October 29, 2010
American sites in Israel

A cousin is visiting from the Old Country. He is a patriot, proud of America's accomplishments and sensitive to its pains. He asked to visit Israel's monument to 9-11.

Here in Israel? Oh yes. There was something about a dedication ceremony several months ago.

How to find it? Googling found a number of sites describing the monument, and its dedication in 2009. They noted that it was the first in the world to commemorate 9-11, beating even the New York City memorial still under construction.

But where is it? How to get there?

We know how to Google, but this took unusual effort. Eventually we found a description attached to one of the YouTubes showing the monument. The instructions, in Hebrew, required eleven lines of type to guide the way from Tel Aviv, and five lines for the way from Jerusalem. You leave the main road, turn hither and yon from one secondary road to another, looking for signs that guide you to other locations or businesses but not the monument, and finally get to a dirt road that leads to your objective.

The story of Israel's 9-11 Memorial resembles the story of its Kennedy Memorial. That has been in existence since the mid-1960s. Both are as close to the "middle of nowhere" as possible in the area near Jerusalem.

The site is located seven miles from downtown Jerusalem, in the same general direction as Hadassah Medical Center. It is reached by following the winding mountain roads past Ora and Aminadav.

The Kennedy Memorial is an impressive building on a scenic site. It has plaques showing the seals of all the American states, but there is not much to see in the large empty hall, except for an eternal flame that is no longer lit. At the height of its popularity with tour groups, there was a kiosk nearby selling drinks and snacks. Then there were years when the kiosk and the Memorial fell into disrepair. The last time I was in the vicinity the kiosk was no more and the Memorial closed, but it was clean, and broken windows had been replaced.

Why memorials to John Kennedy and 9-11 in Israel?

Kennedy's presidency came before the era of extensive American government aid to Israel, and one is strained to find indications of his strong support for the country. 9-11 was no less dramatic than Kennedy's assassination, but its connection with Israel is problematic.

Web sites concerned with both Israeli memorials identify the inspirations for the projects and the money as American. The theme of Islamic extremism may link the United States with Israel as well as a number of other countries. Perhaps Jewish donors saw the tragedy bringing the two countries closer together, but American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan may have heightened Muslim animosity toward Israel as a client of the United States. If any Muslims take note of the Memorial in Israel, or work through numerous lines of Hebrew to find it, they may feel even more certain that Israel is an American colony, or perhaps that the United States a colony of Israel.

Israel's 9-11 Memorial features the names of the victims inscribed in stone.

The sudden death of close to 3,000 people was a great tragedy for the families and the country. But there is also the matter of Iraqis who have died or been displaced since the American invasion with a tenuous linkage to 9-11. Estimates of their number vary greatly. The counts range from 77,000 deaths (the official American claim before the latest posting by WikiLeaks of documents showed the secret American estimate to be over 100,000) to more than a million according to other sources. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War

Liberty Bell Park is another Israeli site with an American connection. It opened in 1976 to honor the Bicentennial of the United States. The day occurred on the same July 4th that was eclipsed by breaking news of Israel's Entebbe Operation.

The structure that houses the replica of the Liberty Bell is far more modest than either the Kennedy or the 9-11 memorials, but its site is more alive with urban use. The area around the bell includes sculptures, areas for sports, exhibitions, and places to sit in the shade. It is close to the center of Jerusalem, easily reached by a number of bus lines. It is within walking distance of Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, and the crowds are multi-cultural.

The Liberty Bell Park is one of many projects created by the Jerusalem Foundation, established by the late Mayor Teddy Kollek 40 years ago. The Foundation has a sizable professional staff concerned with designing projects and raising funds from people in numerous countries with an interest in Jerusalem. It sponsors programs that make continuing use of the facilities it has constructed. Its programs for the Liberty Bell Park feature puppet festivals and story programs for children.

Israelis' and Americans' feelings toward one another are infinitely more complex than the Kennedy or 9-11 Memorials, or the Liberty Bell Park. One doubts that these monuments figure prominently in the thoughts of people in the two countries. The Liberty Bell Park is a favorite place for Jerusalem families in good weather, but the replica of the Liberty Bell may have little to do with their visits.

The monuments differ little from the heroic statues of famous people erected in other countries that do not have Jewish or Muslim problems with "graven images." Pigeons may enjoy them, even if most people seldom think about their significance.

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 03:08 AM
October 28, 2010
A story about the New York Times, or just a momentary lapse of judgment?

There is nothing wrong with the article in the New York Times under the headline, "March in Israel Ends in Clashes In Arab Town." It correctly describes a march of Israel's extreme religious-nationalist Jewish right, the organizational descendants of Meir Kahane, in the Arab city of Umm El-Fahm. Umm El-Fahm is the most prominent base of Israel's extreme religious-nationalist Muslims, whose leadership routinely is on the edge of criminal incitement for high pitched raving against what it describes as Jewish desecrations of Islamic sites. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/28/world/middleeast/28mideast.html?_r=1&ref=global-home

What is curious about the report is its location. It appeared at the top center of the New York Times' web site, along with a picture of a boy who seemed to be dodging the security forces who came to the place of the march. They predicted accurately the stone throwing, tire burning, and other features of its reception by local Arabs.

The prominence of the article calls attention to what is trivia in the Israeli experience. To some, it may indicate once again that Israel is a crazy place, deserving to be wiped from the face of the earth. To others, it may indicate that the New York Times is in the hands of anti-Semites, and deserves to be wiped from the face of the earth.

In reality, the article is as dismissible as was the march and the reaction to it in Umm El-Fahm.

No doubt the march was provocative. It may have been unwise of the courts and police to provide it with a conditional authorization, and one can understand the locals' response to anti-Arab signs and screams.

We can blame Israeli courts for a lot of things. They are responsible for insisting that freedom of expression should assure a right to protest, even for right wing Jewish extremists in hot beds of Muslim extremism, certain to embarrass the well-spoken and moderate among our international friends. The same courts are also responsible for letting Islamic extremists spew their poison in nonsensical claims about Israeli authorities' intentions to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque and other holy sites. The courts have restricted the liberty of Muslim extremists only when their promotion of violence is unmistakable.

In the larger picture of things, we should ask, so what? Or what should we expect? Jewish and Arab extremists deserve one another. The most recent march produced a few injuries from the stones and the police responses, and a small number of arrests. The situation is like the Ku Klux Klan and Stokely Carmichael, Jean-Marie Le Pen and North African activists of France. Extremists feed off of one another, and might not survive without the provocation and responses of their opponents. Like those of the United States, France, and elsewhere, Israeli extremists are part of the social fabric. Neither Jewish nor Muslim extremists would be welcome in my home, but they hardly seem different from what produces background noise in any democracy, especially a democracy with a bit of social heterogeneity.

Why the Times treatment? Its article was short, and taken from the Associated Press rather than from one of its own journalists who routinely cover Israel.

The purveyors of Jewish junk, who are certain that Barack Obama is an anti-Semitic Muslim, that Jews have all the rights and have endured all the suffering, may write this off as conventional New York Times left-wing, anti-Israel behavior.

