August 29, 2011
Israel's problems

Israel is best known for its chronic problems with Arab neighbors. And now there are demands from middle- and upper middle income young Israelis about the cost of living. Yet what is arguably the country's most serious problem is somewhat under the surface as seen by overseas observers, i.e., the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox).

Palestinians and other Arabs have proved to be manageable, albeit dangerous. They occasionally produce individual tragedies, but are more a danger to themselves than to Israel. One can hope that the government will find some way to improve the situation of middle- and upper middle income young Israelis, who are, after all, a large group of voters who hold the future of the country in their hands

The Haredim threaten the viability of the economy, overall standards of living, and the continued willingness of the productive and creative population to put up with them.

The threat appears in the number of Haredim, their growth, political influence, demands on the economy, and their lack of contribution.

Historically, Jewish communities supported bright boys willing to devote years to the study and teaching of religious texts. Balance was maintained by the limited numbers involved, and the willingness of many Haredim to combine a religious life with employment that provided a living.

Israel is unique in Jewish history insofar as the Haredi expect the state to support large families whose males aspire to study all their lives. Many of those males--perhaps the overwhelming majority--lack the brilliance that traditionally justified community support. Some 10 percent of the Jewish population, perhaps a half-million people, are closing themselves up in the Middle Ages, and demanding the rest of us pay while accepting their absence from the workforce, military service, or anything else that is productive or helpful.

Of course, they see it differently. Studying texts that haven't changed in centuries, in their view, contributes to the defense and prosperity of God's people more than anything that comes from hi-tech or the IDF.

Haredim themselves, or at least some of them, recognize the problems. Housing is expensive for them, even if they are willing to live more crowded in small apartments, and in neighborhoods without the aesthetics demanded by middle-income and better-off secular Israelis. There are also Haredim who do not want to threaten the Holy Nation of Israel by demanding more than the economy can provide.

The neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem illustrates a more general phenomenon. It had been a mixed neighborhood, with secular and Orthodox Jews, but located on the border of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. It proved to be an attractive place for young ultra-Orthodox couples, usually those from North America or Europe, with the personal or family capacity to buy apartments more attractive than those found in other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. It now appears that the men of those families are living an Israeli Haredi life style of full time study, or part-time work with incomes that will not support the purchase of similar accommodations for their numerous offspring.

There are signs of. change. Some Haredim are doing military service, studying in technical colleges, and working in industry. There are schools and workplaces that provide them with time out to pray, and the separation of sexes. While such cases may only be the beginnings of change, some speak optimistically about great numbers and a true upheaval among the Haredim. It is widely conceded that the movement--however large--does not penetrate all congregations. There remain those steadfast in their opposition to anything but the study of sacred texts and unlimited procreation.

Israel limits itself by a widespread concern to be a state of the Jewish people, no matter how costly. The weight of Haredi political parties is important, but is not the whole story . Anyone who doubts the role of Jewish culture should consider the country's efforts in behalf of Ethiopian Jews, despite doubts about their background, and a continued willingness to accommodate those claiming a family connection with Jews.

A question that is somewhere on the agenda is, What to do about the Haredim who resist making any economic contribution, but demand state support?

Among the options are:

· Enacting a schedule with respect to child support payments, stipends paid to adult students, and the financial support of religious academies that will entail the gradual, but serious reduction of state support.

· Enforcing the rules that have lain dormant (due to Haredi opposition) about requiring the teaching of a modern core (science, mathematics, language) in any primary or secondary school that receives state support.

The task will not be easy, and may prove to be impossible. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis tend to resist innovation. They are, when all is said and done, "orthodox" in the extreme. Resistance is reinforced by competition between Haredi congregations and their rabbis as to which is more loyal to established tradition.

A more serious problem than posed by Palestinians, Arabs, and other non-Jewish hostility?

Yes, insofar as those threats have been met with more or less united resolve. The Haredi threat is perceived more dimly, and through a filter keyed to a concern for Jews. To be sure, the response to non-Jewish threats has not been total, and there are many who would throw the Haredim on the dust heap of history.

Israel's political parties may all be reluctant to attack Haredi interests so forcefully as to limit their chances of obtaining Haredi support for a future coalition. However, the parties vary in their warmth toward Haredim interests. Likud has been the warmest in recent years. The demise of of the outspokenly secular Shinuei has left the tiny and virtually moribund Meretz as the only party that might be called "anti-Haredi." Kadima's leader Tsipi Livdi has made some comments that suggest a tilt against the Haredim, but that has not been tested, and it is not shared by others close to the top of her party.

The seriousness of the problem can be defined by the incidence of Haredim who are making their own way out of the Middle Ages via education that is useful in the modern economy. If the proportion is small, Israel is in trouble. If the proportion is sizable and growing, Israeli officials may find a way to deal with it.

The worst scenario appears in the culture of Israeli that hinders any forceful decision about the Haredim that is certain to be implemented. Israel has proven to be a tough state with respect to its non-Jewish adversaries, but not with respect to its Jewish problems.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:20 AM
August 19, 2011
Israel's other normality

It was not a day for a Schlafstunde. Soon after lunch on Thursday, Varda called from the other room that I should turn on the radio. That generally means something unpleasant. This was the onset of a terror attack. As is typical in such events, early reports were more confused than helpful. Only three hours later did it become clear that it began with an ambush against a private car and a bus on the highway north of Eilat, alongside the border with Egypt, and mortar attacks against the police and soldiers who rushed to the scene. During those hours, there were additional reports, that proved unfounded, of attacks on the northern border, and claims of Israelis kidnapped from the southern region.

Also typical were interviews with people who were on the bus. Broadcasters may think they are adding color to a dramatic story, but what we hear are excited people who may not know how to express themselves in the best of times, now caught up in the emotions of a horrible experience.

Egyptian officials were quick to assert that the attackers did not come from their country, even though it occurred on a road along the border, in a stretch of desert as isolated as possible in a small country, with no fence on the border. Thanks to the unsettled nature of the Egyptian regime, the Sinai is even more than usual an ungoverned expanse. Beduin smugglers and other troublemakers, including various groups out of Gaza, have virtually free run of the area.

While Egyptian officials were denying any action from their part of the Sinai, Egyptian troops killed two of the terrorists on their side of the border.

Hamas claimed no responsibility, but dispersed its personnel in anticipation of Israeli reprisals.

