April 29, 2011
How to you say "Opps" in Arabic?

It looks like they lost the farm.

The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas surprised Mahmoud Abbas as well as Israelis. Fatah's leadership had signed a draft agreement in 2009, and Hamas' signing on this week came out of the blue. Or, on the basis of a post hoc analysis, it followed the realization by Hamas' leadership that they were being weakened by the shaky nature of the Syrian regime, which has provided a home for their hard line Diaspora leadership, and that the new leadership in Cairo might be warmer to Palestine, but not necessarily to Islam. By this reasoning, Hamas might gain something by posturing in behalf of Palestinian unity.

Two days after the news of the agreement, most, but not all of the Israeli elite is supporting the view that with Hamas associated with Fatah, there is no point in talking with any Palestinians. The most prominent indicator is Shimon Peres. He is the marker for Israelis willing to go an extra kilometer for peace, and seeing good prospects in virtually everything said by Palestinians who can be considered moderate.

Peres has called the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation a "fatal mistake" that could prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/peres-palestinian-unity-deal-could-be-barrier-to-statehood-1.358609

As far as one can tell from murky reports, the reconciliation agreement has been signed by representatives of Hamas and Fatah, but not ratified. Whatever "ratification" means in political regimes that carry only the forms but not the essence of modern governments, there are indications that the proclamation of reconciliation will not survive. Already leading Fatah people from the West Bank, and Hamas counterparts from Gaza are saying entirely different things about the relevance of the agreement for matters of key importance.

Fatah people are saying that they will handle peace negotiations, and have not departed from their recognition of Israel's legitimacy and their rejection of violence. Hamas people are reiterating their denial of Israel's legitimacy, and are saying that they will allow Fatah to negotiate only those issues with Israel that are stupid, silly, or trivial.

Shaul Mofaz is a former head of the IDF and later Defense Minister, and currently second in the leadership of the opposition party Kadima, which claims to be more reasonable than Likud in things Palestinian. When he was interviewed about the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, he said that it makes Fatah equally responsible with Hamas for whatever happens in Gaza. When asked if that meant rockets coming out of Gaza might be met with an Israeli attack on the Palestinians' West Bank capital of Ramallah, he did not deny the possibility.

The Palestinian leadership is in a hole that may not be an abyss, but is deep enough to make us wonder about its future.

They may achieve a majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly endorsing a state, with borders of 1967 and a capital in Jerusalem, but the declaration will have no force on the ground, or in whatever is meant by the fuzzy concept of "international law."

The big powers that are relevant to Palestine (i.e., first of all Israel, plus the United States, Germany, Britain and France), are on record as defining Hamas as terrorist, and outside the pale of relevant participants. Some of those may express a willingness to test Hamas' intentions, but recent rocket attacks and the use of an anti-tank missile against an Israeli school bus will keep the organization on Israel's boycott pending a severe test of good faith.

The slogan "Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity" is not relevant to this Palestinian fillip, insofar as there does not seem to have been an opportunity that the Palestinians missed. The Netanyahu government has not been forthcoming with further offers, or even a repeat of what Ehud Olmert offered and Abbas rejected. Abbas has said that there is no reason to negotiate with Netanyahu.

Abbas recent interview with Newsweek indicates that he feels left out in the cold by the Obama administration. Charging the American president, in that prominent forum with having led him to an extreme position and then abandoning him, may not gain Abbas any further credit with the White House. And unless the American president takes a position as politically risky as abandoning the war on terror, Washington will have a great problem continuing to work with a Palestinian leadership that includes Hamas. An official has already indicated that the Administration is reconsidering its economic aid to the Palestinians in light of the reconciliation.

Americans concerned with the future of Israel and Palestine might turn their attention to baseball. I used to root for the Boston Braves, which renders me as irrelevant to that pastime as the Palestinians may have become to the idea of a real state.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:32 AM
April 28, 2011
Chaos, Uncertainty, Anxiety

The commotion, fighting, and death roiling through Arab countries is likely to produce several kinds of consequences. At the most extreme, it cannot be pleasant to be a Libyan or Syrian, wondering who will suffer from immediate attack or subsequent persecution. Who knows what kind of government will follow the upsets in Egypt and Tunis, where the actual violence has subsided, or whether Libya and Syria will also fall into the turmoil of change at the top and subsequent quarrels among factions wanting to take over?

What concerns Israel is not so much the immediate occurrences within the Arab countries, but how they may spill over onto us. Most of us despair of democratic and humanitarian enlightenment in our neighborhood. What's in it for us? is a fair question. "Us" may include Europeans and North Americans, but the "us" we are most concerned about is in the narrowest sense. Self interest being rule #1 in politics and especially international affairs, what else should a small and beleaguered country worry about? Except, perhaps, that problems occurring in Europe and North America from the Middle East will come back on us. With big powers intervening here and there, either politically or militarily, those impacts may not be simple or pleasant.

The more immediate effects are apparent in Israeli media. Two events associated with changes in Egypt have provoked a range of commentary. The range itself is interesting, insofar as it suggests that Israeli politicians and commentators are far from agreed as to what is happening, and what we should do about it.

One event is the signing of a peace accord between Fatah and Hamas, the more secular and intensely Islamic parties currently in charge of the West Bank and Gaza. Egyptians who may only be momentarily in power brought the parties together, in a situation that hints of a new rapport that might replace years of animosity and violence between the Egyptian regime and an intense Islam that has demanded a severing of agreements with Israel and taking on the Palestinian cause as Egypt's own.

Another event is the second explosion in a month that has cut the supply of natural gas from Egypt to Israel, and onward to Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Israelis are concerned that Egypt has not been serious about guarding the pipeline, perhaps on account of Egyptians calling for an end of the sales to Israel and other features of the 1978 Camp David Accord.

While no one can be certain where these events will lead, Israelis are at different points of concern and advocacy. "Chaos" is too strong a word for this placid little corner of the Middle East. "Uncertainty" is appropriate, and maybe even "anxiety."

One of Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments made it to the major heading on page one of Ha'aretz. It rests on international condemnations of Hamas as a terrorist organization, and its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. "The (Palestinian) Authority Must Choose between Us and Hamas." A headline on page two: "Netanyahu Attacks Abbas: He Must Decide--Peace with Israel or Unity with Hamas."

An op-ed piece on page three is headed: "Life Preserver for Netanyahu." It notes that the agreement between Hamas and Fatah will ease Netanyahu's visit to Washington. He will not have to present further concessions in his speech to Congress. And this is just what he needs to unify the public and organize international pressure against terror, Hamas, and by extensions all the Palestinians.

However, another commentary on the same page surmises that the Hamas-Fatah agreement will strengthen the Palestinians' hand in the United Nations. Now they can say that the new country being recognized includes Gaza as well as the West Bank.

Also on page three is a report that Israeli unity is a figment of someone's imagination. Yitzhak Herzog, one of the candidates for the leadership of the Labor Party, says that Israel must support the UN's recognition of a Palestinian state. Herzog conditions his proposal on subsequent negotiations to settle boundaries, Israeli compensation for settlers who will have to move, acceptance of the principle that Palestinian refugees will return only to Palestine, and an international body to govern the sensitive religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. He criticizes Netanyahu for seeing the Hamas-Fatah agreement as an excuse for stonewalling, rather than as an opportunity for moving forward.

The explosion in the Sinai has produced its own variety of Israeli responses. One cluster expresses concern about Egyptian honoring of its international agreements, and the animosity toward Israel heard from Egyptian activists. Egyptians are attacking both Mubarak and Israel by claiming that the gas agreement is the product of Mubarak's corruption. According to this vies, he and others accepted bribes to sell gas at low prices to an Israeli company.

