August 31, 2010
A bad night

The 7 PM discussion on one of the major networks focused on what several commentators agreed were amateurish preparations for the Washington summit. The principals were still jockeying against one another, rather than acting as if the outline of an agreement had been hammered out in preliminary discussions. Americans seemed unsure about what would happen, and what they should do.

Palestinians have recorded statements meant to assure the Israeli public of their good intentions, but except for an occasional mention about them, those statements have not made it to Israeli media.

The headline on the 8 PM news was that four Israelis, including a pregnant woman and her husband, were killed in a roadside ambush near the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Hamas was quick to applaud the action.

The IDF has closed off Hebron and a nearby Palestinians village, and has begun going from house to house. A surgical extraction of the bad guys would be ideal, but even if that happens there is likely to be friction that works its way up to protests about occupation by ranking Palestinians.

The area around Kiryat Arba and the adjacent Hebron is home to Israeli and Palestinian extremists who feed off one another. Most likely the instigators of this violence came from the area, and planned to kill there in order to trigger an escalation that would serve them and their Israeli counterparts. How else to damage the talks both groups oppose?

Baruch Goldstein lived in Kiryat Arba. He was the American born physician immortalized by like thinking people for killing 29 Muslims while they were praying in the mosque of the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. While the IDF patrols will be told to be wary of provoking Palestinian civilians in this time of political sensitivity, the folks of Kiryat Arba and nearby settlements will not care who they attack, if they can evade efforts of Israeli security forces to keep them away from Palestinians.

Only this morning (Tuesday), the New York Times correspondent in Israel described the progress made by Palestinians in the West Bank, which has brought them to the outlines of a state. One of his paragraphs quoted a Western security official who praised the Palestinians for imposing a level of control superior to anything they had been able to achieve in the past. However, he also commented in a way that makes this evening's attack less than a surprise.

"A Western security official . . . said Israeli interventions and troop numbers could and should be cut further. But he thought that the Palestinian forces, while making progress, were not yet able to take control."

Also today, Paul Wolfowitz wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he compared the war he promoted in Iraq with the earlier war in Korea. He noted that large segments of the American public opposed both wars. He credits the Korean war for the subsequent peace and prosperity of South Korea, and is optimistic that a similar scenario can occur in Iraq.

One can hope so, just as one can hope that the American operation for Israel and Palestine will produce something good. But while I am pretty sure that Wolfowitz will not heed what I say, I would urge him to consider the element of Islam. It was not present in Korea, or among the Russian or Chinese supporters of North Korea, but is built into the fabric of Iraq. It is part of a culture that features bloody hostility between clans and tribes that is only partly a result of the historic enmity between Shiite and Sunni. Iran's supplies arms and inspiration to Hamas and Hizbollah. Iraq is even closer and no less important to the Ayatollahs.

American headlines are featuring a presidential speech scheduled to mark the end of American combat operations in Iraq. Expectations are that he will not boast about unblemished success.

Defense Secretary Gates has warned against "premature victory parades or self-congratulations" with respect to Iraq, and has been less than optimistic about success in Afghanistan.

A similar tone would be appropriate for the speeches at the Israel and Palestine ceremony.

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 12:05 PM
August 30, 2010
An epiphany?

It is not auspicious. More than 80 percent of Palestinians and Israelis have expressed either opposition and/or pessimism with respect to the Obama peace process. (Palestinian Center for Public Opinion , Poll #172;

Benyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas have been dragged, kicking and screaming their preconditions while insisting they they are not preconditions.

Why is Barack Obama persisting, when he is already shaking at home in the presence of polls that show considerable disapproval, with a majority of Americans saying they support the repeal of his health care measure, and widespread expectations of disappointments in mid-term Congressional elections?

Is this the president's Hail Mary pass, hoping for a Middle East breakthrough that will help him achieve a second term, or at least give him some good pages in the history books? Or is it the old calculation of westerners who look at the Middle East from afar and listen to some national leaders say that the Israel-Palestinian problem is the one thing in the way of resolving their problems and allowing the United States to defeat Islamic extremism and keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons?

Or perhaps the president has had a Jimmy Carter like epiphany, and believes that his purpose is to bring peace to the Holy Land?

The Palestinians have mounted a public relations campaign, with leading officials speaking in Hebrew or English to the Israeli public about their desire to live in peace. So far i t does not compare with Anwar Sadat's visit to the Knesset in 1977.

Be the heralds to your sons. Tell them that past wars were the last of wars and the end of sorrows. Tell them that we are in for a new beginning to a new life - the life of love, prosperity, freedom and peace.

The hard to please Israelis will tell you that the peace with Egypt is, at best, a cold peace. Yet while the country was riveted to the media for Sadat's speech, it is hard to find reference to the Palestinian campaign. It might help if one of the men claiming to extend his hand in friendship did not have the reputation of a thug.

There is no end of commentary setting forward the problems needing to be overcome to reach an accord. Enthusiasts claim that the outline of the deal have been well known for years. Within their outline, however, are details that have, also for years, been weighty enough to scuttle efforts at accommodation.

It is not adding to anyone's optimism that a prominent rabbi has cursed the Palestinian leadership, and called upon the Almighty to kill them all. The previous Israeli concession to freeze construction in the settlements expires less than a month after the talks are due to begin. Israeli centrists are calling for new construction in the major settlements, and Israeli rightists are demanding construction wherever Jews want to expand in the West Bank. Palestinians are saying that they will stop the talks if the bulldozers move anywhere.

Skeptics note that Hamas opposes the peace process and any concessions to Israel, and is capable of making trouble. Egyptian forces have uncovered stocks of anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons in the Sinai destined for smuggling to Gaza. Hezbollah chose this week to announce a military alliance with Syria directed against Israel. It does not take much imagination to see traces of Iran in all of this.

Just yesterday I hosted an American friend on our balcony, and pointed to the Arab neighborhood of Isaweea 200 meters away, and the line 50 meters from us where Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton would have drawn an international border in 2000.

The present government has proclaimed time and again that it would not divide Jerusalem, but how many Jews really want to hold onto Isaweea and other Arab neighborhoods? They may go to the Palestinians as part of an end game if most other issues can be settled amicably.

But again, the details are challenging. The players may agree to assign certain areas to a Palestinian state in the way of colonial Poobahs, without asking the natives what they want. Palestinians would be loath to admit that any of their people would not accept Palestinian citizenship, and Israelis would be inclined to rid themselves of as many Arabs as possible. However, it is may be that many--perhaps most--residents of those neighborhoods would prefer to remain on the Israeli side of the line, with access to jobs, health insurance and other social benefits. But no one may ask them.

Then there is the issue of the Temple Mount. Moshe Dayan decided pretty much by himself to leave it in Muslim hands in 1967. Few Jews visit it. Orthodox rabbis forbid their followers from walking on what may be holy ground, whose precise location is not certain. However, Israelis fume at Palestinian claims that the Jews never had more than a marginal presence in Jerusalem, and at Palestinian construction that seems designed to wipe out any traces of Jewish relics on the Mount or under its surface. An inability to decide on allocations with respect to that place are among the problems that frustrated an agreement in 2000.

Whatever happens will take a while. Unless it ends quickly.

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 08:29 AM
August 28, 2010

As I was still wondering who I was early this morning, I heard the 6 o'clock news report that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had used his weekly sermon to curse the Palestinians and wish an early death for their leaders. "Abu Mazan and all the other evil ones should perish. May the Lord strike them with a plague, them and all those Palestinians who do evil upon Israel."

The followers of Rabbi Ovadia view him as a holy man and a genius on the law of Torah. He had a term as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, was the creator of the ultra-Orthodox party SHAS, and remains its spiritual leader. The pious kiss his hands when they are fortunate enough to get close. Political leaders and those who aspire to leadership seek the opportunity to don skull caps and enter the Rabbi's rooms for a conference and hopefully a blessing.

The Rabbi is about to celebrate his 90th birthday, and is inclined to murky and outlandish comments. Usually one of his handlers is quick to correct or explain something likely to embarrass the community. So far we have not heard from a handler on these comments, perhaps because they are close to the sentiments of other party leaders.

Some years ago Rabbi Ovadia staked out a position of accommodation with the Palestinians. In order to save Jewish lives, it would be appropriate to make territorial concessions. He has returned to that theme, but more often has expressed himself on the hawkish side of the spectrum. He condemned the withdrawal of settlements from Gaza. Eli Yishai, the leader of SHAS MKs and Minister of Interior, is one of the most outspoken members of the government expressing skepticism about the upcoming talks with the Palestinians, and supporting a resumption of building in Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank.

