonstrate at a busy location with signs and chants. This is likely to produce a count-demonstration by right-wing Jewish students, with university security personnel and the police between them, and police reinforcements located a few blocks away in case things get out of control.

Security has approached that at airports since a bomb exploded in a university cafeteria during the height of the intifada in 2002. That took the life of one of my students, and the eye of a young friend.

Some time later a critic asked why the university continued to employ Arabs among its security guards. "Why not?" was the official response.

When our children were in primary school, there were several cases of individual Arabs with large kitchen knives attacking Jews on the street. We did not want to be overprotective, or to produce children who were either racist or naive. We urged them to think of Arabs as likely to be decent, as we showed in our own conversation and behavior. However, we also told them to be careful. If they found themselves walking in front of an Arab, it would be wise to pause, and let the Arab get in front of them.

Our own neighborhood is integrated, with Arab students renting apartments, and a few Arab families buying apartments. Not everyone is happy, but I have not heard of any incidents.

It is not always obvious who is a Jew and who is an Arab. Complexion, clothes, language, and accent in Hebrew provide imperfect clues. Arabs killed an Arab who was jogging not far from my home. The organization that claimed responsibility granted the victim status as a martyr when it learned about the error. The Christian family of the victim, closely identified with the Palestinian national cause, declined the honor.

A Jewish friend noted that "half the people in this locker room are Arabs." I agreed, but noted that some of the Arabs were Jews. Among those likely to be chatting in Arabic are Jews from Baghdad, Cairo, or Morocco.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. I welcome personal notes sent to my e-mail address below.

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 11:36 PM
October 16, 2008

Political campaigns in the two countries that I know best remind me, once again, that leading politicians believe in fairies. Or think that their voters believe in them.

An explanation comes from Australia, where I worked for several months. The senior civil servant who arranged meetings for me with his fellow professionals hesitated when I asked to be introduced to some elected officials. "Why do you want to talk with politicians," he said. "They are good in the bars, but they don't know very much."

My view of current American and Israeli politics begins with the globalized financial meltdown. Virtually all countries with sophisticated economies are suffering, and committing vast sums to propping up their banks and other financial institutions. The crisis, and the remedies offered are complex, and not fully described. Governments may actually profit from some of their aid mechanisms, but it will take a while. In the short run, it is likely that whatever uncommitted resources are at the disposal of governments have been allocated to rescuing their national economies.

That has not stopped politicians from promising to spend more and/or to cut taxes as they say, "Vote for me. I will make your life better."

We should applaud Barack Obama for promising to expand the coverage of a health system so incomplete, fractured, and complex for the consumer. A recent New York Times article quotes a government study that shows, once again, that Americans pay more per capita for health, but get less health care than people in every other western democracy. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/health/16infant.html

When Obama says that he will get the money for this and other reforms by cutting government waste, we have to wonder in what bar is he selling himself. "Cutting waste" is one of the oldest placebos that politicians employ, while the professionals who have to do the work know from long experience that it defies practice. When Obama says that he will search the budget line by line to find where he can cut, I recall lesson #1 in courses on public budgeting: a national government budget is too large and complex, with hundreds of pounds of budget books. No one can look at it all, or even a significant part of it, or understand what each billion dollars will buy.

Obama supporters can fill in the blanks with McCain examples. I will turn to the other country I know well.

Israel is not currently in an election campaign. Due to the offered resignation of the crime minister, however, Tzipi Livni has won the opportunity to lead the Kadima Party and put together a coalition of other parties.

So far she has been tight fisted in resisting demands for increased expenditures. But not entirely, and she is facing the prospect of completing her coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties hungry for money to support their religious academies, and family payments. Nominal breadwinners who vote for those parties spend most of their time studying in those academies. If she fails to satisfy the ultra-Orthodox parties, she faces the prospect of recruiting to her coalition a left-wing party hungry for spending on other social benefits.

She is also relying on help from the Pensioners' Party, and its leaders say they want more money for old folks.

