February 26, 2010
History

One of my Jerusalem friends supplies me with another piece of the Jewish mosaic by talking about his youth in Mashhad.

Mashhad is a sizable city and religious center in the northeast of Iran, where the Jewish community was given a choice of conversion or death in the 1830s. Some died in the pogrom that accompanied the decree, some moved away, and most accepted Islam outwardly, but continued to be Jews at home. A century later the Jews of Mashhad began to live more openly. Nonetheless, the Mashhadis I have met carry deeper scars than those traceable to my having to sing Christmas songs and recite the Lord's Prayer in Fall River.

Israeli Jews from Muslim countries, and their children, tend to be on the hawkish side of the hawk-dove spectrum. Some of this may derive from lower than average levels of income and education, and the populist element in right of center Likud. Some also derives from residual feelings of discrimination, and being forced to leave their homes, typically with few if any possessions. While there are well known intellectuals and politicians from these communities who speak out prominently from the dovish sides of the spectrum, it is not difficult to find individuals willing to talk about family suffering, as well as their distrust of Palestinians and other Muslims.

One should not exaggerate the impact of these communities on Israel. We are not talking about the residents of refugee camps subject to regime incitement for more than six decades. Although Israel's poor "development towns" continue to have a disproportionate share of "Oriental" Jews (as well as migrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia) Jews tracing their families to the Middle East have moved throughout the country and into every sector of the economy and politics. So many of them have married Israelis whose families came from Europe, North or South America as to render the categories of "Sephardim," "Oriental," or "Jews from Asian and African backgrounds" increasingly elusive for social research.

My Mashhadi friend responded to one of my recent notes where I mentioned the Palestinians' creation of an ownership tale for what has long been described as Rachel's Tomb. He urged me to write about how the Muslims have created similar fabrications about the importance of Jerusalem. "What do they mean about the third holiest city in Islam? I grew up hearing that Mashhad was one of the holiest cities. Muslims who visit Mashhad call themselves Mashhadi. I've never heard of a Muslim who visits Jerusalem giving himself the Arabic name of this city."

I responded by recalling my own visit to Samarkand. The tour guide described it as the "third most holy city in all of Islam."

No doubt that Muslims have touched up the status of Jerusalem (al Quds--the Holy City), largely in response to the Jewish presence. However, the story is not a simple one. Jerusalem does figure in the writings associated with Mohamed, and the city was an important focus in the struggle against the Crusaders. The Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque have been on the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount since the 7th century, and the main shopping street in East Jerusalem carries the name of Salah al Din, the Kurdish warrior who led the fight against Crusaders in the 12th century.

The Muslims never made Jerusalem anything more than a provincial town during the several regimes that ruled until the British conquest in the 20th century. Baghdad, Damascus, Ramla, Nablus, and Gaza were more important. During the 16th century, Jerusalem's population was less than 5,000. The city was a miserable place with garbage and dead animals in the street, and widespread disease when Europeans and Americans began building churches and hospitals in the 19th century. There has been a Jewish majority since the late 19th century. When the Jordanians controlled the Old City and other neighborhoods from 1948 to 1967, they invested more heavily in Amman.

Voltaire said that History is the lie commonly agreed upon. Napoleon softened that to history as accepted myth.

So whatever the truth to the claim that Jerusalem is one of Islam's holiest cities, or that Rachel Tomb is really Bilal ibn Rabah mosque, there are many who will accept and act on those beliefs. Tour guides in Samarkand and Mashhad will continue with their descriptions. Tempers about Jerusalem and other sites will rise and decline with events. Muslim politicians will incite their followers when they need an issue, or when Jewish politicians are careless in how they make a point about their own claims.

Currently the concern is not so much with historical accuracy, as with the possibility that speeches and stone throwing will develop into something more serious. A resident of Jerusalem should not say that history is unimportant. Only that the details do not depend on what really happened.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:04 PM
It's implementation, stupid.

Several of my Internet friends have ridiculed my concern with American health policy, and several have ridiculed my dismal assessment of Palestinians seeking statehood.

Nonetheless, I will reiterate the importance of both issues, and emphasize some commonalities that provide useful lessons about politics. And while many view politics as not a fit topic for conversation, I insist again that it is the essence of civilization. Political maneuvers and deals may offend the delicate, but they are the best way to deal with disputes that get to the public arena.

What is most prominent in bringing together the politics of American health and the politics of Israel-Palestine is the intense involvement of Barack Obama.

I have praised his Cairo speech about the Middle East, and his proposal to expand health care for Americans. Both were well crafted efforts to deal with serious problems, using the leverage available to the leader of the world's most powerful country.

As Obama's efforts have gone forward, he has demonstrated that he does some things very well, but more important things very badly.

The Cairo speech demanded from Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs what seemed able to resolve a conflict that had defied numerous earlier efforts at peace making.

What is crucial to politics, however, is not the grand idea, but how the follow-up deals with the numerous problems of implementation. If those problems did not exist, there would be no need for the grand idea. Ordinary people can conceive of what might be done, but genius consists of knowing how to defuse the land mines created over the years by hostile actions and distrust.

Obama's grand idea about the Middle East made both Israelis and Palestinians suspicious. Numerous Arabs said that he was arrogant shortly after they applauded politely. He flubbed badly when he gave Israeli naysayers an ideal target by demanding a freeze on Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. A politician claiming religious sensitivity should have recognized the centrality of Jerusalem going back to the Biblical origins of Judaism. Then when he backtracked and praised the Israeli prime minister for doing less than what he had demanded, he alienated whatever support he had from the Palestinians. Now the two sides are further apart than at any time since 1993, when they first agreed to negotiate.

The President's record in health is similar. Initially there were good ideas to expand coverage, move against the worse abuses of insurance companies, and reign in costs.

Patriotic Americans continue to claim that no country has better health care, and that all residents can go for treatment to a hospital emergency room.

Facts are that the United States scores so poorly on longevity and infant mortality that no efforts to find reasons in social problems can account for the dismal record. It is the only wealthy democracy that does not assure access to basic care for all its citizens. Access to emergency rooms for those already severely ill or injured does not make up for what is missing.

Those who trumpet the quality of American health care sound like deranged individuals saying that everyone else is crazy.

When actually submitted for Congressional deliberation, the proposal of a thousand pages provoked more fears and suspicions than it soothed. Now it is said by some to cover 2,400 pages and by others 2,700 pages. Whatever the size, there are at least as many reasons to oppose as to support.

A public encounter between the President and Members of Congress, billed as a way to find a common path, is being reported as a confrontation. "By day's end, it seemed clear that the all-day televised session might have driven the parties even farther apart." http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/26/health/policy/26health.html?hpw

Could the President have been challenging the Republicans, and setting them up for defeat at the polls?

His adversaries are salivating at election returns from Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey, as well as pointing to the lack of accord on health between Democrats in the House and Senate.

For Obama to qualify as a good president, he must go beyond successful lessons in rhetoric, and learn more about implementation.

A major test will come with mid-term Congressional elections in November. By 2012, it may again be the national economy on everybody's mind.

And you cannot beat somebody with nobody. If tea-party conservatives think they can win with Sarah Palin, it may be the best news a Democratic candidate has received since John McCain chose her as his running mate, or since an earlier generation hoped that Barry Goldwater could defeat Lyndon Johnson. Unless Barack Obama comes to look too much like Jimmy Carter.

Politics is not for those who are overly certain.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:06 AM
February 25, 2010
On it goes. Get used to it.

There has been considerable criticism of the inclusion of Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs on Israel's list of national heritage sites. Players as lowly as Israeli leftists and as mighty as the General Secretary of the United Nations have made the following points.

1. No Muslim or Christian sites merited inclusion on the list.
2. Prime Minister Netanyahu showed how he panics under pressure. After a list was announced without Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs, he ignored the reasons for overlooking them, gave into demands from the religious right, and added them along with some nationalist bombast that helped inflame opposition.
3. Adding those sites, both of which are under Israeli control, may not change facts on the ground. Insofar as they are both over the 1967 lines, making an issue of them in Netanyahu's style makes it even more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to begin negotiations.

All that is true.

Official responses that Israel is a Jewish state and protects the access of all communities to their religious sites does not deal with the insensitivity associated with point #1. It would not shake Israel's security to include some of the structures prized by Christians and Muslims as part of the country's national heritage. Yet even that might provoke protest. One can imagine the various Christian communities that squabble over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Muslim authorities objecting to "Israeli adoption" of their sites.

Point #2 also has merit. Prime Minister Netanyahu is a skilled politician, but limited by a tendency to overlook the need for balance. He has slipped too far into language or actions when pressed by religious and nationalist constituencies. However, his position is not an easy one. Those groups are part of his base, and they have shown a willingness to withdraw support and topple a government that does not bend to their intensities. Americans whose health care suffers from the insistence of extremists pro and con on abortion should recognize the problem.

