May 30, 2011

Notions of justice will not go away. In response to my comment about having an equivalent lack of patience with the Palestinians' claims about a right of return and the Jews' claims about a God-given title to the Land of Israel, one of my friends responded, "without the 'claims that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jews' Jews in Israel are nothing but a mixed multitude of interlopers." Another has written, "Why don't the Palestinians have the same right to self-determination Israelis claim for themselves?"

My lack of patience for such talk does not mean that it does not swirl around me. Competing assertions about what is right may account for the largest part of the discussions about Israel. The explanation of this talk is more intriguing than any possibility of resolving the assertions with anything more convincing than "I believe."

The "mixed multitude of interlopers" does not only describe the population of Israel. I cannot identify any country where it does not apply. Migration and conflict are in the background everywhere. The history I learned in the schools of Fall River dealt with the heroism of the Pilgrims who landed 50 miles to the east, the hospitality that marked the first Thanksgiving, then King Philip's War, some of whose battles occurred not far from where I played baseball, and onward to the conflicts that provided the material for the double features I paid 25 cents to watch at the downtown movie houses on Saturday afternoons. I did not apply the term "interloper" to me and my friends, but I learned before finishing the Highland School that we came from different places across Europe.

Claims of being given by the Almighty make me itch, but moved numerous Jews to make Israel their home and lead their descendants to volunteer for the most demanding squads of the IDF. Theodore Herzl toyed with the idea of solving the problem of European Jews in Africa or Latin America until he realized that the mass he was trying to lead would only consider the Land of Israel.

Rene Descartes' claim to fame provides a parallel that is the only moral justification Israel requires. "I think therefore I am," when applied to a state, becomes, "It functions, therefore it is."

Israel functions at a high level of quality when compared to other countries. It has a firm place among those entitled to call themselves democracies, with a high standard of living, rule of law, opportunities for women, decent services for education and health, lots of foreign exchange in the bank, and opportunities for ethnic and religious minorities that do not fall below those of minorities in North America or Western Europe.

Being Jewish contributes to Israel's place in the focus of attention. There is no shortage of Jews who consider themselves God's chosen, and see Jerusalem as the center of the universe. Not a small percentage of those Jews express the hyperbolic criticism of self and others that has been part of Judaic culture since the time of the prophets. For them, nothing that Israelis do is good enough.

Not all of Israel's non-Jewish critics are anti-Semites, but some of them are. The Protocols are quoted throughout the Muslim world as if they were factual. Ranking politicians and activists who have Jewish friends and relatives elevate discussions of Israel to the top of their agendas where they examine it and conclude with praise or condemnation.

The Hebrew Bible that provides the title that some claim for the Land of Israel, and endorses the Jews as God's chosen, also provides an explanation for the attention given to Israel by Gentiles. The centrality of the Bible in the culture shared by much of the world insures that Jews will be a topic of fascination. Often it seems that those who are not curious about us, or admire us, despise us with equal intensity. A Jew can aspire to normality, and achieve traits for self and country that fall within the normal range, but be frustrated in failing to achieve a quiet sense of having arrived to a situation of being ignored to the same extent of everyone else.

The implications are not all bad. Balancing the perpetual threat that antagonism will spill over to violence are encounters with those who want to help. The public facilities of Israel are plastered with notices of who contributed what. The numerous times that American Senators and Congressmen stood to applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu count for something. Reality being what it is, we'll have to accept the heat of the spotlight while being alert to the possibilities of something worse.

Palestinians may obtain recognition for what they call a state, but that will not elevate them above the level of an international basket case. Better that they absorb the wisdom my grandmother acquired in Bialystok or Fall River: God helps those who help themselves.


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 11:40 PM
It's not a seminar

Bibi has thrown in the towel. He admits that no force on earth can prevent the United Nations General Assembly from recognizing a State of Palestine. He also said, " "it would be possible to get a resolution saying the world is flat." His implication: a resolution about a flat world would have the same effect as a resolution about a Palestinian state.

What the Prime Minister has described as something close to comic opera might have dangerous consequences. Israeli security forces are preparing for a range of possibilities. If Palestinians and their friends become violent, Israel might escalate dramatically with an eye toward nipping this intifada in the bud, and teaching a lesson that will keep the next one some years away. Think of Southern Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. Or maybe something more severe. Senior military personnel have mentioned the need to be more thorough than in either of those operations.

Who would be responsible for such an unpleasant turn of events, that might continue to spin out of control?

One explanation is the continued insistence by Palestinians of demands that no Israeli government can accept. The least amenable to compromise the right of return for refugees and their families.

Another explanation is the rightward tilt of the Israeli government, and its refusal to freeze settlements or to consider withdrawing settlements (sizable or others).

Yet another explanation is the naivite of Barack Obama, his failure to recognize the realities of Israeli and Palestinian politics, and his obsessive heating up of the long standing conflict by demanding an early resolution.

My own preference is for a combination of Palestinians and the American President unhinged from reality. I have little patience with proclamations of justice. The rights of refugees have as as little standing in my pantheon as claims that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jews. I will not insist that Bibi and his colleagues are innocent of all charges. It is not clear to me that there have been any opportunities to have been missed since 1948. The conflict is potentially intense and may well be insoluble.

An unscientific reading of opinions that come to my in-box indicates substantial numbers of people thinking that evil resides in the headquarters of the Palestine Authority (West Bank as well as Gaza), Israel's Office of the Prime Minister, and/or the American White House.

Perhaps none of the people in key positions are nice enough to be enjoyable partners over coffee on your balcony or mine. Again I'll paraphrase Harry Truman: if you want a friend in a setting where there are a lot of politicians, buy a dog.

And to paraphrase James Madison in Federalist #51, there are no angels in this fight, just individuals looking after personel preferences, interests, and political realities as they see them. Madison actually wrote, " If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Two hundred and twenty years after Madison, the reference to "men" is problematic, but the principle is the same.

The most recent comment to reach my mailbox is pointed, but actually quite mild by comparison with others.

"It has seemed to me that the 67 line, however arbitrary it might be, has been the de facto basis of measurement for a long time. I thought Netanyahu' s objection was specious."

Also in my mail box is the assertion that the American President is nothing other than a Jew-hating Muslim, and that typical of Palestinians is

"that old old . . . lady . . . describing the massacre of Jews in Hebron with a smile on her face while remembering it, as she wished for us all to disappear by being murdered by her family."

What we are seeing is not an academic seminar where the points go to reasonableness of analysis, truthful and candid reporting, but defending crucial interests in a situation that can provide costly in treasure and blood. The game is political hard ball. If Bibi can forestall violence or the withdrawal of settlements that will not bring peace by spinning the President's words, and ridiculing Abbas' approach to the United Nations General Assembly, he might save a number of Israeli lives, and along the way save what is likely to be several times the number of Palestinian lives.


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 07:28 AM
May 28, 2011
If only that had not happened

The basic flaw in the Palestinian logic, joined by Barack Obama and lots of others, is the problem in turning back history.

Why 1967? Why not something else, earlier or later, equally irrelevant?

By this thinking, what we call the eastern part of United States could still be part of the British Empire, assuming that we don't turn things back before 1066 or whenever it was that William the Conqueror made his journey. There would be no whites living west of the Alleghenies. Beyond the Mississippi would be French or Spanish, depending on whether we erase the French Revolution. And I would be writing this in Yiddish from somewhere east of who knows what.

Justice is equally elusive as picking the appropriate date from which to erase history.

Is it right that Israel has developed to the level of a decent European country while Palestinians are still struggling to put their name on someone else's map? Why should the United States be allowed to be the richest country in the world (aggregate GNP, forget about per capita for the sake of the story) while it scores only 38th in life expectancy and close to that in infant mortality?

Why should bad things happen to good people? While we're at it, we should take another look at the Book of Job.

The fleeting appeal of the Oslo process, circa 1993, is that Israelis and Palestinians agreed for a moment to forget about history, and bargained about what it would take to satisfy each side. That process broke down to the sound of exploding buses and restaurants.

Talk of turning back history is what you do when you have missed the bus. There will be another chance, but it may not come for a while. The relevant history begins now, or maybe not until then. We can thank John Kennedy for telling us that Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

As I read the Palestinian phenomenon, its leaders have made two serious mistakes. One is wanting to turn back history. The second is wanting someone else to do it for them.

The record is Arab efforts in 1948 and 1967, neither of which ended well for the Palestinians. Since then, Arab governments have used the Palestinians as a symbol without substance to deal with their own problems. "Free Palestine" has been the call to distract the common folk from Morocco to Indonesia from their own misery, with little that is tangible beyond the slogan to help the Palestinians. How that will play after the current commotion labeled "Arab Spring" is anybody's guess.

I have no solution for the Palestinians. While managing my e-mail I deal with no end of ideas from well meaning people who have spent their time producing something that looks like one or another of the many items already in the file called Obvious solutions that have not been adopted by the relevant parties.

It is common to assume that there will be a solution, but it may never come.

What actually moves history and produces the future has been troubling at least from the time of Aristotle, if one considers our culture stemming from Greek roots. Or from those who composed the Hebrew Bible for those who think Judaically.

There are no firm answers to questions about history or the future. There are too many variables, responding to too many other variables. It is insightful that History is often located in the Faculty of Humanities rather than Social Sciences. Some have little faith in social science, but history is along with the fuzzier stuff of literature and language.

