July 31, 2010
Anti-Semitism and other labels

Anti-Semitism is ancient, although the term itself appears only from the 19th century onward. By the latter part of the 20th century, Arabs were ridiculing the charge that they were anti-Semites, on the grounds that they are Semites.

Tendentious claims aside, no less a reference than the Oxford English Dictionary defines anti-Semitism as "theory, action, or practice directed against the Jews."

Josephus describes claims against the Jews from first century Alexandria, then a city populated largely by Greeks. They sound like some of those still expressed: that Jews are diseased; clannish; committed to bear no good will to non-Jews; kill non-Jews in order to eat their entrails and their blood; and observe laws that are inhumane.

The New Testament refers to Pharisees (predecessors of modern rabbis) as vipers, blind guides, and hypocrites who preach one thing and do another. It also claims that Jews demanded the death of Jesus, while the Roman official Pilate saw him as innocent of a charge that would require the death penalty; that Jewish priests bribed Roman soldiers to testify that disciples stole the body of Christ from his tomb, in order to create the image that he had not risen from the dead; that Jews poisoned the minds of Gentiles against Christians; and that Gentile authorities acted against Christians in order to curry favor with the Jews.

A later entry in the classic literature of anti-Semitism is The Protocols of The Learned Elders Of Zion. Civilized
intellectuals recognize it as a concoction produced as anti-Jewish propaganda by authorities in Czarist Russia. In recent years it has been trumpeted by Arabs and others as a genuine document produced by Jewish leaders, and containing their plan to control the world.

Among the points in the Protocols said to come from the Elders of Zion are:

"God has granted to us, His Chosen People, the gift of dispersion . . .which has now brought us to the threshold of sovereignty over all the world. . . . when we come into our kingdom it will be undesirable for us that there should exist any other religion than ours . . .In this difference in capacity for thought between the GOYIM and ourselves may be clearly discerned the seal of our position as the Chosen People and of our higher quality of humanness, in contradistinction to the brute mind of the GOYIM. . . . From this it is plain that nature herself has destined us to guide and rule the world."

Anti-Semitism got a bad press in the 1940s. Since then the Roman Catholic Church and other Christians have tended to emphasize friendship and accommodation. Many of their scholars concede that their earlier doctrines, including elements of the New Testament, were created to serve purposes no longer relevant, and ought to be archived.

Those looking for clear expressions of anti-Semitism can use the internet to find Muslim clerics preaching about the "Filth of the Jews, the Brothers of Apes and Pigs" http://www.memri.org/palestinianmediastudiesproject

While overt anti-Semitism has declined, anti-Zionism has become fashionable. It is directed against Israel, rather than against Jews, per se. Some of its practitioners are Jews and others are Gentiles who chafe at any accusation of anti-Semitism. "Some of my best friends are Jews" is still heard, although it has long since become a line of ridicule.

Some of my best friends are Jews who accuse Israelis of claiming that every critic of the country is an anti-Semite.

Some of Israel's severest Jewish critics may be "self-hating Jews," a phenomenon that has been around at least since Jewish collaborators testified at medieval trials of inquisition. However, many may simply be misguided in their choice of political fashions.

Distinguishing anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism is not easy. A useful conception is that anti-Zionism verges into anti-Semitism to the extent that individuals accuse Israel of violating standards of activity far more onerous than they use to judge other countries, including their own.

Americans and Europeans are among those who go over this line. People from other countries may be even guiltier, but Americans and Europeans may be reachable by argument, and their governments are most important to Israel. The United States is the largest and most powerful of this cluster. It is also a country not regularly censured by official bodies that censure Israel routinely, and it may be one of those most vulnerable to censure if it would be compared fairly to Israel. Norwegians, New Zealanders, and a few others may come out smelling even sweeter than Israel or the United States, but they are far from nastiness, and appear to be irrelevant to this discussion.

There are several indicators to challenge the often-heard charge that Israel represses its Arab minority. Among the most persuasive is the summary indicator of health: longevity. Israeli Arabs do not live as long as Israeli Jews, but the differences are smaller than those between American Whites and Blacks. Not only do Israeli Arabs live, on the average, six years longer than American Blacks, but Israeli Arab men live longer than White American men.

The incidence of Israeli Arabs as opposed to African-Americans who are so far removed from the norms of their societies as to be incarcerated also shows that Israel is not the oppressive society often depicted. While Arabs are incarcerated at twice the incidence of Jews in Israel, Blacks are incarcerated at four times the rate of Whites in the United States. (http://www.cbs.gov.il/reader/shnatonhnew_site.htm; http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/statab2006_2010.html)

Israel's security actions often come under attack, but an inquiry into the balance of threat versus defensive action does not support the condemnation of Israel. Since 2000 the incidence of Israelis who have died from Palestinian violence and terrorism. is six times the incidence of American casualties on 9-11, in Iraq and Afghanistan, corrected for population . The casualties caused by Israel in its defense appear to be substantially fewer than those caused by the United States. Lacking the kind of international investigations focused on Israel, however, the figures about fighters and civilians killed by American troops are far from precise. Perhaps 7,500 Palestinians and Lebanese have been killed by Israeli security forces since 2000. Estimates of those killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion of 2003 range between 100,000 and one million, and estimates of those killed in Afghanistan range up to 40,000. Both figures reflect violence among Iraqis and Afghans, as well as casualties traced to American and allied troops. http://www.ifamericansknew.org/stats/deaths.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_Terror#Casualties; http://www.unknownnews.net/casualties.html

Those willing to listen to a non-Israeli professional soldier on the morality of the IDF might consider the comments by the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. He describes the IDF's concerns to avoid civilian casualties as greater than those of any other military force. http://videos.apnicommunity.com/Video,Item,129557279.html

A friend in Thurston County, Washington is more certain than I that he can distinguish anti-Semitism from a posture against Israel. He described efforts to oppose the boycott of Israeli products by the Olympia Food Coop. He writes

This isn't about anti-Semitism. The momentum for the boycott comes from anti-Israel and
pro-Palestinian people in our community. For the most part they are careful to avoid doing/saying anything which would open them to a charge of anti-Semitism.

He goes on to write that a hate crime at the Chabad Center produced an outpouring of support for the Jewish community; that he and his friends defeated a effort by pro-Palestinians to name Rafah as a sister city; and that hundreds of people, not just from the Jewish community, came out to protest when neo-Nazis tried to stage a rally.

I am a long way from Thurston County, and I would not condemn its population on the basis of an unknown number who may have gone over the line between a reasonable posture against Israel and anti-Semitism. It appears to me, however, that my friend is being too generous in clearing his adversaries from the charge. What he describes smells too much like "Some of my best friends are Jews."

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:08 AM
July 30, 2010
Ramon and Abbas

Depending on one's perspective, Haim Ramon is either a naughty boy or wise man of Israeli politics. Currently 60 years old, he has been prominent since he took one of the conventional routes to national affairs via leadership of student politics. He was secretary of the Labor Party youth wing when he was first elected to the Knesset at the age of 33. He has served as the chair of important Knesset Committees, and as a minister in several governments. He was a leading figure in the Labor Party until he joined with several colleagues and individuals from Likud to create Kadima. His most recent post was Justice Minister in the government of Ehud Olmert, which he resigned in the process of being charged and found guilty of indecent conduct in 2007. His infraction was to impose a French kiss on a female soldier who had come to his office to be photographed with him. A peck on the cheek would have been more acceptable.

His most notable achievement came in the mid-1990s while serving as Secretary General of the Labor Federation. He did what policy analysts had been advocating for years: breaking the linkage between the country's largest HMO and the Labor Federation, and setting in process a health reform that established other HMO's, depoliticized the HMO linked to the Labor Federation, and required every citizen to enroll in one of the HMOs whose fees and benefits would be regulated by the Health Ministry. For this, Ramon was pilloried by Labor Party aparachniks who lost their source of funding, but gained wide praise from others.

