October 29, 2009
Why the stalemate?

Headline in Friday's Ha'aretz "Abu Mazan (Mahmoud Abbas) is losing hope: 'I sense that Netanyahu has not changed since 1996'"

A headline on an inside page in the same edition: "Paralysis at the summit of coordination between the government and the territories." That story goes on to say that things are not happening in the policy to advance "economic peace" on account of the failure of Israeli government to make appointments to key positions in the program.

Elsewhere in the news we hear that negotiations about freeing Gilad Shalit are moving at the speed of a crippled snail. International donors are complaining that Gazans are still living amidst the rubble because Israel will not open the borders to the supplies and equipment that their contributions will provide.

Let me offer explanations for these disparate items that I can sum up in some pithy epigrams.

There is no free lunch in international relations
You screw us; we'll screw you
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" may be a spiritual ideal, but the more popular norm in international politics is the simpler one of "Do unto others."
Israel can live well enough without solving the problem of Palestine.

The Palestinians may pride themselves in their willingness to die for their national cause, but they have committed national suicide. There will be no Palestinian state as long as key factions persist with the dreams of turning back the clock to 1967, to 1947, or to the mid-19th century before Jews began coming to this area.

I perceive that Netanyahu has changed since 1996. He appears to be wiser, and more skilled in expressing what he demands as conditions for moving forward with a peace process.

Abu Mazan's problem is that he has not changed. From the information available to the public, I see no signs of flexibility in his position. No matter what Israel has offered is not enough.

Too bad that we seem to be stuck without movement in a peace process, despite its position high on the priorities of the Obama White House and European governments.

Several things beyond Palestinian stubbornness are contributing to the stalemate.

The Goldstone report is one of them, and symbolizes a general condition. As Netanyahu has said, why should Israel be generous when international organizations and others distort reality, judge Israel so much more severely than they judge other countries, and are working to deny Israel the right to defend itself. When Abu Mazan works to keep the Goldstone report on the agenda of international organizations, he provides Netanyahu yet another reason to follow the line of "screw him."

Another major contributor to stalemate is Hamas. Its unrelenting refusal to recognize Israel's legitimacy, as well as its persistence in demanding the freedom of individuals seen in Israel as murderers makes it a doubtful partner for negotiations. Gaza represents about half of Palestine, and Hamas appears to be strong in the West Bank. Moreover, Hamas is only one of numerous Palestinian groups that push Abu Mazan to a hard line with Israel. Abu Mazan may be able to stay in power in Ramallah by demanding the Palestinian wish list, but why should Israel bother?

There is also the problem of Iran. Not only is it resisting international efforts to temper its nuclear aspirations, but it is prominent in the cluster features Hamas and Hizbollah, as well as Syria and Turkey.

Peace would be nice, but the prevailing sentiment is not to rely on the Palestinians, governments that find it convenient to express their support for a Palestinian state, and other governments that have trouble finding words sufficiently strong to boost Palestine and threaten Israel.

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 11:35 PM
October 27, 2009
On the problems and benefits of uncertainty

"The power to tax is not the power to destroy, while this court sits."

"The Messiah will come in his own time."

The first of these expressions comes from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in defense of the government's power to levy a tax. He wrote that the tax at question did not pose an imminent threat of destruction. As long as the Supreme Court existed, it could intervene when the taxing power actually did threaten the economy. Panhandle Oil Co. v. Mississippi ex rel. Knox 277 U.S. 233 (1928).

The second expression comes from Jewish tradition. It implies that the Messiah will arrive only when God wills it. http://www.lttn.org/R1_Article1_CountdownToRedemption.html The faithful pray for an early arrival. A popular song expressed skepticism; "The messiah doesn't come, neither does he phone." http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1254861902881&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull

Both expressions argue against the facile idea of the "slippery slope," used by those who fear that an action portends subsequent events leading to disaster, which can only be prevented by acting now.

There is no end to the conflict between those who demand action, and those who counsel patience and deliberation. Neither is there a simple formula for determining what to do. A middle course is to try something small, which does not commit oneself to a major action of unknown cost. A middle course will test the situation; an adversary's response will show if it is necessary to invest more heavily in order to preempt something worse. There is also the threat of action. Strong words may lead an opponent to change plans.

Recent events provide examples of rushing the Messiah, with doubtful results, and patience, also with doubtful results.

George W. Bush rushed the Messiah in Iraq, against the advice of European allies who felt economic sanctions were working against Saddam Hussein. Six years later, pessimistic estimates are that as many or more Iraqis have died as a result of the American-led invasion than died as a result of Saddam. Pessimists also see no signs of an orderly, stable Iraq. However, there are no serious demands to hold the United States accountable for the bloodshed.

Israel waited through seven years and thousands of rockets fired against its civilians before acting for a period of three weeks in Gaza. The casualties were a fraction of those associated with the American attack on Iraq. Gaza has ceased its rocket attacks on Israel, but international seekers of justice demand that Israel be brought to court.

It may help to keep the peace when adversaries do not know how far a nation will go in asserting itself. The distance to the slippery slope is never clear. Only in retrospect may it be evident that a country or a leader was intent on doing great harm, and might have been restrained.

International politics is a crap shoot. Terrible things can happen because those with power are reluctant to use it to prevent the bad, or use their power badly. Woe to us who cannot enjoy the quiet of Norway or New Zealand: far from violence and with sufficient resources to support a decent standard of living.

The excessive use of force, even in behalf of self defense, may produce more harm than it prevents.

Uncertainty is the prevailing theme. It makes us peace lovers uncomfortable, but it also makes our adversaries uncomfortable.

Among the unresolved issues we have to tolerate this week are:

Will the great powers succeed in stopping, or at least delaying whatever plans Iran has of acquiring nuclear weapons?

Will Israel tire of the tension, and act unilaterally against a country that has explicitly threatened its destruction?

If so, what will happen as a result?

At a lower level of awe are the occasional rockets landing in Israel from Lebanon. Most recently, the IDF fired a few artillery salvos in response to a rocket that landed in an empty field. Israel has tolerated Hizbollah's rearmament, and no international force will act to prevent it. So far the threat of massive retaliation has kept the northern border more quiet than in the past.

It is terrible that a regime like North Korea has nuclear weapons, and that a regime like Iran may acquire them. For Israelis, it is a blessing that it appears to possess nuclear weapons. We do not know that for certain, and we do not know what kinds or quantities of delivery are somewhere under the ground or under the sea. It helps that our adversaries also do not know for certain.

The example of North Korea indicates that others do not press too hard against a regime that may go crazy and bite as hard as it can. The same bite also works for Israel.

Not expecting a Messiah in the near future, we must go on living with uncertainty, and force the same unpleasantness on those who threaten to destroy us.

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 11:55 PM
October 26, 2009
No place for moderation in a Holy Land

You want moderation?

Not here.

Muslim and Jewish religious leaders are competing to heat up their followers in defense of their incompatible rights to the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif. And Ha'aretz has marked the 14th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination with a front page story revealing that his late widow, Leah, said that Benyamin Netanyahu was corrupt.

Should we proceed by commenting on the madness of religion or the madness of journalism?

On religion and the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif, one can go on forever parsing the history and the rights of Jews and Muslims. Did Moshe Dayan make a fatal mistake in 1967 when he ordered that the flag of Israel be removed from the Dome of the Rock and turned over the management of the whole site to Muslim religious authorities? Did that contribute to peace, or did it contribute to Muslim insistence on a monopoly of their rights, to deny a historic Jewish presence on the site, and provoke Jewish demands to have the right to pray on the Mount, erect a synagogue, or start construction of the Third Temple, which might entail the removal of Muslim holy sites?

The controversy is fascinating for its historical and political elements, but Jerusalemites content to live without solving religious mysteries are left with the effects of simmering conflict. Currently we are in the midst of what may be an escalation that, at the least, will tie up traffic in the area of the Old City.

Muslims claiming to be religious leaders are inciting their people to flow into Jerusalem to protect al Aqsa from Jews intent on defiling it with their presence and their prayers, and destroying it altogether. Rabbis identified with the settler movement are prominent among those resisting Muslim claims of a monopoly, and urging their followers to go the Mount and pray. Muslims quote the rabbis in urging their own people forward to jihad..