Israelis are lining up on both sides of this dispute. Some say that bribery was likely, given the nature of Egyptian government. Others say that Israel is paying an international price for Egyptian gas, and that there was no monkey business involved in the agreement.

Some are drawing implications from problems with Egypt for negotiations with Palestinians: If Israel cannot count on Egypt to honor an international agreement and a commercial contract, why even bother with the Palestinians?

Other responses about the explosion are more moderate. Insofar as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria also suffer from the interruption in supply, and are less capable than Israel of paying for alternative sources of energy, the reason for the attack may not have been Israel. By this view, the problem is internal to Egypt, comprised of chronic conflict between whatever is the central government and the Bedouin of Sinai. If there was a political motivation behind the explosion, it was to threaten the central government with an interruption of payments from international customers. Prolonged unrest has caused significant damage to the tourism that is the country's principal source of foreign currency. Gas sales rank somewhere in importance along with tolls for using the Suez Canal. The second rupture of the pipeline within a month may produce more chaos in Egypt than in Israel.

Change may be sweeping through the Arab countries of the Middle East. Predictions of a democratic bloom appear to be simpleminded in the extreme. Hardly less convincing are outsiders' claims that surgical interventions will direct the turmoil in directions they favor.

Where are we? and What's next? are producing arguments among those who claim to be our experts.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:59 AM
April 26, 2011
Good intentions that do not merit forgiveness

No one should claim that Barack Obama is a foreign policy sophisticate. His Nobel Peace Prize will keep historians busy speculating for generations. We might forgive his pledges to close Guantanamo and focus the American commitment in Afghanistan as electoral fluff, but Guantanamo is still active as his campaign for a second term gets underway. He sent several times as many troops to Afghanistan as he indicated during the campaign, but the White House and generals seem without a plan to end involvement and declare victory.

Not so much fluff as irresponsibility would appear to be the label for his dumping the West's most important Arab ally in Hosni Mubarak, and joining the Libyan civil war. In both cases, no one should claim the foggiest ideas as what would come next. Preaching civil rights to Bashar al-Assad and doing no more than saying "shame on you" when tanks fire on unarmed civilians raises at least a small question about Obama's priorities. A larger question concerns his timidity against what is arguably the greatest threat to the region and the world in Iran's nuclear activities.

Now there is some substance to the claim that the American president encouraged, and then bailed on the Palestinians. According to Mahmoud Abbas,

"It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze . . . I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump."

The American envoy, George Mitchell, does not get any greater praise from the Palestinian leader

"Every visit by Mitchell, we talked to him and gave him some ideas. At the end we discovered that he didn't convey any of these ideas to the Israelis. What does it mean?"

This is not the first time Americans have been accused of leading a people down a garden path, and then changing the message. Hungarian rebels paid a higher price in 1956 than the Palestinians are paying now. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Dwight Eisenhower spoke repeatedly about the "liberation of captive peoples." When Hungarians moved against the Soviets, and died before their tanks, the Americans expressed their sympathy.

A great power always has an excuse. With so many irons always in so many fires, it cannot give all its weight to any expression that people anxious for help view as a commitment. In international politics, there is no such thing as a firm undertaking. America's self interest weighed against risking war with the Soviet Union in behalf of Hungarians. There was also the simultaneous embarrassment of Suez that entered the calculus, and led Eisenhower to insist on the immediate withdrawal of his ostensible allies.

One can doubt that Barack Obama won election on the strength of his comments about Guantanamo or Afghanistan. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate may have been more important. And if the Republicans nominate someone like Palin next year, Obama can extend his lease on the White House despite his clumsiness overseas.

It is a separate question as to whether American bumbling is important in changing the international scene. Hungarians had their own reasons for turning against the Soviets, aside from what Dulles and Eisenhower said. Obama may have confounded Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with his push for a West Bank and Jerusalem settlement freeze, but those negotiations hardly seemed to be going anyplace without Obama's input. Palestinians had hoisted themselves even higher on the deal breaker of refugee rights long before the American president gave them another non-negotiable demand.

None of which excuses the American fillip, or refurbishes the President's standing in the Middle East.

The Cairo speech of 2009 received wide praise, especially in the United States. Its demands on Israelis and Arabs made both nervous. His criticism of Egypt from a Cairo platform may have contributed to the unrest that some may see as a sign of Arab awakening, but may just as well be the onset of instability that adds to the region's problems. Allies of the American government in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have expressed despair about Obama's push against Mubarak that came two years after his Cairo speech.

Everything we know about American politics indicates that the voters will be thinking about other things in 2012. Obama is claiming more than a fair share of the credit for economic recovery, but George W. Bush has not been inclined to leave retirement and challenge those claims. There are promising elements in health reform, but the courts may not allow those to be delivered any time soon. Otherworldly Republicans seem to be Obama's best bet, but God help us if one of them wins the presidency.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:15 AM
April 22, 2011
It's not the economy, stupid. The larger issue is coping.

I'll say it again. Coping is the name of the game. No solutions appear on the horizon, even when standing on a high place.

Israeli policymakers concerned with "peace," "borders," or however you define that cluster of issues have to cope with Palestinians, Americans, and Western Europeans, as well as with settlers plus Israeli and other Jewish leftists. On other issues it is the ultra-Orthodox who make their life difficult, plus conventional do-gooders who demand more money for everything.

American policymakers have to cope with their power, and traditions that mix humanitarian and democratic values with a concern that Americans, Europeans, and others continue to get oil and gas. They may prefer that American companies get a large share of the business, but supply is more pressing than profits. Without oil and gas, nothing works and nobody profits. And because the United States is at the top of the hill, it is bombarded with expectations and demands to do good and support those claiming to be friends wherever there is a national interest. Read national interest as oil and gas, or helping people with some other leverage in American politics.

Americans and Europeans have to cope with law and values, porous borders, low birth rates among those who consider themselves the natives, and the gradual ascendance of the downtrodden into the establishment. Folks in, and close to the White House and European cabinets would not have been voting a generation ago. It was easier to govern then, but those days are gone.

Coping is the keystone of politics. Policymaker's dealing with irreconcilable demands is the patient's equivalent of managing chronic pain, debilitating disease, old age, a demented spouse, or rebellious children.

Coping is nothing new for the Jews. After the Passover story with the Egyptians came the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, the Christians and Muslims of Europe and the Middle East, and most recently the British and Americans. Israel's ancient and modern location is a bridge between continents, at a strategic place for larger and more powerful populations.

Call it juggling, craftiness, satisficing, making do with less than ideal, compromising with evil, or managing dissonance. They are all synonyms for survival. Jews are good at the activities. We are still around, and doing better than average on conventional indicators. Compare American Jews with their grandparents, European Jews with those of 1945, and Israel in 2011 with 1947. The Children of Israel are better off than at any time since the death of King Solomon. Grandpa Erich thought the same in Dusseldorf, and that is a cause for concern. Success adds to animosity, but that is no reason for capitulation.

Palestinians suffer from their simple history that only began with the Jews' ascendance here from the 1920s. Muslims generally suffer from being dominant in the region, a faith that is too absolute for flexibility, and not learning to cope with powerful others. Compare their countries now with what they were prior to the discovery of oil. Some populations are worse or no better. Others are awash in lavish consumption, reliance on imported labor, and trying to bootstrap with professors and other professionals unable to obtain good jobs in their homelands. (Jews need not apply.)

Will the United Nations sign on to a Palestinian declaration of independence in September?

Will the United States join the crowd?

Will Bibi defuse what is looming, or be received as too crafty and unreliable?

