February 29, 2012
Jewish and democratic

This week the leaders of Israel gathered to honor the retirement of Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, and the installation of her replacement, Justice Asher Grunis.

The ceremony provided several insights into the nature of Israeli government and society. It touched the Holocaust as well as the rights of Israeli Arabs. Tears and jeers appeared during the cermony and the days that followed.

The Chief Justice (called the President of the Court in Hebrew) is the sitting Justice with the most seniority. Members are initially appointed to the Court by a committee of Justices, senior lawyers, government ministers and Knesset Members. Once appointed, a Justice serves until the age of 70.

Dorit Beinisch earned her reputation as a tough lady, with decisions tending to restrain other branches of government on issues of individual rights. Beinisch's final decision as Chief Justice, announced on the day of her retirement, was to invalidate a regulation that the owner of an automobile could not receive welfare payments. According to her opinion, the policy violated basic rights, as well as standing in the way of welfare recipients seeking to work themselves out of dependence.

Justice Beinisch began her career in the state prosecutor's office, and headed that office before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1995. She moved up to the position of Chief Justice with the retirement of Aharon Barak in 2006. Barak had acquired a reputation as Israel's equivalent of Earl Warren, putting the Court firmly on what critics termed an activist, or ultra-activist path. He, too, served as a prosecutor before joining the Court, and like Beinisch had a decade-long tenure as Chief Justice.

The gathering to celebrate Beinisch's retirement showed Barak sitting in the front row of the audience. Commentators refered to Beinisch as continuing the Barak tradition, and being his protege.

Beinisch's voice broke when she recounted the death of grandparents and a sister in the Holocaust, and being given the name Dorit by a mother who chose it for its Israeli sound, and the meaning of the Hebrew word dor (generation). Dorit was born to herald a new generation.

Aharon Barak came from similar material. He is ten years older than Beinisch, and his Holocaust story is his own, as well as that of his parents. As a small boy he was smuggled out of his home town in Lithuania in a potato sack, then spent several years in a ghetto, wandered with his family through post-war Europe as a refugee, and spent two years in Rome wating for papers allowing entrance to Palestine.

My brother-in-law was Barak's closest neighbor and classmate. When Moshe received a prize for his accomplishments as a physiologist, it was his boyhood friend who bestowed the prize along with a warm hug.

The close of the ceremony for the retirement of Dorit Beinisch and the innauguration of Ashe Grunis was, as conventional at government ceremonies, the singing of the national anthem, Hatikva (The Hope). The cameras panned the row of Justices, and found that Salim Joubran was not singing.

Justice Joubran is an Arab.

Next day there were several proposals from Knesset Members. One would dismiss a Supreme Court Justice who refused to sing Hatikva. Another would make service in the military or national service a requirement for selection to the Supreme Court.

The cartoon in Ha'aretz showed Knesset Member David Rotem (Israel Our Home) demanding that Joubran eat gefilte fish on Rosh Hashana.

Worthies from left and right addressed the subject. One of the less extreme positions came from a Likud MK with a Russian accent, who said that a willingness to sing the national anthem was the minimum to be expected of someone serving in a highly visible national office.

Hatikva flows better in Hebrew than in English, but here is the essence:

As long as deep in the heart,

The soul of a Jew yearns,

And forward to the East

To Zion, an eye looks

Our hope will not be lost,

The hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Against the Likud MK on a prominent discussion program was a retired Justice of the Supreme Court who said that it would be uncivilized to force an Arab to express those words, given the history of Arab-Jewish conflict and the right of Arabs to their own nationalist sentiments. Enough for him that Justice Joubran stood respectfully while his colleagues sang the anthem.

Expectations are that the legislative proposals will end up the same place as most proposals coming from Knesset Members in response to one or another event viewed by some as a scandal, i.e., Nowhere.

A Jew familiar with two millenia of coping with minority status might say that it is time the Arabs of Israel recognize that they have lost the wars, accept Israel's existence, along with their status as a loyal minority willing to sing the national anthem.

But the Arabs of Israel aren't there (yet), and most Jews of Israel are not about to force them.

The next confrontation is already in the air. Ahmed Tibi returned from a conference in Doha meant to increase Muslim support for Arab claims about Jerusalem (al Quds). Tibi criticized Arab regimes for providing only lip service to the cause, without serious money or political activity to back up their words. He participated in a delegation where Mahmoud Abbas accused Israelis of "ethnic cleansing," and charged that Israeli authorities have accelerated their efforts to obliterate the Arab and Christian-Muslim character of Jerusalem, in order to Judaise it. http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/abbas-backs-emirs-proposal-to-go-to-un-for-action-against-israel/

Tibi has long been the focus of demands that he choose between Arab and Israeli loyalties. He wants both. If Jewish Members of Congress can express their support for Israel, why cannot an Arab Member of the Knesset express his support for Palestine?