The activity that began during the time of my usual afternoon nap was still in process as bedtime approached. And while the remnants of the group were evading and occasionally engaging IDF pursuers, a targeted killing eliminated the commander of the military wing of the Islamic group thought to have been responsible, along with several of his lieutenants.

The day's toll was six Israeli civilians killed, as well as a soldier and a member of the anti-terrorist police unit, and 30 wounded. One terrorist killed himself by detonating his suicide belt. Others died at the hands of Israeli or Egyptians soldiers.

Rockets from Gaza began landing in southern Israel before I went to bed. I woke to reports about additional rockets, news that the Gaza leadership is urging attacks with all means possible, responses of the Israel Air Force, and portrayals of the soldier and police officer killed. Also killed were a bus driver and members of a family on their way to Eilat.

We are hearing instructions about how residents of southern town should react when hearing sirens warning of a missile attack. There has been a fire fight in the Sinai between Egyptian troops and Beduin or Palestinian fighters.

This has reached the proportion where it might be given the name of an operation (like Cast Lead in Gaza 2009, or Defensive Shield after the 2002 attack on a Passover Seder), and may not calm down without meetings between Israeli officials and Palestinians via an international mediator.

Three open questions:

How will this influence the Palestinian effort to obtain recognition of a state by the United Nations?

How will it affect the relations between Egypt and Israel?

What about Israel's recent concerns for social justice?

Israel's response to an attack against its civilians may spur political antagonists here and elsewhere to heightened efforts in behalf of justice.

Despite frequent anti-Israeli rhetoric on Egyptian media, and several attacks against the pipeline providing natural gas from Egypt to Israel, there are also signs of ongoing cooperation. Egypt has acted occasionally against the Sinai Beduin and the migrants they smuggle over the desert to Israel. Israel agreed to suspend part of the peace agreement to allow an increase of Egyptian troops in the Sinai. The initial reason was to protect the gas pipeline. This incident may add to the incentives for security cooperation.

Reports that Israeli personnel killed Palestinians on Egyptian territory may reflect the importance Israeli officials assign to this incident, as well as the level of operational cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian forces. There are other reports that Egyptian soldiers died as a result of IDF activities in Sinai.

There have been few comments about social justice on Israeli media since noon yesterday. Depending on how things unfold, it is possible that some of the young protesters will receive notices from their reserve units. Physicians cancelled their work actions at the hospitals serving the southern region. The Students' Association indicated that it "is lowering its head on this difficult day, joins the families in mourning, and wishes the wounded a speedy recovery."

Its not an ideal time to travel, but we will depart Saturday evening for long scheduled visits with family. We'll be going to the land that is helpful, friendly, and idealistic. Barack Obama has declared that Bashar al-Assad must leave office. Hillary Clinton described the Syrian opposition as the onset of democracy. In the wonderland of the United Nations, the nonentity of Lebanon is currently chair of the Security Council. So no condemnation of the attack in Israel on civilians may be possible without a condemnation of the IDF's response.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:05 AM
August 15, 2011
Glenn Beck

Some time ago, a Texas friend wrote to ask how Glenn Beck's pending mission to Israel was being received here.

My response: it wasn't.

A few days ago, I wrote to him again with the news that Israel Today, the most conservative of the daily papers, had a story about Beck's upcoming visit on page 15.

Now Beck has arrived in advance of hosting a demonstration next week. He has also receive some attention from Israeli media. The headline in Ha'aretz is representative, "Glenn Beck calls Israel social protesters 'communists'"

My primary observation: Beck does not understand the society he claims to be protecting from its enemies in America and elsewhere.

Perhaps when he visited the tent city in Tel Aviv he did not engage the residents in conversation. No indication that he met the daughter of the man appointed by the Prime Minister to head the committee appointed to propose reforms. She is one of the protesters, along with other offspring of the establishment. Many of those demonstrating are already members of the establishment, or will be joining it before long.

In Beck's terms, a large portion of Israel's population may deserve the label of communist.

Moreover, a large portion of the population has not noticed Beck or his visit. The headline above appeared in Ha'aretz' English language internet site, but not on its Hebrew language site or the Hebrew print edition that provides morning news for much of the upper levels of Israel's government and society.

The picture is one of two societies. One based outside of Israel, reading English, with high levels of empathy for what it perceives to be the Israeli phenomenon. The other Israeli and reading Hebrew. "Communist" for much of the former is a term of insult. "Capitalist" for much of the latter is a term no less colored by disrespect.

Israel is neither communist nor capitalist, but a complex mixture. Many Americans, like Glenn Beck, may not realize that the mixture is characteristic of most democracies. All countries of Western Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Israel are firmly in the camp of the social democracies. Also the United States since FDR, even though a lot of Americans are still kicking and screaming about what they think is ungodly.

No two countries do it exactly alike. There is a great deal of dispute about the details. In most countries (exempting the United States) there is not much dispute about the heavy involvement of government in financing and providing social services. Health care and education are widely perceived to be rights of citizenship. The laggard United States shows itself in life expectancies significantly shorter than for the rest of us..

Israel like a number of other countries has drifted from the socialist left to a greater mixture of free enterprise and government control. Current demonstrations are protesting the degree of the shift and some of the details. Most of what we are hearing from the street are demands for specific services rather than a total change in the economy. Some of those chanting deserve the labels of anarchist or communist. I doubt that Beck understands the Hebrew. Even if he did, he might not understand the nuances.

The issue Israelis have been arguing in the most recent 20 years is not about economics or social policy, but the Palestinians. When we talk about left and right in politics, we mean how far each would go in accommodating Palestinian demands.

The left has not done well in recent elections. Leaving aside the largely Arab parties (11 seats in the Knesset of 120) who do nothing but protest themselves to insignificance, the clearly left of center Meretz has dwindled to 3 seats in this Knesset. What remains of the Labor Party has only eight seats.

Currently the demonstrators are doing what they can to vitalize the discussion of left and right on matters of economics and social policy. Some have sought to recruit Israeli Arabs to their cause, but they are doing what they can to avoid the issue of Palestine. We know from personal experience that many of these economic and social leftists are also left of center on the issue of Palestine, but the linkage of the two issues would be deadly in terms of political realities.

We can expect Glenn Beck to emphasize Israel's defense against Arabs and their western friends. There he will have support from Hebrew speakers who may comprehend his tone if not his details. Should he wander off that reservation and into his denunciation of communists and their fellow travelers, the applause will come largely from American true believers. Among them will be some Jews who have not learned the lessons of the Prophets or absorbed their norms of social justice.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:23 PM
A border between darkness and light

I wonder if all those human rights organizations that have targeted Israel for wrongdoing are reconsideration their priorities. Some have commented about abuses in Syria, but are they confessing their past sins in light of the contrasts north and south of the Syria-Israel border.