Muslim and Jewish leaders each have their enthusiastic followers. If the Arabic speeches are as dramatic as the Hebrew speeches, it is easy to understand the excitement. Extremists serving one another by providing reasons for their adversaries to escalate.

So far there is no indication that other rabbis of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities are abandoning their prohibition against Jews visiting the Temple Mount, and being dragged into assertions of Jewish rights. And while we sit here analyzing an interesting case, pondering how far the escalation will proceed, the police are doing their best to control both Jews and Muslims.

The late Lea Rabin was an attractive and articulate advocate for her husband. The assassination of a prime minister, military hero, and husband could not have been easy. Netanyahu's first term as prime minister represented a defeat of Rabin's Labor Party, and provided material to all who would charge corruption.

In letters written a decade ago, during Netanyahu's first time, Mrs. Rabin wrote, "I hope, pray, that the days of this government are numbered. Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it to bits, and in the future, we will have to rebuild it all over. . .We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost, because he exhausted our patience a long time ago."
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1123540.html

Was the discovery of these letters news of sufficient importance to justify a prominent headline on the front page? There were charges of corruption against Netanyahu during his first term, when Mrs. Rabin was writing. So far in the history of this government, no claims of his recent corruption have become prominent. Perhaps the editors of Ha'aretz are engaging in wishful thinking, moved in part by their opposition to some of Netanyahu's present policies. Someone may be hoping that old letters written by the widow of a Labor Party icon can revive the prospects of a party whose declining remnants are being consumed further by internal squabbles.

It is not likely that publication will add to the standing of Mrs. Rabin. The letters might excite those who identify with her, or are convinced that a Netanyahu government was a disaster then and now. Ha'aretz may lead some to fume about what happened years ago, and some to fume about a newspaper's revival of an old story.

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 03:31 AM
No place for moderation in a Holy Land

You want moderation?

Not here.

Muslim and Jewish religious leaders are competing to heat up their followers in defense of their incompatible rights to the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif. And Ha'aretz has marked the 14th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination with a front page story revealing that his late widow, Leah, said that Benyamin Netanyahu was corrupt.

Should we proceed by commenting on the madness of religion or the madness of journalism?

On religion and the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif, one can go on forever parsing the history and the rights of Jews and Muslims. Did Moshe Dayan make a fatal mistake in 1967 when he ordered that the flag of Israel be removed from the Dome of the Rock and turned over the management of the whole site to Muslim religious authorities? Did that contribute to peace, or did it contribute to Muslim insistence on a monopoly of their rights, to deny a historic Jewish presence on the site, and provoke Jewish demands to have the right to pray on the Mount, erect a synagogue, or start construction of the Third Temple, which might entail the removal of Muslim holy sites?

The controversy is fascinating for its historical and political elements, but Jerusalemites content to live without solving religious mysteries are left with the effects of simmering conflict. Currently we are in the midst of what may be an escalation that, at the least, will tie up traffic in the area of the Old City.

Muslims claiming to be religious leaders are inciting their people to flow into Jerusalem to protect al Aqsa from Jews intent on defiling it with their presence and their prayers, and destroying it altogether. Rabbis identified with the settler movement are prominent among those resisting Muslim claims of a monopoly, and urging their followers to go the Mount and pray. Muslims quote the rabbis in urging their own people forward to jihad..

Muslim and Jewish leaders each have their enthusiastic followers. If the Arabic speeches are as dramatic as the Hebrew speeches, it is easy to understand the excitement. Extremists serving one another by providing reasons for their adversaries to escalate.

So far there is no indication that other rabbis of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities are abandoning their prohibition against Jews visiting the Temple Mount, and being dragged into assertions of Jewish rights. And while we sit here analyzing an interesting case, pondering how far the escalation will proceed, the police are doing their best to control both Jews and Muslims.

The late Lea Rabin was an attractive and articulate advocate for her husband. The assassination of a prime minister, military hero, and husband could not have been easy. Netanyahu's first term as prime minister represented a defeat of Rabin's Labor Party, and provided material to all who would charge corruption.

In letters written a decade ago, during Netanyahu's first time, Mrs. Rabin wrote, "I hope, pray, that the days of this government are numbered. Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it to bits, and in the future, we will have to rebuild it all over. . .We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost, because he exhausted our patience a long time ago."
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1123540.html

Was the discovery of these letters news of sufficient importance to justify a prominent headline on the front page? There were charges of corruption against Netanyahu during his first term, when Mrs. Rabin was writing. So far in the history of this government, no claims of his recent corruption have become prominent. Perhaps the editors of Ha'aretz are engaging in wishful thinking, moved in part by their opposition to some of Netanyahu's present policies. Someone may be hoping that old letters written by the widow of a Labor Party icon can revive the prospects of a party whose declining remnants are being consumed further by internal squabbles.

It is not likely that publication will add to the standing of Mrs. Rabin. The letters might excite those who identify with her, or are convinced that a Netanyahu government was a disaster then and now. Ha'aretz may lead some to fume about what happened years ago, and some to fume about a newspaper's revival of an old story.

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 03:31 AM
No place for moderation in a Holy Land

You want moderation?

Not here.

Muslim and Jewish religious leaders are competing to heat up their followers in defense of their incompatible rights to the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif. And Ha'aretz has marked the 14th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination with a front page story revealing that his late widow, Leah, said that Benyamin Netanyahu was corrupt.

Should we proceed by commenting on the madness of religion or the madness of journalism?

On religion and the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif, one can go on forever parsing the history and the rights of Jews and Muslims. Did Moshe Dayan make a fatal mistake in 1967 when he ordered that the flag of Israel be removed from the Dome of the Rock and turned over the management of the whole site to Muslim religious authorities? Did that contribute to peace, or did it contribute to Muslim insistence on a monopoly of their rights, to deny a historic Jewish presence on the site, and provoke Jewish demands to have the right to pray on the Mount, erect a synagogue, or start construction of the Third Temple, which might entail the removal of Muslim holy sites?

The controversy is fascinating for its historical and political elements, but Jerusalemites content to live without solving religious mysteries are left with the effects of simmering conflict. Currently we are in the midst of what may be an escalation that, at the least, will tie up traffic in the area of the Old City.

Muslims claiming to be religious leaders are inciting their people to flow into Jerusalem to protect al Aqsa from Jews intent on defiling it with their presence and their prayers, and destroying it altogether. Rabbis identified with the settler movement are prominent among those resisting Muslim claims of a monopoly, and urging their followers to go the Mount and pray. Muslims quote the rabbis in urging their own people forward to jihad..

Muslim and Jewish leaders each have their enthusiastic followers. If the Arabic speeches are as dramatic as the Hebrew speeches, it is easy to understand the excitement. Extremists serving one another by providing reasons for their adversaries to escalate.

So far there is no indication that other rabbis of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities are abandoning their prohibition against Jews visiting the Temple Mount, and being dragged into assertions of Jewish rights. And while we sit here analyzing an interesting case, pondering how far the escalation will proceed, the police are doing their best to control both Jews and Muslims.

The late Lea Rabin was an attractive and articulate advocate for her husband. The assassination of a prime minister, military hero, and husband could not have been easy. Netanyahu's first term as prime minister represented a defeat of Rabin's Labor Party, and provided material to all who would charge corruption.

In letters written a decade ago, during Netanyahu's first time, Mrs. Rabin wrote, "I hope, pray, that the days of this government are numbered. Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it to bits, and in the future, we will have to rebuild it all over. . .We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost, because he exhausted our patience a long time ago."
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1123540.html

Was the discovery of these letters news of sufficient importance to justify a prominent headline on the front page? There were charges of corruption against Netanyahu during his first term, when Mrs. Rabin was writing. So far in the history of this government, no claims of his recent corruption have become prominent. Perhaps the editors of Ha'aretz are engaging in wishful thinking, moved in part by their opposition to some of Netanyahu's present policies. Someone may be hoping that old letters written by the widow of a Labor Party icon can revive the prospects of a party whose declining remnants are being consumed further by internal squabbles.

It is not likely that publication will add to the standing of Mrs. Rabin. The letters might excite those who identify with her, or are convinced that a Netanyahu government was a disaster then and now. Ha'aretz may lead some to fume about what happened years ago, and some to fume about a newspaper's revival of an old story.

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 03:31 AM
No place for moderation in a Holy Land

You want moderation?

Not here.

