September 29, 2011

For some time now, Israeli news has been leading off with the latest comments from international worthies about the need for Israel and Palestinians to agree on two states etc etc. This morning an American friend sent me a link to a Time article about the distancing of young American Jews from their parents strong support of whatever Israel does.,8599,2095505,00.html?artId=2095505?contType=article?chn=world

So this is an appropriate time to repeat my assessment that it ain't gonna happen.

That is not my preference. I'd welcome a civilized Palestine 50 meters from these fingers. They can have Isaweea and other Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The real meaning (subtext) that I hear from the maneuvers and comments of Netanyahu and Abbas is that neither want an agreement. Both are creatures of politics that get in the way of the concessions that might bring them closer. Compare Hamas and other Islamic nationalists to Israel's religious settlers and their friends. Compare secular Palestinians distrustful of Israeli motives, or Jews in general, to secular Israelis distrustful of Palestinians, or Arabs and Muslims in general.

Reciting again all the details producing those attitudes is less important than emphasizing their prominence.

An item published this morning is relevant to this discussion. The murder of yet another Iraqi journalist/intellectual adds to the detritus of the American invasion, and warns that outsiders meddle at their peril in someone else's politics. And in the case of outsiders with the power of the United States, the peril is even greater for those in whose politics they meddle.

Whether the estimates accepted of Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion is a bit over 100,000 or over a million, they should make my point to any but those Americans who think they know best and that others are nothing but Untermenschen who warrant American enlightenment.

What's likely to happen here?

Lot more talk than action, with much of the talk meant by Palestinians and Israelis to gain credit for themselves among the international audience that they also want to stay out of their affairs. The first part of this is on the surface. Palestinians and Israelis are articulating arguments against the other for the sake of gaining credit as the good guys in international politics. The second part is my assessment of what is behind those comments. That is, both Palestinians and Israelis know that they cannot agree, and would prefer that others would stop pressuring them. Both also recognize, I am sure, that continued pressure can do more harm than good. Palestinian frustration and another intifada, with human and material costs for both Israelis and Palestinians, is more likely to result from continued international pressure than a breakthrough to peace.

American and other international pressures to "make peace now" leads Palestinians and Israelis to actions that add to the distrust. They include the Palestinians' efforts to gain a state via the United Nations without making any concessions, and the spurt of settlement activity and efforts to "annex" portions of the West Bank that are Israeli reactions to Palestinian efforts.

Below the level of international bombast, things are not all that bad. Israel continues to build in "settlements," including French Hill. However, the construction is in those settlements close to the 1967 borders, already large and substantial, with a history of decades and most certain to remain Israeli. There is close to a virtual freeze of building in isolated settlements beyond the path of the security barrier, which is itself mostly close to the line of 1967. Meanwhile, there is considerable cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian officials who do the work of governing, including defense. While the politicians bleat, technocrats work together.

The United States and other western governments have helped with measures that do not get the headlines of presidential speeches, like providing assistance to Palestinian governmental and non-governmental organizations. Some of this is destructive, when it takes the form of supporting programs that are hateful. (See for examples). Other assistance aids co-existence, such as the training of Palestinian security forces, money for joint water and sewage systems, and the extensive cooperation between American and other western authorities and Israeli organizations concerned with security.

It ain't ideal. There are Palestinian teachers, administrators, and media personalities who do what they can to fan anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiments. There are Israelis who provoke Palestinians--while attracting overseas Jewish enthusiasts and donors--by moving into Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem with histories of extreme hostility, uprooting the olive trees of Palestinian farmers, or shooting at randomly selected Arabs.

We have an imperfect Palestinian-Israeli arrangement, that provides the Palestinians considerable autonomy, but with an occasional heavy hand of Israeli security forces, and without the overt symbols of a Palestinian state.

View it as an anomaly on the world scene if you will, but I see nothing likely to undo it. Arab spring/summer/fall--soon to be winter--provides numerous cases of worse situations, likely to continue for some time.

Iran is the one state in the area capable of causing serious trouble for Israel. My optimism rests on the equally serious trouble that Israel can cause to Iran.

There are no guarantees. My best advise to the worthies of the world is to cool it. You are likely to do more harm than good, to yourselves and to others, as you have already demonstrated. Don't make it worse by leaning on Israel and Palestine who are dealing as they can--and better than others can do for them--with their histories of conflict, mutual distrust, and internal 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 11:54 PM
September 27, 2011
Turkey and other problems

The New York Times deserves its place as one of the best newspapers of the world. Like the actions of some of American presidents, however, its commentary on the Middle East seems to reflect more ideology than cogent analysis. Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen have been blathering on for years about the faults of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, without giving anything close to the same attention to Palestinian contributions toward a lack of agreement. That the sky has not fallen over Jerusalem does not seem to alert them to the possibility that the problem in the Middle East is Palestine and not Israel.

Today another player is heard from, with similar music. Anthony Shadid describes the emerging power of Turkey in the Middle East. "(Its) foreign minister envisions a new order there and its officials have managed to do what the Obama administration has so far failed to: position themselves firmly on the side of change in the Arab revolts and revolutions. . . . the public abroad seemed taken by a prime minister who portrayed himself as the proudly Muslim leader of a democratic and prosperous country that has come out forcefully on the side of revolution and in defense of Palestinian rights."