North of that line, tanks and warships are firing indiscriminately into civilian areas. There is no better example of "state terrorism." The point is to subdue anti-government protests by the weight of firepower that does not distinguish between opponents of the regime, supporters, the indifferent, or children at play. The body count is growing. Details are elusive, given the government's claim that its opponents are foreign agitators or criminal gangs, and reports about the numbers killed from opponents, some of them safely at a distance .

South of the border, there are continued demonstrations. Also a bit of exaggeration as to the numbers. Activists claimed that 15,000 turned out in Beer Sheva, while the police estimate--backed up by a journalist reporting on the most popular channel of Israel Radio--was half that number.

The protest retains its upper middle class bias. University students, graduates, and young professionals are chanting for social justice. Some of them want less expensive housing and child care for themselves, and some are putting the emphasis on benefits for those lower on the economic scale.

A group of senior academics are now advising the protesters, competing with colleagues who are doing the same for the government. The reputation of those helping protesters is to the left of center, but well within the establishment. One is a former Civil Service Commissioner, another has been mentioned as a candidate for the Supreme Court. The chair of the committee appointed by the Prime Minister went to the tents and met with protesters. The Prime Minister indicated to the police that they should leave the tents in place, even if they do violate some ordinances.

None of this will assure that protesters achieve what they demand. Their list is long and amorphous, and not defined in the specifics needed for public policy.

The economic problems in Europe and the United States will not help. Those are Israel's major markets for exports, and recessions there will affect employment and tax receipts here. Even the prospects will caution some of those inclined to generosity.

Politics will complicate things. The protesters seem to agree on the need to reallocate resources and change priorities. That means taking away resources going to some sectors and putting them elsewhere. It will not happen smoothly, if at all. Politicians affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox, industries, farmers, unions, and settlers, as well as the senior officers speaking for the military chronically complain that their shares of resources are barely adequate. They are not lining up for an opportunity to give up something for the sake of what other people say is social justice.

Expect continued dispute. Even if there are photos of smiling politicians and protesters meeting and agreeing, there will be others feeling themselves left out. Just yesterday, there was a signing ceremony of education officials and teacher unions about a reform long in the works. It took only a few minutes before teachers unhappy with the arrangement threatened to strike at next month's opening of the school year. Physicians opposed to their association have stopped what seemed to be a near settlement of a long dispute.

No one on this side of the border contemplated dealing with the protests by means of tanks and warships. Soldiers have protested their own lack of adequate food, time off, and respectful supervision.

They went too far. What soldiers do on vacation out of uniform is one thing, but while on duty they are not free to express themselves.

On account of leaving their duty stations in protest against their treatment by a commanding officer, one group received sentences ranging from 14 to 20 days. The officer also lost his position.

Those who are obsessively anti-Israel need not despair about these contrasts between the northern and southern sides of the border with Syria. The IDF is laying new landmines along that border, in anticipation that Syrians will again encourage Palestinians to leave their 60 year old refugee camps and march toward Jerusalem.

Surely those landmines violate somebody's norms, as does Israel's continued existence.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:53 AM
August 13, 2011
When God made the Palestinians

It would be an extreme rejection of what is politically correct to claim that the Palestinians are not a people. Palestinian intellectuals expressed a sense of nationhood about a century ago. Most governments of the world are willing to grant them statehood. Doubters may point to the incomplete process of nation-building seen in the conflict between power holders in the West Bank and Gaza, and the continued dominance of extended families. However, every nation is a work in process. The United States was not really one nation until some decades after the Civil War. It has been at least 2,500 years since Jews created a history going backwards to mythic founders. Our national landmarks have been noted by others since then, but Israelis are still making themselves after waves of migration from exotic sources. Arab spring is emphasizing what we have known about our neighbors. A number of European nations are unmaking themselves as a result of migrations.

What we can say about the incompleteness of God's handiwork on the people called Palestinians is that they still lack the gene or the organ that allows political acumen.

Nonsense, you say. Look at their success with most governments represented in the United Nations.

Not enough. Look at their failure in dealing with the country most important to them.

Palestinians who are citizens of Israel have not learned how other minorities maximize their opportunities, i.e., by going along with dominant political parties. The Palestinians of Israel vote overwhelmingly for parties that reject, protest, and deliver nothing. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem did not take up Israel's offer of citizenship, and do not exercise the right of non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. You can see the results in their neighborhoods.

The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza have not learned the lesson of the weak alongside the powerful. When was the last time Canada or Mexico threatened the United States? Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank are even more dependent on Israel. The great majority of imports come through Israel, including electricity and fuel. Israeli currency is their medium of exchange. Import duties collected for them by Israel represent a major portion of their resources. And Israel has responded with force to provocations as recently as last week.

And the Palestinian responses?

A repeated declaration of independence, not yet matched by any success on the ground.

Currently there is an on-again, off-again threat to demand recognition and membership by the United Nations. It will take a while to see how this plays out. Without Israel's cooperation, it is unlikely to produce anything more than the PLO's first declaration of statehood in 1988.

If the direct approach to the United Nations is not enough to assure Israel's disinclination to cooperate, even more assurance of antagonism comes from the repeated insistence of the West Bank leadership that their state could not have any Jewish settlements.

Mahmoud Abbas et al may not have gone so far as to say no Jews, but the Israeli population does not notice the distinction. Palestinian reluctance to recognize Israel as a Jewish state adds to the distrust, and the concern that whatever the Palestinians demand now is only a step in a program to eliminate Israel altogether.

The insistence of Palestinian religious and political leaders that Jews have no historic claim to religious sites in Jerusalem adds to a conclusion that Palestinians lack a basic sense of what politics is all about.

Benny Morris is an Israeli historian who initially made a reputation by debunking the simplistic Zionist view of 1948. His The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, published in 1988, conceded that not all the refugees resulted from Arab armies urging them to leave temporarily so they could return and claim Jewish property after a military victory. Substantial numbers were forced out by Jewish fighters.