Will the Americans and Europeans have enough stamina left over from their adventures in Afghanistan and Libya, plus worrying about Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere to take on the Israelis?

What is the weight of Conservative Republicans? Beyond the silliness of birthing and claims of Obama being a Muslim, there may be enough animosity in American politics to affect Obama's reach overseas.

Is Israel too small and weak to be anything more than a gnat on the landscape? Or will the IDF, international connections, Israeli resolve, and all those dead grandparents lead it to reject the idea of 1967 borders and make it costly for those who insist?

Those with simple answers have not learned the lessons of coping.

And may the religious among you have a pleasant weekend. Advice is to stay away from the Holy City. The confluence of Western and Eastern calendars is causing great crowds on the Via Delorosa and in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, not far from Jews observing the Sabbath and Passover. Israeli police are coping with the people, lighted candles, and all the combustible flesh and ornamentation.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:17 PM
April 20, 2011
Betting the farm

The Palestinians are betting the farm. Or--Muslim friends, forgive me-- throwing a Hail Mary pass. They are doing everything they can to achieve world recognition of their state, with 1967 borders, a capitol in Jerusalem, and maybe something about refugees, without bothering to negotiate with Israel about what Palestinians might have to give up in order to achieve their wishes.

Their people are claiming that 130 countries already recognize a Palestinian state with 1967 borders. Now they are making a push to get the important countries on their side. American officials have said that theirs is not a good idea. Britain, France, and Germany are not yet on board. http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?ID=217224&R=R1

And what if almost everyone is on their side except Israel?

The Palestinians might have lost their farm.

There will be no working state; no access of foreigners without going through Israeli checkpoints; no currency of their own that any serious bank will accept; dependent on Israel for much of their electricity, water, and imports from other countries, as well as the capacity of Palestinian citizens and leaders to go overseas or travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem and Hebron. They will have to rely on the Palestinians of Gaza to gain entry to that part of Palestine, and those cousins have not been friendly to West Bankers.

Will the Netanyahu government express its apologies for being late, and agree to everything the world has accepted, without any of the concessions that Palestinians have not been willing to provide since negotiations began their on and off rituals in the 1990s?

Don't bet your farm on that.

Something is happening in the Middle East, but it does not necessarily bode well for the Palestinians. Libya and Syria are in the latest headlines, in a way that suggests anything but governments strong enough to act decisively in behalf of someone else's population. Other Muslim countries are either doing what they can to forestall demonstrations at home, or trying to convince their people that reform is underway.

Palestine itself is short of being a Paradise, either in the West Bank or Gaza. While the leaderships of those segments routinely blame Israel for all their shortcomings, at least some of the people are suspicious. If they follow the examples of just about every other Arab population by rebelling against their leaders, there may not be a representative of the Palestine National Authority capable of catching the Hail Mary that is in the air.

In light of great power actions in behalf of Libyan rebels and waffling with respect to actions of the Syrian authorities, one does not know what are the current rules of international governance. Israelis can hope that its most important allies still adhere to the principle that one side in a dispute cannot get everything it wants without giving something to the other side. It might be difficult for Israel if France, Britain, and Germany cave in, and the Obama administration goes along with the mob. If most members of that quartet do not go along with the Palestinians, or if it is only the United States that does not go along, the Palestinians will have lost more than they gained.

They will have shown that their farm is not worth what they estimated, and that the Hail Mary pass fell to the ground or was caught by Israel. What is left for them to threaten Israel if it continues without surrender? Violence is the option used in the past, but they should remember what Israel did from 2000 onward.

Israeli officials do not routinely threaten Palestinians. Their practice is to absorb verbal blows without responding in kind. The IDF and other security forces are preparing to meet various scenarios, and the Foreign Ministry is doing what it can to counter the political offensive.

The rest of us can only wait, and not bet too much on any firm projections.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:15 AM
April 18, 2011

French Hill is a largely secular Jewish neighborhood, with families who are religious and ultra-Orthodox, as well as a few Arab families and Arab plus East Asian singles and young couples who are students at the nearby university. The neighborhood synagogues are one Ashkenazi, one Sephardi, one mixed Ashkenazi-Sephardi, one Conservative, and one in a family home that attracts its own minyan. Like typical secular Israelis, we do not attend any except for occasional participation in a bar mitzvah or some other ceremony hosted by a friend.

I could not miss the holiday atmosphere during my morning walk on the morning before the Seder. Families were packing their cars for a trip to wherever they would spend the evening. Others were carrying out trash or scrubbing something at the curb, either to scrounge out the last possibility of a bread crumb, or simply observing a ritual seen long ago as children. Here the air is not heavy with the burning of hametz (products forbidden to be consumed on Passover). I saw only one man, in kipa, putting some scraps into a fire.

I perceived long ago that a primary attraction of Israel was the possibility to participate in the life of a vibrant Jewish community without the obligation to sit through long and uninspiring rituals, or listening to a rabbi intoning endlessly about the obvious. I have learned a great deal about Jewish thought, history, and practice since coming here. My sources have been conversations with friends, colleagues, my Israeli wife and relatives, reading literature that is more analytical than than theological, studying Talmud with a religious friend who is more social scientist than preacher, and absorbing--either as background or occasionally more than that--what the media provides on the Sabbath and during every holiday season.

In anticipation of Pesach, the media detailed the foods and rituals of the numerous communities, as well as interpretations and formulations of the ritual that most Israeli Jews will employ for their Seder. A hundred thousand or so evade the event by flying overseas, but upwards of 80 percent of Israeli Jews participate in a Seder. More will take advantage of the enforced vacation from public institutions and private sector firms by flying overseas after the Seder, or filling the hotels and bed and breakfasts of the Galilee. It will not be possible to buy bread or other hametz in the supermarkets or most small groceries, but there are no religious police to keep the unobservant from eating what they have stocked up in anticipation of the constraints, or finding their way to a restaurant or bakery in an Arab village or the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Jaffa, or Acco.

Media discussions focused on the content of the Haggadah that serves as the focus of the ritual emphasize variations in the religious text, as well as the large number of versions produced by secular kibbutzim, feminists, gays/lesbians, and Christians who wish to participate in the spirit of the holiday, but not necessarily in all of the Jewish ritual.

We work our way through a traditional Haggadah, with interruptions for some explanations of why this or that, but all those fluent in Hebrew since childhood will stumble over the Aramaic. The Haggadah comes out of the Talmud, and like that source it manages to convey a story, but with twists and detours elusive even for those who understand the words. Unlike the Talmud, most versions of the Haggadah lack the explanations for the obtuse provided by a thousand years of commentators. One can thank the Almighty for the omission, and the incomplete discussions associated with it. Otherwise we would be at the table until Shavuot.

The eats are good. The wine far better than the bitter stuff from Manischewitz I had to endure as an American child, and the songs a joyous end to a long evening.

May you have a good holiday, however you do it, or comprehend all that you do..

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:43 AM
April 15, 2011
For what it's worth

The analyst's job is to make sense out of separate events that might be connected. If done well, it is better than a blind person trying to figure out what is that large, rough thing being felt. However it is done, there is a lack of certainty. It is best to avoid far flung stories about conspiracies, or inevitable consequences. All of that leads people to put the analysis in with the other junk, of which there is no small supply making the rounds of the internet and other media.

This note is about separate events that, at least in my mind, come together in a way that suggests a lack of good sense among powerful governments, and some threat poised over Israel. The fact that it is our friends who are responsible for what appears to be senseless justifies fear and trembling about the future. And not only our future.