Even I may get something out of this political cycle.

A rabbi prominent in one of the ultra-Orthodox parties says that his folks will have a problem joining a government led by a woman.

It is not all about money.

She has already agreed to a Labor Party demand that university tuition remain at its present level or even decline. This when the universities are threatening to close themselves due to insufficient funds. Currently Israeli university students pay the equivalent of US $3,600 per year. Institutions the equivalent of Harvard or Yale are not on offer, but half of Israel's universities rank in lists of the best 150 in the world, and all of them in a list of the best 500. There are scholarships and work opportunities for low-income students, so no matter how you cut it, higher education is a good deal. But someone must pay for it. Whimpering student organizations compare tuition to those of a few wealthier countries in Western Europe. Israel's share of the financial crisis (measured by a 45 percent decline in a major stock exchange index since mid-June) does not interest them.

Politics abhors a vacuum. Americans will elect a president, and an Israeli will form a government.

An Israeli government minister once told us what is likely to happen again. "I promised, but I did not promise to keep my promise.

Due to spam, I do not permit comments on this blog. However, I welcome notes sent to my e-mail address below.

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 01:21 AM
October 12, 2008
Ethnic tensions

As if the global financial meltdown is not enough to worry us, there has been ethnic rampage in the mixed city of Acco. What started on Yom Kippur as a street corner incident has ignited concern throughout the country.

Yom Kippur is a time when Israeli Jews leave their vehicles at home. The roads are empty, except for the occasional police car or ambulance, and hoards of youngsters who congregate on the main streets and ride bicycles, skate boards, roller blades, and scooters. Where Arab neighborhoods abut Jewish neighborhoods, the police may erect temporary barriers to direct non-Jewish traffic toward other roads.

The trouble started in the evening that began Yom Kippur. An Arab, said by some to be drunk, and playing his car radio at full volume, drove into a Jewish neighborhood. A confrontation spread to stone throwing between Jews and Arabs, and several cases of burning the apartments of Arabs living in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods.

The police have arrived in mass, along with national politicians, but the violence has continued for three nights.

Politicians and religious leaders on both sides of the ethnic divide have urged restraint. Other politicians and religious leaders have contributed their voices to incitement. Imams have urged their followers to gather knives and guns, and prepare for an active defense. According to one rumor, the Arab who began the problem with his car and music was killed on the spot by a Jewish mob. He seemed healthy when interviewed on Israeli television a day later.

The head rabbi of Acco rejected a letter from Muslim religious leaders denouncing the driver whose actions ignited the fracas, with the statement that "It is impossible to compare the responses of the Jews to the desecration of the holy day by the Arabs." http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//1359292 Israeli media have broadcast interviews with Jews and Arabs talking about their inter-ethnic friendships and calling for peace, as well as members of both communities calling for blood. A Muslim cleric from outside Acco who has been in trouble several times for inciting violence has not let this opportunity pass. Hamas leaders in Gaza see this as yet another opportunity to enflame the entire Middle East.

Acco (or Acre) is a city of about 50,000, a few miles north of Haifa, with an ancient port that has figured in the histories of the biblical period, the Crusades, an effort of Napoleon to invade the area, and the early history of the Bahai faith. Its Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and attracts tourists to its shops, restaurants, alleys, and sea-side citadel. The current population is about one-third Arab and two-thirds Jewish. The averages on income, education, and other social indicators are lower than in the country as a whole. http://lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=4703

The immediate concern is to prevent a jumping of the flames from Acco to other mixed cities. Haifa is the closest. Also vulnerable are Upper Nazareth, originally a Jewish city built on the heights above the Arab city of Nazareth, but now with an Arab population as well; Jaffa alongside Tel Aviv; Ramle and Lod a few miles east of Tel Aviv; Hebron; and of course Jerusalem.