There is no obvious solution for the conundrum of American health care, or the world's best medicine along with the world's worst delivery. Basques, Catalans, Scots, Welsh, Kurds, Normans, Corsicans, Luo and lots of others may someday get the homelands they claim. And we should worry about the Iroquois, Apache, Navajo and what may be hundreds of other tribes, clans, and bands whose current members feel ill treated. It would also be appropriate to put the Armenians on the list of Holocaust victims, and decide if Columbus Day does enough for Italian Americans to justify its insults to Native Americans.


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 08:55 PM
May 26, 2011
A naive obsession may do not harm, but when it is the obsession of the American president . . .

As I understand what has happened:

Prior to Barack Obama's ascendance to the presidency, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Israel were moving at their own pace to a tolerable coexistence. A technocrat as prime minister, financial aid and training by the United States and Jordan had improved Palestinian security forces. This meant a more orderly society for Palestinians, and reduced attacks on Israelis. Israeli security forces were reducing the incidence of check points throughout the West Bank, allowing a freer flow of people and goods from one area to another. Overseas Palestinians were investing in construction and commerce, putting up new housing, shopping centers, cinemas and other places of entertainment.

Paradise had not arrived. There remained lessons in Palestinian schools with maps that did not show Israel, frequent references to Nakba and the rights of refugees and their descandents to find their homes in Israel. There were aspirations for the creation of a Palestinian state, but it was less prominent that the continued development of a good life.

Then President Obama upped the fire under the idea of a Palestian state, and added a condition that he felt appropriate: the stopping of Israeli construction in Jewish settlements, including in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. These were over the "green line" of the pre-1967 borders of Jerusalem, but were inside the lines that Israel had drawn for its capital in 1967. Most of the construction in these neighborhoods was on vacant land. Several had been populated by Jews since the late 1960s, but they were not only for Jews. When the President proclaimed the impropriety of further building in French Hill and elsewhere, there was an Arab family living two floors below us. According to the President's terms, they could move a wall to change the shape of a room but not us.

Neither Palestinians nor Israelis were ready for a peace process. Two prominent earlier efforts had ended in Palestinian rejections of what Israeli prime ministers had offered. A fair reading was that Israeli political realities would not permit the offer of terms that Palestinian political realities could accept as sufficient.

But the American President pushed, and European heads of state could not be silent. The world leader wanted a Palestinian state, and those dependent on his cooperation for a whole range of concerns joined his chorus. Why not? It did not cost them anything, and they could gain by being on the right side of a conflict seen as the weak Palestinians against the strong Jews. Jewish morality and divisions within the feisty societies of Israel and the Diaspora might lead to flexibility that would tempt the Palestinians.

Neither the head of the West Bank Palestinians nor the Prime Minister of Israel could give away the store. (Both societies have cultural traiditions in small and large commerce, so the shopkeeper analogy is appropriate.)

The result was a stiffening of demands. Neither side expected to get what was being demanded, but stiffening meant that there would be no deal, and they would not have to give away what they could not afford to surrender. Critical here is the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the dismantling of Jewish settlements.

Gaza was another story. Taken over by Hamas in a short but bloody civil war, its leadership was far from the West Bank's concern with putting living standards about nationalist ideology or Islamic theology.

It is reasonable to describe Netanyahu and Abbas as a naysayer, but it is not reasonable to assign them the primary responsibility for doing harm in the Middle East. That responsibility belongs with the President of the United States, and his naive obsession with starting a peace process that neither Israelis nor Palestinians could complete, or wanted to begin. Both Netanyahu and Abbas are expressing extreme opinions as their ways of holding off a peace process that neither can complete due to internal problems. Obama insisted in awakening a sleeping dog, and disturbing Palestinians and Israelis.

The web site Memri has published an item that shows excerpts from the May 20, 2011 broadcast of a Palestinian Authority ceremony honoring the families of prisoners sentenced to one or more life terms in Israeli prisons.

The ceremony was hosted by the Prisoners' Affairs Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Bethlehem's Governor and Deputy Governor, the Palestinian army commander for the Bethlehem district, and head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force in Bethlehem. It honored the families of 39 Palestinians serving a total of 255 life sentences in Israeli prisons for involvement in the killing of Israelis, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians.

It would be inaccurate to describe the Palestinians as barbaric. However, there is an element of barbarism in a culture that celebrates terror in this manner.

Is this the kind state that Barack Obama wants to create? Perhaps not. However, his obsession with Palestinian goes beyond the reality of what was a manageable arrangement before his campaign. What we have now are the heads of Israel and Palestinian indicating what they cannot accept, and ranking Palestinians honoring the murderers of women, children and civilian men who rode buses, dined in restaurants, or simply stood at bus stops.

The mood was better in Israel and the West Bank before January 20, 2009.

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 11:48 PM
May 24, 2011
Don't make things worse

Do no harm is prominent among the lessons taught to medical students. Don't make things worse is the equivalent for students of public policy.

In all the commotion surrounding the Israel-Palestine peace process, or its demise, there are signs that the President of the United States did not internalize those lessons. Perhaps law schools focus too much on short term success.

There was little prospect of a formal Israeli-Palestinian accord before Barack Obama came to office. Things were better than they had been in the early part of the decade. Intifada al-Aqsa had petered out. Israel has learned to guard restaurants and buses, and had brought three times the number of casualties to the Palestinians as Israel had suffered. The successors of Yasir Arafat honored his memory, but changed his tactics. Fatah had been pummeled in a short war with Hamas in Gaza. In the West Bank, Fatah moved to consolidate itself via a greater concern for economic progress than fanatic nationalism. Americans and Jordanians cooperated with Palestinian technocrats and improved the professionalism of security personnel.

It was conventional for American presidents to express their support for Palestinians as well as Israelis, but Barack Obama put considerably more effort than his predecessors into resolving the dispute via the creation of a Palestinian state. He went to Cairo less than six months into his presidency and expressed hopes and expectations for such a state as well as general Muslim enlightenment. He sees surges toward democracy and his own success in the uprisings that began two years later in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. He has supported Israel with financial and military resources, expressed reservations about Palestinian actions, but has not ceased his promotion of a Palestinian state. He has not spoken in clear specifics, but some read his words to endorse a larger entity, closer to the borders of 1967 than expressed by any previous administration.

Results to date?

Palestinians encouraged by the President of the United States put their statehood campaign into high gear. An increasing number of countries recognize a State of Palestine. Some mention the boundaries of 1967, a capital in Jerusalem, and/or the rights of refugees. There may be a large majority endorsing some or all of that at the UN General Assembly in September.

Meanwhile, the same old problems are in the way of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement: borders, refugees, Jerusalem. Plus two issues that have come on the table largely as a result of the campaign begun by the American president: a demand to halt all construction in Jewish settlements over the 1967 lines, including in neighborhoods of Jerusalem where Jews have lived for the better part of four decades; plus the Israeli demand that Palestinians officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

There are those who blame Palestinians for the impasse, and those who blame Israel. Sixty years of hammering at the rights of those called refugees and their descendants have gotten in the way of Palestinian compromise. A three thousand year tradition about God and the Land of Israel creates problems for any Israeli government.

The same old stuff, or actual harm produced by the insistence or obsession of Barack Obama?

That depends if the current commotion spills over from political maneuvers to another round of bloodshed.

God willing, I'll be writing about that in September.

And perhaps later about other events in the region from Morocco to Pakistan. So far, things are arguably no better than before that Cairo speech. Uncertainty, or chaos and bloodshed are more useful terms than a surge toward democracy.

Ira Sharkansky

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:38 PM
Yet another speech

It is hard to imagine a better show than two heads of state, both fluent, and capable of pushing the buttons that bring forth waves of applause. Barack Obama and Benyamin Netanyahu know how to do it.

The immediate commentary in Israel was either partisan or skeptical. Party colleagues praised the speech before Congress for explaining Israel's position, aspirations, and minimum terms for agreement. Political opponents and media commentators noted that they heard what they expected from the Prime Minister: an emphasis on the negative--what he would not do-- along with very general commitments to compromise.

The first Palestinian response was that he said no to 1967 borders, no to refugees, no to Jerusalem, and no to Fatah's effort to seek reconciliation with Hamas. What is there for us to talk about?

A television journalist counted 33 occasions in the Prime Minister's speech when American Senators and Representatives stood and applauded. A commentator sitting alongside him said that Netanyahu's speech would not only convince the Palestinians that they had no Israeli partner. It would also convince President Obama and the heads of European governments that they had no Israeli partner for their efforts to produce peace.

The ball for the most prominent next event is in the Palestinian court. Will they or won't they proceed to request the formal recognition of their statehood by the United Nations General Assembly? They can expect an absolute majority in New York, but they might not gain anything closer to home. At the least we can expect a continued absence of negotiations. Somewhat higher on the scale will be movements by Knesset members to extend Israeli law to various settlements beyond the pre-1967 and the expanded borders of Jerusalem where Israeli law already prevails. Such an action might not survive deliberations in the Government, parliamentary committees. and the full Knesset. Even if it does, it might not change things any more than a UN General Assembly resolution recognizing a Palestinian state with or without borders, with or without the rights of refugees, and with or without a capital in Jerusalem.

As my late friend and colleague Murray Edelman might have said, this will be high season for the politics of symbols.

When Murray first articulated his contribution to political science, a UN General Assembly endorsement of their state would have produced for Palestinians a cup of coffee if they also paid ten cents. Now a UN General Assembly endorsement of their state will provide them with a cup of coffee if they also turn over two to five dollars, depending on where and what kind of brew.