Point #3 is the most interesting from the larger perspective of the peace process. Once again we see international figures pampering Muslim sensitivities, and adding to the weakness of the Palestinians by responding to their whimpers. With no substantive changes resulting from a list of national heritage sites, the pressure is on Israel to be more feeling rather than on Palestinians to approach the table with a commitment to getting the best deal they can.

Justice is as elusive in the matter of Israel-Palestine as it is in every other conflict over public policy. Should the borders be here or there is not different inherently than the provisions to be added or excluded from a nation's program of health insurance.

Best to forget the endless quest for justice and to pursue a deal that will make things better. If it is hard when the dispute is about costs and benefits in one country, it is harder for a dispute infected by claims of religious priority, and when outsiders wanting to be politically correct encourage intransigence with comments and money, and others provide incitement and munitions.

So we are stuck. Palestinians threaten violence (a third intifada) over actions that may have been insensitive, but change nothing. Israel's government is showing no inclination to make tangible concessions when none seem to come from Palestinians. Jewish settlements continue to grow and add their complications to any deal that can be made.

Pessimism is not appropriate. Realists should be used to this long running scenario, and recognize an anomaly among nations: no Palestinian state; no clear boundaries and constant bashing for Israel; a fluid autonomy for the Palestinian communities in the West Bank; and an infectious disease ward for Gaza.

The world accommodates numerous other anomalies: governments in the Third World whose reach does not extend beyond the capital city, or even beyond the presidential palace; Lebanon under the control of Syria and/or Iran; Spain with unresolved regional issues; Kashmir; and one wealthy democracy without health insurance for all its people.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:17 AM
February 24, 2010
Should the Palestinians declare a state?

Jerome Segal has contributed an op-ed piece that sees the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state as a way to solve a conflict that has a history of 110 years, more or less, depending on when contentious analysts claim that it started.

Segal begins with the claim that France's foreign minister "has alarmed the Israeli government with his recent statement that 'one can envision the proclamation soon of a Palestinian state, and its immediate recognition by the international community, even before negotiating its borders.'"

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/24/opinion/24iht-edsegal.html?emc=eta1

Not quite. The Israeli government never expresses alarm--or anything else--with one voice. And in this case, neither does France's. Its president came on quickly with a statement that countered his foreign minister. Nicolas Sarkozy favors the creation of a Palestinian state, but only with clear borders. Moreover, the Palestinian leadership has expressed its own reservation about what foreign activists are suggesting. Perhaps they have heard what Israel would do in response to a unilateral declaration.

Segal praises the recently improved Palestinian security forces, and accepts their latest months as proof that they are good enough to protect a new state from its own extremists.

A skeptic might demand a longer period of testing, as well as fewer cases of Palestinian security personnel taking part in drive-by shootings and other acts of terror.

Segal is optimistic that early statehood would defuse Hamas and lead it to recognize Israel, prompt the Palestinians to make concessions to Israel on refugees and other issues, disarm the numerous armed factions within their society, conduct their long delayed elections in an orderly way, with the individuals chosen able to engage in responsive negotiations without inciting violence.

When Segal describes Israel as tone-deaf to Palestinian concerns, one wonders where he has been since 1993, and if he has checked the hearing of Palestinians.

While Palestinians have been learning state craft or skipping that school, Israelis have been building settlements that complicate any effort at defining borders. Should Israelis have forgone settlement possibilities while the Palestinians learned about bargaining? It is a moot question. There are as many Jewish settlements spread across the landscape--and maybe as many Jewish settlers--as there are people like Segal with ideas about a solution.

Segal is a researcher at the University of Maryland, president and founder of The Jewish Peace Lobby. He has been urging creation of a Palestinian state for 30 years. During that time, the idea as moved higher on the agenda, but even more Jews have moved to settlements in the West Bank. Israelis have also been disappointed in responses to their withdrawal of settlements from Gaza.

Segal and others blame Israel for clumsiness in not offering enough, or doing it in a way that ignores Palestinian sensitivities. That may be part of the problem, but so is Palestinians' failure to learn the way of giving as well as taking.

A peace loving Palestinian state is a attractive vision. But it may be nothing more than a topic for overseas politicians and advocates who express themselves and go home.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:07 AM
February 23, 2010
Can intense believers share?

The religious and territorial dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict came together again with Arab assertions, demonstrations, and stone-throwing in response to Prime Minister Netanyahu's announcement that he would include Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarch's on a list of Israel's national heritage sites.

The prime minister's announcement adds nothing tangible to Israel's control of the sites. Rachel's Tomb is between Jerusalem's southern suburbs and the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, and has been on Israel's side of the security barrier, and tucked behind imposing towers and gates constructed as a result of attacks on Jewish visitors during the uprising that began in 2000. The Cave of the Patriarchs is located in Hebron, and has been accessible to Jewish as well as Muslims since the IDF began guarding it after the 1967 war.

The reality of the claims associated with these places (that the Biblical Rachel is buried in one site and that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are buried in the other) is no more certain than claims for the Church of the Nativity, the Holy Sepulcher, or any number of burial places claimed for historic rabbis throughout the Galilee. Christian communities have selected competing sites for the Holy Sepulcher, and Samuel was decent to leave two tombs, which facilitate a division of a hilltop structure west of Jerusalem into a mosque and a synagogue on different levels, with each claiming the prophet's remains.

Including the sites on a list of Israeli historical sites need not preempt a political division of the Holy Land. Israel has obtain visiting rights for Jews at the tombs of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in the Ukraine, Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira in Egypt, and several rabbis in Morocco, and is working to keep a shopping mall from encroaching on the site of Auschwitz without raising issues of national sovereignty.

Despite several year's of Israeli control, Palestinians as well as a United Nations official have weighed in against what they claim as a change in status.

Saeb Erekat said, "The unilateral decision to make Palestinian sites in Hebron and Bethlehem part of Israel shows there is no genuine partner for peace, but an occupying power intent on consolidating Palestinian lands."
A United Nations special coordinator said, "These sites are in occupied Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism, but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well."
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/middleeast/23mideast.html?hpw

Mahmoud Abbas has claimed that the prime minister's announcement represents an Israeli effort to take Muslim holy sites, and threatens an escalation of tensions into a religious war.

Israeli policy about holy sites has been more accommodating to non-Jews than was the practice of the Muslims during the period of Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967. Despite an armistice agreement that holy sites would be open to members of all faiths, Rachel's Tomb, the Cave of the Patriarchs, the Mount of Olives, the entire Old City of Jerusalem including the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and several historic synagogues were closed to Jews. Since 1967 Israeli authorities have left day to day management of the Temple Mount to Muslim religious authorities, and they enforce a division of the Cave of the Patriarchs between Muslims and Jews. Currently Rachel's Tomb may be accessible only to visitors from the Israeli side of the barriers, but they were constructed in response to attacks against Jewish pilgrims.

After years of recognizing the significant of Rachel's tomb for Jews, Palestinian discourse has begun calling it Bilal ibn Rabah mosque. This resembles Muslim claims that there was never a significant Judaic presence on the Nobel Sanctuary (Temple Mount).and stands as a modern effort to bolster territorial claims with newly created historical tales.

Archaeological research and extra-Biblical writing provides considerable evidence of the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70. Some may see those as deserving some weight against the Muslim claim of priority on account of Mohamed's horse ride to heaven from the site some 500 years later.

Archaeologists, preachers, myth makers, and believers contribute to the din about rightful possession or control, but the most recent conflicts and accommodations have been more important. Current reality is approaching 43 years and counting since June, 1967.

Proposals for sharing may sell better among secular politicians than claims of monopoly or priority. However, this is a birthplace of monotheism. The notion of One God too easily becomes claims of priority for my view of God. Among the intense, that does not bode well for accommodation.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:22 AM
February 20, 2010
A weekend with two nations

Friday evening with a secular group, the conversation was exclusively about the assassination in Dubai. My companions were convinced it was Israel's work, and almost all of them were sure it was a failure. Their standards are demanding. Anything less than perfect is embarrassing. No matter that the bad guy was dead and the good guys got away. Their crime was identified as such rather than death from natural causes that was preferred, and their pictures spread across international media.

My companions ignored efforts to turn the conversation to Rabbi Elon. I tried twice, then realized that I was learning something from their lack of concern.

My hypothesis gathered weight Saturday morning in a religious setting, where the conversation was exclusively about the Rabbi, and the profound shock and dismay felt in the Orthodox community. In this conversations, Dubai was a passing event of no lasting importance.

Benjamin Disraeli wrote a good novel and social commentary, Sybil, or The Two Nations (1845)

"Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws: the rich and the poor. ."

