December 29, 2011
Things to ponder

Lots of news.

Less clarity.

It's worth thinking about the details, and whether they amount to a watershed inviting a heroic decision.

Khaled Mashaal, the senior leader of Hamas, has ordered his forces to cease attacks on Israeli targets.

Mashaal's expression of non-violence has something to do with the peace agreement claimed to have been reached (once again) between Fatah and Hamas, but anyone seeking to check this out with Mashaal may have trouble locating him. Hamas has abandoned its Damascus headquarters in yet another sign of Syrian shakiness. It is not clear if Mashaal has decided to move in with party colleagues in Gaza, or to seek another location beyond Israel's reach (maybe) in Cairo, or somewhere in the Gulf. All this may depend on current and future winds produced by Arab spring.

Who knows how far Mashaal's reach extends through the alphabet soup of Palestinian clusters that smuggle arms, assemble and fire rockets, and recruit suicide bombers. The list expands and contracts, and has included Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Jihad Jibril Brigades, Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and whatever claims the label of al-Quaeda in Gaza or the West Bank.

The Sudanese General heading the Arab League delegation to Syria provided a "reassuring" first impression of the situation observed. Yet one commentator calls him

"the world's worst human rights observer . . . likely stinks of either a voluntary whitewash or an example of how the observers are being stage managed by the Syrian regime, . . . What does one expect from an Arab League mission headed by a loyalist of President Omar al-Bashir, currently wanted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity?"

A senior Palestinian representative in the United States has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post in which he admits a Jewish history in Palestine. His claim of an ancient Palestinian lineage is mythic, but so is the story of Abraham and some of the other Jewish forebears.

Ron Paul has denied being an anti-Semite. He affirms his opposition to US foreign aid to all countries, but views Israel as "one of our most important friends in the world."

The print edition of Ha'aretz has a front page story that the head of Mossad "hinted" to a meeting of foreign ambassadors that "a nuclear Iran is not necessarily a threat to Israel's existence." (December 29)

The newspaper also reports that the Palestinian Authority is saying something about removing a demand for a settlement freeze as a condition for resuming talks with Israel. In return, it is asking for the release of more Israeli prisoners, perhaps 100, and perhaps including some old timers rather than just the recent iconic terrorists.

Netanyahu's initial response is Nope. No conditions for negotiations means no conditions. (p. 2)

Is it time to break out the hard stuff and begin an early New Year celebration?

Not without reckoning with yesterday's liquidation of one Palestinian in Gaza and the wounding of several colleagues, said by Israelis to be on their way to doing something ugly near Eilat. This was followed by missiles fired into Israel, then Israel's bombing of targets in Gaza, and a senior IDF person saying again that continued rocket attacks require preparations for a major attack on Gaza.

Israeli sources seem to be admitting reports the airforce has attacked convoys in the Sudan carrying munitions from Iran in the direction of Egypt for Gaza.

On some purely domestic issues, the Chief Sephardi Rabbi is about to issue a halachic ruling as to whether a woman can deliver a eulogy at a funeral. In Pope-less and pyramid-less Rabbinical Judaism, that distinguished rabbi's ruling will only go so far to quiet anything.

The police are moving cautiously against those who spit, curse, insult, and otherwise harass women doing what the harasser thinks is improper. Rabbis and the IDF are in a fuddle about requiring soldiers to remain in the audience when a female sings at a military function.

A prominent Israeli economist with ties to the Finance Ministry has published his own fatwa that families with 8 or more children are statistically likely to damn their children to lives of mediocrity without academic, professional, or economic accomplishments. His focus is the ultra-Orthodox, and somewhat less on Arabs who are actually reducing their fecundity (with the exception of Bedouins). He further noted that Haredim who insist that their children study nothing but sacred texts consign them to ignorance, poverty, and dependence, and harm the state that is responsible for protecting us from evil and directing the economy toward progress for us all..

What to do about all of this?

Some of you may disagree, but it seems to me that the positive signs suggesting impending salvation are neutralized by scepticism about them, and even moreso by negative signs also appearing in the media. Moreover, they do not add up to the kind of situation faced by Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai, or David ben Gurion. The first responded to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem by establishing Rabbinic Judaism without the rituals of the Temple that no longer existed, and began a long period of Jewish passivity with respect to great powers. The second seized a moment in the lee of World War II and declared the State of Israel.

If such times come once in 1900 years, we're not due for another until the year 3848.

Jews are good at pondering. We began at least a half-millennium before Rabbi ben Zakai, have published some provocative stuff along the way, and are still at work.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:22 AM
December 26, 2011
We got the Jewish state we wanted, perhaps not the way we wanted it

The Municipality of Beit Shemesh removed the signs indicating which sidewalk was to be used by women and girls. Haredim began replacing them 10 minutes later.

One of the prominent spitters was jailed and released after a short time.

It sounds like the treatment given Religious Zionist (Orthodox) extremists in the West Bank. An hour or two after the bulldozers leave a site where they have destroyed the homes of an illegal settlement, the residents get to work rebuilding it. Individuals picked up for violating the orders of the police or the army are usually released by the next day.

What links both stories is the involvement of rabbis. Not the same kind of rabbis, Heaven forbid. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are likely to view Orthodox rabbis as beyond the pale, and vice versa.

Israel is a law abiding state, but not in the same way as aspired by Prussians, Americans, or other enlightened goyim. Perhaps because of suffering under the states of the goyim, the Jews adhere to modes of flexibility in their enforcement of the law. I've seen research indicating that administrators are less rigid here than elsewhere. Anyone with the status of a rabbi (Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox only; Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist claimants need not apply) has a special status in the Jewish state, no matter how outlandish his advocacy. Here there is no need to employ the his/her formulation of the politically correct.

The status of extremist rabbis reminds us of professors reluctant to discipline their colleagues on account of academic freedom, as well as physicians and lawyers who decline to be strict with colleagues charged with improper activity. More than these other professionals, the rabbis have two and a half millennia of Jewish texts to justify one or another posture that is not in accord with practices that currently prevail.

Several Haredim have set themselves apart from the extremists, but put their emphasis on the unfairness of a media campaign that they see as directed against them all.

We heard from a renowned ultra-Orthodox rabbi about his opposition to extremism. And also his opposition to force imposed on colleagues who preach unpopular doctrines. Force is not the way of Judaism. Persuasion is the way. Of course it will require flexibility, concessions from all sides, and time. Meanwhile, women should be patient, and stay on their side of the street.

Among the anomolies that we live with are Orthodox who identify as Religious Nationalists, or Religious Zionists, seek enrollment in the most difficult and dangerous units of the IDF and aspire to the officer corps, yet may adhere to rabbis who are extreme on issues of not listening to women singers, serving alongside of women, or acting against Jews who build where they will in the Land of Israel. There are ultra-Orthodox who do what they can to avoid military service, make life unpleasant for neighbors who prefer to drive or listen to radio or television on the Sabbath, expect the state to support numerous children fathered by individuals who avoid work in order to study sacred texts, object to their sons taught history, science, or anything else that detracts from their learning of sacred texts, and cite their poverty and large families as reasons for discounts or a free ride on municipal taxes and bills for water and electricity.

There is a history of Jewish communities supporting the occasional brilliant student of Torah. What we have in Israel is every student of average skill, or even less, entitled to a monthly allotment of tax money to support him at study, perhaps with his academy claiming the enrollment of ficticious students in order to increase its income.

Opponents to the behavior of religious extremists agree that the state should stop their funding.

Easier said than done. The science of implementation, flavored with theology, is more important than any further declarations about equality or the rights of women.

The money for religious institutions typically flow from several sources. Among them are the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, and municipalities. There are ample opportunities in the channels of funding to evade the orders that come from above. Moreover, the orders may not come from above. After pronouncing the need to enforce the law with respect to religious extremists, individuals at the heads of these administrative pyramids are quick to realize that religious parties are essential members of the national or municipal coalition. If religious parties are not members of the present coalition, one does not want to antagonize them and prevent their support in the future.

Israel is not a theocracy or a religious state, but it is a Jewish state, affected by norms of Jewish culture, reinforced by the many elements of religious law.

Which law will govern this state? The simple answer is the laws enacted by Knesset and judged by the courts of the state.

Yet some of our citizens accept the higher of the Torah, as argued and intepreted by all those generations of rabbis who trace their heritage to Moses. And among those who acknowledge the greater authority of the secular state, there are many who are reluctant to impose its discipline on those who cite rabbinic authority.

One needn't applaud. Simply accept reality. If anyone knows how to change it, please send me a note.


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 06:02 AM
December 25, 2011
Beit Shemesh

My resolution not to write so often lasted only a few hours, until I found myself enraged by a television report about Heredi extremists in Beit Shemesh.

We've known about the Beit Shemesh community for some time. Religious friends from the US and a secular Israeli colleague initially settled there, then moved out when they realized what life would be like. The television episode headlined the young daughter of a religious family, afraid to walk a few blocks alone to her primary school, due to Heredim likely to yell and spit on her because of not dressing according to their standards of female modesty, or walking on the sidewalk that they determined should be only for men and boys. The program identified her as only seven years old. As the story grew legs the next day, it turned out that she was eight, but the difference is not significance. She came across as shy and frightened, with every right to be afraid of the Jews she must pass on her way to school.

Interviews with Haredi of Beit Shemesh, their confrontations with television personnel, and a segment about a modestly dressed woman harassed added to the message. Readers with a command of Hebrew can click on the arrow that appears on this site to see the episode. Those without Hebrew can probably sense what it is all about.