I argued with Murray about the importance of symbolic politics. Symbols will provoke people to feel good or bad, shout in excitement or anger, and even kill, but they are unlikely to defeat a disciplined army or overcome substantial differentials in the resources of those doing the shouting and those being shouted against.

I cannot predict Murray's comments on the here and now. He used to say that symbolic actions were important for the attention they gained and the people they moved.

There is little point in predicting what will be next, let's say after September, when most national governments of the world are likely to have voted their endorsement of a Palestinian state, with or without the active support or passive acquiescence of the great powers. There may be apathy, as officials in the United States and other important countries realize that their best effort has brought no progress. Other crises may attract more attention. Several of them may be in the Middle East, where popular demands for change may be showing more disappointments and casualties than accomplishments. There will be less than six months to the first presidential primary contests in the United States, with candidates positioning themselves to demand something different from what the Obama administration has produced in economic policy, health care, or foreign policy. Europeans may become less interested in Palestine, and more concerned with debt problems closer to home, or an increase of unregulated and unwanted migration from the least stable parts of the Middle East.

It is also possible that Israel will find itself blamed for a stalemate considered important by opinion leaders and policymakers. There may be efforts to enact sanctions that go beyond the local boycotts or disinvestment resolutions seen to date. A nasty international mood may impact on the Israeli electorate. Netanyahu may be weakened by members of his own coalition and Knesset members further to the right who feel that his nay saying was not firm enough.

I often think of these notes as the equivalent of what a critic writes after an evening at a play or concert. Such a person recognizes a performance meant to entertain, enlighten, or enhance a mood. An observer of politics should also know that there is an element of theater in the statements and actions of those wishing to lead, as well as commentators and citizens. When observing governance, one may hope for something beyond a pursuit of admiration, but maybe not.

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 11:12 AM
Where are we?

We're in the midst of a competitive talkathon. Barack has spoken twice, once to clarify things after Bibi spoke out against his first speech. Bibi has spoken to AIPAC and his bigger one will be to Congress. What came through Israel Radio's coverage of the AIPAC speech was less intense applause than the same audience gave to the President, and a disturbance from anti-Bibi folks of the kind that was absent from the President's appearance.

It is too early to suggest Barack Obama as a candidate to lead the Israeli government. He may be trapped in Europe due to that volcanic eruption in Iceland.

Reports are that unnamed but senior officials in the American administration are furious at Bibi for misrepresenting the President's position on the borders prior to 1967. Israelis are divided on the issue. Likudniks and politicians further to the right are supporting him, at least when they are not criticizing him for being too generous with respect to Palestinian aspirations. Other politicians and some artful commentators are criticizing him for going too far in his comments about the President's speech, ridiculing him for shooting himself in the foot or kicking the ball through the goal at the wrong end of the field.

Where are we?

· Barack clarified that "pre-1967 boundaries as a basis for discussion does not mean a return to those boundaries." That was clear, but Bibi spinned the President's comments in order to stake a position against anything close to those lines, or maybe against anything.

· Barack clarified, once again, that the ultimate borders must be agreed between the parties.

· That is not too far from Bibi's insistence that negotiations must not have any preconditions.

· The President did not say that territorial decisions and swaps of land must leave the Palestinians with the same amount of land they had before 1967. However, some Israelis are reading his comments to say that, and we can expect Palestinians to adopt that position.

· That is one indication that these negotiations, if they ever begin, will not be easy or quick. Another indication is the persistent issue of Palestinian refugees.

· Numerous people are saying that refugees are not a problem. "Everyone knows they will not come to Israel." Everyone of good hope may be saying that, but the Palestinians are sticking to their demand for the rights of refugees, their children, grandchildren etc to return to what they have been told are their homes.

· Jerusalem also remains as a tough issue. While some Israelis are willing to hive off one or all Arab neighborhoods for the sake of a Palestinian capital, others want continued control over the entire city, Jewish as well as Arab.

· We do not know which elements of each side's rhetoric is meant only to stake out postures in anticipation of drawn-out negotiations that will involve give and take, and how much represents non-negotiable demands that will doom any prospect of agreement.

· The President has adopted the position that Israel is threatened by the increase in Palestinian population. People may not like the looks of Israel's security barrier, or where it is, but Israel will demand to keep it in place. It is designed to keep out those babies, as well as their older siblings, parents, and grandparents.

· The President is urging Israelis to think about the increasing support he sees in the international community, and in the United States, for the rights of Palestinians. That is a cause for concern, even though it is still some distance from anything concrete.

· The President worries about the participation of Hamas in the Palestinian leadership. The response of the Palestinian leadership is, "That is our business."

The last item suggests that we can relax. The Palestinians are living up to their reputation. Once again they are likely to save us from ourselves; in this case from Bibi's rhetoric.

The latest news to worry our friends who dream of a Palestinian state is the heart attack of Salam Fayyad. At 60 years old, Fayyad is one of the young men of the Palestinian establishment, and has been touted as a professional who might be able to rescue the Authority from intensely political infighting, nepotism, and other varieties of corruption that have been its fate. Fayyad has served as prime minister of the West Bank regime, and is credited with improving management and security, and attracting investments from overseas Palestinians. Fayyad's has a PhD in economics from the University of Texas. That by itself gives him more credit among Israelis than Mahmoud Abbas' PhD from the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, earned with a dissertation that smells of Holocaust denial. Fayyad was a technocrat with the International Monetary Fund before taking on the task of prime minister. He is a Palestinian nationalist who does not identify with a political party, acceptable to Fatah but not to Hamas.

First reports are that Fayyad's heart attack was not life threatening. More worrying for the future of Palestine is his continued rejection by Hamas.

Israelis are concerned about the Prime Minister's speech to the American Congress. His task is the difficult one of preserving Israel's interest against the steps too far of President Obama, without playing the conservative Republicans in the Congress against the liberal Democratic President. That would break all the rules of how Israel has stayed in the good graces of the American government, no matter which party is in power.

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 01:56 AM
May 22, 2011
More on culture

May 21st has arrived in the Holy Land, and the sunrise was impressive.

There may be higher than usual air pollution. Last evening was designated for the celebration of Lag B'Omer, with celebrations around bonfires continuing until dawn.

May 21st day is not over, but its progress until now provokes me to continue my comments about the importance of culture, and their differences from one community to another. We'll begin not with Palestinians and Israelis, but Christians and Jews, and how believers in each community read the Hebrew Bible.

First off, notice the label. For us, it is the Bible and not the Old Testament. "Hebrew Bible" is the preferred designation among modern scholars, Christians as well as Jews, who agree that "Old Testament" retains the anti-Judaic sentiments found in the New Testament. Notice that I label them anti-Judaic and not anti-Semitic. The language of the New Testament helped produce anti-Semitism, but the authors were Jews by ethnicity if no longer by belief.

The hitherto failure of yet another Christian prediction about the end of days points to a prominent difference in how Jews and Christians read the Hebrew Bible. For Jews, who claim authorship as part of their history, the prevailing view is that prophets and others who produced the text spoke to their time, and were not primarily concerned with prediction. Another prevailing view among Jews is that the Hebrew Bible is not clear enough to guide one's life. The Mishnah began the process of clarifying the laws of the Torah, the Talmud continued the process, and modern rabbis are still arguing the meaning of biblical text.

Notice the careful phrasing about "prevailing views." Among the numerous Jewish traditions is one that seeks hidden messages in the Bible. And there are Jews who have absorbed more of the Christianity surrounding them than their own rabbinical tradition, and think that the prophets were "prophesizing," or predicting. Some of the prophets' language speaks of prediction, but the conventional Jewish view is that they expressed God's judgement of contemporary injustices, and were not forecasting beyond their time to ours. There is no better explanation of Jewish criticism, and impatience with all indications of injustice than Amos 5:21-24. According to traditiion, here as elsewhere, the prophet was speaking for God.

"I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

Those wanting to sort through the calculations of Christian doomseers who fixate on May 21, 2011 can begin with Yet another calculation based upon ancient texts holds that May 21 is only the day of judgement, and the world will not end until October 21, 2011. One of my Christian internet friends usually writes to me in general terms about God's plan for Israel, the United States, and others. In one of his e-mails he specified September 29 for something awesome. I put a note on my calendar to check events on that day and write to him about my observations.

All of these Christian Bible deciphers are part of a long tradition that has identified one or another date of the End, or Salvation, only to stutter or re-predict when their expectations fail.

For a Jew like myself the value of the Hebrew Bible and subsequent Jewish writings is not so much in the details, but in the long tradition of quarreling about important issues. My study of Talmud on Shabbat morning with a religious friend has not made me religious, but has given me a feeling of participating in conversations that have continued for the 2200 years or so since the earliest rabbis cited in the Talmud found problems in the language of the Torah, issued their interpretations of law, judged disputes, and taught their students. My friend instructs me in interpretations he learned from his teachers, they learned from their teachers, and so on--by tradition--back to Moses.

Argument among Jews who study their traditions is more apparent than certainty. Orthodox rabbis have become more rigid in accepting the decisions of their predecessors, but Judaic culture has produced more flexible varieties of Judaism. Most Jews think for themselves and do not adhere to the teachings of any rabbi.

Likewise, most people who call themselves Christians are as free thinking as most Jews, and are not guided in their daily actions by a religious leader.

When those calling themselves Muslims arrive at a similar point of personal independence, we may begin the process that Barack Obama has prophesized for this land.

