July 30, 2009
The tired and poor

Sound familiar?

Recent headlines describe the government's fumbling on the issue of illegal immigrants. The prime minister intervened with the Immigrant police and ordered a delay of 30 days in an operation to locate and deport illegals and their families. The problem: children born in Israel, with the rights of citizens. Could Israel deport the parents bSound familiar?

Recent headlines describe the government's fumbling on the issue of illegal immigrants. The prime minister intervened with the Immigrant police and ordered a delay of 30 days in an operation to locate and deport illegals and their families. The problem: children born in Israel, with the rights of citizens. Could Israel deport the parents but not the children? Or overlook the children's citizenship and put them all on a plane? Not in the face of protests that spread from the immigrants' neighborhoods of Tel Aviv to the media, and then to the neighborhoods of the well educated and politically connected.

Large numbers come legally to work for a fixed period as care providers for the elderly (Philippines), in construction (China, Romania, Turkey) or agriculture (Thailand). Their transportation, medical care, wages, working conditions, and housing are defined in government-to-government agreements, administered by licensed companies that provide employees to those who qualify. Palestinians who came daily from Gaza or the West Bank used to do the hard work in agriculture and construction, but that stopped with the intifada. Philippine care givers began coming when the numbers of aged Israelis corresponded with increasing national wealth. Now the term "Filipino" is the equivalent of "care giver for the elderly," even if a goodly number of "Filipinos" are from India or Nepal.

Most of these people come, work for a specified number of years, send money to their families, and return home. Others serve out their time, skip to other employers, and stay on as illegals. They establish relationships and produce children.

Some overstay tourist visas, or come as deckhands and stay behind when their ships leave port. The largest number of illegals come over the Sinai from Egypt. They include Africans who end up as dishwashers, gardeners, cleaners, gas station attendants and other menials, and Eastern European women who do in Israel what their sisters do in Western Europe.

A few of the Africans may come from Dafur, but a lot of them claim they do and gain sympathy from those who believe them. Eritrea, Ghana, and Nigeria are common places of origin.

Israel presses the Egyptians to do more in order to stop this traffic before it reaches the Israeli border, and occasionally the Egyptians comply by shooting and killing migrants. That does not play any better in Israeli media than images of the Immigrant police rounding up families with attractive children who are citizens and speak Hebrew. The media also rouse support in behalf of long serving, well behaved, and uninsured illegals who encounter serious medical problems. Those who do the dirty, dangerous, and demeaning also get attention when something happens at a construction site, and authorities take a look at compliance with safety regulations.

We hear the same debates in Hebrew that others hear in English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian.
The immigrants work for less than the minimum wage and take jobs from citizens.
Israel must enforce its laws.
Immigrants who are technically illegal take jobs that citizens do not want, work for low wages, stay out of trouble in order to avoid the police, and are good workers.
How can we accept those who are here, work hard, behave themselves, and have children who are citizens, without encouraging the illegal immigration of additional thousands?
Must we educate and care for these people? They do not pay taxes.
Israel is wealthy. Illegal immigration comes along with the status.

Children born in Israel qualify for public schooling and medical care, but parents might not register them in order to avoid the police.

For the most part, the Immigration police are inactive or restrained by politicians who listen to employers and humanitarians. There have been several waves of roundups and deportation, spurred by a surge of "they are taking jobs from Israelis" or "we must enforce our laws."

Israel and Western Europe are as close to Africa as the United States is to Mexico and Central America. Promised Lands offer the dregs of opportunities not wanted by locals. Better speaking citizens may raise their voices in behalf of the tired and poor, who are also the people they need to staff their restaurants and clean their houses. Nowhere do those citizens persist in creating a Paradise. Justice also eludes them.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.ilt not the children? Or overlook the children's citizenship and put them all on a plane? Not in the face of protests that spread from the immigrants' neighborhoods of Tel Aviv to the media, and then to the neighborhoods of the well educated and politically connected.

It looks pretty much like Western Europe and the United States.

Large numbers come legally to work for a fixed period as care providers for the elderly (Philippines), in construction (China, Romania, Turkey) or agriculture (Thailand). Their transportation, medical care, wages, working conditions, and housing are defined in government-to-government agreements, administered by licensed companies that provide employees to those who qualify. Palestinians who came daily from Gaza or the West Bank used to do the hard work in agriculture and construction, but that stopped with the intifada. Philippine care givers began coming when the numbers of aged Israelis corresponded with increasing national wealth. Now the term "Filipino" is the equivalent of "care giver for the elderly," even if a goodly number of "Filipinos" are from India or Nepal.

Most of these people come, work for a specified number of years, send money to their families, and return home. Others serve out their time, skip to other employers, and stay on as illegals. They establish relationships and produce children.

Some overstay tourist visas, or come as deckhands and stay behind when their ships leave port. The largest number of illegals come over the Sinai from Egypt. They include Africans who end up as dishwashers, gardeners, cleaners, gas station attendants and other menials, and Eastern European women who do in Israel what their sisters do in Western Europe.

A few of the Africans may come from Dafur, but a lot of them claim they do and gain sympathy from those who believe them. Eritrea, Ghana, and Nigeria are common places of origin. Israel presses the Egyptians to do more in order to stop this traffic before it reaches the Israeli border, and occasionally the Egyptians comply by shooting and killing migrants. That does not play any better in Israeli media than images of the Immigrant police rounding up illegal families with attractive children who are citizens and speak Hebrew. The media also rouse support in behalf of long serving, well behaved, and uninsured illegals who encounter serious medical problems. Those who do the dirty, dangerous, and demeaning also get attention when something happens at a construction site, and authorities take a look at compliance with safety regulations.

We hear the same debates in Hebrew that others hear in English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian.
The immigrants work for less than the minimum wage and take jobs from citizens.
Israel must enforce its laws.
Immigrants who are technically illegal take jobs that citizens do not want, work for low wages, stay out of trouble in order to avoid the police, and are good workers.
How can we accept those who are here, work hard, behave themselves, and have children who are citizens, without encouraging the illegal immigration of additional thousands?
Must we educate and care for these people? They do not pay taxes.
Israel is wealthy. Illegal immigration comes along with the status.

Children born in Israel qualify for public schooling and medical care, but parents might not register them in order to avoid the police.

For the most part, the Immigration police are inactive or restrained by politicians who listen to employers and humanitarians. There have been several waves of roundups and deportation, spurred by a surge of "they are taking jobs from Israelis" or "we must enforce our laws." Who knows why individual politicians sign on to an anti-illegal immigrant or a pro-illegal immigrant campaign, or shift from one to another?

Israel and Western Europe are as close to Africa as the United States is to Mexico and Central America. Promised Lands offer the dregs of opportunities not wanted by locals. Better speaking citizens may raise their voices in behalf of the tired and poor, who are also the people they need to staff their restaurants and clean their houses. Nowhere do those citizens persist in creating a Paradise. Justice also eludes them.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:34 PM
The Messiah's donkey

According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah comes to Jerusalem on a donkey.

If the candidate is Barack Obama with aspirations for peace in the Middle East, something is amiss.

For some days now, it has been clear that he overstepped himself, or his advisors pushed too far, by saying that the freeze on settlements must include the new Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he would not keep Jews from living where they wanted in Jerusalem, just as leaders of other democracies could no longer keep Jews from living where they wanted in their capitals. Varda's new curtains are a blatant affront to the White House.

A Washington Post editorial has chastised the president for angering Israel as a price too heavy for limited success with Muslims.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/29/AR2009072903167.html;

With Netanyahu's help the president has provoked a spurt of anti-Americanism. Extremists have rushed to do God's work by creating 11 new settlements. They are illegal, but will take time to dismantle. Coming on the heels of other settlements being removed indicates that a cat and mouse game will continue.

There has also been an arousal of Israel's moderate right. Several writers have described the brilliance of Netanyahu. For the first time an Israeli leader has proclaimed that the Arabs must give something in order to get something. In his speech at Bar Ilan University, Netanyahu demanded Palestinian agreement to the disarmament of their state, and the recognition of Israel as Jewish. Palestinian refugees will not be return to the Jewish state.

Rejections from Palestinians and other Arabs were immediate.