Israel's two nations are not those of mid-19th England. And one can exaggerate the difference between them. In fact, there are three that are prominent: religious and secular Jews, and Arabs. Moreover, there are significant variations within each of these.

Religious Jews differ principally along the Orthodox-Ultra-Orthodox axis, with Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews occasionally noisy but small minorities. Secular Jews vary by ethnic origin, income, education, and political perspectives. What to outsiders may look like a homogeneous Arab group are Druze, Christian, Beduin and the sizable communities of non-Beduin Muslims, who vary in their character by locality or extended family.

I make no claim that my weekend encounters comprised a scientific sample. Yet they are people I have known over the course of three or four decades to fall across the social cleavage between secular and religious Jews that is the most important for the country's politics.On this occasion, the cleavage was apparent in what was important, or of little interest, to each community

As I have written in several of these notes, one should not exaggerate the extent of this cleavage. It marks, but does not threaten the social fabric of the country. Tensions and conflicts are routinized, and only occasionally heat up to a low level of violence. The people I spoke with over the weekend are moderate in their political views, but more or less representative of secular Israelis and Religious Zionists.

Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews together may be only 20 percent of the Jewish population (10 percent each), but they are prominent to the right of center on the political spectrum. Neither the Orthodox nor the ultra-Orthodox have ever dominated a government, but they have been close to several prime ministers, and have put their people at the heads of important ministries of finance, justice, and interior, as well as in the chair of the Knesset Finance Committee. They have been significant in defining what it possible with respect to the sensitive issue of settlements.

Some see the religious as important enough to cast a veto on the removal of major settlements or proposals for peace. However, they were not successful in stopping Ariel Sharon's move to withdraw settlements of religious Jews from Gaza in 2005. That failure still pains Religious Zionists, and helps to account for efforts to persuade religious boys to refuse recruitment to the IDF, and to persuade religious soldiers to refuse orders that would remove additional settlements. Those remain minority efforts within the settler community. Activists come up against the patriotism that prevails among Religious Zionists, as well as the condemnation of refusing military orders or recruitment by leading rabbis.

The anxiety felt by Orthodox Israelis in response to the condemnation of a leading rabbi for violating sexual norms by a distinguished group of his colleagues is different from the anxiety produced by the failure of Religious Zionists to stop the withdrawal from Gaza. This crisis is associated with anguish about a fundamental element of rabbinical Judaism: the authority of a rabbi who had widely been viewed as a leading religious and political authority, as well as a counselor of individuals seeking help for their personal problems. Not only has he been revealed as a homosexual, but as an individual who took advantage of young men who sought his help for their own feelings of sexuality.

A secular social scientist is tempted to note that homosexuality would appear among the rabbinate in about the same incidence as it appears among other populations. However, this is not relevant to this shock about the prestige that attaches to rabbis, especially those who have acquired status as leading commentators, teachers, and counselors. Such men share in the tradition that begins with Moses, passes through Ezra, and counts as its members rabbis who are prominent in the arguments of the Talmud and subsequent commentators on religious law. For one of the contemporaries who has acquired some of that prestige to have violated both religious law and the trust of his colleagues and students is a shock to a foundation of the Orthodox community.

Israel will survive whatever embarrassment of its security services will come out of the operation in Dubai. Religious Jews will also accommodate a recognition that some of their leaders resemble Catholic priests and television evangelists that have sullied the expectations of their communities.

The exposure of Rabbi Elon strikes more sensitive nerves than whatever errors were made in Dubai. Also it is more shocking to members of the religious community than the possibility that a former president and a former prime minister may go to prison for their violations of sexual or financial norms. Israelis are familiar with the clumsiness of security operations, and have low expectations of politicians. Disappointment rather than shock or even surprise marks discussions about the follies of Moshe Katsav or Ehud Olmert. Religious Jews should also be familiar with the traits that religious leaders share with other humans, and this experience--however painful--may move them toward that realization.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:16 PM
February 18, 2010
Did we or didn't we?

The speculation appears widely in the international press. We have seen the films from security cameras placed throughout Dubai, and blow-ups of facial shots of 11 of 17 agents said to be involved in the murder of Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. We have also seen photos of three British immigrants to Israel whose identities may have been stolen. They look passably similar to three of the operatives identified with the deed. The immigrants claim they never left Israel and that they have not lost their British passports.

Israeli officials have neither affirmed nor denied involvement in the assassination.

The British Foreign Office has expressed concern that its passports were compromised. It called in the Israeli ambassador for clarification. The ambassador said he had nothing to provide the British, and that diplomatic conversations are confidential. The British Foreign Minister asserted that he was serious, and not just going through the motions. Which may mean that he is going through the motions.

Critics claim it was a botched job, with the operatives caught by the cameras. Perhaps it was too amateurish to have been done by the Mossad. Yet this is difficult work. There is a long record of failed attempts, including exploding cigars supplied by the CIA that did not kill Fidel Castro, and an innocent waiter in Norway killed by Israelis who thought he had been involved in the murder of the Olympic team in Munich. Dubai may have more closed circuit TV cameras per square kilometer than any other place on earth. Being photographed is inevitable. The operatives knew it, and changed disguises several times. Dubai may have other traits that attract this kind of work. The team got in and out without being stopped, and the target is dead.

al-Mabhouh deserved a place on Israel's list. The Dubai police chief said he was 99 percent sure that the Mossad was responsible, but there are some odd indications that complicate the story, or at least make it interesting. Jordan has extradited two Palestinians to Dubai, who used forged European passports to reach Jordan after the murder. Syria has arrested a Palestinian identified as a member, or defector from Hamas, also suspected of being involved. Fatah and Hamas are trading accusations, with each saying that the other cooperated with the Israelis.

The costs to Israel, if indeed it was responsible:

* The operatives may have burned themselves with respect to international operations. They will retire to something duller, or remain in the organization training others to do similar work as least as well.
* Something is owed to the immigrants whose identities were stolen. It is not beyond imagining that they agreed to the theft (perhaps for the good of Zion) and are playing the role of offended individuals. They might not be able to travel internationally without being picked up on a Dubai warrant. One said that he would like to visit Mom, but he does not dare. Israel might get Dubai to wave its international arrest order in the interest of the war against terrorism. A number of Arab countries have expressed concern, not always in public, for Islamic extremism, and on this occasion they may have done more than speak quietly. The blaming of Israel by Dubai, Britain, and other countries whose passports were forged may be nothing more than a slap at a credible target.Israel is familiar with blame. Add this to the file that also includes the Goldstone report.
* It is not unusual for individuals to change their names when coming to Israel. Israel may provide these immigrants with new identities and passports, and maybe something else for their trouble.
* Hamas is threatening to retaliate in kind, saying that its targets will be quality, and not ordinary Israelis. This is the nth threat of retaliation from Hamas, and together with numerous outstanding threats from Hizbollah and other Palestinian groups may not add much incrementally to concern for the safety of Israeli individuals and institutions, both at home and overseas. Overseas Jewish institutions may also take note, but they, too, have been threatened and cautioned on numerous occasions.

In case you haven't noticed, this is an interesting little country.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:53 AM
February 16, 2010
Rabbi Mordechai Elon

An Orthodox rabbi appeared on a prime time television news program to explain his rationale as one of numerous rabbis who signed a statement reiterating that sexual relations between men was a violation of the Torah, but indicating that homosexuals should be welcome in the community of believers. They should be allowed to read from the Torah and practice other commandments. Relations should be as with Jews who do not honor the Sabbath. A religious person should know that they are violating God's law, but may still include them within the circle of loved ones if a member of the family, or within the circle of friendship. The rabbi indicated that he felt efforts to reform homosexuals were likely to be more harmful than beneficial, but noted that some of his colleagues that signed the statement support programs of reform.

A day later there began a story that has preoccupied news and discussion programs, and has caused profound soul searching among the Orthodox. Rabbi Mordechai (Motti) Elon, one of the most prominent rabbis of the Religious Zionist movement (closely identified with settlers in the West Bank and formerly those in Gaza), was revealed to have been ordered some time ago by a forum of rabbis and other distinguished individuals to abstain from teaching and providing one-on-one counseling.

The forum calls itself Takana (תקנה), which can be translated as remedy, regulation, or reform, and deals with allegations of sexual misconduct.

When it became clear that Rabbi Elon had violated its prohibitions, the forum reported publicly that he had been accused of sexually harassing a number of his students. It "warned that he was dangerous to the public, and demanded he step down from all rabbinical, educational, and community responsibilities." http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=168846

The organization referred to its actions as "painful and sad," but said the issue must be brought to a resolution.