Israeli rightists who are still criticizing the early Morris fail to read what he has written recently. In a piece entitled, "Eliminating Israel," published last month, he deals with Muslim religious doctrine and current public opinion. Eighty percent of the Palestinians polled agreed that it is the duty of all Muslims to participate in jihad to eradicate Israel. One percent thought that Jerusalem should be Israel's capital; 92 percent said it should be Palestine's capital. Only 3 percent thought the city could serve as the capital of two states.

Morris' conclusion:

"Perhaps the international quartet that is currently prodding Israel and the Palestinians to restart negotiations should take this poll, and what it tells us, into account when considering Netanyahu's fears regarding the Palestinian leadership's real aims in pressing on with its intention to unilaterally declare independence and obtain international endorsement of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along the 1967 borders. Abbas's people, if this poll is to be believed, clearly regard this diplomatic initiative only as part of "stage one," and nothing more."

Compromise/Go along in order to get along/You roll my log and I'll roll your log are ways of expressing the essence of politics. Israel made decent offers in 2000 and 2008, against the background of earlier efforts to be accommodating with respect to a British proposal in 1937 and the United Nations partition of 1947. Palestinian leaders, with strong popular support, have consistently said no.

God should apologize for having left out the parts that permit political wisdom, and remind Palestinians of another essence of politics: you don't get until you say yes.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:20 AM
August 10, 2011
Different strokes by different folks

The contrasts are striking between Israel's month of demonstrations in behalf of social justice, and what is happening in other countries of the Middle East and Britain.

Britain looks pretty much like urban America in the 1960s. A lumpen proletariat, with nothing to lose, is rampaging in vandalism and pillaging their own neighborhoods. As in the US, a single trigger--in this case the death of a young man shot by police, with or without good reason--unleashed a mass of energy pent up by generations of unemployment, poverty, and feelings of hopelessness. Different from the American experience, these British riots appear to be less racially or ethnically based than class based. Whites are participating along with people having backgrounds in South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. So far the authorities are responding with something akin to understatement. They are using staves and shields, debating the use of plastic bullets (usually non-lethal) , but so far not armed with deadly weapons, and not calling in the army.

Syria and Libya are the Arab uprisings currently in the headlines, with Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen at various degrees of old news although not yet arrived at new realities. Why a NATO intervention in Libya and not Syria, with both atrocious in the killing of civilians? The greater importance of oil in Libya, or simply that Libya was the first up. NATO governments are wary of involvement in yet another war against Muslims, at least not before they learn how to bring Libya to a desirable closure.

Opps. It's not about Islam.

Switch to Israel.

Two to three hundred thousand participants in demonstrations as peaceful as the gathering of many fewer of the same people in our living room. No reports of injury, and a government gearing up to respond with changes in taxation, regulations, and/or public services.

Our impressions of an upper-middle class crowd seen on television have been confirmed by a company claiming to assess socio-economic traits on the basis of scanning the use of cell phones during the demonstration, and assessing the home addresses of those using the phones. More than half the crowd was in the three upper deciles of family income, and only 15 percent in the lower four deciles. While all ages were visible, the vast majority were in their 20s and 30s.

In other words, recent graduates of universities and colleges, better behaved than boozed up American counterparts on a football weekend. Television coverage showed the crowd shuffling for an hour or so from a point of Assembly toward a main square. The numbers made it impossible to walk normally. People talked while they moved, some carrying signs expressing their wants. Three of the country's most notable singers entertained between the speeches. The musical styles of Shlomo Artzi, Yehudit Ravitz, and Rita are closer to American folk music of the 1970s than the raucous stuff that appeals to younger and less well educated Israelis. Absent was a rock star known for avoiding military service. This was a crowd that wanted change, but identified with national norms.

The story is far from over. The tents are still in place, although the Tel Aviv Municipality has indicated that public order and sanitation will require their early removal. Demands continue to increase, as more groups recognize that this is the time to put their wants on the table. It may be some time before there is another opportunity. In recent days we've heard that the Ministry of Education should not change the school books so often, because families want to buy second hand books or to pass them on from older to younger pupils. A marginal fruit packing plant has announced the layoff of 50 workers, and they are joining demands for justice. There are calls to control the prices of gasoline and electricity, both under pressure from international factors. Working class protesters who made names for themselves in the 1970s and 1990s have come out of retirement, either in search of their own past glory, or invited by organizers wanting to expand the reach to other social classes. People demanding more housing for young couples are pressing claims that criteria for government assistance should shift away from those favoring the large families of the ultra-Orthodox. Leaders of Jewish settlers in the West Bank have signed on to the protests. They also have claims, and say that they should not be targeted as enemies.

Those claiming to be protest leaders have decided not to hold another mass demonstration this coming weekend. Best not to risk a decline in attendance. However, there will be demonstrations in outlying locales that will attract media attention.

Prominent figures in the protests are saying that they have passed the stage of getting the government's attention, and now is the time to join officials in defining precise goals capable of being achieved.

In comments like this, one hears young people maneuvering for position to join the national leadership. Student politics is one of the ways to the top. Ehud Olmert is the most striking example of a national leader who moved from that base to the back bench of the Knesset, then to minor and major ministerial appointments. Currently he is on trial for various kinds of corruption. Tsakhi Hanegbi is another former minister who began in student politics. His recent headlines have also dealt with charges of corruption. The leadership of the present generation has reasons to be careful as well as something to emulate.

We can expect frictions and upticks in protests as the realities of defining priorities leave many of the claimants on the outside looking in. Most sensitive will be the issue of the ultra-Orthodox. Their leadership is noticeably quiet, perhaps hunkering down in anticipation of having to protect themselves from charges of being parasites who only take and do not contribute. Sixteen of their Knesset Members supporting the present government (and potential partners in any imaginable future coalition) are their main defense.

Israel's demonstrations are stirring a political response, not yet clear in its outline, but as different from Syria and Libya as is day from night. Britain remains another story, with its Conservative power holders also worthy of attention.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:48 AM
August 08, 2011
9th of Av

The first music that I heard on Israel radio this morning (Tuesday, August 9th, ט' באב) was

עַל נַהֲרוֹת, בָּבֶל--שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ, גַּם-בָּכִינוּ: בְּזָכְרֵנוּ, אֶת-צִיּוֹן.

My old brain heard transformed that into Peter, Paul and Mary, "By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered thee Zion . . . ."

Psalm 137, in whatever language you prefer.