Again let me note that I do not accept comments on this site in order to save myself from spam. I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.

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 12:04 AM
May 21, 2011
Different worlds

The Germans call it in zwischen zwei Welten: between two worlds.

The image of participating in both, without being an intimate of either came to me as I pondered Barack Obama's speech on the Middle East and North Africa, Bibi's response, and the post-speech meeting between them. There will be other speeches by each in the coming days, so this story will go on into the future when actions on the ground join what people are saying.

I got into this mood before hearing the speech, when an American internet friend sat with me on the balcony, and tried to convince me of his reasonable suggestions for getting an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The visitor is a county politician. His league is tiny compared to Obama's, but they share a culture different from Israel's, and much different from the community we could see from the balcony.

The half lifetime I spent in the United States allows me to understand the President and the county politician. The half lifetime spent here allows me to understand the Prime Minister, and to some extent the people of Isaweea.

Obama and my internet friend are reasonable people who think about concession and compromise. That is the language of business and politics that prevails in their culture. It does not always work, but it does most of the time, eventually. It is also a language of Israel. Almost all our political activists, religious and well as secular, play by rules of the game that resemble those of Washington and small town America.

The folks of Isaweea and beyond think in other terms and play by other rules. Concession and compromise are not as central. The bargaining apparent in their business dealings does not extend to issues with religious significance.

Of greatest importance in this category is the topic of refugees. The rights of those who left home in 1948 (whether fleeing violence, urged to depart temporarily by Arabs confident of victory, or pushed out by Jews), plus their descendants, has been a subject hammered at by politicians, teachers, and clerics for six decades. It has religious meaning associated with the rightful dominance of Muslims in the Middle East.

The artful phrases of Barack Obama cannot deal with this issue. Bibi's response to the symbol of 1967 boundaries may have too quick and too shrill, but it expressed the view that those boundaries are a long way from Washington.

The cultural divide between Israelis and Palestinians may be too great for agreement. While it is a western platitude that the unresolved status quo of Israel and Palestine cannot continue, the reality is that it has lasted since 1967. The future is never certain, but there are reasons to believe that it will continue beyond the careers of western politicians who say that it cannot.

· Israel is stronger, economically and militarily than ever before. A million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have been integrated. The children of a hundred thousand Ethiopians appear in the universities and the IDF officer corps. It is no surprise that Russian speakers have integrated more quickly and successfully, but Ethiopians are also adding to our human resources.

· The West Bank is going through another period of investment by overseas Palestinians and internal development. Life is improving for them, and giving them reason to avoid conflict with Israel. Palestinians have invited me to visit Ramallah, which they say is "just like Tel Aviv." I would need a permit to pass through the IDF's check point, and a reason to request a permit. The lynching that occurred in Ramallah a decade ago and the near lynching in Isaweea six months ago are keeping me from requesting a permit. I have told my Palestinian student teaching at Birzeit University that I would welcome an invitation to lecture to his class when the time is right. That time will not come soon, and perhaps not while I still have a capacity to say something worth hearing.

· Palestinians have coalition issues that block compromise on the issues of territory, Jerusalem, and refugees, made even more severe by the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Israelis also have coalition issues, but they are not touched by threats of violence comparable to those seen among the Palestinians, and are more readily smoothed over by political acumen than in the case of Palestine.

· The Palestinians have been supported in their nationalism and prodded to extremism by other Muslims since 1948. Palestine has served Muslim tyrants wanting to excite their populations, but that may no longer work as in the past. Those populations are now intent on dealing with their own problems.

Barack and Bibi acknowledge their differences. They share a political culture that allows them to agree to disagree. National interests and good sense lead them to express mutual admiration, or at least mutual respect or mutual tolerance. The American President tilts more than some of his predecessors toward the Palestinians, but he is enough of a westerner to recognize that the Palestinians are outside the cultural milieu that he shares with the Israeli Prime Minister. Thus, his comment that the Fatah-Hamas alliance is a stumbling block to negotiations, and that Palestinians must deal with some difficult issues more fully than until now.

Living on the borders of cultures has its attractions. I appreciate American as well as Israeli traits, and feel empathy for Palestinians.

Empathy does not extend to support for all their goals. Too many events continue the relevance the classic expression of self-defense that appears in the Talmud (Berakhot, page 58 a) בא להרגך השכם להרגו If someone comes to kill you, rise early in the morning to kill him. The point is not lost to Americans after 9-11. The pride of the President in having dealt with Osama bin Laden does not provide carte blanche to Israelis, but it does provide a basis of mutual understanding.

Ira Sharkansky

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:49 AM
May 20, 2011
Another speech

Responses are all over the map to Barack Obama's highly touted speech on the Middle East and North Africa. Take your pick: from indifference to despair, excitement and anger. There was enough in it for everyone.

The mention of 1967 borders brought one of Benyamin Netanyahu's instant responses, described as "icy" by the New York Times. He said that Israel would not accept 1967 borders, but the President did not ask him to. What I heard was that 1967 lines would be the starting point of negotiations involving give and take. What and how much would be left up to the parties.

So what else is new on that topic?

Also troubling was the President's urging of an initial settling of borders and only later negotiations over refugees and Jerusalem. Netanyahu's position is that the trickiest issues must be settled along with borders, in order not to leave reasons for Palestinians to continue their struggle after they have already been assured the extent of their state.

If you want icy, that was the water the President dropped on the Palestinians' plan to have a state recognized by the United Nations General Assembly. Palestinian leaders are meeting, and one can assume they are worried. The President also expressed concern about the Fatah alliance with Hamas. Both wings of Palestinian politics will be unhappy with the President's affirmation of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Lidudniks are lining up with the cold reservations of their party leader. Prominent voices from Kadima are saying that the President's outline was the kind of breakthrough needed, and that Netanyahu should either sign on or resign.

The New York Times perceives reactions in Arab capitals to be mixed and muted. Not surprising. Except for some sharp words about Asad and Qaddafi, the 80 percent or so of the speech not directed at Jews and Palestinians was largely a collection of American platitudes. Some seemed more designed for employees of the State Department than Arab capitals, namely the good words about the rights of women. In all the President said on that subject, I did not hear anything about a woman's right to drive a car, or the name of that oil producing country that buys all that expensive military hardware from the United States, where women risk a great deal by daring to drive.

From what we know about presidential speeches, this one probably began with invitations sent from the White House to relevant agencies asking for suggested input. Most likely a hundred or more people created or poured over the suggestions, argued about how many words should be devoted to each subject, then which words. Increasingly smaller groups would edit draft after draft with an ear to what the President indicated he wanted, until the President himself did the final touch-up.

In what may have been part of the theatrics invested in the speech, media personalities had to fill more than a half hour of air time from the time the speech was advertised as beginning. They speculated about disputes between the President and his advisors continuing until the last moments.

A well dressed, attractive woman brought a folder to the podium, seemingly as a final warm up for the President's appearance. Some minutes later, she returned to remove the folder. Was this meant to suggest ongoing ambivalence about the contents? Who reads from a folder in the era of Teleprompters, placed so it looks like the speaker is actually talking extemporaneously to this side and then that side of the audience?

The Secretary of State's introduction was an overly long drone of praise for the men and women of the State Department and AID. As taught in an introduction to personnel management, she was raising her organizational flag for the sake of morale.

Balance, values, principles rather than details were the prominent traits. The text, if not the substance, would earn a high grade for the group that crafted it, and the President who guided the work, embellished it, and delivered it. It flowed well. We saw again that the President speaks well.

The content would get high grades from some, low grades from others.

Some see clarity and new departure. Others the same old stuff meant to solidify the claims for controlling the high ground of international relations by Barack Obama and the United States.

The President praised his own previous speech in Cairo, and claimed to have contributed to the uprising toward democracy across the region. He also said that there would be ups and downs in the process, that it would differ from country to country, and would produce disappointments as well as accomplishments.

He praised America's contribution to the development of democracy in Iraq, which sounded ghoulish in the light of continuing explosions. He promised a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in the not too distant future, and could be judged as absurdly optimistic about what they would leave behind.

All told, it is best described as the work of a committee, with all the pluses and minuses of committee work.

Varda and I met a neighborhood friend on our morning walk. He is an Arab social scientist who writes about Palestinians. I told him that we were arguing about what the President said in his speech, and invited him to join the deliberation. His response: "Did he say anything?"

Will it make a difference? Was the delivery up to the theatrics of the build up?

The obvious platitude is "time will tell."

With time there will be other events to stimulate the ongoing flows in the region. Analysts with one or another political tilt will argue who and what was responsible.

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 02:00 AM
May 17, 2011
Not an occasion for panic

On Nakba Day, thousands of Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon, as well as Gaza, marched toward Israel. On the border between the Golan Heights and Syria, the IDF was expecting the focus to be somewhere else, and by the time a handful of soldiers came to confront the marchers, some 150 of them managed to break through the wire fence and enter Israel.

The Druze village of Majdal Shams is right up against the border at that point, and most of those 150 spent a half hour or so in the village. Their welcome was mixed. Druze are a minority in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and well practiced in being good citizens in their homelands. Those on the Golan are in the difficult position of not knowing if Israel might someday return their village to Syria. Most have not taken Israeli citizenship, and unlike their relatives in the Galilee who have been Israeli citizens since 1948 with their sons drafted into the army, those on the Golan who are not citizens and not subject to conscription.