Shadid has some journalism prizes to his credit, but also a record of charging Israel with some of the most heinous of war crimes.

On this occasion, he is guilty of relying on Turkish officials to describe their achievements and aspirations, without weighing the barriers to their success. Against quotations from Turks, there are none from officials of other countries who, we hear, are suspicious of Turkish efforts.

As a Lebanese American, Shadid ought to recognize that the Middle East is a place of ethnic rivalries as well as religious loyalties. Turkish claims of being Muslim, with the ruling party serious about Islam, carries only so much weight with Arab populations. Turkey's problems with a large and restive Kurdish minority--with violence currently on an uptick--get in the way of claims to regional leadership. Shadid does report a cool reception for Erdogan by military personnel currently at the head of what stands as the government of Egypt. He also notes tensions with Iran over Turkey's acceptance of American radar installations. He mentions Turkey's current problems with the Assad regime in Syria and the conflict with Cyprus over that country's gas exploration, but does not indicate that both issues have ratcheted up to talk about military confrontations. NATO and the United States do not get the attention they warrant. Shadid leaves hanging a set of possibilities expressed by different officials in the Turkish government:

"Some Turkish officials worry that the crisis with Israel will end up hurting the relationship with Washington; others believe that Turkey is bent on supplanting Israel as the junior partner of the United States in the Middle East."

One expects some consideration about the relative weight in American politics of American Jews and American Turks, as well as American and NATO efforts to keep a lid on the simmering conflict between Turkey and Israel.

Israelis worry about the cold shoulder from Ankara. Mass tourism to the cheap and glitzy hotels on the Anatolian coast is down, but a recent item in Bloomberg BusinessWeek emphasizes the continued health of trade between the two countries. "Turkey-Israel Booming Trade Obscured in Erdogan Political Rants."

It is hard to rank the most serious of a country's problems. In Israel's case, it faces the New Year (5772) with pressing lack of resolutions on Palestinian and Turkish fronts, as well as domestic social protest. That it is well-educated and upper-middle class Yuppies leading the protest (termed Sushi eaters and Nargillah smokers by local cynics), does not lessen the weight on the polity of several hundred thousand people who took the trouble to march on one or another Saturday evening.

Yesterday we heard the report of the special committee appointed by the government to suggest remedies. It was clear before the presentation began that protest leaders and their own experts of left-wing academics would not be happy with the proposals. The committee could have profited from the help of trained presenters. The chairman droned on for more than an hour, followed by subject-matter experts who dealt more with the kind of statistics suitable for the inner rooms where technocrats squabble than with the drama appropriate for prime time television. This morning the news dealt with senior military personnel, bureaucrats, government ministers, leaders of trade unions and industry, each criticizing the proposals for taking too many resources from their sector, or not providing enough aid to what their sector needed.

Tomorrow is New Year's eve, and the onset of two days for feasting, prayer and/or recreation, depending on personal preferences. A week later the country will shut down for Yom Kippur. A few days after that the government and other public sector bodies will close for the week of Succot, and lots of Israelis will travel to the Galilee or overseas. Then there will be a day rooted in Jewish tradition of "after the holiday." It will be October 23rd before we reach "after the holidays," and work can begin. If nothing else erupts in the meantime, we may get to the details of whatever social reforms are on the agenda.


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 03:19 AM
September 25, 2011
Who are the truly radical Muslims

A friend forwarded to me a sermon that Rabbi Schlomo Lewis of Atlanta delivered a year ago on Rosh Hashana. A bit of Googling showed that the sermon has circulated widely. It is as strong a statement as I have seen comparing Radical Islam to Nazism, and comparing the widespread indifference to the current danger with the condition that prevailed prior to the Holocaust and World War II.

One should not object to the Rabbi's emphasis on Radical Islam, and his assertion that the vast majority of Muslims are not in that category. That reflects expressions employed by President George W. Bush after 9-11 and repeated several times by President Barack Obama. It is a wise convention, and the essence of political correctness. Hopefully it will avoid a massive confrontation with a billion Muslims, the 48 countries with a Muslim majority in their population, and the near 25 percent of the votes in the United Nations General Assembly that they represent. Muslim countries also possess a major portion of the world's energy reserves: 69 percent of oil, and 57 percent of natural gas.

Truth having some value, however, it might also be mentioned that "Radical Islam" is close to--or the same as--what is currently conventional Islam. The radicals among the Muslims are the minority that speak out against the more dominant postures proclaimed by those called Radicals by decent Christians and Jews.

There are several indications of what is dominant among Muslims. Perhaps the most striking are surveys showing what Muslims think about 9-11. Substantial majorities of the Muslims queried in eight locations (Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian territories, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey) responded that they do not believe that Arabs carried out the attacks. Seventy-five percent of those asked in Egypt, 73 percent in Turkey, and even 59 percent of those in Israel responded that they do not believe that Arabs carried out the attack.