Israel's Declaration of Independence declares it to be a Jewish state that "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

It isn't easy.


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 09:15 PM
February 28, 2012
America and the rest of us

The leap of Barack Obama from the academic and political provinces to the White House, and now Rick Santoram knocking at his door highlights a significant weakness of American democracy.

Democratic it is, but too much so when individuals with no experience in foreign policy can think of themselves in the Oval Office.

The fault lies in the direct election of the president. The framers designed the electoral college to deal with the problem, but it never really worked as intended. It suffered its first hiccup in 1800 when it produced a tie. By the middle of the 19th century, states began linking their electors to the popular vote. Party primaries, mass media, and now the Internet make the choice of the world's leader into a popularity contest, open to demagogues who know how to push the most sensitive of buttons.

Experience in foreign policy is, arguably, important for the leader of the sole--or the most powerful--superpower. Among presidents during the era of global America with little or no qualifications have been Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama. Truman, Reagan, and Clinton went into retirement without any major disasters. Biographers of George W. Bush will have to reckon with what may be one million dead Iraqis and no democracy there, no reform in Afghanistan, deterioration in Pakistan, as well as several thousand dead Americans and many others damaged. So far Obama has been less than elegant in dealing with Israel and Palestine, or with Egypt and Libya. We're still wondering what, if anything, he will do about the carnage in oil-poor Syria. And then there is Iran.

Much different is the mode of choosing national leaders that prevails in parliamentary regimes. Typically a career begins in the back benches of parliament, where members are expected to listen and learn, maybe after an earlier stint in local government. Someone destined for greatness moves upward through minor ministerial appointments. There is no guarantee of brilliance or wisdom, but the process does expose eventual leaders to numerous problems other than those encountered in the classroom or local politics.

There is a problem in this analysis. Without a parliamentary democracy having the power to compete with the United States, we lack a good test of world leaders coming from one or another kind of regime.

Tip O'Neil made his reputation as a political philosopher with the line that "all politics is local." Much of it is. Personal conflicts and the trading of favors count for a lot in a national arena. But those tricks do not make up for detailed information and a sense of how to read imperfect intelligence briefings when a leader has to make decisions about resource allocation or the application of military violence in a distant region of the world.

There is a long tradition of political scientists and others hoping to remake American government in the direction of Britain or some other parliamentary democracy. It ain't gonna happen. More than two hundred and twenty years of learning about the wisdom of the founders, manifest destiny, and the superiority of things American make the country impervious to fundamental change. There is movement, but it is home-grown and incremental. Recent changes in the way of selecting the president have not earned great applause.

Most readers of these notes know that I spent the first half of my life in the United States, and the second half in this little parliamentary democracy, teaching political science in both places. The experience has sensitized me to the power and the clumsiness of the United States government outside of its national borders. It provides those countries it selects for attention with resources and involvement that must be accepted as a package. It may be more sensitive than previous great powers in allowing some wiggle room at the receiving end of its aid and demands. The openness of American politics helps those countries, like Israel, with some leverage in Washington and other American localities. The fate of supplicants who claim to know their own needs could be a lot worse.

The most we can hope for is that the person in charge is bright enough to learn, and modest enough to recognize the limitations of the power and wisdom available in Washington. I don't know enough about Rich Santorum to comment on his qualifications. Yet I worry about someone who has gotten as far as he, without a lot being known about his knowledge or inclinations in foreign policy. A strong belief in his version of a Christian God won't help in this region. I hope he realizes that.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 06:36 AM
February 26, 2012
Iran, Washington, and Israel

The latest nonsense to come out of the summit of American government is that there is "no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb."


By some reports, American analysts are talking about "absolute certainty" as a standard for concluding that Iran is intent on nuclear weapons.

Nonsense is a stronger word than I usually allow myself, but one should expect more for all the money the United States invests in intelligence gathering and analysis.

While I am not informed about the details, I feel comfortable enough about the principles to protest against policy reliance on a standard like "absolute certainty," or even "hard evidence" in the analysis of secretive authorities further from Washington than San Francisco.

The use of such standards in the case of Iran suggests someone too close to the Committee to Re-Elect Barack Obama.

Media analysts who also sound like supporters of Obama's reluctance to face up to the Iranian threat are speculating that the Iranians only want to assure themselves international respect, and a secure place at the table in determining what happens in the Middle East. In this context, they may want to show the world that they can create nuclear weapons, even while they have not decided to.

Barack Obama takes great pride in the killing of Osama bid Laden. That may close his account with 9-11. But Iranian nuclear capacity can reduce that disaster to a trivial incident.

From my own sceptical vantage point, I am troubled by what seems like an effort to avoid more serious sanctions or military action.