Beit Shemesh is in the foothills of the Judean Mountains about half the distance between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It initially grew with quickly built four storey apartment blocks mostly for North African immigrants. In recent years it has sprouted several neighborhoods of houses with small gardens as well as high rise blocks. Prominent new residents are Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox immigrants from the United States, and young Haredi couples from communities in Israel. As of 2010, the population was about 80,000.

According to men interviewed, they operate according to instructions of their rabbis, who are entirely just in determining how a woman or girl should dress and behave. We saw signs indicating which sidewalk women and girls must use, and heard men declaim the justice of spitting on improper young girls. They claimed to represent true Judaism that soon would control all of Israel.

Following the segment on Beit Shemesh, the news program turned to issues of national defense. A commentator known for his enthusiastic endorsement of an aggressive defense posture began his comments by saying that the greatest danger to Israel was not from Iran, Syria, or elsewhere in the region, but from what he had just seen in Beit Shemesh.

The item appeared on the Friday evening news, and was not immediately available to families who observe the Sabbath. By the end of the Sabbath, it was clear that it would be the event that guided commentators and politicians for for the next day or more. Saturday evening we heard that the Prime Minister had declared himself once again in favor of equal opportunity for women and girls in public places. He instructed the Minister of Internal Security (i.e., police) to enforce the law, and met with the Attorney General to assure cooperation from the judiciary.

Sunday morning's Ha'aretz devoted all of page 2 to the story. In the middle was a large picture of the 8-year old star of the show, now smiling rather than crying. Another story was headlined, "Even a 3-year old can be called "shiksa" (an uncomplimentary word for a non-Jewish woman) or "whore." Four thousand people had already committed themselves to a protest march in Beit Shemesh.

By noon Sunday we heard of arrests and indictments. A radio talk show broadcast a comment by a Haredi from Bnei Brak. He objected to extremism, and to what he perceived as a media campaign against the Haredim. Then we heard from a foreign affairs reporter asked to talk about political demonstrations in Moscow. He did that, but not before he added to the conversation about Haredi excesses.

My own conversations with friends produced the information that extremism has deep roots. The woman of a deeply religious family told her own story of being spit on in Mea She'arim years ago for not dressing up to the standards of the spitter. Her husband told of his Hasidic father who was not allowed to approach the Torah scrolls in a synagogue he attended near Mea She'arim in the 1920s due to his lack of conformity with the norms of others who prayed in the synagogue.

Josephus' The Jewish War brings the story back to the first century.

Our Saturday afternoon walk led us to another story close to home. A friend was posting a sign in front of her building indicating that the neighborhood included religious and secular families who lived alongside one another in a spirit of tolerance, and urged all those contemplating the purchase of an apartment advertised for sale to respect established norms.

She explained that the sign was meant to warn away extremist Haredi who would object to the variety of ways in which the residents observe--or do not observe--Sabbath and the holidays. She reminded us of the neighbor who had blocked the sidewalk with a Succah, and the inability of complainers to get the municipality to order its removal.

We talked about the threats to the neighborhood of an "invasion" of Arab or ultra-Orthodox families. We agreed that a mixed neighborhood is ideal. Perhaps a few more Arabs would serve to prevent a great influx of ultra-Orthodox, and a few more ultra-Orthodox would serve to prevent a great influx of Arabs.


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 05:26 AM
December 23, 2011
The blessings of complexity

This is a complex world with many players and numerous conflicts.

So what else is new?

In this holiday season when wise commentators summarize what happened, what is happening, and what will happen, it is appropriate to remind ourselves of the obvious, trivial, and continuing realities.

We members of the Chosen People with Jerusalem as our eternal capital may need such a reminder more than others.

The world is not entirely about us. And that part of it that does focus on us as the essence of all that is good or all that is evil is not so powerful or not so fixated on working for our salvation or destruction.

This is also the time when I get more than the normal rate of e-messages from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and several others telling me about attacks and threats against Jews, their role in my defense, and how I can help by buying a gift from their on-line store or making a contribution while the tax year is still running.

I'd prefer that the Simon Wiesenthal stop its construction of a Museum of Tolerance on a Muslim cemetery, but that is another story I have already mentioned more than once.

Don't get me wrong. Things are not entirely rosy for me and the Jewish people. My family has its share of Holocaust stories, and I warn visitors not to take a wrong turn into Isaweea.

My general posture is that things have not been this good for the Jewish people since the death of King Solomon. My late and loved father-in-law can no longer remind me that he thought the same as a young man in Dusseldorf, but I still hear him.

I know about Iran and other problems, but now is an occasion to focus on the myriad of things that complicate this region, and make it likely that bad things will happen elsewhere.

Most prominent on my personal agenda of optimism is France's declaration about the Armenian Holocaust.

We must start with the admission that the issue is more complex than the Holocaust carried out by the Germans. The killing of Armenians was not the systematic planning, rounding up, transportation, industrial killing and disposal of the 1940s. Yet it had elements closer to that than unorganized ethnic slaughter, or responses to warfare and the unfortunate consequences of forced marches that the Turks claim. See

The stubborn resistance of Turkish authorities to admit what many view as facts have made this a political issue. The French enactment of sanctions against those who deny the Armenian Holocaust has cause a diplomatic rupture and produced Turkish accusations of an Algerian Genocide done by the French.

The Israeli government continues to resist demands to accept the concept of an Armenian Holocaust, despite the presence of a substantial Armenian community here, Israel's own history, and its current problems with the Turks. Still the official line is silence, and that the issue is one for historians and not politicians.

We'll have to see what all this means for Turkey, France, NATO, and other issues in the Middle East and elsewhere. It's good to see a bigger country on our side, even if I haven't forgotten that misplaced condemnation of Israel in the Security Council.

So far this reminds me of watching other boys fight in the schoolyard. It's not about me.

Other events in the same category are explosions in Damascus and Baghdad.

I do not enjoy hearing of people killed. Not even soldiers of some other army, and certainly not civilians of any country.

These atrocities point to continuing conflict, of kinds that are difficult to define: religious, ethnic, political, or more likely a mixture of all. They may spill over to affect Israel, but their centers are somewhere else. They result from long-simmering hatreds between religious and ethnic communities, and/or repressed animosities against harsh and unresponsive regimes, perhaps triggered by clumsy interventions by Americans concerned to produce democracy. No one should risk a reputation by predicting clear outcomes for individual countries, much less a region-wide shift or drift in one direction or another.

It's a time for concern, but too early to head downstairs for the bomb shelter.

Those assassinations and explosions in Iran also provoke my wonder. Each instance is followed by media speculation about Israeli fingerprints, but more prominent is a continuing discussion about American and Israeli officials hinting in favor or against an outright strike at Iran's nuclear facilities. One has to ponder if American, Israeli, or some other outside force is already meddling in Iran, with security so tight that media personalities are cooperating in a cover-up. Or perhaps the Iranians are as clumsy as their reports claim, and the explosions are industrial accidents that will do their part to delay the ultimate unpleasantness.

One last bit of optimism comes from an academic friend who spends more time than I on American campuses.

"i wanted to comment on a "myth" which I think that you accept as fact.

I for one am convinced that most American campuses are pro Israel or neutral. Few and very few are anti Israel. One example. Last year 5 or 10 campuses in North America celebrated Palestine Week. Thousands of campuses had no such week. In addition hundreds of campuses had programs commemorating Israeli independence day."

A welcome correction. I still pity those anxious parents who spent years worrying about their childrens' acceptance, and now pay a lot for lousy education at distinguished campuses, but I accept my friend's correction that the media exaggerate the problem.

I continue to read what I get from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and appreciate what colleagues are doing for me and to preserve the integrity of their campuses. I'll let others pay to keep it in operation. I'm doing my part by living alongside of Isaweea.

My guess is that I'll write again before the start of the New Year. But if sanity prevails and nothing provokes me, I'll record my Good Wishes now.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:24 PM
December 22, 2011
Who's isolated?

Here it is impossible to go to a public place in the evening without hearing a blessing on the Chanukah lights. Chabad has placed a large Chanukiah (9-armed menorah) in the most prominent of French Hill's traffic circles, along with other efforts to make the festival more important than its ancient roots. So far Israel radio hasn't provided us with the music indicative of that other holiday coming in a few days.

May all of you enjoy whatever you are celebrating, or not suffer too greatly in your efforts to close your mind and ears to the celebrations of others.

Meanwhile, on the political front we are hearing from the left and other worriers here and elsewhere new proof of Israel's isolation. Not only the United Nations Security Council, but those critical allies Britain, France and even Germany joined in the condemnation of continued building in the "settlements" (including East Jerusalem), and the failure of Israel to deal with extremists who desecrate mosques and commit other indecencies.

It didn't take Israel's Foreign Ministry more than a few hours to respond with its own condemnation. It would be better for the United Nations to focus on the slaughter of civilians a few miles to the northeast, and the lack of democracy coming on the heels of Arab Spring. The sharpest words spoke of the organization and those governments voting against Israel making themselves irrelevant in whatever political process may occur, and reminded the critics that Israel has the only serious judiciary in the region, which is doing what is necessary to apply the rule of law.

On this occasion the United States joined Israel rather than those condemning it. One of the tantalizing questions is whether that reflects anything more than the Administration's eye on the coming elections, or if it is a serious indication that Europeans and others had gone too far in their lip service, sycophancy, or fear with respect to their Muslim residents and Muslim partners in international organizations.