Explanations of SHAS's move to the right include the wave of violence that began in 2000, and the recognition of their voters' tendency to distrust Arab intentions. SHAS supporters tend to be working class Israelis from families that came from North Africa, with memories of Arab hostility and being forced from their homes.

If leaders do not follow their supporters, they risk the loss of leadership.

There is also the matter of housing. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have lots of children, who marry young and have lots of children. Land is limited and expensive in the established ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. When Rabbi Ovadia made his initial comments about territorial concessions to save Jewish lives, there were no ultra-Orthodox settlements in the West Bank. Now there is Betar Ilit and Modiin Ilit, each with tens of thousands of residents and more building underway. Ramat Shlomo is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem where plans announced for further construction during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel upset the Obama administration.

There is pessimism in both Israeli and Palestinian communities in advance of the talks scheduled to be celebrated this week in Washington. 88 percent of the 1,751 people who have so far expressed themselves on a question asked by a popular Hebrew language internet site selected, "The conversations are destined to fail and collapse." 12 percent chose, "The conversations will reach a formulation for a peace agreement." The Economist expressed guarded optimism about the talks, but noted that "Hamas is still absent from the table. This means that half of the Palestinian movement would not be party to any deal and will try hard to sabotage one."

The campaign in behalf of the soldier held captive in Gaza also suggests that the Israeli population is more skeptical than optimistic. There were several days of paid commercials urging people to attend a rally in Jerusalem to mark his fifth birthday in captivity, and organizers hired 70 buses to bring people from all parts of the country. One media report noted that hundreds appeared, several mentioned thousands, and one estimated 6,000. The Israeli metric for a serious demonstration begins at 100,000.

Shalit's mother used her speech at the rally to call on Sara Netanyahu, recently featured as asking her husband not to deport 400 children of illegal immigrants, to show similar concern for Gilad. Sara responded with a comment that her heart went out to the Shalit family, and that the prime minister worked hard to secure his release. The prime minister has indicated repeatedly that Israel would not pay the price demanded by Hamas as long as it included the release of terrorists likely to engage in further violence if set free.

A back bench member of Knesset expressed the hope that the prime minister would raise the issue of Shalit as part of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The journalist interviewing her noted that Shalit was held by Palestinians who opposed the peace process. The MK's response was something like, "I guess that is a problem."

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 11:19 PM
August 27, 2010
Slogans, nuances, and decisions

The issue of Islam touches a problem with ancient lineage that appears in modern societies that both pride themselves on diversity, and suffer from conflicts with people who are both outsiders and insiders.

Josephus describes the civil war between Judeans who identified with the culture of the Romans, and those who rejected any deviation from what they defined as the essence of God's law. The Roman perspective, like that of Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks before them, was to manage their multi-cultural empire by allowing considerable freedom to its parts, as long as they did not challenge the peak leadership to govern the empire as they saw fit. Keeping the balance was not easy, and failure was among the explanations for the crumbling of one empire after another. The British, French, and Russians have experienced the problem in our lifetime. The Chinese are trying their skills with Tibetans, Muslims, and religious Christians.

It is the task of Barack Obama to maintain the balance between norms of accepting variation between cultures (including religion), and forceful opposition to those who challenge his imperial regime.

The quarrels about the New York mosque touch only part of this. Al-Jazeera has focused on the question: how does the American military train its soldiers, who include Muslims, to fight at a time when all the wars are against Muslims in one place or another? Al-Jazeera quotes a soldier who says, "Islamophobia Pervades U.S. Military'; 'The Training We Get and the Information That We Are Subject To - Constitute Propaganda Against Islam"

The issue appeared in World War II, although without the emphasis on religion, per se. After a debate as to whether to enlist them at all, the US Army accepted Japanese-American volunteers, kept them in one unit, and sent them to Italy. Curiously, the issue did not arise about Americans with German ancestry. If it had, there would have been a problem in sending Dwight Eisenhower to Europe.

Israel faces the problem in connection with its non-Jews. Early on, the leadership of the Druze community offered its sons to be drafted, and most of them serve without ethnicity becoming an issue. During the fighting with Lebanon, however, some asked whether Israeli Druze should be sent against Lebanese Druze. Another problem involves the Druze of the Golan who identify with Syria. As Private Sharkansky, I once traveled from lecture to lecture in Lebanon alongside a Bedouin who manned the machine gun on the back of my jeep. A Druze lieutenant colonel said that he considered himself army property whenever he wore his uniform.

My father served with the US Army in France during World War I, against Varda's grandfather in the German army. Her Uncle Albert was a sniper who once was aiming at a French soldier. The armies were close, and he heard the Frenchman saying his morning prayers, "Shema Yisrael . . ." Uncle Albert did not fire.

When I conveyed this to a Jewish colonel teaching at West Point, I gathered that he did not like the story. It goes down well in Israel.

Slogans and platitudes do not solve the most difficult problems. Most people think and speak in slogans and platitudes, but neither are likely to offer the sensitivity and nuances required. Absolutes do not help. The United States is fighting Islam, even if its leadership does all it can to resist that idea. It also must maintain working relationships with Muslim countries, and provide a decent environment for the Muslims living in the United States.

I am back to my guiding concept of coping. It does not provide details about how to deal with problems, except to emphasize that there are no simple ways to solve them once and for all times. Balance rather than proclamations, subtlety of management, low flame, compromise, and half a loaf. Final solution is a term that must be avoided at all cost.

None of this is easy. Armies and other large organizations must work on the principle of simplicity. It is essential to giving orders that are clear, and assuring that all the troops operate in concert. In domestic affairs, it is important that low level bureaucrats deal with similar cases in similar fashion.

I am pretty sure that Uncle Albert did not tell his superiors about the French soldier he did not kill.

It is at the crucial points of extreme sensitivity where simplicity must give way to nuance and flexibility. Not on the battlefield or the social service office where agreed upon actions are to be implemented. But where it is appropriate to explain actions to a complex audience in a way to minimize the need to engage in further combat.

There are times when it is necessary to fight. The task of the IDF is to train nice Jewish boys to do ugly things. Arab violence against Jews, and then 9-11 have provided their lessons to Israel, the United States, and others.

There is no shortage of Muslims, from the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, who are arguing that the location of the mosque near Ground Zero is not likely to serve the interests of Muslim in the United States or elsewhere. We will see how their fear of escalating phobia against Islam plays out against the insistence of the promoters and supporters who have invested their egos in slogans about religious freedom and property rights.

The United States military will continue to battle Muslims, and train its soldiers how to kill the enemy while spending some of the training budget on religious tolerance. Israel will continue to employ Druze and other Arabs in the IDF, while seeking to preserve the balance between a democracy that honors civil rights and a country that is primarily Jewish.

Simpletons of the world--It isn't for you.

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 01:56 AM
August 26, 2010
Ground Zero Mosque vs Cordoba House

The Ground Zero Mosque as its opponents call it, or Cordoba House according to its promoters, has become a mirror of politics in the United States and elsewhere, and not always the best of those politics. Bottom feeders in New York see strong opposition as their best road to a nomination. Some who claim a posture of high principle do not go beyond the slogans of religious freedom or property rights to the problem that there are no rights without limits. Relevant here is the counter slogan against those who would call fire in a crowded theater. A song in the style of American country music shows that the issue has gone far beyond New York City. Europeans are chiming in to focus on American naivite, and urging the sane to do something like their own campaigns against large mosques proposed for city centers.

Somewhere is a report that the project has only been able to raise $18,000. Insofar as the total cost is estimated at $100 million, the issue of money has been a prominent topic of speculation. The promoter has not ruled out relying on money from Saudi Arabia or some other Middle Eastern source. That raises the possibility that it may come from some of the pockets that paid for 9-11, making that tragic event into a project of urban renewal that will produce a Muslim icon in lower Manhattan instead of the World Trade Center.

Trust is an element in the controversy.

Important to those supporting the project is the notion of Islam as a religion that deserves protection in the fabrics of American society and politics. Some have signed on to the concept of Abrahamic religions to replace Judeo-Christian as the inclusive adjective for the United States. The word has an attractive ring, but I am not aware of how many Muslims subscribe to something that considers their faith as only one among equals. Also, Abrahamic religions does not include Hindus and others who may be as well represented as Muslims among immigrants who came to the United States since the 1960s.

