July 30, 2011
Jews and others. Who is who?

A friend sent me a link to a New York Times Op-Ed piece entitled "Israel's Identity Crisis." The points were Who is a Jew? and Why is Netanyahu confounding the peace process by insisting that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/30/opinion/30iht-edtouval30.html?_r=1&emc=eta1


It is not difficult to understand why the New York Times would publish such an item, and why this particular friend would send it to me. It is written in clear English and ridicules Netanyahu, thus fitting with the postures often articulated by the New York Times and this particular friend.


The contribution of the item to ongoing discussions is minimal in the extreme. Jews have been pondering their character for all the many years we have been writing about ourselves. Take another look at the story of Abraham in Genesis, and the Book of Ruth.


No doubt the frequency of the discussions have increased since the latter part of the 18th century, as Jews in increasing numbers looked out of their communities and joined others in seeking Enlightenment. No surprise that the incidence of such discussions in especially high in Israel, where there are lots of Jews at various degrees of secular or religious persuasion, learning and passing on the age-old arguments about Jewish identity, obligations, and customs. In case anyone remains in the dark about such things, it is possible to find some of the most intensely nationalistic Jews among some of the most profoundly doubtful about religion and its implications.


And it is not only Jews who ought to ponder what it is to be what they are. The people working at the New York Times and my Jewish-American (or American-Jewish) friend should be as confounded as anyone about their nationality. Ancestry, language, or political loyalty are no help in an age of globalism, multiple loyalties, and freedom of expression. European countries lost whatever homogeneous identifies they claimed on account of what has happened since World War II, and none of them could genuinely justify their claims of homogeneity before then.


What about that person Varda and I saw recently on Princes Street in Endinburgh, clad from head to lower legs in black, with only dark eyes showing through the narrow slit across her face, but sequined high heels and the tips of designer jeans below the black? Was she (assuming it was a female) any less Scottish than kilt-clad men not too far away?


With respect to the major point of the New York Times Op-Ed piece, i.e., that Netanyahu (now with Obama's endorsement) is only fouling the air by insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state--


Israel has been calling itself a Jewish state since the first sentence of its Declaration of Independence. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/Declaration+of+Establishment+of+State+of+Israel.htm

It is widely viewed as such by its residents and others, despite the arguments and nuances surrounding the verbiage.


Netanyahu's insistence is meant to leverage Palestinians away from their obsession with demands, and reluctance to respond to Israeli offers with anything other than rejection. Netanyahu's demand reflects the sentiment, widely shared, that many Palestinians are not serious about ending the dispute, and view negotiations only as a stage toward the eventual destruction of Israel.


The prospect of negotiations is serious business involving land and the possibility of moving tens of thousands of people in one direction or another. Tens of thousands of others have died on account of these issues since the United Nations tried to settle things in 1947. The rules of high school debates, parlour games, or academic seminars do not apply. It is appropriate to use pressure with sensitive verbiage. The Palestinians do it with their claims that General Assembly resolutions are international law that Israel must accept. Netanyahu's demand is no less kosher.


The least enlightening item in the Op-Ed piece was the way the author (hitherto unknown to me) identifies himself. "A foreign policy analyst based in Tel Aviv."


Credentials are not essential when every Tom, Dick, Harry, Yitzhak, and Shulamit can distribute what they want via the Internet, and Op-Ed pages are open to those who appeal to editors. But foreign policy analyst based in Tel Aviv? According to my reading of Israel's Statistical Yearbook, there are 400,300 individuals who fit that description.

--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:13 AM
July 28, 2011
Civics

One of the elementary lessons in civics is that government does the job of sorting through various demands and deciding priorities, or Who Gets What. The key to the ongoing exercise is politics. In a democratic regime, votes bring to office the officials who make those decisions. If enough citizens find themselves unhappy and vote against the incuments, another group does the sorting of priorities.

The system needn't work smoothly. People disagree. Democracy brings those disagreements to government. If the people have not decided clearly, and government is divided, there may be endless disputes without decisions. Occasionally there is a crucial deadline requiring a decision, and power holders from competing parties play a game of chicken.

That is the story currently front and center in the American media, and prominent in the media of other countries fearing a spillover of economic catastrophy from an American competition that may not end well.

The Israeli story is more local, so far not making much of an impact on overseas media.

It concerns another problem in the typical model purveyed in civics lessons. Lots of people find themselves disatisfied with their government, and no election is on the horizon. Demonstrations are spreading across the country, and dealing with a range of economic problems going beyond cottage cheese, housing, and the working conditions of hospital residents. Mothers are parading with baby carriages against the costs of baby food, diapers, and other essentials. Numerous protesters are calling attention to their own tax rates, military service, and difficulties in making ends meet, while several of the country's "tycoons" have been in the news for living lavishly while their companies cannot pay the debts owed to banks and pension funds. A segment from a radio talk show is making the rounds, in which a young father with a good job in high-tech and a working spouse with three children describes in detail how the bare necessities take all their monthly income with nothing left over for entertainment or a down payment on an apartment of their own. http://www.103.fm/programs/Media.aspx?ZrqvnVq=FFGEEF&c41t4nzVQ=EM

The variety of protests are turning in on themselves. Efforts to respond to one set of demands are provoking protests from other sectors. A government decision to ease restrictions on the import of dairy products--in response to the initial protests about cottage cheese--have produced demonstrations by farmers threatened by the imports. The head of the Labor Federation has begun posturing as the man who--along with the Prime Minister--can sort through the issues and save the country. However, his critics accuse him of entering the fray only when it gathered momentum, and ask why he did not stand up for teachers and social workers when they were having problems in earlier disputes.

As in other political disputes, not everyone is in the same camp. Groups represented in the government are not on the street.


Notably absent from the tent cities and marches are individuals with Russian accents, men wearing a kipa, or women in the skirts and head coverings of religious housewives.