Signs are that the White House has backtracked from a total settlement freeze. The discussion is now about a partial and temporary freeze, and the administration is asking the Arabs for a gesture to Israel. Arab governments see this as Obama's reversal of what he had offered to them, and are saying his new request is premature.
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1248277934634

Things are also not going well at home. The unnecessary remark about Cambridge had some traction, perhaps reflecting the high status of police going back to Richard Nixon's war on crime. It is not clear what will come out of Congress for health care. Americans are insisting on keeping their "freedom of choice." Insurance companies may be paying for this campaign, as if they had not acquired control of the choices. Most people spend a great deal of time, often unsuccessfully, with indecipherable forms that must be completed in order to get what is available.

There has been a renewed flurry that Obama is Muslim, racist, and anti-Semitic, and an illegal occupant of the presidency by virtue of being born in Kenya. So far I have not seen that he is a Pentecostal snake handler, but that may come.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:32 AM
July 29, 2009
Tisha b'Av

Judaism is doctrine, traditional practice, ethnicity, and cultural norms. Linking all of them is national history. Most books of the Hebrew Bible focus on Jewish history. Purim, Passover, Shavuot, Tisha b'Av, and Hanukah commemorate events.

Tisha b'Av (the ninth of Av) falls this year on July 30, and marks the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE.

Religious Jews fast, mourn, and read the Book of Lamentations. Banks, public facilities, and places of sport and entertainment close. Radio and television broadcast programs with historic themes and avoid commercials. Secular Jews go about their business as usual, but are likely to notice something different, if only that the gym or restaurant is closed.

This is a piece of being a people with a shared past, where history is a central ingredient in the tribal religion.

The historical focus of Judaism also explains the importance of the Holocaust. It is a key ingredient in the culture, as well as rituals performed at national sites and in neighborhood synagogues. It is too soon to know if the Holocaust will compete for prominence among religious Jews with the destruction of the Temples by Babylon and Rome.

Some charge that Israel plays the Holocaust card improperly, as an excuse for its existence, plundering Arab lands, and repeated overreactions against violence.

Among roughly half of Israelis, the Holocaust is something experienced by parents or grandparents. Among the other half, the persecution of Jews in Arab lands prompted the migration of parents and grandparents.

One cannot understand Israel without taking account of those trauma. It is not clear what portion of Israeli mistrust of others comes from those experiences, included in school lessons and family conversations. Some are obsessed with their history, while others would like to forget it. Some use persecution to teach suspicion, while others use it to promote tolerance and accommodation.

It is possible to justify Israel's activity without reference to what happened before 1948. The decades since then provide reason enough to invest heavily in national defense, and to deal aggressively with those who continue to incite hatred, and killed more than 1,100 Israelis since 2000. Israelis debate whether the country should have carried out this or that operation, with this or that weapon. Those are details best left to professionals who have tried different courses of action, and argue among themselves what is likely to produce the most quiet in a situation where peace is unlikely.

Moralists who criticize Israel for excessive actions should look elsewhere. Americans can start close to home. The IDF was responsible for fewer than 1,000 civilian deaths overall in its recent operations (Lebanon plus Gaza) while the civilians killed in Vietnam were counted in the millions, Iraq in the hundreds of thousands, and those in Afghanistan and Pakistan as yet uncounted. Arguably Israeli actions were more justified as essential for national defense, and more successful in achieving their objectives. However, it is Israelis who are condemned most often, and it is Israeli military commanders, rather than American commanders, who are cautioned against international travel lest they fall into the hands of courts intent on punishing violations of their moral codes.

For some, Tisha b'Av cautions strength and actions to pre-empt those who would continue the work of Babylon, Rome, and the Nazis. For others, it is a reminder of their people's longevity.

Jeremiah saw destruction in his time as a product of Judea's failure to recognize the reality of Babylon's power. Josephus explained the destruction he witnessed by Jews' refusal to accept the might and attractions of Rome. We hope that Netanyahu will do better with Obama than his predecessors did with Nebuchadnezzar and Titus.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:41 PM
July 28, 2009
Thomas Hobbes

Current events justify a few words about domestic and international politics.

Politics is tough in a democracy with a complex society. Witness the squabbles in the United States about health care that have been prominent at various times since the 1940s, and currently are testing the capacity of the Obama administration.

Compared to international politics, domestic politics are a cake walk.

A line of Thomas Hobbes is appropriate for international politics: life is nasty, brutish, and short.

Times have been better since the devastation of World War II and the development of the United Nations and other international bodies. But not all that much better. Africa provides even more extreme examples of Hobbes than the Middle East.

The concept of national sovereignty is overplayed. No nation is entirely sovereign or independent. We're all dependent to some degree on others.

Israel is more dependent than most other countries, insofar as it aspires to membership in the club of the civilized. Membership gives it access to technology, science, culture, and markets. At the same time, Israelis have a well honed sense of insecurity, they have created an impressive security establishment, and they are politically sophisticated about the ways of the world. The sophistication comes from Jewish history of ancient lineage, as well as more recent Israeli history.

Barack Obama may have the world's greatest military at his disposal, but one can wonder about his sophistication.

The countries high on his list of engagement are not likely to be responsive. North Korea, Syria, and Iran have been called "rejectionist" for good reason. Obama may have the key to unlocking them, but until he delivers, we have reason to be skeptical.

With respect to Israel's concerns, he is putting together a package that looks something like this: Israel will behave as he wishes with respect to settlements, the Palestinians will work against violence and incitement, other Arab countries will make gestures toward Israel in the form of partial normalization of relations, Syria will demonstrate good behavior with respect to its ties with Iran, Hizbollah, and Hamas, and stop aiding those fighting against the United States in Iraq, and Iran will limits its nuclear aspirations.

Again, none of these countries are completely sovereign, but neither are they likely to be as compliant with Obama's wishes as are Representatives and Senators with respect to his aspirations for health policy. With the American politicians, the president can employ the tools of political favors and his influence on public opinion. Again, that will not be easy and it may not produce a significant health bill. But compared to his overseas tasks, it is within his expertise and that of his advisors.

The president is not likely to threaten armed intervention with any of his overseas problems, given the overextension of American forces elsewhere.

With Israel, he can try persuasion. He got off on the wrong foot by demanding a cessation of building for Jews in East Jerusalem.

If anyone wants a lesson on the problems Israeli officials face with even the smallest and least justified of the settlements, current news is that settlers are completing initial construction at 11 new locations in the West Bank.

Israel can move against its crazies, but will not do so with dispatch unless Obama can deliver something from the Arabs. As far as we can tell, that ain't happening.

Sanctions on Israel would depend on the cooperation of Congress and some degree of quiet from public opinion, Jewish and others. I doubt that the president wants that fight. Tougher sanctions on Iran and others will depend on the cooperation of Russia, China, France, Germany, Italy, and Britain, none of which have been outstanding in recent opportunities to cooperate.

Remember Hobbes.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:34 AM
July 26, 2009
It's always a time for concern, but not for worry

The Obama administration is pressing Israel, but the president is being pressed by other issues. Health legislation is getting more attention at home, and it is not easy

When the proposal for national health became prominent in the 1940s, the major opponents were physicians, most of them independent entrepreneurs organized in the American Medical Association. Now a large percentage of physicians are salaried employees of health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and there are a number of programs in place to provide partial coverage to segments of the population. The patchwork has become part of the problem. The players include for-profit insurance companies and HMOs, the buffering offered by state programs, requirements that federally aided hospitals provide care to walk-ins, Medicare, Medicaid, plus organized small businesses, opponents to covering aliens or abortions, and other groups intent on protecting their pieces of the patchwork, or staying out of a patch in order to keep their costs low.

Commentators see public opinion in the United States becoming less supportive of Israel or more severely opposed to Israel. They assign responsibility to Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2009. Yet public opinion is fickle, especially about something far from home. It may spike in response to pictures or reports, but does not say if individuals will press officials who make policy.