The events at issue:

What appears to be the bumbling of European and American do-gooders to foment, or at least encourage and applaud uprisings in Arab countries that they see as indications of grass roots democracy
The involvement of European and American governments and armed forces in the Libyan civil war, in a situation where they act against one side, but not decisively, and admit to wondering about the motives and capacities of the various Libyans they are helping to take down their government
Suspicions that western involvement in Libya has as much to do with Nicolas Sarkozy's political weakness as with careful consideration of what can be done on the ground
American and European stuttering about what should be happening in Syria
The repeated insistence of those same governments that Palestine is ready for independent statehood, and that Israel must do what is necessary to make that possible.
The movement of Palestinians, in violation of their agreement with Israel, to engineer an endorsement of their statehood on their terms in the United Nations
The presence of some 15 separate armed organizations in Gaza, with factions in the West Bank
The recent killing of an Italian human rights activist in Gaza, which appears to have been done by one of those organizations despite the efforts of Hamas and others to blame Israel
The renewal of missile firings against Israeli civilians, less than a week after Hamas trumpeted its renewal of a disciplined period of quiet
Occasional drive-by shootings and other acts of violence in the West Bank, and the murder of parents and children in Itamar, despite the good marks for security given to the Abbas regime by its international supporters

The way I put these items together does not add to the credibility of Palestinians, or of Europeans and Americans who claim wisdom in things Middle Eastern, and are certain that the Palestinian regime is ready for statehood.

The keystone in Israel's worries and opportunities in the United States. There is no encouragement from the blather and certainty heard from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with their lack of experience and repeated stumbling here and among our neighbors. More encouraging, however, is the upcoming presidential election, Obama's domestic vulnerability, questions about his support among Jewish donors, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, the intensity of Republican conservatives, and what we can hope are the kernels of intelligence and good sense in Obama himself.

Early signs are that the United States is cautious, and may be opposed to the grant of statehood to Palestinians without the nuisance of negotiations with Israel. Similar expressions come from senior personnel in the governments of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, but they are mixed with other expressions suggesting that all those governments may go along with the majority.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great speaker, and may be the darling of Americans and Europeans anxious for reinforcement of a posture in favor of Israel. Trust in him is another matter. He is preparing a speech before the American Congress that may counter the Palestinian movement toward quick and easy statehood. Israelis are hoping for the best, but are skeptical.

And what will happen if the world forum endorses a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem, a fuzzy definition of borders that mentions 1967, something about refugees, and Israel withholds recognition of such a state?

The scenarios are many, the certainties fewer.

Will Palestinians in suits appear at the edge of Jerusalem, brief cases in hand, intent on reaching what they envision as the site of their capitol?

Will foreign diplomats come to Ben Gurion airport, or the border crossing from Jordan, intent on presenting their credentials to the head of a Palestinian state in Jerusalem or elsewhere?

Down the road may be sanctions, with Israel's small economy, western living standards, and dependence on trade making it more vulnerable than Iran.

None of this is certain. Israel's capacity in international politics is multifaceted, and goes beyond Bibi's fluency. Adversaries must ponder its military capacities. Itamar, the kidnapping and assassination of the Italian volunteer, and rockets aimed at civilians should not add to the stature of Palestine among those of good sense.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:51 PM
April 13, 2011
Ethnicity in Israel: Moroccans and others

Prior to 1948, Morocco had the largest Jewish population of North African countries. It was not one community, but several that differed in history, tradition, socio-economic traits, and language. One component traced its heritage to Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th century. Another may have been there since migrations out of Judea at the time of the destruction at the hands of Rome, or even earlier. There were urban Jews, and Jews living in mountain villages. Most lived in the area controlled by France, with the well-to-do thinking of themselves as French as well as Jews. There were also Jews in the region controlled by Spain, and they used Spanish along with Arabic and their own dialect.

Since 1948, the number of Jews in Morocco has shrunk from an estimated quarter-million to 5,000 or less. France received the bulk of educated, upper income Jewish migrants from Morocco, as well as the better-off from Tunisia and Algeria. Most of the rest came to Israel. Until the migration of Russian-speakers that began in the late 1980s, the Moroccans were Israel's largest Jewish ethnic group.

And they were the most troubled. Disproportionately poor and living in unattractive "development towns" away from the vibrant center of the country, they also figured disproportionately in the statistics for crime and the prison population. They spawned political protest against what was perceived as a lack of concern, or discrimination at the hands of the Ashkenazi elite. They took cues (and the name "Black Panthers") from African-Americans who were mobilizing at the same time.

The Moroccans have been something between opportunity and thorn for the Labor Party. Given the party's socialist roots and its ostensible concern for social programs and helping the disadvantaged, the marriage would seem to be inevitable. But Labor segued away from its working class roots toward highly educated and upper income yuppees with a social conscience, but not much of a commitment to equality. For years Labor members were at the peaks of government, industry, and culture, with those at the peaks disproportionately Ashkenazi. Labor politicians have spoken the language of social and economic uplift, but their emphasis has been more to help Palestinians via a posture of accommodation than to work assiduously for Israel's own poor.

In case you haven't noticed, there have not been many votes going to the Labor Party from any source. What is left of the party in the Knesset is eight members, and opinion polls are not indicating that it would win significantly more seats in the next election.

Among the problems of the Labor Party is that many of the Moroccans and others like them long ago found the nationalist postures of Likud more to their liking, and perceived that Likud's populism--although wrapped along with an affinity for free enterprise--was no less appropriate for them than the faux socialism of Labor.

The Ashkenazi establishment also displayed a lack of comfort with the Moroccans. Golda Meier's comment about a delegation of Black Panthers from the early 1970s as "not nice people" remains part of the country's memory and embarrassment.

Israelis of Moroccan origin may be still below average on income, education, and occupational prestige, but who is a Moroccan is increasingly problematic in the face of substantial intermarriage with other Sephardi groups and with Ashenazim. Moreover, the Moroccan post-Passover festival of Mimouna has acquired the status of a national holiday, with politicians competing for media attention by visits to Moroccan homes and parks where they mingle with Moroccans and others gorging themselves on North African delicacies.

Since the appearance of the Black Panthers, Labor politicians have struggled to keep the "ethnic demon" in the bottle, and away from Israeli politics.

With mixed success.

The main headline, with picture and article covering the top half of page one of Wednesday's Ha'aretz: "Herzog to a senior American: Amir Peretz is seen in the public as inexperienced, aggressive, and Moroccan."

The source was Wikileaks, publishing an internal American communication reporting a conversation with Yitzhak (Buji) Hertzog. He is a 50 year-old lawyer, educated in Tel Aviv and Cornell Universities, Member of Knesset as a result of three national elections since 2003, son of the late President Chaim Herzog, and grandson of the late Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog. Rabbi had been Chief Rabbi of Ireland and was Israel's first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. Yitzhak Herzog is as close to an intelligent, soft-spoken, modest, iconic member of upper crust and decent Israeli society as can be found. Until the Labor Party split and the component holding on to the name left Netanyahu's government, Herzog served as Minister of Welfare. He positioned himself as genuinely concerned with the details of the function, and often expressed his concern for the country's needy. He affiliated with those Labor Party members who pushed hardest in support of a forthcoming posture with respect to the Palestinians.

The comment Herzog is said to have been made occurred in 2006, in the context of an election campaign where Labor, then led by Peretz, was declining in the opinion polls.

Now Herzog himself is involved in a primary contest for the leadership of Labor, and Peretz is trying to win back the position he once held.

Herzog denies that he said what is attributed to him. He and his friends assert that such language counters his beliefs and his manner of speaking. He has demanded an investigation by the current American ambassador, as to how he was quoted in official American documents for a comment he did not make.