There is a aura of left of center politics in the media coverage. Radio and televison are run by the same kind of people who are demonstrating, and news of the protests are leading every broadcast. The top half of Ha'aretz's front page, and the first 15 pages of its economic supplement (The Marker) deal with news and commentary about economic injustice. (July 28)


In contrast is the front page of Israel Today, owned by an American tycoon allied to the prime minister. Its headline tells of Netanyahu's effort to meet protesters' demands: "The Milk Market is Open to Imports: 'Price Declines Expected.'" Another headline on the front page reports that the head of the Labor Federation "Jumped on the Bandwagon of Protest," and questioned if he was a hitchhiker or a leader. Also on the front page was a headline indicating that physicians had rejected a generous offer at the last minute. http://digital-edition.israelhayom.co.il/Olive/ODE/Israel/Default.aspx?href=ITD%2F2011%2F07%2F28


Although the people on the street, and those supporting them in the media are not those currently with their hands on the government machinery, the picture is not all that simple. Israel does not operate like its neighbors. Even a street in the hands of the political opposition will be heard, if there are enough marchers and their demands resonate.


The working of government is well charted, and subject to projection. A Knesset majority selects a Government, and it decides on most issues. The weight of various insiders guides analysis. The weight of the street, yelling from outside the ruling circles, is less amenable to prediction.


All of our local commotion may turn into a forgetton storm. If the ripples of a defaulting USA produce defaults in banks around the world, and lending stops, our shortage of desirable housing and other unfairness won't mean a thing.


--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:09 AM
July 27, 2011
Revolution?

A few months ago the polls were showing that what remained of the Israeli left could fit in a large phone booth. The three Meretz MKs were making little noise, and the eight who remained in the Labor Party after Ehud Barak took away the centrists to a new party were busy fighting over which of them would take on the unenviable position of leadership.

Now there is hope. The national happening that is Israel's summer of protest has energized all of the predominantly Jewish parties to the left of Likud. If Arab parties are planning their strategy, the details haven't reached the popular media.

The common theme: Israel needs a remaking, and the Netanyahu government is not up to the job. People speaking for Labor, Kadima, Meretz, the Labor Federation, and housing protesters agree that the proposals offered to deal with the housing problem are not the answer. Some activists with credentials as economists have found reason to praise the proposals coming out of the Prime Minister's Office, but even they qualify their remarks by noting the sectors that will not benefit, reminding us that it will take years to see the results in the form of apartments ready for occupants, and warning that the proposals still have to pass some difficult hurdles before they are assured of implementation.

Physicians are working to keep their issue above the noise made by housing protests. Reports were that the Physicians Association was close to an agreement before the hospital residents began their counter claims. Now the leader of the Association is working to keep his members in line. He declared a personal hunger strike until there is an agreement that is fair to all. Some hundreds of residents have signed letters of resignation and are threatening to deliver them. A number of physicians are marching toward a planned protest at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem.

It is common to criticize the Prime Minister for his blustering claim to have produced a workable program for housing in a few days of intense meetings. He has earned a reputation for fastening on grandiose ideas to deal with problems that require attention to numerous details. He dealt with a catastrophic forest fire by deciding quickly to rent a 747 equipped to dump large amounts of water. The project was expensive, the plane had to come from North America, and it took so long to replenish its water tanks after each drop as to cast doubts on its cost effectiveness. It produced an epigram for critics of the Prime Minister. They ask what kind of supertanker will he summon to deal with housing or the physicians' strike.

The motley collection of protesters offer little hope for national salvation. Demands are all over the map of unfulfilled desires. Desirable apartments in good locations for affordable prices, limitations on entrepreneurs who are said to have made themselves rich at the public's expense, lower prices for food and the use of cell phones, and generalized insistence on a more fair distribution of resources. I haven't noticed anyone demanding a better deal for minorities or a more generous offer for Palestinians.

Political realities do not auger well for the protesters. Their demands are far too leftist to attract support from religious parties that do well by trading support for goodies. Religious politicians may be asking themselves where are the housing protesters on the important issues of Shabbat and Kashrut. The former residents of the Soviet Union who make up the constituents of Avigdor Lieberman are not inclined to another dose of socialism. Bibi's political manipulations have served him well even though they invite the ridicule of intellectuals who are inclined to the left.

Commentators agree that the government is one of the strongest in years. An election is not mandatory prior to 2013. By then two seasons of rain will have sent the tent dwellers to their homes, undesirable though they may be.

The head of the Labor Federation has said that he will use all the tools available to bring about social justice. Enthusiast have translated that to mean a general strike, but that would be an extreme measure. The labor leader's primary constituency are the heads of prominent unions, and they are not any more sympathetic to revolution than counterparts in Western Europe and North America. Calls for redistributing wealth do not appeal to unions whose members already have higher than average benefits. Unemployment levels are at multi-year lows. Claims of widespread hardship may appeal more to university students than to workers.

One must be careful forecasting outcomes in the midst of protests that have proven to be popular. Nonetheless, I will risk the prediction that Israel's prospects of significant economic redistribution are about as promising as one democracy emerging from all those protests in Arab countries.


--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:38 AM
July 25, 2011
Hot summer

One might say that this is a hell of a way to run a government, and then argue whether the reference is to Israel or the United States.

Here the quarrel is whether the problem is housing, medicine or the government. There it is the the stubbornness of Republicans in Congress and the Democrat in the White House, about an issue that could cause great harm to the United States and the rest of us.

The headline across the front page of Ha'aretz on Tuesday was the paper's survey showing 87 percent supporting the demonstrators. The secondary headline said that Bibi's popularity had slipped from 52 to 32 percent.

In order to deal with the domestic crises, the Prime Minister canceled a European trip meant to shore up support for Israel's position in advance of the September meeting of the United Nations. Wags are saying that he would prefer to concentrate on the country's problems with Palestine and Turkey, rather than with domestic issues that have brought students, physicians, and others to the streets. Standing up to Palestinians and Turks will strengthen him at home, while all those demonstrators might end his career.

An intense round of meetings involving the Prime Minister produced intentions to make more land available for housing, steps to assure that contractors will build more apartments for rent, measures to control prices, and give preferencdes to young couples and individuals who have done their military service.

We'll see if that deals with protesters concerned with housing.

It will not satisfy young physicians threatening mass resignations if there is not the opening of another 1,000 places for hospital residencies, and considerable relief of their work schedules.

There are problems in knowing just what will quiet this restive nation. Housing protesters made some effort to join forces with physicians, but the physicians resisted. And housing protesters have quarreled with those among themselves who want to emphasize a broad range of social issues beyond housing.