Moreover, commentators do not always have the facts right. An update from a month ago based on Gallup polls going back to 1967 shows steady American support for Israel in the range of 55-65 percent as opposed to less than 20 percent for Palestinians and other Arabs. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/American_attitudes_toward_Israel.html

If we are concerned with the wiggle room of the Netanyahu government, the most important public opinion is that of Israelis, and especially Jews. Most Arab Israelis have voted themselves irrelevant by supporting parties that emphasize nationalism and criticism of the government instead of adhering to the political norm of going along in order to get along.

Over the years Israeli polls have shown considerable support for an accommodation with the Palestinians, but also suspicion and resistance in the face of specifics. Most recently (i.e., after President Obama's Cairo speech), polls show a combination of support for an agreement, but pessimism that one is possible. Sixty-three percent of Israelis questioned in a poll that included Arabs as well as Jews supported a two-state solution, but more than 60 percent of both Israelis and Palestinians believe that it is impossible to reach such an agreement within the next five years. http://truman.huji.ac.il/poll-view.asp?id=279

The Obama administration did not do itself a service by targeting new neighborhoods of Jerusalem along with the West Bank in its demand for a complete freeze of settlement activity. Netanyahu jumped on the issue with fervor and success. Would a western government keep Jews from living anywhere in its capital city? Israel would not keep Jews from living anywhere in Jerusalem. A popular Hebrew internet site, most likely heavily Jewish in its readership, invited responses to the "American Veto of Jewish building in East Jerusalem." Of more than 4,500 responses, 74 percent said that "Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel, and therefore there is no problem;" 15 percent responded that "building in East Jerusalem is problematic, but not the affair of the Americans;" 11 percent said that "building represents a problem for negotiations with the Palestinians, and the American intervention is justified." http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//14294/@@/poll Adding Jerusalem to the American menu may hut the prospect for a settlement freeze anywhere in the Land of Israel.

George Mitchell is in the neighborhood working on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria, and other Arab countries. National Security Advisor James Jones and Dennis Ross are talking with the Israelis about Iran and other things. It is not clear what priorities Israel and the Palestinians have on the president's wish list in comparison to health care and Iran, and the fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

As far as us commoners know, Syria wants the prestige of diplomatic relations with the United States. Its officials may hum pleasantly in response to questions about negotiations with Israel. The problem is that they are is willing to begin talks only when Israel agrees to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and then some. Saudi Arabia is a key piece in the Obama effort to get gestures from Arab governments toward Israel in exchange for Israeli compliance with the settlement freeze, and it has not been forthcoming.

Israelis should always be concerned about America. The pressure that currently seems feasible is not an occasion for worry.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:47 AM
July 23, 2009
Right, left, and center

Friends who read my notes say that I have moved to the right.

I think that I am where I have always been. Perhaps it seems I am moving to the right because many of my notes are written against an American administration that has drifted to the left on an issue of importance to me. My centrist position now seems rightist.

American presidents have considerable power to move public opinion, not only at home but in other places that pay attention to the United States. This is especially true of presidents like Barack Obama and John Kennedy who speak well, and define extraordinary missions for themselves and their country. Charisma is a term overworked by commentators, but it may apply to them.

Speaking well with great vision does not necessarily signify wisdom or political skill. Kennedy is hard to judge, given his brief reign, but the record of accomplishment is not apparent. He still receives applause --deserved--for the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the Bay of Pigs was an embarrassment, the doomed escalation in Vietnam owes something to him, and it was Johnson who achieved significant movement on civil rights.

It is equally difficult to judge Obama. His term is too new. His actions on the economy follow those of Bush, involve some of the same people, and will be adjusted as time goes on. Success or failure depends on decisions by others in the American economy and elsewhere.

Obama's efforts in health policy are still in Congress. The going is not easy, but that was to be expected. No one should predict the legislative outcome or how that will affect indicators of well being. Whatever happens in Congress will influence, and be influenced by many players in medical care.

All presidents inherit ongoing problems and programs, and it is never fair to assign too much credit or blame to one leader or administration. Obama promised a great deal in his campaign, and may have been perceived by supporters to promise even more than he actually said. His theme of Change lends itself to expectations, and his personal story increases the drama and the hopes.

The president and his cheer leaders see progress toward an end game in Iraq, but continued violence raises doubts. Heroic statements on Guantanamo have been reduced to something partial and postponed. Afghanistan is a sinkhole getting worse, and may prove to be his greatest embarrassment. Pakistan is a cousin of Afghanistan, but with nuclear weapons and implications for India. Iran is more complicated than a month ago by protests that may roll forward to something greater. The president's policy toward Israel and Palestine strikes me as a farce, all the sadder on account of Jewish Democrats who have signed onto Obama as Messiah.

It is only on the issue of Israel and Palestine that I see a significant move to the left on the part of Obama and friends, and where my avowed centrism may appear to be a drift to the right. I have no firm position on the complicated issue of the economy, and am more to the left on health care than most Americans. But I am not investing much emotion in that issue since I enjoy an Israeli system better than what anyone can imagine for the United States. I see naivite in American actions and announced plans for Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and hope that little of that spills onto me.

John Kennedy got my vote the first time I went to the polls. I stopped voting in the United States when I came to Israel 34 years ago. I view Obama as a thrilling demonstration of American opportunity. I wish him well on account of what he represents, and his status as the most powerful individual in the world. I fear that he is not wise or well informed about all that he found on his agenda, or all that he has put there. Although he is the most important, the rest of us also have something to say about what happens. That explains my continued optimism.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:33 AM
July 21, 2009
Neverland

Mahmoud Abbas has a new demand of the United States: to order the immediate removal of the security barrier being built between Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Israel. According to Abbas, the barrier is standing in the way of the peace process. On account of an end to the violence, he claims, it is unnecessary.

That is like a cancer patient telling his physician that he can stop chemotherapy because he is having a good day.

It is not possible at this time to predict whether Israel's security barrier will have a life that is shorter or longer than the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China, or the various barriers that the United States is building between itself and Mexico.

It is one of the things that is working against Palestinian violence, and will remain for some time. I see a section being built about a mile from my balcony.

Abbas' latest call is one more indication that the Palestine Authority is not a credible actor in international politics. It may be good enough to remove from Israel any responsibility for providing services to the Palestinians of the West Bank, and to be coddled by American contractors and Israel security personnel who help it against Palestinian ruffians and Hamas. But as a partner in negotiations? It does nothing but repeat the litanies heard since Arafat, without the give and take that is the essence of negotiation. Since it has been shut out of Gaza, it represents no more than one half of Palestine.

Only the deluded or the innocent can believe that gestures from Israel will get the peace process rolling.

Currently Americans and others say that Israel should stop settlement activity in the West Bank, including neighborhoods of Jerusalem. If they accept the demand of Abbas and include the dismantling of the security barrier as another precondition to negotiations, we surely will have arrived at Neverland.

Jewish friends accuse me of being anti-American.

A fair reading of what I write would place me within the range of Americans who criticize the American administration. No doubt my perspectives have been shaped by living outside the United States for half my life.

The last time I voted in an American election was 1972, for Richard Nixon. I would do it again, with all we have learned about him since then, if George McGovern was still his opponent.

Barack Obama strikes me as a McGovern of the 21st century. So was George W. Bush.

McGovern was a decent man who was naive about conditions that prevailed during the early 1970s.

Obama and Bush share a naive arrogance about their capacity to remake the region from the Middle East to Pakistan.

I still think of myself as an American as well as an Israeli, and insist on my rights as an occasional critic of both governments. For the United States, I hope that it does not kill too many more of its own troops or the locals before downsizing its aspirations. Obama may have done that for Iraq, but he has upsized those for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Israel will make some gestures in the American direction. Early signs are that it is more difficult to get building permits in areas deemed sensitive. Settler organizations are mounting their campaign, along with Netanyahu and other ministers, against the extremity of demands coming from Washington. Some American officials are saying that they may have gone too far in their demands of the Israelis, and should wait for something from the Palestinians. To me, that says that the surge in activity will peter out with a few more visits by George Mitchell or other underlings.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:32 PM
July 20, 2009
Coping

My note about benign neglect brought several criticisms to the effect that such a posture would prevent a solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It is time for another note on coping.