While Herzog's alleged comments about Moroccans headed the morning talk shows, the evening featured the Russians. (Better described as "Russian speakers" in light of the large number of Jews who have come from the Ukraine as well as other Eastern European and Central Asian republics.) After years of police investigations and dithering by the Attorney General's Office, the current Attorney General has published a draft indictment against Avigdor Lieberman on charges of money laundering, breach of trust, and witness tampering.

Lieberman's party, Israel Our Home, is said to be just that, i.e., Lieberman's party. It it the third largest party, with 15 members in the Knesset. Not all its voters are Russian speakers, and not all Russian speakers support the party. However, it is know as the party of Russian speakers, and Lieberman runs it like Vladimir Putin runs the post-Communist but not-so-democratic Russia. One of my Russian friends considers Lieberman as a gangster, but supports him on account of his assertive postures with respect to Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The rules are that a public figure is entitled to a hearing prior to the formal presentation of an indictment. Insofar as the Attorney General's Office required years to prepare a draft indictment, it is assumed that Lieberman's attorneys will have months to prepare for the hearing. It may be a year or more before there is a formal indictment, and Lieberman's position as Foreign Minister is secure until then.

Commentators have referred to Israel Our Home as a party of Lieberman and his 14 dwarfs, but it is not exactly that. Two members, in particular, have been prominent. Both are Israeli-born, and either may emerge as leader of a right wing, secular party that has a future beyond Lieberman and migration from the former Soviet Union. Minister of Domestic Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch has the Israeli Police as a prominent feature of his responsibilities. Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon is a former career diplomat who has been doing at least as much of the heavy lifting with respect to foreign affairs as Lieberman.

Neither Aharonovitch nor Ayalon is a political dwarf, but neither may be able to mobilize Israel's Russian speaking population like Lieberman.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:19 PM
April 12, 2011
The values of uncertainty

In case you haven't heard, the world may end on May 21. Or it will be a new beginning. I have never been able to puzzle my way through the claims and calculations of those who are certain about these things. http://www.ebiblefellowship.com/may21/

From what I do understand, the prediction means that just about everyone who receives these notes is destined for something ugly on that day.

If it comes as a tnunami I should be all right. According to my GPS, the balcony outside my window is 744 meters above sea level. Friends and family in New York, Seattle and Tel Aviv might want to roll up their trousers or take more serious measures.

True believers may be saved and blessed on that day, but there is a problem in identifying who they are. A serious Christian friend, who says that I do not understand millenialism, pre-millenialism and post-millenialism, is pretty sure that that most of his fellow Christians are being misled by their leaders. He also knows that the unpleasantness will occur on September 29. He has no idea about May 21.

I admit to ignorance about millenialism, pre-millenialism and post-millenialism. I also see an insight in my friend's lack of knowledge about May 21.

For some time now I have received his notes expressing the clarity in holy text, but indicating that Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, and most Protestant pastors have gotten it all wrong and are misleading their flocks. "I've urged you to turn away from views of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish 'scholars' about the Bible and what it says." He insists that "The Bible is very clear." It appears to me, however, that the Bible is very clear only to him and a few select others in whom he has confidence.

My friend is a decent man, who I enjoyed talking with on my balcony during one of his visits to Israel. Yet he displays the fervor of a true believer, whose limitation is viewing most others as led by their errors. If he sees clarity in the Bible, he must be reading a different version than mine. Or he is reading the same version differently than I do.

My credentials as a biblical scholar may be shaky. All who want to make the effort can judge Israel and Its Bible for themselves. You won't find it in most bookstores, but a decent university library should have it, and there may not be a long line wanting to read it before you. There I argue that the dissonance in the Bible, or its plurality of themes is an important element of its charm. That trait helps explain Jewish openness to dispute and Israeli democracy.

My Christian friend disparages my study of the Talmud due to the faults of the rabbis whose ideas it reports. The Talmud makes it clear that the rabbis recognized the lack of clarity in the Torah at least a couple of centuries before the Common Era. Indeed, an essential purpose of the Talmud is to clarify God's laws, insofar as He did not make them all that clear or explicit in His Torah.

The rabbis were a long way from accepting what German Protestant scholars perceived in the 19th century, and what numerous Jewish scholars have sought to understand more recently, i.e., that the Torah and other segments of the Bible reflect accretions of stories, poetry, expressions of wisdom, as well as ancient editing and re-editing. For Orthodox rabbis, the Torah came as it is from the Lord to Moses on Mount Sinai, and the remaining books of the Bible came as they are from Samuel, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, or other Prophets. The rabbis who contributed to the Talmud were post-modern in recognizing the problems in perceiving and unraveling nuances, weighing what is written alongside what is not written, and extrapolating what is said about X to what might be said about Y.

The Talmud presents an image of rabbis who argued, occasionally insulted one another, and left some issues unresolved. Actually, the participants in many of these arguments lived in different times and places. The people who assembled the Talmud presented what they knew about the opinions of esteemed rabbis, and arranged them as if they were face to face. The editors valued the positions of those rabbis, and the points they made on one or another side of the many issues considered in the Talmud.

According to Jewish tradition, dispute assures that we will approach more closely to God's will that if we insist on the truth as uttered by any person, no matter how exalted.

While my own faith in anything is far from certain, I see that particular tradition as having great value. Argument is essential to science and political decency, and superior to anything I perceive as certain about May 21 or September 29.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:40 AM
April 11, 2011
It was not a war, and not even an operation

"Until next time" is the theme heard from military officers and commentators wrapping up the weekend's dust-up with Hamas and its allies/competitors in Gaza.

That is also a summary history of Israel.

There is no clear answer to the question, "How many wars?" insofar as some "operations" are hardly different from "wars," and this weekend's events did not even amount to an "operation."

Israel's responses to the uprising that began in 2000 has not been defined as a war, but involved numerous events that resulted in more than 3,000 Palestinian deaths.

This weekend's events reinforce the view that the process will continue without end.

The targeting of a yellow school bus with an anti-tank missile was the trigger that resulted in Israeli responses that killed some 20 Palestinians and injured several score. It passed without a name (like Defensive Shied against Jenin in 2002 or Cast Lead against Gaza in 2009), so it will not enter the history books on the same page as the "wars" or "operations."

Palestinians say that they did not know that there was a passenger in the school bus. (The 16-year old is still in critical condition.) Some say that the group that fired the missile did so without the authorization of Hamas.

Assuming the second point is true, that gets to one of the elements that will keep this going, through next time and the time after that.

Macho is the name of the game. The word derived from Spanish imported to the Middle East describes the drive for heroism, bravery, in-your-face, oneupsmanship, or whatever label you want for the competition between groups with intense political, religious, and personal motivations to prove that none are greater than they in opposing the Jews.

A Hamas spokesman claimed the firing violated their policy of keeping things within limits.

Perhaps, but their limits included firing rockets toward Israeli towns.

Are not 20 deaths and perhaps 60 people injured a disproportionate response to the serious injury of one boy and a few other minor injuries?

Yes. Purposely so. The point is to impose a heavy enough price on Hamas et al to delay the next time it is necessary to make a disproportionate response. Indications are that Palestinians do not like to die, or see their family members die, and use the ways available in nondemocratic regimes to pressure what stands as their government.

The end to this event brokered with the help of the United Nations, Egypt, and European governments is not a "cease fire" but a "period of quiet." Hamas views that as allowing continued opposition to "occupation" (read that "Jews").

History indicates that such fluff will last only until the IDF kills someone Hamas or another group does not want to die while responding to attacks Palestinians consider legitimate, or until a rocket fired by an out of control affiliate of Hamas or some other organization lands on something other than a empty field.

Once an event gets underway, the difference between Muslim extremists and moderates melts away. Mahmoud Abbas condemned the IDF actions this past weekend, and called on the United Nations to stop Israel's aggression. I did not notice that he mentioned the targeting of a school bus.