At the extreme, some are talking of economic revolution. Somewhat more moderately, others are talking about doing something about the concentration of economic power in the hands of too few companies or families. Cottage cheese is somewhere in this muddle, but that is confused by demonstrations of farmers against proposals to control the prices they receive. According to the people who milk the cows, the problem is with too few dairies and supermarket chains, and the portions of the final price they receive.

Among the chants is one that rhymes in Hebrew if not in English, "Good morning, Bibi, the nation is on the streets, calling for justice not charity." There are hints of the disputes among demonstrators in the final clause. Some want a narrow concern with housing, while others want to open the government's coffers and provide financial allocations for a wide range of social demands.

If there is something that unites all these demands for change, it is democracy or people power. There are deep roots of the idea, apparent in the mass assemblies by the Israelites before Moses and Ezra, and countless newer versions from American and French revolutions onward. The down side of people power is the problem of controlling it. What gets emphasis? What will satisfy?

Israel's environmentalists are also at the party. They do not like the idea of short cuts through the planning process in order to produce more apartments quickly. Anyone seeking blame for delays in construction can start with the the reservations they present to planning bodies, as well as quarrels among environmentalists as to which elements of a plan are most objectionable.

There are likely to be individuals concerned about the environment among the students and others protesting housing.

In these noisy days, one has to go to international media to learn what is happening in Washington. The squabble between Congressional Republicans and the White House may produce an end-of-days economic crisis that will dwarf local problems with cottage cheese, housing, and hospital residents, and turn the disaster in Norway into last week's incident.

It is necessary to reach page 8 of Ha'aretz to find indications that Palestinians are feeling their issue lost in the domestic problems of Americans and Israels. One of their leading figures is threatening to dissolve the Palestine National Authority and dump their problem on the United States if no one steps up and solves it soon.

Imagine. No residents in Israeli hospitals, tent cities spread across the country, no money available to pay Washington's bills, and no Palestine.

Will the day after all of this be the quiet of exhaustion, competition among those still seeking solution, or the moans of those already suffering? Cynicism and despair compete with the optimism of seeing democracy at work.

--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:10 PM
July 24, 2011
Palestinians and African Americans

It is instructive to compare the experiences of African-Americans and Palestinians. We can find differences, similarities, and lessons for one and the other in their histories, social statistics, cultures, and politics. While some may see Israeli paternalism in what follows, my intentions are the admirable ones of seeking insights that explain current conditions, and might help improve things for all concerned.

The term Palestinian is meant to include the Arabs of Israel. Some Israelis consider it bad tactics to grant the Arabs on this side of the fuzzy borders the label of Palestinians, but that is what many call themselves. Occasionally Varda reminds me that her birth certificate was issued by the British Mandatory Government of Palestine, and so she deserves the label, but that is another story.

One can argue without end which group has suffered the most. The Jews of Israel can compete in the contest, claiming that emergence from the Holocaust belongs somewhere in the examination of misery and salvation. That lesson might also be instructive for Palestinians, but the more direct point of this note is to compare the political success of African Americans with the failure of the Palestinians.

Up from slavery, the extremes of segregation, discrimination, repression, lynchings and poverty to residence in the White House (more apt to the example of Michelle than Barack Obama) is only the tip of a story about the incidence of African Americans who have reached positions of well-being and influence.

Comparison with the Palestinians of Israel and elsewhere does not produce a simple picture. There is an Arab on Israel's Supreme Court, Druze and Beduin have made it to the upper ranks of the IDF. The Arabs of Israel score better on measures of health than the Whites of the United States and much better than African Americans. They are also closer to the majority on measures of income than are African Americans.

However, the Palestinians are stuck in deep political ruts and complaining of poor treatment. They have clung for three and more generations to the status of refugees, and chosen Members of Knesset who know how to protest but have not learned to use their weight to gain benefits for constituents. Arabs of East Jerusalem have boycotted local elections instead of selecting one-third of the municipal council and tipping the balance in favor of a mayoralty candidate. Other Palestinians line up for UN doles of food and social services, and ask others to produce their state.

African Americans have used their own votes and the institutions of democracy to stream resources and opportunities in their direction.

A Palestinian friend makes the point that the major parties of Israel have not been welcoming to Arabs.

There is something to that, but not a great deal. On the one hand are Arab and Druze Knesset Members who have been affiliated with Labor, Likud, and Meretz. One of my graduate students stopped writing his MA thesis in public policy in order to take an appointment as scientific attache with the Israeli Embassy in Germany. He had a PhD in biology from Heidelberg, a position with one of the Israeli ministries, and an uncle who was a Labor MK and Deputy Minister.

African Americans had the help of Jews and others. (Jack Greenberg succeeded Thurgood Marshall as Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and served in that position from 1961 to 1984.)

Affirmative Action has elements of paternalism, but has also forced open doors and paved paths to opportunity. Some white power holders reached out to Black candidates in order to attract Black votes for their party, but other whites resisted African Americans. Especially prominent in the South were poll taxes and literacy tests administered in ways to keep Blacks from voting, along with harassment and murder of those who tried to surmount the barriers.

Politics is not a parlour game where help of the underdog is the prevailing norm. Grandma's lesson (God helps those who help themselves) has its parallel in politics. The institutions and rules of democratic regimes pay off more for those who pursue advantage than to those who wait for help. The African American road up from abject misery involved a long process of migration to the north, voting and acquiring seniority in the Democratic Party, getting favorable presidential appointments to federal courts and eventually enough clout in the White House and Congress to overcome southern whites in the same party. The problems of African American history continue to show themselves in measures of poverty, crime, health, and education.

Ranking Israeli politicians are not falling over themselves to help the Arabs of Israel or Palestinians. There are Israeli equivalents of Jack Greenberg. My friend Naomi Hazan, a former Meretz MK and colleague in the Hebrew University Political Science Department, now heads the New Israel Fund which has funneled money from overseas Jews and others to organizations concerned with civil rights, social services, and political help for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/fighting-for-israel-s-soul-1.374700

However, Jewish distrust of Arabs, and Arab distrust of Jews appear to be more prominent features of our politics. Yet Israel counts votes as accurately as other democracies. The media and courts have been open to Palestinian advocates.

The rules of democracy respect those who can amass votes, translate them into elected office, then trade support in the institutions of government for projects to help their voters. Protest produces some satisfaction, but it is vote trading that produces goodies.