Coping is the default response when a problem appears to be chronic, or insoluble. On the personal level such a problem can be a family member, neighbor, or boss who is intolerable, irremovable, and for whom one's own option to leave is not appropriate. It can be an illness or injury for which there is nothing but a palliative (i.e., a medication or appliance that represents medical coping). The chronic problem can be personal poverty resulting from debt, a lack of education, or a physical condition that limits one's capacity. Old age is filled with insoluble problems.

In the public arena, insoluble problems may be ingrained corruption, extensive poverty, or cultural conflict that persist for generations without responding to programs of welfare, education, or policing that the regime is able or willing to implement.

Israel's chronic problem is the Palestinians.

I do not think of myself as a racist. Some of my good friends and best students are . . .

Mahmoud Abbas and those around him may have given up on violence as a way to deal with Israel. If so, that is a blessing. However, they are not willing to pursue anything less than full satisfaction of their slogans: a return to the borders of 1967, and a right of return to Israel for refugees and their families. Either they firmly believe that they can achieve those dreams, or they are wary of pressing more extreme and violent Palestinians to give up their dreams of displacing Israel entirely.

One should not underestimate the internal problems of Palestine. Their on-again, off-again civil war resulted in more than 400 Palestinians killed by Palestinians from 2006 through 2008.
http://www.btselem.org/English/statistics/Casualties_month_table.asp?Category=23®ion=TER

Whatever the sources, the Palestinian regime has shown itself to be a chronic problem.

If world opinion or the governments of the United States and Europe press Israel to be more accommodating, it will not solve that problem. Israel has offered something close to the 1967 borders, with land swaps for the rest, and has agreed to take a number of refugees.

It has never been enough, even to tempt the Palestinians to make a counter offer.

There are other problems in dispute, not worth mentioning here. The borders and refugees by themselves demonstrate the insoluble nature of the problem.

So Israel copes.

Among its tactics are going along with international demands that it negotiate, despite sufficient experience that the negotiations will lead nowhere. It absorbs considerable violence in order to pay heed to persistent international demands that it not react to every provocation. There were numerous violations of its northern border before its attack on Lebanon in 2006, and seven years of rockets on its civilians before it went into Gaza earlier this year. It has learned to avoid occupation of Palestinian areas. It left Gaza after three weeks, and moves in and out of West Bank towns only when it goes after bad people. It invests heavily in intelligence, which allows it to locate the bad people. It employs check points to control the movement of Palestinians. They are unpleasant for Israeli soldiers as well as Palestinians, so it removes those that appear to be unnecessary. It reestablishes them when the removal appears to have been premature. It grants individuals permits to enter Israel for medical treatment, schooling, religious and family purposes, but closes the borders or rescinds individual permits when its intelligence advises that. It blockades the northern and eastern boundaries of Gaza (Egypt blockades the southern boundary), but monitors the need for fuel, medication, and food, and lets in enough to prevent a disaster. Reports are that Gazans live better than most Africans. We do not know if the Israel prisoner there is still alive. There have been no visits by the Red Cross or other international organizations. Perhaps they are too busy criticizing Israel for human rights violations.

You want to help?

Some international programs may assist the Palestinians. Not more food aid and financial transfers. They breed dependence and corruption. A good deal of the money has gone to foreign bank accounts without buying goods or services for Palestinians.

An American-Jordanian program to train security personnel has produced some protection of individual Palestinians from exploitation and violence at the hands of other Palestinians, and has allowed Israel to reduce its security activities in the West Bank.

Urging Palestinians to stop inciting hatred of Israel in its schools and media has not produced results. Further preaching may help.

Insisting that Israel stop all construction in what others view as "occupied territories" may be counterproductive. An Israeli view is that the territories are "disputed" and not "occupied." Prime Minister Netanyahu says that no western government can no longer deny a Jew the right to live in a residential neighborhood of Paris, London, or New York,, and no Israeli government will deny Jews the right to buy property anywhere in Jerusalem. That has considerable support among Israelis familiar with anti-Semitism. Numerous Israelis, other than extremists, support the extension of Netanyahu's line to include the purchase of property by Jews anywhere in the Land of Israel.

The proclamations about freezes in settlements, including neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, by President Obama and his people may actually provoke more construction by Israelis, and more funding of land purchases by overseas Jews.

Leave Israel alone. It knows the neighborhood, and how to take care of itself.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:55 AM
July 19, 2009
Benign neglect is better than tough love

Several of the American Jews who were avid supporters of Barack Obama and angled for appointments in his administration use the term "tough love" for their preferred course of action toward Israel. Their point is that supporters of Israel, like themselves, should tell the Jewish state what it must do in order to reach an accord with the Palestinians. They are sure that Israel does not know what to do, or is not able to take the appropriate steps without American pressure. Their pressure would ultimately bring peace to Israel as well as Palestine. It would be a boon to Israel. Hence, tough love.

More recently there has been another indication that "tough love" is less appropriate for what should be American policy than "benign neglect."

Israelis know pretty much what their government has offered, and they know that it has never been enough to satisfy Palestinians. Perhaps it never could be enough, given the extremism of several Palestinian clusters, and the reluctance of even those considered moderate to persuade their people to accept something other than 1967 boundaries and the right of return to Israel for 1948 refugees and their families.

Recently Javier Solana suggested that the international community impose on deadline on Israel-Palestine negotiations, and then declare the creation of a Palestinian state if the parties do not reach an agreement by the deadline.

No surprise that the Palestinian leadership has accepted that as the ideal rule of the game, and are pressing the Americans to adopt that policy as their own.

Again the Palestinians are waiting for someone else to solve their problem. They can continue demanding what they want, and when the Israelis do not agree by the date set for ending negotiations they may get it from the international community.

Hence the need for benign neglect.

Again and again, against what has become acceptable among the flakey left, it is essential to repeat that the problem is not Israel but Palestine. A few minutes with Google can demonstrate to anyone who is literate what Israelis have offered and what the Palestinians have rejected.

It is time for the Palestinians to mature, if they want a state of their own. They must recognize that the international community is not likely to bind Israel. And if tries, Israel may not accept the shackles.

An empty threat?

Maybe not.

I am not about to predict when Israel will fold in order to go along with international players, and when it will pursue its own course.

Anyone who casually assumes that all the cards are with the United States or Western Europe should take another look at Gaza. Not only are there piles of rubble and people still in tents seven months after the destruction, but there is little or no construction material getting through the blockade.

That's what Israel does when it tires of rocket attacks on its civilians, even though the incidence of Israeli casualties was substantially lower than those due to traffic accidents.

My own tough love directed at Palestinians is to start thinking about an agreement that will strike Israelis as reasonable. My tough love directed toward the United States and other Western democracies is to adopt benign neglect. It is the only chance of helping the Palestinians recognize that they must learn to help themselves.

There are two late flashes showing the futility of tough love directed at Israel. They apply to the ban on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem demanded by key members of the Obama administration. The Israeli government has rejected the demand. And Varda has demonstrated that the Obama administration is nothing against an insistent householder. Her curtains have arrived, and are hanging where she wants them.

If tough love will not work, benign neglect will not work quickly.

It is unlikely to produce a Palestinian state in less than a generation or two, until those committed to the fantasy of 1967 borders and the return of refugees' families pass from the scene. The refugees themselves will pass before then, and descendants holding keys to doors that no longer exist may also have to pass away.

Meanwhile, things are not all that bad on the West Bank. A recent New York Times report describes an economic resurgence that results from improved security. That is provided by Palestinians trained in Jordan by Americans, whose loyalties are to the principle of providing security to Palestine as opposed to following the orders of a family elder, gang leader, or a charismatic figure who claims to speak for Allah. As new units have shown they can be reliable, Israel has limited its involvement in Palestinian towns and has reduced the roadblocks between them. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/world/,17westbank.html?scp=2&sq=West%20Bank&st=cse

Those committed to the idea of a Palestinian state should recognize that most nations (i.e., ethnic groups) do not have a state of their own. The list includes the Basques and Catalonians of Spain, the Welsh of Great Britain, hundreds of native tribes in North and South America and most tribes in Africa. Palestinians discovered themselves to be an ethnic group only in the last century. They may have to wait a while, and perhaps forever, to achieve a state called Palestine.