There is also continued reason for pessimism on overseas campuses. There are daily indications that the far left, anti-Israel camp has taken possession of social science and humanities faculties. Serious work may still be occurring elsewhere in the universities, but the teachers and students concerned with politics, society, and values seem obsessed with Israel's inhumanity.

What to do?

Best to begin by considering other indications about Israel's situation.

The sky is not falling. Just now, glancing out of my window looking east toward the Jordan Valley, there is a great sunrise in process.

We can take pleasure for a bit longer about yet another Nobel Prize, more investments by major firms in Israel's technology, and even that apology by nemesis Thomas Friedman for comments that came too close to classic anti-Semitism.

Other news is that several hundred new immigrants arrived. Some had their first taste of sufganiot (oil-soaked jelly donuts) and the music of Ma'oz Tzur (Rock of Ages). It may take them a while to learn about the dietary dangers of Chanukah, and acquire the capacity to keep celebrations and health in proper balance.

The news from the United Nations is no more pleasant than usual, and even a bit more depressing, but it's not the end of things. Neither a failure to condemn Syria nor a lack of serious steps to retard Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons should surprise us. The lack of concern with continued bloodshed in Syria and the post-election killings in Egypt may reflect nothing more than Europeans not expecting much from those who many of them view as beyond the pale, and likely to be barbaric. Westerners may think that criticism of Israel may have some effect, insofar as this country aspires to hold on to its membership in the club of the decent.

Condemnation of Israel may also be an expression of diplomats' temper directed against what they view as the excesses of Benyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.

Not a few Israeli centrists also view Netanyahu and Lieberman as excessive. The North Korean style introduction of the Prime Minister at the memorial ceremony for those dying in last year's forest fire provided a couple of days' material for comics among Knesset members and media personalities. The prime minister got what he deserved. He has conceded the excesses. It is not yet apparent that the ridicule will hurt him politically or affect his policies.

Israel media made its own contribution to Palestinian irrelevancy by emphasizing the warm encounter between Mahmoud Abbas and the women released and exiled to Turkey as part of the exchange for Gilad Shalit. Amina Mona committed one of the ugliest of actions in the latest intifada, using the Internet to entice an Israeli teenager to Ramallah and his death.

One should worry about the nonsense heard from faculty and students at some of the world's most distinguished universities. Not only is it offensive. It may affect Israel's standing in years to come as today's students become tomorrow's officials and investors.

Campus radicalism augers even worse for Jews and others overseas who continue to view those propaganda mills as sources of decent education. The obvious targets of pity are parents who gnawed their fingernails for years about their offsprings' chances of admission, and pay upwards of $50K per year for tuition and other expenses in a time of economic uncertainty.

Israel also has its nutty academic extremists, but their incidence is less than in prestigious Western campuses. Moreover, it is difficult for them to impress undergraduates who have already been educated by two or three years in the IDF, as well as by parents and grandparents who have seen worse.

Remember the epigram that a young person who is not a socialist lacks a heart, while an older person who is still a socialist lacks a head. Something like that may work on the anti-Israel graduates of distinguished colleges. And there are graduates who never catch the anti-Israel bug. Who knows the proportions of those taught to hate, or those who admire a feisty state whose people argue about what is the proper way to stay within the norms of Western civilization that their ancestors formulated while dealing with difficult neighbors who are occasionally vicious?

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:24 AM
December 19, 2011
Pyongyang on the Carmel

Last night's news began with the outpouring of unrestrained wailing in response to the death of the "dear leader" of North Korea, a replay of the mournful voice, choked with tears announcing his death on North Korean television, and then commentary by a South Korean journalist and an Israeli academic who specializes on Korea. They speculated about how much of the pathos was genuine, how much the result of six decades brainwashing, and how much a performance by individuals who were concerned that observers would see them doing anything less than what was expected.

Then there was coverage of the first anniversary of the forest fire on the Carmel. The fire lasted for four days, caused the evacuation of 17,000 residents, and resulted in 44 deaths. Most of those were prison guards trapped by the fire along a narrow mountain road after being ordered to evacuate the prison, and others involved in fire fighting along the same stretch of road.

Mourners had disrupted the 30 day commemoration of the disaster with loud accusations of who they thought was responsible.

Since then individuals from among the families, as well as individuals in the government have worked to lessen the tensions. Yesterdays ceremony was near the site of the bus disaster, now with a memorial carrying the names of those who died. Some families made a point of not coming, and some expressed their continued anger, but the mood was restrained.

The issue of responsibility will get another hearing shortly with the release of a special report by the State Comptroller. Ministers concerned with fire fighting and finance, as well as the prime minister came under attack for not doing enough to provide money, personnel and equipment; authorities in charge of fire brigades and the organization of fire fighters for having rejected proposals that did not meet their demands or egos; and low level personnel for allowing the bus carrying prison personnel and other vehicles to continue along a narrow road that became engulfed with flames.

The fire caught Israel without sufficient equipment and personnel. Especially lacking were planes capable of dumping water or flame retardants on the blaze. Aid was sought, offered, or provided from Greece, Turkey, Netherlands, Switzerland, Cyprus, Russia, Great Britain, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Jordan, Norway, Romania, and Spain.

The Prime Minister was prominent in recruiting support, especially in renting a 747 from the United States equipped to dump huge amounts of water. Netanyahu had himself photographed watching the plane dump its water, and later inspecting the plane and its crew at the international airport. Since then, he has used the image of the supertanker to express the extent of his commitments to deal with major issues. He would invoke a supertanker approach to a housing shortage, committing himself to the large scale construction of affordable homes.

Since that comment there have been numerous items about the pitfalls along the way to housing termed "affordable."

Not only did that plane make a big splash over the Carmel, but it was irresistible for the Prime Minister's critics. They focused on the expense of its rental, the time required to bring the plane from the United States, and the long time between sorties required to refill its tanks. Better would be smaller planes that could fill themselves while skimming over the sea, flying close to the ground, and dumping load after load on the fire.

Initial news in advance of the ceremony was that the Prime Minister did not want to attend out of concern that it would be like the 30 day commemoration. He would be occupied by other matters. However, he was persuaded that it was something he could not avoid.

What attracted the most attention about the anniversary was the introduction of the prime minister. Doing the job was an announcer for Israel Radio with an especially distinguished voice and manner, who is often enlisted to host ceremonies put on by government agencies, universities, and other public bodies. Coming immediately after the scenes of wailing, screaming, and other grand expressions at the death of North Korea's dear leader, we heard this man intone

The memorial site was created at the initiative of Prime Minister Mr Benyamin Netanyahu. The memorial was approved and created by the government and the man who stands at its head, Mr Benyamin Netanyahu. I want to invite to the podium the man who was the first to recognize the extent of the disaster, who brought help from throughout Israel and the world to deal with the fire, and since has done everything to care for the families who lost their loved ones: His Honor, Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Benyamin Netanyahu.

A bit too much like North Korea and too much for Israel.

We may have our syncophants in the Prime Minister's Office who admitted to writing the introduction, but not in the media.

The news reader introduced the item with a comment about raised eyebrows. Then she replayed a clip of the introduction. Her colleague said that the words about the Prime Minister may have been accurate, but the music was unbecoming. Channel Two's internet site headlines the story, "Who arranged once again the praise of Netanyahu?" and "Who is responsible for the unrestrained praise of the Prime Minister?"

The introduction remained an item in the news as I wrote this note the next morning. For those wanting to test their Hebrew or feel the music, click on


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:22 PM
December 18, 2011
Israel's Rose Parks

Tanya Rosenblit may become Israel's Rosa Parks.

Her refusal to go to the back of the bus produced a story on the front page of Ha'aretz, as well as supportive comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the meeting of the Government, by Opposition Head Tzipi Livni, and by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. All of those worthies decried the religious fashion of segregating women.

The former administrator of the Chief Rabbinate said on Israel Radio that all forms of "non-Jewish" extremism must end. He referred not only to the separation of women by the ultra-Orthodox in public places and the complete coverage of body and face by women, but also to the activities of Orthodox extremists acting against Arab individuals and property, including the desecration of mosques, and against soldiers assigned to protect Arabs or to remove illegal settlements. The commanding general of the army has emphasized that women will continue to serve in the IDF, and that women singers will continue to entertain his soldiers.

One can hope that extremism will exit the religious segment of Israeli politics, without really expecting it.

The African-American example, of which Rosa Parks was an element, may be useful in guiding the speculation.

In a society priding itself on being law-abiding, it took decades from the time the United States Supreme Court began ruling against segregation until the ultimate extension of desegregation and other civil rights to African-Americans in the 1960s. Subsequent research shows that the process continues. Although segregation may no longer required by state law or local ordinance, there has been a re-segregation of education along with the continued segregation of housing, especially in the case of lower-income African-Americans. Social class may actually be the greater deterrent to equal opportunity than race or ethnicity, but for many individuals the analytic distinction makes no difference.

Israel also prides itself on the rule of law, but the claim is imperfect. The police and military respond with great differences to the violence of Jews and Arabs, often amounting to life or death for those whose demonstrations are not entirely peaceful. Both ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionist extremists among the Orthodox conceive of a law higher than that of the state which they derive from religious doctrines, and both include in their justifications a sense of being persecuted by a misguided state.

It would be a mistake to view the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox extremists as similar, or concerned with similar laws of the Almighty. Ultra-Orthodox congregations separate themselves from one another, which facilitates the extremists among them following the doctrines of their own rabbis. In what has become fashionable, these now emphasize the separation of the sexes, and the modesty of womens' dress. The same emphasis on the separation of sexes has attracted support from a number of Orthodox rabbis and their followers.