If Iran only wants greater respect, why is spending so much, requiring its population to endure the burdens of high inflation and other effects of the sanctions to date, pushing ahead with one project after another against countries throughout the West, and from the majority of Muslim countries wary of Shi'ite intentions?

The Iranians have been invited time and again to negotiate, and to open their sites to international inspection. The responses have been obfuscation. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was Iran-friendly when it was headed by an Egyptian, has thrown up its hands at the lack of Iranian cooperation.

One should not casually escalate to military conflict on the basis of suspicions. Remember all that was done for the sake of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, one can be too assiduous in looking for "hard evidence," whatever that means, in the case of a regime like Iran. In may be necessary to use all that expensive intelligence at the disposal of American authorities to assess what can be known from public utterances as well as the activities open to the media, plus efforts to hide, and repeated refusals to be candid or to negotiate.

I have no greater clue than any other newspaper reader about what Israel or the United States will do. It is impossible for us common folk to penetrate the ambivalence and what may be disinformation coming from national summits.

One can hope that sanctions will bring Iranian leaders to change their tone. If not, I see no limits to what Israel would be justified in doing against a country whose leaders deny the Holocaust and call for Israel's destruction.

At a time like this, one has to rely on the wisdom of elected leaders. Experience has given me sufficient confidence in those running this country to expect that they will not exaggerate in their use of military power.

But if they do, we'll have to accept the consequences.

If what we hear from Washington truly is a preoccupation with something that would satisfy standards of "hard evidence" or "absolute certainty, then Barack Obama and his administration do not justify a great deal of confidence.


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 04:42 AM
February 23, 2012
Haredim and the IDF

The notes I receive from overseas emphasize the threats to Israel from Iran and its friends, and the threat to the peace of the region and elsewhere if Israel preempts and seeks to destroy Iran's nuclear capacity.

Here, in contrast, political energies are concentrating on the implications of a Supreme Court decision requiring a change in the military options provided to ultra-Orthodox men.

Iran is too big an issue for Israeli politics. Decisions will be made in the closed confines of the uppermost political and military levels, with a heavy input from Washington. Whatever happens will not likely depend on which party is at the head of the Israeli government.

The issue of Haredim and the IDF, in contrast, is material for the street, coffee houses, media, and the inner- and intra-party squabbles that are the essence of Israeli politics and much of its social life..

David ben Gurion began the problem by providing a general exemption from military service for the students in ultra-Orthodox religious academies (yeshivot). At the time, the numbers of men exempted were a few hundred each year. Ben Gurion's decision occurred in the context of the extraordinary losses suffered in the Holocaust by the ultra-Orthodox of Central and Eastern Europe, and perhaps the feeling that the incidence of young men choosing an ultra-Orthodox life would decline in the context of a modern, largely secular society.

Opps. The great man saddled the country with a load that current politics has been unable to shed.

Coddled by financial support received from the state for study, early marriage and many children, the numbers have grown to the point where they arguably threaten the economic viability of Israel.

Historically, Jewish communities supported a small number of brilliant students. They typically became rabbis, were provided with brides from the daughters of other rabbis or community leaders, and contributed to the gene pool that has subsequently done well in competition for Nobel Prizes and other good things.

Israel is the first place where any young man, gifted or not, can expect public support for a modest life style (typically under the poverty line), lots of children, and none of the messy competition that secular peers have to endure for acceptance to universities, and continuing as long as they want without the bother of examinations. Monitors do not check carefully to see if the students receiving support are actually studying in the academies all day and every day, and if the academies are reporting accurately on the number of students for whom they receive financial support from the state treasury.

The annual number of military exemptions may now reach 60,000. The problem is expected to grow, insofar as the incidence of utlra-Orthodox children in primary schools has grown from less than 7 percent in 1960 to more than 28 percent in 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/israeli-religious-party-says-military-exemptions-ruling-wont-threaten-ruling-coalition/2012/02/22/gIQAbWSfSR_story.html taubcenter.org.il/tauborgilwp/wp.../s-Education-System-Chapter.pdf

Researchers and advocates quarrel about the success of the program meant to encourage young Haredim to leave their academies for a short stint in the military, and then a return to the academies or life of employment. The majority of Supreme Court justices ruled that the program discriminated against secular Israelis, whose military service is mandatory, lengthier, more rigorous, and less well compensated than that of the ultra-Orthodox. Moreover, the Court found that the existing program was not effective in leading significant numbers of ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF.

It took only a few hours for politicians, analysts, and advocates from all parts of Israel's political spectrum to offer their proposals. The Prime Minister promised to convene a committee representing secular, religious (i.e., Orthodox) and ultra-Orthodox figures to hammer out an appropriate solution within the time frame indicated by the Supreme Court.