This is the ninth day in the month of Av (Tisha B'Av), a time of fasting to mourn the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 588 BCE, and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans on the same day in 70 CE. By tradition, Jews also remember other catastrophes associated with Tisha B'Av, even if they may not have occurred exactly on that date.'Av#In_Israel

•The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II on July 20, 1095 (in Jewish Calendar av 9, 4855), killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.
•Jews were expelled from England on July 25,1290 (Av 9, 5050 in Jewish Calendar).
•Jews were expelled from Spain on August 11, 1492 (Av 9, 5252 in Jewish Calendar).
•On Tisha B'Av 5674 (August 1, 1914), World War I broke out, causing unprecedented devastation across Europe and set the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.
•On the eve of Tisha B'Av 5702 (July 23, 1942), the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
•The Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 86 and wounding 300 others, on Monday July 18, 1994, in Jewish Calendar, the 10th of Av, 5754. Jewish Cal 1994

To this list might be added
•S&P's downgrade of US Government bonds, and subsequent panics in the stock exchanges of New York, Europe, Tel Aviv and elsewhere
•Extreme dissatisfaction with the Israeli government expressed by two to three hundred thousand protesters last weekend in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities

There is also a spreading of violence from a trigger incident in London to several major cities of Britain, raising the prospect of what may happen in lower income enclaves elsewhere.

Those claiming to be leaders of the Israeli protest have been quick to reject the panel of experts appointed by the Prime Minister to hear complaints and make proposals.

The economic crisis will not help. Perceptions of severe problems in Europe and the United States are producing comments about belt-tightening to complete with those demanding a revolution. Physicians are also likely to be hurt. Their partial strikes have been going for several months. Currently the Physicians Association and Finance Ministry negotiators are at an impasse. Government negotiators are saying that they have made the best offer possible. Senior physicians are trying to deal with rebellions of colleagues unhappy with what seems to be a possible outcome.

The free market enthusiast who is the prime minister has noted his willingness to readjust taxes to lighten the burden on regressive levies like Value Added and relying more on the progressive taxes. That is only a small step toward the long list of demands shouted by protesters. Many of them would be hurt by an increase in progressive taxes. An analysis of who participated in last weekend's demonstration shows more than 50 percent coming from the three highest deciles of family income. (The Marker August 8, p. 12)

Ancient texts do not agree about what has become Tisha B'Av. The Book of Jeremiah dates the destruction of the Temple as the 10th day of Av. (52:12) Rabbis and communities have varied in their observance from the time of the Talmud to the present.

Israelis are serious about Tisha B'Av. A recent survey indicates that more than 20 percent of Jews fast.'Av#In_Israel Most restaurants, cinemas, and other places of entertainment are closed. I do not think of the university gym as a place of entertainment, but that, too, is closed. Banks and the stock exchange are closed. This year that provides an opportunity to cool off and ponder current shocks in the market.

Those who pray read the Book of Lamentations. It's beginning sets the mood.

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary

She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she hath none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.

The last passage is more hopeful.

Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

Thou canst not have utterly rejected us, and be exceeding wroth against us

Some also read the Book of Job. That also begins bad and ends better.

Perhaps we can hope for something similar this week, or next.


Ira Sharkansky

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:03 PM
August 06, 2011
Exciting. But who knows what's next?

There is no doubting the success of those who organized demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and elsewhere in behalf of social justice. Activists and their friends in the media are reporting that more than 300,000 participated. Police estimates are 200,000.

Whatever the accuracy of one or another, the pictures were impressive. The event scored high in Israel's ranking of demonstrations. The standard is the 400,000 said to have demonstrated in 1982 against the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. That atrocity was done by Christian militia, but with the IDF and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon close by and not intervening.

This demonstration is a long way from achieving anything. The demonstration in 1982 may have served to spur the IDF's withdrawal from deep into Lebanon and Sharon's dismissal as Defense Minister, but the IDF remained in Lebanon for another 18 years. Ariel Sharon never served again as Defense Minister, but Prime Minister Sharon ended his political career only with a stroke which has left him in a coma since January, 2006.

The hurdles still in the way of this year's demonstrators achieving social justice include:

What do they want? What will they succeed in drafting as their demands? Who will do the drafting, and present them for the government's consideration? What will be the nature of the government that decides on these issues? What sectors of the population and economy, if any, will prove vulnerable to the pressures and lose the advantages they currently enjoy?

By any measure, this is a profound list of questions with no simple or obvious answers.

Among the puzzles are

The political weight of incumbents and those who provide their support at the polls. The demonstrations seen on television and assessed by commentators were orderly in the extreme. They appear to be disproportionately from the educated and economic upper crusts. Not the wealthiest, but far from the poorest.

Rather than potential revolutionaries, they are the people who voted for parties that lost the last election (i.e., Labor and Meretz), or did not win enough Knesset seats to form the government (i.e., Kadima). They will have to do better next time, and may not have an electoral opportunity for another year and one half.

On the other hand, Israeli democracy is alive and kicking, even within parties currently in the government. Ranking Likud politicians are saying that the Prime Minister must take account of the demands. Benyamin Netanyahu has no lease on the Prime Minister's office and residence. His free market ideology and personal traits (arrogance, quickness to promote simple solutions, and a wife who intrudes in matters of state) are inviting party colleagues to smell opportunities for improving their own chances of survival and advancement by causing problems for him.

Some West Bank settlers support the call for social justice. One also hears of protesters who demand a transfer of money from settlements to social needs, but there are also voices among the protesters who urge the separation of "politics" from their cause. In Israeli code, "political issues" are those involving foreign affairs, especially the issue of Palestine. In other words, the settlers may not be the principal target of protesters who think in terms of where to find the resources for their demands.

A Knesset Member from a right-wing settlers' party, outside the government, joined the criticism of the Prime Minister. From inside the government, a minister affiliated with Israel Beitenu is opposing the Prime Minister's effort to reduce the cost of dairy products by allowing more imports. Along with his implicit political threat was a voice from Israel's powerful technocracy. A senior economist with the Bank of Israel said that dairy imports would not reduce the overall prices paid by consumers, and would cause significant problems for Israeli farmers and towns in the periphery of the country.

Protest leaders have also noted their support for dairy farmers.

What all this means is that the price of cottage cheese may remain high, even though it triggered the initial protests and then ripples into housing, the cost of child care and a number of other social concerns.

The ultra-Orthodox population is less well favored by those who fly the flags of social justice. Their black hats and long dresses were not apparent in pictures of the protests. A common theme of those making demands is those who work, serve in the army, and pay taxes, but do not receive appropriate rewards.