The tensions are most delicate in mixed neighborhoods. Especially tense are Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem where intensely religious and nationalist Jewish families have been moving into buildings purchased by patrons from overseas. In recent years, Jewish neighborhoods in the north of the city have attracted Arab families that earlier left their crowded neighborhoods for areas outside the city. Now they have sought to avoid the problems of the newly constructed security barricade by moving back into the city.

Our own neighborhood of French Hill is one of the northern sites becoming mixed. It is close to the university, and for several years has attracted Arab as well as Jewish students who rent apartments. More recently Arab families have bought apartments.

Some of our neighbors have expressed strong opposition to the influx of Arabs, urging action to "halt the flood." One neighbor proposed using a vicious dog to chase young Arab children from a playground.

Arab teenagers come out of the nearby neighborhood of Isaweea to gather at intersections and wander the neighborhood after dark. Jews charge that decent people fear strolling in the evening. Arabs also root around in the trash dumpsters looking for useful items, and may scatter the material they do not want on the street and sidewalk.

In so far as the neighborhood has a high incidence of highly educated and politically correct professionals, the potential for conflict may not develop here. Some of our long time neighbors welcome the diversity, and have been pleased to indicate that the local primary school contains Arab children, along with Koreans, Chinese, and non-Jewish Europeans children of university students or diplomats. It is charming to look out from our balcony and see Beduin shepherds with their goats and sheep in a field of Isaweea only across the street.

Others say "So far so good," but warn of problems if the number of Arab families grows substantially. Some are just as much opposed to the influx of ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. The nearby neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol has become largely ultra-Orthodox, producing a flight of secular Jews looking for areas that accept driving on the Sabbath, and women who dress less modestly than demanded by the ultra-Orthodox. French Hill may be next to witness the flight of secular Jews.

We feel secure, but this is not a time for complacency. The tinder is dry, and not far away.

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

On account of spam, I do not permit comments on the blog. Comments are welcome at my personal e-mail address.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:45 AM
October 09, 2008
The n+2 Palestinian war of statehood

No officials have declared an end to the second intifada, which began in September, 2000. It is reasonable to conclude, however, that it has petered out with another catastrophic loss for the Palestinians.

Estimates are that more than 5,300 Palestinians have died, along with 1,100 Israelis, and 64 others caught in the cross-fire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intifada

As with much that deals with the Palestinians, the numbers are not precise. Also, it is not clear how many died as the result of fighting among Palestinians, and how many died while making or transporting munitions.

Added to Palestinian casualties are some 12,000 prisoners in Israeli custody. Added to the Israeli casualties is the one soldier taken captive to Gaza.

The imbalance in the tolls is only part of the Palestinian catastrophe. No less damaging to the Palestinian cause is their civil war, resulting in Gaza being cut off from the rest of the world, subsisting on meager rations, and governed by religious extremists who offer the residents little more than an afterlife.

If the injured are in the same proportions as the dead, that is another component of the Palestinian catastrophe. They have few resources for medical care and rehabilitation.

Better than "intifada," this period should be labeled the "second failed war of Palestinian statehood." In this reckoning, the first was the earlier intifada, from 1987 until the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Those accords could have put the Palestinians on the road to statehood, but continued violence and failed attempts at further agreements sent them to the dustbin. The Oslo accords granted autonomy to the Palestinians in much of the West Bank and Gaza, including extensive responsibility for security. Autonomy has declined in the second intifada as Israeli forces routinely enter West Bank areas to seize individuals suspected of violence. Currently a tense cease fire has stopped Israeli incursions into Gaza, and Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza.

We could argue about the numbering of the intifadas as the first and second wars of Palestinian statehood. It might be better to label them the n+1 and n+2 wars, with n standing for all the previous surges of Palestinian violence going back to the 1920s.

The label "wars of statehood" is more appropriate than "wars of independence." There are several reasons to doubt that the thrust of Palestinian national desire is independence. Numerous Palestinians are inclined to absorb Israel rather than live alongside of it as an independent state. And many of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel are not inclined to become citizens of an independent Palestine. The status of a minority in Israel is tolerable if it comes with health care, other social benefits, and greater civil rights than enjoyed by full fledged Palestinians.