The Middle East Media Research Institute ( is a reputable organization that translates into English and a variety of other languages the media coming from Muslim countries. It provides exposure to secular intellectuals and clerics who oppose, or express reservations about what is conventional, but also testimonies about the accuracy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the most hateful preaching describing Jews as dogs and monkeys, and damning all non-Muslims to be the casualties of holy war.

The predictable practice of Muslim countries to promote anti-Israel actions in international forums provides another demonstration of what is conventional Islam, as does Mahmoud Abbas' current campaign to obtain international recognition for a Palestinian state on his terms, as well as the Palestinians' persistent rejection of Israeli offers, and their refusal to admit that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. One can quarrel about the tactics pursued by Israel as well as the Palestinians in the current confrontation. What is impressive about Palestinian postures is the certainty with which they claim the monopoly of suffering, without conceding any responsibility for the political impasse that has prevailed for six decades.

Worrisome are the substantial communities of Muslims who have migrated to western countries from various parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Their communities include prominent critics of parochial and hateful Islam, but also individuals who have contributed their voices and actions to anti-western violence. A summary of numerous surveys shows a mixed picture about the assimilation of those communities. On the issue of 9-11, a substantial majority of British Muslims and pluralities of German and Spanish Muslims do not believe that Arabs carried out the attacks. Among French Muslims, there is a small plurality difference admitting that Arabs were responsible.

One can quarrel about the nature of religion, and how much of the politics is a reflection of religious doctrine, per se. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, has accumulated an endless collection of doctrinal expressions by individuals and organizations recognized as authoritative. The doctrines are subject to interpretation. There is also room in each faith for customs that have developed in numerous ethnic cultures, even those which are said to contradict formal doctrines.

One can argue until the arrival, or re-arrival of one or another Messiah about the essence of each faith. Prominent themes have changed over time, despite claims of orthodoxy or eternal truth. Each of the monotheistic faiths has doctrines that deserve the labels of humane and accommodating, as well as the labels of parochial and hateful of outsiders and apostates. Judaism turned inward after the Romans destroyed their homeland, and Christians have rejected anti-Semitism since the Holocaust. Jews who claim that Arabs are the remnants of Amelekites who deserve their Biblical punishment, and Christians who persist in their efforts to convert the Jews are minorities who embarrass the mainstreams in each community.

There are Muslims who would follow similar paths to western openness and tolerance of others, and see such developments as the keys to economic development and personal fulfillment. There is no clear indication that they are anything but a minority, however, commenting on the fringes of societies whose leadership and mainstream are stuck in another mind set.

The minority of critics are the true radicals of Islam, standing against what others may be wise to label Radical Islam. While adhering to the wisdom of what is politically correct, we ought to recognize who the real radicals are, and provide them with all the encouragement that non-Muslims can offer.


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
September 24, 2011
No salvations in sight

Nothing new or dramatic in the highly touted speeches by Abbas and Netanyahu, and nothing promising or threatening in the prodding to negotiations announced after the speeches by the Quartet of minders: US, UN, Russia, European Union.

Abbas repeated himself time and again, and Netanyahu seemed tired and off the dramatic edge that he has shown on other prominent occasions. Abbas won the applause competition by a large margin, but the clapping of diplomats will not bring him the state that he wants. Neither of the men approached Barack Obama for the skill of his UN performance. Israelis and Palestinians differ greatly on their views of his content. Responses to my previous note praising the Obama speech brought forth angry comments from individuals who may be satisfied with nothing less than his public circumcision and name change.

An Israeli web site shows 93 percent of those responding saying that Netanyahu gave a more convincing speech than Abbas. That fewer than 500 individuals have responded so far may indicate that it is Shabbat and many are not on the Internet, or that many couldn't care less.

So far the weekend has passed without major confrontations. Some of the credit is due to Palestinians' efforts to manage demonstrations in keeping with their approach to the United Nations and emphasis on non-violence. Some also to the heavy presence of police and military in places like French Hill that are close to neighbors who are not always peace loving. We heard explosions throughout the evening. Some of them may have come from the firing of tear gas grenades at the Kalandia crossing, two miles away as crows fly. Some of them were fireworks sent into the sky from Isaweea.

The Security Council has declared its receipt of the Palestinians' request for statehood and UN membership, and will most likely sit on it with occasional discussions into the future. We remember an earlier Palestinian declaration of statehood, 23 years ago and counting.

Labor Party dues-payers have selected a new leader in Shelly Yachimovich. She is an articulate former media personality who entered the Knesset in 2006. Two of the losers in the primary were former leaders who had presided over different phases of the party's decline. There is not much room for Shelly between further decline and the disappearance of Labor altogether as a factor in Israeli politics. Among her problems: deciding the appropriate weight between a campaign for social justice and outreach for the sake of accommodation with the Palestinians. Shelly's reputation is more on the side of social justice, which will assure her problems with those still loyal to the party who see its future as competing with Likud and Kadima as the way to peace. She will also have problems with various leaders of the current social protest. Among their problems: deciding to put the emphasis on an even better life for the educated upper-middle class who formed the core of the protest, or helping the fewer but angrier others saying that they do not want to leave the tents of protest because they have no better place to live.