Ramon resigned from the Knesset in 2009, but has continued as chair of Kadima's Council. He appears frequently on Israeli media, articulate and forceful as he explains one of his current proposals, typically at odds with the government of the day.

Now he is in the headlines for a lunch meeting with the Palestinian official known as the chief negotiator with Israel. They met in the dining room of the American Colony Hotel, an upscale boutique facility in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem that is a favorite of visiting journalists, Palestinians, and Israelis who appreciate the setting and its atmosphere. Another diner, who sat near them, has reported what is claimed to be a word by word.report of their discussion. Both participants deny the details, but the report is credible for those who know Ramon, and his criticisms of Benyamin Netanyahu. Shimon Peres also denies his role in the event, but those who know Peres' record may consider that element to be credible.

According to the report, Ramon said he was acting on the Peres' advice, and urged the Palestinians to reject the prospect of direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Ramon said that the Prime Minister would not give them anything. The implication was that they could get more from Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni and Ramon, backed up by the urging of the Obama White House and ranking Europeans..

One can quarrel about the substance of Ramon's comments. I doubt that there are many Israelis who genuinely believe that it will be possible to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians in the near future, or if Netanyahu is prepared to make the kind of effort requiring him to wrestle with his party colleagues, settlers, and a broad swath of Israeli public opinion.

Leaving that aside, however, it appears that Ramon has broken the rule about undercutting a national leader involved in delicate international maneuvers. In Israel as in a number of other countries, the informal rules allow severe criticism of domestic policy moves, but expect a minimum of restraint on major issues of foreign policy. In this case, the details concern not only the most prominent item on the national agenda, but also one that involves the governments of the United States and Western Europe.

If Ramon's conversation was indiscreet, and may prove costly for him, his Kadima colleagues, and Shimon Peres, the Palestinian leader, Mahoud Abbas has been reported as saying something no less damaging to the prospects desired by Barack Obama and others. Speaking at a Cairo conference of the Arab League, he said that while he would accept NATO troops to keep the peace between a Palestinian State and Israel, he would not accept any Jews among the NATO contingent. He also said that he would not allow any Jews to live in the Palestinian State.

The comments received some coverage on Israeli radio news, but may have been removed from subsequent broadcasts in an effort to preserve at least some semblance of an ongoing process. However, the details are being sent around by Israeli bloggers, which may be enough to keep them alive and to kill any chances of reaching an accord.

Those who see Abbas as the only hope of extracting something from the Palestinians that will contribute to peace may deny that he was quoted accurately, or attribute the comments to Zionist disinformation. They gain credence in the light of widespread, and vicious comments about Jews among his constituents..

Peace lovers of the world wake up. You have work to do.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:06 AM
July 28, 2010
The costs of passion

One of the consequences of Israel's demonization is the incidence of young people who participate in demonstrations against one or another of what they perceive as the abominations created by the oppressor of Palestine.

Revolution and justice are powerful attractions, but they do not always appear together. Justice is elusive, and likely to be contentious.

While some view Palestinian aspirations as the greatest cause of the 21st century, others see them as appealing fictions, perpetuated by political leaders unable to settle their differences with Israel due to Palestinian extremists.

Rachel Corrie is among the most prominent victims of this excitement. Prodded by her own contemplations from afar, or incited by others, she appeared on an active battlefield in Gaza during the height of the latest intifada in 2003, dressed in a bright vest, carrying a poster, and yelling that Israeli soldiers must stop their activity. She was killed by an armed bulldozer in the midst of noise and dust, whose driver could see only from a small window that was most likely dirtied by what he and others were doing. While her parents continue a campaign of blaming the driver, the IDF, and the whole of Israel, an official investigation determined that their allegations were without foundation. A civil case continues in Israeli courts, whose characteristic slowness may keep it going for several more years.

The most recent instance involves Emily Henochowicz, an American Jewish student who came to Israel for a period of study, and was attracted to the Palestinian cause. She participated in demonstrations against the construction of the security barrier, the settlement of Jews in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem, and lost an eye when hit by a tear gas canister while protesting the incident involving the Turkish flotilla. She describes herself as the daughter of an ardent Zionist and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, who loves Israel as well as being concerned for Palestine.

She is demanding the payment of her medical bills by the Ministry of Defense. Newspaper accounts cite witnesses who claim that the tear gas canister was fired directly at protesters, instead of in the air as required. Officials have expressed regret about her injuries, but indicate that their that inquiries justify the firing of tear gas at a demonstration that had turned violent with the throwing of stones. They say that the canister in question was not fired directly at demonstrators but ricocheted off a barricade, and explain that the government does not cover medical expenses in such cases.

The attorney representing Ms Henochowicz is quoted as telling her father, an American physician, "not to touch his wallet or to sign any check." He also indicated that, "It is insolent and preposterous to expect someone who was shot by the security forces, whether unintentionally, negligently or with criminal intention, to fund her own medical treatment."

There have been several cases of demonstrators or journalists killed or injured while participating in, or covering demonstrations or actual combat. They typically lead to official inquiries or investigations. People speaking for the military, police, or government generally express their regrets, but stop short of an official apology. Some instances have produced formal charges by those injured, or their survivors, and some of these have led to the payment of compensation, and the censure or punishment of the soldiers or police held to be responsible. Details differ from one case to another. Any general conclusion is elusive, except for those convinced that everything Israel does is either evil or justified.

Don't play in traffic is an appropriate element of any parent's efforts to raise children. Stay away from battlefields and demonstrations likely to get ugly is a lesson appropriate for older offspring.

If either a child or parent is offended by what they would see as patronizing advice, they must be prepared for unpleasant experiences.

It may be thrilling and satisfying to demonize Israel, but costly for those who decide to act on their passion.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:22 AM
July 27, 2010
WikiLeaks, Ellsberg, and Israel

"Document Leak May Hurt Efforts to Build War Support"

Each of us may have a different view of that headline in the New York Times, which derives from the paper's activities, along with the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and WikiLeaks, to bring purloined documents to the public's attention. Some will condemn the paper as working against the national interest or worse, and say that this is the latest chapter in a disingenuous effort against the war in Afghanistan. Others will praise the paper for revealing to the public what should be known about a war destined for failure from the beginning.

Those with a memory will say it all looks pretty much like the controversy surrounding the New York Time's publication of Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers in 1971. That was a highlight in a campaign against a war that began with public support and ended in a mood of political embarrassment, and defeat for the party in power.

Ellsberg faced serious charges under the Espionage Act that could have put him in prison for the rest of his life, but a federal judge dismissed the case in the light of illegal activities directed against Ellsberg by the Nixon administration. Since then his story, and Vietnam, have been joined with Watergate in a grand condemnation of the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

Now we will see if responsible people in the Obama administration remember the treatment of Ellsberg, and/or the story of Vietnam, and manage to avoid charges of how they defend a war that is, at the least, problematic.

We can quarrel about the public's right to know the details of military actions, including errors in targeting, civilian casualties, convoluted relations with other governments, the deceptions that occur along the chain of command, and the disregard for human life that may reach the level of sadism. Control of such material is harder than in the 1970s, and perhaps impossible given the advent of the internet without a fixed base of entry, along with camera-equipped cell phones, tiny recording devices and other gadgets affordable and readily available to military personnel, journalists, and others. Censorship has become voluntary, and perhaps impossible to maintain in military operations that include tens or hundreds of thousands of participants. Some of those involved will be intense in their commitment to achieving military goals and impatient at any civilian control, while others will feel strongly about their own conceptions of decency. Individual attitudes change in the course of operations, and may move in the direction of disregard for civilian casualties or accurate reporting, or in the counter direction of disgust with any officially directed or condoned violence.