Rabbi Elon has been prominent as a teacher, creator of curricula for teaching religious materials, and honored for his spiritual and political leadership. His father is a retired justice of the Supreme Court, one brother was elected four times to the Knesset as a member of right wing parties supported by Religious Zionists, and another brother is a regional court judge and was a candidate for the Supreme Court.

The attorney general, with responsibility for initiating judicial proceedings, was aware of allegations about Rabbi Elon as early as 2006. He refereed the matter to the police, but did not order an investigation in the absence of a formal complaint. The forum that banned the rabbi from teaching and counseling said that it urged those reporting sexual contacts to submit their details to the police, but may not have employed all the persuasive weight associated with its status. The forum has been assiduous in not detailing the complaints, or the infractions involved. We hear of improper contacts with students. The Hebrew indicates that the students were men, but does not exclude the possibility that some were women.

One man appeared on prime time television, pictured from the back with his voice disguised. He described a number of meetings that he had initiated some years ago at the age of 19 to gain the rabbi's help with what he sensed were improper feelings of attractions to men. He told how the meetings progressed to the point where the rabbi asked him to remove his clothes and touched him intimately. However, he persisted in viewing the rabbi in positive terms, as someone who was trying to help him deal with complex feelings.

The day after the first public revelations, the rabbi was pictured explaining his situation to a group of 50 or so present and former students. Several embraced the rabbi in what seemed like genuine expressions of support. The rabbi said that he must remain silent about the allegations, and avoided any denial.

The next day the forum announced that other former students had come forward to complain about sexual abuse.

A web site includes painful commentary on Elon by individuals who appear to be Orthodox Jews.
http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2010/02/rabbi-motty-elon-removed-from-public-life-234.html

Some of the comments seek room to avoid condemnation. They note that the language of the forum does not mention sexual misconduct, but activities in contrast to holy values and morality.

So far there has been no prominent condemnation from the ultra-Orthodox. Generally it is the Orthodox segment of Judaism closest to them, and most relevant as a competitor, that comes in for their most serious criticism. The ultra-Orthodox are more likely to attack Orthodox rabbis than secular Jews for their lack of piety. (Conservative and Reform rabbis are not recognized as rabbis by the ultra-Orthodox or the Orthodox, and sometimes not even as Jews.) The issue of homosexuality may be too sensitive for the ultra-Orthodox, and too familiar under the cover of their own secrecy, for any exploitation of this embarrassment.

Male homosexuality appears to be a clear violation of God's law. "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable; they must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." (Leviticus 20:13) Problematic, however, is David's declaration at the death of his friend Jonathan: "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."
(2 Samuel 1:26) Religious scholars interpret this passage as an expression of love among friends similar to the love of brothers. Yet a simple reading renders the story one of numerous indications that "Biblical law" is anything but simple and straightforward.

Although the New Testament claims that it was Jesus who brought humane values to the world in contrast with Judaism, more than two centuries earlier the rabbis interpreted biblical law in a way to transform capital and corporal punishments into payments of monetary compensation. Except in unusual cases, they ruled that death was a punishment to be meted out in Heaven by the Almighty, and not on earth by humans.

The Torah does not make it easy for religious organizations do deal with homosexuality or other sexual behaviors that occur among their followers and leaders. Efforts of Orthodox Jews to isolate Rabbi Elon resemble those of other communities. We see a disinclination to turn over violators to the criminal procedures of the secular state, along with comments revealing pain for the violator as well as concern for those violated. It all appears to be part of tension and change between what has been forbidden in doctrine for 2,500 years, and what is accepted increasingly in western societies by both religious and secular circles.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:04 PM
February 15, 2010
Bibi, Barack, and others

The Marker, the economic supplement of Ha'aretz, celebrated the first year of the Netanyahu government with a front page story comparing the prime minister's promises and accomplishments. The headline deals with the most recent great idea, to extend rail and improved road networks to the far corners of this small country, but indicates that the prime minister is already downsizing under pressure from the Finance Ministry. Other items so far not accomplished are:

* a proposal to extend the value added tax to fruits and vegetables, opposed by farmers and groups concerned with social policy;
* a "drought tax" on water usage, opposed by the Kadima Party and the Association of Local Governments;
* a reform in the planning laws to make project approvals easier, opposed by the Labor Party and environmentalists;
* reduction in the income tax and tax on companies, opposed by the Budget Office of the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel.

These details will not interest many Americans, but they may lead them to think about their president's health reform, his promises to close Guantanamo, bring the troops home from Iraq, and to fix the world via a commitment to engagement, all of which were to be part of a larger commitment to Change.

The lesson from these two countries is that change does not come easily, and often not at all. Democracies in particular have their separations of power and checks and balances which give advantages to those who oppose new ventures. American school children learn the prominent features of federalism, three branches of the national government, two Houses of Congress, a separately elected President, and courts, each of which have some leverage over proposals coming from elsewhere. American lessons tend not to emphasize the power of bureaucrats. That is a dirty word in the land of all those elective offices, but it is important in countries that are not so fearful of the governing professions..

Israel's checks and balances works via political parties that may agree to join a government coalition, but do not consent to many of the proposals that come from the prime minister, plus a bureaucracy with its own sources of authority. The Finance Ministry, in particular, has several ways to veto the grand ideas of elected officials. There is also a central bank and courts that can weigh in on issues that conflict with how they view their responsibilities.

Even where a parliamentary system produces a government ruled by a party with a majority in the legislature, there remain intra-party rivalries and policy disagreements, as well as a professional bureaucracy with pride in its responsibilities. Great Britain provides a model of a parliamentary democracy where the ruling party usually has a majority, but it also gave rise to the television series, Yes Minister. Its title illustrates how ranking bureaucrats scuttle the initiatives of politicians by seeming to go along. Numerous episodes feature its administrative heroes sitting in their club, drinking something good, and pledging to fight the inclination of politicians to think for themselves.

One of the lines I remember from a senior administrator in Australia: "Why do you want to talk to politicians? They're good in the bars, but they don't know anything."

Whatever their source, democracies have several checks that keep the government from doing too much that is new, expensive, daring, or goes against the preferences of a significant group in the population, even if it is a minority.

Much of the resistance comes from the complex substance of social, economic, and overseas problems that do not lend themselves to the quick fixes that sound great in political rhetoric.

If Americans really wanted a health system that provided decent coverage to everyone, they would have had it long ago. Barack Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, now seems to have gotten his government off to a bad start by trying too much in a sensitive area. Both sought to make decent policy, similar to what every other democracy provides, but somehow not suitable to the United States. Obama's task was never a slam dunk, but now may have been scuttled by Massachusetts.

Recent news is that persons having individual health insurance contracts in California (as opposed to employer-provided insurance) may be hit with a 30 percent increase in premiums. This may drive more of the young and healthy to abandon their coverage, which will assure further increases in premiums for the older and not-so-healthy who remain a larger proportion of those having this kind of coverage. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/us/14anthem.html?hpw

Guantanamo is still up and running despite the President's pledge. There is no firm end date for American troops in Iraq. There has been a decline in their casualties, but that reflects their withdrawal to safe havens. Mosques, markets, and the lines of candidates seeking government positions are still exposed to suicide attacks. Increases in military commitments for Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terror, with no optimistic prognosis, appear closer to the policies of the Bush administration than to anything qualifying as Change. Likewise the retreat to conventional language about Israel and Palestine, rather than a frontal assault with a deadline for an agreement.

Both Bibi and Barack are good talkers. Reports are that they do not like one another, but they are required to take one another into their considerations. Comics may say that they deserve one another.

Harry Truman told us that politicians are limited social beings "If you want a friend in this town buy a dog."

Both Bibi and Barack are good at blustering commitments and both have demonstrated how they can back down without admitting defeat.

That is normal politics, here, there, and elsewhere.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:21 AM
February 14, 2010
Targeted killings

Israel radio announced that The Times of London was accusing Israel of "waging covert war across the Middle East." The worry was that this would be the start of another campaign to condemn and delegitamize Israel, recruit support for boycotts of its exports and its academics, and arrange arrest warrants for officials and military personnel.

The headline resembles what we heard on the radio, but the article is more descriptive than prescriptive. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article7025821.ece
It speculates about a series of killings that could be ascribed to Israel, and notes the lack of response from Israeli authorities. While it is impossible to predict how Israel-bashers will respond, the article itself contains neither condemnation nor overt criticism.

Another article in the Washington Post may serve to limit a renewed focus on Israel. "Under Obama, more targeted killings than captures in counterterrorism efforts." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/13/AR2010021303748.html?hpid=topnews

The Post article is also descriptive, but may contain more ammunition for critics than the Times article about Israel. The Post details the choices faced by the administration between capture and killing, and indicates that the easier task of killing has the downside of wiping out a possible source of intelligence. It also notes the problems caused by American human rights advocates and the president's pledge--so far not honored--of closing Guantanamo, and the closing of US military prisons in other countries. Without opportunities to hold suspects under American control but outside the United States, the choice of capture is less attractive. Holding suspects within the United States would subject the process to a range of legal constraints, which was the reason for using Guantanamo and those military and CIA facilities in countries willing to accommodate America's security needs.