Opponents do not deny that Islam is a religion, but they assert that it is associated with a political agenda, ancient and modern violence, and aspirations to dominate wherever it can. The principal promoter of the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, has caused problems for those who admire him by refusing to speak clearly about funding, or to condemn Islamic groups widely identified as terrorist, like Hamas and Hizbollah. Rauf has sought to convey an Islam that is not aggressive toward others, but skeptics doubt that his sentiments will assure that the lessons taught over the years in the community center, and the sermons offered in the mosque will overcome other themes that have been more prominent in Islam.

Accommodationists have endorsed the rights of the Muslims to create something like Cordoba House, without putting it on what many view as the sacred location of Ground Zero. President Obama backed off from an endorsement offered at a Ramadan ceremony to express his concerns about the wisdom of that location. The archbishop of New York indicated that he had no strong feelings about the project, but that it was his "major prayer" that a compromise could be reached. He refered to the actions of Pope John Paul II in ordering Catholic nuns to relocate a convent from the location of the Auschwitz death camp in response to protests from Jewish leaders. According to the archbishop, "He's the one who said, 'Let's keep the idea, and maybe move the address' . . . It worked there; might work here."

Intrade is a pari-mutual internet site that accepts bets and adjusts the odds about a large number of public events. On the subject of "Construction of 'Ground Zero mosque' to commence before midnight ET 30 Jun 2011," the odds shifted during August from showing a bit over 60 percent positive probability to only 20 percent positive probability.

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 07:27 AM
August 23, 2010
Barack Obama

More than any other national leader, Barack Obama has a global constituency. The world does not vote in American elections, but his capacity to fulfill his obligations depends on the cooperation of other national leaders, and the opinions of publics that have at least a minimum of influence on them.

Balancing those far flung publics is not easy. The task may have something to do with the 20 percent of Americans who are think that their president is a Muslim, and his forth and back postures with respect to the controversial idea to build a mosque near Ground Zero.

The tensions built into the world context of his presidency also help us to understand his repeated efforts to divorce the concepts of Islam and terror, while he is leading the greatest crusade against Islam since the 13th century.

Politicians lie. Of course. They have to. How else to juggle the multiple obligations they are expected to serve. They say one thing and do something else. The higher the office, the more likely the dissembling. And Obama's is the highest.

His loyal supporters may already be furious at me. He did not begin the war against Iraq. He has proudly announced the withdrawal of combat troops, but commentators are not confident that he is leaving behind anything close to a victory, or a regime that can keep things stable. He has adopted and expanded American military efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Barack Obamas makes Richard the Lionheart look like a boy who got into a schoolyard brawl.

Guantanomo is still holding jihadists, despite the president's campaign pledge to close it down. This may not be his desire, but who can be sure about the desires of a politician who has to serve so many interests, and is beholden to Congress, the courts, advisors who may convince him to abandon some commitments, and--in this case--the governments of other countries not enthusiastic about taking some of those prisoners off his hands?

Obama has had a mixed record on Israel, but mixed records are the nature of political leadership.

After his Cairo speech and demanding a freeze of building for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem, only 4 percent of the Israeli Jewish population felt he was supportive. Since then, however, he has backed off from his sweeping demands against the country's capital city, and his invitation to Israeli-Palestinian talks is close to the Israeli desire of no preconditions.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes what has been seen for some time in Israeli media, that American military aid remains at a high level, with Israeli access to some of the most advanced weaponry, and joint exercises that may surpass what previous administrations have offered. One passage in the WSJ reinforces the image of a crusade against Islamic extremists.

"The intensified partnership is part of the Obama administration's broader policy of boosting military support for American allies in the Mideast amid heightened tensions with Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas . . ."

Judging presidents is a task best left to historians and others with a broad perspective, some years after an incumbent has left office. Archives, memoirs, and contemplation can take the place of partisan passions. Even distance leaves open a number of difficult issues. How much credit should be given to any president for the nature of a national economy that responds to international and non-governmental stimuli, as well as to what the president does on top of what former presidents did? A dispassionate assessment of what came out of Congress and the White House under the heading of health reform might conclude that it is a mess not likely to deal with the self-serving efforts of insurance companies and HMOs, but only a child would think that a president can dictate legislation in such a context, or even maintain control over the details in a bill that grows from 1,000 to more than 2,000 pages.

Obama stirs passions. Soon after his inauguration, there were reports that he was the most threatened president since the Secret Service began its protection after the assassination of William McKinley. More recent news is that the tempo has declined to what has been the norm.

The President's 2008 campaign stimulated great emotion, but a careful study of his nomination indicates that it had something to do with the formulas used by state Democratic parties to divide the delegates between him and HIllary Clinton (Mattan Sharkansky, "The Impact of the Electoral System on Delegate Allocations in the 2008 American Primaries," Representation, 46/2, July 2010). Obama's victory in November was more clear cut, but we can argue if that was on account of Obama, McCain, or Palin.

Currently the tea leaves do not look promising for his party's success in the mid-term Congressional elections, and I have not seen any rosy predictions for his success in 2012. That, too, is part of the job. George Washington might have still been a national hero when he left office, but that is not the image of presidents that I have been observing since FDR.

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 12:59 PM
August 20, 2010
Big news and little news

While the big news of the day is the impending start of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to open with a blessing by Barack Obama, the news that has held Israel in its grip for two weeks is a document purported to influence the selection of the next commander of the IDF.

The document became public when trumpeted on one of the commercial television channels with a taste for yellow journalism. While I have not been able to locate the text of the document, there has been no end of commentary about it. Moralists condemn the appearance of a plot claiming to be the work of a professional public relations firm, laying out plans to influence the public, governmental officials, and key military officers in order to affect the selection of the next commander.

The document may be a parody of the maneuvering that typically surrounds those occasions every four or five years when it is necessary to appoint the next commander of the IDF or the head of the national police. The obvious candidates, and individuals who feel themselves close to them and perhaps hoping for an eventual boost to their own careers, line up potential supporters in order to influence the government ministers with responsibility for nominating their chosen candidate to the entire government for the formal selection. Both the IDF and the national police are led by a collection of Alpha Males with the talent and the elbows to get where they have gotten, and who aspire to go further.

Parody: a work created to mock or make fun by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation.

Commentators have not been able to agree whether the figure prominently mentioned in the document is the person meant to be selected, or if the campaign is really meant to tarnish his reputation and render him unfit for selection.

If the document it is a parody or a serious attempt at strategy, it has stepped on sensitive toes. The IDF is as close to the principal icon of civic religion as can be found in this hotbed of cynicism. The lieutenant colonel who has been identified as the likely source of the document is currently on vacation overseas. If and when he returns home, he can expect to be brought to the police station from the airport for questioning.

Two other hiccups in the national culture have also occupied us.

One is rabbi's publication of a treatise that is said to identify the conditions when it is permissible according to religious law to kill a non-Jew. The police have summoned the rabbi for an investigation under the heading of incitement to racism, while a number of prominent rabbis have supported his refusal to appear. The debates are a bit murky to outsiders. Most of the rabbis who have spoken up distance themselves from the book in question. Some say that they regret its publication. However, they stand along with the author for his right to express his view of religious law, which he reaches according to conventional rabbinical exegesis. They are willing to let him play in his corner of the rabbinical garden, while letting the rest of us know that he is an outlier and should not be taken seriously.

The problem is that Yigal Amir learned a bit of religious law and tradition in the yeshiva of Bar Ilan University, and extrapolated his understanding to a justification for killing Yitzhak Rabin.

Two centuries before Christ, ancient rabbis had already neutralized "eye for an eye," death penalties, and other draconian provisions that can be found in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus preached what they ruled, and the early Christians who wrote the New Testament gave him credit for what they called new doctrines that they used to contrast with, and demonize Judaism.

The Talmud documents the rabbinic modifications and cancellations of what appears in Torah, but there are some who have not accepted the message.. There is enough that is dangerous in the attic of Judaism to be wary of fanaticism. The rabbi who published the book justifying the killing of non-Jews under certain circumstances presents the impression of a scholarly impotent, but the words he has written may stimulate those inclined to madness.

The other hiccup in these dog days of August appears elsewhere on the ideological spectrum, A movement from the right has taken aim at university departments of sociology (at Tel Aviv University) and political science (at Ben Gurion University) for being under the control of anti-Israeli leftists. They have demanded that university administrators fire the ideologues, and threaten to urge donors to avoid contributing to any university that fails to purge the errant. In response, every university president interviewed on the subject has stood fast on academic freedom, emphasizing the professional criteria employed in selecting and promoting individuals through the academic ranks.