So far WikiLeaks does not have a Hebrew language version. Israel and the IDF may be spared, at least temporarily, anything equivalent to what is currently disturbing the Pentagon and White House.

My own question is whether the current revelations will produce something like the torrent of investigations by the several organs of the United Nations and other do gooders to match Goldstone on Gaza, and the numerous commissions intent on revealing truth about Israel's attack on peace loving Turks.

A rhetorical question if I ever imagined one. We all know there is one rule for Israel, and another for countries with more supporters in international organizations.

International concern may push Israel to look more closely at its own behavior. The IDF has tried and punished soldiers and officers for unnecessary civilian casualties, and for distorting reports about military operations. Much of this has come as a result of established internal procedures or in response to revelations by Israeli media. Israel has no lack of Hebrew language web sites that reveal stories the establishment would prefer to keep quiet. What they lack, however, is a prominent central address having international exposure equivalent to WikiLeaks.

It is hard to say if commissions responsible to international organs or self-appointed outsiders claiming a concern for human rights have produced more assiduous inquiries by Israel, or a greater sense of isolation and persecution. My own perception is that a "damn the world" mentality has not become chronic with anything more than a fringe of Israeli society. On the other hand, skepticism and cynicism toward those claiming a right to criticize Israel are justified when it is only Israel that receives such treatment.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:10 AM
July 26, 2010
Visiting Jerusalem

More than two million overseas visitors arrived in Jerusalem during a recent year. The attractions are well maintained places linked to individuals and events featured in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and a functioning Old City enclosed by walls built in ancient times and last reconstructed in the 16th century. The Old City offers sites and shopping for tourists, and four distinctive neighborhoods that are the homes of 30,000 Jews, Muslims, Armenians and other Christians. Only a short ride away is Bethlehem, equally compelling for those wanting to see the roots of Christianity. Jericho is not much further in another direction. It offers winter visitors a chance to dine comfortably in an outdoor restaurant, while ten miles away in Jerusalem it may be raining and close to freezing.

While the numbers coming to Jerusalem are impressive, and often a nuisance to locals having to cope with crowds and traffic, the city ranks lower than 50 others in the numbers of tourists it attracts. London, New York, Bangkok, Paris, and Rome attract from three to seven times the number of international tourists as Jerusalem. Dublin, Amsterdam, and Prague get twice as many, while even Kiev and Bucharest, plus resorts near Bangkok attract 50 percent more international visitors than Jerusalem. http://www.euromonitor.com/Articles.aspx?folder=Euromonitor_Internationals_Top_City_Destination_Ranking&print=true

Jerusalem may have more of a mystic pull than these other places. The "Jerusalem syndrome" is a documented condition whereby some visitors believe themselves to be biblical characters. Jewish and Christian sufferers act as David, Jesus, or some other figure associated with their faith. I am not aware of visitors to London and Paris thinking that they are Henry VIII, Napoleon, or any of the other figures associated with local history.

Why does Jerusalem rank only #51 on a sophisticated ranking of international tourism?

Distance has something to do with it. Visitors to Western Europe can avail themselves of numerous attractive destinations as part of the same trip from home. There are decent beaches and other features in Tel Aviv and Netanya, but they attract only 60 and 10 percent of the overseas visitors as Jerusalem. Tiberias is on the Sea of Galilee and close to sites important to Christians, but draws only 25 percent of the number of visitors to Jerusalem. http://www.cbs.gov.il/www/tourism_q/t30.pdf

There are other sites in countries close to Jerusalem, notably Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, but the borders of the Middle East are not as easy to cross as those of Western Europe. For some years now Israeli security personnel have not allowed Israeli Jews to visit Bethlehem or Jericho without special permits, and others have to pass through barriers and inspections meant to protect us.

Politics and tension are more likely to figure in a decision to visit Jerusalem than other cities. The number of overseas tourists to Israel dropped from 2.4 million in 2000, which was mostly prior to the onset of the latest intifada, to a bit over one million in 2003, which was one of the bloodiest years. Numbers increased to 1.9 million by 2005 when the violence had diminished significantly. No other country included in the regions of Europe and the Mediterranean surveyed by the United Nations tourist agency showed comparable variations in the same period. Even on a mundane issue like this, the U.N. is unable to consider Israel part of the Middle East region, which includes all of the countries bordering it and Palestine. http://www.world-tourism.org

Jerusalem has drawn more tourists that some well-known sites in Europe. It does better than Florence and Venice, and is pretty much tied with Athens. Why less than Kiev and Bucharest? There are mysteries in the world of tourism that may boil down to nothing more than current fashion or a lack of precision in the numbers.

Tourist flows change with politics and economics. Thirty years ago there was virtually no direct travel between Israel, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Now Russian visitors are in second place behind those from the United States; there are sizable numbers from Ukraine and Poland. Thousands come each year from India, Korea, Japan, China, and Nigeria. Indonesia and Morocco receive Israelis and send visitors to Israel, even though there are no formal diplomatic relations. There are even a few hundred visitors annually from Malaysia and Iran, whose officials are usually among our most intense critics .

My latest Jerusalem experience may be part of a multicultural gesture to attract overseas visitors, or it may reflect nothing more than the lack of experience or attention by the person responsible. While I usually pay no attention to the music piped into the exercise room at the university gym, this morning I became alert to something familiar. It was Silent Night, in the English version I was required to sing many years ago at the Highland School. But only in December. Never in July.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:57 AM
July 21, 2010
Guarded optimism

The sky is not falling. Today.

After a week or so of panic following the encounter with the Turkish flotilla, nastiness from the peaks of the Turkish government, conventional censures from the United Nations and NGOs, and shrill comments of "We told you so" from J Street types, more conventional economics and politics have been doing their work. The most recent news is that Israeli and Turkish businesses are still dealing, and leading military personnel of the two countries continue with their mutually rewarding activities. Israel is shipping sophisticated military equipment to Turkey, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry has withdrawn its warning about visiting that country. Travel agents are celebrating, and again offering packages to the Turkish coast that for some years have been attracting middle- and working class Israelis looking for affordable family vacations.

After the Turkish flap, there was a week or two of high excitement among Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative extremists concerned to guard their turf over the issue of conversion to Judaism. All of the above again demonstrated their capacity to create reasons for spurring their activists to commotion. They saw indications that threatened the integrity of the Jewish people, and perhaps more importantly the status of their own organizations and personalities. The nucleus of their concern was what may be no more than a handful of individuals wanting a non-Orthodox conversion to take place within Israel.

The outcome to date is a tense standoff. The proposal meant to settle things from the Orthodox perspective has been withdrawn, at least for a while, from the Knesset's agenda. The result is that a different handful or more from among 300,000 or so immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not consider halachic Jews, and who actually want to convert, will find the road as rocky as before. Ultra-Orthodox activists are gloating, and the bureaucrats in the Interior Ministry continue to raise their objections to conversions by rabbis they do not accept as such, despite decisions that Reform and Conservative organizations extracted from the Supreme Court.

According to a note from a friend who is a Liberal religious activist:

"The . . . Ministry insists that the candidate (from) abroad be part
of a Jewish community (synagogue, usually) there for up to a year after
conversion before they'll recognize his/her status. A Supreme Court decision outlawed
the waiting period of one year that they came up with . . . but
when we tried to get converts registered after the decision, Ministry officials
told us: 'The court outlawed a 365-day waiting period, but that doesn't mean
we can't require 364 days.' "

Didn't I write in a previous note something about the persistence and power of bureaucracy? Sorry to say that "I told you so," but I did tell you so.