The rules of international politics are murkier, and less reliable than those of a functioning democracy. Palestinian leaders can acquire handshakes, endorsements, good wishes, and financial support from here and there, without moving forward to anything more substantial. My reading of their future is that it depends on more flexibility with respect to what Israeli governments are willing to offer. Yassir Arafat could have gotten a state from Ehud Barak in 2000, and Mahmoud Abbas could have done it along with Ehud Olmert. Both pursued other routes, either via Palestinian violence, the Arab League, the United States or European governments. Anything but compromising with non-negotiable demands, or dealing with rejectionists in their community. Now Abbas is emphasizing the United Nations. September is his due date, but we can expect to reach October without a Palestinian state.

--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:13 AM
July 21, 2011
Middle East summers

Israelis have good reasons to complain. In that trait, they resemble the residents of 192 other member states of the United Nations, plus Palestinians and others who want into the club.


Currently the problems have gone beyond the price of cottage cheese and housing, and have spread to the plight of young phyisicians having to work long hours in order to acquire the credentials of specialists. Tent cities are springing up in the cities to demonstrate the plight of people who say they cannot afford decent housing, there continue to be media reports about cottage cheese, and physicians have walked out of their wards to assemble on the grass and wave their signs.


The New York Times correspondent has written that the "Spirit of Middle East Protests Doesn't Spare Israel." Ethan Bonner is careful to distinguish the demands of Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans et al from Israelis, but he draws a parallel, and sees Israelis learning from Arabs how to jostle their government. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/world/middleeast/20israel.html?_r=1&scp=6&sq=Ethan%20Bronner&st=cse


Perhaps. But his article reminds me of praise in the same newspaper for Arab protests that were seen to herald the onset of democracy. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/22/opinion/22iht-edguehenno22.html


Anyone with good sense should be a long way from predicting the nature of regimes that will emerge in the Arab countries upset by mass demonstrations and violence. Likewise, it is early to say what will happen as a result of Israelis protesting the details of public policy. If the young people of Israel are learning from Arabs how to recruit demonstrators, the officials of Israel are not behaving like their Arab counterparts. Instead of sending in the police to tear down the tents and beat protesting physicians, the prime minister is meeting with advisors and politicians who are falling over themselves to meet with various groups of protesters and offer solutions for their problems.


There are also argumentative Israelis questioning the motives, policy goals, and activities of various protesters. While I cannot claim enough expertise in each field to judge the disputes, I cannot resist the fray.


Prominent in the demands of young people feeling themselves unhoused is their quest for housing that is "decent," "affordable," and located in desirable neighborhoods. The vast majority of these people are not homeless. A disporportionate number of them are university students, which means that they come from the upper slice of the country's economy. Without judging what they mean by decent housing, it is difficult to decide how different they are from many people in many countries who cannot afford the housing they would like in desirable locations.


Protest organizers have been careful to assert that they are seeking social justice and not political gains. Yet those who speak do so with a leftist accent. Most notable was the young man heard on one of the news programs who coupled his concern for cottage cheese with housing, and demanded an immediate reduction of 30 percent in the price of all food.


Physicians preparing to be specialists knew the demands that would be made of them before they began advanced training. Moreover, the training of specialists here is similar to that elsewhere. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Residency_(medicine)#History_of_long_hours

While protesters say that they want the hiring of more physicians to ease their workload, skeptics in the profession have said that there may not be enough candidates to fill the increased number of positions. What we may be seeing is the shortfall of material and personnel resources needed to provide high quality medical service.


Israel's medicine is a mix of public and private. Critics say that the drift has been too much in the private direction, and that there should be more resources allocated to the public sector. Maybe. That is hard to judge. We all have basic coverage, and 70-80 percent of the population pays more for the supplemental coverage offered by the HMOs.

That extra coverage is pretty much standardized from one HMO to another, and regulated. There are other insurance schemes, offering even better options, said to be acquired by 20-30 percent of the poulation. http://www.jpost.com/JerusalemReport/Article.aspx?id=175612


It is fair to say that the large majority is well covered when judged by international standards. Complaints continue, but resources are limited. This is not one of the very wealthy countries, and we each have to invest in tanks and military airplanes.


So far there are no signs of democracy coming to the countries participating in Arab spring. Where commotions continue in what is now Arab summer, there are more reasons to expect something other than democracy in their near future.


Israel's democracy, like those of other countries well endowed with decent politics, undergoes frequent tests. Israel's may be tested more often than other countries, given its neighborhood and a population that inherited an intensity of criticism from Prophetic ancestors. No one should predict the price of cottage cheese, or the responses of the government to the protests about housing or medical training. Politicians are scrambling to help on all of these issues. With all gueses taken into account, we will remain a light unto a neighborhood that few neighbors are willing to acknowledge. Currently we're ranked #8 in the world for life expectancy, ahead of most Europeans and even further ahead of that country in North America that dictates to everyone else. According to the latest data, I will have two years more of complaining than people there who receive these notes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy


--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:51 AM
July 19, 2011
Dog days of Israel's summer

It's mid-summer. Lots of people in Israel and other countries are on holiday. Leaders of most Arab countries are either dealing with domestic problems or worrying when the unrest will land on them. The recent humor was news that the Syrian government has joined the ranks of those recognizing Palestine in the 1967 boundaries with its capital in Jerusalem. At the same time were reports about the numbers killed on the same day in Syrian cities, and western governments pulling their diplomats out of Damascus, damning Assad for brutality, and cozying up to Syrian ex patriots claiming to represent the opposition. All of that amounts to de-recognition of Syria with its capital in Damascus.

There is no war on our horizon. The latest flotilla to Gaza that was looming a month ago has crumbled to one remaining boat, called a yacht rather than a ship. The Israeli navy took control without anything that should require attention of the United Nations.

The September session of the United Nations will still demand work from Israeli diplomats. However, they have already done enough so that a sizable number of western governments are telling the Palestinians to cool it. Even if Palestinians win a vote in the General Assembly, the appropriate response will be, "So what?"

Politics must fill the vacuum. In a country where the serious politics usually focuses on national security and the tactics of negotiating with Palestinians and other Arabs, our summer has been filled first with demonstrations about the price of cottage cheese and now housing. Young people are setting up tents in several cities, and claiming they must live there due to the high prices for buying or renting apartments. Politicians are moving from cottage cheese to housing, and competing with expressions of concern and detailed plans, some of which seem to have been formulated while moving from car to microphone.