Israel as well as the United States has its opponents to killing the bad guys. Military personnel have said on numerous occasions that they would prefer capture, and getting what they can from the prisoners to help them go after others who are intent on violence, or to locate their stores of munitions. Israel holds some 12,000 Palestinian security prisoners in several facilities. It does not kill lightly. Operational realities often dictate killing rather than capture. On several occasion it has suspended the policy of assassinations, and it has stopped ongoing missions that would endanger numerous civilians. Other missions have killed enough civilians to produce considerable outrage, both locally and overseas.

The Washington Post article, along with reports over the years from Israel, suggest that both countries operate by similar norms. Ranking officers must approve each attack, and may operate under the close control of the highest civilian officials.

A highly critical article of US practice written in response to the Washington Post article indicates that some of the people targeted by the United States are American citizens. Three of them are said to be currently on the list for extermination. According to one official, if "we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that." http://www.faxts.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=275:rights-legal-experts-slam-targeted-killings-of-us-citizens&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=121

Similarities between these features of American and Israeli counter-terrorism campaigns raise the question of who learned from who.

Both countries have a long record of assassination. John F. Kennedy is said to have approved the killing of Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, and Richard Nixon is given ultimate responsibility for the death of Chilean president Salvador Allende.

The Washington Post credits George W. Bush with beginning the use of targeted killings as part of his war against terror after 9-11, and says that Barack Obama has increased their use.

To my knowledge, no American president has actually pulled a trigger or pressed a button to produce a targeted killing. Some assign a direct role in the assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte to the young Yitzhak Shamir, who became prime minister 35 years later.

The questions invited by this discussion are:

* Will the United Nations send Richard Goldstone against the United States of America? and
* Will Benyamin Netanyahu receive the Nobel Prize for Peace?


Do not accuse me of naivete. Cynicism maybe.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:53 AM
February 12, 2010
Where are the pressure points?

What is amazing about the preoccupation with Israel and Palestine is the certainty with which respectable individuals preach about a problem whose complexity has been pondered for decades, and where fluidity is more prominent than stability.

Even more amazing is the focus of urging change on the one element that is stable, while failing to take account of the instability elsewhere that may run over in several directions with no end in sight.

A prominent recent example of misplaced certainty is an op-ed piece by Roger Cohen in the New York Times. Cohen has a long record of blaming Israel for the problems of the Middle East. He has called for an end to Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and expressed shame for the operation in Gaza that he described as a disastrous case of Israel slaying Palestinian children.

Now he is lamenting that President Obama must do more to honor an election pledge for "new thinking, outreach to the Muslim world, and relentless focus on Israel-Palestine. . . . The conflict gnaws at U.S. security, eats away at whatever remote possibility of a two-state solution is left, clouds Israel's future, scatters Palestinians and devours every attempt to bridge the West and Islam."

Cohen realizes that problems among Palestinians contribute their share of the frustrations, but he asserts that President Obama must work harder "to ask such tough questions in public and demand of Israel that it work in practice to share the land rather than divide and rule it."

If the two-state solution does not work, Cohen is certain that "there will be one state between the river and the sea."

The one-state solution is a common threat, typically made by the Israeli left and overseas critics who claim that they are friends of Israel, and want to reign it in before it is lost. As Cohen writes of the one state he sees as possible, "very soon there will be more Palestinian Arabs in it than Jews. What then will become of the Zionist dream? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/opinion/12iht-edcohen.html?emc=eta1

The one-state threat illustrates the weakness in many criticisms of Israel. It is more a fantasy than anything that can be extrapolated from realities.

Who would make Israel absorb into itself land and people that do not succeed in achieving statehood. The process would not reflect any natural law of politics that I recognize.

If something must be done with the West Bank, why not urge its absorption into Jordan rather than into Israel? And if something must be done with Gaza, why not Egypt?

The answers to these questions are similar to the answer of Palestine's absorption into Israel. Israel does not want it any more than Jordan or Egypt want the portions that outsiders would assign to them.

Israel has ample power to say no and to police what it defines as its borders. Its rejection of American demands to make concessions prior to negotiations is only the most recent instance of rebuffing what the elected leadership decided was not in Israel's best interest.

Israel is the stable element in what had been the British Mandate until 1948, with a history of resisting diplomatic initiatives meant to down-size it, and numerous efforts at violence over the course of 60 years. Israeli settlements have been on the Golan Heights and the West Bank for 40 years, suggesting that they have enough stability to be worked around rather than wished away by anyone thinking seriously of a diplomatic breakthrough.

The instability among Palestinians indicates that pressure on Israel cannot be predicted to produce anything that will appeal to moving cultural and political phenomena that are going who knows in what directions.

Recent revelations of corruption may reverberate, despite the claims of Palestinian political elites that they are nothing but Israeli fabrications.

The latest Economist describes heavy handed efforts of Fatah to impose its control on the mosques of the West Bank, as well as declining support for Hamas in Gaza. The newspaper shows no confidence for knowing who will emerge on top.
http://www.economist.com/world/middleeast-africa/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15503327
http://www.economist.com/world/middleeast-africa/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15491292

The West Bank has shown several years of impressive economic growth, attributed to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a professional economist (PhD University of Texas-Austin) who returned to Palestine after a career in the U.S. Federal Reserve and World Bank.

Among the unanswered questions:

Will Fayyad survive whatever happens at the summit of Palestinian politics, in the context of corruption, unresolved conflicts between the political and religious leaders, militants affiliated with Fatah and Hamas, and the long delayed national elections?

Will the chronic outmigration of Palestinians continue? Over the years this has nearly emptied the West Bank and Gaza of Christians, and has led numerous Muslims with means to seek their future elsewhere. http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article5910.shtml

While some blame Israel for this migration, others link it to the frustrations created by Palestinian rejectionism, violence, and on-again, off-again promises of national success. Israeli optimists see the migration it as relieving pressure from high birth rates for a one-state solution, and reducing the prospects that Jews will lose their large majority in Israel.

Politics is not permanent. However, the current Israeli government is well entrenched. Left of center parties did poorly in the 2009 election, and show no signs of recovering in recent polls. Labor is in danger of splitting against its party leader who joined the Likud-led government as Minister of Defense. Knesset members of the centrist Kadima opposition party may also be splitting into right and left factions. In that context, Prime Minister Netanyahu gains further assurance, even if the right wing of Kadima does not formally join his government.

In all of this, it appears that power holders like Barack Obama and commentators like Roger Cohen should rethink where they apply what pressure they possess, or look elsewhere for a region where their activism would be appropriate.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:42 AM
February 11, 2010
Respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom

Two articles define the problem of the United States with respect to state-based and non-state regimes led by intense varieties of Islam. One is Iran, and the other is the Taliban-al Quaeda that spills over between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/world/middleeast/11assess.html?hpw http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0209/Change-in-Pakistan-requires-respect-reconciliation-and-religious-freedom

The conundrum of Iran is compounded not only by the extremism of the present regime, but by Russian and even more Chinese opposition to serious sanctions, questions about the fragility of the Iranian leadership in the face of domestic opposition, the failure of the Obama administration to move Iran one iota despite a year of engagement, and unknowns about Israel's patience in holding back against the threat of its destruction.

Intelligence is far from certain about the capacity of any sanctions to move the Iranians--despite their repeated denials--from intentions to create nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. There is also uncertainty about the prospect of Chinese cooperation, or the capacity of Germany to keep its companies from supplying important materials to the Iranian program. American intelligence is uncertain also about Israeli intentions, as are Israelis themselves. In what seems a credible summary of that front, the New York Times concludes its article:

"The Israelis, officials report, now seemed convinced that the Iranian government is fragile, and that the sanctions might work. They have indicated, with no promises, that they will back off for a while.

Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who has called in recent weeks for more active American support of the protesters in Iran, returned from Israel in recent days convinced that Mr. Obama had some time.

'I think we can get through 2010 without a military strike,' he said. 'But 2011 could be more dicey.'"
One can quarrel about the utility of sanctions. On one hand, they seemed to work against Saddam Hussein. There is no evidence that he was continuing to produce nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. On the other hand, the sanctions were not alone in producing that effect. The United States had shown its muscle in 1991, and Israel had earlier destroyed Saddam's initial efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

The story of Iraq should not encourage the American administration that rhetoric by itself is enough. And if China will not cooperate with sanctions, what else is there?