The sky is never completely rosy when viewed with Jewish eyes. Just today I received a note from a leftist activist that included this:

"This is sad... but if israel continues on its course, it will see more like this

Subject: StandWithUs Northwest Alert! Olympia Food Coop Boycotts Israeli Products
Olympia Food Coop Voted in an Unpublicized Meeting to Boycott
All Israeli Products Until Israel is Disbanded
We Need Your help NOW!!"

The people who are organizing this will not get my help, but I won't pretend to speak for the rest of you.

And for those of you who see salvation in the various flotillas for the unfortunates people of Gaza

"Senior Palestinian health officials say that a large proportion of the aid received from Arab countries is useless. It includes medications beyond their legal dates, and equipment that does not work. "We could use only about 30 percent of what we received as aid." http://news.walla.co.il/?w=//1712755

It appears that the Jewish people have survived aggression from the Turkey government, yet another blast from the United Nations and NGOs, plus an uptick in nastiness from Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Jews. Given that record, I suspect that we will manage the attack launched by the Olympia Food Coop.

I am not so optimistic about the chances of Gazans with their friends.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:58 PM
July 19, 2010
War of the Jews

Currently the most pressing religious war in these surroundings is not between Jews and Muslims or Christians, but among the Jews.

As is typical of this recurring conflict, the weapons involved are not explosives. This round of conflict has not escalated beyond nastiness and disinformation. But those are sufficient to heat up the combatants, and to attract the attention of us outsiders, i.e., secular Jews without a dog in the fight.

Prominent participants are the Reform and Conservative Movements, strong in the United States and using their clout to affect things here. It looks like a community with fewer than 14 million people, and beset with serious hostility from others, can afford its own world war.

There are several armies on the battlefield, and their slogans do not always convince us that those, indeed, are at the center of their concerns. In other words, demands about religion may be masking something else, more important to the participants. To Reform and Conservative activists, it is an occasional to get some media exposure in Israel, and bolster their organizations. To one of the prominent other actors, it may be leverage to stay out of jail.

One contender is Knesset Member David Rotem. He is affiliated with Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beitenu party, and is currently chair of the Knesset Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice. Rotem is promoting a bill to concentrate the conversion to Judaism in Israel under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate is at the peak of organizations that deal with marriage, divorce, and kashrut for most Israeli Jews, as well as conversion to Judaism in Israel. It is Orthodox, but always looking over its shoulder to ultra-Orthodox rabbis who have their own religious courts and inspectors of kashrut. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis decide issues for members of their own congregations. They tangle with institutions of the Israeli State and accuse Orthodox rabbis of not being sufficiently observant.

It is common to estimate that ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews each represent about 10 percent of Israel's Jewish population. Both have political representation in the Knesset and are usually involved in government coalitions. Israel Beitenu is the principal party of Russian speaking Israelis. They amount to about one million people who have arrived since the late 1980s. They are equivalent to about 20 percent of the Jewish population, but perhaps as many as one-third of them do not pass muster with the Rabbinate as halachic Jews. Israel Beitenu, along with the ultra-Orthodox parties SHAS and Torah Judaism are important members of the current government. Without them, Prime Minister Netanyahu would be in trouble.

Among the issues that Israel Beitenu has promoted is a smoothing of what are often horrendous and unsuccessful efforts at conversion to Judaism.

Outside of the Israeli milieu of Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, and Russian immigrants are rabbis and other activists of liberal Judaism, mostly Reform and Conservative. These movements are dominant among American Jews, but are small enough to be overlooked in surveys of Israeli Jews. The Conservative Movement claims 50,000 members of its Israeli congregations. http://web.archive.org/web/20070522000543/http://www.masorti.org/about/about.html, The Reform Movement provides no estimate of its adherents in Israel, but it has only about one-half the number of congregations as the Conservative. http://www.reform.org.il/eng/index.asp Neither the Reform nor the Conservative movements have a party to represent them in Israeli politics, and may hear only an occasional comment of support from an individual Knesset Member.

Both Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel have spoken forcefully against the proposal of David Rotem, and have energized their American allies to join the fray. Among the wildest of comments that have come to my mailbox from overseas are claims that the proposal would "disenfranchise" the majority of American Jews, and delegitimize marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis.

Orthodox activists are neither more accurate nor polite. The Chief Sephardi Rabbi appeared on Israel radio, and did not soil his diction with the word, "Reform." Instead he spoke about a cult that sought to change Judaism, and thereby introduce a dangerous schism in the midst of the Jewish people. To prevent that, he sees the enactment of Rotem's proposal as essential.

It is far from clear that Rotem's proposal would weaken the status of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel, but that is what they are saying. And at a time when the Israeli government is being squeezed by the United States government on matters that have no direct connection to religious wars among the Jews, non-Orthodox activists have more power than their numbers in the Israeli electorate or the Knesset. The prime minister is taking a course dictated by international politics, and saying that he will work to prevent the passage of Rotem's proposal, which he says would introduce a dangerous schism among the Jews of the world.

Commentators are speculating that conversion is not all that important to the head of Israel Beitenu. Lieberman is an insider-outsider, or a man with enough votes to receive a senior position in the government, but not enough personal stature to move beyond the fringe of Israeli politics. He has acquired a reputation as an outspoken righist, and is the subject of a long-running police investigation dealing with various forms of corruption. A Russian speaking friend who says that Leiberman is correct on most things also admits that Lieberman is a thug. Lieberman gained the distinguish title of Foreign Minister, but Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak go to the most important places and speak for Israel to the key leaders of the United States, France, Germany, and Great Britain. Lieberman deals with capitals in Latin America, Kazakhstan, and Moldova, and visits Moscow to obtain what he can from a government that appears unfriendly. His deputy, Knesset Member and former career diplomat Daniel Ayalon, sometimes appears to be dealing with more important issues than Lieberman.

By one view, Lieberman is obsessed with staying in the limelight and demonstrating his political importance. Promoting what he claims is an easier road to conversion is one way of doing this, and advancing what may be his principal goal of claiming to be indispensable. The purpose of that would be to gain help with the police and other judicial authorities.

All this is happening while we approach the 9th of Av. The day has increased in importance in recent years. More institutions will be closed than in the past. The media is providing commentary about destruction and salvation, along with advice on who should avoid fasting for reasons of health.

According to the Passover story, we survived slavery in Egypt. According to the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we overcame one disaster that occurred on the 9th of Av, and returned from Exile in Babylon. Josephus describes another rough time among the Jews that facilitated the Romans' destruction of Jerusalem on another 9th of Av. We all know what happened a generation ago in Germany and Eastern Europe. Now it's up to Benyamin Netanyahu to maneuver between excitable Jews from Russia and America, while President Obama and several of Obama's allies want him to do something unpleasant. .

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:35 AM
July 15, 2010
Never say never, but it will take a while. Maybe a long while.

Two recent articles is the New York Times provide an accurate picture of our surroundings.

A description of Gaza provides all we need to produce a mood of hopeless despair. There is plenty to eat, but no work, and no hope for the the growing population of young people who can neither work nor leave. The Hamas regime is strong, but not loved by the population. If there is tinder smoldering to an explosion, the damage is likely to be greatest internally. Both Egypt and Israel can protect themselves. Meanwhile, the area is a poisonous addition to the problems that keep Israel and Palestine (West Bank) from meaningful concessions. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/world/middleeast/14gaza.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

The second article describes the hopes articulated under the influence of the Obama White House, and the reality of the distance between the parties. Going beyond what the article says, it appears that the American president is the last one to get the message. Israeli and Palestinian leaders cannot say "No" to whoever is in the White House, but the positive remarks that each makes are different enough to be irreconcilable.