It is also inaccurate to describe these as struggles for independence insofar as Israelis have long wanted to be free of any responsibility for Palestinians. It would not involve a struggle, much less a war, for Palestinians to achieve independence. The problem is that they want much of what Israelis view as their own. The devil is in the details.

The tragedy in all of this is that neither Palestinians nor much of the world (including many Israelis) recognize the realities.

Palestinians in nominal charge of the West Bank insist on turning back the clock. They demand the borders that existed in 1967, and the return of refugees plus descendents to homes left in 1948. Palestinians in charge of Gaza are even more extreme. They would eliminate Israel altogether and immediately.

I doubt that benefits like those will come to a people who have tried time and again to get what they want with violence, and have failed at each attempt.

It is no surprise that Palestinian aspirations have wide support among Arabs and other Muslims. At least some of the Palestinian aspirations also have the endorsement of the United Nations, as well as the United States and other western governments. Israeli leftists signed on long ago. Most recently the widely repudiated but still hanging on prime minister recanted positions held throughout his career and proclaimed the wisdom of giving into substantial territorial claims of the Palestinians.

So where does this leave us?

Pretty much where we were when the first intifada began, and perhaps long before then.

Israelis claim to be peace loving, and now the government ascribes to a two-state solution. There remains a low level of Palestinian violence, marked by occasional attacks by organizations or enraged individuals.

The Palestinian leadership occasionally threatens a renewal of violence if it does not get its demands. Given the record of imbalanced losses, and the inherent distrust of Israelis, those threats do not advance their cause. We know how to live alongside a restive population, and maintain security forces capable of dealing with what may become the next outbreak of violence.

This is the time of year when we should aspire to new beginnings. There may be a new prime minister shortly, but a limited change in personnel is not likely to counter Palestinian intransigence and other stubborn elements of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

We may not be at the end of the n+i wars of Palestinian statehood.

Note: Because of spam I do not allow comments. However, those wishing to contact me should feel free to do so: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

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 08:39 AM
October 05, 2008
Moshe Katsav

The continuing story of Moshe Katsav is both troubling and revealing. (For key details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moshe_Katsav).

No one wants a national president or other public figure with multiple accusations of rape and other sexual crimes. In terms of personal morality, the story is about as bad as it can get, but that will not concern us here.

From the events we learn some things not so attractive about Israeli politics, as well as about the judicial process and the specific charges.

Katsav was the Likud candidate for the presidency in the election by Knesset members that occurred in July, 2000. Shimon Peres thought that he had the commitment of enough Knesset members to win, but Katsav got more of their secret votes. The best guess is that "anybody but Peres" was one reason for some Knesset members to vote for Katsav after committing themselves to Peres. It was not unreasonable to fear that Peres would use the ceremonial functions of the presidency to promote controversial items on his political agenda. (When Peres did win the presidency after Katsav's resignation, he was seven years older and had committed himself to avoid involvement in political issues. For the most part, he has kept to that commitment.)

Katsav had a long career in public life before being chosen as president: mayor of his home town, member of Knesset, and several periods as minister in charge of various portfolios. At the time of his election as president, secretaries in government officers and Knesset members knew of his behavior. Reports are that the police knew his reputation for several years, but did not begin an investigation in the absence of formal complaints.

Among the Knesset members who recognized the dangers, some hoped that the prestige of the president's office would cure Katsav of his faults.
His career began to unravel in July, 2006, when he complained to the attorney general that one of his employees was trying to blackmail him.

It would have been wiser to pay.

The police investigation that began with Katsav's initiative quickly focused on the president, and produced headlines about multiple charges of sexual harassment two claims of rape.

A year later, shortly before the end of his term, the prosecution and Katsav agreed to a plea bargain that would involve his immediate resignation, charges for minor offenses, and a recommendation of no jail term.