One suspects that this will blow over, along with the other issues. People will return from vacations in time for the start of school on September 1, and the country will go back to something approaching the Israeli normal.

No doubt that there are extremists in the universities as well as among the rabbis of Israel. However, a purge of either community led by outsiders is not in the cards. Just as leading rabbis have condemned their colleague while arguing for his right to write as he wishes, so university personnel know how to deal with individuals who go over the edge of good sense. There are islands of madness in Israeli universities, just as there are islands of madness exist in other academic centers. Religious and academic madness are among the prices paid for religious and academic freedom. Both allow the mad the freedom to demonstrate peculiarities to their colleagues and students. Occasionally there is damage, sometimes a tragedy like the assassination of Rabin, but more often there is a recognition of those who are extreme and their isolation by ridicule or silence.

The big news of impending negotiations between Israel and Palestine has produced yawns, shrugs, and doubts from a wide range of commentators. According to a prominent article in the New York Times:

The American invitation on Friday to the Israelis and Palestinians to start direct peace talks in two weeks in Washington was immediately accepted by both governments. But just below the surface there was an almost audible shrug. There is little confidence -- close to none -- on either side that the Obama administration's goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met.

Just to mention a few of the knottiest of issues: Palestinian adherence to the pre-1967 armistice lines and the rights of refugees, along with their extremists who insist that those are illegitimate concessions, against Israelis who are not sure about what to do with 50,000 Jews scattered throughout the West Bank, intense distrust of Palestinians, and insistence that any Palestinian state be de-militarized and that Israel control the Jordan Valley.

It will take a miracle equivalent to the parting of the Red Sea or virgin birth to deal with these issues, even beyond the year that the Obama White House has alloted to the process. One should never say never in this land that has claimed great events in the past, but one can guess that a year and more from now commentators will be arguing as to who should be assigned the greater fault for the failure of the talks, or for making the Middle East even more dangerous than it was earlier. Already one can expect who will assign responsibility to the Palestinians, who to the Israelis, and who to the Americans.

On the other hand, the place that saw the reincarnation of Jesus, Mohammed's ascent to heaven, and the rebirth of Israel may yet have something else to show the world.

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 PM
August 18, 2010

The issue of the New York City mosque near ground zero has awakened discussion of that big gorilla in the American living room. Despite all the platitudes slung back and forth about religious freedom and the separation of church and state, and the assertion that the problem of terror is not Islam, the gorilla will not go away.

Americans who write to me are strongly disinclined to see the reality, but they are already in the forefront of the battle in behalf of western civilization. It may not be mentionable in polite society, but a religious survey will not turn up many Christians or Jews among the enemy fighters killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, or still kept prisoner in Guantanamo.

The Soviet Union spent great amounts of blood and treasure dealing with Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan, just over the border of its own Muslim republics. It encountered not the cooperation of the United States, but the active opposition of American arms and money. The result may have advanced the end of the Cold War and entered the books as an American victory, but what was left behind turned against the United States. The Russians are still hurting in the Caucasus and elsewhere. Like others, they are disinclined to say that the problem is Islam, per se.. Today's New York Times reports the latest chapter in this story.

Dissembling may be necessary when dealing with an issue as explosive as religion. Christians and Jews can become feisty when public figures attack values held dear like homosexuality, abortion, Christmas trees, Easter eggs, Chanukah, or ritual slaughter, but they are nothing like sword waving and suicide belt wearing Muslims.

Scholars can find hateful doctrines in all the monotheistic religions, but those of Judaism and Christianity are historic relics. There are rogue rabbis who write about the conditions when it is proper to overlook the suffering of goyim, and priests who insist that the Jews really were the killers of Christ, but they are far from typical. Aggressive elements of Islam may not be statistically dominant among the faithful, but they are loud, arguably ascendant, and in control of fighters, governments, and armies in enough places to be more than a nuisance.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, prominent among the promoters of Cordoba House, has compiled a thick file of endorsements and doubts. Ambiguous comments about Hamas and American responsibility for violent Islamic anti-Americanism leave some wondering about his moderation, and the kinds of lessons that will be taught in the mosque and classrooms that he wants to build.

Dealing with Islam, or any other aggressive religious group is not simple in a society that prides itself on openness, tolerance, and moderation.

Israel suffers the disadvantage of being in the midst of a Muslim region, and having attracted the enmity of jihadists and their friends. It also has the advantage of long experience, and a willingness to invest heavily in intelligence gathering and defense. Critics speak out in embarrassment and anger about what their government does, but supporters are more numerous than doubters.

Israeli authorities know what is said in the mosques after Friday prayers. They pressure clerics who go over the line of what is acceptable. The police assemble in their thousands when the word is that something might happen. They announce that young men will not be allowed to enter the Old City, and put an observation blimp overhead. One of the most excitable clerics has been questioned about his incitement, arrested, tried, banished from Jerusalem, and imprisoned. An even more excitable cleric, based in Gaza, was sent to his Paradise by the IDF.

It is easier for Americans and Western Europeans to deal with rogue religious movements far from home, while telling their citizens that the issue is not Islam. There may be no better way of dealing with this problem while denying that it exists.

Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the stork also serve noble purposes.

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 03:31 AM
August 16, 2010
Crawling to nowhere

Israel and Palestine may be inching, crawling, or sidestepping toward direct, face to face negotiations.

We have heard this before. It is a long and contorted road even to the beginning of talks. Neither side appears to be enthusiastic. They are being pushed by the pathetically naive, led by the champion of brazen optimism who is trying to outdo his predecessor by choosing peace in the Holy Land over democracy in Iraq as an icon of foreign policy. European leaders can do no less than add their voices to that of a president with the status to define what is politically correct. Those in power hope that a miracle will occur quickly enough for them to claim credit.

What is shaping up is a call to negotiations from a quartet that includes representatives of Europe, Russia, the US and the UN with parameters favorable to the Palestinians. It is said to include the 1967 boundaries as the basis of negotiations, and a continuing freeze on Israeli construction over that line. Israel has already rejected those conditions, but may be willing to accept an invitation from the United States that is less unfriendly.

One can guess about the prospects of discussions that neither side wants, and which begin with each claiming to be operating according to different invitations. For Palestinians, the 1967 lines represent their major hope of rescuing something from an area shrinking and cut up with the settlements of Jews they do not want living among them.

Also important to the Palestinians is a continuation of a freeze in the building of settlements. They are also talking about a freeze in what they call Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, but one can reach a high level of skepticism about any chance of achieving that detail. A continuation of the freeze over 1967 boundaries outside of Jerusalem will be difficult enough, given the intensity of the opposition in the polity that counts for more than the Palestinian and perhaps more even than that in Washington. Recent news is that settlers and their friends have approvals for 5,000 housing units ready to be unfrozen in September, and will not tolerate a continuation of a freeze that has failed to show any tangible results with respect to its contribution to peace.

One can only wonder at the importance of 1967 or any other date in a conflict between peoples that was already apparent to the authors of the Books of Joshua and Judges, whenever it was that they began to tell their stories.

"The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods." (Judges 3:5)

Today there are considerable personal interactions, cooperation in the workplace and the universities, more mutual tolerance in Jewish than Arab neighborhoods, along with few romances or conversions in the directions of Islam or Judaism.

The boundaries of Jerusalem have changed several times since the British arrived in 1917, and many times before then. The walls around the Old City reflect the lines defined by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1530s. They are only one of several walled arrangements meant to protect a city whose shape changed going back at least to the time of David.

Conceptions of "Palestine" are fuzzier. The bombast of activists represent their efforts to find some basis for a national claim in what can fairly be described as a backwater of empires thinly populated by diverse and quarreling families.

No doubt that all national claims--including those of the Jews--rest on contentious narratives more often spiritual than factual in nature. The Bible, Talmud, numerous other writings, and the success of modern Israel represent the Jews' claims to legitimacy. It will take some time to see if the Palestinians can achieve the status of other Arab countries. The records achieved by Gaza and the West Bank indicate that the phrase "Arab democracy" will remain an oxymoron even if the Palestinians do accomplish something.