A former infantry officer in the Marines, currently the head of a think-tank that aspires to build religious freedom worldwide through local partners, spent 10 days in Islamabad and Peshawar "speaking with leaders from across society, including those with direct access to the Taliban." His conclusion: "Change in Pakistan requires respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom."

The basic problem is that both Iran and the group of countries that has grown to include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia feature national regimes or regional factions soaked with varieties of religious extremism foreign to western experience.

Sincere believers, even those short of the extremism we associate with Islam, can be oblivious to anything other than their own inner voices.

In recent weeks I have been in the middle of e-mail conversations between American Protestants of different theocratic persuasions who ridicule one another due to the certainty of each that they alone understand holy texts correctly. By all signs apparent to a secular reader, those texts can only be described as amorphous, especially with respect to what they might be predicting two millennia after their composition.

With all their good intentions, how can Americans assess what it would take by way of respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom to bring Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis and others to abandon doctrines that prescribe death for non-believers?

It is far easier to describe the problems of the United States with respect to those places than to suggest solutions. Perhaps there are none. There are too many Muslims, too many of them too convinced about beliefs that involve both certainty and violence.

It is appropriate to caution against reliance on rhetoric of a kind that has been unable to convince even members of the United States Congress to abandon their own prior commitments.

Beyond that, there may be no good advice beyond warning that coming years may be dicey.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:47 AM
February 10, 2010
What peace process?

Israel has been unlucky in its neighbors. Prior to the onset of mass migration to Palestine, some of the early activists considered solving the European problem of the Jews in Argentina or East Africa. Then they discovered the sentiments of Jews with stronger religious feelings than their own, and decided that only the Land of Israel could motivate large numbers to move.

It is not possible to rethink history. Israel has been a success, despite the screams of European and American barbarians when its officials come on invitation to speak at their universities. From poverty, mass migration of refugees, hunger and chronic threat of violence it has become an impressive military and economic force. Despite outlays on security three or more times those of other democracies proportional to the economy, the country's per capita resources rank it 23rd in the world, higher than Spain, New Zealand, Greece, Portugal, and Saudi Arabia.
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/eco_gro_nat_inc_percap-gross-national-income-per-capita

Unfortunately, the latest news from the West Bank (i.e., the better half of Palestine) indicates once again that the neighbors are far from the brightest spot.

Yesterday a man who had been appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas to expose corruption made a public report of what he called partial findings. It included documented cases of money being siphoned off by senior officials, including at least one member of the president's family, from aid received from the United States and European donor countries. Estimates are that some 10 percent of $10 billion in aid has ended in personal bank accounts. The man charged with exposing corruption also produced a video clip of the President's senior adviser in flagrante delicto with a woman said to be his secretary. An earlier release of that video led to the firing of the corruption investigator. Now he is threatening to release a full report if President Abbas did not move against corruption.

President Abbas did move in response to the report. His aides charged that the publicity was the work of Israelis intent on scuttling the peace process. They ordered the arrest of the official appointed to expose corruption, at least partly for the crime of selling land to Jews.

The man in question lives in East Jerusalem, where Palestinian police have no authority. But he is pessimistic enough to have purchased a cemetery plot.
http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?ID=168327
http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=167194

So far the Israeli reaction to the revelations of corruption is closer to a ho hum than oy gevalt.

There has been more official comment about the killing of an Israeli in the West Bank by an officer of Palestinian security forces. Israeli officials in West Bank communities and a Knesset member from a right wing nationalist party blame the killing on gestures toward the Palestinians like removing roadblocks. According to them, there is no future in a peace process when Palestinians given arms and sworn to uphold law and order become terrorists. They accuse Netanyahu of sacrificing the lives of Jews for the illusion of a peace process. In this case, however, the victim was an Arab sergeant in the IDF, who was stabbed to death while sitting in a military vehicle.

Ongoing is violence in the Arab neighborhood of Shoafat, across a main road on the northern edge of our neighborhood French Hill. Some 45,000 people live in what had been a refugee camp, now within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem but almost entirely outside the reach of Israeli police, tax collectors, and other authorities. Shoafat has been left to its own devices, provided services by the United Nations organization, UNRWA. Now for better or worse, the present city administration, along with the national police, seems intent on collecting property tax, value added tax, enforcing court orders, and arresting troublemakers. For more than two days Shoafat has been a scene of stone throwing, arrests, and injuries. Palestine National officials are charging aggression, and saying that Israeli actions are yet another element that will doom the prospects of peace.

Not to worry. The tragedy of an Arab Israeli family and commotion in Shoafat will not derail the peace process. That is more likely to result from Palestinian intransigence, Palestinian fear of retribution from extremists if they compromise any of their iconic goals, or Israeli fatigue at the emptiness of the ritual . . .

Or all of the above.


--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:35 AM
February 09, 2010
Sins of the son

Not exactly a tempest in a tea pot. More accurately in the blogosphere and other media. The son of the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, Ethan Bronner, has begun basic training as a soldier in the IDF. Can Dad continue to write for the Times in Israel while his son is a participant in the most sensitive of the issues he will be called upon for description and commentary. Googling the story produces more than 28,000 hits.

I admitted to being ignorant about the fuss when a nice sounding lady from the BBC phoned at four o'clock in the afternoon to ask if I would participate in a call-in broadcast at 8 PM. I got my three minutes at the end of an hour program.

The organization of the program was more impressive than the content. Participants came from across the globe, and included the son of Julius Nyerere talking about the constraints associated with being in the shadow of Tanzania's national founder and first president.

Heading the discussion, and featured in at least some of the 28,000 items on Google was a senior editor of the New York Times who thinks the paper should assign Bronner elsewhere. He lost the debate, and the Times decided that, at least for the time being, Bronner will remain as its correspondent in Israel.

As far as we can tell from the fuzzy literature on biblical authorship, it was somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 years ago, most likely in this city where Bronner is working, that what we know as Deuteronomy came to include

"Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin." (24:16)


By about 2,200 years ago, the rabbis who were turning God's words into the laws administered by judges had interpreted away death penalties. What they did not transduce into monetary fines were interpreted as punishments to be meted out by the Almighty in Heaven, rather than by humans on earth. The principle remained that individuals would be held responsible for their own acts, and not those of others.

No matter what the New York Times does about Bronner, there will remain supporters of Israel and supporters of Arabs who are certain that the paper is biased against them. These are traits the Times shares with the BBC, CNN, Reuters, and other media. Readers and listeners see and hear what they expect, whether or not journalists and their editors put it there.

Bronner the elder may learn more about the IDF and its tasks from Bronner the younger, but most likely he is a good enough journalist to have found most of that on his own. If Bronner the younger talks more Zionist at home now that he is an Israeli soldier, he will not not be the first Zionist to get his father's attention. And if he comes home to criticize the army and its activities in the harshest of terms his comments will not be the first of their kind that Dad has encountered.

The BBC got to me via a note that included a few lines about Sara Netanyahu, which entered the category concerned with family members of the prominent. Sara's contretemps have not been prominent in this week's media, and a poll published in Ha'aretz indicates that 59 percent of the public feel that stories about her will not influence the standing of the prime minister.

The brothers of Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter got attention for bad checks, failed businesses, alcohol, and embarrassing comments, but had no impact on their siblings' careers.

While politicians depend directly on the perceptions of a fickle public, journalists have editorial filters between them and whatever the public thinks about a family member.

The reputations of the New York Times and other international media depend on correspondents throughout the world, some sent from headquarters and many recruited from locals. They bring or attach themselves to families, friends, lovers, and acquaintances who supply them with information and may influence their attitudes. It remains the task of editors to worry about the tilts or balance decided by committees of senior staff and representatives of ownership, and to monitor what gets into print or on the air. Senior staff also have the responsibilities to shift assignments or terminate the employment of correspondents when appropriate.

The ultimate check on a journalist of Bronner's caliber is himself. It is his reputation on every line that he writes, as well as all the bits that he puts aside.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:20 PM
February 07, 2010
Sarah Palin and others

Sarah Palin is still with us. "Us" is appropriate, insofar as any American presidential prospect must provoke concern here and elsewhere. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/06/AR2010020603264.html?nav=rss_email/components

"Concern" is a neutral word. My guess is that Israelis who applauded George W. Bush are warming their hands at the prospect of a Palin presidency.

I am less than enthusiastic, but I am not surprised at the support she has. Different sex, skin color, and politics than Barack Obama, but in other respects a clone. Just as Obama differed in color and politics from GWB, but was a clone in the same ways as Palin resembles him. Not too long ago, Jimmy Carter was in the same category.

Photogenic, articulate, demagogic, inexperienced, and naive about the postures that make them attractive candidates. Electable, but not likely to make the world or the United States better places.