There is no obvious drama waiting to be played out as we approach the New Year.

Palestinians remain incapacitated by an internal split involving substantial factions demanding nothing less than the elimination of Israel. The lack of stability throughout the Middle East does not help the Palestinians. We can expect a continuation of something between competition for leadership and violent chaos in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, with outsiders like France, the United States, Iran, and Turkey seeking to promote themselves, favored insiders or ex patriots in each arena. No one should expect outsiders to solve the problem of Palestine, and all the other action will add to the Palestinians' frustrations in getting help.

There is a report, traced to a Lebanese paper, that Israeli emissaries have maintained secret contacts with Bashar al-Assad for the purpose of helping his government survive, with some opposition and some support from French and American emissaries. Whether fact or fantasy, the report suggests the lack of stability that is more likely than a quick onset of a new and attractive Middle East.

Israel's feisty politics will not make it easy for anyone to assert dramatic leadership. Given the Palestinians' internal problems, there hardly seems a point in challenging Netanyahu to be more forthcoming than Barak in 2000 or Olmert in 2008. Aspirants for championing the cause of social justice will have to decide about priorities likely to unite the various competitors for leading that cluster of causes. Currently Netanyahu owns the government, and is permitting a bit of change in the direction of social justice while emphasizing economic stability.

While I do not promise to avoid writing again in the coming days or hours, I will take this opportunity to wish you all the conventional expressions for the coming year and the challenges associated with the Day of Atonement.

שנה טובה


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 02:40 AM
September 21, 2011

Barack Obama demonstrated once again that he knows how to speak. In the process, he may have regained some of the Jewish money and votes that he lost by his earlier tilts toward Palestinians, and demanding an end to construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Israeli commentators called it the warmest speech in the United Nations about Israel by any American president.

While Obama's Cairo speech of 2009 and later comments contributed to the ill-advised Palestinian efforts to avoid negotiations and gain a state via the United Nations, those moves by the Palestinians also owe something to the hyperbole and other cancerous features that are inherent in Arab politics. Obama should have known better when he contributed to the Palestinian push toward nowhere, but Americans are not well known for selected experienced individuals as their presidents.

Commentators emphasize Jewish money and votes as the reasons for the President's shift. However, Obama has impressed me as one of the brightest--if not the brightest--chief executive in a long time, perhaps since Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a political scientist, whose classic article on public administration was written while he was a professor at Wesleyan, somewhat earlier than when I was a student there. No matter how brilliant and learned, Wilson's mistakes as president are also legendery. And like Obama's, they were in the field of foreign policy.

Obama has done better than Wilson in backtracking from his errors, although presidential ego limits the extent to which he can admit doing anything like that. A Palestinian state created entirely by the United Nations could not function alongside an Israel that had not been a partner to its creation. Obama now has said that in the most public of forums, even though it may have cost him a cool reception in a United Nations dominated by Muslim and other Third World politicians.

Actually, the issue of Palestine is more nuanced than expressed by some Israelis and perhaps a higher proportion of Diaspora Jews who seem not to have learned anything since 1967 or 1948. The Abbas-Fayyad government, with all its errors in avoiding negotiations and hoping for a Deux ex machina state, has--with the help of the United States, Jordan, and Israel--created more security for both Palestinians and Israelis than their predecessors. This reflects American money and prodding, Jordanian training, and Israeli cooperation.

There remain good reasons for Israeli suspicions of intentions and the stability of Palestinian cooperation. Palestinian extremists have not gone away, but Palestinian security personnel have achieved a level of cooperation with Israeli counterparts that appears to be greater than anything in the past. A recent New York Times article links this cooperation with Benyamin Netanyahu's urging of Republican Members of Congress to go along with President Obama's continued provision of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel's politics also have their share of subtleties, and it would be folly to predict an easy process or certain outcome of negotiations, assuming they actually begin. The Israeli and international left speaks easily about withdrawing settlements as if that could be assured with clever drafting of an agreement. However, there is substantial opposition to significant withdrawals that extends into the secular center of the Israeli population. Continued Palestinian incitement and violence, and the response to the withdrawal from Gaza play at least as much of a role in that reluctance as any religious arguments about the Land of Israel. Palestinian assertions that Jews never had a historic place in Jerusalem or the Temple Mount also worry Jews inclined to distrust anyone who expresses such crude distortions of reality.

American politics remain as difficult to predict as the question of a Palestinian state.

Our recent trip with several stops in the United States exposed me to family, friends, and others who would sober anyone making a casual prediction about the next election. Notable was time spent in a very upscale independent living facility where a cousin has lived for several years. It was our third visit to a guest apartment there, and we have come to know several of the residents. The population includes WASPs, Catholics, Jews, and East Asians, all from the upper parts of the American society. Some residents may not have voted for any Democrat since John Breckinridge. Individuals speak with the skill of people who earned a great deal of money in their working years. However, attitudes about health care, taxes, and government intervention are hardly favorable to the administration, and are unusual for one who circulates more often in Europe and Israel than in the United States.