The more troublesome emphasis of Religious Zionist extremists is their fascination with the Land of Israel, claimed to be a gift from God, with their selective reading of sacred texts to define the geographical dimensions of the gift, and how to treat non-Jews who claim ownership of the same land.

Disagreement among rabbis has been a feature of Judaism since ancient times, and is no less apparent in these issues. Not only the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi is joining in the campaign against extremism. A well known rabbi in the Jewish settlement of Tekoa made a point of inviting a mixed instrumental ensemble to provide a concert in his synagogue. Those in the know will observe that the rabbi did not go so far as to invite a performance by a female singer.

The mixture of voices in the Orthodox Rabbinate does not assure peace and quiet on the sexual and religious front.

The ultra-Orthodox, in particular, have a long history of setting themselves apart from the laws of the goyim in their pre-Israel homelands. They have continued the practice by providing the Jewish state with nothing more than partial legitimacy. Most are willing to accept state money for their schools, housing, synagogues, and religious academies, but have been less willing to accept the state's demands about the contents of their schooling or other issues, like the treatment of women in public places.

A general animosity toward the state by Religious Zionists is less prominent. Indeed, many of them are enthusiastic about serving in the IDF, and going the extra steps of volunteering for officer training or special forces. Their problem with the state has developed since 1967, when extensive Jewish settlements beyond the earlier borders became feasible, and more recently as state officials have sought to reign in settlement activities and to remove those considered to be illegal. The removal of settlements in Gaza earlier created by the state added to anti-state sentiments among Religious Zionists.

There are no clear numbers about the various groups of ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox who go so far in their activities as to demand the separation of men and women in public places, or to act violently in the West Bank against Arabs and soldiers. Most of the ultra-Orthodox are passive onlookers in these squabbles, like the vast majority of secular Israelis. Estimates are that only a couple of hundred Orthodox Zionists may go so far as to take part in violence against Arabs or the IDF (when they are not themselves in uniform). Both groups generate support by floaters in their communities when it comes to a confrontation with authorities.

On my afternoon walk around the neighborhood I came upon workers installing a Chanukah menorah on a prominent traffic circles. No sign of a Christmas tree. Along with all of the above, this is a Jewish country.


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 07:21 AM
December 16, 2011
American and Israel

Several items lead me once again to write about the two countries where I have spent my life. Already some of my readers are readying their fingers to accuse me of turning against my homeland, or ignorance about the place that I left half a lifetime ago.

To be sure, I can no longer declaim who are the governors or US Senators of Massachusetts or Wisconsin, where I spent most of my American years, or the several other states where I lived for a year or more. But I'll insist that I still understand the basics of the place where I learned how to be a political scientist.

Both Israel and America have been featured in recent international reports about poverty and inequality. The United States has long led the list of rich countries on measures of poverty, inequality, poor health and life spans. Israel has joined the list of countries with high scores on inequality. In contrast to the United States, which scores in the low 20s, 30s, or 40s of rankings for life expectancy (depending on the source of the data), Israel appears among the highest ranking half-dozen or so countries on the same indicator.

Concepts of inequality are similar in both countries, but the explanations not. The United States has long been the place of opportunity and wealth, along with Third World levels of poverty and inequality. American miseries go back to what remains as a result of slavery, indentured whites, and Native Americans. The United States leads the world in the medicine and education available to the most fortunate, including poor adolescents like me who benefited from scholarships. The United States is home to the companies and laboratories that produce many of the gadgets and medicines that help us to live long, productive, and enjoyable lives. Yet it also invented the cheap and tasty food that has spread across the world to shorten the lives of the less intelligent, less well-off, or less able to control their appetites. If Microsoft, Apple, and some American medical centers are the heroes of the 21st century, Coca Cola, Domino's and McDonald's are the villains.

Israel's inequality is recent. It used to be one of the western democracies that scored among the most equal, but its move toward inequality--while part of a general shift away from socialism--has gone further than others. Among the explanations is the rise of Israel's prominence in the production of high-tech and high-earning products and services, and the vulnerability of simple manufacturing to lower-cost competitors from China and elsewhere. Two items in the news illustrate the process. On the one hand, Apple has joined Microsoft, Intel, and other leading companies in opening a research and development facility in Israel. On the other hand, a factory in the Galilee that had been the livelihood for decades of an entrepreneur and a hundred or so low skilled Arab and Jewish workers has been unable to pay its workers, and seems headed for closure. Like the cases of similar firms in small towns of the Galilee or the Negev, the media showed workers middle aged or older, who cried for the cameras and asked what would happen to them after a lifetime of dedication.

Several items of international politics also invite comment.

One is the noise heard from both Israel and the United States--seemingly in conflict with one another--over their intentions with respect to Iran's development of nuclear weapons. An editorial originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer--and sent to me by an intense critic of Israel from the newspaper in Rachel Corrie's hometown where the Food Co-op boycotts Israeli products--chastises Israel for not behaving as a proper supplicant.

Meanwhile, something is happening in Iran. I do not know who is responsible for those assassinations and explosions, but I doubt that it is an angel of God. Perhaps an international combine is doing what it can to dissuade the Iranians, or at least postpone their achievements and hinting at worse if it comes to that. It shouldn't surprise us to learn sometime in the future that both Israelis and Americans had their hands in this activity, all the while supplying us with disinformation about their disagreements.

On this point it seems best for all of us to shut up, and see what develops.

Barack Obama posed with returning troops and declared an end of America's war in Iraq. He reminded me of George W. Bush's claiming mission accomplished on that aircraft carrier in 2003.

The response of well-regarded Farsi- and Arabic-speaking Israeli commentators: the United States has left a country not likely to be democratic, currently in the hands of a Shi'ite Muslim government and actually run by Iran. Kurds and Sunni Muslims are restive, and likely to cause trouble. Judge for yourselves if the accomplishment was worth 4,500 American military deaths, as many as a million Iraqi deaths, and perhaps a trillion US dollars (depending on accounting protocols).

Yet another issue has been recent comments coming from the American President and Secretary of State, and Israel's Foreign Minister.

My awards for the silliest or most inappropriate comments go to Barack Obama for demanding the return of that American spy plane that went down in Iran, and to Hillary Clinton for lecturing Russia on the quality of its election. The first is deserving of ridicule, and the second brought forth a response from the man with his finger on things Russian that his country remains a nuclear power.

Again we see that America's prominence in the world derives from its wealth, resources, population, and technology, and not from the wisdom of its political leaders.

Yet it is Avigdor Lieberman who is widely shunned as an intolerable offense to international diplomacy.

To be sure, he would win no prize in a competition for the savviest of diplomats, or the purist of politicians. Yet he often speaks a truth that power holders prefer not to hear. One of my Russian friends expressed a set of attitudes widely heard in Israel: he supports Lieberman as a man who describes the reality of Arab intentions and reliability. He also described Lieberman as a gangster who runs his political party like a tyrant.

The nations of the world cannot shun the American Secretary of State. Lieberman, in contrast, represents a small country that often makes trouble for others. Moreover, he is subject to substantial criticism at home, as well as being the subject of police and judicial investigations of corruption. He is fair game, especially for anyone fed up at Israeli chutzpah.


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 03:44 AM
December 13, 2011
The Jewish War

Read Josephus. It's relevant.

The most recent rampage of religious nationalist extremists has brought forth statements from a wide range of Israeli leaders that they have gone too far. They have crossed a "red line." They will be dealt with by means of all the tools at the disposal of the military and the police. One proposal is that they be classified as "terrorists," and thus allow the application of the most severe sanctions available to law enforcement.

We'll see.

The reality is that several groups of young people broke into an IDF installation in the Jordan Valley, spray painted equipment, occupied for a brief period an empty facility close to the Jordanian border and declared their intention of settlling the Land of Israel east of the Jordan, attacked the army car of a senior officer with a large stone and wounded his aide.

So far the typical response of authorities to settler violence is repeating itself. Some of the young people have been detained, and some of those already released. They are treated more as naughty children who create a tolerable nuisance than as a serious threat to public order. There was no deadly force used against those attacking the officer's car or breaking into the army base.

Such acts by Palestinians would have produced long prison terms if the perpetrators were fortunate enough to survive the army's initial response.

Political and military figures are declaring a severe toughening of their responses to Jewish terror, and some rabbis are adding their voice to those decrying attacks against the IDF. However, settler figures are saying that the real problem is the government's intention to remove Jews from the Land of Israel. Rabbis are stuttering between condemnation of those who exaggerated and an understanding of the young people who act in defense of their values.

Meanwhile, on other fronts of our religious wars, the ultra-Orthodox of Mea She'arim used baby strollers (occupied with their infants) to block a main street against buses carrying women who dared sit in the men's section. Contending groups of ultra-Orthodox men hit, kicked, and threw stones at one another in their continuing conflict over the occupation of a building. And male Orthodox students at the Technion demanded the exit of women from the university fitness center so they could use the facilities. (The Hebrew University swimming pools have long had an hour a day reserved for men only and an hour a day reserved for women only. The Technion will now have to impose the same options at its fitness facility.)

I've defined the problem. Don't look to me for solutions.

We wanted a state for Jews. We got Jews.

The large majority of us are not part of these extremes, and will likely remain outside of the squabbles. We may become a minority in several decades if recent demographic projections produce a substantial increase in the ultra-Orthodox population.

Demographers since Malthus have often been wrong about their projections, and we can hope that economic realities will reduce the ultra-Orthodox fascination with having lots of children to be supported by those of us who pay taxes, and protected by those of us who serve in the army.