If one bothers to plow through the populistic verbiage of politicians and media personalities, and looks past the well-padded students who are prominent in the housing protests, it is possible to find some serious issues.

Cottage cheese comes mostly from two firms, which buy their raw material from an agricultural sector well protected from competition. Enough said. Reports are that cottage cheese and other prepared foods are considerably more expensive than in the United States or Western Europe. Some may feel that Israeli cottage cheese is tastier, but not by that much.

Housing is more complex. It reflects a sector squeezed between public land ownership, with a government bureaucracy having its own criteria for deciding what to lease for which purposes, three levels of planning authorities that may object to the details of what will be built after the planners of the Lands Authority have had their turn, plus taxes that take account of a building's location, its use, how many apartments are owned by each taxpayer, as well as whether an apartment will be rented, purchased by the occupant, or used for something other than a residence.

Israel has been moving from socialism to free enterprise over the course of several decades, but housing still has a way to go. There has been no great immigration like that from the former Soviet Union that produced a significant shortage in the supply of housing 20 years ago. However, young people continue to leave their parents' home, couple-up, and look for a place of their own.

Some of the professionals in the Finance Ministry who decide about these things along with professionals in the Ministry of Housing and Construction, the Lands Authority, and municipal governments may remember what happened in the United States, and spilled over to other countries, when politicians did what they could to make it easier for poor people to buy homes.

Reports are that the long period of work sanctions by physicians is approaching resolution. However, segments of the profession not happy with what they hear from negotiators are threatening to walk of their jobs.

In these relatively dull days of an Israeli summer without the immediate threat of war, it is appropriate to reveal what appears to be one of the country's secrets: Jerusalem's has world class weather. I will reproduce the averages for temperature maximums and minimums, and monthly rainfall. I'll even report them in Fahrenheit and inches for my American readers.


January

53.0 °F

39.0 °F

5.60 in

February

56.0 °F

40.0 °F

4.50 in

March

61.0 °F

43.0 °F

3.90 in

April

70.0 °F

49.0 °F

1.20 in

May

77.0 °F

54.0 °F

0.10 in

June

82.0 °F

59.0 °F

July

84.0 °F

63.0 °F

August

84.0 °F

63.0 °F

September

82.0 °F

61.0 °F

0.00 in

October

77.0 °F

57.0 °F

0.90 in

November

66.0 °F

49.0 °F

2.70 in

December

57.0 °F

42.0 °F


4.30 in

My international searches for moderate summers and winters, low humidity, plus modest and concentrated rain found few places as good as Jerusalem. Northern California is a competitor, but its politics make it unattractive for someone like me.

Why the secret? Probably because it is limited to Jerusalem and a few other spots in the mountains. The coast is ghastly in the summer although decent in the winter, and the south is more like Arizona than any place inhabitable.

Jerusalem is not perfect. Midday in its summer is one of the former colonial places that spawned the observation that only mad dogs and Englishmen can be found outside. The city has suffered from the out migration of Jewish residents since records began to be assembled. A prominent reason is economic. There are more jobs in the center of the country that attract people who place weather lower than income in their preferences. Another reason is variously described as aesthetic, social, or cultural. Read than as antipathy to Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox, who together comprise a majority of the city's population.

I have no intention of migrating, either for economic or other reasons. I report what I hear, often from well-educated and appropriately leftist friends and colleagues on their way to suburbs with few Arabs or ultra-Orthodox.

There is one population group that I find offensive, and it brings us back to the shortage of housing. They are well off absentees, typically from France or the United States, who aspire to own a home in Israel which they visit during the holiday periods from Rosh Hashana through Succot, and again for Pesach. They have the resources to attract the efforts of building contractors, and have produced areas that are largely empty for much of the year. Locals who own apartments in buildings along with them have the problems of deciding and managing upkeep while the absentees do little more than complain about what was not done, or why it wasn't done like they do it in Paris or on Long Island.

These are grumbles of an aging political scientist who stays active by pondering the problems of a place often at the center of controversy. As a pensioner, he can stay inside between early morning and evening all summer long, except when there is something he really wants to do.


--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:41 AM
July 16, 2011
Israel's Political Map

The current screaching about high profile issues invites an effort to create some understanding of Israel's political map. At issue is the law enacted to curb boycotts, and proposals to give politicians influence over selections of Supreme Court justices and limit overseas donations to leftist organizations. All are provoking great dispute even though none may reach the stage of actual implementation. Even if they survive challenges in the Knesset and the Supreme Court, they may not affect anything of material significance.


Again I am reminded about the work of my late friend and colleague Murray Edelman. The hottest issues in politics may be symbollic, without consequences for large expenditures or the distribution of material goodies.

In the name calling surrounding the hot items on our agenda, the term "extremist" is heard more often than anything else. And like other symbols, it does not mean a great deal beyond the emotions involved in its expression. To paraprase several popular epigrams of politics, your extremist is my moderate; your leftist is my rightist, etc etc. The point should be clear.

With all my lack of respect for those making a big deal out of very little, it is appropriate to locate the various parties and some other political organizations on something resembling a political map. Realities require that such a map be multi-demensional. It must provide room not only for those who array themselves from left to right, or right to left, but those off the prominent dimension. Both the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs spend most of their energies on other dimensions.

The major left-right dimension includes the parties that deal with issues that are common in western democracies. These are the allocation of resources for most items in the national budget, taxation, major appointments, and the contents of public policy ranging across the fields of economics, national defense, foreign affairs, and social services.

There is a large center to the Israeli spectrum. It includes most of us, but one can argue about its outer limits. For the center of the center, however, there is wide agreement that it is a locale of Kadima. It is a new party, created in 2005 by Knesset members who broke with Labor, a centrist party to the left of the middle, and Likud, a centrist party to the right of the middle.

Kadima's creation created a situation where the remnants that stayed in Labor were therefore somewhat further to the left of the middle, while the remnant remaining in Likud were somewhat further to the right of the middle than those parties had been before their most centrist members moved to Kadima.