Even if doubting Jews return to their Democratic loyalties as a result of yesterday's speech, it may not be enough to overcome dismal numbers and widespread concern about the economy. Against a campaigner who speaks like Obama, however, the Republicans have not yet assured themselves entry to the Oval Office. They will have to do better than pretty and articulate candidates with nutty ideas about religion and economics.


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 09:16 PM
September 17, 2011
Commendations for disingenuousness and naivete

This is an auspicious time and place, appropriate for the awarding of two commendations.

To employ the language of Genesis, this is first day (יום ראשון). It begins a week that will have the natural wonder of the autumn equinox, and the political wonder of the United Nations General Assembly. I am writing this from Jerusalem, occasionally turning my head to squint through the sunrise over the Judean Desert.

The first commendation: For world class disingenuousness, to Mahmoud Abbas, for calling his people to demonstrate in support of his petition to the United Nations for statehood, but demanding that they demonstrate peacefully.

Peaceful Palestinian demonstration is an oxymoron, especially in the context envisioned by Abbas. One who expects such demonstrations to occur without inflammatory religious and nationalist language, stone throwing, and nothing less than fire bombs with ancillary stabbings, the deadly use of vehicles, and rocket firing does not know the population. Abbas' commitment to peaceful demonstration sounds too much like Hamas' occasional assertions that it will control its people and various competitors from firing rockets against the Zionist infidels.

Abbas has accumulated the tinder and explosive material by his long preparatory travels and speeches leading up to his appearance at the United Nations. His appearance in New York later this week, no matter what the outcome, is likely to ignite what he has prepared by many months of promising nothing less than a state with its capital in Jerusalem and the borders of 1967.

The background of Abbas' campaign involves the anti-Israel atmosphere consisting in part of the work by the runner-up for the commendation for disingenuousness. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey, is a close competitor with Abbas for his campaign against Israel's killing of 9 fighters intent on breaking the blockade on Gaza. Erdogan's candidacy for the disingenuous commendation rests on his own forces killing many times that number of Kurds, including a recent bombing raid across the border in Iraq that killed more than 10 times the number of individuals who died while fighting against the IDF on the Mavi Marmara.

The second commendation: For political naivete having disastrous consequences, to Barack Obama, for his 2009 speech in Cairo that won him the Nobel Prize for Peace, but put in motion the heightened Palestinian campaign for statehood and whatever frustration and violence it produces, as well as contributing to Arab spring/summer/autumn against unsavory but stable regimes in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. The death toll is already in the thousands and still climbing.

Obama's speech was finely crafted and delivered, and was balanced in challenging both Israel and Palestinians, as well as other Arabs. It demanded that Israel accept the idea of a Palestinian state, and employed a key location and a bright spotlight in the capital of the leading Arab country to insist on an end to corruption as well as transparency and democracy there and elsewhere in the region. It angered Israelis and Arabs alike. Along with other pronouncements of Obama and his Secretary of State, it added to Palestinian demands a complete cessation of Israeli building in "occupied territories," including Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The American campaign overlooked the competition and extremism within Palestine that have made impossible any moderate demands acceptable to Israelis, and set the Palestinians on a track bound to fail. There is no better demonstration of this than Obama's own backtracking, and his opposition to Abbas' move to the United Nations that grew out of the American campaign.

It is not my style to predict what will happen toward the end of this week and beyond. It will be a good week if no more than 9 Palestinians die while engaging in the kind of protests Mahmoud Abbas says he does not want. More certain will be the added focus on Israeli intransigence, emphasized by politicians with a chorus of activists and media personalities who will not bother to ponder Palestinian rejection of offers by Israeli leaders in 2000 and 2008, and the demands of Palestinian factions--including that in control of Gaza--that nothing will be good enough short of Israel's disappearance.


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 10:41 PM
September 15, 2011
Oy gevalt, or just another troubling week

For anyone inclined to think of the Jews as inordinately concerned about their past and future, Israel is currently providing all the reinforcement necessary.

It's not quite the case that the country is in full panic. There are two items--quite different from one another--that are taking large shares of media time with personalities treating them as fateful opportunities or dangers.

My own inclination is that the country will still be here next month, most likely for years to come, and most likely not much changed. But optimism verging on apathy is something that requires some effort at explanation.

The twin threats/dangers/preoccupations are the social protests that may have brought as many as 400,000 demonstrators to the streets in recent weeks (the numbers may reflect the exaggeration of activists and their media friends), and the Palestinian campaign to emerge from the United Nations with a state whose capital is Jerusalem and whose boundaries are those from before the 1967 war.

The first line of defense for those who think that nothing fateful will happen is the nature of those pushing for change.

On the social front, the activists are so varied, and demanding so much, that their appetites and lack of discipline are likely to overcome their enthusiasm, and whatever justice is associated with their claims. The instant rejection of proposals coming from a government appointed committee of distinguished individuals expresses both the political inclinations of many protesters (nothing from this government could possibly be any good) as well as the inability of a crowd (especially one so large and diverse) to agree about the priorities of their demands and keeping them within a reasonable cost that would not endanger economic stability.