Muslim and Jewish religious leaders are competing to heat up their followers in defense of incompatible rights to the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif. And Ha'aretz is marking the 14th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination with a front page story revealing that his late widow, Leah, said that Benyamin Netanyahu was corrupt.

Should we proceed by commenting on the madness of religion or the madness of journalism?

On religion and the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif, one can go on forever parsing the history and the rights of Jews and Muslims. Did Moshe Dayan make a fatal mistake in 1967 when he ordered that the flag of Israel be removed from the Dome of the Rock and turned over the management of the whole site to Muslim religious authorities? Did that contribute to peace, or did it contribute to Muslim insistence on a monopoly of their rights and their denial of a historic Jewish presence, and provoke Jews to demand the right to pray on the Mount, erect a synagogue, or start construction of the Third Temple, which might entail the removal of Muslim holy sites?

The controversy is fascinating for its historical and political elements, but Jerusalemites content to live without solving religious mysteries are left with the effects of simmering conflict. Currently we are in the midst of what may be an escalation that, at the least, will tie up traffic in the area of the Old City.

Muslims claiming to be religious leaders are inciting their people to flow into Jerusalem to protect al Aqsa from Jews intent on defiling it with their presence and their prayers, and destroying it altogether. Rabbis identified with the settler movement are prominent among those resisting Muslim claims of a monopoly, and urging their followers to go the Mount and pray. Muslims quote the rabbis in urging their own people forward to jihad. Rabbis are quoting the Muslims.

Muslim and Jewish leaders each have their enthusiastic followers. If the Arabic speeches are as dramatic as the Hebrew speeches, it is easy to understand the excitement. Extremists are serving one another by providing reasons for their adversaries to escalate.

So far there is no indication that other rabbis of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities are abandoning their prohibition against Jews visiting the Temple Mount, and being dragged into assertions of Jewish rights. And while we sit here analyzing an interesting case, pondering how far the escalation will proceed, the police are doing their best to control both Jews and Muslims.

The late Leah Rabin was an attractive and articulate advocate for her husband. The assassination of a prime minister, military hero, and husband could not have been easy. Netanyahu's first term as prime minister represented a defeat of Rabin's Labor Party, and provided material to all who would charge corruption.

In letters written a decade ago, during Netanyahu's first time, Mrs. Rabin wrote, "I hope, pray, that the days of this government are numbered. Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society. He is breaking it to bits, and in the future, we will have to rebuild it all over. . .We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity called Netanyahu will get lost, because he exhausted our patience a long time ago."
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1123540.html

Was the discovery of these letters news of sufficient importance to justify a prominent headline on the front page? There were charges of corruption against Netanyahu during his first term, when Mrs. Rabin was writing. So far in the history of this government, no claims of his recent corruption have become prominent. Perhaps the editors of Ha'aretz are engaging in wishful thinking, moved by opposition to some of Netanyahu's present policies. Someone may be hoping that old letters written by the widow of a Labor Party icon can revive the prospects of a party whose declining remnants are being consumed further by internal squabbles.

It is not likely that publication will add to the standing of Mrs. Rabin. The letters might excite those who identify with her, or are convinced that a Netanyahu government was a disaster then and now. Ha'aretz may lead some to fume about what happened years ago, and some to fume about its efforts to heat up an old story.

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 03:31 AM
October 24, 2009
Test of analytical skills, or political inquisition?

One of the reasons I chose to study political science more than 50 years ago was its eclectic character. Its concerns touch all of the social sciences, and is hospitable to a range of perspectives.

I have worked with, and count among my friends individuals at numerous universities in several countries who have examined a variety of issues and express a range of views. Most of my own writing and teaching has been concerned with understanding how the political process works to determine who gets what. Description and understanding of citizen and official activities have been higher on my priorities than advocacy about what they should be doing.

It has been common to mock the notion of a "political science" that cannot be scientific, and is more political than scientific. Yet I continue to value work that employs intellectual tools in a systematic fashion to understand governing. Politics is at the heart of civilization. The essence of dealing with sensitive questions short of violence involves persuasion, voting, seeking allies and advantages in law and procedures, in the forums of government and campaigns for election.

Greatest among my recent pleasures is that one of my sons is pursuing graduate study in political science. Currently he is pondering possibilities in Israel, Britain, and the United States.

We have talked about the politicization that has affected higher education, especially as it is tainted by the condemnation of Israelis without reference to what they think or what they have done. Until now, it has seemed that the malady is most severe at lesser institutions. Where it is worth the effort to obtain a decent education, one could hope that learning and analysis prevails over demands to comply with whatever is fashionable among political activists.

Yet the aspiring academic has sent me an e-mail headed by the question, "Why should I apply to such a place?" Required of all applicants for graduate study at the University of California, Berkeley is the following.

"Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups."

UC-Berkeley scores near the top of world rankings for higher education in general, as well as its PhD program in political science. I count among mentors and friends past and present members of the department.

Issues concerned with opportunity have long standing, affected by different views about who to help and how. Legislatures and courts continue to wrestle with the problems. No doubt they are appropriate subjects for conversations among students or faculty, as well as for reasoned discussion in professional writing and by teachers in class.

Perhaps those judging the applicants will use responses to assess knowledge of a contemporary issue, skills in expression, balance, and nuance. The question may be a way of inserting affirmative action by the back door where courts have ruled that it cannot be the guardian of the front door.

On the other hand, it seems to be testing applicants' political views.

It is not one option among several possible lecture topics, but something that all applicants must answer. This gives it the smell of an inquisition engineered by those who think of themselves as politically correct, and who have taken control of who may study.

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 11:33 PM
October 20, 2009
Jewish vitality

The latest sources of Jewish panic are claims that Israel has gone crazy in an alleged concern for its defense, and that an American Jewish left is threatening what had been united support for Israel's essential concerns.

The left is sickened by indications of bloodshed and destruction in Gaza. The right is frightened by the emergence of the leftist J Street and signs of its alignment with the White House. Either this new left is provoking the White House to threaten Israel, or the White House is using the Jewish left as leverage against Israel.

So what else is new?

Remember that Moses had his hands full with Hebrew rebels. Ezra struggled unsuccessfully with men attracted to shiksas. Josephus described full scale civil war. Since then Jews have produced, followed, and been disappointed by no end of spiritual and political messiahs.

J Street is the American expression of what Israelis knew as Brit Shalom in the 1920s, and Peace Now from the 1970s onward.

If the greatest threat comes from an article in The Nation, then God's people can relax.
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091102/horowitz_weiss

Authors who write that "it's little wonder young American Jews feel increasingly indifferent about a country that has been at the center of Jewish identity for four decades" either cannot count, or do not know enough history to concern the rest of us. 1948 was six decades ago.

And whoever thinks that "the Gaza conflict has helped break down the traditional Jewish resistance to criticizing Israel," has not heard about the fighting that took place in Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. That was described as the first war that Israel chose to fight, rather than had to fight. It was a high point in the history of Peace Now and its allies. It produced a demonstration by 400,000 Israelis when the war was only a few months old.

The authors of the article in The Nation are thrilled with signs of a grass roots arousal of Jewish youth, intellectuals and rabbis against Israel, some of them urging a boycott and others demanding a fast in order to mourn Israel's brutality. They are sufficiently alert to notice that revolution will not be easy. There is still a Jewish establishment, and they see few signs that Congress or the White House will put real pressure on Israel.

Peace Now is still with us, along with Physicians for Human Rights, B'Tselem, and self styled anarchists who demonstrate along with Palestinians against the security barrier or whatever else concerns them.

However, a recent article in the New York Times describes the considerable feeling in Israel that the IDF's activities in Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2009) have brought more quiet than years past to the country's northern and southern borders. The article notes that Israelis are wary that quiet will not last. But it is apparent to many that military force works better than diplomacy with Palestinians and Islamic fanatics.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/world/middleeast/20mideast.html?_r=1&scp=9&sq=gaza&st=nyt

Left of center Jewish parties did not do well in the election that occurred in the month after the Gaza operation. Meretz won three seats and Labor 13, both all time lows for those parties. Leftist fortunes have not improved since then. Labor's chairman continues as Defense Minister and senior partner in the Netanyahu government, while five or more of the party's Knesset members are muttering about defecting and setting up a new party with purer ideals.

Some right wing Jews are convinced that a secret Muslim, not born in the United States, and anti-Semite, has wormed his way into the Oval Office. Less extreme are those who say that the President is intense in his hostility to Israel, and overlook his demands--no less onerous--directed at Palestinians and Arab governments.