Once the first contingent of a half-dozen soldiers reached the point of crossing, they managed to stop the crowd. On the basis of videos taken by photographers who vastly outnumbered the soldiers, it appears that the troops shot at the legs of those intent on coming. There were a number wounded, and claims of four dead.

The elders of Majdal Shams behaved with typically Druze quiet self-control, and escorted most of the visitors back to the border.

Two Syrian-Palestinians managed to hide in Majdal Shams for a day, and a third made it all the way to Jaffa.

Estimates are that a total of 16 Palestinians were killed by gun fire from Israeli soldiers or--in the case of those approaching the border with Lebanon--from Lebanese soldiers intent on avoiding an international confrontation.

Indications are that the biggest march was promoted by the Syrian government concerned to distract its population and international media from the bloodshed it is directing against protesting Syrians. Hezbollah provided organization and transportation for the march toward the Lebanese border with Israel.

All told, it was far from the liberation of Palestine or the realization of Palestinians' right of return, but was enough to upset some commentators, and set the IDF planning for the next time.

Policy is not to overreact and create an bloodbath, but to prevent border crossings. Insofar as the confrontation is between a highly motivated but untrained and poorly organized crowd on the one hand, and a sophisticated and disciplined military on the other hand, the advantage is clear.

Among the actions we might expect are:

•A more effective use of unmanned aircraft to cover potential lines of march so that there will be an appropriate contingent of soldiers waiting for those heading to the border.
•An upgrading of the mine fields along the borders. As long as these are fenced, and intruders warned by signs in their language, the casualties should not upset those with a balanced concern about human rights and the importance of national borders.
•Soldiers prepared to use an an escalating use of weaponry, with deadly force not employed except as a last resort.
•Along the way to deadly force might be massive use of tear gas, then ammunition meant to hurt but not kill.
•The airforce might fly over the swarm at very low altitude. A number of F15s at an altitude of 100 meters flying at full powe should send most people running.
•Artillery shells fired in advance of those approaching the border, meant to warn rather than injure.

Ultimately it may be necessary to use deadly force against unarmed civilians. If it comes after ample warning and less deadly efforts to stop a crowd, the presence of a marked border should be enough to persuade the reasonable about the propiety of Israel's actions.

Will this tactic of mass movements of unarmed civilians toward the borders produced by Palestinians--no doubt to be joined by the morally convinced from Europe and North America--change the map of the Middle East?

Not likely.

Israel has shown itself to be sufficiently restrained while defending itself to remain off the agendas for sanctions and retaliations maintained by governments important to us. The mass marches of unarmed civilians will demand some care on Israel's part. We can expect the young men who were pictured on our television screens this week to be joined by old men, women, children, and babes in arms. Efforts from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Jordan may be joined by West Bankers moving toward Israeli cities and Jewish settlements. Organizers will employ facebook, twitter and cell phones, invite the press, and expect videos to appear immediately on international media.

As in other confrontations, our future will be in the hands of 18-21 year olds along with older reservists, trained to be disciplined but willing to kill if necessary. The immediate orders will be given by young officers or reservists coming from their civilian jobs, responsible to a hierarchy of military professionals ultimately under the authority of the Defense MInister and Prime Minister.

The arsenal available is as sophisticated and deadly as anything in the world, but for these purposes infantry rifles may be the most deadly weapons used.

I would not join a crowd intent on overcoming that array.


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 07:19 AM
May 15, 2011
Nakba and the plight of the Israeli center

Some years ago, Ehud Barak said that if he had been born a Palestinian, he would probably have become a freedom fighter.

It was a rare hint of personal warmth in a man described by colleagues as one of the coldest fishes in Israeli politics. Barak's military career featured a leading role freeing hostages in an early airplane hijacking, and later head of the IDF General Staff. He entered politics when he retired from the military, and has served as Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, and Prime Minister.

As Prime Minister he made one of the most forthcoming offers to Palestinians, and ordered a unilateral withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon. He absorbed major criticism from political allies and adversaries for the "if I was born a Palestinian" comment. Most recently, as Defense Minister, he has urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to be more forthcoming in negotiations, charged several of his Labor Party colleagues in the Knesset for being too much inclined to accept Palestinian demands, and led about half the MKs from the Labor Party to a new entity called Independence.

We could label Barak a waverer, a centrist, or a man who is stubbornly insistent on trying to reach an agreement, despite occasional comments that the Palestinians are impossible partners. As such, he represents the conundrum of the Israeli center. One can conclude that he wants to make a deal, but is kept from being as generous as he might want by an Israeli right (religious and secular) that is intensely distrustful of Palestinians and is more popular than he, as well as by Palestinians who are at least as far from compromise as the Israeli right.

The Palestinian leadership has created what might only be a cosmetic alliance between its secular and Islamic factions, seemingly in preparation for an UN vote in September that will bestow an upgraded recognition of a state. The secular Palestinian leadership refuses to negotiate with an Israeli government headed by Benyamin Netanyahu, and the Israeli government refuses to deal with a Palestinian regime that includes parties committed to armed conflict against Israel's existence. Both the secular and Islamic voices are sticking with the traditional insistence on a right of return for what they call Palestinian refugees, which is an assured deal breaker for any but the smallest slice of Israelis.

Palestinians are the weaker party and perennial losers in this conflict, and have not done enough to persuade Israelis to act against the most die hard and distrustful among us.

Cultivating a refugee mindset among multiple generations is a prime candidate for the Palestinians' worst move. They have enough weight in international politics to have won their own UN agency (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA), and refugee status for the original refugees' children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and subsequent offspring to the end of time. Other refugee groups deal with a comprehensive UN agency (UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR) that grants refugee status only to the people who left home for one or another recognized reason.

A lack of realism in Palestinian politics, reinforced by a similar fault among Muslim countries urging them to continue on their path, has kept the Palestinians from accepting what the vast majority of Israelis have viewed as decent compromises. Now they are trying for a home run in the United Nations rather than going through the unpleasant tasks of giving as well as taking in negotiations.

I do not admire Prime Minister Netanyahu's body language, his smirk, and his reputation for unreliability. I would prefer that he put more emphasis on the Palestinians' lack of willingness to compromise and speak with less finality about his own firm position. Yet I cannot say a change in his style would do anything more than please me.

Personality and the arguments made by individuals count for a lot less in international relations than national interests. Harry Truman said. "If you want a friend in this town, buy a dog." Politics in high places does not involve friendship or style, but confrontations of demands and capacities.

As I write this, we are about half way through the annual celebration of Nakba. So far there is one dead Palestinian in Jerusalem, one dead Jew in Tel Aviv, several dead among individuals trying to enter Israel from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, lots of stones to clean from the roads near Arab neighborhoods, and people being treated for injuries. Yesterday the police managed to arrest a few of the stone throwers and keep things confined with non-lethal measures of crowd control, until someone fired a pistol that killed a Palestinian teenager. His father says he was a good boy and did not demonstrate. All activists from stone throwers to suicide bombers are described like that by family and friends. The shot may have come from a Jewish settler who was nearby, or from a Palestinian wanting to heat things up. Whoever did it, the death produced a funeral procession of thousands, more stone throwing and work for the police.

This morning an Arab truck driver went on a rampage in Tel Aviv. He killed one pedestrian, damaged several vehicles and injured passers by until he ran into a bus that heavier than his truck. He claimed it was all an accident. That's what they all say. The judicial process will do its work. If found guilty, the driver is likely to die some years from now as an old man in an Israeli prison.

This is not a time to visit the gas station on the border between French Hill and Isaweea. We have been kept awake by the sounds of explosions from the Isaweea side of that gas station, and a police helicopter above us and them.

Still scheduled is a flotilla intent on reaching Gaza, and the September meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Longer range, the greater power of Israel should keep Palestinians at bay, with their state not much more than an empty gesture.

People like Ehud Barak, Benyamin Netanyahu, and the rest of us in the wide center will hope for Palestinian leaders more willing to compromise than any we have seen in 63 years. My e-mail is open for anyone who is optimistic.


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 05:20 AM
May 13, 2011
Why us?

Why the fascination with this little corner of the world?

Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in the bloodiest of conflicts. Neither of us can claim to be the most threatened or oppressed. Yet Israelis are at the focus of supervision, criticism, and the threat of sanctions, while the Palestinians are coddled.

Religion, energy, geopolitics, ego, national interests, and the domestic politics of great powers are among the reasons.

Explanation is more controversial than simple description.

The Land of Israel has no oil, but has been a powerful religious symbol with the Jews since their emergence as a people. Scholars quarrel about Jewish origins, but Israel has been a religious icon since Hebrews, Israelites, Judeans, or Jews began telling stories about themselves perhaps 3,000 years ago. The story of Jesus, the spread of Christianity, and the fascination of Mohammed with Jerusalem also beg explanation, but add to the status and problems of the Holy Land.

Geopolitics has been a factor at least as long as religion. Pity the Jews that the Land of Israel is the bridge between Africa and Asia, with Europe not far distant. In ancient times it was on the invasion route of imperial rivals. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome wanted it. By the time Britain was dominant, Christianity was a motive, then the Suez Canal, proximity to oil, and tensions between newly awakened Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms.

National interest, the inflated egos of politicians, and the domestic politics of great powers bring us to present details.