Other democracies demand a long apprenticeship for their national leaders. Typically the ladder goes from local or regional office to the back bench of a party delegation in the national legislature, to a gradual climb through minor ministerial appointments to candidacy for party leadership.

Americans claim to admire democracy. Commentary about the president's health reform also features the assertion that Americans know what is good for them, in contrast with Europeans held slaves to their governments and high taxes. In the same cultural mix are assertions that political parties have too much power; that the right policies will come from good people who think primarily about the national interest.

This an American syndrome: parochial, promoted by people who know little about Europe, think that the more democracy the better, do not recognize the roles of strong parties in imposing discipline on would be demagogues, and think that low taxes are good indicators of personal freedom. I am amazed by what I read about the superiority of the United States, and conclude that the authors have not flown on a European airline, traveled on a European train, driven on a European road, made a serious comparison of European and American health care, elementary or secondary education, statistics for violent crime, or pondered the quality of political debate and living standards that make Europeans at least the equal of Americans on measures of personal freedom and opportunity.

By some measures the United States is the most democratic country on the planet. Most states allow the people to vote directly for important issues of public policy: whether the government can borrow money or increase taxes, as well as religious issues like same sex marriages and limits on abortion. Most state judges must stand for election, along with those who aspire to numerous offices that in other countries are filled by political party committees, or appointed by senior civil servants concerned with the professional backgrounds of the applicants.

The downsides of the American democracy are extremely low turnouts for almost all electoral contests below those for president, governor, and United States Senator, as well as low turnouts for those key offices when compared to turnouts in other democracies; and the simplification of referenda by people who create the issues, raise money for the campaign, define the wording that is initially the subject of petitions and later on the ballot.

Complexity of the population and procedures have saved the United States from catastrophe. The separation of powers designed by the framers still works to make it easier on those who want to kill a proposal than to pass a law. The consequence is a difficult in keeping up with international standards. Barack Obama's party has a majority in both Houses of Congress, but not enough of a majority in the Senate to overcome procedural features added over the years to the basic frustrations of legislation created by the separation of powers.

No one should try to make the United States like a Western European democracy. Histories and cultures are different, as are government structures and the rules (formal and informal) of politics. A campaign to insist on more experience for presidential candidates would be condemned as elitist. And if the likes of Jimmy Carter, GW Bush, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin are any indication, such a campaign would also be un-American.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:33 AM
February 06, 2010
What's happening?

What's happening in the Middle East?

Nothing.

It doesn't look that way, with the White House trying one proposal after the other, and virtually every national leader of consequence suggesting how to produce the two state solution.

A bit below the surface, one can find good reasons why none of those directly concerned want anything serious to occur.

Israel does not want to move hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands of Jews (the numbers depend on which settlements) who have lived where they are for up to 40 years, when no previous movements have brought parallel concessions or a halt in the violence. Israel is also wary of creating a Palestinian state that would be vulnerable to take over by Hamas or groups even more extreme, that would have access to simple rockets fashioned in their workshops and more powerful stuff supplied by Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, or whatever government comes to the fore against western democracies.

For similar reasons, neither Jordan nor Egypt want a Palestinian state with access to serious armaments that could provoke radical ideas among their own Palestinians (a majority in Jordan) or Islamic extremists (problematic in both Jordan and Egypt). Likewise, Lebanese Christians and Sunni Muslims are nervous about what their Shiite neighbors might provoke, and concerned about the Palestinian residents of Lebanon (non-citizens since 1948) demanding rights or instigating action against Israel.

Syria speaks with an angry voice against Israel, but has a record of vicious actions against its own Muslim extremists that rivals what any government in the region has done.

None of the non-Shiite elites in the region have expressed warm endorsement of what might come from a refurbished Persian Empire.

What all the leaders of these countries want, more than anything else, is quiet at home.

One might also put the ostensible Palestinian leaders of the West Bank in the same camp. They are hanging on to office and perks with the help of Israeli, Jordanian, and American security personnel, and know the popular resentment that is seething under their feet. Any concessions necessary to entice Israel to an agreement could provoke enough resentment to topple them.

Hamas of Gaza also wants to keep hold of what they have. One notes their claim that they always aimed their rockets at military targets and apologize for Israel's civilian casualties. Nonsense, to be sure, but it may gain them a point in international forums stacked to support whatever they say.

The major outlier in this description of nothing-supporters is the Obama White House. It departed from the modest efforts of its predecessors to bring about change, and their more typical acceptance of the status quo between Israel and Palestinians. The loud efforts of Obama and crew might actually have nudged the participants to possible negotiations further apart from one another.

Europeans are inclined to follow the American lead, especially on issues that do not commit them to much. Recently they have joined the parade of visitors to Israel and Palestine saying in public what the Americans are saying in public.

Obama is naive but not stupid. He is admitting that he made some errors in his initial overtures with respect to Israel, Palestine, and their neighbors. One should not expect him to endorse the platform of nothing, but he may retreat quietly and focus on other issues. That will bring him close to what most of his predecessors did, most of the time.

The appeal of nothing may not last. There is no permanence in politics. But politics gravitates to what is easy, and usually avoids the risky and heroic. For the time being (which will last who knows how long), let's hear a cheer, or at least see a quiet nod, in favor of nothing. It works for us all.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:28 AM
February 04, 2010
Welfare for Palestinians

In several of these notes I have described the United States as a laggard among wealthy democracies in its support of social services. Anti-tax individualism shows itself in one of the lowest indicators among this group of countries for government outlays as a percentage of national resources. President Obama's disappointment in health reform is only the most recent demonstration of a culture unfriendly to government programs. It is most apparent among Republicans, but it is far from absent among Democrats.

Now I am pleased to identify a significant departure from public sector stinginess. The American representative to the Palestine National Authority--Daniel Rubinstein--traveled to Bethlehem and announced another U.S. contribution, this time of $40 million, to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). According to the Palestine News Agency, "The United States is UNRWA's largest bilateral donor. In 2009, the United States provided over $267 million to UNRWA, including $116.2 million to its General Fund, $119.5 million to its West Bank/Gaza emergency programs, $30 million to emergency programs in Lebanon, and $2.2 million to assist other Palestinians in the region." Other Palestinians in the region are mostly those in Syria and Jordan. http://english.wafa.ps/?action=detail&id=13712

Yet another positive note in the story is the openness of the State Department to people with a name like Daniel Rubinstein. The 1940s was a long time ago.

Close to last in aid to its own citizens but first in aid to Palestinians is a mark of some distinction, but not clearly a positive mark. If any people demonstrate the folly of excessive public support it is Palestinians who have lived off their claim of being refugees through four generations and 60 years.

One can argue without end about the facts and the morality as the British Mandate for Palestine became Israel. Who did what, and who rejected what compromises are questions in the dustbin of history, along with who is responsible for African slavery, and which group may claim ownership over each part of North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and other places where migrations and bloody conquests began long before recorded history, and continued through much of the history that has been recorded. One can ponder the responsibility of Arab countries and the United Nations, along with Palestinians themselves and Israel for the maintenance of the refugee phenomenon. While individual Palestinians have left the camps and done well, UNRWA remains a vital part of Palestinian lives and international politics. Dependence is the name of the game, for the organization, the refugees, the politicians of Palestine and those of other countries who accuse only Israel of responsibility.

There is no better demonstration of the American mantra that aid breeds weakness, and cuts off individual initiative before it can develop.

The paralysis of initiative appears in politicians' efforts to deal with the dispute, as well as the help me lethargy in the neighborhoods still called refugee camps. Palestinian leaders have learned only the language of demand and expectation. It is for Israel to make concessions, and for other countries to pressure Israel. The Palestinian narrative--supported by numerous others--is that Israel has a monopoly of blame and Palestine a monopoly of justice. Nothing offered to the Palestinians has ever been enough, and we are hard pressed to cite a concession Palestinian officials have offered to Israelis in their numerous meetings.

On the same day that I read about the latest American government donation to UNRWA I received an article from a professional journal reflecting the toughness of some Americans toward their own people. The subject is the cost of emergency service for
"Individuals who Necessitate Their Own Rescue." That is, people who through carelessness or ignorance get themselves into situations where it is dangerous and expensive to extract them. The article ponders the legal, moral, and administrative issues involved. It notes that there are states and localities that may charge for rescue, but "Charge-for-rescue policies are a bad idea." http://www.bepress.com/jhsem/vol7/iss1/2/?sending=10901

Israelis are familiar with the problem. Most common are overseas tourists and ultra-Orthodox youths who wander unprepared into the desert, go off the marked trails, fall into ravines, or suffer from dehydration. On our hikes we have encountered well dressed women trying to clamber down rocky slopes in high heels, and young men dressed for the study hall, without water bottles and obviously uncomfortable in the sun. During each season of flash floods there are people who try to drive through torrents that cover desert roads and must be rescued. Sending a military helicopter to such cases, or picking a lost hiker from a ravine costs the IDF thousands of dollars per hour. Politicians have raised the question of demanding payment from the careless, but none has dealt with the administrative problems or the opposition.