The star of the weekend was Israel's anti-missile missile, which managed to work as designed 8 out of the 9 times it was employed.

"Iron Dome" is designed to operate against short range missiles, and should not be confused with the "Arrow" meant to deal with longer range and more deadly missiles, like what may come with nuclear warheads.from Iran.

Iron Dome has gotten a lot of attention in the international press. Reporters are calling it an Israeli home grown item that is the first battlefield demonstration of an anti-missile missile. Also doing well under battlefield conditions is an anti-missile device designed for tanks, which has been shown capable of knocking out a weapon that could penetrate the tank's armor and roast the soldiers inside.

The success of these devices calls into question the ridicule of Ronald Reagan's investment in "Star Wars," as well as the skepticism of Israelis who calculated that it was not good economics sending a missile that might cost several hundred thousand dollars against a missile costing $50.

The device is better than imagined by the skeptics. Its electronics--along with trained operators--can distinguish between an incoming missile likely to land in a crowded area as opposed to an open field, so every $50 firing is not met with a missile costing more than a thousand times as much. The damage to life and property saved by Iron Dome is said to justify the price. Also important from an economic perspective, the success should do wonders for Israel's defense industries. Reports are that Singapore has already ordered a set, and that South Korea and the United States are interested.

Israelis are having to swallow some of their ridicule of Amir Peretz. He was the head of the Labor Federation and then the Labor Party, without a serious military background, who became Defense Minister due to Ehud Olmert's coalition politics. Soon after he entered office, Peretz had to preside over a "war" (Lebanon II). A widely distributed picture showed Peretz, peering intently and idiot-like at military activity through binoculars, without having removed the lens caps.

Now it is conceded that Peretz took the crucial decision about developing Iron Dome against the insistence of senior military officers that the money should be spent on other projects. It may help him in his current effort to regain control of the Labor Party. Peretz is a little man with a big mustache. Macho also works on this side of the wall.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:48 AM
April 08, 2011
Bad things and good

I woke to the sound of the loud speaker at a nearby mosque calling my neighbors to prayer, then read of the IDF's latest targeted assassinations in Gaza, the continued firing of mortars and rockets in our direction, and the success of the new anti-missile missiles to identify and destroy the heavy stuff heading for urban areas.

Not a typical morning, but not unique.

Who's responsible for the current upsurge in violence 100 or so miles from here? They say us, we say them. They announce a cease fire and say we have violated it. We say that they will not define when we have to respond. According to our people, their targeting of a school bus with an anti-tank missile broke any informal rules that may have existed, and demands a serious response. Some of our people are optimistic that this will stop short of a full scale invasion like that two years ago that killed more than a thousand Gazans, but maybe not.

Civilians as well as fighters have died in Gaza. Our story is that people firing rockets from within residential areas endanger their neighbors. Israel regrets those deaths, but does not apologize, and will not refrain from targeting those who fire missiles at its civilians.

The head of the Gaza regime says that Israel cannot break the Palestinians. Israeli officials say that the bloodshed will continue until the Palestinians realize that their violence comes at too high a price.

Foreign leaders condemn the attack on the school bus as well as the rockets aimed at Israeli towns, and call for moderation from Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas calls on the world to stop Israeli violence against Gaza.

Abbas' condemnation of Israel's response will not add to the concessions offered by Prime Minister Netanyahu. A poll of Likud members--before Abbas' latest statement--found that 78% oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, 92% favor the expansion of settlements, and 95% oppose dividing Jerusalem. http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=215699

My own conversations with senior American combat officers a generation ago, and a close friend's talks with those who had experience in Iraq and Afghanistan convince me that the IDF is more wary of causing collateral damage than the American military. The United States does not worry about sanctions. Israel has its own morality, and the story of South Africa is a topic of daily commentary.

Today I received this from a man I used to think of as a Jewish friend.

Israeli's like yourself seem to think calling any Israeli action
"defense" excuses everything. Didn't the Nazis call the
invasion of Poland at the beginning of WW II defense?

I've ignored most of his letters out of concern for his personal tragedies. But comparing Israelis to Nazis crosses the same line as Gazans targeting a school bus with an anti-tank missile. Ignorance, spite, personal frustration, forgetting to take his meds? No excuse is good enough for that outburst.
I'm not likely to be saying the Amidah anytime soon, but next time I may think of him in connection with

וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה

For slanderers may there be no hope.

On the other side of the political divide is a pair of videos done by Ann Barnhardt, called a new heroine by those who admire her. She damns Islam, quotes pages from the Koran that she considers abominable, marks them with strips of bacon, rips them out and burns them.

I decided quickly that she was not worth 23 minutes. What I saw disgusted me. One should oppose Islamic fanatics, but most of the Muslims I know are not fanatics. Burning the Torah and touching it with bacon would infuriate a lot of Jews. Barnhardt's actions are pointless, provocative, and barbaric. We don't want friends like her.

Chances are that I will get through this day and others like it. It helps to revisit last week's trip to the Galilee, the bright sun, green fields, and wildflowers..

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:51 PM
April 07, 2011

The Holocaust figured prominently in the migrations from Europe to Palestine and then Israel that began in the 1930s and continued after the war. Along with the migrations under pressure from Arab countries, the Holocaust molded a population built on persecution and distrust of others. The movement of another million people from the former Soviet Union brought others who sought freedom or fulfillment in the Jewish country, including some older residents who had experienced the Holocaust but had been denied benefits due to Cold War politics.

Israelis born of the Holocaust survivors have their own problems. Some are unable to carry on a conversation without touching on the experiences of their parents, or their own problems growing up in their parents' shadows.

Attending a wedding a month ago involving a distant cousin of Varda, I perceived yet another phenomenon associated with Israel's history. There was nothing unusual about the ceremony or the party. The Orthodox rabbi sought to educate the mostly secular audience with explanations of the rituals, and expressed his most positive evaluations of the young couple and their capacity to have a good life together. There were two to three hundred guests, assigned by name cards to tables that sat eight to ten individuals.

My insight came when I perceived that Varda, myself, her sister and some far distant cousins were all there was of the family connected with the groom's father. We were assigned to one table, where we filled one half of the places.

Varda's connection with the wedding derives from a picture of the Kleischmidt family. It included her grandmother Lena and her five brothers. A cousin of Lena was the great grandfather of the groom at last month's wedding. KleinscmidtFamily.jpg

The picture shows a well established bourgeois family, with good clothes, trimmed beards and mustaches, and the kind of heavy furniture that Lena brought to Palestine from Berlin. Lena's husband had died a decade earlier, which caused Lena and her children to move from a substantial home with servants. Her life in Tel Aviv was even more strained. She shared a small apartment at various times with two teenage girls, the family of her older daughter, then Varda's mother and father as newlyweds, and occasional boarders.

Lena's family, like those of numerous other migrants, moved in different directions, depending on opportunities. Some spent only a few years in Israel before going elsewhere. Others went directly to Britain, Australia, South Africa, North or South America.

It was not a situation that encouraged procreation. The economic problems of the 1930s also affected Palestine. The doubling of the Jewish population with post-war migrations from Europe and the Middle East eventually contributed to economic growth, but the initial impact was harsh. Authorities settled many of the newcomers in tents or temporary shacks, in urban housing abandoned by Arabs or scruffy new towns some distance from the opportunities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. Israel was dependent on economic aid and food donations from Independence in 1948 and into the 1950s.

I thought of my American family as I sat with Varda's few cousins at our half-table. My maternal great grandparents migrated from Bialystok at the turn of the century as a young couple with small children, and produced more in their new home. Last time I took notice there were more than 200 people who qualified for the label "cousin," and by now there is another generation of who knows how many. My paternal family is smaller, but could fill several tables at a wedding.