I have wrestled for years with my own emotions about individual items in prominent media. I can curse any of the Israeli television channels, certainly Ha'aretz that I read every morning but Shabbat with my breakfast, and even moreso the BBC, CNN, and the New York Times. But I seldom have trouble finding some indication of balance in the items that upset me. Professional editors are alert to the allegations. What is enough balance? There is no simple answer. I admire the freedom of expression. It has allowed me to earn a decent living as a university professor while often disagreeing with friends and colleagues. I have an obligation to recognize the wide boundaries of what is at least minimally balanced.

The article that attracted my attention today is accurate and balanced. Its placement is curious. Or it was curious. Several hours passed between the time I began this note, then walked to the gym and the university, and returned home to finish it. Now the article is not front and center on the New York Times website. It is two levels of clicks down in the website, one level above "nowhere to be found." Maybe someone on the paper's staff has a sense of proportion, and does not wish to exaggerate the importance of trivia.

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 03:20 AM
October 25, 2010
The United States has its Tea Parties, Israel the National Union Party

My concern in political science is to observe, understand, and explain. I do not view myself as a partisan.

At times observation can be painful, as when a student in my seminar died in the explosion at the Hebrew University cafeteria, and the girl friend (now wife) of a young friend was severely injured.

Observation can be provocative, as when I wrestle to understand if isolated events mean something more than themselves, or how actions may produce reactions and lead to something interesting, dangerous, or hopeful.

Every once in a while there is entertainment, sometimes enough to produce a smile, a rolling laugh, or a wonder of the kind, "Can that be serious?"

There have been two causes of wonder from Israelis today, and a Palestinian reaction to one of the Israelis that produced a yawn.

The clearest laugh came in response to a petition filed with the United Nations by Member of Knesset Michael Ben Ari. He is in the National Union Party, representing religious settlers too far to the right to go along with right of center parties in the governing coalition, i.e., Benyamin Netanyahu's Likud, Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Our Home, or the Religious Zionist outgrowth of the formerly prominent National Religious Party, now called Jewish Home-New National Religious Party.

Ben Ari is asking the United Nations to issue international arrest warrants for senior United States officials who he accuses of international war crimes due to the information released by WikiLeaks.

"Recently, the world has been shocked from the publication of reports which detail torture and war crimes in Iraq. I call on the UN to condemn the behavior of the US and especially its attempts to hide the facts. . . .
I am convinced that Judge Goldstone can offer his experience and integrity, in favor of the necessary investigation. . . We need to expose the hypocrisy of the West. The world must understand who the criminals are."

I'll admit to some admiration for Ben Ami. If he is man biting dog he has chosen an appropriate target. If anyone notices what he is doing beyond a small Jewish audience, they may see him trying to even the balance between the world picking on little Israel while the one surviving superpower is guilty of much more and much worse.

The second entertainment begins with an effort by another Knesset Member of the National Union Party, Uri Ariel. His bill has not yet begun its tour through the difficult procedures of the money-conscious Finance Ministry, the Government, and Knesset. In the remote chance that it will get a serious hearing, it would designate Jerusalem as receiving the same benefits meant to spur investment in poor towns in the periphery of Israel.

In keeping with the religious nationalism of National Union MKs, the proposal is meant to promote the expansion of Jewish housing and other facilities in the eastern part of Jerusalem, including neighborhoods heavily populated by hostile Arabs.

The Israeli government has been investing extraordinary resources in Jerusalem since 1967. In light of what the government already provides to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem's heightened sensitivity in the context of on-again off-again negotiations, Ariel's proposal appears superfluous, provocative, and extreme.

It is no surprise that Palestinians are already responding. According to one of their inner circle:

"Israel has undermined the efficacy of and derogated the UN System . . . (Countries must) honor the noble objectives of the UN by holding Israel accountable for its continued occupation of Palestine and to uphold the rights of Palestinian refugees. . . It is time for Palestine to be free."

Innocents here and abroad who expect a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian dispute along the lines of the Obama initiative may view the Israeli actions as macabre for their meanness, and the Palestinian response as appropriate.

To put the Israeli proposals in context, however, the National Union Party is as ideologically pure as the Tea Parties, and its four Members in the Knesset of 120 Members are as far from levers of power.

The Palestinian response is more boring than entertaining. It is the same old stuff, not unexpected, in this case issued in response to a meaningless proposal, and not particularly helpful to anything that could be called a peace process. Shouting for others to help from outside the rooms where negotiations might occur, which they refuse to enter in order not to soil their ideological purity, the Palestinians are as far as ever from having their problems solved.

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 11:53 AM
October 24, 2010
A tale of two issues

Two items are front and center in the Israeli media. One is American and one Israeli. Both are important in their own right, and may spill over to what had been the principal issue of the peace process.

Palestinians should be worrying that Americans are concerned with their dirty laundry, and Israelis with a need to deal with the support of adult yeshiva students, whose current arrangements have been outlawed by the Supreme Court. What to do with thousands of men, married with large families, moving toward middle age, living on a dole and claiming to study Torah, without any conventional training?

The two issues can mean that the most important players in the peace process may stop thinking about their next moves. The Palestinians have never done much for themselves other than ask others for help. They know violence, but that usually retards rather than advances their national aspirations. Will the fixation of Americans and Israelis with other things prompt the Palestinians to realism and compromise, or move them one step closer to the status of Kurds, Basques, Catalans, Luo and many others who no one else really cares about?

American officials are concentrating on the naughtiness of WikiLeaks, the soldier who gave it secrets, and the craziness of WikiLeaks' founder and chief honcho. However, there is no shortage of others who are concerned about the gross lack of concern for human life and decency shown by American troops, their Muslim allies, and employees of American companies assigned much of the security activity in Iraq and elsewhere. None of this may be new, but the flood of documents is putting it in the headlines.

Israeli media are featuring the revelations, with explicit concern about American actions and Israel's. According to one commentator, If the Americans can do what they do, we can do what we do. Just last week the undiplomatic Foreign Minister told his French and Spanish counterparts to deal with their own (Muslim) problems before lecturing Israel how to deal with its. If the same Foreign Minister has not said it already, he is probably thinking of a similar remark about American concern with IDF checkpoints and collateral damage.

Israel's more pressing issue of the week is not likely to worry the world, but is important here.

Some time ago the Supreme Court held that payments made to adult yeshiva students violated principles of equality, and could not continue. The decision dealt with the benefits given to yeshiva students, and the lack of benefits given to university students who pay tuition and do not receive income support while studying.

The court did not order the immediate halt of payments to yeshiva students. That would be neither humane nor feasible. There are thousands of families that rely on government payments for their minimal standards of living, who are not able to change in anything close to the short term.

Thanks to the focus on religious texts that is the entirety of their education, these men cannot respond to a wholesale demand that they "go to work."

One way of looking at this problem is to begin with the Romans, or perhaps later with the European regimes from which the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox came. (There are also Sephardi ultra-Orthodox who assert their importance, but the leadership comes from the smaller number of Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox.)

The present generation and their ancestors far into the past learned to distrust whoever is ruling the state they live in, and to protect themselves with their own devices. Their norms emphasize communal autonomy and self-sufficiency, with reliance on leadership by their well-to-do and their rabbis. Complying with secular law has been lower in their priorities.