The reality is that the Obama White House is different from the Bush White House, but not by all that much. The President is not oblivious to realities, American commitments, or problems in his preferred course of engagement. He has added to the forces sent to Afghanistan. The future of American involvement in Iraq depends on developments there. The White House has responded with severe criticism to the Goldstone Report, despite its status as a lodestone of the international left.

The latest indication of Jewish vitality appears within the family of Rafael Eitan. Toward the end of his life, the feisty former head of the IDF general staff and founder of a right wing party married a woman no less outspoken, but from another perspective.

Eitan died five years ago. Now the Jerusalem municipality proposes to name a street for him in a new Jewish area being constructed in the Arab neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber.

Eitan said, "The Arabs will never defeat us by throwing stones. Our answer will be a nationalist Zionist solution. For every stone throwing - we'll establish ten settlements. If there will be - and there will be - a hundred settlements between Nablus and Jerusalem, no stones will be thrown." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_Eitan

His widow is asking the municipality not to honor him in an Arab neighborhood. "The street does not belong to us. We do not have to be there."

Eitan's children from a previous marriage have not joined the widow's protest. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1122537.html


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 09:57 PM
October 19, 2009
Political aggression and its consequences

Excerpts from an official United Nations summary of the Human Rights Council resolution on the Goldstone Report
http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/47d4e277b48d9d3685256ddc00612265/81f352257c983c5285257651006c06dd?OpenDocument
". . . while the Israeli Government sought to portray its operations as a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Israeli plan had been directed, at least in part, at the people of Gaza as a whole. . . .the treatment of many civilians detained or killed while trying to surrender (is) one manifestation of the way in which the effective rules of engagement, standard operating procedures and instructions to the troops on the ground appeared to have been framed to create an environment in which due regard for civilian lives and basic human dignity was replaced with a disregard for basic international humanitarian law. . . . The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses had been the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces and not because those objects had presented a military threat . . . other Israeli activities, particularly in Jerusalem, including . . . limits to Palestinian access to properties and holy sites based on national origin, religion, sex, age or other grounds . . . a grave violation of the Palestinian people's civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. . . . Israeli violations of human rights in occupied East Jerusalem, particularly the confiscation of lands and properties, the demolishing of houses, the construction and expansion of settlements, the continuing construction of the separation Wall built in part on land Israel occupied in the 1967 war, and the continuous digging and excavation works in and around Al-Aqsa mosque and its vicinity. . . . The Council demanded that Israel allow Palestinian citizens and worshippers unhindered access to their properties and religious sites in the occupied Palestinian territory, cease immediately all digging and excavations beneath and around the mosque, and refrain from any acts may endanger the structure or change the nature of Christian and Islamic holy sites."

What to do?

An obvious option is to persuade friendly and neutral governments that the resolution is one sided, distorted or false, and a threat against Israel's elementary right to defend itself. Israel will work with its friends to assure that other United Nations forums, the courts and governments of individual countries do not respond to the Human Rights Council resolution with any concrete actions against Israel, its citizens, officials, or soldiers.

The most obvious falsehood is the claim that Israel is digging and excavating in, around, or beneath the Al-Aqsa mosque. The closest Israeli excavations are outside the large elevated area on which the mosque sits. The one-sided nature of the resolution is evident in that 10 out of 11 paragraphs deal with Israel's alleged violations, while only a "by the way" paragraph deals with allegations about Hamas. "(The Report) also found that Palestinian armed groups caused terror within Israel's civilian population through the launch of thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel since April 2001, determining that both sides may thus have committed serious war crimes and possible crimes against humanity."

Some Israeli politicians are blaming the resolution on the lack of sufficient efforts by Israel to explain its actions. More and better explanation is their solution.

In reality, there are countless explanations, from numerous perspectives, disseminated on a daily basis, about Gaza and everything else Israel does or does not do, by official government organs, organizations and individuals (Israelis and others) who identify with Israel's concerns.

The amount and range of explanations is part of Israel's strength and weakness. It reflects the diversity of the society and the sensitivity of issues that Israel encounters. It also tires those who feel that they have heard enough about Israel. Like other commentary about controversial issues, it is likely to strengthen those already convinced of a perspective being conveyed, fail to convince those opposed, and will be ignored by those who are not interested.

The countries supporting the Human Rights Council Resolution promoted by the Palestinians reflect the automatic bloc that Muslim countries and their allies routinely mount against Israel, and employed to prevent resolutions against even more heinous actions of the same countries. No amount of Israeli explanation is likely to penetrate this bloc of opponents.

Yet another approach would make Palestinian initiators of this and other political attacks against Israel pay a price for their actions. The prime minister has already indicated that Palestinian promotion of the resolution will affect Israel's readiness to risk its security by taking chances for the sake of a peace agreement.

Palestinians, like others, must feel that there is a cost to pay for political as well as other kinds of aggression. Such recognition is inherent in political maturity.

It does not take a great deal of imagination to speculate what might happen if Palestinian officials continue their campaigns in international forums. Israel may slow, stop, or even reverse the process of removing roadblocks and lessening inspections in order to facilitate the movement of Palestinians in and out of the West Bank, and between areas of the West Bank. Expressions by government officials, and public musings by ranking military officers can make the climate in the West Bank less attractive for overseas investors. The campaign against Israeli settlements, joined by the White House, European authorities, and international organizations, has provoked settler activists to increase their demands within Israel, and may make it less likely that government bodies will oppose them.

One can hope for justice, peace, and quiet, without expecting wide agreement on what they entail.

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 02:46 AM
October 16, 2009
Sound, fury, and quiet

It is one of those times to excite Jews' well developed paranoia.

A sizable majority of member states in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva endorsed the Goldstone report, and sent it on the General Assembly and Security Council. Supporters will try to get an endorsement from the Security Council to indict Israel before the International Criminal Court.

The resolution not only accepted the Goldstone report on the Gaza Operation, but for good measure condemned Israel for human rights violations in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including the denial of religious rights. (During times of tension, Israel does not permit entry to the Temple Mount for men under an age when they are thought to be potential troublemakers.)

Not even Richard Goldstone was satisfied with the decision of the Human Rights Council, insofar as it did not condemn Hamas for its violations.

The delegates who voted for the endorsement came from Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Djbouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia. Some of these we should discount as international good-for-nothings allowed to yell and scream, but not permitted by the rules of the game to do anything serious. Saudi Arabia is tolerated on account of its wealth, but also kept from serious damage by existing rules and norms. Some speak in double talk, endorse what the Palestinians want, perhaps to keep some of their own people quiet, but deal with Israel. Jordan and Egypt are prominent in this group. China, India, and Russia are important for Israel, but do what they have to in order to satisfy their other interests. None of them is on the verge of taking serious actions against Israel. All are more violent than Israel in dealing with those who threaten their own regimes.

Indonesia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, but we have encountered large groups of Indonesian Christians in our favorite Jerusalem Chinese restaurant. The Philippines enjoys the foreign exchange earned by thousands of its people working here as care givers for the aged and infirm.

Altogether, the votes in favor of endorsement are part of the international static. Not pleasant to the ears, but not likely to affect one's quality of life.

Things also have turned bad between Turkey and Israel. Turkey cancelled a scheduled joint military exercise involving Israel, the United States, and other countries, on the ground that Israel must be punished for its actions in Gaza. At about the same time, Turkey scheduled a joint military exercise with Syria, and the prime minister headed off to Tehran for high level meetings. A government owned television network broadcast a drama portraying Israeli soldiers as wanton killers of innocent civilians.

While some may view this combination of events as catastrophic, others see the extreme nature of the actions as portending more damage to those who initiated them than to Israel.

Turkey will not suffer great harm directly from Israel. The labor unions that for years have purchased group rates for their members at holiday hotels in Turkey say they will be directing their people to Greece and Bulgaria. That may put a small dent in Turkey's foreign exchange earnings.

By cozying up to Syria and Iran, Turkey can probably write finish to its aspirations to join the European Community, earn harsh words and maybe more from the United States. Islamic moves by the government, and a cold shoulder from Europe and the United States may also provide enough reason for the army to come out of its barracks, and once again take control of the government in order to save the country for Ataturk's vision of a modern, secular society.