My family does not have the equivalent of Chaim Arlozorov, a cousin of Lena, who I occasionally mention as my tenuous connection with Israeli aristocracy. There is an Arlozorov street in virtually every city. He was a leading figure in what later became the Labor Party, represented the Jewish Community of Palestine at the League of Nations, and went to Germany to arrange the orderly exit of Jews to Palestine. It was during that trip that he met with Lena and her daughter Ina (now Varda's 94 year old mother), and persuaded them to leave Germany. So thanks to Arlozorov, there is Varda, Tamar and Mattan.

Two days after his return from Germany, Arlozorov was murdered on the Tel Aviv beach. The event still bothers Israeli researchers. Competing hypotheses assign responsibility to a chance killing, an Arab terrorist, a plot engineered by political opponents identified with predecessors of today's Likud, and the work of Germans sent by Joseph Goebbels.

When Menachem Begin became Prime Minister after the election of 1977, he appointed a commission of inquiry to settle the accusation against his political colleagues. Forty-three years after the killing, it was no surprise that commission members were not able to lay that story to rest. The German hypothesis derives from a youthful relationship between Arlozorov and Magda Goebbels. Some claim it was romantic, others that they were no more than classmates. According to one account, Arlozorov sought to employ his friendship with Magda in order to reach the highest circles of the Nazi government, but she warned that any contact with her would endanger his life.

Varda's family is not the only one that reproduced little in its first Israeli generation. The ultra-Orthodox suffered more than others in Central and Eastern Europe, partly because their rabbis urged them to remain where they were and rely on God to protect them from the Germans. Their losses led early Israeli governments to concede them an exemption from military service, independent control of their education, and other benefits that continue. Now there are too many ultra-Orthodox voters to undo those preferences.

Our own family has replenished itself. There will be 13 descendants of Lena's daughter Ina at our Passover Seder, plus spouses, and Gentile friends who come most years from Germany. Altogether there are now 5,700,000 Jews in the country, up from about 600,000 at Independence.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:13 AM
April 05, 2011
Insiders and outsiders

Current events invite consideration of a prayer said by religious Jews three times each day.

The subject of Richard Goldstone came up in a conversation with a religious friend, and he responded with the opening of the 12th chapter of the Amidah.

וְלַמַּלְשִׁינִים אַל תְּהִי תִקְוָה

The first word (malshinim) may be translated as informers, slanderers, or traitors. The entire passage reads, "For informers (or slanderers or traitors) may there be no hope."

The passage continues "and may all wickedness quickly be destroyed, and may all your enemies be cut off swiftly. The evil doers, swiftly may they be uprooted, broken, cast down and subdued in our days. Blessed are you, O Lord, who smashes enemies and humbles (or defeats) the evil persons (or the arrogant or intentional sinners)."

For something like two milennia, key elements in the daily rituals have been the "Shema Israel" (Hear O'Israel), and the Amidah (Standing). The Amidah is also called the Shmona Esre (18). Scholars say that it originally contained 18 chapters, and that a 19th was added, perhaps in the second century, without changing the popular name of the prayer.

Shema Israel proclaims the oneness of God, and the Amidah asks for God's forgiveness, deliverance from affliction, disease, and want, the ingathering of exiles, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and other ancient glories.

Here I am concerned with the passage dealing with evil doers, and its implications about the character of Judaism, Jews, and Jews' relations with others.

Some versions of the Amidah refer to the מינים (minim), and link them with informers, slanderers, or traitors for whom there should be no hope. Minim is translated as heretics or sectarians, and may have been composed in the second century against Jews who joined the disciples of Jesus.

Orthodox Jews with a concern for political correctness and avoiding offense to powerful others avoid reference to minim in their daily prayers.

Reform Jews are even more concerned about the universality of God's people, and omit the entire chapter dealing with informers, slanderers, traitors, or heretics. Reform--and some Conservative--Jews also alter the introductory passage of the Amidah that blesses " . . . God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob . . ." For them, the passage reads ". . . God of our fathers and our mothers, the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob; God of Sarah, God of Rebekah, God of Leah, and God of Rachel."

There is no definite answer to the question, "What is Judaism?" In the absence of a central authority capable of disciplining those who consider themselves Jews, Judaism is what Jews do. The definition may not be satisfying, but it is useful as a summary of the pluralism and disputes that have marked us as long as we have been recording our thoughts about God and ourselves.

And what about Justice Goldstone?

My religious friend is not alone in viewing him as an informer, slanderer, or traitor. Reports are that rejection and pressure from within Goldstone's own community were important in leading him to reconsider his role in a Report widely used to condemn Israel as a criminal state.

Currently Goldstone is expressing his love and support for Israel, and asserts that his daughter has migrated to Israel. He wishes to visit the country and is continuing to reconsider the Report that carries his name. He may be asking for understanding or forgiveness, but Interior Minister Eli Yishai is coming under attack for inviting Goldstone to visit. Shimon Peres' use of the powerful symbol of "blood libel" for the Goldstone Report reminds us that the Justice is an outsider under suspicion.

And what about other Jews participating in campaigns to boycott, disinvest, and impose sanctions on Israel? No doubt there are some who think of them when they ask God to assure that informers, slanderers, or traitors will have no hope.

Do such thoughts of the faithful go so far as to include J Street, Jewish supporters of Barack Obama and other overseas leaders who have been critical of Israel?

Here we are getting to ever more controversial conceptions of insiders and outsiders, friends, adversaries, enemies or traitors.

While Jewish tradition cherishes dispute and is inclusive in welcoming all Jews, the 12th chapter of the Amidah indicates that the community is concerned to protect itself against those who venture too far in endearing themselves to powerful outsiders.

The question of Who is a Jew also divides us in ways that may correspond with who we think should be labeled an informer, slanderer, or traitor.

Breadth and acceptance are more characteristic of Jews than suspicion and outcasting. A tolerance of diversity is an elemental component in Israeli democracy, and prominent among its strengths. It has been more than four centuries since the important community of Amsterdam declared a ban against its distinguished member, Baruch de Spinoza, for improper expression. However, a stroll today through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood only a kilometer or so from these fingers will find posters declaring bans against individuals defined as erring in expression or behavior.

Again, Judaism is what Jews do. That, too, is a focus of dispute, but what else is there?


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:13 PM
April 04, 2011

Some bad things are heading in our direction.

The organizers of some 20 ships are planning to sail toward Gaza in May. They will bring back the Mavi Marmara in its second attempt to get through the Israeli Navy.
A campaign is building to have the United Nations General Assembly declare the independence of a Palestinian State, with the borders of 1967, and its capital in Jerusalem.


Better is an article that Richard Goldstone has published, including a partial, but substantial retraction of his role in the Goldstone Report, widely used to condemn Israel's actions in Gaza. However, no one outside of Israel seems to be paying attention to his most recent writing. International media attention remains on Libya and Japan, with lesser concern for Syria and Yemen. Even Egypt has largely disappeared from view.


As far as we can tell from the local news, Israelis who count are pondering responses to the first two items viewed as threats, and the third viewed as an opportunity.

In regard to the ships, the likely responses heard are a further loosening of restrictions on Gaza, but a steadfast insistence on maintaining a blockade. Just a week ago there was a heavy rain of missiles sent from Gaza toward Israeli civilians, and then the first targeted assassination by the IDF in some time. Peace is not breaking out between Israel and Gaza, so all those hoping for one or another kind of justice should anticipate a forceful Israeli response to blockade runners.