Traditionally, the communities provided support to a small number of Torah scholars recognized as gifted. Bright boys received stipends, or food and lodging from wealthy families while they studied with teachers and rabbis who also received some kind of community support, and then arranged marriages with the daughters of community leaders. There are some who trace Jewish success in the modern age to genetic improvements coming from the breeding of bright boys with the daughters of successful men. While the Jews were doing this, Christians were sending their best kids to the genetic black holes of the priesthood and convents.

The world of the European ultra-Orthodox ended with the Holocaust, partly because a number of the rabbis told their followers to rely on God rather than flee. Because of their losses, Israel's secular founders agreed to excuse yeshiva students from compulsory military service. With the development of the country's economy, the high birth rates of the ultra-Orthodox, and the workings of coalition politics, Israel has become the first place where the not-so-bright as well as bright ultra-Orthodox men have a right to continue studying and fathering children at the public's expense. Hundreds of thousands are living on a combination of family payments per child, the income support given to adult students, public support of the yeshivot that charge no tuition, and whatever the mothers earn from teaching, working in commerce or industry. Large families live in small apartments, in neighborhoods where the buildings are cheek by jowl with little or no vegetation.

Their communities are closed to outsiders. Information is scant. WikiLeaks has not discovered them. Fibbing to tax authorities about work they are not supposed to be doing because they are receiving money for Torah study, and inflated claims of students by the yeshivot (for per student payments) render welfare queens rank amateurs in comparison.

Israel's secular media are telling stories about ultra-Orthodox parasites, and comparing them to university students who pay tuition, serve in the military and reserves, pay taxes on whatever they earn, and getting ready for real jobs that will add to the national product.

Ultra-Orthodox media are comparing what they claim are meager outlays on yeshivot to those of universities. They are reporting the threats of ultra-Orthodox politicians to leave the governing coalition if there in no enactment to continue the status quo. They have suggested providing income support to a small number of university students to deal with the Supreme Court's concern for equality. They are repeating the mantra that study of Torah has special status, and assures the Lord's support for the Jewish enterprise. Torah study is more important than all the universities and the IDF together.

It is likely that ultra-Orthodox politicians and other members of the governing coalition would like this issue to fade away. Business as usual is easier than dealing with a long standing anomaly that has been ruled unconstitutional. However, we can count on secular activists to push in the presence of the Supreme Court's decision, and it is not clear how much delay the Court will tolerate.

Americans wondering why Israel cannot act on this quickly might ask themselves how long it took their country to deal finally with Supreme Court decisions on integration or abortion.

We hear about proposals circulating in the Prime Minister's Office for extending the payments to yeshiva students, but coupling them with serious inducements to leave study and go to work. The Prime Minister has built his reputation on a claim of economic good sense. Multiple outlays to a large and growing population that refuses to work does not fit with the image he has polished.

Can his coalition survive without the ultra-Orthodox parties? Will they implement their threat to leave if there is no continuation of the status quo? Is there any place for the ultra-Orthodox parties to go? How much more will they lose if they abandon their political leverage?

There are secular parties in opposition that drool at the prospect of putting it to the ultra-Orthodox, but would they also insist on other issues as conditions for supporting the coalition? If the other issues include something about the Palestinians, the Prime Minister's party and that of his Foreign Minister might object.

It will take a while to sort out all of these possibilities. And as long as Israelis are dealing with this, and Americans with the fall out of WikiLeaks, the Palestinians will be on the back burner. Or maybe no burner.

What's that about every cloud having a silver lining?

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:27 AM
October 22, 2010
WikiLeaks and Shimon Peres

Two questions come to mind on reading about the latest release of secret material by WikiLeaks: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/23/world/middleeast/23intro.html

Will this provide the same push to anti-war activists as the Pentagon Papers in 1971? and

Will anyone notice that the ugliness associated with the Americans and their allies dwarfs the charges levied against Israel?

These questions compete with what I am asking myself about a recent speech by Israel's President Shimon Peres, in which he asserted that Israel cannot exist without the United States, and that Israel must help the United States as well as expect help from the United States. http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=192392

Does the speech justify the suspicions about Peres' use of an office meant to be non-political? and

Is there anything worth pondering in this old activist's latest shuffle to the left?

On the first set of questions, initial commentary is saying what should be apparent to anyone who has followed the serious media about Iraq and Afghanistan. The latest releases by WikiLeaks portray once again that war is hell, and that innocent Anglo-Saxons should have expected nothing different when they sent hundreds of thousands of troops into the swamp of Middle Eastern sectarian conflicts. Simplistic rhetoric about democratizing Iraq or bringing a decent order to Afghanistan should have been known as nonsense, along with any aspirations that western troops could do more good than harm in places that their leaders did not comprehend.

Saddam Hussein is dead, but at the cost of how many deaths? Taliban lost its control of Afghanistan shortly after 2001, but by 2010 it has a strong foothold in much of the country and is stronger than ever in Pakistan.

And if those elements of the big picture are not enough, WikiLeaks is providing ugly details wrought by Americans and their western allies, as well as by Iraqis and Afghans who sometimes were allies and sometimes enemies.

I already know what some American friends will say, because they have said it before: America's faults do not excuse Israel's.

What they are saying between their words is that Israel is an easier target. The United States has so far been too big and powerful to attack in the United Nations and among the NGOs that get much of their money from American contributors. Israel's own investigations into allegations of unjustified attacks on civilians can never satisfy its rabid critics. Their allegations pale before those reported by American documents released by WikiLeaks, both in overall magnitude, and in the details of intentional cruelty and sadism charged against Israelis when compared to what Americans have documented about themselves in Abu Graibs and elsewhere, and what WikiLeaks is showing about American tolerance of the sadism shows by their Muslim partners.

The material also documents direct Iranian involvement against American efforts in Iraq, and leads one to wonder yet again about the wisdom of Barack Obama's effort to engage with Tehran.

Is the United States the country that Israel cannot exist without? And how much should Israel risk in going along with what the American president feels at any moment about the right way to deal with the Middle East?

Peres' latest venture into high policy may get lost in the noise generated by WikiLeaks. Nonetheless, it recalls the "anybody but Peres" sentiment that led to the election of Moshe Katsav in 2000. With Katsav accused of rape and sexual harrassment, Peres already 83 when the election came around again in 2007 and supported by the leading party in the government, he needed two rounds of voting to produce a majority among Knesset members.

Since then supporters and critics have argued as to whether his international standing contributes enough to the country's fortunes to compensate for the domestic controversies stirred by his lofty, but tendentious ventures into controversial issues.

Is Israel more dependent on the United States now than it was on Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in 1948, or Britain and France in the 1950s? Israel has never been alone. Israeli's parents and grandparents earned every bit of the financial reparations and military aid that Germany has provided from the 1950s, but that, too, should not be left out of the calculation.

Israel has always sought allies and partners where it could find them. The list includes overseas Jews, friendly governments who helped even while offering rhetorical support or votes in international forums to their Muslim needs, and far flung clients of its agricultural, technological, and military expertise.

The United States has, without doubt, been the most prominent patron since the 1970s. However, with the United States up to its neck in bad wars and economic problems, and the White House showing occasional flakiness, Israel must cultivate support where it can find it.