There is an anti-religious feeling among Israeli Jews, but it has not been enough to penetrate the major political parties. For some time the anti-Haredi party Shinui was able to maintain a middling presence in the Knesset and a role in the government, but it collapsed due to shananigans of a leading figure and then a clumsy effort to take over the party leadership.

In the current situation of a morbid left, religious politicians of the Orthodox Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox varieties have a substantial say in the government. Secular politicians can moan and shout about extremism, and promise action against those who insult women or violate the IDF, but significant action is a step so far not taken.

It is difficult to expect the resurgence of the left on the basis of religion. Also on their agenda, and working against their resurgence, is the issue of Palestine. The flaccid leadership of Fatah, the ascendance of Hamas, instability verging on chaos in important Muslim countries, the heating up of the Iranian front (those mysterious explosions and the Iranian threat to close the Straits of Hormuz) reduce Israel's capacity to solve the problems of the Middle East with a gesture toward the Palestinians.

The social agenda of Israel's left may have more life in it than its Palestinian agenda. Last summer's protests left the headlines with the start of the academic year and the removal of the protesters' tents. Discussions continue about the proposals of the committee appointed by the government. No surprise that opposition of those who stand to lose from reform may be weakening the resolves heard earlier from the prime minister and the minister of finance. Economic problems coming from Europe and the United States are lessening the resources available for reform, and regional instability is weakening resolve to reduce defense expenditures for the sake of social programs.

Even if social issues help the left whenever there is a national election, there is no indication that a left or centrist coalition can govern without religious parties. Or that leftist or centrist politicians will choose to tackle religious issues as a matter of high priority.

Things change in politics, sometimes quickly. However, there is nothing clearly on the horizon to encourage the secular left and center that there will be a quick end to discomforts associated with extremists among the ultra-Orthodox and Religious Zionists.

If someone out there has a way for Jews to deal with Jews, I'm waiting for your help..


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 11:39 PM
December 12, 2011
Apparatchnikim from here and there

Yaakov Neeman is part of Israel's political mosaic.

He may not be one of the shiniest of pieces in the picture, but he holds a serious position as Minister of Justice.

The word apparatchnik entered Hebrew (pl apparatchnikim) from our Russian roots, and refers to a person who has climbed in an organization (government or political party) by serving those who matter, and is likely to be a heavy handed enforcer of the party line. Russian-speaking friends tell me that the word is no more a compliment in Russian than in Hebrew.

Neeman is not an elected Member of Knesset, but was appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu to serve once again as Minister of Justice. He has held distinguished positions as head of committees making recommendations for issues of public policy, and the committees overseeing Bar Ilan University and the Bank of Israel. His entry in the English language version of Wikipedia is thin, and may reflect his marginal reputation as something between a holder of power behind the throne, or a nuisance, depending on one's view. The Hebrew Wikipedia is a bit richer, and shows him to be an attorney who has served academia as well as government.

The Jerusalem Post describes Neeman's latest foray into the spotlight as a meeting that "shocked a high-profile group of American Jewish leaders" from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

According to the Post, the "meeting was short but ended with (Neeman) raising his voice and scolding the Americans."

In regard to legislative proposals said to be problematic for American Jews, such as an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish State, Neeman said "We will have a majority of non-Jews if not. This is a Jewish state. If you don't like it, you can move to another country."

About the controversial compaign of the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption to persuade Israelis living in the United States to return home, he said, "All Jews need to come home to Israel. . . I want them here. A Jew who doesn't live here in Israel is not doing the most important thing."

Neeman also reacted against the comment of the Reform rabbi who commented about Jews who do not believe in God.

"Show me a nation that still exists after 2,000 to 3,000 years that was exiled and still exists that doesn't believe in one nation . . . We existed, and we returned. It is due to the belief in God and that we returned to our homeland. . . . the No. 1 danger (to Jews is) not Iran, but assimilation."

He went on to cite a San Francisco rabbi for the statistic that 95 percent of marriages in the Bay Area area involving Jews were intermarriages.

According to the Reform rabbi:

"(Neeman) has an inaccurate perception of American Judaism. . . . (the figure he cited about intermarriage in San Francisco is) preposterous and reckless. . . . Our group included leaders representing the diversity of American Jewish life. . . Many of us were shocked by some of the statements Neeman made. Much of what he said was problematic and some of it offended people. . . . (Neeman showed) indifference to the fact that those who work to counter assimilation look to Israel to exert a strong cohesive force. . . .This is undermined by state-supported discrimination against the non-Orthodox streams, which apparently is endorsed by the minister of justice . . . This raised concerns about the ability of top Israeli officials to understand even their strongest supporters in the US."

I know of no hard evidence that permits a reliable comparison of attitudes held about one another by Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Insofar as the United States is the largest and the most politically active of the diasporas, there are surveys and commentaries (i.e., personal impressions) that justify several observations.

Most apparent is a wide spectrum of religious and political postures among both Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Moreover, this is not new. Indications can be found in the Biblical Book of Ezra, the Books of Maccabees that didn't make it into the Hebrew Canon, and Josephus' The Jewish War.

Neeman and the American Reform rabbi represent two poles of contemporary Judaism. Even more extreme are the ultra-Orthodox, especially those of the Taliban variety, and Israeli and Diaspora Jews who participate in campaigns to boycott Israel for its offenses against their views of human rights.

Between the ultra-Orthodox and ultra-leftist extremes are some general tendencies.

The tension between Neeman and the Reform rabbi reflect postures that appear mainly between Religious Nationalists in Israel, like Neeman, and Americans who ascribe to non-Orthodox Judaism. If anything represents a prominent polarization of Israeli and Diaspora attitudes toward one another, their views may be it.

A majority of Israelis and American Jews are probably outside of the clusters who feel strongly about such things. Fairly typical is the secular Israeli Jew who views religion as part of the environment, and thinks of American Jews (if he/she thinks of them at all) as distant cousins. Polls suggest that American Jews view Israel as important, but not the most important issue that concerns them. A realistic view of Israel is that it is no longer in imminent danger. Distant cousins living in Israel can look after themselves militarily and economically, and needn't be at the top of the list for political activism in the Diaspora or the donation of scarce resources.

Just as Neeman may bother American religious Jews for his Israel- and Orthodox-centered views, so American Jewish leaders bother Israelis with their insistance that non-Orthodox Judaism receive better treatment in Israeli. The typical secular Israeli Jew already has enough to worry about in the pressures felt from ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews. He/she is not enthusiastic about another cluster of religious Jews making demands.

About the year 537 BCE Ezra chastized Jews who returned with him from Babylon for marrying women of the land whose pedigrees were suspect. Indications in the book he authored is that many of the offending Jews ignored him, and did not abandon their families as he demanded. (Ezra 10)

Sometime around 167 BCE Mattathias Maccabee saw a Jew who went to offer sacrifice at a Greek altar. Maccabee

"was inflamed with zeal, and his reins trembled, neither could he forbear to shew his anger according to judgment: wherefore he ran, and slew him upon the altar. Also the king's commissioner, who compelled men to sacrifice, he killed at that time, and the altar he pulled down." (I Maccabees, 2:24-25).

Josephus' Jewish Wars describes a bloodly conflict in the first century CE between what he called "unrepresentative and over-zealous fanatics" and those who adopted the culture of Rome, and were willing to live under Roman governors. The term for the zealots--sicarii--has returned to modern Israel for ultra-Orthodox toughs who terrorize other ultra-Orthodox for not acting according to their norms.

We have passed through those crises, and will survive the meeting between Yaacov Neeman and the delegation from the Jewish Council for Public Affairsl

The Preacher (קוהלת) is quoted most oftenon what is relevant (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

מַה-שֶּׁהָיָה הוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה וּמַה-שֶּׁנַּעֲשָׂה הוּא שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂה וְאֵין כָּל-חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ

That which hath been is that which shall be, and that which hath been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:52 AM
December 10, 2011
America. Alas, we're stuck with it

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but shallowness is also part of the mix.

This is one of those notes that is sure to provoke responses that I have become anti-American and too narrowly fixated on Israeli perspectives.

I'll deny the first charge and admit to being primarily concerned with the place where I've spent the second half of my life.

Some of my best friends and favorite relatives are Americans, but that shouldn't keep me from expressing my dismay with the policies and comments coming out of the White House and from those aspiring to its residence.

It is also timely to admit that I admire my Apple gadgets, and that some of the medications that keep me younger than my years came out of American laboratories.

Several items in the most recent media have led me to assert once again that naivete at the highest levels of the American government and politics are causing trouble not only for us, but also for Americans and many others.

One is the gratuitous remark of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the credibility of Russia's parliamentary election. Not so long ago I blasted Ms Clinton for saying that Israel reminded her of Iran for its treatment of women and saying that its democracy was under threat due to some proposals made by Knesset members.

Now she may be correct about the nature of democracy's procedures in Russia, but saying things that led Vladimir Putin to accuse her of inciting Russians against him and reminding her of Russia's nuclear weapons is not the way to manage America's foreign policy.

A first year student of political science ought to recognize that Russia is not quite a democracy, built upon a culture that is as different from the Anglo-Saxon and Western European heartlands of democracy as it is possible to be and still remain connected (in some of its geography) with the European continent.

The gaffe is more important than a momentary friction between national leaders. It contributes to a rivalry reminiscent of the Cold War that disturbs efforts to deal reasonably with issues of more than regional importance in Iran and Syria.