The damage to Palestine is likely to come directly from Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu has threatened an end to the peace process if the Palestine Authority worked to turn the Goldstone report into something serious. Insofar as the United States has been critical of the report and voted against its endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council, it may be difficult for the White House to demand that Israel overlook the Palestinians' recent actions.

Except for a few moments around the news, we can ignore the noise. It is easy to judge as disproportionate the hostility expressed to Israel's efforts at self defense when the most outspoken critics are far less civilized in dealing with those who challenge them.

The most recent few days in our lives began with an evening of Brahms by the Israel Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta. The next morning we went north, to a tiny kibbutz and a simple room without our own TV. As retirees, we could remain home on the holiday of Succoth, let the crowds wander the Galilee, and have the area to ourselves when everyone else went back to work. There were not a lot of tourists on the roads, but we passed numerous industrial parks, and saw heavily loaded trucks showing a lively economy at work.

We wandered the sights during the days, and ate in a multi-cultural mixture of Druze, Christian Arab, Circassian, and Jewish villages. We enjoyed the food and conversation, heard perspectives different from our own, saw a different country, but sensed no misery or hostility.

There have been confrontations with the police in nearby villages of Isaweea and Shuafat, and there will be confrontations with the ultra-Orthodox about that parking garage that is open on Shabbat.

The society is manageable, although short of Paradise. "Manageable" is a higher standard than enjoyed by most of the countries whose delegates routinely vote against Israel.

Those who fulfill something in their lives by hating Israel will find comfort in the votes at the Human Rights Council, and the condemnations by Turkey. More important for us are the tastes and conversations of a varied and functioning society.


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 10:14 PM
October 11, 2009
Nobel prizes and political views

Israel knocked down another Nobel prize last week. A professor is sharing this year's award for chemistry. Ha'aretz boasted with a front page chart showing the country in first place with respect to Noble Prizes won for science since 2000, in relation to population.

Israel is not quite in the league of Jews the world over, who take more than 20 percent of Noble Prizes, but it does its part as a poor cousin whose universities and research institutes do not have the resources of those in North America or Europe.

Israelis receive pride and also a bit of entertainment from their Nobel laureates.

Not only is Professor Ada Yonath a renowned chemist. She is also staking a claim as an analyst of Israel's options in the fields of terror and international relations.

Within a week of the announcement of her prize, she was proposing that Israel release all its Palestinian prisoners. That is, more than 11,000 rather than the 1,000 demanded by Hamas for the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Moreover, she would release them without reference to Shalit.

She concludes that holding the prisoners increases terror.

"We need to think about ways to reduce their motivation to kill and be killed. . . We have it in our power to change the current situation, when a man sits in our jails for a number of years, and around him friends and family become angry. That is how we create terrorists. . . .Regardless of these inmates, there are enough people who are currently free on the other side who are able to hurt us. . . releasing all of the prisoners would help avoid future kidnappings." http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1254861911521&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
Despair not. A right wing Nobel laureate has also spoken.

Hebrew University Professor Israel (or Robert) Aumann shared the economics prize in 2005 for his work on rational analysis and game theory. Aumann's comments about public affairs are arguably closer to the expertise for which he won a Nobel than those of Professor Yonath. Critics have charged that he had used game theory to justify Israeli occupation and subjugation of the Palestinians.

Aumann is a religious Jew, and his public comments derive, at least in part, from his faith.

"We are here because we are Jewish, we are Zionist, because of our ancient bond to this land; we aspire to realize our 2000-year-old hope of becoming a free nation in our land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem. Without this profound understanding, we will not endure. We will simply no longer be here; Post-Zionism will finish us off. . . . our panicked lunging for peace is working against us. It brings us farther away from peace, and endangers our very existence. . . Roadmaps, capitulation, gestures, disengagements, convergences, deportations, and so forth do not bring peace. . . . These things send a clear signal to our "cousins" (Arabs) that we are tired, that we no longer have spiritual strength, that we have no time, that we are calling for a time-out. They only whet their appetites. It only encourages them to pressure us more, to demand more, and not to give up on anything."


http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2007/01/7th-herzliya-conference-prof-israel.html

As in other countries, expertise in Israel is compartmentalized. The professional home of Professor Yonath is the Weizmann Institute of Science. Professor Aumann's principal affiliation is with the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University. Neither of them had been prominent in talk shows or political panels before acquiring recognition by the Nobel Committees. The prestige of their prizes brought the media, and made them celebrities. They have every right to speak freely about politics, no matter how close their views to the conventional. Both won prizes for professional work that was anything but conventional.

We know from discussions in the Talmud, as well as academics who work under the headings of postmodernism and deconstruction, that concepts are not always what they seem to be in conventional usage. Somewhere in her writings, Professor Yonath may deal with the knotty problems of individuals judged to be murderers, who may be considered as combatants protected under the laws of war despite their lack of uniforms or service in the armies of recognized states. And Professor Aumann may have dealt professionally with the linkages between religious doctrine, rational analysis and game theory.

As yet, however, neither has won international recognition for excellence in political discourse.

Israel deserves recognition not only for the quality of its science and other intellectual pursuits, but also for the openness of its media to individuals who express themselves on the political extremes of both left and right.

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 07:42 PM
October 10, 2009
Passions and problems of Barack Obama

Barack Obama is a fascinating individual. He is also sitting in the world's most important seat. Observers the world over risk a great deal if they fail to understand him. Yet the task is not easy.

No doubt about his intelligence, and it would not be wise to disparage his sincerity and aspirations. If the test of a Nobel Peace Prize is "extraordinary effort" in behalf of peace, he deserves it. Ironically, Nobel committees that award prizes in other fields are chary of bright new stars. They demand a test of decades before deciding that a candidate is worthy. The Peace Prize committee works by different rules. Obama got the nod with less than 10 months in office. Yassir Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin shared the prize in 1994 for a deal made in 1993, that was in shambles less than a decade later.

Obama's magic is a source of strength and weakness. Race and religion are helpful in understanding him. He speaks like a African American preacher. The music of his voice is captivating, and his words inspiring. His themes of change and engagement are thrilling. They evoke hope and progress, rather than the hate associated with the preacher that may have taught Obama the cadence of his style. The President is more like Martin Luther King than Jeremiah Wright.

Yet the President's weakness is not far from his strength. While inspiring and on the side of good, he may be too much the minister rather than a politician. He plays to magnificent ideals rather than to deals that are possible. He is on the spiritual rather than the pragmatic plane. He talks about eternal truths rather than interests, but politicians deal in interests.

This is apparent especially in his international efforts. He has shown himself able to gain the support of masses in Europe, and the Nobel Committee in Oslo. So far hesitance rather than confidence is what we have heard from those who lead the governments of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Germany and Israel. Afghanistan is on the other side of the dark mountain, and shows no sign of being touched by his magic.

The New York Times called the Nobel award a "mixed blessing."
It drew attention to the fact that while much of the world was celebrating him as the anti-Bush, he had not broken as fully as he had once implied he would from the previous administration's national security policies. And it set off another round of mocking criticism from opponents who have chafed at what they see as the charmed and entitled rise of Mr. Obama.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/us/politics/10assess.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

It is not yet certain that he is effective with politicians in his own country. Health is the great test, and it shows a problem of his great goals and spirituality. Individuals who are not members of his political church oppose him with an animosity that is unusually bitter, and may be dangerous.

Thomas Friedman sees a parallel between American responses to the health proposal and extremist Israelis who cursed the Oslo Accords in the months before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/opinion/30friedman.html

It is appropriate to use the term fanaticism to describe much of the opposition to the President's health initiative. Slogans of death committees, socialism, and rationing are too highly charged when every other Western democracy employs the principal devices being discussed without damaging individual freedom, and producing indicators of health that put the United States to shame.

Antagonism comes along with threats. According to a CNN anchor, "a source . . . close to the U.S. Secret Service confirmed . . . that death threats against Barack Obama . . . go far beyond anything the Secret Service has seen with any other president."
http://pubrecord.org/multimedia/4273/during-sermon-arizona-pastor-tells/comment-page-1/

One can believe that there are remnants of racism in the antagonism to the President apparent in his own country. Accusations of his being a Muslim and born in Kenya are not far from the stereotypes used by the Klan, Nazis, and their kin. Claims that his health proposal is contrary to American tradition also condemn him as the hostile other.