Widespread concern about Muslim inroads and aspirations indicate that substantial elements of Europe may move closer to Israel. Concerns about Iran have made the governments dominated by Sunni Muslims less inclined to view Israel as their prime enemy. Personal stories of friends sent to meetings in places that are formerly unfriendly to Israel reinforce media stories that dependence on any one country is far from total.

Even if the United States is at the head of Israel's list, the question that Peres has not answered is, How far must Israel go to adhere to whatever is the latest pressure from the White House or State Department?

He has spoken in general terms about helping the United States defuse the Palestinian issue so that the United States can help with the more important issue of Iran.

A total freeze on construction in the West Bank and Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem?

Israel's government has been down that road, and shown that it can say, "No."

Israel's Jewish leftists leftists who cannot elect more than a half-dozen of themselves to the Knesset have no limits on what they can describe as essential to the country's future. They have been quick to seize on Thomas Friendman's echoing of White House policy to urge a continuation of the settlement freeze. Some are also applauding Jimmy Carter's latest foray into the region, and his assertions that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are Palestinian.

It's been a long time since Jews wrote their stories of slavery in Egypt, the conquests by Babylon, Rome, and all the rest. Currently it is the American empire that heads the list, and English is the international language of choice. German was the language of Theodore Herzl: "In Basel habe ich den Judenstaat gegr√ľndet." (In Basel I founded the Jewish State.)

A small people must be attuned to multi-culturalism and flexibility. While English is the dominant second language in Israeli universities, Russian and Arabic are prominent, and one hears bits of French and Spanish. There are also courses in Chinese.

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 11:24 PM
October 20, 2010
More uncertainties

Is the sky falling? Or only part of that over the Jewish community of the United States?

The signs appear in one New York Times article that takes seriously the prospect of a Palestinian state declared unilaterally, with the support of prominent international bodies and maybe even the acquiescence of the United States; an op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman in which he describes Israel as a spoiled child for not accepting his and the White House's prescription for moving forward with the peace process; and delegations of Reform rabbis and other leading American Jews who are urging the Prime Minister to extend the settlement freeze.

These are important voices, in the United States if not necessarily in Israel. They cause me to consider again my own cynicism toward an expectation that a Palestinian state can develop in the present contexts.

My ego may not be as big as those of Barack Obama, Thomas Friedman, or even the average individual who has earned the title of rabbi, but it is big enough to make me pause before making a simple admission like, "Gee Whiz," they may be right.

For one thing, the New York Time's Israel correspondent relies on individuals who appear to be in the second or even lower tiers of Palestinian leadership. His writes about ideas "discussed in both formal and informal forums across the West Bank," concerning the possibility of a Palestinian state created with the help of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations General Assembly.

The Times' journalist writes that even a non-binding declaration by the General Assembly would look like that General Assembly decision of 1947 that provided the basis for Israel's creation. However, we should remember that Palestinians and others lost a war that they launched after that UN decision, which is an item missing from the newspaper's analysis.

In a setting as loose and fluid as the Palestinians', not clearly strong enough to justify the label of "regime," it is difficult to know who is on top, or who has influence. The New York Times article can do no better than quote a "former peace negotiator" and a "member of the P.L.O.'s ruling circle." The article indicates that the issue is worrying Israel, but does no more than cite a former ambassador to the United Nations. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/world/middleeast/21mideast.html?_r=1&ref=global-home

For some years now, Thomas Friedman has been blaming the settlements for much of what is wrong in the Middle East. Calling Israel a spoiled child for not going along with his and the President's preferences is somewhere between absurd and obscene. The country's 60-year record of self-defense, economic development, and maintaining democracy under stress is not the work of a spoiled child.

Moreover, Friedman in the middle of this op-ed piece writes differently than the Friedman who wrote other portions.

I have no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel. In fact, when you go back and look at what Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu's predecessor, offered Abbas -- a real two-state compromise, including a deal on Jerusalem -- and you think that Abbas spurned that offer, and you think that Netanyahu already gave Abbas a 10-month settlement freeze and Abbas only entered serious talks in the ninth month, you have to wonder how committed he is. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/opinion/20friedman.html

It is sad, a bit worrying, but not all that surprising that a number of Reform rabbis and other Jewish leaders are siding with the White House against Israel on the settlement issue. J-Street stands for something, as do Jews who write for the New York Times. It is necessary to take off one's shoes and count toes as well as fingers to reach the number of Reform Jews in Israel, but the fingers of one hand are probably enough to count the Reform Jews among the settlers.

Against Reform rabbis and other Obama supporters are polls indicating a considerable fall in the incidence of American Jews supporting the President. Analysts conclude that the drop comes from his postures on Israel, as well as the domestic issues that bother many Americans. Lacking any precise way to judge the mood of the American Jewish community, one can only say that there are leadership voices urging a firm line against the Palestinians, as well as those urging accommodation.

Today's news suggests that the American Administration is not enthusiastic about Palestinian ideas to upset its process with a unilateral declaration and approach to international organizations. Seemingly in response to the report in the New York Times noted above, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that there is no substitute for negotiations with Israel. "There is no magic solution to the impasse in the talks, but it's the only way."

She reminded Palestinians that they have a lot of work to do in creating the institutions of a state, and urged more serious efforts at assistance by Arab governments.

Ms Clinton's cautions can keep the Palestinians busy until the end of the Obama presidency, whenever that occurs. Judging how the winds are blowing among American Jews and others concerned with Israel will not be any easier.

Judging the Israeli response to a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, with or without international endorsement, is also problematic.

One possibility is a "Ho Hum," a citing of agreements requiring the agreement of the Israeli government for any changes in the status quo, and no movement on the ground.

Another possibility is a series of tactical responses, including increased security activity along with diplomatic maneuvers to soften the consequences of international support for the Palestinians.

Yet another possibility is much more extreme, of the sort that Israel has shown itself capable of doing when its leaders feel that imprecise "red lines" have been crossed. Palestinian leaders should ponder what happened to Mordecai Vanunu (kidnapped from overseas, jailed for 18 years for revealing nuclear secrets, and kept in virtual house arrest since the end of his sentence), Lebanon in 2006, and Gaza in 2009 before they move toward what might be another one of those red lines.

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 10:52 PM
Yitzhak Rabin, 15 years later

Due to the co-existence of Hebrew and secular calendars, Israelis can celebrate events twice. The vast majority operate according to the secular calendar, but events close to a religious holiday tend to be remembered as such. Varda was born on hay b'Tishri, (five days after Rosh Hashana), so she gets something then as well as on her secular birthday. We remember our marriage on the day after Yom Kippur. When I must indicate the secular date, I must go to the documents.

This is the Hebrew anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination (12th of Cheshvan), and the media is reporting ceremonies and political commentary. The primary school next door had a solemn outdoor assembly. There will be more of this on November 4th, which is the secular anniversary.

It has been 15 years. Family members and other organizers are starting to worry that emotions are running dry. They are considering downsizing the public events in order to avoid a lackluster attendance.

Themes of the day are the general notion that the assassination of a political figure is a threat to democracy, and must be remembered as a lesson in tolerance and other rules of political discourse. Partisans have added their notions of Rabin's heritage, which describe him pretty much as family members, supporters, or those seeking legitimacy for a current posture want to remember him.