On the international front, the Palestinians are in no better shape than domestic protesters. While the domestic folks show their weakness by unlimited and unprioritized demands, the Palestinians show theirs by an amateurish inability to decide on goals or tactics less than a week before the calendar requires them to be serious. The status of the Palestinians as the miserable darlings of Muslims and politically correct others provide their leadership entry to inner political circles throughout the world. Jet lag may add to the fuzziness brought on by exposure to so many opportunities and suggestions from the high and mighty. It is not yet clear whether they will present their case to the General Assembly or the Security Council, whether they will demand a state with or without a specific capital and boundaries, or whether they will trade some degree of increased status (less than full statehood) and accept yet another effort at negotiations with Israel under the coddling of great powers who hint that they will pressure Israelis to be even more forthcoming than they have been in the past.

As is usually the case, I am more fascinated with the process than I am with the justice of one claimant or another.

On the social front, I'm all in favor of upper-middle class Israeli activists having a better life at less personal expense. Some of them are my children, and others close friends, relatives and colleagues. Lots of the protesters seem to be the people who were unsuccessful in making their choices at the last election, and many of them do not seem to share my sense that a well functioning economy is at least as important as giving them the kind of dwelling they want, in a desirable location, at a price they are willing to pay, or free child care for the kids they have decided to create. My guess is that the large defense budget can stand some trimming for the sake of improvements in domestic programs, but the Defense Minister will not give in quickly. I can agree with many protesters that the Haredim are getting a free ride on their trip to nowhere useful, but I'm not supportive of a political revolution of the kind that may put the Haredim in their place at who knows what cost to the rest of us.

On the Palestinian front, I am not happy with all those governments supporting the idea of a new state with who knows what boundaries, especially one that seems insistent that it contain no Israelis (or Jews, depending on who says what). I do not employ the Holocaust to excuse everything that every Israel does, but I also know Jewish history. It is clear to me that the Palestinians leadership is corrupt and unlikely to govern in anything close to what a western democrat expects from a state. However, the same is true of many (most?) governments that already have all the trappings of a state. There hardly seems to be a country in Africa, among the former republics of the Soviet Union, or with a Muslim majority deserving of the status, and not too many south of the Rio Grande. And it is their governments likely to support the Palestinian petitiion, no matter what it is.

The world manages to deal with lots of faux states, and some of them are even worth a visit. One more is not likely to do all that much damage. I expect that the important places in the world accept what Israel will continue to do in order to keep itself as it wishes. That will probably mean Jewish settlements throughout what the Palestinians claim is their own, and certainly the ocntinued presence of Israel in what many of the Palestinians would claim as their own.

As I indicate above, however, I am not yet convinced that the Palestinian leadership is capable of doing what is necessary to get anything more than another political fig leaf from the international community. The politically correct of the powerful countries are not likely to say such things out loud and in public. However, one senses that they recognize their own tenuous future, and will not sacrifice a stable and successful Israel to something that may await them if those tides of humanity continue to move in recent directions.

More worrying than what the great powers will decide is what Palestinians will do. Their leadership is urging peaceful demonstrations. Israel's security forces are anticipating that individuals will go beyond what the formal leadership is saying in public. Remember the Mavi Marmara. Nine deaths of violent activists are still rocking a world willing to repeat the slogans of what the drum beaters say about Israel.

Jews and others have some reason to be concerned about the future, but just as many reasons to avoid obsessive worry or panic.


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 09:27 PM

A number of my notes, as well asconversations with family members, have brought forth the assertion that I amanti-American.

I deny that, even while I understandwhy some may think it is so.

I have great regard for the countrywhere I spent the first half of my life and whose institutions financed andprovided all of my formal education. I have lived in seven of the states,visited all 50, written about American politics and culture, and have the mostpositive of memories.

Yet I have also lived and worked forextended periods in three other countries, visited several dozen others, andhave written about quite a few. I have spent the second half of my life in acountry that receives substantial assistance from the United States, on theedge of other societies and exposed to cultures that currently generatethe most visible signs of violent anti-Americanism.

I do not share the anti-Americanismthat I perceive from elsewhere in the Middle East. However, my training as asocial scientist and familiarity with numerous cultures allows me to understand its sources.

Among the topics relevant to this note:

· The 10th anniversary of 9-11, with all the media attentionand the holding of memorial services, most of them far from the actual events.

· Continuing problems in the American economy and polity,focused on employment, health care, worries about the debt and the country'sfuture, in the context of tendentious remarks by the President, prominentmembers of Congress, presidential aspirants, and several members of my family.

I have gotten into trouble withobservations like the following:

Admittedly 9-11 was a shock andtragedy, but it can be viewed in the context of other losses far greater.Israeli deaths in the intifada that began in 2000 were more than 15 timesgreater in proportion to its population. And estimates range to more than onemillion Iraqis killed, as well as many others displaced, since the American ledinvasion of 2003.

I am not blaming the United States forthe Palestinian violence against Israelis. And the overwhelming proportion ofIraqis who have been killed since 2003 did not die at the hands of Americans.However, that invasion destroyed a regime that--however cruel--had maintainedthe stability of a problematic society. The regime was not well understood bythe American invaders who broke it, and they have not replaced it with anythingthat is clearly better at controlling Iraqis. In the process--along with otheractivities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere--Americans have inflamed aradical element in Islam likely to haunt all of us for years to come.