We should expect maneuvering rather than anticipate anything like a breakthrough. Part of the playbook we can write already. There will be some further hemming and hawing by the principals, with each adhering to its own rules of the game. Palestinians will emphasize those 1967 boundaries and maybe a settlement freeze; Israelis will insist that they are beginning negotiations without preconditions. If things go well, overseas sponsors may invite the principals to a party on the White House lawn, or some other ceremonial venue where they declare a breakthrough and their commitment to helping the parties reach an agreed solution within a short period of time. The principals will put on their frozen smiles and express mutual commitments to settling disputes peacefully, or maybe their stern faces and commitments to what those loyal to each side will see as a reaffirmation of well known principles.

Given Muslim sensitivities, the refreshments will feature fruit juice rather than wine.

Beyond these details, my predictive capacity weakens. After a brief flurry of daily bulletins, it is likely that the weather will provide more interesting news. Americans will concern themselves with who will win and lose by how much thanks to the president's health reform, as well as the World Series and the endless parade of college sports. For Europeans there will be a new season of football.
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 11:39 PM
August 14, 2010
Immigrants, legal and otherwise

Sara Netanyahu is not one of the most well regarded first ladies of the world. She is known for yelling and throwing things at the household help. She has been the target of civil actions for not paying what is required, and--along with her husband--the subject of police inquiries for fiddling with government funds.

Mrs. Netanyahu has most recently come to attention for writing a letter to Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister with direct responsibility for dealing with illegal immigrants.

"I turn to you as the mother of two sons and as a psychologist . . . I ask from the bottom of my heart that you use your authority to allow a vast majority of the remaining 400 children to remain in Israel. This issue is very close to my heart."

Yishai is the Knesset leader of the SHAS party of Sephardi ultra-Orthodox, who often speaks out on matters of maintaining the ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service and other issues important to his community. He led the faction against allowing any of the immigrant children to remain in Israel, emphasizing the threat to the society of individuals who are not Jews according to religious law.

For the large number of Israelis who are not fans of either Sara or SHAS, this might be an event to celebrate.

However, many of those Israelis are lining up in behalf of the immigrant children. Joining them are leading media personalities, and Aliza, the politically correct wife of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

No doubt the kids are here illegally. The government has voted to expel about one-third of some 1,200 children who do not meet criteria of being in Israel for a minimum of years, fluent in Hebrew, and attending Israeli schools. But I am not certain that the government will actually go through with this decision.

It is not only that implementation is not a strong element of Israel's public administration. Those kids are tugging at a lot of heart strings.

The issue of illegal immigration is no less complex here than in other countries of Europe and North America where there is work that the locals do not want to do. Housewives complain about the problems of finding and keeping decent help who have legal status. There are a couple of hundred thousand workers here legally to work in construction, agriculture, and the care of the infirm. There are thousands of others who have overstayed their permits, come over the border with Egypt, or entered informally from the West Bank. As elsewhere, there are ugly stories of individuals having to pay bribes in order to obtain work permits, being housed in substandard facilities, or denied proper wages.

Also in the headlines is a gun battle involving African coming through the Sinai, who rebelled against the Bedouin smugglers who demanded more money as they approached the Israeli border. Several Africans and Bedouins were killed in that fray, and other Africans died in an incident when Egyptian soldiers opened fire when they refused to surrender.

Other news is that illegal Africans are moving out of a Tel Aviv neighborhood and settling in a lower-priced area of Bnei Brak. That is a low-income, largely ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv. What will emerge from that social combine will be interesting to observe. Already the locals are demanding a greater police presence in their community.

There is nothing new in all of this. The Book of Joshua describes the Gibeonites, whose presence among the Israelites was not entirely kosher, but who were allowed to stay and "be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community." (Joshua 9:21). (Gibeon, or El Jib, is a Palestinian village alongside Route 443, a few miles west of Jerusalem. Its residents may have to find a way through the barriers in order to get work in Israel, but I would not bet against them.)

When a million immigrants came from the former Soviet Union during the late 1980s onward, they had a major impact on the economy. There were some among them who fit the Gibeon profile as "woodcutters and water carriers," but for the most part they came as physicians, engineers, scientists, and musicians. They and their children are higher than average in income, education and other social indicators.

More than one hundred thousand Ethiopians are mostly at the bottom of the economy, but there are not enough of them to fill the demand. They do not have the skills of Palestinian or Chinese construction workers, and the rights and social programs of Jewish immigrants may allow them to avoid the least desirable opportunities in the labor market.

Sara's letter may cause her husband to squirm out of the firm posture about illegal immigrants he articulated a week ago, and lead other Israelis to elevate their feelings toward her, at least for a while. The fate of those 400 children is currently at the top of the emotional agenda. That issue will pass in one way or another, but the larger story of which it is a part will not go away.

Unless someone out there can tell us about a large and untapped pool of poor 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 10:32 PM
August 13, 2010
It ain't perfect

Israel is too small and too poor for the demands that it lays upon itself, and are imposed by the world.

My favorite newspaper photo of the day shows a file room at a court house. It came with a story about a plaintiff's case of medical malpractice that failed on account of a lost file. We see in the picture what we know about government offices, hospitals and other public facilities. There is too much to do in order to assure proper treatment.

Just last evening on our walk around French Hill we encountered a problem that might have justified a call to the police, but where the prospect of quick service versus the severity of the problem deterred us from making the call.

We passed by a group of Arabs dressed as if they had come from a family feast to celebrate the end of a daily Ramadan fast. Suddenly a boy of about 14 jumped, yelled, smacked his hand against a parked car, and swaggered off as if he had rendered appropriate damage to a Jew's property.

Call the cops and point out the vandal? Last time we called the police was a more serious event of an Arab assaulting a young woman. At that time our first call to the emergency number broke off in the midst of our report. When we did make contact, it took 10 minutes for the first patrol car to arrive. This in a neighborhood bordering an Arab community with a high incidence of minor and not so minor incidents.

So last night we continued on our walk, frustrated at the system and angry at ourselves for choosing the easy over what might have been the appropriate decision.

Another case: the Supreme Court has ordered the government to reconsider the appointment of a woman to the commission investigating the seizure of the Turkish flotilla.

What to do? The law requires that such bodies include a woman, but the Court made its decision after the commission had already heard what are likely to be the most important witnesses from the government and the military.

The entire investigation is a farce. So what that nine fighters (terrorists, if you will) were killed in a military operation? How many operations of American and NATO forces have caused as many casualties in the area from Iraq eastward without provoking the United Nations and pressuring the soldiers' home country to conduct a public investigation?

Another case: Ha'aretz is exposing that several thousand illegals from Africa have been held in detention longer than the period of time allowed by law before their cases are settled. Many of these individuals have no documents and come from countries without functioning governments. But a judge may look at the law, and order that individuals held too long be let out on the street. The individuals waiting for such a determination look something like those files pictured above: too many to deal with according to requirements.

Who's responsible? Both Israelis and the world. Seekers of justice work to impose whatever regulations they pick up from elsewhere in order to make things better here. The people making the demands are Israelis and Jews feeling that Israel must be at least as good as other countries.

Then there is the world, always on edge in search of a new accusation that can be made against Israel.

Remember those 400 children of illegal immigrants ordered deported. There are daily articles describing citizen and overseas activists--from Eilie Wiesel downward--concerned that Israel might despoil itself by expelling children who should not be here.

None of these are bad ideas, but Israel does not have the population or resources of all those countries serving as models of public policy. And the resources that it does have are allocated more than elsewhere to defense. Staying alive comes at the cost of an ideal public administration or an environment as clean as that of Germany.

Overall, the country does not do badly with what it has. Its health and welfare, the incidence of violent crime, and the safety of its prisons look better than in the United States, but that is an easy standard of comparison. There is no other country where all of the universities are on the Chinese list of the 500 best in the world.

Thinking about making it better, I return to those moments last evening when I considered calling the cops against that teenager from Isaweea. Most likely the police had more serious things to do. One of my neighbors has a dented car, and an Arab is feeling good that he did something to the Jews. I am angry at myself, but would have been even angrier if the call to the police did not go through, if the patrol car came too late, or was met by women screaming about a racist Jew who had summoned the police for no reason about a well behaved boy.

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
August 10, 2010
Shoveling money out the door

There is a troubling item in the New York Times that describes "the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money."

If the budget says spend $X on program Y, there is internal pressure to get it done. It is not so much a government giveaway as shoveling money out the door.

It reminds me of Community Action.

It may not have been the War on Poverty that ended the Johnson Administration, but it did not help. One can argue about which element of that presidency has contributed more to sully its reputation over the subsequent years.