In regard to the Palestinian campaign to short circuit painful negotiations and compromise via having the United Nations declare their state just the way they want it, Israeli diplomats and experts in international law point out that such a move will contravene existing agreements between Palestine and Israel, and free Israel to act the way it wants.

Will Israel go against "world opinion" and United Nations resolutions supported by its European and North American friends?

I would not bet against it.

Some compare Israel with South Africa, and conclude that a United Nations resolution will prepare the way for painful sanctions and Israel's eventual surrender, collapse, or disappearance.

However, the comparison with South Africa overlooks some crucial differences. White South Africans were only about 20 percent of the country's population, imposing apartheid on the other 80 percent. Israeli numbers are the opposite: only about 20 of Israelis are Arab, and their opportunities far exceed that of non-whites in South Africa. The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are on the other side of physical barriers meant to keep them out. Many, perhaps most Israelis seem uninclined to trust Palestinians enough to take dramatic chances for the prospect of peace.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised a path breaking speech on Palestine-Israel relations before the United States Congress in May, and there is a host of advisers pondering the contents of his speech. Optimists see the speech as countering the Palestinian move toward the United Nations. However, there remains the problem of Netanyahu's credibility with the heads of important governments, the Palestinian leadership, and Israelis.

The Prime Minister's standing has not climbed in recent days due to his demand of colleagues in the government to take advantage of the Goldstone "retraction" in order to have the United Nations officially cancel what is called the "Goldstone report." Experts in law and international politics have roundly chided the Prime Minister's charge. No chance that the United Nations Human Rights Commission will depart from its persistently shrill postures against Israel. Goldstone should have known the company he was keeping when he signed on to the UNHRC's undertaking. He was Chair of the body that investigated Israel's actions in Gaza, but only one of its members. Others are unlikely to agree that their Report should be cancelled or changed in dramatic ways, and Goldstone's own "retractions" are less than complete.

There is something to promote in Goldstone's current admissions that Israel has dealt infinitely better than Hamas with charges of war crimes, there is no indication that Israel purposely targeted civilians as a matter of policy or war plans, and that Hamas should be held responsible for targeting civilians. However, these niceties are far down on the agenda of international media. Israeli claims will make an impression on those inclined to listen, which most likely means those who understood Israel's claims before Goldstone's recent article. Shimon Peres' comment that the Goldstone Report stands as a "blood libel" may have power within the circle of Israeli supporters, and it will not help Richard Goldstone in his claims to be a Zionist and friend of Israel.

Much can happen between now and September, when the Palestinian campaign is due to peak in the United Nations. Arab governments are unstable. European and American efforts in Libya are entering their own swamp of uncertainty. Barack Obama is beginning his campaign for re-election that may attune him to voices concerned about Israel.

Israeli Jews are used to uncertainty. I'm not so sure about the rest of you.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:47 AM
April 02, 2011
Bibi and Sara

Benyamin Netanyahu has been prominent since his service as Ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s. I've compared him to Barack Obama on account of his fluency. He might also be compared to Richard Nixon (Tricky Dick) due to his reputation as a slippery politician, and his capacity to provoke animosity as well as admiration. There is also that side of him that exceeds Nixon and leaves open a comparison with Obama, namely his skill as a politician capable of surviving animosity, set-back and resurgence. Those traits have kept him alive, falling back, and climbing again for three decades, now as head of what may be capable of becoming the longest-serving Israeli government in recent memory.

What distinguishes Bibi from both Nixon and Obama is Sara. She is wife #3, who Bibi met when she was an El Al flight attendant.

It is difficult to know for sure what goes on in the inner rooms where individuals make the decisions that decide the political fates of countries and individuals. It is at least as difficult to know what goes on in the inner rooms of politicians' families. In both cases there are stories, which may be passed on--or even invented--by those who wish to advance or scuttle the fortunes of the individuals concerned.

About Sara we hear

That she is a household harridan who causes the help to quit, bring suit, and tell stories of exploitation, short-changing, and screaming at the slightest departure from a demanding regime.
That she has ruled Bibi like she rules the household help, demanding that there be no mention or no visits with his daughter from marriage #1.
That she makes life difficult or impossible for the closest aides of her husband, riding herd and exercising a deciding vote on hiring and firing in the Office of the Prime Minister and elsewhere in Israeli government offices.
That she resembles or surpasses her husband in demanding the best and most expensive features of housing, vacations, and overseas travel.

Bibi posed like an American politician during his first term as prime minister 1996-99. There were photo opportunities with Sara and their two young sons at home and on vacations. The phase did not end well as the Netanyahus were at the center of an official investigation concerned with the financing of a household move when they could no longer call The Prime Minister's Residence home, including the moving out of some articles that should have remained in the official residence.

Subsequently, Bibi retreated to the more conventional pattern in Israel and other democracies outside of the family-saturated aura of American politics. Sara and the boys have been noticeably less prominent in the current term, but she has not disappeared from media inspection. There have been stories about the household help and her hold on official appointments, as well as her concern for Bibi's attentions to media, money, or political personalities who happen to be female.

Now Sara has rocketed to public attention thanks to a reporter's revelation of foreign travels said to be improperly financed and excessively luxurious. The State Comptroller accepted the invitation of opposition parliamentarians to investigate "Bibi-tours," and Sara accepted the invitation for an extensive interview on the most-watched evening news program.

There is some question as to whether such an inquiry is within the purview of the State Comptroller. The traditional concern of such officials is the accuracy of government financial accounts, but Israel's State Comptrollers have been international leaders in stretching the reach. The law is open-ended, giving the State Comptroller authority to investigate governmental and government-supported entities for financial regularity, program efficiency, and moral integrity.

Depending on who is commenting, Sara's appearance on prime time was either an appropriate counter-attack against unrestrained media enemies, or an exposure that should have been avoided. Those readers with a Hebrew capacity and knowledge of the personalities may profit from the details. Others may gather from the sights and sounds an image of Sara that is either positive or otherwise. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iac7SkYbKQE

What I saw was a woman at peak intensity, concerned to defend herself and her husband against media animosity. She talked extensively and returned several times to the same themes.. The experienced interviewer had trouble interrupting the flow with her questions. Sara insisted that only the travels of her and her husband were the subject of inquiry, and not the thousands of others made over the years by Israeli prime ministers, presidents, and other officials. Netanyahu family travels were at the appropriate standard, the financing was proper, and no taxpayer money was involve in her accommodations. The media was vicious and unfair. Reporters paid no attention to her earning a Bachelor's degree, a Master's degree with thesis, her certification and work as a psychologist, her visits with children, and with families mourning personal tragedies.

Bibi has filed two libel suits for one million shekels each (equivalent to about US $280,000) against media outlets and the principal reporter involved. He has also compared his travels to those of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Neither they nor he travel in cramped and unreliable charter flights, or stay in youth hostels.

What Bibi did not describe is the gap between such hardships and his demands, including what is said to be a suite with a double bed on flights of more than four hours.

The latest reports about public relations at the pinnacle of the Netanyahu government are not promising. Today's Ha'aretz (generally not Bibi-friendly) reports Sara's hosting a gathering to commemorate International Woman's Day. It occurred three weeks after the Day, and some participants felt it was a cynical effort to counter the stories about "Bibi-tours." Another story on the same page notes that the head of the Government Information Office must travel to the United States with a translator, because his English is not up to the demands of public appearances.

I remember watching Nixon's speech during the 1952 presidential campaign about the gift of his dog Checkers, and Pat's Republican cloth coat. Neither Sara nor Bibi's comments impressed me as being at the same pitch of simplicity and candor. However, I may not have been as sharply critical at 14 as now at a jaded something else.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: 054-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:50 PM