April 28, 2012
Israeli creativity, madness, or chaos?

The continued variety of comments about Iran from the governing summit of Israeli says something about this country and its society.

The problem: one cannot be sure what it says.

Last month, the former chief of Mossad spoke publicly on Amrican media.

"Meir Dagan has been described as "hard-charging" and "stops at nothing." For more than eight years, Dagan made full use of those qualities as chief of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, where he focused on keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. When that job ended, Dagan did something unheard of for an ex-Mossad chief: he spoke out publicly, voicing opposition to Israel launching preemptive airstrikes against Iran's nuclear facilities anytime soon. Dagan believes the Iranian regime is a rational one and even its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who has called for Israel to be annihilated - acts in a somewhat rational way when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions."

Last week, we heard from the senior commander of the IDF, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz,

"Israel's military chief said he does not believe Iran will decide to build an atomic bomb and called its leaders "very rational"."

More recently, the former head of the Shin Bet intelligence organization, Yuval Diskin, expressed himself.

"Referring to the leaders as "our two messiahs," a likely reference to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Diskin said "they are not fit to hold the steering-wheel of power. I have no faith in the current leadership in Israel and its ability to conduct a war."

Regarding their handling of the Iranian nuclear issue, Diskin said the leadership "presents a false view to the public on the Iranian bomb, as though acting against Iran would prevent a nuclear bomb. But attacking Iran will encourage them to develop a bomb all the faster.""

What we see here is the current head of the military and the recent heads of the two other major security arms of the Israeli state speaking out in direct contrast to the two political figures--the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--who hold the power to decide about an attack on Iran. Netanyahu and Barak have threatened to attack if sanctions do not curb Iran's nuclear program..

From the Defense MInister in an independence Day speech:

"The chances that, at this pressure level, Iran will respond to international demands to irreversibly stop its program seem low. I would be happy to be proven wrong."

One of Netanyahu's recent remarks

"(Sanctions) better work soon. (They) are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy, (but) they haven't rolled back the Iranian program -- or even stopped it -- by one iota . . .I hope that changes, but so far, I can tell you, the centrifuges are spinning . . . they were spinning before the talks began recently with Iran, they were spinning during the talks, they're spinning as we speak."

Aides to Gantz, Netanyahu and Barak have sought to soften the differences between them. Israeli security personnel have, for some time now, expressed their reservations about an attack on Iran. A former head of military intelligence has said, "you hear different music from the political level and the professional level."

The US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, said about Gantz's statement that he views Iran as rational and unlikely to construct a nuclear weapon, "I would hope he's correct and he knows something more that I do."

Comments were sharpest with respect to Diskin. Sources close to Netanyahu and Barak accused Diskin of operating from personal and political motives, and expressing his frustration at not being appointed to head the Mossad after retiring from the Shin Bet. One of the ministers in Netanyahu's government said that his comments were "crude and inappropriate." Another minister said that Diskin's comments could damage the country's standing. A Likud back bencher said that the Knesset should consider a law to silence former senior officials, "who are as quiet as fish when in office, and immediately upon retirement speak nonsense."

Confusion? Disinformation? Or the reality of Israel's unfettered society, where the most senior professional soldier and recently retired heads of super secret security organizations feel free to speak out against political leaders on one of the country's most sensitive policy matters, and do so in a way that--in Diskin's case--goes beyond the boundaries of ridicule?

Democracy, governmental chaos, or just Israel's style of democracy?

Could it all be an orchestrated campaign, in cooperation with the United States?

In one fanciful hypothesis, Netanyahu and Barak are playing the bad cops, making threats to keep up the pressure on Iran to give up the nuclear option in the face of existing sanctions and the threat of military action. Dagan, Gantz, and Diskin are playing the good cops, expressing calm rationality in order to give Iranians reasons for avoiding their own "go to hell" option of building a weapon insofar as the views at the Israeli summit represented by Dagan, Gantz, and Diskin suggest that Israel will not attack.

By this view, the bad copy/good cop scenario is meant to both pressure Iran, and to convince its government to surrender their nuclear weapon ambitions to sanctions, without the need for an attack.

In contrast is is a less complex assessment that the comments from Dagan, Gantz, and Diskin are poorly timed, lessen Israel's threat, and may encourage Iranians to feel that they can continue with their program to develop nuclear weapons without risking an attack on their country.