The proposals include options of military service or community service (e.g., work in hospitals, schools, or with the needy). Advocates are arguing that the principle of mandatory national service should apply to Arabs as well as the ultra-Orthodox. Among the ethnic minorities of Israel, it is only Druze and Circassian males who face mandatory military service (exempted are the Druze of the Golan, who retain an affinity to Syria). Significant numbers of Beduin choose to enlist. The incidence of other Arabs, who compose the majority of the minority population, remain outside those drafted or who serve as volunteers.

Those speaking about drafting all Arab young men would provide them, like the Haredim, with the option of civilian service within their own communities.

If the mandatory enlistment of young women has surfaced somewhere in the discussion, I have not noticed it. The topic is especially sensitive to religious Jews as well as to Druze and Muslims, and is likely to remain in the realm of volunteerism. Jewish women are drafted, but not those claiming to be religious. The IDF has its procedures for investigating and punishing young people who break the law in trying to evade military service, including women who claim to be religious but are seen driving on the Sabbath.

The IDF is notably unenthusiastic about the recruitment of Haredim. The population is less impressive physically than other Israelis. Young Haredi men have not, for the most part, been exposed to family stories or teachers that instill a patriotic willingness for sacrificing time or life for the sake of Israel. They are likely to be a greater than average burden for IDF units that select candidates for recruitment or rejection, and train recruits. The arrangements for their service will most likely involve a shorter term than for other recuirts, making them even less attractive material for the army.

Yet politicians are competing with their ideas and their enthusiasm for dealing with the inequalities involved in the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men. Anti-Haredi sentiment is at a high point, due to scandals concerning the treatment of women, Yair Lapid's move from the media to politics, and his late father's posture as anti-Haredi. Lapid is positioning himself in the anti-Haredi camp, but he may do no more than split the vote to be gathered by other parties maneuvering in the same direction. The result may be one more small or middle sized Knesset delegation, making it easier for Likud to create yet another coalition with religious and ultra-Orthodox parties.

The substantial number of Israelis who are outspokenly sceptical and cynical are not expecting much of an improvement as a result of the Supreme Court decision. They see another Israbluff in the making, i.e., a legislative program agreed to by members of the present coalition, which appears to widen the recruitment of the ultra-Orthodox, but with enough provisions to "recognize their religious commitments and their life style" to lessen the significance of any change.


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 01:56 AM
February 21, 2012

The current uncertainty is profound, but presents opportunities as well as threats.

Most of the attention is on Iran, widely assumed to be moving toward nuclear weapons, against the background of its leaders' obsession with the destruction of Israel, raising the possibility of an Israel attack meant to avoid that threat to its existence.

We are inundated with contrary commentary, all of which is built on speculation on top of the uncertainty about Israel's intentions and capabilities, as well as the uncertainty about the intentions of the United States, Britain and France, with equally unsettling questions about the intentions of Russia.

The range of the commotion goes from those seeing a split between Israel and the United States, due to differences in assessments about the effectiveness of sanctions and the likely success of a military attack, and to the weight of the American election. Involved in this is the elevation of support for Israel in the campaign of Republican contenders for the nomination, raising the possibility that Israel will be an issue in the November election. There is also the scenario that the United States does not want Israel to start anything that will drag Americans into yet another Middle Eastern morass.

In the confusion are competing assessments that it is Netanyahu who is restraining his Defense Minister (Ehud Barak) who is pushing for an attack, and that it is Barak who is restraining Netanyahu.

There is also the view that the Netanyahu and Obama regimes are on the same page, reading from a script meant to fool the Iranians by the appearance of conflict.

Iran's nuclear program is not the only commotion in the Middle East. There is also Syria, currently at the top of page one, with unsettled issues about Egypt not far behind although much less bloody. In the inner pages are Bahrain and Yemen, with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan competing for space.

Among the opportunities is widespread antipathy to Iran from the vast majority of Sunnis and their governments, which raises the prospect of subtle or not so subtle support for whatever Israel and/or the United States and others are willing to risk in order to lessen the might of the Shi'ite fanatics running Iran. There is also widespread opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. The words speak about violence against his people, but one suspects that violence is really an opportunity for people who think of themselves as real Muslims to beat up the Alawite regime of doubtful Islamic pedigree. One should not exaggerate the concern of Muslim authorities anywhere for human rights.

In the confusion one can see indications of a split in the upper levels of Hamas between those still adhering to Iran and others (Sunnis all) adhering to the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is sounding more responsible as it gets closer to government. Hezbollah's leadership has not only been living underground since the 2006 dust up with Israel, but is likely to be nervous with much of the world pointing sanctions or more against Iran, and Hizbollah's bridge to Iran via Syria in serious trouble.

The big however is that Russia and to some extent China, not on the same page as powerful westerners about Iran or Syria.

The multiple uncertainties should keep us of modest wisdom and even less information away from conjuring the infinite number of scenarios that begin with "what if . . . ."