The United States aspires to maintain its position as world leader, which means that it must involve itself in issues that attract attention. Jews and Evangelical Christians are close to the tables where things are decided in the United States. Israeli Jews were the darlings of those with feelings about justice, but that has declined with distance from the Holocaust. Now the mantle of the oppressed has descended on Palestinians, even though they are far from the most unfortunate of the world's peoples and Israeli Arabs even further from the neediest of minorities.

Liberal Christians tend to side with Palestinians against conservative Protestants siding with Israeli Jews. Liberal American Jews cannot let themselves be passive. They may be the most conflicted of the relevant clusters. Some outshout other supporters of Palestine while others speak up for their people in Israel. An unknown number of American Jews are assimilated to the point where Israel is a minor concern.

One does not have to read Harold Lasswell (Psychopathology and Politics) to know that successful politicians have big egos. Notice the body language shown by the Israeli Prime Minister and the American President, and gain some understanding of the tensions between them. For an image of the egoist in chief, recall the picture of George W. Bush in a military jacket declaring victory on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Domestic problems also have something to do with the attention that the American president devotes to Israel. Reminiscent of Arab dictators who shout Palestine in an effort to distract attention from problems they cannot fix, Barack Obama finds himself drawn to international affairs as his safest venue. Conservative Republicans in control of the House of Representatives express an interest in Israel, but not with the intensity they show for issues of economic and social policies. Obama's world class ego will not let him wait quietly for the chaos in the Middle East to settle down and indicate who are the key players in Arab governments.

He is not likely to suffer politically even if he does not succeed in solving anything internationally. American voters, like those of other countries, are most concerned with their economic prospects and other domestic issues. Without compulsory military service, an American president can risk the lives of those who volunteer without having the voters turn against him as they turned against Lyndon Johnson. And in case you haven't noticed, it is not generally the children of the big donors or prominent activists who sign up for the military.

The personality of individual leaders has a role in what happens, but is filtered through institutions thick with advisors, checks and balances, and interest groups. Barack Obama may be more inclined to Muslim interests than his predecessor, but he is no Muslim, anti-Semite, or wild card on the international scene. He has annoyed Israel and its friends, but Israel is not impotent, and the American President has shown a capacity to adjust in the face of opposition. Even if he postures himself as concerned about Muslims, there is enough animosity to the United States among them to limit his influence.

We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that Israel is a great power. But others should not deceive themselves into exaggerating its weaknesses.

In short, there are lots of forces pushing in various directions.

It may be controversial to assess what is happening, and why, but it is easier than trying to influence events, and is less likely to do harm.


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 07:23 AM
May 12, 2011
So many possibilities, many of them unpleasant

The word is that Barack Obama is about to lay on the table an updated plan for Israel and Palestine. According to one of Israel's most widely read newspapers, the President will deliver a "speech of greater closeness" to Muslims.

Will this be another learning experience for the American president at the expense of Israelis and Palestinians?

If conditions seem right for a dramatic gesture, something is wrong with what I know about politics, bargaining, public policy, the Middle East, and other basics of human behavior.

On the other hand, my recent record is not as bad as Barack Obama's:
• Pushing the Palestinians to demand a freeze of settlements, including the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem
• Doing what he could to move Hosi Mubarak from power to being put on trial for his life, claiming to advance the cause of democracy, with no signs of any greater success than in the case of his predecessor's effort to democratize Iraq via invasion
• Claims of success in Afghanistan, while professionals in the American military have been saying something else to journalists
• Joining a civil war in Libya, with no clue as to what he is aiding
• Claiming success in a fire fight with the arch demon Osama bin Laden, a day before he admitted that there was little resistance and Americans had killed an unarmed man
• Asserting that Islam is not the problem, while I've lost track of how many Muslim countries are being targeted by American forces
Is now the time to push the Israelis and Palestinians to dramatic heights of effort, while there is rampant or potential chaos in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and nervous concern about instability elsewhere in the region?

My worm's eye view gives me no clues as to the nature of regimes that will prevail in our most powerful and nearest neighbors, i.e., Syria and Egypt.

Sunday is the Palestinians' celebration of the Nakba, what they view as the disaster visited on them by the Jews in 1948. Israel will permit peaceful marches in the style of a democracy that tolerates protest, but is putting security forces on alert to the possibility of something else. That hum above me is most likely an unmanned plane, circling over Isaweea, Shoafat, and other places within shouting distance.

Nakba will be a practice run for other anticipated actions by those who think they have a monopoly on morality. Next will be a flotilla to liberate Gaza. Then the September session of the UN General Assembly, when a large majority of countries will go through the motions of recognizing a state whose borders will include me along with about a half-million other Jews proclaimed as unwanted by the creators of the new state.

Hope springs eternal in the breast of the politician in chief. Europeans and the Secretary of General of the United Nations will join his chorus.

It is not a time to pack our bags. I'm planning to stay, observe, and comment. There should be a lot of action to keep the adrenalin flowing.

So many scenarios are possible. The White House should think about a few.
• Bloodshed as Nakba demonstrations go out of control
• Muslim unrest spreading to the West Bank and/or Gaza, both of which suffer from ineffective and oppressive regimes
• Another intifada directed against Israelis
• Rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon
• Israeli actions, followed quickly by charges of disproportionate responses
• Hair tearing at the General Assembly, Security Council, and White House

Perhaps I have it all wrong. Those of stronger faith may see the American president as the Messiah, capable of bringing peace and cordiality where there has been a century of violence and distrust.

Establishing Davidic roots will be difficult, but who knows what genes found their way to Kansas or East Africa. If Brits can claim descent from the Biblical king for their monarch, why not Americans for this charismatic president?

Should anyone see a white donkey grazing on the White House lawn, I will prepare an apology for all of the above.

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 04:16 AM
May 10, 2011
Judging Israelis and Jews

During a week when Israel is celebrating its 63 birthday, it is appropriate to take another look at its accomplishments and the receptions given them.

Israel is among the most successful of the 100 or so countries that came on the scene as the result of World War II and the collapse of European empires. The country's economy, technology, military, and democracy are admirable when compared to those of the First World, and far beyond the Third World where languish almost all the new countries of Africa and Asia. Latin American and Eastern European countries are also below Israel on just about any measure of economic or political well being.

Israelis complain about their social services, and it cannot match the best universities and clinics of the United States or Western Europe. Yet there is no other country with all its universities scoring in the top 500 as ranked by a reputable Chinese organization, and Israel's health system produces indicators comparable to those of Western Europe. Its Arab minority scores better on health than the American White majority.

Israeli Arabs complain, with some justice, about discrimination. However, they do not face restrictions on education and language comparable to those of the Kurds in Turkey. That country may be on the margins of democracy, but France is a paragon, and it restricts the dress options of Muslims in ways that are beyond conception in Israel.

Israel's accomplishments do not square with its reception. It is targeted for condemnation by the international left, including faculties in North American and European universities, and singled out by the United Nations Human Rights Commision, as well as by a number of non-governmental organizations claiming to be world guardians of proper behavior.

A former American president authored a book about Israel that featured the high octane curse of "apartheid" in its title. He backed up after publication and said that he was not referring to Israel proper, but to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank. There he found "even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa."

Life may not be pleasant for the Palestinians of the West Bank or Gaza, but a reasonable person should take account of the defensive nature of the restrictions Israel imposes, and the record of Palestinian attacks. While the world majority may consider the West Bank to be Palestinian and occupied by Israel, a judge who is not reflexively anti-Israel might admit that the territory is no one's, and is disputed pending agreement. Except for incursions in response to violence, Israel has not occupied the principal areas of Palestinian settlement since the early 1990s.

One does not have to be an insensitive Israeli patriot to question the attention and conclusions directed at Israel compared to the records of other countries, including some of those who have sat as judges in the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and the Security Council.

It may be an unpleasant stretch for some who read this, but the distorted judgment of Israel reminds me of what the United States judiciary rendered against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Jonathan Pollard. There may be no question about the guilt of Julius Rosenberg and Jonathan Pollard. The case of Ethel Rosenberg is more ambiguous. In the volumes of commentary is the claim that she was charged, tried, and sentenced in order to pressure Julius to reveal more than he did, and that no one in authority would alter her sentence in the intensely anti-Communist environment of 1953.

The Rosenberg and Pollard cases are rife with controversy, but--like Israel--they were judged more severely than others accused of similar offenses.. (See, for example, ttp:// and

The role of Jews in the Rosenberg and Pollard cases may also have something to do with Jewish feelings about imperfect assimilation and divided loyalties. Judge Irving Kaufman sentenced the Rosenbergs to death, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberg (a convert to Christianity) urged the court to overturn a plea bargain that could have freed Jonathan Pollard long before now. The role of Jews (Israeli and others) in the campaigns to boycott, disinvest, and impose sanctions on Israel may also reflect Jewish insecurities as well as uneven standards.

Take a look at Ecclesiastes .

. . . there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"? (1:9-10)

Israel, like Jews, may be chosen, but not for the most desirable of purposes.


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 05:54 AM
May 07, 2011
Bibi, Mahmoud, and Socrates

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu returned from visits with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarcozy, and claimed victory for his diplomatic mission. He said that both heads of governments had assured him that Hamas must recognize Israel before Palestine becomes a state.

Reports from France and Britain are different. The French are especially clear, and British reports somewhat more nuanced, but both may recognize a Palestinian state if serious negotiations do not begin by September.

Will the French and British take account of Mahmoud Abbas' statement that there is no point in negotiating with Netanyahu?