Certainty is not part of this analysis.

We may be dealing with Israeli creativity.

Or Israeli madness.

Or Israeli chaos.


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 09:07 PM
April 27, 2012
Settlement pros, cons, explanations and speculation

Israel's settlement policy has returned to the headlines with a ministerial decision to convert three West Bank outposts (Rehalim, Bruchin, and Sansana) into legal settlements, and to find a solution for a neighborhood of Beit El that the Supreme Court has ruled to be illegally located on Palestinian land. Also on the table is the unresolved issue of the settlement Migron.

No surprise that Israeli moves have brought forth a chorus of opposition from a number of European governments, plus officials of the United States, the Palestine Authority, and Jordan.

We do not know how the government--whose Prime Minister has said time and again that he respects the decisions of the Supreme Court--and the Court will deal with one another over the next few days. Nonetheless, this has the louder noise of a routine exercise that we have seen time and again. That is, Palestinians and the international community protest, and Israel continues to support settlement on what others view as Palestinian land.

In most of these cases there are disputes as to whether a specific parcel was properly sold, or the payments made to individuals who forged documents or who later claimed they were swindled in order to avoid Palestinian death threats about selling land to Jews.

The details are difficult or impossible to know with absolute clarity. Moreover, they are less important than a big picture, which includes these elements:

•The present Israeli government supports settlement activities, even while it refrains from substantial expansions that might go a step too far in offending great powers.
•Support for settlement is not simply a program of right-of-center Likud. Its history has firm roots in Labor party activity during the periods of its governments, and activities by predecessors of the Labor party going back before the creation of the Israeli state.
•Currently Likud and some of its coalition partners may be in front of Labor and other centrist or left-of-center parties on the issue of supporting settlements.
•The most recent poll shows Likud getting twice the votes of any other party if an election were to be held in the near future.
•Consistent with this, the idea of demolishing substantial settlements--or perhaps even anything more than the smallest of them--has little support in Israel.
•Involved in the indifference or support of settlements shown by many Israelis is the violent Palestinian response to withdrawing settlements from Gaza, and the repeated rejections by Palestinians of proposals made by left-of-center or centrist parties (i.e., Labor led by Barak in 2000 or Kadima led by Olmert in 2008).

The principal dynamic apparent in this situation is Israeli frustration at Palestinian rejectionism, which seems to flow from elements widespread in the Palestinian community that cannot bring themselves to accept Israel's legitimacy.

It is appropriate to say that the problem is Islam, despite the lack of political correctness attached to that view among many western politicians and political activists.

There are important nuances here.

The problem is not so much Muslims, many or even the vast majority of whom do not seem to care, but the nature of Islam in formulations currently fashionable that lead enthusiasts and extremists to reject any concessions to a non-Muslim entity on what is viewed as Muslim land.

Several items have come into my mailbox in recent days that shed light on what is happening.

One is an insightful analysis of post-World War II responses to the Holocaust by Daniel Greenfield, in which he contrasts "Never again," with "Teach Tolerance." The first he finds to prevail in Israel, and the second in Jewish communities and elsewhere outside of Israel. He recognizes that not a few Israeli Jews fit into what he calls "Teach Tolerance," while many Jews and others outside of Israel fit the model of "Never again." One can also call the two responses right and left of center, or a more aggressive mode of defence against continuing threats as opposed to a humanitarian view of how to deal with ethnic tensions, competition, and violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

One doesn't have to subscribe to all of Greefield's analysis to accept the view that Israelis are more likely to express a posture of aggressive defense to hostile others, reinforced by a learned distrust of Palestinian intentions. One result is apparent in the government's policy in support of settlements.

Another item comes from one of the camps in Islamic extremism, as revealed in an interview put on the Internet by the Christian Broadcasting Network. We might not want to rely on the Christian Broadcasting Network anymore than on the prophecies of religiously intense Jewish settlers, but a CBN interview with an articulate Muslim shows his confidence is the eventual spread of Sharia law throughout Europe and beyond.

How does this fit into Israel's settlement policy?

The Muslim's confidence of eventual victory is parallel to the posture of Israelis sitting in positions of authority, with considerable support in the population.