You can read all of that as anti-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox).

The problem: 16 members of ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset, and the reluctance of any party leaders to target them so openly as to prevent a future alliance in forming a government. There is also the practical problem, which resonates with many who are uncomfortable when anywhere close to the ultra-Orthodox; how to deal with a population of large families, dependent on government aid, unwilling or unable to make a quick switch from what they perceive as a holy life of study to the worldly life of work?

Israelis' demands for social justice are not occurring on an island isolated from other issues. Standard and Poors downgrade of US government bonds is causing concern that the politics and government of the world's richest country may not be any more responsible than those of Greece.

And September is only next month. Palestinians may be even more worried about their future now that Israelis are obsessed with social problems. A majority of countries may recognize a new state, but the Palestinians need Israel's cooperation for it to work well. The United Nations representative in Israel claimed on prime time TV that the Palestinians are ready for a state, but he worries about the continued rivalry between the West Bank and Gaza. Although he is tied to the support for Palestine expressed by Muslims and others, he noted that the world wants a two state solution and not a three state solution. Readers of the New York Times, a newspaper that is also generally favorable to Palestinian aspirations, should take note of a recent article that expressed considerable doubt about the Palestinians' capacity to manage themselves.

This is not a time for firm predictions.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:34 PM
On the protests

Ethan Bronner, the New York Times correspondent in Israel, has signed on to a literary assessment of the social protests, citing Amos Oz, David Grossman, and Meir Shalev. One of the quotations from Oz serves as a summary of Bronner's article.

"The protest washing over Israel's streets and squares today has long ceased to be merely a protest over housing distress . . . The heart of this protest is the affront and outrage over the government's indifference to the people's suffering, the double standard against the working population and the destruction of social solidarity. . . .the first thing these demonstrators are saying, even before 'social justice' and 'down with the government,' is: 'we are brethren.' "

Like I said, a literary assessment. It sounds great, but the notion of brethren united does not square with the blows struck between right and left wing demonstrators, each protesting a shortage of affordable housing. Right wing protesters came to Tel Aviv from the West Bank, and complained about the shortage of housing for their people. Left wing protesters seemed to think they owned the turf (Tel Aviv, not the West Bank).

Bronner links the protests about economic issues with the protests about the captured soldier, Gilad Shalit.

"Sergeant Shalit has been one of the few points of collective yearning and accord in an often fractured society, and the protests reflect a belief -- rightly or wrongly -- that the government has not done all it can to gain his release."

My less than literary observation is that protests in behalf of Shalit have not attracted enough people to be described in that way. Most demonstrations in behalf of doing what is necessary to bring Shalit home also attract nay sayers. They protest the call to "pay any price," if that means releasing terrorists likely to kill more Israelis. It has not been seemly for the nay sayers to mount demonstrations of their own, but they may represent a position that is widely held in support of the government's reluctance to release the most violent of the prisoners demanded by Hamas and its allies.

There are other signs that unity is not as prominent as Oz or Bronner would have us believe. Protesters agree on wanting more of many things, but not about the priorities, or how the country will pay for them. One indication is that lists of demands emerging from long and noisy meetings include numerous items, unranked as to the more or less important.

We are also hearing, once again, that the Physicians' Association and government negotiators are close to an agreement. Work actions have been closing one or another medical activity for a day or more over a period of several months. Here, too, there is a lack of unity. A group of radical hospital residents have submitted resignations to take effect in 30 days, claiming that they cannot accept the agreements being discussed. Other residents have rescinded the letters of resignation they had signed, claiming they did so under pressure and that the agreement in sight seems to be the best available.

No surprise that the New York Times is on the side of the angels. Also Ha'aretz. Both papers publish reservations about the most outspoken of the protesters, but their themes are supportive. is a Hebrew language Internet site affiliated with Ha'aretz. Among its features is a "quick survey" with a topical question and alternative responses that readers can select. Generally the issue being surveyed changes a couple of times each week. Most receive several hundred or a thousand responses before the subject changes to something else. My impression is that responses tend to be right of center.

What is curious about the recent query is that it has not changed. During the several weeks of social protest, it has remained, "Should Israel be required to apologize to Turkey on account of the incident of the flotilla." Responses are now above 8,000, with 90 percent choosing the right of center response, "No. That would be an insult to the soldiers of the IDF."

The editor responsible for the queries may be on vacation or leave of absence while living in a tent and participating in the protests. I am tempted to conclude that left-of-center personnel who ask the questions do not trust their right-of-center audience with an item about the issue that has been at the center of media attention. The issue of apologizing to Turkey for something that occurred more than a year ago disappeared from most media last month.

The question left unanswered by Bronner's article: Is Israel losing a special character that had promoted individual sacrifice for the good of the community?

No doubt this society is changing, as most do. There is more wealth and greater personal aspirations. "Revolution of rising expectations" is as useful here as it was when created to describe other societies years ago. I am sure that university students and young couples have trouble "finishing the month" with money left over for all they want. However, that is not a satisfactory indicator of deprivation.

The Central Bureau of Statistics reports more than 4 million departures to overseas annually for Israelis during each of the three most recent years. Even recognizing that some individuals travel several times in the course of a year, that is a lot of international travel for a population of about 7.5 million. It is not beyond reason to conclude that a lot of the young people protesting economic hardship spent several months after their IDF service at the popular sites in India, Southeast Asia, South America, and the United States, and/or have enjoyed shorter vacations in Europe.

We're expecting a large demonstration in behalf of social justice this evening at a central square in Tel Aviv. Police have announced that several main arteries will be closed. That is not meant to prevent the demonstration, but to facilitate it. People are urged to avoid driving to the demonstration in their private cars, and to rely on regular buses and the special buses to be laid on by sponsors of the demonstration. I'll stay home, pay attention to how the media treat the event, and start thinking about my next note.

I am not about to dismiss these protests as meaningless.

Even if they wind down without dramatic accomplishment, they may have an impact on the country's politics. Opposition politicians will do what they can to keep the sentiments alive until the next election. If nothing else occurs to compete with the drama of recent weeks--which is a risky assumption in the Middle East--we can expect social justice to be important in that campaign. The poll resulting will provide the information not being sought by the editors of


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:46 AM
August 04, 2011
On politics, wisdom, and the street

Ha'aretz is the daily newspaper most likely to be read by Israel's economic, intellectual, and political elites. It is also predictably left of center, and arguably the country's best newspaper. Its political slant is consistent with its readership. Not for Israel a clear connection between economic status and right wing politics. For the most part, the elites are left of center on social issues and their willingness to be accommodating to the Palestinians.