Things remain bad in Gaza, and will continue as long as the leadership persists in its pledges to destroy Israel. Should those people gain power in the West Bank, I would no longer recommend it as a place for Palestinians to invest their money or their lives.

Note this periodic reminder that I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:47 AM
July 16, 2009
Dealing with others

The commotion in Jerusalem reminds me once again about the lack of understanding on the borders of different cultures.

It is not only that secular Israelis have trouble understanding the escalation of anger that appears to have been in defense of a woman who starved her son. Asking why leads one into the communities of the ghetto, a why about the motivation within the woman's congregation (Toldot Aharon), and another why about members of other congregations, often rivals of Toldot Aharon, who joined in the protest and went to the street to burn trash and throw stones at the police and other outsiders.

We cannot answer those questions with any certainty.

Insiders will not confide with outsiders. They may not even condescend to talk with a secular Israeli who does not speak Yiddish.

A leading expert on the ultra-Orthodox is a religious Jew who does speak Yiddish. He once told me that there are congregations he cannot penetrate. They are like small tribes on a South Sea island. No one on the outside knows what happens on the inside.

Part of his problem is an affiliation with a university. The ultra-Orthodox do not attend university, and many of them shun individuals associated with universities. A distant cousin who studied at a university may lower the value of a young man looking for a wife in the ghetto.

There is a passage in the Talmud that sheds light on this antagonism to universities. "Cursed be the person who teaches his son Greek wisdom." (Bava Kama 82b)

This diatribe of mine has relevance far beyond the ghetto that is two miles from these fingers.

It is relevant to recent articles in the western press about the problems of the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The articles quote experts who criticize other experts for their mistakes. The Americans did not use enough troops; they dealt with the wrong individuals who claimed to be leaders; they did not do enough, or the right things, to win the confidence of the people. If only the Americans had done it differently they would have been able to transform those places into societies that could manage themselves in a way acceptable to the United States.

Nonsense.

My own experiences have taught me that it is possible to establish rapport and warm friendships across a cultural divide, without coming to understand some of what is crucial in motivating a friend. The situation is more difficult for politicians and technocrats of one culture who seek to influence those of another. Israelis have tried and failed in several efforts to influence Palestinians they have lived close to for more than a century. Current thinking is that it is wisest to keep one's distance, build a wall, and threaten the other with draconian actions if their violence becomes intolerable.

When western politicians and experts claim that they know better than other western politicians and experts how to manage distant cultures, I hear the language of political and professional competition between those claiming to know what should be done. I do not perceive that President Obama or his Jewish advisers understand Israel. Americans are further from understanding cultures more different from their own.

What should Israel do about the ghetto?

As little as possible.

Heroic speakers from the ghetto and the anti-ghetto are calling for absolute victory. One rabbi says that his people must defend their independence to the last drop of blood. An outsider calls for a conquest of the ghetto and the imposition of Israeli law.

It is best to attempt neither.

I will not justify what occurs in the ghetto. I avoid it as much as possible. I can recall prolonged conversations with ultra-Orthodox Jews, some of whom I thought of as friends. The buses I take to the city center pass through the ghetto. I rub shoulders with its residents, insofar as the buses tend to be crowded while in the ghetto. I ask help if I am looking for something in their neighborhood, but I avoid saying anything that is likely to cause a dispute.

There is enough movement into and out of the ghetto to recognize that it is not entirely closed, and is not a prison. Individuals who want such a life can enter, although they may be viewed with suspicion for years. Individuals born in the ghetto can leave. They may or may not be able to maintain the degree of closeness with family members that they want.

It is unlikely that Israel could impose itself on the ghetto at anything like an acceptable cost in money or unpleasantness. It is even more unlikely that officials would agree to make the attempt, given the ghetto's representation in the Knesset. Sixty years ago David ben Gurion established a settlement with the ghetto of his time. He defined terms of disengagement that--more or less--still prevail. Hopefully, Israelis have learned to apply that lesson to their dealings with the Palestinians. Americans might consider the example when thinking about Israelis, Arabs, and other Muslims.

None of this negates the possibility of individuals from one culture influencing those of another. Yet the process is likely to be indirect, long term, and may work only on individuals who are inclined to be influenced. That the Obama family is living in the White House is one example of what can happen over the course of generations. Ira and Varda have learned to live well together despite different origins. A passage from a student's thesis is relevant. He noted the problems of secular and university educated Arabs in dealing with Israeli officials, but even greater problems in dealing with their families.
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It is enlightening and pleasant to live alongside others and to visit distant places. Experience should caution against trying to remake them in one's own image.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:57 PM
Ghetto revolt

There is a ghetto revolt in Jerusalem.

It began several weeks ago in protest against the municipality opening a parking garage on the Sabbath that served visitors to the Old City. It escalated in protest against the arrest of a woman from one of the ultra-Orthodox communities on charges of abusing her three year old son.

The ghetto is always seething to some degree. Protests can escalate at any time on account of opposition to a store selling non-kosher food; the discovery of bones at a construction site; the demand that a road be closed on the Sabbath; advertising posters showing immodest women; or a demonstration of gay pride.

The ghetto is not unified. There are numerous congregations tracing themselves to Central or Eastern Europe, or Morocco. Some have a history of several hundred years, and each clings to its traditional dress, nuances in ritual and doctrine. Experts say that it is possible to identify the various camps according to the hats and stockings worn by the men, and the wigs or scarves that women use to cover their heads.

The larger communities have integrated into Israeli politics, and exercise their weight in the city council and Knesset. The Chabad (Lubavitcher) reach out to other Jews like missionaries. They introduce outsiders to ritual, and seek to gain their support or even their affiliation to the community. Several congregations operate schools for individuals who had been secular, transform themselves to new born Jews, and are extreme in their loyalty to what they see as true Judaism. The congregations offer social and material support to their members, and help in the selection of a mate. Some congregations are steadfast in their isolation, and opposition to the heretic state.

Disputes between the congregations are no less prominent than disputes between the ghetto and secular Israelis. Placards denounce an offending rabbi in the harshest of terms, and yeshiva students may be sent to attack the property or the students of his congregation.

When one of the communities finds an issue that excites others, the whole ghetto is likely to respond. None can remain behind on an issue that gains traction as defense of Judaism. The woman charged with abusing her child is an example. She had starved her three year old boy to the point where he was severely undernourished and weighed only 15 pounds. She was affiliated with one of the smallest and most extreme of the congregations, but the involvement of the police and municipal social services with a pregnant woman was enough to recruit others. The protest spread when the police arrived with their truncheons and horses to clear the streets.

The ultra-Orthodox community in Beit Shemesh has begun its sympathy protest. So far other ghettos have been quiet.

From 2003 to 2008 the ultra-Orthodox had one of their own as mayor of Jerusalem. Uri Lupulianski engaged with the establishment by serving in the IDF and working his way up the career ladder of municipal politics. His election could have marked the beginning of ultra-Orthodox dominance. They amount to 30 percent of Jews in Jerusalem, as opposed to 10 percent of the Jews throughout Israel. They obey their rabbis on issues of politics, and turn out in municipal elections at rates that reach three times those of secular Jews. Insofar as almost all Arabs of East Jerusalem boycott the city's elections, the ghetto could own the city. In 2008, however, one of its inner conflicts set a major congregation against the ultra-Orthodox candidate. A secular candidate, Nir Barkat, moved into city hall. It was he who ordered the opening of the parking garages on the Sabbath, after frustrating negotiations with representatives of ultra-Orthodox congregations. Currently, in response to several nights of burning trash dumpsters and stoning police, journalists, cars, and buses, Barkat has ordered a cessation of garbage pickups, and municipal social services in the ghetto.

The municipality and the national government provide considerable resources to the ultra-Orthodox. They qualify for significant discounts on local taxes and water charges due to their large families. Ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset work to assure funding for the schools run by each congregation, most of which ignore the demands of the Education Ministry to provide basic instruction in secular subjects along with their emphasis on religious texts. The parties also demand considerable money for housing, most recently over the 1967 borders in Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit. These towns have given the ultra-Orthodox a stake in the conflict over the Land of Israel, and add their complication to whatever can be done about defining the boundaries between Israel and Palestine.