Don't get me wrong. I know of no Israeli Jew outside of a mental institution who wants or expects the Jews to rule the world or even the entire area of the West Bank. I personally do not endorse turning every small settlement into a legal extension of Israel despite doubts about Palestinian property rights, or challenging the anti-settlement policies of the great powers. I view as foolhardy the aggressive movement of religiously motivated Jews into the heart of hostile Arab communities.

On the other hand, I understand Israelis who are confident of maintaining existing settlements, thickening them with additional construction, and inching outward to vacant land alongside existing settlements. Call it Judaic encroachment on Palestinian land if you will, but the policy has justified itself over the course of 45 years in the presence of Palestinian inflexibility and nothing more than lip service in opposition from Western governments and political activists.

The Palestinians have consistently violated the basic rule of negotiations that produces little for those who demand too much. Their rejectionism provides the best explanation of their getting nothing more than lip service from Western governments.

Explanations of what has been happening since 1967, and continues, ought to start with Islam, if it is possible to overcome the mantra that the problem is not Islam.

Religious practice changes. Islam has its humanitarian and tolerant elements, but they are not currently prominent. One should be wary about predicting the spread of Sharia throughout Europe and elsewhere, but Islam has a firm position in the Middle East, where it is unpopular among political activists to advocate concessions to Israel, or even among many to accept Israel's legitimacy.

Israel's future may lie somewhere in the space between the Muslims who would rather not sacrifice themselves for what they say is their faith, and political figures who dare not challenge enthusiasts with overt concessions to the Jews.

Israel's situation is delicate. Thus, the concern one hears, even among religious nationalists, about not going too far, too fast, with settlement expansion, and their doubts about Messianic Jews who wish to establish their outposts in the midst of hostile Arabs.

Iran and the implications of Arab spring may be weighty, but are still amorphous, and only of potential importance.

Jews as well as Arabs who demand too much may end up as losers, but so far it is the Palestinians who have been violating that rule.


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 04:51 AM
April 25, 2012
Israel's secular holidays

For an American used to Memorial Day as a time for mega-store sales and picnics, the Israeli equivalent requires a significant reformatting of expectations.

The official number of those who died while serving in one or another security function or as a result of terror is close to 23,000, with about 3,700 of those due to terror. The date for beginning reckoning is the onset of modern migration to Israel, defined as 1860. The overwhelming majority died from the War of Independence in 1948 until last week, when Israel recorded the most recent casualty.

The number by itself is large. Compared to the present populations of Israel and the United States, it is as if one million Americans had died as a result of military service or terror. The total of Americans killed in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and 9-11 is a bit over one-half million.

The day to commemorate the Holocaust --a week ago--contributes to the mood. There is only a day or two of normal stimuli between several days of media programming about victims and survivors of the Holocaust to another several days about individuals who fell in the service of Israel or those killed by terrorism, those who remember them or continue to care for the wounded, and inquiries into operations that produced significant number of casualties, but whose details remain secret.

The candle that Varda lights in memory of two cousins also leads me to think about Stefan's high school friend.

The most prominent left of center newspaper, Ha'aretz, and the most prominent right of center newspaper, Israel Hayom, feature Memorial Day activities on their front page and Internet sites, both with photos of military graves. The picture on page one of Israel Hayom is of a aged woman sitting alongside a military grave with her head bowed.

A media source associated with settlers, (Arutz Sheva) predicted that one million Israelis would visit the graves of fallen soldiers. Its Internet site shows a religious family alongside a military grave. .

Ha'aretz also has an item on one of its inner pages about efforts to promote understanding between Jews and Arabs. A picture shows Jewish and Arab women sitting alongside one another at the "Alternative Memorial Day," meant to remember the losses of both communities. The text of the article deals mostly with the problems of organizations that have sought to create mutual understanding. Activists complain of growing resistance to meetings and a drying up of fundraising that come at least partly from opposition expressed by Palestinians who see accommodations between individuals contributing to the perpetuation of occupation.