I recall stories from the United States of fire brigades that depend on subscriptions, refusing to fight a fire destroying the home of an owner who has not paid the dues. Should a helicopter crew refuse to pluck a survivor who cannot pay on the spot, has no receipt from rescue insurance, or left the credit card at home? Perhaps Americans can be more creative and persistent than Israelis in solving the problem.

If the person in distress could claim Palestinian status, the payment might come out of the next United States allocation to UNRWA. And will non-Palestinian welfare families be far behind?

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:28 PM
February 03, 2010
Health care, here and there

A report by Israel's Ministry of Health sheds light on the working of a mixed public-private health system that has considerable popular support, along with continued conflicts over how much and who should pay. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1147185.html

The average Israeli family spends NIS 633/month (about US $170) on health care. Of that NIS 169/month is for the supplemental insurance offered by the HMOs. Other private expenditures are for dental care, eyeglasses, and medicines not covered by the HMOs.

The report also shows that the rich pay more. The wealthiest 20 percent of families spend NIS 1,111/month compared to the poorest 20 percent NIS 306/month.

Not included in the average NIS 633 monthly outlay is the cost of the basic service. That comes from a health tax that is progressive. The working rich pay more. Retirees get a great deal no matter what their resources. They are also likely to be heavy users of health care.

As upper-income professionals we paid about NIS 2,000/month (US $500) for the health tax. As pensioners, we pay NIS 400/month.

Israel is not a socialist paradise where everyone gets the same. It is, however, a system that provides coverage to everyone, and where 80 percent of the population is able to pay the equivalent of US $45/month for the government regulated supplemental insurance that produces shorter waiting times for specialists and surgury, more choice of physicians, and greater discounts on medications. Everyone has free access to family physicians, a co-pay for a visit to a specialist is about US $4, sophisticated tests like MRI cost the same, and one's family physician can arrange quick access to a specialist or tests when appropriate. The outlays of this aged family for additional insurances to cover items like access to overseas treatments for conditions not treatable in Israel, medications not covered by the HMOs, and assisted living amount to about US $ 240/month.

There are annual disputes about the medications and treatments to be added to the basic coverage. There are demonstrations by patients, often organized by drug companies, claiming that stingy bureaucrats are denying them medication that will save their lives. Explanations from professionals are that arguments are about new and expensive medications that might prolong the lives of some of the people who take them. A recent controversy dealt with the efforts of the ultra-Orthodox chair of the Knesset Finance Committee to have HMOs provide dental care for children. Opponents claimed that he would be financing large families at the expense of Israelis who would be denied new medications.

My reading and conversations indicate that this outline of Israel's health system resembles those in most European countries. The essentials are extensive coverage for everyone, with added coverage for people who pay for additional insurance, or go outside of the system when they choose. As on many other social indicators, the wealthy do better than the poor, the intelligent choose more wisely than others, and those living far from medical centers find it more difficult to reach specialists.

Any chance that American politicians will support reforms to bring their country into line with other upper income democracies?

An analyst should never say never, but . . .

Standing in the way is the intensity of opposition to government control, apparent in the fierce opposition to Obama's proposal. Somewhere in that opposition were insurance companies, hospitals, and HMOs looking after their interests. Also complicating the picture were complex proposals not readily understood that pushed the hot buttons of abortion, fertility, and government rationing, which the nay-sayers painted as more threatening than existing rationing by insurance companies.

It does not help that health reform comes at a time of massive deficits traced to wars and an economic crisis. Without wrenching cost controls that may be beyond the capacity of the White House and Congress, government outlays for health would increase, and some individuals would pay more for what they receive. Those are tough sells in a culture more committed than those in other western countries to individual choice and low taxes.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:07 AM
February 02, 2010
A sobered giant

Money, money everywhere, but not enough. That's the message from the massive deficit already apparent and projected for the United States. It comes from too many wars, too many tax cuts, too many entitlement programs, and too much exploitation by highly paid capitalists who forced the government into unprecedented bail-outs. Who's to blame is problematic. Any quest for responsibility will produce a political dog fight that worsens the chances of getting cooperation to deal with it.

A newspaper headline captures the strategic threat, "Huge Deficits May Alter U.S. Politics and Global Power." http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/us/politics/02deficit.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

At stake is the war on terror, health reform, tax and spending leverages to increase employment, along with prosaic domestic programs that are suffering on account of financial problems among states and localities. There is also a prospect of Chinese influence on American policy due to government bonds they have acquired from selling consumer and industrial goods to Americans, Europeans and others. The same changes in international commerce have also brought about the closing of factories throughout countries where shopping is a favored pastime.

It is too early to write finish to the power of North America and Europe. The Chinese cannot unload their bonds without reducing their value, and hurting themselves along with the United States. America and Europe are wealthy, and may be wise enough to avoid disaster. Yet signs of trouble include the interruption of medical evacuations from Haiti to the United States due to arguments as to which institutions would pay for treatment, and the president's comments that the country could not afford an endless war in Afghanistan, a country his experts warned was unrepairable.

The dismay over deficits may be more important for the prospect of health reform than the loss of a Massachusetts Senate seat. The country with the best medical facilities in the world may continue to have them unavailable to much of its population. Large numbers will get only emergency treatment in public hospitals, and others who think they have paid for decent care will suffer the stinginess of insurance companies.

While avoiding the temptation of indicating which president or which bloc of Congress has contributed what portion to the deficit, it is useful to identify some traits of the United States that contribute to its problem.

The financial problems of the United States (national, state, and local governments) suffer from taxes that are lower than those of other western democracies, as well as from the costs of its overseas commitments. Americans concerned to deal with their deficits should not focus on their domestic programs, which generally are less generous than those of other democracies.

Wealth may be the single most important factor responsible for American prominence in international conflicts. Resources per capita in the United States are lower than in Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, and Sweden, suggesting that the average individual in those countries is better off than the average American. However, the America population is larger, and the overall wealth of the United States is greater than those countries. This gives the American government leverage not possessed by others. Military power derives from the total wealth of the United States, as well as its being the greatest surviving western power at the end of World War II, and then one of the two major players in the Cold War.

Being the lone superpower left standing in 1990 invited endless appeals for assistance, and made the United States the most attractive target for those who take aim at capitalism, individualism, rich, and non-Muslim. The World Trade Center fell as a result of the second attack on the icon of all that was viewed to be evil. The Gulf War of 1991 was a prelude to major military investments, largely American, in the area from Iraq eastward and southward. Iran's animosity to the United States dates from intense opposition to the friends of the Shah, the hostage taking of 1979-81, and does not seem to be diminishing under the Obama effort at engagement.

The prominence of the United States, as opposed to that of Britain, France, Germany, or Russia in international politics is not only a product of wealth and military power. The structure of American government also has made its contribution to the role the country has chosen for itself. The separation of power, and the competition between Congress and the presidency adds to the heroic defense of national values not so apparent in the parliamentary regimes of Europe. The unity between executive and legislature may facilitate the willingness to accommodate hostile forces, most apparent in going along with Muslim and Third World demands in the United Nations, or abstaining alongside American nays.

Somewhere in the American mix is the power of the Jewish lobby. One must be careful of exaggerating. It is far from dominant. Insofar as Israel is often a target of Muslim and other Third World countries, however, Jewish influence in Congress and the White House is among the factors responsible for United States vetoes in the Security Council, and votes against resolutions in the General Assembly and other UN organs where European governments are generally not as outspoken.

While on the subject of Jews, it is appropriate to continue with the advantages of a country that is beleaguered, but also small and limited in its responsibilities. Israel devotes three or four times the percentage of its resources to security as the United States, and has suffered perhaps 10 times the casualties on a proportional basis since World War II, but it has advantages that the American giant can envy. While American troops fight from bases on every continent but Australia and Antartica, Israel's military operations are restricted to a couple of hundred miles from the center of its country, plus the occasional operation further afield. The cultures and languages of America's enemies are beyond the ken of its intelligence capabilities, while Israel has operated throughout its history with agents in places not so foreign to those who direct and analyze the gathering of intelligence. Israel can get credit for the quick dispatch of a few well trained people, with appropriate equipment to Haiti and other disaster areas. The United States starts slower, but does the heavy lifting of prolonged care and the refurbishing of infrastructure. Israel's airport and national airline led the world in security, but they deal with a smaller number of flights than those at a sizable American or European airport, and need not bother with inflated demands to treat every passenger as posing the same risk. Israeli security personnel pay less attention to aged Jews than to young Arabs.


--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:39 AM