It is not surprising that he comes across in the speeches as a more positive character than skeptics remember. The sight of President Shimon Peres honoring Rabin at his grave site and lighting a candle in his memory brought back the image of Rabin savaging Peres, his arch rival in Labor Party politics, at their joint appearance marking victory in the election of 1992.

It is common for left of center Israeli politicians to remember Rabin as a supporter of the Oslo Accords. Indeed, his concessions to the Palestinians were the principal reason for his murder by the right wing, religious nationalist Yigal Amir. Prior to the assassination, there were several public demonstrations that depicted the prime minister as a turncoat.

The argument is not entirely in the past. A remnant is urging the commutation of Amir's sentence, or at least moderating his conditions of imprisonment. He has appeared in court to protest his strict solitary confinement under continuous monitoring. The woman who married him several years after the assassination and bore his child has urged more liberal visiting opportunities.

There is little chance of lessening Amir's life sentence, but there was a more serious effort as this year's anniversary approached to revisit the conviction of Margalit Har-Shefi. She was a young woman at the time, and perhaps Amir's girl friend, who was accused, found guilty, and imprisoned for nine months on account of knowing Amir's intentions and not reporting her information to the police. Several Members of Knesset and rabbis petitioned the Attorney General to re-open her conviction with an eye toward a retroactive acquittal. The Attorney General refused, citing investigations that uncovered convincing evidence of her knowledge about Amir's intentions.

The right-of-center Minister of Education spoke at a school ceremony honoring Rabin. He took the occasion to compare the present prospects for peace to those that prevailed at the time of Oslo. The minister spoke about the public's lack of confidence in the Palestinian leadership.

Some local monuments to Rabin have been defaced. One of them carried a graffiti saying, "Kahane was right." An internet news site queried its audience on the anniversary. 58 percent responded, "Enough of a festival;" 37 percent chose "Not to forget or forgive;" 5 percent chose, "Who's Rabin."

Those who identify as Rabin's admirers focus on his support of the Oslo Accords. They put him firmly in the peace camp that they want to keep alive. What they overlook is Rabin's pragmatism. The former Chief of Staff of the IDF came only reluctantly to support negotiations with the PLO, and ultimately the Oslo Accords. Signs are that he distrusted Yassir Arafat and was drawn only tentatively toward an agreement by Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin. They were ahead of Rabin on what they hoped would be a road to peace. Pictures from the signing ceremony on the White House Lawn show an awkward Yitzhak Rabin managing to shake Arafat's hand, but with something less than an enthusiastic smile.

A lot has happened in 15 years. Hauling Rabin into the current disputes with the Palestinians and Americans is a crude manipulation of his record. But it is no surprise, politicians and activists being who they are.

I remember John F. Kennedy standing before a map and justifying a crucial increase of American military efforts in Vietnam. I thought of that moment on several occasions years later, whenever those claiming to be close to him asserted that he would have withdrawn before the war reached the levels it did under his rivals, i.e., Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Israelis who assert that we need a Yitzhak Rabin to make peace with Mahmoud Abbas may have their American equivalents who assert that John Kennedy would know what to do in Afghanistan.

Guess what? There is at least one. http://lawattstimes.com/component/content/article/1328-no-jfk-moment-for-obama-on-afghanistan.html

We can think what we want about peace with the Palestinians or the best course for Americans in Afghanistan. Whatever we want, neither Yitzhak Rabin nor John F. Kennedy knows any better.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:24 AM
October 18, 2010
Kaddish for a Palestinian state

I've been urging Kaddish for the idea of the Palestinian state ever since the sound of exploding buses replaced enthusiasm for the Oslo Accords.

That puts me against many people who consider themselves right thinking, and perhaps a large majority of those who are leaders of their countries.

On the other hand, few of those people ever say Kaddish at any time, or even know that it is the prayer for the dead.

Why Kaddish for an idea that even the Prime Minister of Israel says he supports?

I also support the idea.

Life would be easiest here if a proper state of Palestine lived at peace alongside of me. I would not mind if its border was 100 meters from my apartment, along the back side of the synagogue on Hahayal Street. I would applaud the transfer of Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including Isaweea, with a nod toward the right of those residents to vote as to whether they want to be part of Palestine.

The President of the United States and other prominent worthies have indicated the outlines of an agreement.

They are like children trying to put together a puzzle that looks simple from a distance, but whose pieces do not fit one another.

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have indicated that they cannot finish the puzzle. Borders, refugees, Jewish settlements, and the Old City of Jerusalem are the knottiest of the problems. Each is complicated by powerful segments of the Palestinian community, backed by not so moderate other Arabs, who cannot abandon their hatreds and total demands; and by a large segment of the Israeli population who perceive Palestinians as extreme and unreliable.

So what is likely to happen?

Most likely, nothing dramatic.

Palestinian leaders threaten a unilateral declaration of statehood, which they will ask the United Nations to endorse and other states to recognize.

It may happen, especially if they turn to the United National General Assembly and not the Security Council. It may happen even if they turn to the Security Council, and President Obama is on the extreme edge of his engagement mode.

A large majority of nations may recognize Palestine.

Israel would again be an outlier, and refuse to move its people and institutions, including the police and army, from areas claimed by Palestinians.

The result would not differ much from what happened when the Palestinian National Council, under the chairmanship of Yassir Arafat, issued a Declaration of Independence from the safety of Algiers in 1988.

For some years, a considerable number of states have granted recognition to a "Palestinian ambassador" or some lesser but dignified title. International organizations have granted observer status or more than that to a person having credentials from Palestinian authorities.

The nastiness toward Israel would escalate. The Olympia Food Co-op and like-thinking bodies will confirm their boycotts.

Arab states called moderate, and even some of the others, have not shown great enthusiasm for a unilateral declaration of statehood. It would rock their boats, and cherished arrangements could get soaked.

Most likely there will continue the anomaly of Palestinians without statehood.

If the vast majority behave themselves, Israel will let them live in peace, with as much prosperity as they can achieve. They already do better than Kurds under the heel of Turkey, and could achieve the status of the Catalans of Barcelona or the Basques of Bilbao. Barcelona is the 18th most visited city in the world, with close to 5 million international tourists a year. It is well worth the trip, but is not without signs of discomfort.

Bilbao and Barcelona are part of Spain, while Israel is not about to accept the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in what leftists fantasize as a "one-state solution."

So the anomaly will be different than than of the Catalans and Basques, but the life of Palestinians is already better than many ethnic groups that consider themselves deprived by others. The Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza--along with the Arabs who are citizens of Israel--are free to call themselves Palestinians, teach their language and national history. Israel does what it can to keep the Arabs living in the country from teaching a history that indicates that they have all the rights and that the Jews have done all the wrongs, and it argues against that kind of teaching in schools outside of Israel.

Discomforts there may be. Jews knew the feeling for two millennia. Palestinians have only thought of themselves as a people for something between 60 or 100 years, depending on how you read history. They have gotten attention and sympathy not shown to Jews for most of their two millennia, or to the vast majority of other stateless ethnics who claim rights of self-determination.

We can count on Israel allowing to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza much, but not all of the autonomy associated with statehood. There are already officials, flags, a recognition of legal documents, police, and the provision of social services. To the extent that they control those who would be violent toward Israel, Israel would reinstate their more complete control of internal security, and.freedom of passage to Israel and through it to the outside.