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is getting flack here and elsewhere for giving his imprimatur of Kashrut to the elections in a filmed meeting with Prime Minister about to be President Putin. Lieberman's comments may not earn him a high grade in that introductory course in political science, but they may add their bit to Israel's efforts to soften Russia's postures on things important to Israel. Russia is by no means in Israel's pocket, but neither has it supplied its most advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

A review of Condoleezza Rice's memoir reminds us that Democratic administrations have no monopoly on simplemindedness that complicates the Middle East. It quotes her as applauding George W. Bush's moral principles while criticizing colleagues who "mocked his impatience with nuance. . . It was what I loved about George W. Bush as president. . . What was right mattered."

Rice was part of the team that entered Iraq at least partly to bring democracy, and sought to make Afghanistan a well governed country with rights for all its people. The reviewer of her book in the New York Times summarizes her as "Eurocentric, informed by her specialty in Russia and fed by the triumphalism of a sole American superpower . . . blinded . . . to problems the second President Bush would have to confront, like the very different dynamics of the Arab world and the cost of imperial overstretch."

Newt Gingrich earns a place in this diatribe by a clumsy effort to appeal to American Jews. Calling the Palestinians a self-invented nationality that is nothing more than a remnant of the Ottoman Empire may gain him a few votes, but it won't help Israel if he becomes president. Ahmed Tibi, M.D., who is arguably one of the brightest Members of Knesset as well as being an outspoken Palestinian nationalist, described Gingrich's comments as racist and derived from a hatred of Arabs, insulting to an entire nation and deserving of a place in the dustbin of history.

Gingrich has a claim on a PhD in history from a decent university. He climbed high in politics and may not be at the end of his road, but in academia he didn't get further than an institution far from the Ivy League.

He may be technically correct in asserting that the Palestinians are an invented nationality, but so are Americans, Jews, Germans, and every other nationality made up of different peoples who claim a nationality. The Palestinian invention may be more or less recent, depending on one's view of politics as much as scholarship. Sounding like Golda Meier circa 1969 ("There were no such thing as Palestinians") does little to help any of us.

American idealism has its appeal, but the world is too complex for the lessons taught wherever George W. Bush, Condolezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, or Barack Obama learned their morality and history. International politics requires a sophisticated pursuit of self interest that does more good than harm. Among the indictments of American leaders are
•Intervening clumsily with fantastic aspirations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
•Preaching democracy in places hardly suited for reform, and undercutting blemished, but stable governments in places like Egypt, Syria, and Libya where stability may be the highest value that can be achieved
•Spoiling whatever incentive existed among Israelis for reaching agreement with Palestinians by insisting on a cessation of building in neighborhoods of Jerusalem that have been Jewish for more than four decades, and before then were mostly barren land

The physician's credo--Do no harm--is also appropriate for policymakers, especially those who run--or aspire to run--the most powerful of countries.

Realism is no less important than idealism. We can hope for the best from whoever governs the United States and influences a great part of the world, even though history cautions us not to count on it.

As Grandma said, God helps those who help themselves.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:33 AM
December 08, 2011
Moshe who?

He's now # 1418989 in the Maasiyahu Prison, near Ramla. This is a minimum security facility, which houses white collar and other convicts not judged to be a danger to society. And within this prison, Moshe Katsav has been assigned to the unit for religious prisoners. To some, this may be the lightest of the light, but his activities will be to pray three times a day and to spend the rest of his time studying Torah and other sacred texts.

The former resident of the presidential mansion, and until yesterday the resident of an impressive private residence in Kiryiat Malachi, will be limited to the prison allotment of telephone calls and visits. Normally he could expect a home vacation after one and one-half years in prison, but that may depend on admitting and repudiating his crimes.

His initial roommate and the teacher of the first lesson he will hear is Shlomo Benizri, a one-time colleague in the Knesset and Government. Benizri served as Minister of Health and Minister of Labor and Social Welfare. He'll remain a colleague of Katsav in Maasiyahu for only part of Katsav's 7 year sentence. Benizri entered the religious unit of Maasiyahu in 2009 with a four year sentence for accepting bribes.

One or both may win early release for good behavior, but in Katsav's case that may be difficult. Among the conditions for early release is recanting the criminal behavior that caused the imprisonment. Katsav continues to assert his innocence of all wrong doing and insists that he was railroaded by lying witnesses and misguided judges.

There is still a chance that the former president will get another day in court. His attorneys are preparing a request for an extraordinary second hearing by a larger number of Supreme Court judges than heard his first appeal. Even his attorneys have expressed their doubts about another hearing. The unanimity of the lower court and the three-judge panel of the Supreme Court that heard his appeal does not suggest credibility with respect to Katsav's claims about injustice.

The five and one-half years that have passed since Katsav began his own downfall by complaining to the Attorney General about a former worker's effort to blackmail him has given us time to mull various sides of this case.

Katsav's prison term is not only his personal punishment, but a national stain. The president was a rapist, sexual harasser, and found guilty as well of pressuring witnesses and other improper efforts to influence the court proceedings.

However, the stain should be more narrowly applied. The general public was not more aware of Katsav as sexual predator before the formal investigation began. The comparison might be drawn to the American public's ignorance of John Kennedy's sexual appetites when it elected him president. American voters are less innocent in the case of Bill Clinton. (I'm not aware of any charges of rape against Kennedy or Clinton, but Paula Jones' story qualifies as sexual harassment.)

It is now apparent that substantial numbers of insiders, including Knesset members, knew of Katsav's reputation before his election as president. More important was a prevailing sentiment, "anybody but Peres" (his opponent at the time). In the absence of a complaint, the police and judicial authorities--who also are said to have known about Katsav's reputation--did not act against him. While a formal complaint might be a requirement for police or judicial proceedings, the stories circulated on high should have been enough for party colleagues and other Knesset members to keep Katsav from the presidency.

Currently there is a move underway to strip Katsav of presidential symbols retroactively. He lost his car, driver, and personal assistant (usually given for life to a former president) upon his initial conviction. Now the proposal is to remove his images from the photographs and sculptures of former presidents in the presidential residence, and to prevent his eventual burial in the section of the Mt Herzl cemetery reserved for national leaders. The proposals have been put on hold pending the response of the Supreme Court to his attorneys' request of an additional hearing.

Still puzzling is Katsav's shrill and repeated insistence of innocence. Even while his attorney's are trying the plea of sexual relations by consent, Katsav himself continues to insist that there was nothing more than fatherly hugs. His large family and a substantial coterie of townspeople and other supporters echo his claims of being unjustly convicted. They are promising to create a website to detail the evidence in his behalf and to expose the mistaken interpretations of evidence used to convict him. In the days before he was scheduled to enter prison, family members and political supporters, including at least one Knesset Member, announced that he would be in danger even in the religious section of a minimum security prison. They said he would be sharing facilities with individuals whose petitions for pardon he rejected as president. These advocates were unsuccessful in asking that Katsav be allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest.

Katsav's intemperate outbursts compared to the detailed information heard from prosecutors and two sets of judges makes it easy to view him as someone claiming, "everyone is crazy but me."

Among the explanations for Katsav's continued insistence are:
•A mindset brought about by his traditional patriarchal background and years in the elite getting away with being a sexual preditor (said to have been his reputation since being the elected mayor of Kiryiat Malachi at the age of 24) may have led him to believe that no woman could resist his charms, or would dare accuse him of wrong doing.
•His skills as a manipulator brought him to the presidency and continues to produce expressions of support from family, friends, and others, some of whom seem to have contributed substantial sums to provide him with a high priced team of the country's leading defense attorneys. Perhaps he believes that he can manipulate enough of the country's public and judiciary to escape this guilty verdict.

His behavior has led prison officials to place him initially under a suicide watch. Katsav's response to those expressing concern about suicide was to repeat his assertion of innocence, and saying that he was strong enough to endure whatever persecution misguided officials would impose upon hm.

Experience in the case of Shlomo Benizri, former Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson (currently serving a sentence of 5 years and 5 months for embezzlement), and other worthies who ate at the tables of the Prison Authority is that the public loses interest shortly after their well-filmed entry to prison.

Currently on trial for fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and tax evasion is former Jerusalem Mayor, Minister of various portfolios, and ultimately Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert is the highest ranking official other than Katsav to have been put on trial. Money is not as salacious as rape, and the record of imprisonments has been shorter than Katsav's term for great people caught with their hands in the till. A former political star (Interior Minister Aryeh Deri) who spent 22 months in Maasiyahu (out of a 3 year sentence for accepting bribes) may actually be in the midst of a political comeback.

Olmert has been calmer than Katsav. His claims of innocence have come without shouts, or a waving of finger or fists toward accusers. It has been more than two years since Olmert's indictment, and even longer since the beginning of investigations. Signs are that it considerably more time will pass before we can make any final assessment of his career.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:49 AM
December 06, 2011
Europe and the rest of us

Those wanting to understand what is happening in Europe can learn something from the chapters in those dusty American history books that deal with the Articles of Confederation.

For reasons I'll get to, the lessons are limited, but still worth considering.

Like Europe today, the states under the Articles of Confederation were sovereign. Unanimous consent of their representatives in Congress was required for raising taxes. As a result, there was never enough money in the national treasury, and it was impossible to pay off the debts incurred to fight the war against Britain.

The national governments of Europe have far longer histories than the colonies/states of the Articles of Confederation. It should be expected that they have problems in dealing with the errant among them that cannot reign in politicians who fear imposing restraints on folks who want things better, and object to taxation.

Think of the worthies from New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts and hold-out Rhode Island as you read about the heads of government in France and Germany trying to deal with Greeks and others.

It takes more than a while for governments to solve serious problems. They may go on forever, with only partial treatment and continued frustrations.