Bibi is an articulate speaker, in English as well as Hebrew. Israeli polls find that many Israelis find him persuasive. Several of my American correspondents have said that criticism of him is dangerous, insofar as he is the most effective spokesman of this beleaguered country.

The view of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Knesset Opposition Leader may be that of a minority. 'Bibi? I don't believe him'. Too bad for us that Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarcozy, and Angela Merkel are closer to Livni's view than to Bibi's view of himself.

Israel's position moving toward the September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly has some strength along with a prominent weakness. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas indicates that he will not take the advice of Angela Merkel to avoid pressing the case at this time. It looks like a UN majority will recognize a Palestinian state.

The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah has produced increased support for the Palestinian cause, or at least a "wait and see." Netanyahu's instantaneous rejection may have been one of Bibi's too quick and too simple. The near consensus of Israeli commentators is that Hamas' posture vis a vis Israel will foil any serious collaboration with Fatah, but meantime it is too easy to view Bibi as a rejectionist, especially among those suspicious of his motives and reliability. "Know thyself" has been urged on leaders at least since the time of Socrates. Bibi has not absorbed that lesson.

It might have been better for Netanyahu to assert that Israel would not recognize Palestine, or even begin negotiations with the newly reconciled Authority until its major partners accepted previous Palestinian agreements, including the recognition of Israel's legitimacy. It might also help in the important sectors of the international community to assert that Israel cannot accept the idea of a Palestinian state where Jewish settlers could not remain as residents or citizens. The notion that Arabs cannot remain in Israel if Jews cannot remain in Palestine may have some value, especially if the idea is not expressed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Israel's refusal to transfer money to a Palestinian entity involved with a terrorist organization may also have some appeal, even though it has met initial rejection by officials of the United States and the European Union.

A recent poll of East Jerusalem Arabs also weighs on the Israeli side of the scale, and might be directed against that part of the mantra that Palestine must have Jerusalem as its capital. More respondents indicated that they prefer Israeli citizenship than Palestinian. Close to a third declined to answer. In the Arab context, it is likely that many of those were reluctant to reveal doubts about Palestine.,7340,L-4064783,00.html

The United States and Germany are not in the camp of Britain and France, i.e., indicating a recognition of a Palestinian state in the absence of serious negotiations. And no important state has threatened concrete actions beyond the formal recognition of Palestine. One doubts that actions like those in Libya are on the agenda. Even a worst case analysis may not bring Palestine any closer to reality than its 1988 Declaration of Statehood, already recognized with one or another kind of reservation by 117 or 130 national governments.

"So what?" and "What else is new?" might be appropriate responses to a UN majority recognizing a Palestinian state.

And "Know thyself" might be directed at the Palestinian as well as the Israeli leadership.

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 11:54 PM
May 05, 2011
Blood lust

I find much of the literature on political culture to be persuasive, and I have worked in enough American states and other countries to experience variations myself. People differ in their values and behaviors, and often think that their way is the best or even the only way of dealing with circumstances. National, local, ethnic, and religious cultures are among the strongest influences on politics and governments.

One learns to describe and assess cultures with a detachment like that of a physician dealing with interesting symptoms.

That being said by way of intellectual introduction, I admit to feelings of dismay, but not great surprise, at the sights and sounds of American celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden. It reminds me of how sport fans can be ecstatic at their team's victory, or destructive in defeat. But this was not a game. The scenes made me think of lynch mobs, America's murder rate, the popularity of the death penalty, and the retarded ways in which American institutions deliver medical services.

I grew up as an American hearing that human life was the greatest value, but it does not appear to me that life has as much value for Americans as it rates in other democracies.

What might be next? Hanging criminals in a public square, with food and souvenir vendors peddling their wares among the raucous crowd?

If you are already accusing me of wild exaggeration or a vicious variety of anti-Americanism, take another look at statistics comparing the country's standing on the incidence of murder, its near uniqueness among western democracies for employing the death penalty, and summary health measures of longevity and infant mortality that are shameful for a country with its wealth and medical expertise.

The celebrations in Times Square resemble what Arabs do when one of their people succeeds in killing Jews: They go to the streets, parade, cheer, shout slogans in unison, and distribute sweets.

No doubt 9-11 was traumatic, and Americans had a right to pursue and punish those responsible. Moreover, warfare does not provide the luxury of orderly arrests and judicial proceedings. Some who are innocent are bound to be hurt.

One cannot blame Barack Obama for milking the event for all it is worth, both in his dramatic first announcement and again when he visits Ground Zero and meets with victims' families. He was behind in the polls, and has taken advantage of events to put himself ahead in the polls. That is what politicians do.

However, it is disturbing to ponder the most recent reports that the Seals gunned down bin Laden and others who were not resisting. Operating close to the capital of an uncooperative Pakistan might not have allowed any other response. Nonetheless, the images do not sit well with American criticism of Israel's targeting killings of individuals involved in actions that killed proportionately more of the country's civilians than the number of Americans who died on 9-11. (Israeli deaths as a result of terror between 2000 and 2008 were proportionately 10 times the American losses of 9-11.)

Israel is also in the majority of democracies that do not practice the death penalty. The action is permitted by law, but has not been used in the country's 63 history except for the case of Adolf Eichmann. Israel imprisons mass murderers for multiple life sentences. Its judges and most politicians ignore the isolated calls for death that accompany especially bloody events. Israelis also avoid the kinds of celebrations seen on the Arab street, or Times Square, when one of the nation's enemies falls victim to its security forces.

Israelis did celebrate the victory of 1967 and the success of the Entebbe operation, but the latter was a rescue, and the former was marked more by a surge of individuals to a holy site that had been denied them for 19 years than by anything approaching the ecstasy seen after an American football game or the bin Laden killing.

None of the behavior seen in the United States would bother me if Israel was not singled out by many Americans and others for what is said to be inhuman callousness toward Palestinians.

Those who accuse Israelis of all that is evil may sneer at the thought, but Israelis are reluctant to kill. Jewish values have something to do with it. Hebrew provided the original version of Thou shall not kill
(לא תרצח). Israeli military leaders, politicians, and commentators debate in public appropriate responses to violence, and provide media access to individuals speaking for Palestinians, Iranians, Lebanese, and other adversaries. is an Israeli organization that publishes translations of Muslim media, including both the hateful stereotypes and indications of doubting and self-critical Muslims. The country has a decent record of defense, marked not only by its successful use of violence, but by the nuances of absorbing attack, not rushing to aggression, limiting its occupation of hostile populations, and avoiding the carnival-like celebration of an enemy's death.

Israel's compulsory military service is not universal, but brings to basic training a substantial portion of young men and women from upper income families, i.e., the kinds of Americans who do not consider the military in their plans beyond high school. While some Yuppe teenagers do everything they can to avoid the IDF, others pay for private pre-enlistment training in order to qualify for elite commando units. Some young people acquired their patriotic fervor in religious families. For others, it comes from secular families who teach their children the problems of being Jews in a hostile world.

The IDF teaches young people from good families how to do ugly things, but not to celebrate killing. Israel's left of center and centrist parties attract as many retired generals as do right of center parties.

The anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric that appears on campuses and elsewhere in North America and Western Europe causes dismay among Israelis. It may lead some to depart for less troubled countries, but may add to the motivation of others to stay, endure the unpleasantness of military service, and urge their children to endure it. Experience is that current hatreds will not add to the blood lust of Israeli Jews, or lead them to comprehend American celebrations of a man's death.

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 04:34 AM
May 04, 2011
Who's corrupting what?

I do not claim expertise on Islam, but when I hear President Barack Obama assert, once again when reporting on the killing of Osama bin Laden, that America's quarrel is not with Islam, I feel myself hearing that the sun will rise in the west.

The claim that Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah are not properly Muslim, but movements that have corrupted Islam, is like saying that Anglicans, Methodists, and Evangelicals are not Christians but movements that have corrupted Christianity. Or that Reform and Conservative Judaism are not truely Jewish, but corruptions.

All religions are multifaceted. Going from one Orthodox synagogue to the next will expose one to differences in style that are clear or only nuanced. Prayers in an ultra-Orthodox synagogue will appear to be depart even more from the conventionally Orthodox, if there is such a thing. What happens in a Reform Temple may appear like another religion, but is only another approach to Judaism.

Muslims who proclaim that Christians and Jews are infidels, that Islam must prevail from Indonesia to Andalusia, and that suicide bombers are martyrs deserving of veneration are just as Muslim as those who do not bother themselves with any of those claims. Muslim martyrs enjoy the blessings of individuals widely viewed as religious authorities. As such, they are as much a part of Islam as Presbyterians are part of Christianity.

Palestinian Muslims claim that the al-Aqsa mosque is one of the holiest in Islam. And among the comments following the killing of Osama bin Laden was that of a preacher in al-Aqsa, eulogizing bin Laden and warning that Obama will soon be "Hanging:from the gallows next to Bush," and "Dogs should not rejoice at the killing of lions."

Along with this was the comment of Ismail Haniya, the head of the Hamas regime in Gaza who is viewed by some as corrupting the Fatah Palestinians of the West Bank by agreeing to a reconciliation with them: "We believe that this continues an American policy that is based on oppression and on the shedding of Arab and Muslim blood. Regardless of the different views in Arab and Islamic circles, we, of course, condemn the assassination or killing of a Muslim mujahid and an Arab. We pray for Allah to cover him with His mercy, next to the prophets, the righteous, and the martyrs."

Claiming that these figures are not true Muslims is like saying that the Pope is not Catholic.