It will not be ideal, but many things in the world fall below that standard.

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 10:25 PM
October 16, 2010
Anybody but . . . Not a recommended slogan

Anybody but Obama is a tempting, but risky thought as one approaches a decision about voting.

My Israeli and American heads contribute to this note.

At this point, some of my American friends will get themselves ready to say that I do not, or no longer understand their country. Sure, I haven't voted in the United States since 1972, I can't say who are the Senators from South Dakota, and have been more Israeli than American for some decades. However, I do not suffer from the worm's eye view on American politics demonstrated by many of those who criticize my views. I consider what I do know from the perspective of living for extended periods in four countries, visiting more than 60, and knowing a reasonable amount about most of them from reading and listening. I adhere to the view that I teach my students: you cannot understand a country without comparing it to others.

My pondering today concerns whether BO has done more harm to American health care than he has done to the prospects of peace in this part of the Middle East.

The issue comes to the fore on account of one more article from a respected American source about the fall outs to date from his health reform, as well as continuing flaps closer to my home. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/16/health/16patient.html?_r=1&hpw

This article and others like it may help or frighten Americans who think they have access to decent health insurance. I do not have to bother my aging mind with such details of competing plans. I doubt that many of my younger American colleagues in academia will work themselves through the possibilities with a reasoned concerned for costs and benefits as applied to themselves and all family members, as this article suggests. I'm even more certain that colleagues my age will be less able to do it, and that the average American is somewhere at sea, or more correctly at the mercy of whatever insurance company he or she chooses.

When I read an article like that, I pat with thanks my HMO membership card. It has seen me and family members through several traumas without a wallet denting co-pay and no paperwork. Varda's 93 year old mother can same the same, along with other Israelis and the vast majority of individuals who live in western democracies, except for the United States.

As a result of Obama's reform, things may be better for those Americans who become newly insured, assuming the numerous efforts to overturn the reform do not take hold in a court room or Congress. And assuming that there are enough health professionals to provide the additional care in ways substantially better than had been available in hospital emergency rooms.

It's going to take a while to answer these questions. For the time being, opinion polls are suggesting that Anybody but Obama is the operative slogan for more than a few Americans.

His damage to the Middle East is patently clearer than his damage to American health care. Before Obama, the West Bank economy was developing with a wave of overseas investment. Wealthy Palestinians throughout the world have sought to make a home for themselves or family members in Palestine, or to take advantage of opportunities to make money--as well as do good--by investing in the Palestinian economy. Security was improving due to the training provided in Jordan by a program financed by the United States. Israel was taking down check points, and allowing more West Bankers to enter Israel for work. There were few reports of incidents. Palestinians were more concerned to work, shop in the new malls, meet friends in the coffee houses, and enjoy the new cinemas than to express their hatred against Jews.

Enter Obama with a commitment to creating a Palestinian state within a year, and putting on the table the new issue of no construction in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank, including those neighborhoods of Jerusalem which Israel began building 43 years ago.

How to deal with the naysayers in firm control of Gaza, capable of sending rockets toward Israeli cities, and making trouble in the West Bank? What about the problematic legitimacy of the American agent Mahmoud Abbas, whose presidential term ended in January, 2009 and has hung on through scheduled and postponed elections since then?

The American administration had no answers that I encountered.

Disappointment and frustration seemed inevitable, and has arrived with an uptick in stone throwing and more serious violence. Abbas' latest speech, that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, stands alongside his refusal to accept Jews in the Palestinian state he demands.

If the sounds of Kaddish being said for the idea of a Palestinian state have not reached the White House, it is only because those invited are initially screened for their sentiments.

Things are worse than they were before Obama, and may become worse yet.

If the promise, the blunders, failure of peace and frustration produce another intifada, it will be appropriate to call this one the Obama intifada.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon may inflame that country, either to a civil war and/or an increased threat against Israel. American efforts to engage have not moderated his rhetoric about Israel, his shipment of weapons to Lebanon or Gaza, or his incitement of tensions between Shi'ites and other Muslims.

As I think about the slogan of Anybody but Obama, my Israeli experience cautions restraint. Anybody but Peres was the slogan in the Knesset when he was a candidate for the presidency in 2000. The result was Moshe Katsav, since accused of two instances of rape and several more of sexual harassment. The drawn out nature of the judicial process may be explained partly by the ambivalence of prosecutors and judges about imprisoning the man who held the country's highest office, albeit one whose nature is largely symbolic.

Anybody but Obama might produce a country run by Tea Parties and Sarah Palin. Perhaps one should think some more.

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 01:06 AM
October 14, 2010
Palestinian crisis

Now that the Chilean miners are above ground, Israel's media and those elsewhere will turn to other items. The drama recalls Josef Stalin's line that one death is a tragedy, while a million are a statistic. It also makes me think about The Ballad of Ira Hays, one of my favorites in a collection of Johnny Cash. It is the story of a Marine among those who lifted the flag in that photograph from Iwo Jima. Hays survived the subsequent fighting, but not the heroic role given him by military and media managers back home.

The first interesting post-Chile headline in our media is that a Palestinian said they will agree to Israel calling itself what it wants, if Israel will agree that Palestine's borders are those of 1967.

This is one of the possible responses to Prime Minister Netanyahu's offer of a settlement freeze in exchange for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinians rejected that offer within moments of its announcement, but they do not want responsibility for ending the peace process.

This counter offer, if that is what it is, may only be something put in the wind by a second tier Palestinian. The best guess is that it reflects a crisis among the Palestinians who are faced with American pressure to make peace, and cannot bring themselves to shout back to the Americans that it is impossible as long as Hamas controls Gaza and is threatening to control the West Bank.

If Americans would elect people who take the trouble to understand a place before trying to determine its future, we'd all be better off, but that may be too much to ask of Americans.

Other signs of Palestinian crisis are the strategies reported on Israeli media in recent days during one of the pauses in reporting from Chile.

According to the report, which sounds reasonable, but who knows for sure, Mahmoud Abbas will demand that the United States recognize an independent state of Palestine in the borders of 1967.

If that doesn't fly, he would ask the United Nations Security Council to recognize an independent state of Palestine in the borders of 1967.

And if that doesn't fly, Abbas would resign, dissolve Palestinian acceptance of the 1993 Oslo Accords, and leave Israel with full legal responsibility for governing the West Bank and Gaza.

One can only say, "Wow, they really are in trouble." Forced to participate in the process they did not want, the Palestinian leadership appears to be throwing extreme options in the air, in the hope that someone will do something to give them an achievement, or at least a way to save face before their own people.

Expressions of opposition to Palestinian tactics from Arab capitals came almost as fast as that Palestinian rejection of Netanyahu's offer. This region is more complex than perceived by the White House.

The easiest course for Americans and Europeans is to demand help for the Palestinians from Israel. Reports are that Israel has received offers of more military aid in exchange for a settlement freeze. We can expect additional carrots and perhaps a few sticks. Hillary will scream at us.

A breakthrough seems less likely.

The source of the Palestinian crisis is Barack Obama, who pushed prematurely for his place in history. B.O. (Before Obama), the Palestinians were doing well with overseas investment to develop the economy of the West Bank, and improved security forces trained by the United States and Jordan in a program began by the Bush Administration, plus the willingness of Israel to hand over more security responsibilities to Palestinian forces.