It took a decade and a half (from the end of the war to the adoption of the Constitution) for the United States to progress to the point where the central government could demand money in order to pay its bills. The Civil War a half-century later dealt partially with the unresolved regional conflict that was largely about slavery, then another century passed before the former slaves got full citiizenship. Equality for African-Americans is still a work in progress.

Europe today is much more complex than the fledgling United States. Now there are public services that people demand. At the end of the 18th century, people expected little from their government beyond rough roads and mail.

Globalized banking means that European governments threaten all of us if they do pay their debts when due. Europe also has the British phenomenon: in the community but not entirely, largely on its own financially.

The 27 national governments who are members of the European Union still claim independence. even while they gave much of that independence to bureaucrats who determine things like commercial, agricultural, and environmental standards. The big sticking point is financial autonomy, and the lack of central controls over each government's budget.

Aspirations to include Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy in the European Union may have been overblown. Now efforts to integrate the likes of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia are testing even more the people who run France, Germany, and Great Britain.

We can hope that Europe has finished with its on and off civil war, lasting from the beginning of history until 1945, with later outbursts around the edges in what used to be Yugoslavia.

The institutions created since 1945 represent one of the great occasions of governing, but the bits left undone are showing themselves. The big states (equivalents of Massachusetts, New York and Virginia in the 18th century) want more central controls, especially over government spending. Money managers from the United States, Canada, Australia, China, and Japan, as well as Europe, with some players in India and South America, alter their investment decisions from day to day depending on what they hear about the efforts of France and Germany to agree with one another and persuade other European governments. Central bankers are no less important than heads of state, and they allocate some of their energy to demonstrating independence from the politicians running the countries in which they operate.

All that is a far cry from New York and Philadelphia in 1789.

Its fair to conclude that all democracies defy governing. That is partly what democracy is all about.

It is easier here in tiny Israel than in the European Union or the United States. The United States has almost 90,000 governmental units, each with some degree of autonomy. (Statistical Abstract, Table 428).

Israel has a strong central government, with local authorities severely limited in what they can do. Wags have a point when they say that Israel is a city (about the size of greater Los Angeles) disguised as a country.

Yet Israel like any political entity shows its strains. The most recent tempest in our teapot is between artists and entertainers on one side and the Minister of Sport and Culture about performing in one of the towns over the 1967 border. Artists and performers tend to be left of center and opposed to performing in settlements, and are protesting the initiative of the Minister to give an award to the artist who best exhibits on the subject of Zionism.

Politics is meant to deal with these strains. As the histories of the United States, Europe, and even Israel demonstrate, it is a process of coping with partial and imperfect arrangements, rather than solving problems once and for all. A scholar who worked along the borders between economics and politics described it as "muddling through." We can adopt that as the motto of democracy, and hope for the best from Europe.

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 09:49 PM
December 05, 2011
Hillary has greater problems closer to home

Now that Americans and Israelis may have finished arguing about the campaign to bring emigrants back home, they are in full tilt about comments made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At a "closed" but thoroughly leaked meeting of Israeli and Americans concerned with public affairs, she expressed deep concern over what she termed a wave of anti-democratic legislation, and Israeli treatment of women.

She is said to have taken special aim at a Knesset bill meant to limit overseas donations to human rights organizations. She is also shocked by the fact that some Jerusalem buses have separate seating areas for men and women, which made her think about the story of Rosa Parks' refusal to give up a seat to a white passenger in the 1960s. The practice of some IDF soldiers to leave events with female singers reminds her of Iran.

Several Israeli politicians have reacted with their own shrill voices. The Minister of Finance said that Israeli democracy is alive and kicking. The Minister of Environmental Protection said that elected officials should "examine their domestic problems first." In other words, Clinton ought to mind her own business.

Both Israeli ministers are on record opposing the items that caused Clinton to express her feelings, and accused her of gross exaggeration.

The Minister of the Interior expressed himself somewhat differently. "I assume that whatever will be done here will be within the measure of the law." He is the parliamentary leader of SHAS, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party.,7340,L-4156562,00.html

This exchange may best to put into the category of items where Hillary Clinton spoke too much and too shrilly, as well as items showing her and the President's thin understanding of things Middle Eastern.

In regard to her comments about Israeli democracy, Ms Clinton was sounding like a copy of Israeli politicians of the left and center. They roundly oppose proposals to limit the funding of human rights and other leftist organizations, even while some have criticized foreign governments that fund organizations that are extreme in their anti-Israel activities. There is also wide opposition of proposals to provide elected politicians with more of a say over the selection of Supreme Court judges. However, those proposals would bring the Israel process of selecting judges closer to the overtly political procedures of Clinton's own country.

None of the objectionable proposals have become law. That meaning to increase the role of politicians in the selection of Supreme Court judges was taken off the agenda before it received serious consideration by the Knesset. That meaning to restrict donations to left-wing organizations has been modified to narrow its scope, and is still far from being approved.

The last time I considered the definitions of democracy, they did not contain restrictions against making proposals, or arguing about what governments should or should not be doing.

The American Congress, like the Israeli Knesset, has lots of members who propose actions to suit their own whims or those of supporters. Only a small fraction of items introduced get a serious consideration, and only a portion of those find themselves enacted into law, most often altered along the way. And political scientists concerned with public administration know that there may be a world of difference between the language enacted and the actions ultimately implemented.

Clinton's comments on women's rights also deserve a low grade due to her shallowness and shrillness. Perhaps we should applaud her for limiting herself to women's rights on buses and as performers, and not as participants in Orthodox religious ceremonies. That's also something that Jews argue about, but the evidence is that seating and participation in the rituals have been segregated, at least since the 11th century. The majority of American Jews affiliated with non-Orthodox congregations may look askance as the practice, but that is how the vast majority of Israeli Jews practice their religion.

Segregated buses serve only the ultra-Orthodox communities, and the indications are that women in those communities tend to support the separation. When I ride Jerusalem's #4 bus from French Hill through Mea She'arim to the city center, or bus #68 through Bar Ilan Street toward the Central Bus Station, I notice that ultra-Orthodox women getting on in those areas would rather stand than sit next to a male. They hold on with one hand while holding a book of Psalms or the prayer for travel in the other hand, and move their lips while reading the text silently.

When a religious couple that appears to be married gets on the bus together then sits separately, other passengers may conclude that it is one of the woman's "impure" days. (I'll leave it to others to explain that to the uninformed.)

Rabbis as well as politicians and ordinary Israelis are arguing about the recent uptick in religious Jews' concerns for the separation of the sexes. If someone would translate for Ms Clinton just about any page of Talmud, she might notice that argument is central to Jewish culture. It happens in just about every Israeli political party, as well as religious academies and the study groups associated with synagogues.

On relative scores for democracy, Ms Clinton might profit from a lesson in some of the more extensive ways of thinking about the concept. Someone ought to remind her about social and economic conditions existing within walking distance of the American Capitol, and in just about every other large city. Low scores on high school completion, knowledge of civic issues and voting rates, not to mention health care, along with scores off the chart of western democracies for violence and incarceration suggest that she ought really to be talking more about what is closer to her home.


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 12:26 AM
December 02, 2011
An update on imigration and insults

The story of those "return to Israel" advertisements has come to an end.

It didn't take long for the Prime Minister to get the message, and order them withdrawn.

Not only had they insulted American Jews. They also insulted Christmas.

One has to work to find insults in the video clips. You have to be more sensitive than I, but there they are.

One clip has an Israeli young women saddened by Israel Memorial Day, and her American Jewish boyfriend has trouble empathizing. Some may see this as a warning that Israelis should not marry American Jews.

Another has an American Jewish child asked by his Israeli grandparents (with a Hanukkah menorah in the background) what is the holiday. When the child says "Christmas" the grandparents don't look happy.

The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption asserts that it did not intend to insult; only to remind Israelis of their roots and invite them home.

Both the Prime Minister and the Israeli Ambassador to the United States have apologized for unintended insults, and have criticized the Ministry of Immigration Absorption for insensitivity.

If you can read Hebrew, it's all here.

(This is not meant as an insult. If you can't read Hebrew, copy and paste it on Google Translator, and you'll get the drift.)

The episode is worth pondering for its significance.

Among the meanings:

The occasional need of Israelis to do something about the emigration of Jews, even if the phenomenon is likely to be more powerful than their efforts, and even though the numbers are not demonstrably greater than emigration from other countries. Movement in and out of Israel remains positive. There are more coming than leaving, although the data for individual years show variations depending on economic trends in Israel and elsewhere.

The Ministry of Immigration Absorption does not attract the sharpest of Israelis. The best university graduates interested in the public sector compete for places in the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Talented youth also stay on in the defense sector beyond their obligatory military service, with the intention of making a career and getting university degrees part time along the way at their employer's expense. There are also good jobs to be had in the Ministries of Interior, Health, Trade and Commerce, House and Construction, Education, Internal Security, Transportation, and Agriculture.

One can say in behalf of the problematic videos that they reveal what we have known for a long time. The Jews of the United States and Israel have had different experiences, and have developed their own cultures. There is a great deal of overlap between them, but also some distinctions and competitive feelings of superiority. Some Israelis look on American Jews as pampered, not very tough, and insufficiently concerned with the threats and pressures that Israelis endure. Some American Jews look on Israelis as overly simple, somewhat barbarian, and not sensitive to the needs of Arabs or of Americans in their roles as world leaders with numerous interests other than Israel.