If so, why is there not peace with the Palestinians? As one of the elites who reads Ha'aretz and would like to be accommodating, the reason that comes to mind is that Palestinian elites are not inclined to accommodate Israel.

Enough on that issue. The Palestinians have disappeared from our agenda in the presence of social protests. Occasionally we remind ourselves that September is just around the corner. The IDF is considering calling up reserves just in case, but that is three weeks away.

The Marker is the daily economic and business supplement that comes with Ha'aretz. The picture on the top of today's front page conveys both an image of some young people enjoying a happening, and the outright rage of others who want to take over the country. The headline under the picture is "The law meant to speed up building has also added to the protests."

Protesters claim that the reform will benefit building contractors and their wealthiest clients more than young couples. It is not clear if this represents a careful consideration of the measure, if it is simply a partisan outburst against the Prime Minister who promoted the issue, or if demonstrators expect contractors to build homes without making any profit.

While some of the articles in this issue of The Marker endorse goals of the protesters, there are two items in particular that pose serious criticisms. One is an interview with a senior social scientist who devoted a career close to the top of National Insurance (the equivalent of Social Security) to improving conditions for needy Israelis. The headline is, "It is not clear to protesters that for a welfare state it is necessary to pay taxes." While the expert supports, in general, the goals of the protesters, she worries that they are not sufficiently aware of the need to maintain the well being of the country's economy in order to help its people.

Another article reports recent findings of the Bank of Israel that challenge one of the protester's major complaints. Its headline and principal message is, "The middle class has enough money to finish the month (with savings left over)."

Ongoing protests, now several weeks old, remind me that politics is a profession that must be learned. It is not like medicine or law, with detailed and lengthy formal education, including many dull details that need to be memorized. It is more like the clinical training and initial experience that comes after the classroom lessons of physicians and attorneys. Formal schooling in economics, law, sociology, and political science help, but it may be years of experience that prepare individuals for decision-making at the peak of government. Many who win elections do not make the grade. Those who do see a big picture, and recognize the numerous elements having to be taken into consideration when participating in decisions about important issues. As several Israeli prime ministers have been fond of saying when facing criticism from the public, "What you see from here is not what you see from there."

Experience does not guarantee success. This is politics, and there is no decision above criticism. However, a quick jump up to high position is likely to be more dangerous than helpful. Witness the bluster and failure of Barack Obama in dealing with the Middle East. He went from being a first term, first year Senator to a presidential campaign and then to the White House. Less than six months later, he made an impressive speech in Cairo. That provided him with the Nobel Peace Prize, but Israelis and Palestinians are not negotiating, and several Arab regimes have unravelled.

The young people and others demanding change from the streets of Israel are even less well prepared than Freshman President Barack Obama. Protesters do not have experienced staff personnel capable of warning them away from the most obvious mistakes.

After the first days of enthusiastic support for a new spirit, Israelis with more experience have taken to the media to warn protesters that they cannot achieve everything, that change will take time and cost money. And most likely their taxes paid by middle class protesters will have to increase in order to pay for the services they are demanding.

Obama's record shows that advisers are not always successful in moderating the activity of an inspired President. Aroused Israelis are still shouting for more, and denouncing those of their allies who are urging restraint.

There is at least one Internet friend who is unhappy with my notes meant to convey what is happening on Israel's streets.

It is very difficult being an American Jew who is giving heart, soul, and political involvement, for the longevity of the State of Israel, on the idealist perception that it is "our homeland", and the geographical basis of our people; and forcing myself to remain aloof from the typical internal political upheavals that any successful, modern democracy must tolerate. However, it's more difficult for those of us who are politically active on Israel's behalf, when this internal "dirty laundry" overwhelms the discussions of "physical security" on which all of our efforts are directed. The point: I want to understand what happens within Israel, though I have no right, or intent, to involve myself with that; but, I'd prefer the "real world" to focus on the external, and existential threats.

In the long run, I hope the internal activities aren't what threatens Israel's longevity!

I hope that my response is satisfactory.

Dirty laundry? Who said it is dirty? It is the working of politics in a society that is intensely political, and tolerates--perhaps reveres--argument. . . .

Israel has never been a one-issue society. The Sparta you have in mind is Greek, not Jewish. And as you know, we had serious problems with the Greeks.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:21 AM
August 03, 2011
More protests, more reservations

There are more groups demanding resources from the government, even while criticism of the protesters is also increasing.

Adding to those wanting affordable housing and lower prices on cottage cheese and other food are
•Parents and grandparents demanding the extension of mandatory paid maternity leave from three months to six, and free child care and education from the age of three months onward

Providers of child care demanding higher wages

•Parents of autistic children demanding greater allocations for their needs
•Young police officers noting that their monthly wages of ₪ 5,000 ($1,445) render them sympathetic to the demonstrators they are charged with keeping orderly
•Dairy farmers complaining that imports designed to lower consumer prices will cause them hardship
•Nurses demanding the allocation of more resources for additional staff and hospital facilities.

Still unresolved are demands of physicians for higher salaries and improved working conditions.

News that will add to protesters' (and others') criticism of the country's tycoons is that Yitzhak Tshuva, a principal in major energy and real estate ventures, including a gas field being developed off the coast, is asking investors to accept revised terms for company debts, due to difficulties in makying the payments. Only a few months ago Israelis read about the 1,500 guests invited to the wedding of Tshuva's son, which featured big name entertainment and was said to cost ₪ 7 million ($ 2 million).

The Prime Minister's proposal to speed planning approvals passed the Knesset, with protesters and opposition politicians united in criticizing it as likely to favor contractors and the wealthy, rather than young couples.

With all that, there is a different tone being heard from usually left-of-center opinion leaders.

The most recent cartoon of Ha'aretz shows a middle-aged woman, most likely of North African or Asian origin, dumping waste water from her balcony on tent dwellers below. A non-literal translation of her Hebrew is, "I was also deprived!! Kiss my ass and suffer."