Now all those accomplishments are in danger as the obvious barriers to a peace accord are well in sight, and Palestinian violence is inching up.

Palestinian insistence on the borders of 1967 joins some other demands (such as refugee rights and full control of the Temple Mount) as sure losers.

Why 1967, or any other date in the history of a place that has had countless outlines since ancient times? The Palestinian rational is obvious, but who in their right mind expects Israel to move several hundred thousand Jews who have been living to the east, north, and south of those lines for as much as 40 years?

Fortunately, no Israeli who has managed to acquire a position of responsibility is demanding the boundaries of the initial Balfour Declaration (that would give us control of Jordan), or any of the Biblical definitions for the Land of Israel (one of those might have us knocking on the door of Baghdad). Other options are the lines of a Crusader kingdom, or the shifting borders of various Muslim regimes from the end of the Crusades to World War I.

There is enough work here for cadres of archaeologists, historians, literary analysts, and international lawyers.

Without raising demands made archaic by population movements and the creation of other stable regimes, Israelis may win the competition for the most sane, or the least mad, in this process.

The most likely Israeli territorial demand will begin with the path of the security barrier, which departs here and there from the pre-1967 armistice line. There would still be at least 50,000 and maybe 100,000 Jews on the other side of that barrier. After Gaza, the mood is not favorable for a forced relocation.

The best thing that Americans and other self-appointed right-thinking people can do to advance peace is the Holy Land is to leave it alone. To date, they have brought us to the edge of serious violence. Silence would be better.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:41 AM
October 12, 2010
Israel as a Jewish state

The issue of Israel as a Jewish state is currently at the top of the blah blah agenda, with two issues adding to the noise and creating some confusion.

One is the proposal that passed the government (but is some distance from becoming law) requiring new non-Jewish citizens to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The other is the proposal made by the Prime Minister, and immediately rejected by Palestinians, that he would extend the freeze on settlement building in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Numerous Israelis oppose one or both items, and the issues have brought force lots of comments and some yelling by those who view the country with suspicion, worry, or outright hatred. Those who view Israel with suspicion, those who worry about it, and those who express outright hatred are three separate groups of people, although occasionally there is some overlap.

Those who criticize from the realm of the reasonable claim that both issues will bring more harm than benefits to the country. Internally they will upset and maybe inflame non-Jews, the most important of whom are the Arabs. They are 20 percent of the population and some of them are always on the edge of anger or rebellion, with aspiring leaders alert to what can inflame the community. Overseas the good people of Western Europe and North America, wedded to ideas of multiculturalism, view an emphasis on religion as offensive as well as dangerous. Internal and external critics see both issues as likely to end the peace process with the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership was quick to say that both items prove that the Israeli leadership has no interest in peace.

As I wrote in an earlier note, the item about a citizenship oath is largely symbolic, and not likely to survive the parliamentary process at all, or in its present form.

More interesting is the Prime Minister's proposal to trade a settlement freeze for the Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Critics say it was meant as a deal breaker, and they may be right.

It has long been apparent that neither Israelis nor Palestinians really wanted a peace process at this time. It was a fantasy of a naive President Obama and those who cheered him on. It seemed destined to fail on issues of Gaza and Israeli suspicions of Palestinians, and to interrupt the good signs of economic development and increased security in the West Bank. Already the tensions about a failed peace process have made life a bit dicier in Jerusalem and other places between Jewish and Palestinian populations. We feel it alongside Isaweea, and there are daily reports about incidents that may escalate to something much uglier.

Israeli critics to the left of the Prime Minister and others are jumping on Netanyahu for demanding of his negotiating partners what they cannot accept. His critics to the right are jumping on him for offering to freeze settlement construction.

In the midst of the noise from the right and the left and increasing problems on the borders, it appears to me that the Prime Minister's idea isn't all that bad.

To be sure, it offends Palestinians and Israeli Arabs (or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship including those who are Members of the Knesset). It emphasizes the Jewish nature of the state, threatens the feelings of Arabs, and provides a foundation for Israel's refusing Palestinian demands that refugees from 1948 (and their descendants) have a right to return.

However, it positions Israeli negotiators in a place where they are demanding an initial concession from Palestinians to match the concessions that the Palestinians demand for continuing negotiations. Tit for tat is standard operating procedure.

The package offered also accommodates the American administration. Barack Obama has said time and again that Israel is a Jewish state, and ranking officials of the Egyptian government have said that Israel should be able to call itself what it wants.

Skeptics about Palestinian intentions are right to ask, If the Palestinians are not willing to concede Israel's status as a Jewish state (while they insist that Palestine will be the state of the Palestinian people without Jews), maybe the time is not appropriate for further negotiations.

Israeli Jews of virtually all stripes have long said that they recognize the civil rights of non-Jewish citizens. The issue is apparent in the Declaration of Independence and has been reinforced by numerous decisions of the Supreme Court. One can argue if the opportunities available to Israel's minorities are greater or lesser than those available to minorities elsewhere, including the bastions of civil rights in North America and Western Europe. However, it is equally a matter of wide acceptance that Israel cannot accept the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Perhaps a symbolic but small number will be allowed to come back if all else is agreed, but not the millions demanded by Palestinian activists.

We should not expect quiet. Often it is not part of the Jewish condition, and this is again one of those times. Let's hope that the crisis created by the Obama administration will pass without too much bloodshed, or too much damage to what had been the positive signs of development and security in Palestinian communities of the West Bank. If there have been signs of hope for both Palestinians and Israelis, it is those steps, and not the bombast coming out of the White House.

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 11:56 PM
October 11, 2010
Tea Parties and tea pots

While American politics are currently being roiled by Tea Parties, and their capacity to capture Republican Party nominations by individuals who had admitted to an affinity with witchcraft and liked to dress in the uniform of the most reprehensible unit of the Nazi army, Israeli politics are currently being roiled by a tempest in a tea pot, produced by something akin to the American Tea Parties.

The issue is the so called amendment to the citizenship law, a form of which passed the government requiring non-Jews applying for citizenship to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. An article in the New York Times gets the story almost right, but leaves out some critical details that render the whole thing a moment of political blah blah.

One item not emphasized in the NYT article or the simpler versions circulating in foreign media is that the proposal has a long way to travel before it becomes law. As a result of government approval, it may be referred to the Knesset for a first vote, and if it survives that to a Knesset committee likely to bury it, or at least to amend it significantly. If something emerges from a Knesset committee, the proposal must still pass through additional Knesset debates and votes before becoming law.

In its present version, the proposal amounts to virtually nothing. It indicates that non-Jews wanting to become citizens must swear to the oath about Israel as a democratic and Jewish state. The problem is, almost no non-Jews want to become Israeli citizens. The proposal exempts immigrants who come under the Law of Return, which means that non-Jewish spouses, in-laws, children, and grandchildren of Jews can become citizens without taking the oath. Arabs who come to Israel as the spouses of Israeli Arab citizens are likely to be satisfied with permanent residence, without staining themselves by becoming citizens of Israel with or without an oath.