One of the undisputed goods of that period are the social policies that have put the Obamas in the White House, and Black faces in corporate board rooms, university faculty offices, the staffs of distinguished hospitals and law firms, and in the roles representing those functions on popular television shows. Yet there remain the wreckages of Black lives and those of other minorities.

There are pictures circulating of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Detroit in 1945 and today that portray sparkling cityscapes in Japan and a wrecked Detroit

For those who don't get the message, one of the items concludes with "What has caused more long term destruction - the A-bomb, or U. S. Government welfare programs created to buy the votes of those who want someone to take care of them?"

Americans are a long way from knowing what they will gain and lose from the administration's 2,000 page health reform, along with federal administrative rulings, state actions, as well as adjustments by insurance companies, HMOs, private physicians, and what the courts will say about the above.

The NYT has documented some of the unresolved questions of who will get what, at how much cost, and when will we finally know?

No one should accuse the NYT of being anti-social, anti-Democratic, or anti-Obama. However, it has reported about the continuing problems of a war that seems unwinable, as well as the follies in congressional/White House logrolling and public administration.

Americans may be seeing a repeat of the bad war and problematic social policy of the 1960s, this time in the presence of persistent unemployment, a large debt overhang, and all those tea parties.

Things are not looking any better in a region of the world claimed as a priority.

The Brookings Institution is reporting a poll of public opinion in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates, during the period of June 29-July 20, 2010. Among its findings:

"Early in the Obama administration, in April and May 2009, 51% of the respondents in the six countries expressed optimism about American policy in the Middle East. In the 2010 poll, only 16% were hopeful, while a majority - 63% - was discouraged."

The Arab public also has not gotten the administration's message about Iran. "In 2009, only 29% of those polled said that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would be "positive" for the Middle East; in 2010, 57% of those polled indicate that such an outcome would be "positive" for the Middle East." The governments in most of the countries surveyed have expressed strong opposition to Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Go figure.

There has been a stability of feeling from 2008 to the present about the prospects of a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians. Again, the signs do not give the American president what he wants. 50-55 percent feel it will never happen, and 27-40 percent say that it is inevitable, but will take more time.

The Palestinians have refused to begin direct negotiations with Israel, and the Israelis have refused any concessions without direct negotiations.

It is hard to blame either the the Palestinians or the Israelis for those postures. They both are reacting to political realities more than Americans and others still pushing for direct negotiations. Only the naive can expect something more positive than angry frustration to result for such talks in the presence of Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran, and Syria, plus a weak Palestinian Authority and a suspicious Israel.

The Americans may have to prepare themselves for a short presidency. We'll get an some fresh tea leaves to read on November 2nd.

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 09:05 PM
Hope and despair

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish appeared on a prime time Israeli new program, speaking in fluent Hebrew, representing the possibility that there might, after all, be a Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abuelaish (or Abu al-Aish) is the physician who held appointments in both Gazan and Israeli hospitals, and lost three of his eight children during the IDF onslaught at the beginning of 2009.

The topic of his interview was a new book, I Shall Not Hate (Random House), which also represents the theme of numerous public appearances. He told of relocating to the University of Toronto, where he says that he has found peace for himself and his remaining children. His wife died of leukemia during 2008, prior to the Gaza invasion.

Abuelaish represents both the hope and frustration of Palestinians and Israelis. He is by no means the only individual to have separated himself from the insular and hateful culture that is all too prevalent among his people. There are several anti-Islamic Arabs expressing admiration for Israel on clips circulating through the internet, as well as commentators from throughout the Middle East whose work is translated on My own circle of friends, colleagues, and students includes individuals who prefer to remain below the radar of public scrutiny while they work as Arabs in the Jewish sector, in East Jerusalem, or the West Bank.

Abuelaish stands out due to his work as a physician with Israeli and Gazans, personal tragedy, and appealing demeanor. He also appears to be apolitical, and has removed himself from the Middle East.

Reference to Mandela is not meant to legitimize a comparison between Israel and South Africa. That is the stuff of the mad and ignorant, or crafty activists desperate for a slogan. Mandela's relevance is a symbol of moderation and accommodation. There are plenty of those among Israeli Jews, with a capacity to recruit a substantial majority of the population if conditions ever become appropriate, and to deal with those who would say No in Hebrew. There are at least a few among Palestinians, but one of the crucial differences between their setting and South Africa is the Muslim mass, a religion with a component that is hateful of others, plus the infrastructure of politics, wealth, and theology stretching out from Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia across the region from Morocco to Indonesia.

One can argue if the story of Abuelaish is one of optimism or pessimism, or is anything more than an indication of one human face in a region usually reduced to one-liners.

One of Thomas Friedman's latest columns deals with other human faces: a Gazan infant treated in an Israeli hospital, publicized by one of the Israeli television personalities who used to travel throughout Gaza until kept from there by the IDF and his own good sense. The light in this story is the success of the treatment and the full payment received from an Israeli Jew whose son had been killed during military service. The sadness is what the child's mother told the Israeli journalist. She described being criticized in Gaza for having her son treated in Israel, and hoped that he would grow up to be a suicide bomber. "From the smallest infant, even smaller than Mohammed, to the oldest person, we will all sacrifice ourselves."

Friedman goes from the personal stories to his own record as a critic of Israel. Then he warns about

". . . something foul in the air. It is a trend . . . to delegitimize Israel -- to turn it into a pariah state . . . If you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war -- never Hamas, never Hezbollah, never Turkey, never Iran, never Syria, never America. . . . Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. . . Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided -- after Israel unilaterally left Gaza -- to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change? . . . if you still want to be a critic (as I do), be a constructive one. A lot more Israelis and Palestinians will listen to you."

If there is anything positive in all of this, it may take a long time to emerge from what is negative. There is plenty of the latter in the Middle East, and among the Know Nothings of Western Leftists. Insofar as many of the Leftists may have drawn their inspiration from Friedman's own self-righteous harping against his favorite target (Israeli settlements), he may be as much a part of the problem as a remedy.

My own assessment is that it is a time for well-intentioned hyper-actives in the White House and elsewhere to redirect themselves toward another mission for the next few years or decades. I will never say never, but it appears to me that now is not the time to engineer a breakthrough for the sake of the Holy Land.

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 01:28 AM
August 08, 2010
Scapegoats, politics, and comity

Some basic definitions useful for living in civilized societies and on their fringe:

A scapegoat is an individual or group blamed for faults properly due to some other individual or group. Scapegoating is a way to pass on responsibilities for offenses real or imaginary..

A minority is often chosen as a scapegoat, and Jews have been chosen for the role time and again. In the Middle East, that means Israelis.

Most recently Israelis have been blamed by Hizbollah for the murder of Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Harari. These charges have come along with reports that an international commission is about to accuse Hizbollah of the crime.

Israelis are also being blamed for rocket attacks, apparently sent from the Sinai toward Eilat, which caused injuries and at least one death in the Jordanian city of Aqaba. Leaving aside the Egyptian claim that the rockets did not come from the Sinai, the indications are that they did, and were most likely fired by Hamas operatives or individuals allied with Hamas. Hamas is also the source of accusations against Israel. According to its logic, they were directed in a way to harm Jordanians and to give Israelis an excuse for retaliating against Palestinians.

Politics is a way of dealing with conflict without violence. It involves discussion, negotiation, voting for the purpose of deciding which individuals or groups ought to have the most influence, and then deciding on matters of dispute in ways to preserve at least a minimum of the comity necessary to avoid violence.

Comity is a sense of community. It assumes a sufficient sharing of culture, language, and values to provide mutual trust that allows participants in conflict to believe one another, at least enough to give up some preferences for the purpose of keeping matters that are subjects of conflict from straying into violence.

The question at the bottom line of this discourse is, Where scapegoating is common, is there enough comity to support politics rather than violence? For us the practical question: Is peace possible between Israel and Palestinians when the Palestinians are closer in their culture to Hizbollah and Hamas than to Israel?

The matter is not only an issue at the upper levels of national and international politics. It also bothers us folks down in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where cultural clashes tempting violence are never far away.

We usually pass by groups of young Arabs from the nearby neighborhood of Isaweea during our walks through French Hill. Usually the encounters are uneventful, and occasionally pleasant, but sometimes one hears insulting words in Arabic directed against us. Is it worth all the implications of confronting 10year olds in order to teach a lesson?

More serious was the case of a young man who pushed a female jogger to the ground, and might have been intent on something more serious until we yelled and he ran in the direction of Isaweea. That was an occasion for delaying our walk, and staying with the young woman until the police arrived.