Almost all ultra-Orthodox men claim their special exemption from military service. They gain little support from the larger community with the claim to be more effective defenders of the nation than the IDF, due to their study of sacred texts.

Each of the congregations also relies on fund raising from affiliated communities overseas, mostly in the United States, Britain and Australia. The occasional need to arouse the enthusiasm of donors may account for the commotions in Israel. Defending the faith against heathen Jews is a way of opening the wallets of ultra-Orthodox millionaires and poor people, and other Jews who respond to Yiddishkeit.

Currently one of the main arteries in the city is closed to traffic, and the alternative route is choked as a result. The two major bus lines between French Hill and the center of town are doubtful.

There is too much commentary in the media. We hear representatives of the ultra-Orthodox and the anti-ultra-Orthodox, as well as the municipality and the police. It resembles what the media provide during a war: too many voices explaining the position of the Arabs, the Jews, the government and the IDF. One can measure the balance in the media by the insistence of extremists from all sides that they are given a bad deal. It is a time to praise the classical music station,

Salvation may not be the right term for what may deliver us from this evil. We can expect a cooling of passions as on previous occasions. A local court has ordered the woman accused of child abuse released to house arrest for Friday and the Sabbath. The police oppose the move out of concern for her other children. The police will release the protesters they arrested, and there will be calming voices of rabbis and secular commentators.

Until next time. Perhaps when the parking garage opens again for Sabbath visitors to the Old City.

It may all be confusing to those who do not understand, or who cannot understand. The ultra-Orthodox are part of us. They have political weight. They do not dictate policy, but neither do secular Jews.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:26 AM
July 15, 2009
Telling it like it is

Professor Benny Morris became prominent in the late 1980s when he published what some called a revisionist history of the 1948 war. He described numerous cases when Israeli soldiers expelled Palestinian villagers from their homes, as well as cases when Palestinian leaders urged the people to flee.

Morris came under attack for challenging one of Israel's myths: that Palestinians became refugees because their leaders urged them to leave temporarily, to give the Arab armies a free hand in defeating the Jews. When the Jews left, or were killed, the Palestinians could return to their own villages and take the Jews' property.

The criticism of Morris is one of those issues in intellectual history that beg the question of why. It was already known that the flight of Palestinians resulted from Israeli military pressure as well as the urging of Arab leaders. In one of Jerusalem's junior high school in the mid-1970s, my son was assigned a short story, written by an Israeli, that detailed Israelis' expulsion of villagers.

The controversy surrounding Morris illustrates Jewish hyper-sensitivity. If we are not perfect, whoever describes our lack of perfection is wrong-headed.

Professor Morris remains provocative. Most recently he has described the Israeli-Palestinian issue as insoluble, due to the refusal of Palestinians to accept Israel. Their maps show one Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Some of them accept a "two-state" solution, but they refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and insist on the return of 1948 refugees and their families. Morris sees this as accepting a temporary division of Palestine. One part will be for Palestinians immediately, and another part will become Palestinian due to refugee families and Palestinian births.

Now Professor Morris is being criticized by the left. He has put the criticism of the Israeli leadership behind him and is articulating what has become the prominent view of the Israeli right wing, as well as much of the center and moderate left. That is, it is impossible to reach agreement with Palestinians no matter what combination of compromises an Israeli leadership might offer.

Morris is also standing in the way of what has become a mantra of Palestinians, their chorus of international supporters, and the Israeli left: if Israel does not agree to what the Palestinians want, including a right of return, the world will insist on a one state solution. And the result of that--given Palestinian birth rates--is a Palestinian majority before too long in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Morris and numerous other people who accept facts reckon that Palestinian birthrates may produce a Palestinian majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. But those who suffer will be Palestinians. Unless the Israeli electorate and leadership becomes mad enough to accept a one-state solution, the crowding will take place on the Palestinian side of the line. It does not require an abnormally high IQ to conclude that the barrier currently being built between Israeli and Palestinian settlements is meant to divide what God put between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Morris was right in the late 1980s, and he is right, now. He is more the scholar than the ideologue. He tells it as he sees it.

There are implications in his message. Well meaning Americans and Europeans are wasting their time. There is no use parsing this or that solution for the Middle East when none of them have any traction among Arabs who do not accept Israel's existence.

Israelis listen to their neighbors as well as to decent people in the west. Israelis have tried compromise. They will continue to meet with Palestinians, largely because not doing so will look bad in the offices of western officials, in the classrooms of western academies, on CNN and BBC.

Western officials and academics should not fool themselves. Israelis are not fools. They know who they are dealing with. Say they are just going through the motions of negotiating with Palestinians, and you will become like Professor Morris: telling it as it is.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:27 AM
July 14, 2009
Aspirations and achievements

When I spent three years as an Assistant Professor in the Deep South during the mid-1960s, I came to realize the benefit of having to deal with serious challenges. I am not thinking of the KKK, although I did encounter some of those. I am thinking of people who grew up in a culture that did not question racism, and struggled with it.

I have noticed the same benefits among Israelis. Coping with threats, and avoiding simplistic solutions, adds to one's humanity. Along with fresh fruits and vegetables and a decent health system, the challenges contribute to enviable indicators of longevity.

It is also helps that Jews hope for the Messiah, but do not expect an arrival.

Latest news is that President Obama will continue to press Israel to make concessions, and will be no less gentle with Palestinians and other Arabs.

A Palestinian prominent among those who govern the West Bank says that Israel has moved in stages to be more accommodating. As a result, the Palestinians need not modify their position, but simply wait for more Israeli movement.

All that tells me that the Obama administration will age and pass from the scene, along with the current leaders of Palestine, without removing Israel-Palestine from the world's agenda.

It would help the Palestinians to reckon with the trend lines, using whatever time frame they want: from 1948, 1967, the onset of the first intifada 1987, or the second intifada 2000. Looking at all those possibilities, I see Palestinian deterioration and Israeli growth.

Aside from being realistic, I have no suggestion for my neighbors. They have to decide what to do. Waiting, without flexibility in their demands, is not helping them.

They could learn from the Jews, and not expect a Messiah to solve their problems.

Jews have been coping with stronger neighbors for something like 3,000 years, and are still learning.

One lesson came from the Lebanese War that began in 1982. Ariel Sharon aspired to reform Lebanon and help Israel at the same time. Eighteen years later and several thousand casualties, Ehud Barak decided that continued occupation was not worth the cost.

Lebanon II was better managed: withdrawal after a month; lots of damage inflicted that so far has kept the northern border quiet.

Gaza was even better managed: withdrawal after three weeks; many fewer Israeli casualties; lots of damage inflicted that so far has kept the southern border quiet.

The goal that has been learned is to achieve quiet, not total victory, and not the reform of another society.

Israel is no angel of mercy. But compare the civilian casualties it has inflicted, casualties among its own troops, and the accomplishments achieved, with what the US has done since War II.

Israel may deserve a collective medal for its admirable management of national defense.

So far no member of the United Nations has made the proposal.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:21 AM
July 13, 2009
Solana's solution

Javier Solana, a prominent official of the European Union, is proposing that the UN Security Council set a date for the end of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. If there is no agreement it should then recognize the existence of a Palestinian state and declare its boundaries.

Legislating a final solution for Israel and Palestine is like legislating a cure for cancer.

Nothing would be more certain to postpone the creation of a Palestinian state even further into the dim future.

Solana's proposal continues the efforts of decent and not-so-decent folks to assure the Palestinians that help is on the way. Palestinians will not have to do anything but line up at a desk staffed by one or another international organization and receive free food, help with housing, great gobs of sympathy, and an end to their suffering.

What six decades of encouraged and forced dependence has done for Palestinians is enough to make anyone a raving libertarian. There is no better demonstration that caring too much perpetuates futility, ruins whatever capacity a people may have to take care of themselves, and keeps them from dealing the best they can with their problems.

Encouraged dependence comes from countries of the west that consider themselves decent. Forced dependence, along with drum beats of encouragement, comes from Arab countries that have not granted Palestinians, their children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren citizenship or other basic rights.

Perhaps the timing of Solana's proposal is a function of what he expects, or hopes, from the Obama administration: no veto of a resolution whose prospect already has Israeli officials sweating.