Obama personifies a question that returns time and again about the American presidency and other heads of state. Is their function to make policy or to define uplifting aspirations, even if they are beyond reach? Great themes may win elections and excite the crowds afterwards, but may not accomplish much that is tangible. Franklin Roosevelt is a rare example of a leader who was both exciting and effective, but scholars are still arguing about how he did it. Ronald Reagan generated enthusiasm and may have contributed to the end of the Cold War, or that might have occurred on account of an internal collapse culminating in the last years of the Soviet Union.

Nine and one half months might have produced a record good enough for the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize. It is not enough to decide if President Obama is closer to Franklin Roosevelt or to any one of the lesser lights that have held his office. Those of us who admire his aspirations but are skeptical about his prospects should hope that he does not end up like John Kennedy, who was another bright star who generated great passion.


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 01:26 AM
October 09, 2009
Nobel Prize, hubris, and/or naivite

Barack Obama won the most powerful office in the world, along the way promising widespread changes that magnified expectations.

Now he has won the most prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. The Committee has cited him for "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples."

Extraordinary efforts there have been. The question is whether they have excited expectations beyond capacity.

I remember a teacher telling me that effort is fine, but it is accomplishment that pays the bills. Will one of the adversaries who have declined his efforts now be willing to give him what he wants?

On the same day as the announcement of the Nobel, there appeared two articles in respected journals that lambaste him for naivite and hubris.

The Economist noted that on the less than hot button issue of the Olympics, Obama put his reputation on the line by a high profile trip to Copenhagen, along with his wife, and saw Rio get the nod over Chicago.

The journal also joined those noting that Afghanistan is not going well. The President finds himself in squabbles not only involving Taliban and al Qaeda, but also his lead general, Vice President, Congressional Democrats and Republicans, plus talk show vipers smelling his embarrassment.
http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14586954&source=hptextfeature

On his primary domestic initiative, the Administration friendly Washington Post headlines a dirty fight between a health insurance company and a prominent hospital, each accusing the other of putting profit ahead of patient care. Sick people who thought themselves insured are in the middle, being threatened with bills they cannot pay.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/08/AR2009100804328.html?nav=rss_email/components

Will this help the President advance his initiative, or does it point to the fatal illness of profit making firms too heavily involved in health care?

Commentators on one of Israel's most prominent news programs ridiculed the President for not getting the message about the Middle East. His point man has arrived on another trip to the region, seemingly seeking the same concessions that Israeli leaders have already rejected.

The major headline in Ha'aretz notes that the White House is "furious over Israeli incitement against President Barack Obama." http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1119819.html

Is this a threat meant to force Israel into changing its decision about a settlement freeze, with or without parallel concessions from the Arab side?

The Nobel will add to the pressure. Must Jerusalem be behind Oslo in recognizing the President's genius?

Within two hours of the prize announcement, the Chair of the Knesset warned that it should not tempt the United States to try imposing its will.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said once again that a peace agreement is not in the cards this year, or as far into the future as he can see. He is urging that Israel lower its diplomatic emphasis on the hopeless issue of Palestinian, and downsize its dependence on the United States.

It is not easy to read Lieberman. We know what he says, but it is not clear how central he is to the Netanyahu government. The Prime Minister and Defense Minister share the most serious work of diplomacy, while Lieberman visits low priority places in Africa and Latin America, speaks apocalyptically at home, and attracts criticism for what he says.

The Palestinian leadership is not helping the American president by piling on against Israel for threatening al Aqsa Mosque.

It is hard to see any result from this other than a message from Netanyahu (either overtly or by a prominent silence) that they can wait for serious peace talks.

Recent events warn that Israel and Palestine may be on the edge of a fresh intifada. The White House should notice, and pause to see if violence develops or cools before unwrapping the next efforts to fix a place even more complex than the International Olympic Committee.


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 04:19 AM
October 08, 2009
Where we live

When I came to Israel 34 years ago, and gradually decided to stay, I was attracted by the mixture of cultures and politics. I had not grown up in a Zionist or a religious environment, and my sense of religion has had its ups and downs.

Every once in a while there is a confluence of events that sharpens my understanding. They come close to religious holidays. Whether religious or not, one cannot escape them from the media or what is happening in public space.

During Succoth the university, government offices, and other public institutions are closed. People leave Jerusalem for the Galilee or overseas, and come to Jerusalem for visits to the Old City, the blessing by the Kohanim at the Western Wall, and the march of various organizations and independent walkers through town. All this emulates the Biblical mandate for Jews to visit the Temple for the purpose of sacrifice on Succoth, Passover and Shavuot.

There is not a Temple and therefore no place to make a sacrifice. Josephus described several hundred thousand birds and animals being sacrificed on one holiday. The lack of a Temple saves the efforts of animal rights advocates, environmentalists, and people concerned about the water shortage. (Ancient water works serving Jerusalem appear to have been designed primarily to clean the altar.)

This year Succoth came shortly after Ramadan, and that may have added to the intensity of feelings about what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims Haram esh Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. Muslims have no leap year with their lunar calendar, so holidays move from season to season.

We have heard once again from Muslim religious and political leaders that the Jews have no valid claim to the Temple Mount. They teach that stories of Jewish Temples are myths, that the Western Wall is nothing more than part of al Aqsa Mosque, and that recent efforts by the Jews in marches, demands to pray on the Mount or recreate the Temple, and archaeological digs are nothing more than efforts to destroy al Aqsa. We hear that al Aqsa is third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

I once visited a mosque in Samarkand that the guide also described as the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. I do not claim expertise on this matter. Perhaps there are other third most holiest sites in Damascus, Istanbul, Cairo, Kom, Isfahan, what remains in Iraq, and elsewhere.

Muslim leaders have asked their followers to be martyrs (suicide bombers?) who will defend al Aqsa from us infidels.

Israeli police do what they can to keep Jews off the Temple Mount on sensitive occasions, and assure that Temple Mount activists (those wanting to pray or create a synagogue or Temple on the site) remain at some distance. A leading Ashkenazi Rabbi has repeated the double prohibition against Jews visiting the Temple Mount. Jews must avoid stepping inadvertently upon the sacred places whose locations are not certain, and are forbidden for all who have not passed through a purification ceremony that is no longer possible (there being a lack of red heifers). Jews must also stay away from the Temple Mount if their presence would provoke violence. http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART1/951/475.html?hp=1&loc=1&tmp=2327

During this week when Muslims are teaching a history in which only Muslims have a claim to the Temple Mount/Haram esh Sharif, Hebrew media are emphasizing yet another Israeli Nobel Prize winner.

What other indication do we need of distinct cultures, one across the street the other, sharing the same blocks and apartment buildings?

King Abdullah of Jordan is one of the moderate leaders in the Middle East. Yet the headline in Ha'aretz, derived from an interview on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement, notes that he asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to avoid all steps that would change the status of Jerusalem. He also said that Jerusalem should be a symbol of coexistence for the three monotheistic faiths. This keeps the King outside the camp of religious extremists who demand a monopoly for Islam, but it falls short of saying that Muslims must respect Jews' historical associations with the Temple Mount.

My correspondents might notice that I more often write about what is, or what might happen, rather than my view of what should happen. I plead guilty to accusations of cynicism. I may have acquired that trait long ago, or it may have been sharpened by my long residence in this Holy City. Some of my notes bring forth reasoned argument, but there has also been charges that I do not read correctly the Hebrew Bible, as well as anti-Semitic curses that I am no better than the Nazis. I have also received threats of heavenly punishment.

(the) outrageous behavior (of Muslims) is earning them the severest of chastenings by the Lord...and yes He will use the Israelis to do the chastening.

The Prophets speak clearly about this, particularly Jeremiah 49-51. I know you are a scorner, so I certainly hope the Lord permits you (and your ilk) to see some of the great things He will do to and through Israel before your earthly sojourn is terminated, which the zeal of the Lord will accomplish, unless you repent of your unbelief. His hand of grace and mercy is always outstretched because He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Read Psalm 2 with understanding and you will perceive both the justice and mercy of the Lord.

This correspondent writes like a Christian. Religious Jews are inclined to ignore those unlike them, rather than bother with threats. The Biblical passages concern the punishments that God will impose on those who challenge Him. Psalm 2 is one of those places in the Hebrew Bible where Christian translations slip in a reference to the Son of God.