If we looked closely at the records of individual Knesset Members and others affiliated with these parties, we would find Likudniks to the left of some Laborites on some issues, and members of Kadima all over the maps we would create for attitudes about different issues.

The drift of Israeli politics rightward appears in the relative strength of Labor and Likud. The results of the most recent election (2009) gave Likud 27 seats in the Knesset and Labor 13. Kadima won 28 seats, but its leader, Tzipi Livni, could not form a government, so the nod went to Benyamin Netanyahu of Likud.

As a result of a recent split within Labor, the faction led by Ehud Barak, having taken the new party name of Independence, should be placed closer to the middle of the center, while the remnant holding on to the name of Labor finds itself closer to the left boundaries of the center.

Toward the outer boundaries of the center are Meretz to the left and Israel Beitenu (Israel our Home) to the right. Again we see the current status of left and right in the measly number of three seats won by Meretz, and the 15 won by Israel Beitenu. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is the well known leader of Israel Beitenu. His statements lead many to label him an extremist and locate him outside the wide center of national politics. His prominence in current activities concerned with anti-boycotts and overseas contributions to leftist organizations may justify the designation of extremist. If so, the counter activities of Meretz, along with Peace Now and several civil rights organizations, would justify labelling them extreme leftists.

More clearly beyond the right side boundaries of the center are two parties that concentrate on supporting settlements in the West Bank, occasionally citing Biblical justifications for maintaining control of the Land of Israel. These are National Unity (four Kneset seats) and Jewish Home-New National Religious Party (three Knesset seats). One is strained to describe differences between these two parties, except for the greater prominence of secular Jews in National Unity and the linkage to the once prominent National Religious Party in the other.

The two ultra-Orthodox parties--the Sephardi SHAS with 11 Knesset seats and the Ashkenazi Jewish Torah (formerly Agudat Israel) with 5 Knesset seats--generally find themselves on the right side of the political spectrum on issues of defense and international affairs. However, they may side with left-of-center parties when advocating greater material benefits for their low-income constituents.

The primary concerns of the ultra-Orthodox parties put them on another dimension altogether. They are most assiduous in working for religious issues like Shabbat, Kashrut, opposition to post-mortems, as well as a pervasive concern for creating housing for their young couples and large families. It is on these issues where they demand support from whatever party is seeking their help on something else, whether it be the creation of a new government or the passage of a national budget.

Also on another dimension are the parties that appeal mostly to Arab voters. It is most accurate to label these protest parties. They devote most of their energies to lining up with Palestinians in criticizing the government of the day for whatever it is doing or not doing with respect to Palestinians or Israeli Arabs. They do not participate in the political games described as give and take, or I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine. The result is that they can be largely ignored in a discussion of Israeli politics, or Who Gets What, How? They seldom support the government, and get very little for their constituents.

There are differences among the Arab parties. What is now called the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality is the descendant of the Israel Communist Party, and still has some appeal among Jewish leftists. It has four seats in the Knesset, and one of its parliamentarians is a Jew who is knowledgable and prominent on environmental as well as social issues.

Two other parties are more nearly homogeneously Arab, and difficult to differentiate on anything other than by reference to their prominent personalities. They are United Arab List with four Knesset seats, and the National Democratic Covenant with three seats.

The 13 parties currently in Israel's Knesset are the major players in the loud politics about what a cynic would describe as seldom of substance. Like other parliamentary democracies, Israel relies heavily on professionals in the ministries for the substance of public policy. The United States is presidentially directed, but it relies more than in the past on professionals in its departments.

In Israel's case, the big players in determining what the country does can be found in the Ministries of Finance and Defense, somewhat less so in the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice, along with professionals in the judicial field who have become Justices in the Supreme Court. Professionals in the service ministries, such as those dealing with education, health, transportation, police, housing, trade and industry, interior (local governments and population registry), agriculture, and communications are important in their fields, but must bow to the money managers in Finance. Those dealing with religious affairs and immigrant absorption are more distant from issues that affect most of us.

Prime Ministers have carved out parts of the substantive ministries in order to pass minor pieces to the party faithful in order to cement the coalition. The cadre of ministers without portfolio are even further from the main action of policymaking. They are a motley collection of Knesset Members given a car, driver and sometimes a tiny office staff, as well as a title meaning little (like minister of strategic planning or minority affairs). Their appointments are meant primarily to smooth the process of keeping prominent vote-getters happy and maintaining a coalition.

Let me remind you that 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: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:13 AM
July 14, 2011
Palestinian democracy

Muhammed is one of my pool friends. For some years we have bantered between ourselves and with others about this and that, occasionally about politics. Recently he told me about his work with the Civic Forum Institute. This is an organization of Palestinians, with international financial assistance, involved in the promotion of grass roots activities intended to strengthen democracy in the Palestine Authority. (See www.cfip.org)

The issue of democracy in Palestine is a topic to stimulate the soul and the mind of an Israeli Jew who is a political scientist. The soul wishes all the best to our cousins and neighbors, with whom we share DNA and the history of recent decades. The mind is doubtful. What I know about Islam and Arab culture, including that of the Palestinians, is not encouraging. Authoritarian rule in families, the public arena, and the mosque, as well as a glorification of violence does not bode well.

To be sure, the recent history of the West Bank indicates that it is far from the worst case of Arab government. Several of my students and friends agree with a view heard among Israeli Jews that Palestinians have absorbed something from living within and alongside the Israeli democracy. Relationships are not entirely bad, despite what is said by extremists and the ignorant here and overseas.

In judging the prospects of Palestinian democracy, it is appropriate not only to consider Arab and Muslim realities, but Jewish history. One of the mysteries of political science has to do with the origins of Israeli democracy. Jewish history is more authoritarian than populist. Only a tiny minority of the first generations of Israelis came from countries with substantial claims of being democracies. In Orthodox and especially ultra-Orthodox sectors, rabbinic authority continues to prevail, with obedience more valued than challenge.

On the other hand, Jewish traditions include several features that supported the development of democracy here. The criticism of elites apparent in the Hebrew Prophets, and the argumentative rabbis honored as Talmudic sages serve to moderate the authoritarianism apparent elsewhere in Judaic history. A Jewish epigram is that argument prior to decision is more likely to uncover the desire of the Almighty than the decision of one person.


If the Jews could do it, why not Palestinians?