Excitement is the greatest likelihood. As well as opportunities that can be found in the uncertainties racking Syria and Egypt, and how other Muslim regimes may adjust themselves in response to whatever is happening in those places.

And for us, excitement will come not only on issues concerned with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Egypt.

The Supreme Court put its foot into one of the most complex of issues by ruling that the existing arrangement to excuse ultra-Orthodox men from military service is unacceptable. What that will do to the government coalition is now taking much more of the media babble than anything else.

There is also a crisis in the Prime Minister's Office. A key aid of Benyamin and Sara Netanyahu was forced to resign on account of paying too much attention to a younger female employee of the Prime Minister's Office. Details remain sealed. The spillover has begun to produce further resignations at the pinnacle of government, after the Prime Minister declared his "lack of confidence" in aides who moved against their colleague without keeping him in their loop.

Those who share my view that politics is a spectator extravaganza to compete with anything athletic, with implications far greater than anything athletic, should stay tuned.


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 11:21 PM
February 19, 2012
Foreign aid

An internet friend sent me a video screed from an Atlanta television station that presents, in the most inflammable language, the old saw about too much foreign aid while Americans suffer. Even worse, some of that aid goes to refurbish mosques in unfriendly Cairo and elsewhere. http://www.wsbtv.com/videos/news/mosque-makeovers-with-your-tax-dollars/vkgb/

The images tweaked not my anger, but my inclination to criticize.

The principal mosque story concerned the rescue of a building due to a US AID project to upgrade Cairo's sewers. The mosque benefited from better drainage of rainwater along with lots of other properties due to a standard kind of US AID venture.

And how much should the world, including Israel, thank the United States for all its foreign aid sent at the sacrifice of programs to benefit Americans, and weighing heavily on American taxpayers?

Some context would be useful.

The United States has provided a great deal of foreign aid since World War II. However, it has been contributed as part of American self-interest. Beginning with the Marshal Plan and continuing until today, aid has meant to make the world safer, more profitable, and more congenial for Americans. Members of Congress from export-oriented districts have supported aid, most of which is tied to the purchase of American goods or services.

The aid comes from the world's richest economy in the aggregate. The American GDP in absolute terms is 2.5 times larger than the second largest economy (China, followed by Japan, Germany, France and Britain).


Americans are not the richest on a per capita basis, but they do rank #7 among almost 200 countries. Richer are the folks in tiny energy producing places, as well as those of Luxembourg, Singapore, Norway and Hong Kong.

American taxpayers have no right to cry, or even moan. They pay a smaller percentage of their resources to all levels of governments than the residents of any other western, developed country. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

And how does the US compare to other donors?

The United States is the world leader in total aid, but lags significantly in aid as a percentage of its economic resources.

One has to be wary of the numbers. A general problem is that countries promise more aid than they actually deliver. And aid comes under different categories. On a measure of "development assistance" which may not include military stuff, the United States ranks 19th out of 23 countries with respect to the amount of development assistance given in relation to national resources. By this measure, the countries most generous are Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg and Netherlands. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ODA_percent_of_GNI_2009.png

On a measure of countries receiving intergovernmental development aid as a percentage of their resources, Israel ranks way down the list, #97 out of 120 countries. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/eco_aid_as_of_gdp-economy-aid-as-of-gdp

Shouldn't an Israeli (who is also an American taxpayer) be grateful for what the United States provides?

Sure, and I am. By some measures, the United States gives more aid to Israel than any other country. By other measures, however, the "aid" the United States has allocated in recent years to Iraq and Afghanistan dwarfs that given to Israel.

Individual Americans and others, mostly but not entirely Jews, also contribute to the Hebrew University and numerous other Israeli institutions.

Keep it coming. It helps. Bur realize that most of the money contributed by American Jews for Jewish causes stays in the United States. For some time now, both Americans and Israelis have agreed that American Jewry is more needy than Israel.

And Americans should not overlook some of their own benefits from aid to Israel.

Almost all of the US government aid goes to Israel's defense sector, which helps the US by helping to keep a lid on what might happen in the Middle East, as well as supporting technology that feeds back into the American defense effort.

El Al buys Boeing, thanks largely to US government pressure, despite some of its technocrats preferring Airbus. Israel has, arguably, pursued more moderate policies toward Gaza, Lebanon, the West Bank and Iran that its own leaders would have wanted, due also to pressure from Washington.

Millennia ago, Jews learned the costs of challenging world leaders Babylon and then Rome. Religious and secular Israelis recount those experiences whenever a serious clash with the United States appears possible.

More important than American aid at a crucial point in Israel's history was aid ("reparations") from Germany. That did not come without a great deal of protest about accepting "blood money," but it provided almost 90 percent of state income in 1956.