If God is among those reading my notes, I hope that He has a sense of humor, and will read past my words and into my heart.

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 04:29 AM
October 06, 2009
Competing to establish Palestine, or to kill it?

Recent expressions coming from the Palestinians reveal a chronic internal competition that does not auger well for their ability to get it together and reach statehood.

A week ago the Palestine National Authority, presumably under the direction of Mahmoud Abbas, withdrew its demand that the Goldstone Report move up from the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva to the Security Council in New York.

Screams came from Palestinians claiming that Goldstone was the best opportunity to advance the Palestinian cause. Leading voices accuse Abbas of caving into Israeli demands, and say that he did it in order to get Israeli permission to open a second Palestinian cell phone service, which would be owned by his son.

Abbas responded with a "what, me?" He insisted that he was accepting advice from the United States rather than pressure from Israel, and that his son was not involved with the cell phone initiative.

Egyptian opposition politicians are calling Abbas a traitor to Palestine, and demanding that the Palestinian ambassador leave Cairo.

Leading Palestinian figures accuse Israel of taking more and more land in Jerusalem, say that Arabs are not investing enough in their neighborhoods, and recalling that it was Benyamin Netanyahu who opened a provocative site for tourists that threatened Muslim landmarks during his previous term as prime minister in 1996.

Abbas has joined the chorus, led by Hamas and its Islamic allies, that Israeli extremists are behind the recent incidents of violence in Jerusalem. Palestinians must defend the sanctity of al Aqsa.

This is not the first time that Palestinians have accused one another of not being sufficiently shrill, and fiddling with sacred causes. Ranking office holders and their relatives have been involved with selling cement meant for Palestinian purposes to Israelis for building apartments in the West Bank, and even for the God awful security barrier.

What is most worrying is the inclination of religious and political leaders to goad one another for not being sufficiently extreme on issues of national importance.

Prime Minister Netanyahu played a role in this current tussle among Palestinians. He has taken a strong position against the Goldstone Report, telling Palestinians, Americans, and others that if Israel cannot defend itself without being dragged into a biased court of international censure, then Israel cannot afford to take any chances for peace. Read that as saying: Promote the Goldstone Report and Kill the Peace Process.

It appears that Americans urged Abbas to cool it with respect to Goldstone. This might be an appropriate way to keep the peace process alive, but it also led Palestinians to gang up on Abbas. That provoked him to respond by competing in the condemnation of Israel's imaginary attack on al Aqsa.

No matter what the Palestinians do. There are always other Muslims to add to the flames.

Against Abbas' decision to cool it on Goldstone comes an initiative from Libya to require the UN Security Council to deliberate on his Report.

Meanwhile, Israeli justice deliberates with care. The police arrested Sheikh Raed Salah on a charge of incitement to violence for calling on Muslims to become "martyrs" in defense of al Aqsa Mosque. For those unfamiliar with the language, that is code for violence. However, a local court would not agree to continue his arrest. The most it would give the police was banning him from Jerusalem for 30 days. His lawyer claimed that the source of problems was Jewish radicals who were urging Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

Salah has opponents among religious Muslims as well as among secular Arabs. One of his competitors among religious leaders chided that he was leading a race to al Aqsa race that would only lead to disaster. Yet an Arab academic who studies such things asserted that a prevailing view among Muslims is that Jews are intent on destroying al Aqsa.

Remember all those African Americans who believed that O.J. Simpson was innocent of murder? Cultural differences get in the way of reasoned discussion, here and elsewhere.

If this sequence follows a well established pattern, shouting, incitement, mass demonstration, and manageable violence will escalate in an onward competition. There will not only be increasingly extreme claims of what Jews are doing and what Muslims must do, but an increase in-drive by shootings, random stabbings, and suicide bombers seeking their place in Paradise. There will be Jewish funerals and a larger number of Palestinian funerals, rubble where there is now construction in the West Bank, the embarrassment of the Obama White House, and Israelis saying yet again that it is time to say Kadish (the prayer for the dead) on the idea of a Palestinian state.

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 07:39 PM
October 05, 2009
Is it time to worry?

Are we seeing the onset of another intifada?

There have been several days of stone throwing, fire bombs, stabbings, and mass demonstrations in and around the Old City and other Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. We have heard explosions, perhaps police tear gas or stun grenades, and helicopters circling over Isaweea, Wadi Joz, and Shoafat.

One can hope this is nothing more than a momentary upsurge that often occurs during Succoth. This is a time for Jews to mass at the Western Wall, and march through Western and Eastern parts of the city. People like us stay at home, visit the Galilee, or go overseas.

It is also a time for Jewish extremists to declare once again that they have a right to pray on the Temple Mount, and that the Third Temple must take the place of al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock.

Their support in Israel is minuscule. Religious Jews ridicule them for overlooking rabbinical prohibitions concerned with the Temple Mount, the principal that only the Almighty can decree the establishment of a Temple, and the sin of provoking violence by extremism. The police do what they can to keep Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. It is not always possible to prevent an innocent looking tourist from whipping out a yarmulke and saying Shma Israel, or the antics of an enthusiastic Christian Zionist from overseas.

Even the boasts of the few Temple Mount activists are enough to provide Muslim extremists with the ammunition they use to incite their faithful. Clerics and politicians are preaching about the evil intents of the Jews. There are thousands of Palestinians, Israeli Muslims, and Muslims elsewhere who believe them, and seem ready to march or do more in defense of Islam.

One of my own insights into the culture came from an Arab student's comment some years ago, in the midst of the previous intifada. He said that many of his friends thought that Jews were blowing up their own buses, in order to give them an excuse to kill Arabs.

No less than extremists who want to recreate a Jewish Temple in place of the mosques are the incitements that come from enthusiastic Jews who are buying land and building apartments in the midst of Arab neighborhoods in or close to the Old City. One must defend the right of Jews to purchase dwellings and live where they want in Jerusalem. It would challenge their enthusiasm to ask that they do it quietly, or ask their overseas contributors to be less outspoken in their assertions of "Judaizinig" Jerusalem.

It is no surprise that this country, and especially this city provokes religious fanaticism. It is appropriate to admit that Muslims have no monopoly on the trait, even though it is they who are most likely to combine messianism with violence.

What will happen?

We can hope that it passes with the end of Succoth.

If not, it would be wise for Palestinians and other Muslims to take another look at Gaza, and remember that Israel did something similar to the cities of the West Bank not too many years ago.

Israel will not easily turn the IDF loose. It would not look good on CNN, or go down well with President Obama and his aides.

The last intifada began at the end of September, 2000. It was only in March, 2002 as a response to the suicide bombing during a Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya that Israel called up the reserves and destroyed a significant part of Jenin. Remember Secretary of State Colin Powell demanding that Israel withdraw its troops immediately?

By the time of Arafat's funeral in November, 2004 there were piles of rubble in sections of Ramallah, including the Palestinian headquarters, and numerous other locales in the West Bank. The IDF was going in and out of Palestinian areas on a daily basis.

With respect to Gaza, Israel made several modest responses to rocket attacks on its civilians over the course of seven years, until it decided that enough was enough, and did what it did.

As I read the current situation, there is a minority of Israeli Jews who visit the Temple Mount, a tiny minority who want to pray there, and an even a smaller minority who wants to build a Temple. (The stink of all those sacrifices is enough to discourage anyone with the tiniest concern for the environment.)

On the other hand, it is also a minority who would object to doing a Gaza in the West Bank, if the Palestinians loose their sense of proportion and embark on another wave of suicide bombings.

It is time to note again that I welcome comments.

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 11:31 PM
October 03, 2009
Is he or isn't he

There is a story afoot that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born Jewish. Details are that the family had been Sabourjian, a well known Jewish name, and that Mahmoud's parents converted to Islam and changed their name when the president was a child.

Will the story have legs? Will it serve to embarrass or even unseat the Holocaust denier?

He would not be the first closet Jew who was anti-Semitic. A junior league variety was Daniel Burros, member of the American Nazi Party and Kleagle of the New York State branch of the Ku Klux Klan. He committed suicide hours after someone made public his Jewish background. More prominent was Alois Schicklgruber. He became Adolph Hitler, and is said to have been concerned that his illegitimate roots included a Jewish grandfather. The parents of Karl Marx converted before his birth. In On The Jewish Question and other works, Marx equated Judaism with the evils of capitalism.