What makes me doubtful is the record in the decades since numerous Muslim countries gained their independence, and the lack of encouraging signs in what the hopefuls labeled "Arab Spring." I know of no parallel moderations of authoritarianism in Islam comparable to those of Judaic reverence for the Prophets' criticism of elites and rabbinic argument.

Israel's democracy, like that of other countries, can be messy. Currently we are experiencing an upsurge of efforts by the radical right and responses from the radical left. The right has passed a measure in the Knesset designed to punish Israelis who would boycott the entire society or settlements, and is mobilizing behind other proposals to influence the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, and limit the capacity of foreign governments to support the activities of Israeli organizations, especially those left of center.

Leftists are responding by upping their efforts to boycott industries and cultural activities in the West Bank, and generally asserting that Israel is losing its democratic character.

My own view is that the extremism of right and left is a mutually reinforcing expression of frustration reflecting the weakness of both. The present turmoil is not pleasant, but I see no threat to what has developed in the course of six decades. Centrists are better entrenched than extremists in the important parties that comprise a majority of the Knesset. The courts and administration provide other checks on political passions. The State Comptroller is more aggressive in chasing imperfections than comparable bodies in most other countries, and the media is open to a wide range of opinions. I know of no country that is more democratic than Israel. It has compiled a credible record of political competition, openness, and criticism. The country's democracy is remarkable given threats to its existence, the weight of security organizations, problems of developing from extreme poverty affected not only by frequent wars and terror, but also by sizable immigration from non-democratic countries.

The Civic Forum Institute has a way to go before we can celebrate Palestine's arrival to anything close to Israel's democracy. Especially daunting is the Islamic extremism that dominates Gaza, is financed and encouraged from outside, and has considerable support in the West Bank. The West Bank continues to suffer from arbitrary justice and the lack of functioning state audit that limits a capacity to deal with extensive corruption. I would be more encouraged if the list of reports on the Civic Forum's web site was more current. I have heard from participants in other Palestinian organizations financed by overseas governments that they are closer to fig leaves for donors willing to pay for the image of supporting Palestine than anything seriously committed to hard work.

I have urged Mudhammad to include in his efforts a Palestinian student who is an expert on the subject of state audit. That will not be a quck fix for Palestinian democracy. There is no such thing. I am encouraged by the Civic Forum's existence and activities, and I have indicated my willingness to help. Israeli paternalism is not what he needs, and I will do everything I can to avoid that.

--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:56 AM
July 12, 2011
Boycotts and politics

The Knesset passed a law against those who would promote a boycott on Israel or its settlements. The anti-boycott movement began as an action against performers who refused to appear in the cultural center of Ariel, one of the large towns located over the 1967 borders. The Knesset vote was 47 in favor and 38 opposed, meaning that 30 percent of Knesset members avoided voting.

Those abstaining included the Prime Minister and Chair of the Knesset, both Likud Party colleagues of the law's sponsors. Their abstentions reflected reservations about the timing and contents of the proposal. It drew wide criticism from Israelis and others concerned with the freedom of expression, and its proponents insisted on a final vote when the Quartet (representatives of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) were meeting about Israel and Palestine.

The anti-boycott measure has been condemned not only by those who object to the basic idea, but also by legal commentators who objected to its vagueness and other problems in its formulation. It is certain to be challenged as violating Basic Laws in the Supreme Court. Even if it manages to pass judicial scrutiny, the police or prosecutors might not be assiduous in enforcing it.


It has already provoked a spur to advocates of boycotts against the products made by industries located over the 1967 border, as well as appearances by performers in the cultural centers, and lecturers in the colleges located in the West Bank.

This may only be a short storm in our small teacup. Nevertheless, it's in the headlines, and tells us something about politics here and elsewhere.

The sentiment involved in the measure, if not its precise formulation, has some degree of good sense. Israeli Jews and other Jews who urge a boycott against the country along with disinvestment and other sanctions, represent a thin slice of the population. As Jews against Jews, they have some appeal amidst the intellectual left, and stir unease and anger here. Two of them are, or have been, members of Political Science Departments. One left the University of Haifa for a position in Britain, and continues his anti-Israel diatribes from there. Another remains active at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, where he is a symbol of pride for some collegues and an embarrassment for others. He has led donors to close their checkbooks, and University officials to take a stand on academic freedom.

More widespread are Israelis who oppose settlements over the 1967 borders, and participate in boycotts of industries, cultural centers, and colleges located in the settlements. Fortunately, the Hebrew University on Mt Scopus is too prominent to boycott. It is also located on a site that was over the 1948 armistice line, but formally included in Israel's territory, and reachable by special arrangement between 1948 and 1967. It was only after 1967 that Mt Scopus could be rebuilt and expanded as a university campus. My friends and colleagues participating in a boycott of the college at Ariel have not, to my knowlege, mentioned French Hill. By non-Israeli conceptions this neighborhood is a "settlement," but home to numerous Hebrew University faculty members known to be left, right, center, or apolitical.

My experience with politicians here, in the United States, and a few other countries is that those reaching the top may be impressive individuals, wise as well as intelligent. Many others have failed my tests on one or another of these traits. Knesset members who promoted the anti-boycott bill resemble individuals who are successful enough in politics to win an election, but not likely to rise among those who decide on important issues.


Israel's Knesset, the United States Congress, other national assemblies and lesser bodies suffer from a large number of proposals meant to solve a problem of the moment. Most are poorly drafted or duplicate provisions already available to enforcement agencies. Generally the nonsense does not make it out of committee, or fails to move through the two or more votes required for passage in most legislative bodies. Some that become law are ignored by administrators.

The anti-boycott provision touches sentiments on the public agenda that provoke intense support and opposition. It was difficult for some doubters in the Knesset to oppose the proposal actively, but several of them found convenient reasons to be absent from the vote. The law is problematic in its language and in terms of democratic norms, and unlikely to do more than provoke a few days of headlines and commentary. Israel's court system is part of the policy-making process, and once again may protect us from the parliament.

-


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:53 AM
July 09, 2011
Palestine


It is common to assign responsibility to Israel, or more narrowly the present government, or even more narrowly to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for the failure of the Israel-Palestine peace process.

I'd prefer to put more responsibility on the nature of Palestinian institutions, and the international arrangements that have crippled the Palestinians while claiming to care for them since 1948.