The glass is pretty damn empty, but not entirely. Things are moving in the West Bank. Palestinian security forces are increasingly credible, and winning concessions from Israel. The economy is growing, providing jobs, new housing and roads, and attracting investment. An article in Ha'aretz describes automobile showrooms in West Bank cities now displaying really new cars, rather than vehicles stolen from Israel. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/mess-report-in-the-west-bank-new-cars-signal-the-good-life-1.302237

George Mitchell continues to show up, but his arrival generates snide comments by media personalities. "Mitchell? Who's that?" Or "Mitchell. Him again?"

President Obama has been guarded in his latest comments about the prospects for peace. However, the White House is like a supertanker. It cannot change course on a dime, or even something much larger. The apparatus includes advisors plus supporters in Congress and the public committed to existing mantras of "two-states" and "peace in the Middle East before the end of . . . " The presidential ego can describe problems and fudge deadlines, but may not admit failure. Political coalitions are built on the principles of reliability and stability. We all know that politicians lie, or distort, or do not tell all the truth, and change their minds. However, if there is too much waffling the process does not work.

Stability is Washington is more important to the White House that discomfort in Jerusalem, Ramallah, or Gaza, so the Israelis and Palestinians must go along with the show. However, they, too, have their politics and principles. Netanyahu and Abbas do what they must. Both are using the device of blaming the other for the lack of progress in talks which few Palestinians or Israelis ever gave a chance of succeeding.

Perhaps the most certain of political rules is "Never say never." If the Germans and French could do it, the Israelis and Palestinians might do it someday. However, the time is not ripe.

One can guess that the generation of 1948 refugees will have to die off in order to remove that thorny issue from the Palestinian agenda. And maybe the children and grandchildren of the refugees will also have to die off, insofar as there has already been 60 years of inculcating the narrative.

Something will have to give in Gaza to make it possible for "Palestine" to be more than the mini-mini-state of the West Bank.

It helped that the Soviet Union disappeared along with its spiritual and material support for Palestinian aggression. Still alive, however, are sources in Iran, Syria, Libya, and now Turkey.

It will take a while for the trust of Israelis for Palestinians, and Palestinians for Israelis to develop in a way to facilitate agreements that will not be so draconian and "iron clad" as to be impossible for one or another side to accept. That may take years and even decades of relative peace, continued economic progress in the West Bank, and something positive to emerge in Gaza.

By insisting on progress that is not tenable, the White House can make things worse. It already did that by flubbing the issue of construction in Jerusalem. That misstep angered Israelis and led Palestinians to increase their price for negotiations. Now is the time for Washington to desist, and admit that some future president will get the credit for peace in the Middle East. The admission will be subdued, or completely quiet and apparent only by what is not said.

Who wants to vote that a miracle is more likely to occur in Gaza, or in Washington?

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:37 PM
Oy gevalt

One of the attractions of living in Israel is the feeling of participation in the wider world of the Jewish people. It is also one of the problems.

An American friend sent me the following, which came to him from a non-Orthodox rabbi:

. . . send a message to BIBI telling him that we LIBERAL JEWS in AMERICA are furious about this anti-Jewish Bill that will disenfranchise tens of thousands of American/Non-Israeli Jews who may not be able to prove that they have a Jewish mother (or, in fact don't have one) or have had a conversion including Mikveh officiated by a Liberal Rabbi, who live strong Jewish lives and support Israel in peace and war; with their children and (l'havdil) their money.

This Rottem (sic) Law is a travesty.

PLEASE LOG ON TO THE LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU and let him and all Israel know that we LIBERALS are just as "HAREDI-in awe before God" as the Black Hats! We will fight this law "with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our might".

Oy gevalt is an appropriate response. Not to the abomination that the letter wants to prevent, but to the letter itself as a symptom of yet another brouhaha among the Jews. And one that focuses on what a rational assessment (i.e., mine) indicates is nothing at all.

The issue is a draft of a law promoted by an Orthodox Knesset Member, which does not change the status quo or touch the issues raised by excitable Americans, and has already been assigned to a burial plot by the prime minister as something that does not merit even a symbolic annoyance of overseas friends.

As best as I can understand this murky corner of Jewish politics, what is happening is another expression of Jewish paranoia, this time touching a segment of religious leaders who either want to expand their authority or fear that a competing segment of religious leaders want to expand their authority.

If it's not 100,000 Haredim clogging the streets of Jerusalem in defense of ethnic segregation, it is God knows how many non-Orthodox rabbis clogging Jewish mailboxes in defense of what they want, but do not understand. Not only would the bill change little or nothing in Israel, but it could not "disenfranchise tens of thousands of American/Non-Israeli Jews." Those Jews have never been franchised in Israel. Presumably they are franchised in their home countries, well beyond the jurisdiction of the Israeli Knesset.

Next in line are non-Orthodox women wanting to dance with the Torah at the Western Wall, against Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox rabbis charged with keeping order at the Wall as they see fit.

Meanwhile it is the secular majority of Israeli Jews who pay most of the taxes and do much of the military service to keep this place available as a site for disputes among religious Jews who feel they know the word of the Lord.

(It is true that the Orthodox Religious Zionists are doing a disproportionate amount of national defense, but they have a political agenda that adds to our problems.)

We welcome the feeling of overseas Jews that they are part of us, appreciate their help with other governments, and the money they contribute. My own preference is for donations to universities and hospitals rather than Jewish settlement in Arab neighborhoods. However, there are different interests and Israel's own rules of the game. As a democracy, numbers compete with the substance of arguments for officials' attention. Non-Orthodox religious Jews are a small minority here, without their own party in the Knesset. They should not count on the help of secular Israeli Jews. Some secular Jews may identify with the non-Orthodox, but others have no interest in any religious arguments, whether they are Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative.

Former Knesset Member Haim Ramon said that Israelis are either religious or secular, and that the religious are Orthodox. He said that non-Orthodox religious Jews should not expect to influence Israel without moving here in their hundreds of thousands. A secular friend said pretty much the same thing, "The synagogue that I do not go to is an Orthodox synagogue."

Israelis generally oppose one or another policy followed by the government currently in power, but put up with the balance of interests that prevails.

Secular Israelis must tolerate the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox because they have the numbers. However, secular Israelis have enough numbers to keep the religious in check.

The proposed legislation that provoked the latest campaign by non-Orthodox rabbis deals with the authority of conversion to Judaism in Israel. It would continue the status quo by giving that authority to the Official Rabbinate, which is Orthodox. Individuals converted outside of Israel by non-Orthodox rabbis would be recognized as Jews by the State, and given all the rights of Jews with respect to immigration. They might have trouble marrying in Israel, insofar as the Rabbinate deals with that process, but Cyprus is a short flight away. Lots of secular Israelis live well, despite having to choose, or wanting to choose, a secular marriage performed outside of Israel. It may not be ideal, and even annoying or insulting, but it is manageable. And the country is generous with respect to the rights provided to couples who do not bother with any ceremony. Those in the know might remember the provision of religious law that considers a couple married who are known by their neighbors to live together.

Israel is a good place, without meeting all the criteria of Paradise. I welcome the nomination of countries that do qualify.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:14 AM
July 13, 2010
What is a normal country?

Israel is a normal country, but is strained to preserve that status against the rest of the world that is even less normal.

That is not a sentence one would expect from a confirmed social scientist. It does not make sense according to the elemental rules of logic, but it does make sense when viewed through wider perspectives of judging normalcy.

What is a normal country?