Those who were prominent in pushing for the amendment are Israeli equivalents of the American Tea Parties, i.e., extremists with a following, but outside the inner loop that makes fateful decisions. Avigdor Lieberman leads the Israel Beitenu Party (Israel our home), supported mostly by right of center immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Among his iconic proposals is the transfer of the cities and towns populated by Israeli Arabs to a Palestinian State in exchange for including West Bank settlements to Israel.

Eli Yishai is the parliamentary leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Party, SHAS, which in recent years has moved to the right on issues of territory and negotiations with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Netanyahu supported the proposal, and it carried in a government vote by a substantial majority. However, four leading members of the Prime Minister's Likud Party have indicated their opposition to the measure. Three are government ministers and voted against the proposal. The fourth is not a member of the government but has the equally important position as chair of the Knesset. None of these men (Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan, Benny Begin, and Reuven Rivlin) are well known outside of Israel, but have established reputations in Israel as leading conservatives and long standing Likudniks. Meridor's father was a Knesset member and associate of Menachem Begin, and his brother served as ambassador to the United States. Benny Begin is the son of Likud's mythic founder. The Rivlin family traces its roots to the Middle Ages, and includes on its tree individuals prominent in creating the modern Jewish community in Israel.

The common thread in their opposition is that the proposal is unnecessary and provocative, likely to cause Israel problems with its Arab citizens and international supporters.

It is no surprise that the loudest opposition to the proposal comes from Israel's Arab politicians, and those outside of Israel who seize on every opportunity to describe Israel in the worse possible terms. Self-appointed Jewish critics of Israel, Israeli Arabs, politicians of Arab countries, and European politicians who use terms like Apartheid in describing the proposal are not bothering to compare its language--still several difficult steps away from enactment--with demands of the Palestinian leadership that its hoped for country be free of Jews, and the law of Jordan forbidding the sale of property to a Jew. Unless a wave of liberalism that I have not noticed has swept through that country usually labeled moderate, violation of its law about selling property to a Jew carries a penalty of death.

Guessing is that Netanyahu supported a meaningless proposal as a bone thrown to the right wing of his coalition to keep them on board in what may be a dicey spell with the Americans. At the start of his government he named Lieberman to the prestigious position of Foreign Minister, but has not given him major tasks dealing with sensitive issues. Netanyahu's supporters consider him crafty, and those less favorable use slippery as their adjective.

To date Netanyahu has followed the international line of supporting a Palestinian state, but he has been a determined negotiator in refusing--as far as we know--to give anything to the Palestinians without getting something in return. Insofar as Palestinians seem to know only how to demand without actually bargaining, they are putting themselves in a corner without exit. The Arab League has granted conditional authority to the Americans to keep the peace process going for 30 days to see if Israel will agree to freeze settlements. The settlement freeze is something the Americans themselves in their brazen naiveté put on the table. Arabs can do no less than insist on what the Americans proposed.

Late breaking news is that Prime Minister Netanyahu has offered the Palestinians an extension of the settlement freeze in exchange for their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Skeptics will wonder if this is the Prime Minister's way of continuing negotiations or stopping them. His offer would put the onus of the expected rejection on the Palestinians, except among those who see Netanyahu only as a crafty manipulator.

While some Israelis are shaking in their boots expecting an international ultimatum, others remind themselves that countries with Israel's military resources are not usually the recipients of ultimatums. And if Arab bombast produces what it generally does, we'll be in the same place 30 days from now.

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 08:00 AM
October 09, 2010
Thinking about Jews and Muslims while looking at monuments in Central Europe

Ten days away from the busyness of hourly news reports allowed some reflection about the bigger picture. Insofar as we were in places that used to be Jewish centers, however, it was not possible to get away from stories of great change, and what they mean for continuing danger.

One can remain an optimist despite visits to what had been Jewish neighborhoods of Prague and Budapest. The Jewish condition has never been as good as it is now since the death of King Solomon. But Varda's father had similar thoughts during his youth in Dusseldorf.

The Jews have known their place since those problems long ago with Babylon and Rome. The exodus story makes good accompaniment to singing and eating, but it may be mythic. There is evidence in Babylonian sources of a nuisance at the edge of its empire. Jeremiah and Lamentations consider it more important. Titus' arch in Rome indicates that there was something impressive to carry away, despite Muslim efforts to minimize to virtually nothing a Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai is given much of the credit for recognizing the disaster of resisting Rome (and other great powers down to Washington), leading the Jews away from power and toward withdrawal, study, and a concern to learn from the vagueness of Torah the rules for their community. Actually the process had been underway for at least 200 years before ben Zakai. The Greeks were here before the Romans, and often kept the Jews on a short leash.

Europe is well populated with grand statues of heroic figures.

There are no comparable depictions of Jews in Israel. Our legacy is the Hebrew Bible, what some rebels put into what they called the New Testament, tons of commentary on religious law, along with the work of modern writers, scientists, and other academics. The Torah provides one pillar on the shelf of Jewish history, and Nobel Prizes stand at the other edge of what continues to grow.

The Koran is not without humane concerns, but they are not the prominent features of Islam that trouble us. Force and a sense of having a monopoly of truth and justice are what leads and limits our neighbors in this region, and many of their compatriots who have moved elsewhere. One need not be an Islamophobe to recognize the danger. The threat to us appears in a great deal of rhetoric against Islam, some of it wild enough to be put in the bins of Jewish and Christian junk. No less important is the danger to Muslims from the same traits. In a situation where their force is not about to defeat Christiandom or even this little Jewish country, preoccupation with the rightness and sanctity of their doctrines and their political claims gets in the way of progress in science and politics. Searching for the facts of reality, learning to be modest, and knowing when to concede have long been central to Jewish history, and have come to the fore in Europe during our lifetime.

Today's headline from the Arab League--demanding a total freeze of Jewish construction in areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem, and insisting that the United States and the United Nations recognize a Palestinian state under Arab terms--is one illustration of political bombast that leads nowhere.

Both Prague and Budapest had thriving Jewish communities. The Germans preserved its landmarks in Prague, according to one story in order to display their capacity to change history. The jumble of gravestones one on top of another in an old cemetery not allowed to expand is at the center of several sites that attract a lot of tourists. What is now the Czech Republic had about 90,000 Jews before the war. Now it may have 6,000, some of them recent migrants from the former Soviet Union.

Most of the visitors we saw at Jewish sites did not have Jewish faces.

The Germans got to Budapest only late in the war, and the city was allowed to remain as a center of Jewish education during the Communist period. Hungary's Jewish population declined from 650,000 pre-war to about 150,000 now. In both Czech and Hungarian countries, Jewish emancipation and liberal rulers produced economic and cultural wealth from the mid-19th century to the 1920s. Then there were alternating waves of limitation, repression, and liberalism on both sides of the Holocaust until the fall of the Communist regimes. Jewish sites in both cities have benefited from impressive restoration, and decent explanations of bad times and good. What used to be Jewish is good for tourism.

Both cities have spectacular shopping opportunities that would not be out of place on 5th Avenue, Oxford Street, or the Champs-Elysees. Prague has more tourists and fewer spots in need of a face lift than Budapest.

The monuments of both cities cause me to wonder about their histories. Grandeur or comic opera? The Parliament Building of Hungary looks like a place that could have ruled 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 04:08 AM