Was 9-11 justified? Even asking raises the issue of my loyalties.Yet history begs the question. In the eyes of many people on the Middle East, 9-11 was an action in a conflict that threatened their world view.

Assertions about the United States'threat to Islamic values prior to 9-11 may not be comprehensible to manyAmericans. Calliing Americans Crusaders and infidels has a ring of the ridiculous, but the ideas resonate with numerous Muslims.

American scholars have come tounderstand the Japanese perspective about Pearl Harbor. Like 9-11, it was not awise move. But it served those with the capacity to do it, and who feltthreatened by what the United States represented to them.

Those with a longer historicalperspective might recognize parallels in disputes about the attack onFort Sumter.

Did 9-11 justify the death anddestruction in Muslim societies that the United States has attacked, all thewhile insisting that it was not anti-Muslim?

This question resembles those about thedestruction of German and Japanese cities. My grandson's 3rd grade teacher in Seattle taught that Hiroshimaand Nagasaki were wrong.

I am not a pacifist, but I feeluncomfortable with hyperbolic celebrations of military events. Americans whoaccuse Israel of overreacting may think about all those dead Iraqis and otherMuslims. Will a future generation of American teachers tell their students that the war against terror was excessive?

My response to a recent New York Times article may convince some of you that I am anti-American. It describes the mob invasion of the Israeliembasay in Cairo, proceeds to theworsening Israeli relations with Turkey and Egypt, and the looming vote in the United Nations about aPalestinian state.

Not surprising given the tilt of the Times, the message of the article is that Israel didnot do enough to prevent these serious threats to its prestige and security.

What could it have done? Apologize forthe death of those violent people on the Turkish ship intent on breaking the blockadeon Gaza, and for the death of Egyptian personnel during Israel's response to aterrorist raid near Eilat? And join in supporting the Palestinian demand forstatehood?

The Times journalist quotes three distinguished Israelis who advocate those actions. Two of them are left of center, opposition politicians(Daniel Ben Simon and Benyamin Ben Eliezer), and one the editor of the left ofcenter Ha'aretz. It's like quotingTea Party activists as expert commentators on President Obama's economic policy.

To the Times' credit, the article noted that Israeli officials werewilling to express regret about those deaths. An apology would indicate thatthey had been wrong in pursuing national defense.

Has a Times reporter written that the United States should apologize forthe deaths caused by its war on terror? Or join in a campaign to advance thepolitical goals of North Korea and Iran? If so, I haven't noticed.

Would the world--or even the MiddleEast--be a better place if the Israeli government adopted the foreign policypreferred by the New York Times andleft wing Israelis?

Egypt has to bring stability to itself,and ideally pursue economic development with smaller rake offs to the bankaccounts of politicians. Turkey might seek to solidify its position among NATOpartners--and perhaps bolster it's candidacy for membership in the EuropeanUnion--rather than worrying about the Hamas regime that NATO members view as terrorist. Israel may be somewhere on the farmargins of those issues, but more as a scape goat and distraction from domesticproblems than as a real reason for Egyptian or Turkish problems.

In both Egypt's and Turkey's cases, thescenarios imaginable can be unpleasant in the extreme. There are factions inboth countries that fantacize about a heroic war against the Zionists. TheUnited States is trying to be a moderating factor, the professionals in bothcountries' militaries do not relish any such conflict, and political as wellas business figures In both countries have spoken about the need for sanity.

My inclination is to view those who are convinced of Israel's guilt in such matters to suffer from a mushy-headed and extreme case of political correctness, and failing to recognize that the Middle East does not operate like the Middle West.

I also admit to looking askance at the claims of many Americans about that country's economics, health care, education, and other public services.

The United States can claim to be aleader in medicine and advanced education, but the levels of care and learningavailable to the average American fall far from what the most fortunate obtain.American claims of being over taxed are bizarre to those who look at the data.

The effective tax rate for all levelsof government in the United States is 26.9 percent of GNP. There is no western democracy with a lower tax rate than that of theUS. Denmark's rate is 49 percent, Israel's is36.8 percent, and the average of Western European OECD members is 40 percent.

The result of all this leads me to becritical of the simplistic patriotism surrounding the anniversary of 9-11, aswell as claims about a confiscatorygovernment heard from American politicians and individuals.

My observations are no more extremethan what is expressed by other Americans who should not be accused ofviolating social norms. One of the most admirable traits of the country, whichI absorbed in the first half of my life, was the freedom to look at thingsdifferently from others. I also learned to appreciate the contributions thatcome from a critical perspective.

Dispute, criticism, and skepticism are as American as apple pie. The traits have deep roots in Jewish culture,as well as what was acquired from the ancient Greeks and Romans, and more recently from Britain and elsewhere.


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 12:12 AM
September 05, 2011
On the road

Our late summer trip began with several days in Rochester, New York, where Mattan is doing his PhD in political science.

His career choice is the best indication that I have not been a complete failure.