Is it Germany, with no practical speed limits on major highways? The United States, with the power of the gun lobby, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/us/politics/13nra.html?partner=rss&emc=rss the rise of libertarians, God soaked movements against abortion and gay rights, and four to five times the incidence of its population in prison compared to other western democracies? http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r188.pdf Countries of the Third World, where rates of HIV/AIDS range to 260 times those in Western Europe and North America? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_HIV/AIDS_adult_prevalence_rate Mexico, where the rate of killings over drug smuggling to the US has reached 13,000 per year? http://edition.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/01/01/mexico.us.killing/index.html NATO and other countries that have sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq for tasks able to produce nothing beside the slow drain of outsiders' lives and the more rapid drain of Afghan and Iraqi lives?

All countries have their individual peculiarities, and Israel's hardly seem greater than others. Comparison is more a matter of personal preference than any serious weighing of traits not equivalent to one another. Who can say that the life style and political demands of ultra-Orthodox Jews or Religious Zionists are any less normal than those of committed Christians or Muslims? Is Israel's concern with defense against threats from near neighbors less normal than efforts of the United States, Great Britain, and other countries that send their troops against distant threats?

What is most abnormal is the animosity toward Israel among foreign governments and individuals. There are also Israeli Jews who express severe opposition to their government's activities, but this may not be different from the incidence of Americans or Europeans who act against their governments.

My temptation is to say that Israel is normal, while the rest of the world is crazy.

That may be true, if we excuse the vast majority of individuals who do not know what Israel is, or what it does, and could not care less.

There are several reasons for the animosity. While not all who oppose Israel are anti-Semites, there certainly is anti-Semitism in the mix. Since the Holocaust, traditional Christian anti-Semitism has declined. However, Muslim anti-Semitism has taken over the stereotypes and coupled them with the weight of numbers, votes in international forums, and the influence that derives from energy resources. In several places, a posture against Israel is part of anti-Americanism. Political fashion helps to spread a simple assumption that Israel is evil, while Palestinians are innocent victims. Pictures of deaths and destruction due to Israeli concerns for its security are currently more powerful than pictures showing more deaths and destruction due to the personnel of countries not on the current hit list.

Why have international fashions turned against Israel is a question with no better answer than an old Jewish story, set about 15 miles to the west of here in Emek Elah. Remember David and Goliath? The Palestinians benefit from their image as the weakling going up against the giant. In this case, the weakling is the darling of a billion Muslims and the giant is the size of New Jersey, but who says that fashion is objective?

What to do? There is no magic button.

Claims that Israel does not explain itself are nonsense. There is no shortage of explanations coming from official organs and individual Israelis. Overseas Jews help, at least those who are concerned, and not wedded to the anti-Israel fashion. There is no shortage of non-Jews who identify with the downtrodden. Among them is former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, who is promoting the theme that Israel's failure will condemn western civilization. http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/former-spanish-prime-minister-if-israel-goes-down-we-all-go-down A Christian network in Canada is distributing an hour long discussion of international law that claims a firm basis for Israel's maintenance of control over Jerusalem, against counter claims from Muslims and Christians. http://ctstv.com/ontario/player.php?ctsvidID=17133&show=On Subscribers of www.memri.com see that there are Muslim and Christian Arab intellectuals who ridicule anti-Israel diatribes.

Music and humor may help at least as much as the hard sell of speech and writing. We con the world http://www.carolineglick.com/e/2010/06/new-postings-of-we-con-the-wor.php won praise as a cutting parody, but went over the line of politically correctness. Israel's Foreign Ministry initially publicized it, but then timidity prevailed. YouTube pulled it for reasons that critics see as out of step with what it allows to remain on the site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Con_the_World Only Israel is softer, and may last longer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaGHUZ-8DWw

Efforts at explanation generally reinforce those already committed, add to the animosity of those opposed, and otherwise fall on deaf ears. Singing to the choir is useful, but it is important to know the limitations.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:10 AM
July 08, 2010
Sound and fury

As expected, the White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was an occasion for mutual admiration and pledges of cooperation. It was much different from the image conveyed by their previous meeting, when the White House had blasted the timing of an Israeli planning committee's announcement about construction in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, ranking officials were talking about Israel's insults, and endangering American troops.

Rather than being at the center of concern, Israel's settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem were barely discernible in the President's most recent comments.

A Washington Post commentator began his article about the most recent meeting by reference to Obama's surrender.

A blue-and-white Israeli flag hung from Blair House. Across Pennsylvania Avenue, the Stars and Stripes was in its usual place atop the White House. But to capture the real significance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit with President Obama, White House officials might have instead flown the white flag of surrender.

The author emphasizes the influence of the Israel lobby for the turnaround. The fright of Democratic candidates as they approach the November election may have something to do with the President's accommodation with Israel's sensitivities. However, it is too simple to follow the conventional route of crediting American Jews for White House support of Israel. The Washington Post journalist also notes that the President's efforts to attract Muslim support were not bearing fruit. He reports survey data showing a decline of public confidence in Obama among both Egyptians and Turks. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/06/AR2010070604005.html?nav=rss_email/components

It is also the case that Obama was not alone in making efforts at accommodation. Prime Minister Netanyahu played his part in expressing a serious commitment to searching for a way to make peace with the Palestinians.

Both leaders have reiterated their pledge of cooperation since the meeting. The Prime Minister praised the President in an interview with Larry King. President Obama praised the Prime Minister during a lengthy interview by the anchor of a prime time Israeli news program. He emphasized his commitment to Israel and the Jewish people, sought to minimize the tensions deriving from his middle name (Hussein), his outreach to Muslim countries (for the sake of Israel as well as the United States), and what he described as erroneous perceptions of his earlier meeting with the Prime Minister (not a snub but a long working session).

Both the President and the Prime Minister have given impressive performances, but time will tell if the theme is closer to William Shakespeare (sound and fury signifying nothing) or to serious politics. The President himself, in the interview with the Israeli media personality, noted that Israelis were justifiably skeptical in light of Palestinian rejections of previous concessions. The trial balloon mentioned by some Palestinians leaders, but shot down quickly by others (Israeli control over the Western Wall and part of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City) is so far from something Israel can accept as to suggest that the warmth of Washington will produce no fruit worth tasting.

More of the same is what usually prevails in politics, despite the efforts of elected officials to appear innovative. The most recent Obama appearance on Israeli television was more subdued by far than the Obama we saw in his presidential campaign. Rather than proclaiming Change, he now says that he will be trying, and feels that the time is right for a deal between Israel and Palestine. However, he cautions that it will take efforts from Palestinians as well as Israelis, and that there are no assurances of success.

Israeli commentators are more pessimistic than either the President or the Prime Minister. They note that Obama has gotten nothing from Palestinians or other Muslims for his efforts. They speculate that he may have learned about the Middle East, and has decided that there are more pressing concerns domestically and further east in Afghanistan. His current warmth toward the Israeli leadership and population may represent one more effort to breath life into his efforts in behalf of peace, or be little more than a gesture to help Congressional Democrats in November.

On the evening that we saw the President's interview we also were seeing the conclusion of a march toward Jerusalem in behalf of the prisoner held in Gaza. His parents and other organizers were demanding that the government pay the price necessary to obtain his release. 10-15,000 were at the conclusion in a Jerusalem park, and many more had participated in events along the way. However, some of the politicians who attached themselves to the final steps of the march indicated that they shared the sentiments of the family, but could not accept the principle of "paying any price," or the deal demanded by Hamas. Less than a month ago, 100,000 ultra-Orthodox men marched in Jerusalem in support of the continued segregation of Ashkenazim and Sephardim in an ultra-Orthodox girls school, against the mandate of Israel's Supreme Court. In 1982, when the national population was only 55 percent of its current size, an estimated 400,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the failure of the IDF to prevent the massacre of Palestinians by Christian militiamen in Beirut. By those standards of comparison, 10-15,000 people in a Jerusalem park will not be enough to change the government's rejection of Hamas' list of prisoners as its price for the Israeli captive.