What I see is a Catch-22. The Palestinians have no state; each of several internationally-coddled organizations has acquired on operational veto on major issues, and there is not the Palestine-wide discipline that could assure the implementation of any agreement.

Blame Israel, if you will, for some of the responsibility for this impasse. Israelis have not shown great enthusiasm for creating a Palestinian state. Yet that must be viewed in the context of other constraints, all of which have contributed to Israeli suspicions.

My list of "other constraints" is Islamic extremism, competition among various Muslim governments, organizations, and individuals to insist on the priority of themselves in the competition over what Palestine should be, and what should happen to Israel.

Current events focus on the scheme of the West Bank Fatah leadership to parley its international support into wider recognition of the "state" these same people declared in 1988. It may happen, but it less likely to cure Palestinians of what has crippled them. Neither Hamas nor the wider enthusiasm for destroying Israel will go away, and the international community is not ready for that solution.



There is an instructive comparison with the situation of the Jews circa 1948. They also lacked the mechanisms of a state, and there was competition--sometimes violent--between them. Remember the Altalena.



But that is the difference. Menachem Begin's iconic refusal to pursue the bloodshed created the sina qua non for a functioning, disciplined state. The newly created Israel used the mechanisms of democracy (imperfect everywhere) rather than violence to reach crucial decisions.



2000 years of stateless suffering may have moved the Jews in that direction. Also, the value of Jewish unity, and the norms against physical violence--especially among Jews--embedded in religious doctrine as well as the culture since the passivity articulated by Rabbi Yochanin ben Zakai.



We should not exaggerate. Jews have no claim on angelic behaviour. Religious and cultural norms were just that--general tendencies rather than hard and fast rules with anything like a police force to back them up. Remember the Jews were stateless from about the year 70 to 1948. Religious nationalists are troublesome. They are not dominant enough to make policy, but may be strong enough to exercise an informal veto, especially in the case of a government led by Benyamin Netahayu.



Yet compare them to the Palestinians, and especially the dominant Muslims among them.
•A religion that puts a greater emphasis on the role of violence than anything apparent in contemporary Judaism or Christianity.
•Competition between nationalist and religious movements that glorify violence.
•The failure of Palestinians to develop national institutions that overcome the power of various religious-based movements, and extended families, tribes, or clans dominant in towns and villages that remain jealous of their power.

What to do?

It depends on who you are and your interests.

If your cause is Palestine, I can urge only pity for them and yourself. Salvation is not at hand.

If your cause is Israel, be patient. This government is likely to squirm or do nothing rather than take a bold move. Salvation is not at hand. It never is for Jews. Doubters can take another look at the New Testament.

Coping is our skill. It works. Take another look at the Israeli economy, polity, and security services.

As ever, the American President is an important variable. Both Israelis and Palestinians should hope for one better informed, wiser, and more moderate about the Middle East than Barack Obama. Meanwhile, both will have to hope that his enthusiasm will not do more than it has to provoke intemperance among Palestinians. Even Thomas Friedman seems to think that the Obama White House does more harm than good in the region. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/opinion/sunday/26friedman.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss



If Friedman will only recognize the same about himself, there may be greater hope for the quiet that may foster mutual trust and pave the way for something even more positive.

--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:37 PM
Edinburgh


The first newspaper headline I noticed: 80 graduates for every job. Prominent on the BBC: a pointed but civilized debate in the House of Commons about a government proposal to make institutions of higher education more competitive, more open, and more productive of employable graduates. There was also news of a pending strike across the public sector, which would make us dependent on our feet for at least one day. Nothing about Israel, Palestinians, Gaza, or flotilla.



Good. We really had landed in another country.

Don't get me wrong. The Zionism that attacked me four decades ago, and produced yet another rebellion against my super patriot American parents, had not subsided. But a respite every once in a while is good for the soul.

Britain, or in the immediate case, Edinburgh, offered a decent site in mid-summer. Cooler by 10-15 degrees (Centigrade), bright green rather than the dull yellow of a Middle Eastern summer, some hope for sunshine, spectacular period architecture, and great nature walks within range of city buses.

The bad news was a Taliban attack on the Intercontinantal Hotel in Kabul I recall it as a plush, super Holiday Inn on a spectacular urban mountain, where I stayed for one night years ago before asking my hosts to find me a more genuine place. The death toll traced to this check-in was not great, but the need for NATO forces to end the attack may have tarnished Barack Obama's plan to draw down the American involvement.

Several days into this holiday, dependent on the BBC, it was apparent that the British are as parochial as Americans, Israelis, and perhaps everyone else. One morning's news, after an update on a strike, dealt with a machine for picking up chickens. Discussants described the chickens' reactions, compared to the traditional method of hand picking-up, focused on the comfort of the birds (about to be killed), and finally got to what may have been the main point, i.e., damage to the meat. Initial findings, in case you're interested, are that the machines are gentler to the birds than the kinds of people hired to pick them up.

BBC-TV live coverage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) beginning a tour of Canada at the War Memorial, glorified royalty in ways foreign to me as American or Israeli.

After an hour on the Canadian reception of the royal couple, a shift to pros and cons of public service one-day strike in behalf of pension details.

During the royal ceremony at the Canadian War Memorial, the fawning commentator devoted a sentence or two about Canadian casualties in Afghanistan, much less than she devoted to Kate's Canadian-designed dress.

A day later there was extensive coverage of the latest on Dominic Stauss-Kahn. The attorney for the "victim" whose lies to the Grand Jury and Immigration authorities had damaged the prosecutor's case, held sway for at least a quarter hour of prime time (5 PM), explaining how his client had been wronged.

Later the preoccupation turned to news that the scandal-oriented popular press had hacked into the phones of various victims, violated their privacy during their most vulnerable time, and sensationalized rumors about the victims and their families that were downright awful. This led to the closing of a popular but scurrilous down-scale newspaper, or at least the suspension of its name until the Murdoch machine could produce something similar without a name that was causing major consumer companies to cancel their advertizements.

No reports about the most recent near-lynching in Isaweea, very little about the claim of flotilla organizers that Israelis had sabotaged one of their boats and spoiled the rest of the venture with evil Jewish politics..

Great place. I'd die of boredom, but there are worse fates

--


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:00 AM