Before our trip, we heard from several people that Rochester is less than vibrant. A few days there did not provide any evidence to counter that warning. However, it did provide indications of a life style that in some respects is ideal.

Compared to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Rochester displays the well-tended and spacious facilities that reflect what the centrally placed statue of George Eastman represents: lots of money from well-healed benefactors. The Hebrew University does not lack for donors. Virtually every wall has a plaque with someone's name. Yet it is not in Rochester's league for the quality of facilities and their upkeep. The climate of Rochester also allows for great expanses of green grass, kept clipped by a small army of ever-busy groundskeepers.

Rochester cannot match the view from Mount Scopus overlooking the Old City, but Jerusalem has nothing to compare with the several miles of well groomed parkland, with many trees and several choices of walking trails alongside the Genesee River and the Eire Canal.

Mattan was wise to go abroad for his graduate work. Parochialism is a swamp for an academic discipline, and a substantial taste of a different national culture contributes to any conception of maturity. Political science at Rochester is distinctive in several respects, and I am profiting from our conversations and an occasional infusion of items from his reading lists.

Both Rochester and the Hebrew University are among the best universities in the world. Academics have gotten used to checking on themselves via the Shanghai index. Its most recent rankings of institutions (not individual disciplines) shows the Hebrew University a number of notches higher than Rochester. The rankings reflect several measures of faculty renown, and suggest that an expanse of trimmed lawns and clean restrooms are not all there is to say about higher education.

Our visit corresponded with the arrival on campus of parents and students in the Class of 2015. The scenes of unloading cars, and parents walking, talking, and pointing to this and that brought back memories of my arrival as a freshman at Wesleyan in 1956. I also thought about bringing Mattan, then a recent high school graduate, to the pickup point for the IDF bus in 2002.

The most recent Intifada was at it's height, and the army's basic training in the best of times is harsher than freshman orientation. With all that can be said about the tensions associated with an undergraduate education at a demanding university away from home, it lacks the edge of sending a child to an active army. Instead of learning the location of the library and student union, the nice Jewish boys introduced to the IDF spend some weeks learning to do the ugly things they may have to practice over the course of three years.

One telephone call a year into Mattan's service told us not to worry about the news we would hear on the radio. His unit had been in a fire fight on the West Bank, but it ended well. Not so lucky were his comrades a year later, killed by a suicide bomber when waiting at the bus stop outside his base.

This trip also coincided with the Libyan rebels' success in the city of Tripoli. CNN's commentaries emphasized the positive, even while conceding likely problems. I would have emphasized the problems, while noting the remote possibility of something positive. My confidence in CNN, weakened when I saw the network pairing it's coverage with a map showing the city of Tripoli in Lebanon.

Cleveland was our next stop. Clinical psychologist daughter Erica, who had contributed to my career by teaching me about coping, had made a career move from Boston. She lives with her family in a decent neighborhood, but with Middle Western traits unattractive to someone used to Middle Eastern or European cities. Almost all the streets are perfectly straight and either exactly east-west or north-south. The houses vary somewhat from one to another, but all are the same distance from sidewalk and road. A walk through the neighborhood passes by some attractive gardens, but the sight ahead on the flat as a table topography is sidewalk to the horizon. We spotted some of the deer we heard about. There is something to write home about.

Their town is one of many, each with it's own schools, police, and population. Things change, Cleveland's inner city is not far away, and the purchase of a house is something of a crap shoot. The are lots of For Sale signs in the area where the newcomers are renting.

A weekend drive to a central city botanical garden-university-hospital area showed us some of the bounties that the wealth of an earlier Cleveland produced. A state park on the shore of Lake Eire had the grungiest rest rooms with the most ill-functioning plumbing of anything I've seen at many pit-stops in dozens of countries.

Seattle was as delightful as we expected. Nothing is more post-industrial than our daily walk around Green Lake, a paradise of nature in an urban neighborhood. On a clear day the towers of the central city are on one horizon, and snow covered mountains on another. There are several kinds of wild fowl in the water or on the grass. The only problem is the need to pace oneself to the speed of the many walkers, carriage-pushers, bike riders, and roller-bladers using the path at the same time.

Turkey was in the headlines through it all. It's government continued to harshen its posture toward Israel. If it was staking out a position as the Muslim leader against the Zionist villain, it was choosing a moment when Muslim governments were barely holding on against a wave of domestic unrest having nothing to do with Israel.

Another possibility is the age-old incentive to gain support by beating up a convenient target. And who is more fitting than the Jews? It is absurd to focus on the killing of 9 violent demonstrators who violated a well-publicized blockade, in the context of what has been happening in Libya and Syria, or one of those Turkish raid against Kurds, but those who know Jewish history need no further explanation.

News in the Israeli media is that Turkish Jews were uncomfortable with Israel's resistance to their government's demands. Hopefully, these disputes will not develop into another unwanted flight from what had once been a haven.

Social policy protesters may have attracted 400,000 total participants to the several Saturday evening rallies billed as their million person marches in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and elsewhere. Still to be tested is their weight against a govenment that seems intent on only a limited response to the long list of demands.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 04:57 PM