Sound and fury, in Washington and Jerusalem, but not enough to assure that something will happen.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:23 PM
July 06, 2010
Thinking and talking

David Grossman is one of Israel's most celebrated intellectuals, with an impressive list of prizes for thoughtful and provocative fiction. He also authored descriptions of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians that capture conditions that derive from their own cultures and from living under the shadow created by Israel. Long an opponent of force to solve the country's problems, Grossman increased activity when his son became one of the soldiers killed during the Lebanon war of 2006.

Ha'aretz put a lengthy essay "Lift the Siege from Ourselves" above the major headline of page one. http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1178153.html Curiously, the same essay appears nowhere in the Ha'aretz edition translated into English for the internet. http://www.haaretz.com It may come later, its absence may reflect an argument at the summit of the Ha'aretz organization, or Grossman's Hebrew wandering through possibilities and constraints may defy simple rendering into English.

The essay reflects the efforts of an intellectual to use his mind to escape the trap of political reality. Grossman writes

"Israel cannot achieve full and genuine peace with Hamas in the foreseeable future, perhaps not in the distant future. Hamas does not recognize Israel and peace with it would demand the 'right of return,' and full withdrawal to the '67 lines, conditions there is no chance that Israel will agree to. But why does not Israel try to achieve, at least, what can be achieved at this stage. . . "

Grossman is too generous in describing Hamas' position. He indicates what Hamas says are its conditions for a cease fire, but Hamas also indicates explicitly that it would not agree to stop a struggle that it intends eventually to do away with the Jewish state.

But letting Grossman slip more than a bit for the sake of assessing what he writes, his essay reveals the impossibility of bending to Hamas' will ("there is no chance that Israel will agree"), but demands that Israel keep trying. If only we continue thinking and proposing we will eventually come up with something that will produce at least a cease fire and an exchange of prisoners.

Thought and talk are the tools of the intellectual, and Grossman expresses the certainty of his type that they must succeed eventually.

But what about other intellectuals who see political reality as imposing constraints on thought and talk? The intellectual process not only permits, but thrives on argument. Some of us may be wrong. All of us are likely to be wrong at one point of time or another. That is why research and writing--in both natural and social science--cannot stop with one study, survey, laboratory experiment or analysis.

The constraints apparent here are both on Hamas and on Israel. Hamas is mired in 1500 years of Islamic rhetoric. That rhetoric justifies a Muslim monopoly of control where Muslims say they should control. Some say that is everywhere. Others are more modest, but few are willing to concede Israel to the Jews.

Israel also has constraints. Its own people have learned from experience to be wary of the neighbors, especially those who proclaim Islamic rhetoric as the guide to action. Moreover, Israel's strength relies at least partly on an international community. "Anti-terror" is a uniting slogan that may survive even the artful efforts of the Obama administration to avoid linking terror with Islam. Were Israel to bend too close to the imagined possibilities of dealing with Hamas, what would it do to the international support held loosely together by the agreement that Hamas along with Hizbollah are archetypes of organizations that practice terror?

Grossman makes the point that Israel's stubbornness has not served it well. After years of refusing to deal with the PLO, Israel now recognizes the legitimacy of Palestinian national aspirations, and accepts the "two state" solution. True, but Israeli thought and talk by themselves did not change things. Other processes also happened, including Israel's use of force to persuade the Palestinians that their own persistence with violence would not work, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Cold War support of Palestinians along with other anti-Western insurgents.

No one should foreclose thought and talk. Force by itself will not produce acceptable and lasting results. But the intellectual who is genuinely open, rather than mired in the mantras of political allies, ought to recognize that even this small corner of the world is complex. Things may change to allow the victory of those who think and talk. But they might not.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:40 AM
July 05, 2010
Jerusalem, Barack Obama, and Irwin Moskowitz

Cities are places where people of different backgrounds and outlooks come together and make do with one another. Jerusalem is no different, but it is also different. Prominent groups in the population are Arabs, about 30 percent, and ultra-Orthodox Jews, about 30 percent of the Jewish population.

For Jerusalemites who are neither Arab nor ultra-Orthodox, the tensions are no greater than they are for "vanilla" residents of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and other interesting cities. Most Arabs live in their neighborhoods and work with other Arabs. Almost all the ultra-Orthodox live in their neighborhoods, and do not work or study with the rest of us. Most Jews who are secular, Orthodox, or something else avoid Arab and ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, pretty much like vanilla residents of large American cities avoid the neighborhoods that might not welcome them or be even more troubling.

Jerusalem is different in its international constituencies. They demonstrate political and religious intensities, and demand control, ownership, or rights in ways that are louder and more troubling than anything the locals usually seek to impose on one another. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, as well as London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and others qualify as "international cities" by virtue of their economic weight, tourism, and the importance of what happens there for people in other countries. However, none of them are in the sights of overseas activists and governments wanting to change who can call the city home, how the municipal government should be staffed, or which group within the city has a right to live in which neighborhood.

The municipality and Israeli national ministries govern Jerusalem by allowing the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews to live their lives in their neighborhoods, not getting excited when individuals of each community decide to live alongside secular Jews, and acting only on those occasions when the behavior of Arabs or the ultra-Orthodox threaten the peace and quiet of others.

Arabs make it easy for Jewish authorities by boycotting local elections. Like Arab voters who support political parties running for the Knesset that offer nothing more than rhetoric suitable to 1948 or 1967, they give up the opportunity to influence the resources that come to them.

The ultra-Orthodox are more annoying than threatening. They may tie up traffic in response to graves found at a construction site, the sale of non-kosher meat, or some other abomination. Aside from the occasional tossing of dirty diapers at police and secular counter-demonstrators, burning trash dumpsters, and halting traffic through their neighborhoods, they cause few discomforts for the rest of us.

That changes when large numbers of ultra-Orthodox families move into a secular neighborhood. Americans familiar with "block busting" can understand the tensions. When a secular neighborhood tips toward the ultra-Orthodox, residents leave before there are demands to forbid driving on the Sabbath, the sale of mainstream newspapers, noise from television, or clothing considered immodest.

Arabs can be more violent than the ultra-Orthodox, and responses of the authorities to their commotions are also more violent than what is directed at the ultra-Orthodox. One should not overlook the possibility of another uprising with suicide attacks against buses and restaurants, but we can hope that the force directed against previous uprisings will postpone the next one. Meanwhile, the tensions are highly localized to areas that most of us avoid. Casualties resulting from intergroup violence may be no greater, and perhaps even fewer than in large cities of the United States. Officials in all such places are chary of producing statistics than allow precise comparisons of intergroup violence.

Currently the Arab-Jewish flash points in the city derive largely from the actions of intense outsiders wanting to reshape the city to their ideas of what is right.

The two greatest troublemakers for Jerusalemites who love peace and generally tolerate one another are Barack Obama and Irwin Moskowitz. It is clear which of the two is more well known. It is not clear which is the greater pain in the ---.

Obama's most prominent negative contribution was demanding a building freeze in largely Jewish areas of Jerusalem. He not only insulted the Sharkanskys and a quarter million others living in neighborhoods established for up to 40 years, but added a demand to what the Palestinians would insist upon as a condition for even beginning negotiations.

Late news is that some Palestinians officials will now agree to let Israel control the Western Wall and part of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Even later news is that other Palestinian officials are denying that such a concession has been offered.

What other indication do we need that a people who have lost two major wars and been hurt badly as the result of other uprisings have not learned the lessons of political reality? President Obama must share some of the credit for reducing the chance of actually reaching a peace agreement from perhaps one percent to substantially less than that.

Irwin Moskowitz is a religious Jew who expresses his Zionism by living in the United States and buying properties in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem for Jews who lack his resources but share his fervor.