Overlaps appear in left-wing Israelis who lead campaigns to boycott their country in order to bring it to its knees on matters of Palestine, and right-wing American Jews whose simplistic views of Israelis and Arabs make the toughest of the settlers seem insufficiently aggressive.

There are also Israelis who feel that the future of American Jewry lies with Israel. They speak about disappearance via intermarriage without programs of cultural assistance from Israel, or even pogroms if Israel disappears. Some Israelis think that the future of America lies with Israel. In this conception, American military and financial aid to Israel provides its primary benefit to the United States, i.e., assuring it a vital front line ally, without whom the war against terror is hopeless.

Believe what you will. No one should expect Jews (American or Israeli) to agree without disputes that some on either side view as insults. Gentiles may be more moderate in their views, but perhaps not if they have lived alongside of Jews.


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 11:40 PM
December 01, 2011

Emigration from Israel is one of those issues that erupts every so many years to excite the fearful. Americans might think about abortion, prayer in the schools, gun control, or the placement of a Christmas tree and Hanukkah menorah on a public place. What is common to them all is a capacity to excite, without really threatening to untip the society from meandering among other issues.

Emigration from Israel has a constituency that sees it as a threat to what is essential about the society, that must be combated one way or another. Jews are supposed to migrate to Israel. Emigration is an offense against history and the future, as well as threatening the integrity of the society.

Relax. It ain't all that bad.

Migration is part of every nation's history. Jews have been doing it from at least several hundred years before the Common Era. While the history of Jews and other people includes incidents of forced migration, a great deal of movement (Jewish and other) has been voluntary, i.e., looking for better opportunities.

You want figures? Wikipedia has a decent array of different numbers from a variety of sources in recent years. You'll see that figures for Israel are not all that different from those of other countries, and that Israel is not alone in trying to attract back emigrants, or at least those who would benefit the economy.

Other data shows Israel with a net inflow of migrants, i.e., more coming than leaving.

There is no end of the studies indicating that migration is difficult, and that immigrants contribute disproportionately to subsequent emigration.

Currently the issue is reaching the media once again, now focusing on a campaign by Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption to encourage emigrants to return home. American commentators are reacting badly to a series of video clips distributed by the Ministry. My own reading of them differs greatly from the responses I have read. I see no basis in the clips for the accusation that Prime Minister Netanyahu, or the Natanyahu government, is urging Israelis not to marry Americans, or American Jews.

The following citations carry the clips and commentary about them. A knowledge of Hebrew will help with understanding and judgement.

The campaign appears to be that of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, and not of the Prime Minister or the Government. Immigrant Absorption is one of the least prestigious and newsworthy ministries. During a time of minimum immigration, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is seldom in the news.

Ha'aretz reports that an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the weightiest of bodies, expressed dismay at the mounting of a campaign.that risked insulting American Jews without consulting with Foreign Affairs. "We only found out about it from the complaints that reached the consulates,"

Modesty usually keeps me from quoting myself, but there are exceptions. Way back in the late 1980s I caused a small flap in the Ministry of Immigration Absorption by an article entitled "Avoiding the Irresistible: Should the Israeli Government Combat Jewish Emigration?" (Jerusalem Quarterly Winter, 1987). At a meeting called of soldiers in my military unit (the lecture corps) to deal with the issue of emigration, the minister complained about a university professor who went so far as to describe benefits to Israel as a result of emigration. Then his assistant, a former student, whispered to him that the offender was in the audience.

Aside from people turning around to look at me, there is no evidence that my military career suffered from the episode.

The mission of the lecture corps soon turned from combating emigration to facilitating immigration.

In 1987 there were 4.4 million Israelis. Now there are 7.7 million. In the interim, about one million people came from the crumbling Soviet Union. Now as before, emigration is the right of people in a free society to live where they can do better for themselves, and to leave where they are uncomfortable. May the discontented be unhappy somewhere else.

Israel is even more crowded than in 1987. Natural increase and a modest inflow will keep emigration from easing congestion on the roads and in parking lots.

It would help if Americans stop reading more in Israeli advertisements than has been placed there, and if the Ministry of Immigration Absorption consulted more widely before embarking on something capable of ruffling sensitive feelings.

Other than that, all is well.


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 11:03 PM
Separation aplenty.Equality? That's more complicated.

This is one of the days when the cartoon is the best part of Ha'aretz.

The image of animals walking two-by-two to Noah's ark, while men and women are separated in the IDF reflects one of the issues in the headlines.

There is a wave of extremism in Judaism parallel to those in Islam and Christianity. With us, it does not take the form of an upturn in hatred and violence toward others, or an increase in struggles about God's presence in school curriculum or the clinics that treat pregnant women. Here the emphasis is on the separation of the sexes, and forbidding women singers or other performers to appear before mixed audiences.

Historians note that for less than half of Judaism's history--since the early Middle Ages--has the separation of sexes at prayer been a matter of firm rule. A friend who specializes in the period admits that it is unknown whether the influence came from within Judaism, or was absorbed from surroundings. At the time, the majority of Jews lived alongside Muslims.

Senior military officers are coping with rabbis preaching to the young men who become soldiers (and officers) that it is forbidden to listen to female singers, or to serve alongside of women. The Municipality of Jerusalem looked the other way during Succot when ultra-Orthodox extremists of Mea Shearim created separations between men and women on the sidewalks of a main shopping street in their neighborhood. Women labeled "Taliban" cover themselves even more completely than burkha-wearing Afghans. They make no concession to a see-through screen before their eyes, and appear only in black, unlike Afghans who cover themselves in more attractive colors. Religious commentators ridicule the practice, saying that it has no root in Judaism. They have sought to explain it by noting that the few families doing it are newcomers to religion, who show the ignorance and extremism that such people may display.

A traveling circus sought to fit into the mood by offering only male performers, but the city fathers of Givat Shmuel (only a short distant from the ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak) said not in our town.

Just last week, an American who likes to poke at Israel's imperfections used the term "separate but equal" as how he perceived Jews' relations with Arabs. I think he was ridiculing Israel's treatment of Arabs, and comparing it to the archaic principle of the American Supreme Court, which legitimatized both the separation and the lack of equality.

The Israeli reality is several varieties of separation. Several of the subtleties defy description. Issues of equality are more complex.

Separations between religious and non-religious students in schools with distinct curricula is a matter of policy, as is a further separation between the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. There are also separate schools with distinct curricula for Arabs and Jews. None of this is imposed on students in the way that segregation was imposed in much of the United States until the 1960s. A good deal may be imposed on children by parents, but that is another matter. Most of it is "natural," derived from the language (Hebrew or Arabic) or the kind of religious experience practiced in families.

Among secular Jews, ethnic separation is breaking down with Ashenazi-Sephardi inter-marriage. The numbers seem to be considerable, but decent data have evaded my search.

The phenomenon is less prominent among religious Jews. There family influence remains important on the choice of mates, as wall as a concern for background. Having a rabbi in the not-to-distant past is a greater asset than a professor.

There are prayer books that accommodate mixed families with Ashkenazi and Sephardi texts on facing pages.

My own experience has shown the pleasures and the problems of different backgrounds, even those as close as coming out of Dusseldorf and Berlin on one side, and Bialystok and Lithuania on the other, filtered through Jerusalem and Fall River. Varda sees feet on furniture as a sure sign of barbarism. Her Germanic demands for self-discipline can be extreme.

A sense of Ashkenazi superiority is most pronounced among the ultra-Orthodox, where a number of communities are resisting demands from the Education Ministry to accept Sephardi pupils who apply to their schools.

Ethiopians are the newest of the ethnic groups to have arrived in Israel, as well as being distinctive in language, culture, religious practice, and color. Ethiopian activists are pressing local authorities and the Ministries of Immigrant Absorption and Education to cease the practices of settling new arrivals in a few cities, or keeping Ethiopian students together in schools. We hear officials defending the practices on the grounds of serving the needs of the Ethiopians, while activists demand an end of segregation. Among the less pleasant features have been data showing high levels of AIDS and family violence among Ethiopians, and revelations that blood banks were accepting donations from Ethiopians, then destroying the blood on account of the risks associated with it. Ethiopians are appearing in professional roles, and one can see couples that cross the lines of color.

Ethnic or religious separations between neighborhoods or towns can be sensitive. Jews selling pork products or opening their businesses on the Sabbath should avoid ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods if they do not want to deal with a fire or trashing.

Some residents of French Hill describe an "invasion" of Arabs, while others use the term for an increase in ultra-Orthodox families. Some small communities in rural areas exist in a legal framework that allows a committee of residents to approve or deny applications of newcomers to join them. Arabs and elderly Jews have claimed discrimination under the heading of "unsuitable." In some cases they have won concessions via campaigns supported by the media.

Along with the problems that erupt in the case of unhappy individuals, the general pattern of residential segregation has wide acceptance. The cultures and taboos of ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, and secular Jews lead many to seek places without the tensions that come along with mixture, even while individuals are free to find heterogeneity if that is more attractive to them. Several municipalities support dual-language schools, with Jewish and Arab teachers as well as pupils.

Equality is the knottiest of issues. Arabs do not have opportunities equal to those of Jews. In this they resemble minorities elsewhere, with no obvious measures of how Arabs of Israel fare with respect to Jews in income, education, professional opportunities, living standards, or health compared to minority-majority differences in other western democracies. There is no shortage of assertions about the severity of conditions in Israel, but the loudness is more prominent than data supporting them.

Likewise in the case of secular, religious, and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Activists in each camp claim deprivation in financial support, and pollitical domination by the other. Results of detailed research are mixed and inconclusive.


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 04:40 AM