Beyond Germany's payments to the Israeli government, reparations to individuals for personal losses benefited many families. My father-in-law accepted substantial amounts for his loss of a career in Germany, while rejecting money for family members sent to the death camps. Varda grew up in a middle income home, but without a grandmother or uncle.

Do the American people suffer because money goes to foreign aid rather than to domestic needs?

Mostly likely not. Public services have never been high priorities in the United States. On a list of 29 countries, the United States scores #2 in personal wealth (GDP/c) and #20 in expenditures per capita on welfare and education.


It is not possible to be sure about everything that ought to be assigned to "foreign aid," or to know all the motives and payoffs. Some years ago, a source in India proclaimed its country a world leader in foreign aid, counting the value of all the Indians who had migrated overseas to work.

That was equal in quality to the nonsense broadcast by WSB TV in Atlanta.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:26 AM
February 18, 2012
Jerusalem's weekend

Not a typical weekend, but not all that unusual. This is a tense place, with frequent events that can provoke great drama.
It began with a tragic accident. A heavy truck swerved on a rain slicked road north of Jerusalem, slammed into a bus carrying a group of four- to eight-year old Palestinian children on a school outing. The bus overturned and burst into flame. Seven children and a teacher died, and more than 30 were injured.
An accident late in 1987 set off the first intifada. Seven died, and an IDF military vehicle was involved.
The responses to this tragedy provided signs of Palestinian incitement and Israeli efforts to produce calm, as well as indications of cooperation in dealing with the immediate needs. Initial Palestinian reports exaggerated the number of deaths, leading Israeli commentators to recall claims about a "Jenin massacre." That allegation came in response to an IDF operation after the terror attack on a Passover Seder at a Netanya hotel in 2002. Palestinian sources claimed hundreds or thousands killed in their homes, but subsequent inquiries by international organizations found that 52 or 54 Palestinians were killed, along with 23 IDF soldiers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jenin
Palestinians speaking on Israeli radio blamed Israel for this weekend's accident. If Israel had provided better schools for Palestinian children, parents would not have had to send them to the private school that had arranged this outing. IDF soldiers manning a check point near the accident did not reach the scene quickly enough to save more children. And Israel had not invested enough in the roadway to assure that it would be free of accidents.
Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of official mourning for the dead, and assigned them the designation of martyrs. That term suggests that they had died as part of the Palestinian national conflict with Israel.
For its part, Israelis reported that the truck driver who caused the accident was himself an Arab, and emphasized the number of injured children treated in Israeli hospitals. It also reported on the cooperation at the scene between Israeli and Palestinian emergency medical personnel.
Chaos continued in Syria, along with competing assessments of whether, and how long, Bashar al-Assad and/or the present regime can remain in power. The Israeli government has refrained from any official comments about what is happening just over its border. Assad is no angel, but so far has had the support of various Christian and Druze minorities in Syria. His own forces are disproportionately made up from his Alawite community, an ethnic and religious minority that has been viewed as not entirely kosher by other Muslims, and has acquired a reputation as hateful repressers. Yet other minorities in the country fear that the rebels are disproportionately Muslim extremists, who would not be charitable to any but themselves.
A Palestinian friend speculated that when Assad falls, Alawites would flee in anticipation of a massacre by the victors. And insofar as they would not be welcome by any of the Muslim countries surrounding Syria, Israel would be their obvious place of refuge. Someone claiming to speak for the Syrian rebels indicated that they would be willing to reach an accommodation with Israel about the Golan heights that took account of the demographic changes that have occurred since 1967.
Among the problems in interpreting that is the lack of unity among Syrian rebels, and no clues as to what kind of regime would actually replace that of Assad, if indeed, he personally or some other Alawi does not succeed in quelling the revolt.
Somewhat lesser in its capacity for shaking the region and perhaps the world was this item from Thursday's Ha'aretz
"Mormon church leaders apologized to the family of Holocaust survivor and Jewish rights advocate Simon Wiesenthal after his parents were posthumously baptized, a controversial ritual that Mormons believe allows deceased people a way to the afterlife but offends members of many other religions."
Not the kind of publicity that Mitt Romney needs, but it might pass without effect on his campaign. People are used to excessive enthusiasm among the adherents of various religions, including the Haredim of Beit Shemesh and Mea She'arim.
Speaking of which, those of us who express ourselves via the Internet might heed this report from another of our neighbors.
"On February 4, 2012, the date marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, a 23-year-old Saudi man named Hamza Kashgari posted three messages on Twitter, which were perceived by many in Saudi Arabia as direct insults to Muhammad. The incident caused a stir in Saudi Arabia, with thousands of Twitter users calling for his execution. Karshgari attempted to flee the country but was apprehended in Malaysia and deported back to Saudi Arabia to face charges of blasphemy, apostasy, and atheism, which carry the death penalty."
Somewhat more threatening than religious extremism among Mormons. It's one thing to have one's ancestors converted in order to provide them with eternal life. It another thing to lose one's head on account of a Twit said to be blasphemous.
Along with all the above, the country has been locked down due to an awesome weather forecast. Lots of rain and wind, snow in the north and predicted above 600 meters in the center of the country. French Hill sits at the highest point within Jerusalem. Our balcony is 810 meters above sea level. City officials proclaimed their emergency plans, the National Park Authority closed its sites in order to assure the public's safety, and Ha'aretz send a text message Friday morning indicating that Sunday's paper would likely be delayed.
I awoke Saturday morning to find wet, and to hear some wind, but nothing more. Latest advisory is for a few flakes mixed with the rain. I was hoping to have something to compare with all those snow dusted statues photographed last week in Rome.
There would be nothing in this place concerned with graven images to compare with all those Roman heroes. The most French Hill has provided in an occasional winter is a few centimeters of the white stuff that I remember from Fall River, Wisconsin, and Utah. But not this weekend.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:31 PM
Obama, Romney, and Religion in American Politics