The Palestinians will applaud. Their savior has mounted his donkey. The UN will give them what they want. Already the leadership is asserting that it has not given up the right of people to return home to what they or their families left in 1948.

What if two or more cousins demand the same property that grandpa described as his?

The Palestinians have tried violence, and it has made their situation worse. They have persisted with their insistence on returning to Israel, despite the wide and intense opposition of Israelis to turning their country into another state dominated by Muslims.

A prominent European declaring intentions is one thing. Getting a formulation through the Security Council will be more difficult. Will it require the Sharkanskys and a half-million other Israelis to leave the homes they have lived in for years? What about the curtains Varda has ordered? And all that property that Jews left in Arab countries when they fled in the 1940s and 1950s?

Will the UN also decree a solution for the violence between Palestinian factions, each concerned to assure jobs for its boys and control over the aid money?

Will Palestine remain peaceful during that time the UN Security Council allows for negotiations, or will one of its groups, for whom nothing is ever enough, provoke something serious from the IDF?

And when the great day comes, will Israel comply and remove its forces from all the checkpoints to the north, south, east and west of the West Bank, and allow a free flow of goods and people in and out, or between the West Bank and Gaza?

And if not?

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:15 AM
July 09, 2009
The road goes on forever

Fathers are a problem.

A television journalist interviewed Ben Zion Netanyahu

Dad long ago set himself off from the Israeli establishment by his extreme right wing views. The prime minister has not denied his parentage, but neither has he emphasized it. Since his first term as prime minister, he has also kept his wife away from the cameras and microphones, but that is another story.

Ben Zion still has most of his buttons, or at least a much larger percentage than most 100 year olds. Commentators have asked if it was wise or fair to interview someone of his age, and then quote him on a matter of public importance.

Ben Zion would not have accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. But no matter, his son imposed conditions on the establishment of a state that no Palestinian could accept.

The interviewer asked if that was Ben Zion's conclusion.

He heard it from his son, the prime minister.

I once encountered Ben Zion when he was a younger man of about 90. The occasion was a visit at memorial week for a mutual acquaintance. Ben Zion talked about all the famous people he had met. I don't recall him pausing long enough to allow anyone to ask a question or make a comment about him, his experiences, or the chap whose passing we were there to commemorate.

Does Ben Zion's latest bit of fame cause any problems for the prime minister?

Not likely.

Anyone listening to Bibi's speech in response to Barack Obama's speech should have known what he was doing without his father's explanation. Soon after the speech there were condemnations from Arabs and others on the same point that we now hear that Bibi told his father.

Dad adds to the noise, but as Shakespeare wrote some time ago, sound and fury signify nothing.

Ben Zion's news joins the American demand, repeated by several officials, that Israel stop all construction in the West Bank, including the new neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The latest news from on high is that construction continues on about 2,000 units. The latest from below is that Varda ordered curtains not only for the dining room, but also for one of the bedrooms. As yet, no inspector from the US State Department has arrived to stop the transaction.

Other news from the heights is that Obama has not abandoned his commitment to engagement with North Korea and Iran. The president of France said that Israel would create an international catastrophe if it attacked Iran. The Germans are joining the Americans in demanding a stop to Israeli construction in the West Bank.

A friend asks why it is more objectionable for a Jew to build a house than for a Muslim to build an atomic bomb.

American unemployment is reaching toward 10 percent, and the Bush-Obama efforts to save the economy might not be doing it. A major proposal to reform health care is eroding toward a minor adjustment due to the objections expected.

Will Change rule the world, or will it be the Highwaymen's refrain that the road goes on forever.

I'll bet on the Highwaymen.

As always, I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:51 PM
To good to be true

David Gurion said that Israel would be a normal country when it had thieves and prostitutes.

By this measure, there not any doubt of Israel's normality. Perhaps B-G was already out of touch. And for those who remain naive, we do not lack for reminders.

This is not a story of Russian immigrants using their old country contacts to arrange the transport of ladies from the Ukraine and Moldavia through the Sinai to the Promised Land with the help of Bedouin smugglers.

Rather, it is something which began with large headlines on the front page of The Marker, a business newspaper distributed daily along with Ha'aretz. There had been another sale of an Israeli invention to an international firm. This one would solidify Israel's place as a source of great innovations with the capacity to save lives. The name of the company was Life Keeper, and its creation was an electronic button that would stick to the chest of a person who had heart disease. Without requiring any penetration of the skin it would monitor levels of blood sugar and other indicators, and warn of an impending heart attack 30 minutes before the event. It would communicate via the wearer's cell phone to a center that would alert the patient and physician in enough time to save a life.

The spokesman for Life Keeper interviewed on prime time television was introduced as a doctor. When asked how the device could analyze blood without penetrating the skin, he explained that the scientific creator had produced an algorithm that did the analysis. Also involved in the company were one other doctor, as well as the individual recently picked by the prime minister as the principal negotiator for freeing the Israeli soldier held prisoner in Gaza.

All the pieces seemed in place for another Israeli breakthrough. Life saving, money making, backed by reputable scientists, a substantial input ($300 million) provided by a major international firm that had purchased one-third ownership of the company, representation by a major Israeli law firm said to have examined the documents and confirmed the transfer of money, and connections with government at the highest level.

You've heard about prospects that are too good to be true.

It took less than a day for Globus, another Israeli business journal that is a competitor of The Marker, to raise some questions.

Two days later, prime time coverage and extensive reports in print were continuing, but in the mode of "Can you believe this?" or "Who could have believed this?".

The two doctors involved in the project turned out to be dentists. Not only were there no cardiologists on board, but all the physicians interviewed indicated that they had never heard of the project. There was no coverage in the medical literature that would have been expected for such a development. Hadassah Hospital denied that it had been involved in testing such a device. When asked if the US Food and Drug Administration had approved the device, the Manager of Life Keeper said that he did not know. The international firm that was supposed to be the prime investor, sometimes described as British and sometimes as Taiwanese, said that it had never heard of the Israelis or their invention.

And who was the source of the algorithm that was the essence of the invention? An ex-con with several convictions for involvement in other projects that were too good to be true.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:10 AM
July 06, 2009
Israel and Iran

Something may be happening.

Or the signals may be nothing but threat, bluster, and invention.

One headline is that Vice President Biden said that Israel has the right of a sovereign nation to defend itself by attacking Iran. He implied that would not be the preference of the United States. Or maybe he implied that it would be the preference of the United States. He was either inarticulate or purposely vague.

Another headline is that Israel has sent submarines through the Suez Canal in the direction of the Red Sea and the naval base at Eilat. They may be equipped with cruise missiles and sent in the direction of the Persian Gulf.

Israel-Egyptian cooperation in the passage of Israeli warships through the Canal may be signaling that Egypt and other Arab states will support an Israeli attack on Iran.

A British paper reported that Saudi Arabia indicated to Israel that it will not prevent Israeli warplanes from overflying its territory on the way to Iran. According to the report, the Saudis insist that Israel not advertise their cooperation.

Both Saudi and Israeli authorities deny the report. That may be part of the agreement that it be kept quiet. Or it may mean that the British journal invented the story. Why? Perhaps to increase circulation or to warn the Iranians and make it difficult for the Israelis to do anything.

Another item is that Israeli officials are pressing Americans with their analysis that recent commotion in Iran makes it even less likely that dialogue will be helpful in ending the Iranian nuclear program. We also hear that a number of moderate Arab governments have indicated their frustration at American naivite, i.e., thinking that the Iranians can be charmed or persuaded to moderate their course.

We have been here before. British papers (either mainline newspapers or from the Muslim community) have reported Israeli preparations that seem pointed to an early attack. A number of Arab governments (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states) view Iran as a domestic threat via its incitement of their own Shiites or other radicals, and view the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon as worse than anything Israel represents.

The downside of an Israeli attack has not changed. It will produce an Iranian response likely to cause significant damage and casualties, as well as widespread international condemnation (despite tacit approvals or encouragement of Israel). If the Iranian attack is limited to conventional warheads delivered by planes or missiles, the damage could be acceptable, perhaps with another round of Israeli attacks in retaliation. If the Iranian response includes poison gas, radioactive waste, or one of its first nuclear warheads, something bigger might happen.