A better story is Benjamin Disraeli. Political opponents mocked him for being a Hebrew. Rather than acting against his Jewish origins, he argued that Christianity was "completed Judaism."

Within hours of the Ahmadinejad story appearing in Israeli media, a radio station brought in an expert who claimed it was highly unlikely. He asserted that there is no record of any Jewish families living in the village where Ahmadinejad was born. He traced the story to a political adversary, who made it up in order to embarrass the president. A television station broadcast clips from Ahmadinejad's opponents claiming he was a Zionist Jew and a spy for Israel. They showed him in a yarmulke against the background of an Israeli flag.

If Iranian activists curse one another for being Jewish, one ought to be careful before making heroes of Ahmadinejad's opponents..

Might this become another case of overenthusiastic Israelis backing a flawed cause, such as Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction? Israeli officials promoted that story in the Bush White House. The failure to find anything affected the reputations of the American president and Israeli intelligence.

Before all of this broke, a friend from the gym, a religious Jew, spoke about the irony of Ahmadinejad being his distant relative.

So is he or isn't he?

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 10:53 AM
October 02, 2009
American extremism

I do not know what surprises me more. That the debate over health care in the United States has provoked such extreme expressions, or that individuals I have known for a long time as well as some new internet acquaintances have trouble accepting my criticism of American health care.

As a mature social scientist I should not be surprised at either. I learned long ago that the intensity of ideology may know no limits; and that smart people can be parochial, admire what they have, and think it superior without looking elsewhere.

I have received messages claiming that Americans have the best medical care in the world, that severe criticism against the president's proposal is deserved, that the most extreme reflect a small undercurrent of unpleasant Americans, that data showing low American life expectancy does not reflect medical care but the sizable number of American untermenschen (an unpleasant German term used for Jews and other undesirables), that free enterprise is the essence of American society, and is prominent among the factors that explains the country's opportunities for medical innovations and medical care.

Where to start?

The World Bank is a source of measurements that are reliable for well-to-do democracies that make suitable comparisons with the United States. Its World Development Indicators show that among 23 countries from Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Israel the United States scores lowest in life expectancy and highest in the incidence of infant deaths. At the same time, it scores highest in overall medical expenditures per capita. On government expenditures for health as a percentage of GDP it is middling, on the incidence of hospital beds it is the lowest, in the incidence of physicians it scores 15th out of 23, and it is middling in the incidence of children immunized against diphtheria, whopping cough, tetanus, and measles.

It is reasonable to conclude from these indicators that the United States as a whole is not getting high medical value for its expenditures. In American hospitals affiliated with university medical schools, it may be possible to find care as good as any in the world. However, indicators for life expectancy and infant mortality suggest that the average American falls below comparable populations in access to the best--or even good--care.

My own impressions of the current debate are similar to what appears in the Economist.
http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14539983&source=hptextfeature

Americans may not realise how horrible their health-care debate looks to outsiders. . . . The partisan nature of today's Congress looks mad to Europeans brought up to value consensus. Europeans also know that "European-style" health care does not include death panels prescribing euthanasia for grannies and are offended by the way such tosh is alleged in America.
Is it only a small underclass that is most extreme in attacking the president's proposal?

The most recent vice presidential candidate of the Republican party is among those pushing the envelope. http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/09/08/2058309.aspx

A great deal of attention was given to my use of the phrase 'death panel' in discussing such rationing . . . Despite repeated attempts by many in the media to dismiss this phrase as a 'myth', its accuracy has been vindicated. . . .The fact is that any group of government bureaucrats that makes decisions affecting life or death is essentially a 'death panel,
Attacks on socialism and claims that free enterprise is the secret of high quality American health care and medical innovations?

There already is a great deal of socialism, in one form or another, in American medical care. The National Institutes of Health are world leaders in the support of research. Research by drug firms relies on tax benefits. Overall, the United States does better in government expenditures for health than other indicators: it scores 13th out of 23 countries. Moreover, decisions about medications and medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration provide an international standard.

Many medical innovations come from American companies. However, there are also leaders among French, Swiss, and German companies. And it is an Israeli firm (Teva) that is a world leader in the production of generics that provide the low cost work horses of health care in numerous countries, including the United States.

In short, one can find excellent medical care in the United States. But health indicators strongly suggest that most American have no access to it. To date, free enterprise has not been the hero but the villain, in the form of insurance companies and HMOs that show more concern for profits than the public's health.

It is too early to predict what, if anything, will emerge from the congressional response to the president's proposals. The proposals and the debate are complex. That is the nature of health care. Individuals may lose some benefits currently enjoyed. That may be inherent in any legislation about social policy.

Americans' love of free enterprise shows itself in stinginess toward other Americans. The United States scores 21 out of 23 countries on the percent of Gross Domestic Product taken in taxes. It also scores lowest on a measure of income equality. The rich do well in the United States, on health care as well as other amenities. More than in other well-to-do countries is the high incidence of Americans who do not do well.

Americans condemn extremism, even while they score extremely low in the provision of health care, and are extreme in the rhetoric directed against health reformers.

It is the eve of Succoth. Build a succah and invite the neighbors. Chag sameach.

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 04:48 AM
October 01, 2009
Avoiding madness

The United States is not the only country with extremist elements that express themselves from time to time. France has had Jean Marie Le Pen, Austria Joerg Haider, and Israel Meir Kahane.

The American variety has appeared as a suspicion of "others," and those thought to be threatening individual freedoms in the guise of socialism or communism. Nativist parties emerged along with Catholic immigration during the 19th century, and in the 1920s managed to strengthen barriers against Italians, Poles, Jews, and others thought to threaten the WASP homeland. Opposition to socialists and communists peaked in the immediate aftermath of World War I and even more so in the wake of the Wisconsin alcoholic, liar, and rabble rouser who for a brief time sent shivers through the State Department, military, and White House. Racism never was far from the surface. The inability of Congress to legislate against lynching stands as one of the greatest marks against the American claim to justice.

Now there is an African-American couple living in the White House, but the controversy about the president's health care initiative indicates that extremism still thrives. Claims about socialism and a deprivation of freedom reflect the roots that have shown themselves against hostile and foreign threats. Concerns about the support of abortion would keep religion in the political arena. Charges of death committees is playing to fears with the most extreme language available.

And what is it about? An effort to make the western world's most backward health provisions somewhat similar to what every other democratic society provides to its population.

The extreme language used against Obama's health initiative hints at residual racism, or an effort to tweak racism for the purpose of opposing domestic reform. Even more suggestive of racism, and its relative xenophobia, are allegations that he is a Muslim, and not fit to be president due to foreign birth. Claims that he is anti-Semitic suggest that his opponents are shopping around for support in the tensions between American blacks and Jews.

There is no doubt in my mind that President Obama is over his head in efforts to jump start a peace between Israel and Palestine, and at points further to the east. He has made enough missteps to justify criticism on substance, without hauling out the nonsense that continues to echo through the internet and other media.

Israel's own madness has surfaced in something called "Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict." The author is relying on a political classic he or she has not read, or does not understand. Machiavelli was a political realist, and urged maneuver for strength, not blustering through the most obvious lines of opposition. This madness going by the name of Samson would maximize territorial aspirations, and employ all out war. The author asserts that "Israel must use chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons."

The Jewish people have not prospered by challenging head on prevailing international norms. The most prominent occasions when they did, by not paying tribute to Babylon in the sixth century BCE, and by rebelling against Rome in the first century CE, ended in catastrophe.

The Jews have also done well by promoting the moral values articulated by the Biblical prophets. Those norms do not include anything that would be advanced by all out war, or weapons of mass destruction.

The United States will not disappear if it gives in to extremists and continues with its maldistribution of health care. Most likely it can also afford national failure, as well as the death and injury of numerous military personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Israel is not so fortunate. Lacking great power status, except in the fantasies of the mad, it must play the essential political game of getting along by going along.

This does not mean that Israel must absorb all threats and violence from internal or external adversaries. In the course of six decades it has shown itself capable of marshalling power and using it wisely. The progression from Lebanon I through Lebanon II to Gaza indicate that it is learning to do it better, despite the madness of the Goldstone report.

Political wisdom involves knowing limits as well as possibilities. That is part of Machiavelli's lessons, and should be a theme for this little country. It must ignore those who claim to know what is good for it, and whose extremism threatens yet another catastrophe.

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 02:16 AM