Jews are also guilty. An American visitor described meeting with an Arab merchant in the Old City, and going up on the roof of his store to look at the view. "On the roof, there were yeshiva boys. Young orthodox boys with yalmakas and tzitzit and pay-itz around 12-15. As soon as he opened the door without any exchange of words, they started swearing at him and taunting him."

One of my neighborhood friends is a Dutch journalist who writes for a Christian newspaper. We often wave and say hello, and occasionally stop to exchange stories. On one occasion he told me that his church had been vandalized. It is located near an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. While the guilty had not been identified, that is a standard way for some of the ultra-Orthodox to express their sense of righteousness. The church is also not far from an Arab neighborhood, and Muslims have a history of trashing the religious sites of others. A lack of information requires us to leave open the question of guilt.

The wider madness that focuses on us comes from the daily threats of destruction by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Jewish morons who join various Goyim in sending e-mails insisting that Barack Obama is a Muslim, most likely born in Africa or Indonesia, and intent on Israel's destruction. No less disturbing are the students and faculty of universities of high and low status, and simpletons like those of Olympia, who are intent on punishing Israel for defending itself in ways that are less destructive of human life, and no less justified than what has been visited on various countries by the forces of the United States and its allies.

And do not forget the messianic Jews who want to populate Arab neighborhoods in ways sure to cause trouble for us all.

What to do in the midst of all this ignorance, animosity, and lack of comity?

Putting aside the occasional temptations for finishing my life in a more placid place with weather at least as good as Jerusalem's (is there such a locale on the coast of Oregon, or would New Zealand provide a residence permit and access to health insurance?), the sole prospect is to continue coping. Avoid neighborhood walks too late at night or too early in the morning, and urge the hyper-actives in the Obama administration to stop making things worse by promoting a peace process that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are capable of producing.

Both Israel and Palestine would be better off if their officials could spend more time dealing with their domestic issues, and less time being pushed by intense Americans and having to maneuver around one another.

Most likely European politicians would stop if the Americans would stop. And no one else matters.

On objective measures of crime, poverty, family crises and other conventional social indicators, Jerusalem probably does as well or better than cities of comparable size. Israel as a whole performs better than a lot of the countries that produce individuals wanting to punish or destroy it.

So why all the destructive attention?

Now we've come back to the topic of scapegoats.

There is also a nagging insistence by religiously-motivated Christians and Jews that Jerusalem and Israel be better places than elsewhere. Unfortunately, their persistence, combined with their ignorance, may prod the locales to make things worse. It is best to leave us alone. Good is good enough.

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 09:32 PM
August 07, 2010
The limits of reasoned discussion

Two items came to my mailbox this morning. One is another demand from a well-intentioned innocent in Olympia that I butt out of the issue about the Food Coop's boycott of Israel. This friend is a political maven who seems to be operating according to the Introduction to Political Science he learned many years ago. He thinks that concession and compromise are the routes to conflict resolution.

Okay as a general tip, but not always applicable.

He would engage the know-nothings of Olympia in a dialog by conceding Palestinian suffering, which he links with Israel rather than with Palestinian behavior. His acceptance of "Arab land" is to sign on to an incredible narrative as historical truth. In that mode, he might think about Indian land (God knows which tribe), and move somewhere else. If, that is, he can find a place that isn't claimed by someone insisting on their priority.

Another note came from an American student of urban architecture who visited with me as part of a class project about Jerusalem. He sent me the typescript of his interview with me, along with interviews with nine other people he found throughout Jerusalem and asked for their views of the city.

The link between the notes was the portrayal of the Palestinian narrative that appears strongly in the student's interviews with Arabs, similar to that adopted by boycott advocates in Olympia.

We all know the components of the narrative: Israeli conquest, occupation, discrimination and persecution; police and soldiers who use deadly force against individuals who are innocent of any wrongdoing, and most likely were set up by someone wanting to kill an Arab..

The lessons of Introduction to Political Science do not work in a context where there is a religious infrastructure that produces, justifies, and reinforces the narrative. Truth and reasoned argument cannot compete with belief of this depth.

One does not have to insist that all Israelis are angels to demand the right of defense against those motivated by such a narrative. Here the divide between civilized democracy and Islamic extremism is not across the ocean but across the street.

Conceding debating points might work in Olympia when the issue is where to build a new school or locate a site for solid waste disposal. When it comes to the justice of a conflict affected by a century of history and religious doctrine that is hateful of others, concession of things like Israeli oppression and Arab land is pathetically naive.

You don't think that all Muslims are hateful?

Neither do I. The Muslims I encounter on a daily basis do not raise my hackles or my fears.

But turn to for samples of preachings from the mosques of Gaza and Jerusalem, and the madness from religious leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

Their hatred is what moves a substantial incidence of our neighbors. Reasoned argument has its limits. Occasionally it is necessary to use force. That is seldom pretty, and it is likely to upset people who live far away, and express nothing but hatred for hate. For some of those people, reasoned argument has no more chance than with the mad mullahs of the Middle East.

Israel will survive whatever decision comes from the Olympia Food Coop. One can predict that some will scream at one another, and some will pose as politically sophisticated compromisers and negotiators. Whether they win or lose, individuals may gain a feeling of victory, a sense of having contributed to a major event, and betrayal.

I will let them wonder if the good life of Olympia is worth the effort.

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 01:05 AM
August 04, 2010
Should we stop using the "A" word?

Does it do more harm than good to describe Israel's intense antagonists as anti-Semites?

No doubt it assures that any discussion will be heated. However, if it was appropriate to use the term, it was, most likely, already at a fever pitch.

Is it a distortion of reality to accuse opponents of anti-Semitism?

No more than a substantial segment of current opponents distort reality by focusing on Israel as deserving censure, boycotts, or other punishment without considering Israel's activities in comparison to those of other countries set upon by intense enemies.

To repeat what I have written previously: anti-Semitism differs from a reasonable posture against Israeli actions 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.

The A word does not cool things, but neither may it increase the heat above where it already is. It may serve to link current accusations with earlier stereotypes well defined as beyond the pale, and lead some people to stop going after Jews out of fear of being labeled with one of history's most objectionable labels.

My discussion of this issue has angered one person who is--or used to be--a friend. He wrote that I should butt out of the controversy about the proposed boycott of Israeli products by the Olympia Food Coop. According to him, I do not understand Olympia, and I may inflame efforts to deal with the issue by temperate people like him who live in the community. He urges me to, "open your eyes and look in the mirror. Israel is its own worst enemy which comes from blaming everybody else and taking no responsibility for its own actions."

Butt out I will not do. It is my business every bit as much as it is that of the good people of Olympia. Israel is the country where I live. I am among the targets of Olympian madness. It is me and my colleagues whose work has not been considered by professional journals for reasons that appear fabricated, and built upon the same logic as that of the Food Coop. It is me and my family who may be subject to delay or even prohibition when we seek entry into a country aroused against Israel. On several occasions we have decided not to speak in Hebrew in a foreign city, in order to avoid what might happen.

Another correspondent wrote that "accusations of anti-Semitism inflame passions and prompt defensiveness rather than highlighting the error of boycott and divestment" This came from someone who also lives in the area of the Food Coop. The note when on to say that "this campaign is a much more serious threat than Israelis (or certainly the Israeli government) realize, and should be considered and addressed with the attention and resources typically devoted to conventional military threats (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah) and terrorism threats (Hamas and others)."

When I responded that the issue might not warrant Israel's air force staging a bombing raid over Olympia, the follow up was

Not bombing - different types of resources, but a similar level of attention and consideration, talent, money, high-level visibility, etc.... Some of this is already underway; I understand that the Foreign Ministry has an "inquiry commission" (probably by another name) looking at the media and public-diplomacy aspects of the Gaza flotilla fiasco.

This is one way of calling for better Israeli explanations of what it does, and better campaigns to defend itself against outrageous accusations.

That would be nice. Maybe ideal. However, the proposal has been around for a long time. It surfaces whenever there is a perceived loss to those who accuse Israel of abominations.

I doubt that it is doable.

Governments know how to build cities and other physical structures, and armies know how to destroy them. The delivery of health, education, and other services responds to money and administrative detail. Changing attitudes in a democratic setting with freedom of expression is another matter. Intensity resists persuasion. A popular fashion that demonizes some distant people may be even more resistant. This may be especially the case when the campaign is widespread, financed by wealthy countries, and when the target of the hostility is a people who have served time and again as a scapegoat.