The Marker (Ha'aretz business supplement) compares the costs and benefits claimed by protesters for some of their proposals with those calculated by the newspaper's staff along with personnel from the Finance Ministry and independent experts. They find that protesters' demand to reduce Value Added Tax from 16 to 5 percent will cost the government ₪ 40 billion, and not the ₪ 15 billion claimed. They find that the increase in the upper brackets of the income tax will produce ₪ 15 billion and not the ₪ 22 billion claimed. And while protesters claim that there is a ₪ 10 billion surplus in current tax revenues that can be used for increased spending on social programs, the newspaper's analysis is that there is no tax surplus. (August 3, p. 4)

Yaron London and Moti Kirschenbaum, hosts of a popular news and discussion program, are generally in the same segment of the political spectrum as the editors and journalists of Ha'aretz. Among their guests on August 2nd was Israel Harel, a leader of Religious Nationalist settlers in the West Bank. The hosts asked him to comment on the general absence of young religious Jews from tent cities and protest demonstrations. The essence of his response was that when faced with hardships, such people are inclined to make do with what they can achieve, and to chose locales where they can also help others less fortunate. In Harel's view, the protesters are disproportionately from well to do families who appear to have been spoiled by a lack of challenge and decent values in their upbringing.

No one is saying what follows in exactly these terms, but it is possible to infer the government's approach to demonstrators from what is being said and done, and what is not being said and done.

•Be willing to listen.
•Discuss options.
•Appoint committees.
•Explain that demands are expensive, requiring clear definition and prioritizing.
•Allow demands to expand, and criticism to grow from within and outside the protesters.
•Rely on an increasing tempo of criticism directed at the protesters for a lack of reason, good sense, restraint, overtly partisan motives, and anarchistic temperaments that can ruin what Israel has produced in six decades.

My own background may have prepared me to identify with the woman in the cartoon sloshing her waste water onto the college students wanting a better life at the government's expense. I am the grandson of a peddler and son of an unsuccessful small merchant, raised in an failing industrial city with high unemployment. I recall Israel as being closer than at present to a socialist paradise, where subsidized bus fares were the equivalent of $ 0.10, family physicians received the wages of high school teachers, and there was virtually free public housing for the poor. Then Menachem Begin's colleagues in Likud waged their election campaign of 1981 on the basis of more goodies for all, and inflation reached 474 percent three years later.

For the most part, college students in their early or mid-20s have had a good life when compared to the world as a whole. Perhaps not good enough when compared to some of the places they are learning about. Their lives could be better if their country did not have a defense budget three or four times higher than those of countries with higher standards of living, and if it did not support an ultra-Orthodox population of some 450,000 (6 percent of the total) whose men study all their lives and make babies who will aspire to study all their lives. Lacking those traits, however, their country would not be Israel.


Ira Sharkansky

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:42 AM
August 01, 2011
Revolutions meet realities

Israel's summer of discontent is maturing. Last week we reached the peak of romantic anticipation of upheaval from below. Young reporters on the popular news and commentary programs were ecstatic in reporting the daily expansion of tents, marches, and proclamations. Older commentators expressed their own sense of the injustices involved in high prices and unfair taxes.

Initial reports about last weekend's demonstrations emphasized the round number of 150,000 participants. Later indications were closer to 100,000. Still impressive, but an early sign of media sobriety.

More recently talk show hosts have ridiculed representatives of the protests for their simplistic slogans. To paraphrase one extended challenge:

We are all in favor of social justice and equality. What do you want? Do you really think that the Knesset and Government will give way to Internet referendums that will decide about proposals offered by you and other protesters?

Political reporters have described how the protesters lost what they were claiming as their political neutrality. "Leftist" and "anarchistic" appear in the adjectives used. Opposition parties Kadima and Meretz are active in encouraging the protesters, sometimes behind the scenes. Kadima has been providing signs used by marchers, while the party leader, Tzipi Livni, has refrained from meeting with protesters. Either she is concerned about being pelted with garbage as was another politician who approached a tent city in order to speak with the protesters, or she is playing along with the protesters' claims of having no links with conventional politics.

Media personalities have signaled to the protesters that they cannot achieve everything. Their demands are expensive, and there is only so much money. Especially vulnerable are demands to reduce taxes while assuring the provision of decent and affordable housing, eliminating university fees and improving other social services.

Government officials seem to have found the postures from which they intend to deal with the protests. President Shimon Peres has met with representatives of the protests and proclaimed their demands just, but indicated that there must be further meetings with senior officials in order to define specific goals. Stanley Fischer, the widely respected Governor of the Bank of Israel, also indicated in general terms the justice of some demands, but emphasized the fragility of the national economy. He compared the stability of Israel's economy, showing growth and low unemployment, with to those of Europe and the United States, and stressed that it will be difficult to find the resources being demanded. Prime Minister Netanyahu signed on to some of the demands. He has been working to assure early accomplishments, and put in motion further meetings between himself and ranking officials, some of which may be open to representatives of the protesters. Some Likud MKs were less friendly to the protesters at a meeting of the party's Knesset delegation. They described street people as leftists, anarchists, and nargilla smokers who want to bring down the present government.

Protesters themselves are showing the strains of disagreements. Radicals are demanding meetings with government officials that would be televised to the country in real time. Moderates are urging sensibility about the procedures of discussion and negotiation, best done outside of public view. There are problems in ratcheting down from generalized demands to detailed lists, and reckoning with the limitation of resources. Ha'aretz headlined above the fold on the front page what it claimed was a document with the protesters' list of demands . (August 2)

A phased reduction of value added tax from 16 to 5 percent

Enactment of a law to regulate the rents charged for apartments, and to begin construction of public housing

Ceasing the implementation of the reforms favored by the Netanyahu government concerned with privatizations and the streamlining of planning for new construction

The transformation in media reports and commentary, as well as official responses to Israeli protests are parallel in some respects to those emerging from our Arab neighbors. There as well, early romanticism has given way to realities more in line with each country's history and culture. The Egyptian military shows few signs of moving from the position of power it seized upon the removal of Hosni Mubarak. Syria's president is behaving more like his father than a soft-spoken, English-educated reformer. His death toll has not reached the ten to thirty thousand estimated to have been killed by Dad's forces in 1982, but it is moving in that direction.

Neither the Israeli nor the Arab protests are close to finished, or to any resolution that can be described as their accomplishments. However, one can be hopeful, and even optimistic, about Israel's capacity to absorb some demands, adjust the allocation of its resources, but not depart from the ways of an orderly democracy for the sake of the social and political revolution demanded by the most outspoken of protesters. Arab countries are doing their own thing, much different from ours. But like ours, they are consistent with their own ways of operating.

We are all a long way from the Paradise described by our mutual ancestors, and are unlikely to get there in the near future.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:41 PM