The event did not pass quietly. Organized feminists, good government reformers, and plain citizens demonstrated, and initiated a suit demanding that the attorney general issue a more severe indictment. Katsav defended himself at a contentious press conference that saw him shouting at questioners, and produced a photo of a contorted scowl shown time and again on television. He asserted that he had agreed to the plea bargain as a pragmatic tactic. He claimed to be an innocent victim of a media fiasco, and occasionally said something like Bill Clinton's classic remark, "I never had sex with those women."

Against him there appeared in public, with identities masked, accusers who detailed the president's crude sexual techniques: exposing and waving his penis, and saying that I think of you when I am with my wife. Complicating the picture, and helping to explain the prosecutor's decision for a mild plea bargain, were indications that women who claimed rape had maintained cordial relations with Katsav after the rapes were said to happen.

In April, 2008, the high court rejected Katsav's efforts to delay a final decision on the plea bargain. Then Katsav canceled his agreement to the plea bargain, and asserted his innocence. The attorney general began a process still on-going of reconsidering the charges he would bring.

In the midst of this reconsideration, the attorney general moved the file from one group of attorneys on his staff to another group. Deliberations that had taken more than a year among the first committee of attorneys would start again. Involved in disputes were questions of which charges would survive the counter arguments of Katsav's attorneys. Should the most severe charges be brought, and perhaps sacrificed in a trial that would find the former president guilty of severe crimes, but not the most serious? Would the emphasis on the most serious crimes, but with problematic evidence, risk losing the whole case? Or should the prosecutors limit their charge to the claims that would persuade the court, which might produce an outcome not substantially different from the earlier plea bargain?

So far this argument has proceeded in house without a resolution. Some people fear that endless discussions among the staff of the attorney general will produce a decision to close the file without a trial, or to keep the file open indefinitely and unresolved. Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry has denied Katsav's requests for benefits usually given a former president, including an expensive new car and an office in a prestige location.

Arguments about the meaning of law, and rules of evidence, have roots in Jewish law going back to ancient times. The Talmud offers countless examples of disputes about how to fix responsibility for injury or damages. Against demands to punish Katsav for the most serious of the crimes alleged, are arguments not only about judicial tactics, but also about the merits of the evidence.

Safeguards for the accused also have ancient roots. Christians are inclined to quote "eye for an eye" and numerous death penalties in the Hebrew Bible in order to assert that it was only Jesus and his disciples who brought a humane concern to the world. The reality is much different. The Torah itself, perhaps 600 years older than the New Testament, includes provisions for financial instead of corporal penalties (e.g., Exodus 21). By the time of the Sanhedrin, at least 200 years before Christ, the rabbis worked assiduously to avoidphysical punishment. One ancient sage is widely quoted to the effect that if the Sanhedrin decided on more than one death penalty in 70 years it would be considered a murderous court.

Activists remain dissatisfied with the lack of declared justice. Katsav's victims may bring civil suits for damages whether or not the attorney general includes their allegations among the crimes to be charged. They may be thinking of the $33.5 million judgment awarded the families who claimed that O.J. Simpson was liable for the deaths of their loved ones, after he had been found not guilty in a criminal trial. Donors may tire of paying Katsav's legal fees. He can lose a great deal of money as well as a desirable car and office. He has already suffered the shame of extensive media coverage.

The public generally may have passed beyond the scandal of Moshe Katsav. There are multiple charges of corruption against the prime minister. Five other politicians who served recently as government ministers have been tried, indicted, or subjected to prolonged police investigation. Virtually all of the recent prime ministers have been rebuked or fined by the State Comptroller for violating campaign finance laws. There is also the fall out in Israel from the international economic crisis, dire threats from Hizbollah in the north, Hamas in the south, individual Palestinians who seek to kill Israelis with bulldozers or cars, and the looming problem of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

It is the season when Jews worry about the sentence of the Almighty for the coming year. May yours be a good one.

Note: Because of spam I do not allow comments. However, those wishing to contact me should feel free to do so: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:20 AM