The government collected our gas masks some time ago, and is not yet ready to distribute newer models with fresh antidotes. Perhaps that means no attack is imminent.

Would it be better to rely on Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and let the Iranians proceed with their nuclear development, assuming the United States, Europe, Russia, and China have not the will to impose sanctions severe enough to deter them?

Israel's interests are in the middle of the "yes-no" spectrum.

The threats of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provide all the moral justification necessary for a severe pre-emptive strike, including a willingness to absorb considerable damage and casualties in whatever response and escalation occurs. On the other hand, it would be nice to avoid damage, and hope that rationality prevails among the Iranians who make decisions. Threats, bluster, news leaks, and invented stories of Israeli-Saudi cooperation might have some deterrent effect on Iran. Life is not good for the average Iranian, and the recent commotion may not be the end of the protests. A continuation of sanctions, even at their current modest levels, may have some effect.

We will not know in advance.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:00 AM
July 04, 2009
Are we serious?

An American friend tells me that his friends are worried about those settlements in the West Bank.

Forget it.

It's all a distraction.

The American administration and media have learned from the Arabs. Maybe Obama is an Arab after all. Instead of attending to serious problems at home, he has focused on the image of Israeli evil that others have made into a problem.

A lead story on this morning's news is that he is visiting Morocco, and asking King Mohamed VI to help bring peace to Palestine and Israel.

That's what the Palestinian and other Arab leaders do when they cannot solve problems at home. They travel the world and have their picture taken looking somber while talking to other national leaders.

The lead headline in Ha'aretz says that the United States and Saudi Arabia are pressuring Syria to renounce its sovereignty over Shaba Farms, so Israel will agree to withdraw, the area can be assigned to Lebanon, and the deal will advance the cause of disarming Hizbollah.

Are they serious?

Shaba Farms is a postage stamp size piece of land of no importance to Israel, Syria, or Lebanon, which is one of the issues that Hizbollah uses to excite the crowds. If Syria and Israel decide to humor the United States by going along with its scheme, Hizbollah will use some other reason to keep its people chanting, waving their fists, and threatening to use their missiles.

If the American president really wanted to be a great national leader, he'd bang heads at home, downsize all those insurance companies, and create a health system like those in all the other developed countries.

Nothing Israel can put on the table is enough for the Palestinians to accept, or even to use as a reasonable beginning for negotiations. Prime Minister Olmert offered something like 95 percent of the West Bank, plus land from Israel to compensate for the other 5 percent; plus a land link between Gaza and the West Bank; plus the acceptance of 30,000 refugees; plus international control of the Old City.

Mahmoud Abbas' responded that the "gaps remained large."

I read that as saying that he cannot accept anything without arousing his Palestinian rivals, and he is not willing to do that despite being in a condition of civil war with them.

Perhaps the key to understanding all of this is to realize that Palestine does not exist. Neither do Palestinians. They are just a bunch of Arabs who call themselves Palestinians, but are not a society that anyone can govern or reason with.

The Palestine Authority is running a deficit of $300 million, and is trying to borrow $530 million from banks in order to pay employees. Their salaries feed something like 25 percent of the population. The Authority is hardly more than a welfare organization, providing a living to people not being supported by the United Nations.

Perhaps it is only the Obama White House that views the Palestinians as a serious enterprise. Arab governments have delivered only 25 percent of what they pledged.

I have seen no list of banks willing to lend them $530 million. It is too late to qualify for a sub-prime mortgage.

Silwan is an Arab neighborhood east of the Old City. A feud between rival families escalated to automatic weapons. There is at least one dead, several injured, and considerable property damage. Residents are complaining that the fire department, police, and paramedics did not respond.

Why should they risk themselves?

Am I mad to suggest that Palestine is not a real issue? If the authorities take away my e-mail and lock me up, I will not be the first individual put away for telling the truth.

Nor would I be the only mad Jew.

There was yet another weekend of violent demonstrations about the opening of a parking garage on the Sabbath. As usual in such confrontations, the primary weapons are curses, stones, overturned dumpsters, and dirty diapers. The police tried to keep the ultra-Orthodox in their ghetto, using barricades and their cavalry horses.

Pardon my flippancy. Today I am not dealing with serious topics.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:15 PM
July 03, 2009
Publicists

One of the items on a prime time evening discussion program was a confrontation between the head of Amnesty International's Israel office and a critic of Amnesty International and numerous other organizations that subject Israel to disproportionate attention while claiming to promote civil rights and justice.

Amnesty's spokesman condemned Hamas for the war crime of targeting civilians with its rockets, and asserted that Amnesty was even handed in accusing all who violate international law. His critic emphasized the travesty of the organization's even handedness. Could an observer claim even handedness when accusing both the Germans and the Russians of killing civilians in World War II, and not putting the greater blame on the Germans?

The moderator of the discussion noted that Amnesty did criticize Hamas as well as Israel in its most recent report, but the color photographs on the front and back covers of its report showed destruction in Gaza and not in Sderot. You can judge for yourselves if you think the organization's report on "Middle East and North Africa" is even handed. http://thereport.amnesty.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa

It begins with Israel's launch of an aerial bombardment, casualties in Gaza, and what it says were Israel's repeated breaches of international law that caused a "disproportionate toll among civilians."

The next paragraph notes that "Israel said it launched the attacks in order to stop Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups firing rocket at towns and villages in southern Israel." Is ". . . said it launched. . . " even handed, or does it imply something more heinous?

Paragraph three describes "an 18-month period in which the Israeli army had subjected the inhabitants of Gaza to an unremitting blockade, preventing virtually all movement of people and goods in and out of the territory and stoking a growing humanitarian catastrophe."

One has to read further to learn that there were other problems in the Middle East and North Africa: violence against women and girls, problems of asylum-seekers, refugees, and migrants, discrimination, and deprivation.

Amnesty International's critic on the broadcast was Professor Gerald Steinberg, a personal friend who has created NGO Monitor to survey non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that target Israel. http://www.ngo-monitor.org/index.php

The list of sinners includes organizations that claim to be exposing injustice around the world, ask for donations, and focus disproportionately on Israel. Along with Amnesty International, are Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, as well as Israeli and Palestinian organizations such as Adalah, B'Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, and Palestinian Center for Human Rights. NGO Monitor has also reported on the Durban Review Conference and other organs associated with the United Nations, the anti-Israel tilt in conferences conducted by universities in Britain and North America, and the efforts of faculties to declare boycotts on Israeli academics. The latest postings of NGO Monitor describes a fund raising visit to Saudi Arabia by Human Rights Watch. Its representatives stressed Israeli violations of human rights, but not those of the Saudis.

The NGO Monitor, as well as the organizations it criticizes, are members of a community that compete for our attention and pocketbooks. Against Israel bashers are Israel defenders, who bash the bashers. Along with NGO Monitor are The Israel Project, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Anti-Defamation League, and American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

One suspects that these organizations "preach to the choir." It is more likely that they reinforce those already committed, and do little by way of changing change minds or making the unconcerned aware of injustices.

How many troops can these organizations put in the field? Do they contribute anything more than noise? Can they move governments to actually put troops in the field or impose sanctions?

There are no simple answers to these questions.

A country does not want to be put on the list for sanctions. They helped topple the previous regime of South Africa and pressured Libya to alter its course, and are adding to discomforts in North Korea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Compared to them, Israel's suffering is minor. Yet enterprises report that firms in Europe and North America have refused to do business with them because they are Israeli. Academics have wondered if their grant proposals or article submissions have been rejected only because they fell into dirty hands.

My own experiences include a goodly number of articles accepted for publication, and a goodly number rejected. I viewed most rejections as justified, but two of them explained their actions by the charge that I was doing nothing but conveying Israeli propaganda. In one case, I learned that the journal editor had written articles charging Israel and the United States for crimes against humanity, and was in the process of being dismissed for his biases. In the other, the editor agreed to look again, ignored the judge who had accused me of academic misbehavior, and decided in my favor.

It is good that we have publicists to remind the world that other publicists have pushed their criticisms to the point of severe imbalance or even madness. They may lead those with real power think again before they vote sanctions, or send troops against the IDF.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:41 PM