No one should object to Jews moving into Arab neighborhoods, just as no one should object to Arabs moving into Jewish neighborhoods. The fact is that one produces violence and the other does not. The Jewish state must defend the rights of Jews to live where they wish, but Jerusalemites (Jewish and others) can protest a lack of wisdom. Letting sleeping dogs lie is the key to governing a city that is potentially tense. Moskowitz knows that he is smoking alongside gunpowder.

Who has set back the prospects of peace in Jerusalem more? The chances of a formal agreement between Israel and Palestine were pretty slim before either Obama or Moskowitz came on the scene. Both have added to the tensions, and have caused problems for Jews as well as Arabs. The selection of one or the other as the greater curse for peace loving residents of this city is likely to reflect what one thinks about extremist Jews or extremist Democrats, rather than any precise measure of the bitterness or bloodshed traceable to one or the other.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:13 AM
July 02, 2010
20,000 marchers for Gilad Shalit

There may be 20,000 persons marching along the roads from northern Israel toward Jerusalem, led by the family of Gilad Shalit. He is the soldier who was seized from the Israeli side of the Gaza border four years ago, and has since been the subject of on-again, off-again negotiations to secure his release.

An uncle of the soldier was on prime time television, claiming that a majority of the country stands with the family. If Israel is a democracy, he said, then the government must pay the price demanded by his captors. Interviewers were not gentle. They asked about Israelis opposed to releasing prisoners with substantial blood on their hands, likely to revert to acts against civilians. Shalit's uncle said time and again that the risks are known, and that the people are right in demanding his nephew's release.

Israel has been in tragedies like this several times. So far this government, like its predecessors, is standing fast against Hamas's price for releasing Shalit. It is willing to release up to 1,000 prisoners, but not the whole list that Hamas is demanding. Moreover, some of the young and dangerous figures it is willing to release must not be allowed in the West Bank. They can go only to Gaza or somewhere overseas where they would be less likely to act against Israelis.

Prime Minister Netanyahu made a special appearance before the cameras. With his hand over his heart he acknowledged the pain and justice of the Shalit family, but rejected the slogan of "paying any price." He recounted previous cases where released prisoners returned to their violence, and noted one deal that subsequently cost the lives of more than 20 Israelis. He also spoke against a heroic action to rescue Shalit. Actions of that kind are costly in terms of soldiers' lives, with the captive likely to be the first one killed in the process.

Netanyahu is known for heroic pronouncements, occasionally followed by waffling and then denying that he said what was heard. The march of thousands on a hot weekend produced his special appearance in prime time. Politicians are lining up on both sides of the issue, while media personalities are offering different scenarios about the prime minister's eventual response.

Among the things the prime minister said was that Hamas continues to increase its demands. That may be true, and hints at a problem for Hamas even more serious than the problem for Netanyahu. Israel is holding something like 12,000 Palestinian security prisoners. Hamas has put forward a list of about 1,000. That means that its best scenario would see the families of 11,000 prisoners disappointed and likely to be as angry at Hamas for not putting their relatives on the list than at Israel for continuing to hold them. We are talking about extended families, with some of them numbering in the thousands of individuals, armed, and more concerned about a family member than the sanctity of the Hamas regime. The recent example of a school burning in Gaza by individuals who objected to the mixing of boys and girls hints at what the relatives of 11,000 prisoners can do. Better for Hamas to blame Israel for not making a deal than reaching an agreement that produces a many faceted civil war. Were that to happen, Hamas could not count on its police and other security forces acting in concert. Individuals and units would split and move to one or another side seeking revenge for not putting Cousin Hamad on the list to be released.

Human life is sacred, but "at any cost" is more suitable to rhetoric than reality. The IDF teaches it soldiers to avoid capture "at any cost." Does that advocate suicide by the person about to be captured, or fighting until someone else's bullet ends it? And does it mean that other soldiers should use every weapon available, including artillery, against enemies who have an Israeli among them? I have asked those questions without getting firm answers. The issues are more complex than "yes" or "no."

Jonathan Pollard is another figure in limbo for Israel. He began a life sentence in 1987, and has figured in several efforts of who knows what level of seriousness by Israeli officials to persuade Americans that "enough is enough." Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir once told advocates for Pollard, "A sovereign state has to know how to abandon those who serve the state, if the need arises." Shamir was a gruff little man who is given the credit for forcing Count Bernadotte to pay the supreme price for serving as the UN emissary in Palestine during 1948.

Life can be difficult, and may end badly.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:32 AM
July 01, 2010
The McChrystal lesson

The dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan is not as seismic as some are contending, but it is significant. The comparison with Truman and MacArthur is not appropriate. MacArthur acted against presidential policy, and helped create the military and political disaster of Chinese entry into the Korean War. McChrystal and his aides only criticized the president and his political advisors. They did it publicly, with the Rolling Stone format adding to the insult. His action was dismissable, but its significance goes beyond the details of how a general must respect his political superior. It indicates more about the folly of American war policy than the personalities who were commanding the most prominent part of it.

We cannot know all the details, at least until biographies appear some years in the future. There seems little doubt, however, that it reflects a lack of clear and agreed policy about a conflict mired in something approaching chaos.

Reports are that June was the heaviest casualty month for NATO forces in a 9 year war, as well as marking another lengthening of what already was the longest war in US history. Newspaper readers should be well aware of the corruption at the highest levels of what stands as the Afghan government, and its dealing with the Taliban behind the back of the Americans. One media personality said that the dismissal would be costly because McChrystal had good relations with Presient Karzai. But that may be an acceptable cost insofar as Karzai does not rule much beyond his official residence, if even that.

Also well known is how American forces must close their eyes to the "war on drugs" while fighting what they call the "war on terror."

President Obama has recently said that his "goal is to break Taliban, and to empower Afghanistan." Against that is a comment from a retired general, beyond the range of a dismissal, that "There is no way to win this war. It will end with an argument rather than a victory."

There is nothing close to obvious wisdom about what American and NATO forces should do in Afghanistan, or its cousin wars in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and perhaps elsewhere. Nine years have seen a lot of allied casualties and enough "collateral damage" to harden the goal of dealing with the terror that the politically correct refuse to describe as Islamic.

My own perspective sees a lesson in the experience of tiny Israel that the vastly more impressive United States could adopt as a way of preserving its own power over the long term. No one should try predicting the decline of this greatest of powers the world has seen, but it would be equally naive to assume that dominance is permanent.

The lesson Israeli leaders have learned, which has evaded American leaders is that the longer an army stays in a hostile place, the harder it is to leave. It happened in Vietnam, and is happening in Iraq despite the fig trees planted around the continued violence. The McChrystal dismissal suggests that whatever fig trees are in store for Afghanistan will have to be of the thickest variety. Transparency is not in the cards

The corollary is that local rulers should be left to do what they want in their country, provided they do no harm to more powerful others. This modest but cogent strategy is what Israel did in Lebanon II and Gaza, and what the United States should have done in response to the 9-11 event labeled "Made in Afghanistan." The appropriate epigram is "Hit hard and leave," without aspiring to remake, or even to play politics in a country so far beyond the ken of outsiders.

Sadly the lesson is too simple for a country that prides itself on highly educated military personnel, who learn social science and languages as well as tactics and strategy, plus all the civilian talent in universities and think tanks. The warnings were clear, but expertise is no guarantee of success. Competing experts typically point in different directions. Moreover, the president is Commander in Chief. One Bush with a mission to democratize Iraq or an Obama certain about increasing force in Afghanistan are enough to outweigh a great deal of talent in the military and around its flanks.

It may be time to pray for the United States. Others will be praying in their own way for Afghanistan. Each will claim the support of the One God. It's a scenario that Leo Tolstoi described in War and Peace, dealing with a conflict that occurred two centuries ago..


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:22 AM