The confluence of Barack Obama 's problem with contraception and Mitt Romney's candidacy reminds me of that often expressed sentiment that the United States is a "religion soaked" country. It leads western democracies--including Israel--for the incidence of people who express a belief in God and pray on a regular basis.
The existence of the Mormon faith is part of the larger picture. It is arguably the most successful of the new religions created in the United States during the 19th century, along with Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and the now defunct Shakers.
The Mormon faith (formally the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, or LDS) is also the most peculiar of the new faiths created in America.
Its story begins with an angel who revealed a book of golden plates to Joseph Smith, together with magic spectacles that allowed its translation from ancient Egyptian. The product, the Book of Mormon, tells a story of migration from Jerusalem to America across the Pacific, and Jesus' appearance to the migrants who became the Indians.
The original book of golden plates disappeared before its existence could be verified. Efforts are continuing, so far without persuasive results, to confirm the story of the migration.
During the two Sabbaticals I spent at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah I encountered highly educated colleagues who insisted on the literal truth of the Mormon narrative, others who admitted to quiet doubts as the price of living in a congenial and supportive community, and some who rebelled against their church, but remained in the communities (more often the case for people in Salt Lake City than Provo) for personal or family reasons.
My wanderings and ongoing conversations have exposed me to parallel sentiments among more conventional Christians, as well as among Muslims and Jews.
I'll admit to my own periods of varying degrees of adherence to Jewish practices. "Belief" is not emphasized in this tribal community, as it is in religions that claim universal communities of the faithful. While currently I am a secular extremist, I remain fascinated by the phenomena of religion. My jury is still deliberating the question of whether religion is a positive or negative force.
Those wanting to pursue the issue of Utah and Israel can find my article comparing them in the Journal of Church and State, Summer, 1997, available in most university libraries.
Along the way to that article I encountered a BYU faculty member, intensely religious, who was refused tenure, and years later excommunicated. His sin was teaching that he understood the Book of Mormon as metaphorical rather than literal truth. The university has no Phi Beta Kappa chapter, at least partly on account of doubts about academic freedom.
Both Romney's nomination and Obama's problem with Catholics are far from settled. At present, Obama's problem reminds me of his problem with Israelis, and with more than a few American Jews, due to his insistence that there be no Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. That was a key element in a plan, unveiled three years ago, that Israel and Palestinians do what was obvious to make peace within a year's time. Aside from causing a problem for Varda about new curtains, and with other Israelis somewhat higher on the pecking order, that input of the President had little impact on peace or construction.
Occasionally I perceive signs that the President may have learned something about the Middle East, and recognizes that quiet is his best tactic. Yet there are continuing demands from the administration that Israel stop settlement activity and get on with the peace process. As always, it's impossible to know what is really the key thinking in a huge, amorphous, and competitive administration with lots of hangers-on. It is also far from certain how many American Jews will abandon their Democratic loyalties on account of the President's clumsiness with Israel.
What is similar in his problems with Catholics and Israelis is a clash between ideological and pragmatic clusters among American Democrats. One can guess that the same tensions occur within the persona of Barack Obama.
On the one side are strong sentiments in favor of contraception and most likely abortion, and the justice of Palestinian claims. On the other side is a recognition that both issues are more complex. Neither birth control nor the Middle East is resolvable by the kind of bluster that plays well on a liberal college campus.
So the President has a problem, or maybe two. Re-election will be difficult without Catholics, and there will be no Middle East peace without Israelis. Most Catholic women use birth control, but a lot of Catholics object to the government's pressure on Catholic institutions.
If Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate, we may hear assertions by no-nothings about polygamy, and maybe some more reasoned questions about wine, coffee, and black tea at White House functions, or whether the LDS belongs in the community of Christianity.
It's been a long time since John Kennedy had to argue with Protestant clerics about his relations with the Pope, but we have already heard some nasty things from anti-Mormon preachers.
My search of the Internet and queries to Massachusetts informants indicate that Governor Romney managed to navigate whatever problems came from holding high church office in the context of intensely Catholic and intensely liberal Massachusetts.
Those of us fascinated with religion, whether or not we believe in any of the unbelievable, will have much to ponder between now and November and most likely beyond, no matter what happens in the politics of here, there, or elsewhere.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:29 PM
February 01, 2012
Should we worry about Sheldon Adelson?