We have traveled back to anti-Semitism.

It is not a charge that should be used casually. Remember that I viewed Barack Obama's Cairo speech as balanced, and I have ridiculed those who consider him anti-Semitic, or a Muslim and born somewhere that would disqualify him from being the President of the United States. I also ridiculed his demand that Jews not build in neighborhoods of Jerusalem. I seek to avoid madness while I identify other faults are ill-advised.

The campaign against the Olympia Food Coop will remain with local people, most likely focusing on changing the views of individuals who are not firmly committed to the boycott. I will not try to dictate the vocabulary of those working in my interests. But neither will I desist from concluding that fomenters of the boycott, and others like them fit a pattern best described by the "A" word.

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 06:32 AM
August 03, 2010
Israel's illegals

The New York Times headlines its article about a recent Israeli government decision dealing with the children of illegal immigrants, "Israelis Divided on Deporting Children." Its first paragraph claims that

"Deep divisions emerged here on Monday over the fate of about 400 children of foreign workers who have no legal status in the country and are slated for deportation. The issue has touched on sensitive nerves in Israel, which sees itself as a nation of Jewish refugees and defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state."

The issue does stir emotions. However, the results of one media query seem short of "deep divisions." The country's most popular news web site asked about the government decision that would allow approximately 800 children of foreign workers to stay in Israel, and deport about 400." The criteria employed by the government would take into consideration length of residence, fluency in Hebrew, and enrollment in public school.

Of more than 1500 respondents, 17 percent thought the decision an appropriate compromise, 54 percent chose the option "Disgrace; there is a need to deport them all," and 29 percent chose "Shameful; the government should allow all to stay."

The issue of illegal immigration touches the same buttons here that it does in the United States and Western Europe. Israel is the only well-to-do western country having a land border with Africa, and the route from Egypt over the Sinai with Bedouin guides has resulted in substantial illegal foreign worker communities in Eilat and the poorer neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. Official estimates of close to 150,000 illegal residents include these migrants, as well as individuals who came as part of official agreements with several Asian countries (especially the Philippines, Thailand, China), and overstayed their visas. European prostitutes also come over the Sinai, typically organized by Israeli criminals whose own origins are in the women's homelands of the former Soviet Union.

As elsewhere, businesses and families have trouble attracting menial workers who are legal, and provide jobs despite threats of inspections and fines. Egyptian police and soldiers make occasional sweeps against Bedouin traffickers, but their practice of shooting and killing the migrants does not go down well with Israelis.

Israel's media has cooperated with activists who portray many of the African migrants as refugees seeking asylum from Darfur, although there may be few if any who have documented such origins. The vast majority are economic migrants, with large numbers coming from Eritrea and Nigeria. Efforts to arrange orderly programs of work permits with those governments along with procedures for returning illegals have not succeeded. While Israel's government was pondering the issue of deporting children and their families over the course of several weeks, the media provided coverage for children who spoke, in Hebrew, about their love of Israel, their aspirations to become Israelis and eventually to serve in the army, and their lack of any connections with any other place. Media personalities press individuals speaking for the government, or Knesset Members in favor of deportation, with questions like, "How can you deport such children?"

Israelis do have sensitive nerves, but it is not clear how they differ from other populations. Perhaps 100,000 have expressed concern for Gilad Shalit, the soldier held prisoner in Gaza more than four years, but there are no overt signs of a movement to undercut the government's refusal to free all the prisoners demanded as his price by Hamas.

More likely to be emotional than other events is the death of military personnel. When an IDF helicopter crashed with the loss of six lives during a training mission in Romania, the media devoted extensive coverage of the incident over the course of several days: from the first report of a missing helicopter missing to the funerals of the men on board. There were numerous interviews with experts speculating about the cause of the crash, and reports about the technicians, officers, and military rabbis sent to Romania in order to collect material for inspection and to identify the remains. As has occurred in the case of other military loses, there were stories about each of the individuals, interviews with friends and family members. Thousands of people attend these funerals, many of whom have no direct connection with those killed.

While there are Israelis who feel strongly about pleasant looking Africans and other children of illegal immigrants, there is no indication that they are able to shape public policy. It is hard to argue with the statement, expressed by several in the government's majority, who said that an excess of leniency would only add to the problems of a small country, wanting to remain Jewish, and having a border with the poorest region of the world.

Among those quarreling with this sentiment was a prominent television personality who held forth on the value of ethnic variety, and the greater willingness of these immigrants than the ultra-Orthodox to work and to serve in the army.

The government has taken initial steps to build some kind of barrier through the long wasteland that is the border between the Sinai and Israel, but the Bedouin will be crafty at poking holes in whatever Israel builds. And it is cumbersome at best to deport individuals who have no documents, may not report truthfully about their origins, and are not likely to be accepted by whatever homeland Israel would decide is theirs.

Israel has approached European countries with a request to accept some of these people. So far there are no reports of success.

Anyone think that the United States would cooperate?

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 03:09 AM
August 02, 2010
Not a place, or a time, for optimists

It is not easy to make peace in this region.

Currently those who aspire to a breakthrough depend on Mahmoud Abbas and Benyamin Netanyahu. Neither of them inspires a great deal of confidence, given their histories. Moreover, both are politicians, dependent on pressures and constraints from local and wider constituencies.

As we are hearing the hopeful talk about the prospects for discussion (few are hopeful enough to predict success), others in the region are making it difficult on both the Palestinian and the Israeli to be generous.

Naysayers at the peaks of Syrian and Iranian governments, and well as Hizbollah, have spoken of war in the last couple of days. There has been an uptick of rocket fire from Gaza and the Sinai. The weapons cannot be aimed and are not reliable. A substantial proportion blow up while being assembled or fall on the wrong people. There was a explosion last night in the residence of a leading Hamas figure that injured more than 40 persons. No surprise that Hamas blamed Israel, but a more reliable response from the IDF said that it was not operating in Gaza at the time.

The luck of those firing these missiles can create a catastrophe. One recently landed close enough to an apartment building in Ashkelon to do damage and terrify those nearby. Another hit a building on the campus of one of Israel's better colleges. If school had been in session and a number of people killed, the follow up might have looked like last year's destruction and death throughout Gaza.

Five rockets were pointed in the direction of Eilat. Israeli sources claim that they came from the Sinai. Egyptians say that would be impossible in the presence of their forces. Anyone spending a bit of time in the Sinai must doubt the capacity of any military to know what is happening on every ridge and in the wadis between them.

Two of those rockets landed in the sea, one on an empty field in Eilat, and two missed Israel and reached the Jordanian city of Aqaba. One of those injured several people near a hotel. Initial reports mentioned that international tourists were among those hurt. The Jordanians claim that only workers and drivers were injured.

While few who are familiar with the Middle East or international politics anywhere may expect complete candor, the lack of anything close to that is one of the elements contributing to problems of reliability, and whatever that does to the confidence necessary for agreements.

Among the speculations heard from the intelligence community is that the purpose of the firings toward Eilat/Aqaba was to threaten the Egyptian regime, presumably in control of the Sinai. Analysts say that these weapons bear signs of being Iranian.

In a place where there are multiple lines of animosity and enough troublemakers to provide weapons, the optimist must work hard to define conditions that may promote agreements, and then harder to encourage some actors who may be inclined to accommodations without provoking others to another spurt of violence.

Each rocket reminds Abbas what part of his constituency thinks about peace, and reminds Netanyahu of the same thing. Abbas and his coterie may have signed on to the principle of peace, but support throughout Palestine and other Muslim countries is sufficiently problematic to make any Israel wonder about the merits of an investment.

We heard on prime time television the principal Palestinian negotiator describing what he said was the most generous offer Palestinians had ever made to Israel. Then a commentator noted that it was similar to what some Palestinians, seemingly in the ruling circle, had offered in 2000, then other Palestinians, even closer to power, had rejected.

The most difficult issues include the 50,000 or so Israelis living in the West Bank beyond the major settlements that are candidates for land swaps; control of Palestine's eastern border; Palestinian demand for refugee rights; Jerusalem, especially the Old City and even more especially what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims Haram esh Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. There is a longer list that includes Palestinian demilitarization, water, sewage, solid waste and other environmental controls, compensation for perceived wrongs done over the course of a century or more, and perhaps several others. Only inhabitants of a fairy land can think that any of this is easy, or that the details can be handled by technicians without reference to implications for security, national feelings, personal ego, and the next election.

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 01:27 AM