So why does Barack Obama, and other political leaders proclaim that the martyrs are only corruptions of Islam?

It's the easiest way to avoid pushing other Muslims into the camp of the violent, and maybe winning some support from the leaders of Muslim countries who control votes in international forums, supplies of energy and other natural resources.

Good enough for us simple citizens?

As long as we know the game we are playing.

It's okay when American and European troops are fighting in the outskirts of Islamabad, throughout the Northwest Province of Pakistan, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, maybe Yemen and Sudan, but not in London, Toronto, Paris, Berlin, Rome, or Jerusalem.

It would be better if airport inspectors practiced some ethnic profiling against you know who, but that is expecting too much given the prevailing myth that the problem is only those who have corrupted Islam. So an Irish Catholic grandmother must take off her shoes along with the rest of us.

A purist would charge that Obama and all the rest are corrupting language with their claim that the violent are corrupting Islam.

Perhaps it is best to think of that myth as part of the tax we pay for civilization. We go along in order to get along.

Insofar as I may be violating the rules of the game by writing this, it is time to stop. You may save yourselves from reprobation by pushing the discard button.

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 09:41 AM
May 02, 2011
Thinking about government

These are days that cause me to ponder the nature of government.

On the one hand, we see the fragility of strong regimes on our borders and not so far away. What may have begun with the rejection of a small business license in Tunisia has spread to where the mighty Mubarak may be put on trial for his life, the four decades long reign of the Asad family is facing anti-government marches that grow in magnitude from one Friday's day of prayer and protest to the next, and Libya is mired in a civil war with international involvement.

The current Asad is responding the way his father did in the city of Hama 30 years ago. Then the army killed somewhere between one and forty thousand civilians, and squashed an uprising. Estimates of current deaths are less than one thousand but approaching that number. The difference is cell phone videos, facebook and other media that make it impossible to keep the uprising from spreading within Syria and attracting the attention of outsiders.

On the other side of the government spectrum, President Barack Obama is celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden. The widespread congratulations pouring toward Washington from Israel, Europe, the West Bank, and other Muslim countries suggest that the American democracy is strong enough to qualify as world leader. Its hasty move into Libya also shows, more dramatically than in the past, that the separation of powers is not up to challenges as perceived by the Commander-in-Chief.

American security forces and intelligence operatives succeeded in finding the hiding place of the man widely viewed as responsible for 9-11, and inspiring attacks in the London underground, a Madrid train station, a coffee house in Morocco, and several Indonesian sites visited by westerners.

One can argue about the nature of Al Qaeda, the personal responsibility of bin Laden, and whether his death will have any impact on close colleagues or the wider movements of Islamic extremism. In the decade from 9-11 while bin Laden evaded the long arms of the United States, Al Qaeda and its cousins morphed into numerous groups that might be linked by overlapping theology, ideology, or something as vague as anti-westernism, but not by organizational ties of leadership and control. The delayed accomplishment qualifies as appropriate revenge, but Islamic terror is substantially larger than bin Laden and those who looked to him for leadership.

We are seeing Washington's reach as far as anything in history toward a global empire. Bringing American justice to Pakistan while fighting in Afghanistan, responsible for replacing the government in Iraq, and joining a civil war in Libya exceeds in the breadth and magnitude of force controlled by the Soviet Union, Great Britain, or Rome in their days. Compared to the actions taken by the United States, the ostensible world government of the United Nations evokes the image of comic opera, or a treasure of patronage for governments that keep themselves favored by the world's majority.

There is a problem of "symbol" and "substance" in judging American power. The country's forces are spread thin, and its government debt is at least as impressive as its military. Most of the world is not subject to American rule. The United States government functions at home better than the world average, but its performance on the basic service of health delivery keeps it in the second tier, or even lower.

Two items in recent news touch on the nature of America's power. They lead me to ask how much of the current applause for the latest American achievement is the chorus of sycophants, flatterers, and hypocrites, and how much reflects those who accept American leadership?

One such item is the warning heard from Washington when Israel's Finance Minister said that he was considering stopping the flow of tax receipts collected by Israel at its ports for the Palestine Authority, on account of the West Bank's reconciliation with the Hamas regime of Gaza. The Israeli said that he did not want to finance the purchase of rockets that would be sent against Israeli civilians. An American official indicated that the halting of financial transfers would be undesirable.

Will this be like President Obama's demand that Israel stop construction in Jewish settlements, including neighborhoods of Jerusalem? That produced a temporary freeze and then a thaw, and overall perhaps more animosity than compliance.

The second item comes out of Gaza.

While the Obama administration may be monitoring Israeli sanctions against Hamas, Hamas is not repaying the favor. Its senior official in Gaza said, "We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.",7340,L-4063407,00.html

My pondering is anything but focused or polished. There are governments thought to be strong that wither away in a few weeks, or slaughter their citizens in what may be prior to chaos, the re-imposition of cruelty, or something else impossible to specify at this point. In contrast, the United States has no competitor for world leadership. Yet one can worry about the substance of its role, both with respect to the sincerity of endorsements uttered by some of the less powerful, and the damnation expressed by others.

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 07:06 AM
May 01, 2011

The variety of days set aside to remember the Holocaust is part of its story.

The Holocaust was not the only case of genocide in history, and perhaps not the most thorough in the sense that something like two-thirds of the Jews were not killed, and the remnant has gone on to considerable success. Nonetheless, the Holocaust stands out as the work of a nation advanced by all measures of economics and culture, it was perpetrated in a sophisticated manner rather than being the work of ragged gangs or out of control soldiers. Moreover, it was directed against a population that was not in armed opposition to the government that marked it for extermination.

Israel's official commemoration of the Holocaust this year begins in the evening of May 1st. The timing is linked to the celebration of Independence Day on the fifth of Iyar (this year beginning in the evening of May 9th). Holocaust Memorial Day occurs a week and one day before Independence Day, and a week before the Memorial Day that commemorates Israelis who died in defense of the country or as the result of terror. For some time before each of those days, the media focuses on tragedies, and the heroism of those who resisted the Holocaust or participated in Israel's security forces. Holocaust survivors have largely passed from the scene. This year the media are emphasizing how many are dying on an average day and how many remain alive, and giving increased attention of the memories held by descendants.

Israel Independence Day occurs immediately after those two Memorial days. It is a day for celebrating life and accomplishment.

The United Nations and numerous countries commemorate the Holocaust on January 27th, the date of liberation in 1945 of Auschwitz-Birkenau. A number of congregations commemorate the Holocaust on the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av), chosen on account of its association with several tragic events in history, beginning with the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Some remember the Holocaust on the tenth of Tevet (prior to Hanukah), the day set aside to remember the onset of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. While numerous ultra-Orthodox observe two minutes of stopping their cars, standing still, and silence when Israel's sirens sound in the morning of Holocaust Day, other ultra-Orthodox continue at their activity in defiance of what they view as an improper observance by the secular state.

Other variations reflect definitions of who suffered from the Holocaust, and the compensation due to them.

Jews of German origin have done better than others. West Germany agreed in 1952 to pay reparations to individuals, and collectively to the State of Israel for those who could not be identified, on account of death, slave labor, other persecution, and for property stolen by the Nazis. Over the years the payments have provided substantial resources to Jews who had suffered as Germans, and capital that Israel devoted to its infrastructure of public transportation and other public services. The reparations were also an element in Germany's return to the list of countries recognized as worthy.

Individual cases have involved deliberations about entitlement and amounts. In regard to compensation for property seized, there have been disputes about claims of ownership, valuation, and whether amounts paid by Germans in the 1930s were substantially below market value and represented the exploitation of Jews concerned for their lives.

Jews who suffered from the Nazis or their collaborators in other countries have been less fortunate. National governments have claimed limited responsibility due to being occupied by the Germans, or being unable to afford the payments. Googling "Holocaust compensation" produces almost 2.7 million items.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the migration of a million and one-half Jews to Israel and elsewhere began a series of claims in behalf of individuals who had been prevented by Cold War politics from presenting their demands. Most recently, Moroccan Jews have won recognized as Holocaust survivors. The German and Israeli governments have been pressured to compensate a continuing series of new claimants. Individual Israelis ponder the benefits that ought to be paid to individuals defined as Holocaust survivors due to personal suffering or their residence in countries occupied by the Nazis, as opposed to needy individuals no matter what the source of their problems. Moroccan Jews who qualify as having suffered Nazi persecution will receive 13,000 shekels from the German government (the equivalent of US $3,800).,7340,L-4061166,00.html

Banks and insurance companies in Switzerland, Italy, Israel and elsewhere have been charged with being insensitive or worse with respect to procedures used for claims about deposits or death benefits. The government of Poland has admitted responsibility for property seized from Jews, but has indicated that it does not have the resources to pay claimants.

Today's Ha'aretz has a front page story about competition between various organizations representing Holocaust survivors, their inability to agree on a format for a meeting designed to coordinate their efforts, or a joint announcement after their meeting.

Among the issues are continuing demands for compensation on account of seized property. There are outstanding claims for homes, art work, businesses, and other assets. Organizations and politicians keep support their cases with occasional campaigns. Other voices ask about the compensation of Palestinians for property seized by the State of Israel in 1948. We hear that Holocaust claimants are in a distinct class because they were innocent civilians, while Palestinians participated in armed combat. We also hear that Justice is elusive, especially when it involves memories from the 1930s and 1940s, and that it might be wise to weigh our demands about revisiting history.

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