The New York Times describes Sheldon Adelson as a poor boy who made himself rich, not especially attracted to Jewish affairs or Israel until middle age, now a major contributor to things Jewish, American, and Israeli. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/us/politics/the-man-behind-gingrichs-money.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

His most recent prominence comes from $10 million contributed by he and his Israeli-born wife to the primary campaign of Newt Gingrich. The money was instrumental in the media campaign focused on Mitt Romney as vulture capitalist that helped Gingrich win big in South Carolina. It did not play so well in Florida, where Romney trounced Gingrich 46 percent to 32 percent. Gingrich did proportionately better in South Carolina (40 to 28 percent) but Florida is a more representative state.

Adelson's most prominent Israeli footprint is Israel Today, a daily paper that he created in 2007 as a free giveaway, but with a serious crew of reporters and commentators. Friendly uniformed agents appear where people congregate, pass out the paper until their supply runs out, and then stay around for a while to "show the flag." Now one can pay for home delivery or go to a distribution point for a free copy. The style (closer to USA Today than Ha'aretz) and the price have made Israel Today the country's most widely circulated daily. http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%99%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%90%D7%9C_%D7%94%D7%99%D7%95%D7%9D

Israel Today is also Adelson's most prominent way of supporting Prime Minister Netanyahu. Reports are that Adelson does not know enough Hebrew to read front page headlines that emphasize stories that put the Prime Minister in a good light, and give less attention to what would embarrass him. According to the New York Times, supporting Netanyahu is Adelson's way of resisting the establishment of a Palestinian state. Among the reasons for Adelson to support Gingrich is Gingrich's assertion that the "Palestinians are an invented people," with no historic claim to a homeland.

I don't recall Netanyahu making such a statement about the Palestinians. If he did, there would be Israelis to remind him that Jews also are an invented people, albeit with a pedigree a couple of millennia longer than Palestinians. The creation of Jewish nationhood is a topic of research among distinguished academics in Israel and elsewhere.

Adelson's philanthropy is said to have reached the hundreds of millions of dollars. Among his projects is Birthright, a program that has so far brought a quarter million young Jewish adults from overseas to Israel for 10-day heritage visits. Other contributions have gone to drug treatment, medical research, and the care of injured veterans.

Adelson's money is as green as any one's, but the sources and his political preferences might not pass muster with folks who consider themselves genteel and politically correct. Hotels and casinos, especially in Las Vegas and Macao, along with a current federal investigation into charges of bribery, the size of his donations to conservative causes, and his boldness in skirting around the edges of campaign finance regulations in Israel and the United States may cause an itch among those nervous about the next edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Perhaps we are beyond those worries. There is an African-American family in the White House, and a Mormon front-runner for the Republican nomination. Old accusations about Mormon polygamy and not being true Christians may be out there in the weeds, but have not been prominent in the media. One of the former Mrs. Gingrichs failed to derail Newt's campaign in conservative South Carolina. Neither Paula Jones nor Monica Lewinsky ruined Bill Clinton. There are 39 Jews in the 112th Congress, including five committee chairs and the House Majority Leader. Catholics and Mormons are also overrepresented in the present Congress in comparison with their proportions of the population, but less so than Jews. There are six Catholics, three Jews, and no Protestants on the Supreme Court. The Justices include one African-American, one Hispanic, and three women. While the United States has not elected a Catholic president since John Kennedy, John Kerry was Roman Catholic, and Michael Dukakis Greek Orthodox. A Roman Catholic woman and a Jewish man have been major party candidates for the vice presidency.

George Soros has wandered far to the left in his philanthropy, and can serve as a counterweight to any assessment of what Sheldon Adelson means for the nature of politics and Jewish money. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Soros

Jews, women, and gays have reached senior positions in the politics of Western Europe, where such matters have a lower profile than in the United States.

Perhaps it is time to rethink the hoary stereotypes, but it may be too early to bury them altogether. There is no shortage of anti-Semitic, anti-Western, and anti-feminine nastiness spilling out of the not so new Middle East. While it is tempting to dismiss that as uncivilized babble, any tendency toward optimism about a new world of tolerating the unconventional must undergo a longer period of testing.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:19 PM