Jews quarrel about who should be given priority in the commemorations. A week ago, we heard from representatives of North African communities that they also suffered from the Holocaust, but were not given their proper share of recognition, with survivors not provided the same compensation as Europeans. The run-up to Memorial Day includes a perennial dispute between organizations representing family members of soldiers and other security personnel, and those representing family members of those who died in terrorist incidents. Officials have coped with that dispute by the designation of the day, יום הזיכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל ולנפגעי פעולות האיבה‎ (Day to remember Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism), and separate ceremonies for each group. This year the organization representing fallen soldiers protested the government's decision to award military medals to the families of the prison service personnel who died in last year's forest fire on the Carmel.

The father of a terror victim complained that authorities give too much emphasis to soldiers, and should not have released the murderers of civilians in order to gain the freedom of the soldier Gilad Shalit.

We heard from an organization representing Ethiopian immigrants, asking for a prominent location to establish a memorial for those who died from hunger, disease, or banditry--perhaps one-half of those setting out--on difficult passages overland through Sudan from 1979 to 1985.

The day following Memorial Day in Independence Day, meant to be the most festive secular occasion on Israel's calendar. Families can travel and celebrate without the constraints associated with a religious holiday. During the evening between Memorial Day and Independence Day are speeches, performances by prominent musical groups, and fireworks in virtually all city centers and the neighborhood parks of large cities.

The run-up to Independence Day is not without its problems. People begin to greet one another with חג שמח (Happy Holiday) even before Memorial Day, and during Memorial Day, despite that day's aura of profound sadness.

Independence Day means family picnics, a flight of military aircraft going from one site to another throughout the country (a matter of minutes in this small place), military bases open to public visits, and awards of Israel Prizes to artists, academics, and deserving activists in an evening ceremony.

Joy is not be without its politics. Ultra-Orthodox extremists refuse to recognize the official state commemorations of the Holocaust, Memorial Day, or Independence Day. While some join other Israelis in pausing during the morning sirens that mark Holocaust and Memorial Day, some protest by dancing during those two-minute periods.

The prominent public radio stations (Reshet Bet and Army Radio) cancelled plans to broadcast a Memorial Day event because the media personality who has been hosting it for several years announced that he would be heading a new political party.

One of the military units threatened to keep its popular base closed due to the Finance Ministry's proposal to cut the IDF budget. Controversies about Israel Prizes (sometimes called Little Nobels) provide the theme of a delightful but painful film, הערת שוליים‎ (Footnote).


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 05:28 AM
April 24, 2012
Iran in the shadow of North Korea

Reading news reports can be like reading tea leaves. The combination of different reports may mean more than any one of them says explicitly. Yet it is more art than craft. Conclusions may be sounder than received from a seer, but are less than certain.

Currently my computer screen is flickering with the following items:

1."North Korea has almost completed preparations for a third nuclear test and has the capacity to carry it out "soon," a senior source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters."
2."North Korea sharply escalated the rhetoric against its southern rival, claiming it will soon conduct "special actions" that would reduce South Korea's conservative government to ashes within minutes."
3."North Korea doesn't appear to be getting ready to conduct a nuclear test, a U.S. defense spokesman said, after the totalitarian state threatened to reduce the South Korean government "to ashes." "
4."Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, said that it is necessary to relate seriously to the threat of Iran to destroy Israel. We cannot avoid the threat, and must prepare ourselves to respond. Changes in the history of the Jewish people include a capacity of Israel to defend itself politically and militarily in the face of threats."

One reasonable interpretation from items #1 and #2 is the abject failure of efforts by the United States and others to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Item #3 sounds like a bureaucrat's effort to justify his boss, and by denying what others are reporting about North Korean intentions.

In the context of items #1-#3, item #4 advances the likelihood of Israel acting alone. If Obama cannot stop the small, resource-poor, and vulnerable regime of North Korea, how can Israel rely on him to deal with a country that is an industrial and economic giant by comparison, led by an ideology that combines religious certainty and nationalist memories of grandeur, with allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, and other Shiite populations inclined to help,

Nothing is certain. Item #3 above may prove to be credible. If there is another North Korean nuclear test, it will--especially in the presence of things like #3--lead Israelis and others to ratchet up their ridicule of American claims to be standing firm against Iran's nuclear activities.

Barack Obama remains active, at least in getting headlines:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama imposed U.S. sanctions on Monday on those who help Syria and Iran track dissidents through cell phones and computers, serving notice on technology providers that they could be held responsible for those governments' human rights abuses."

Israelis may be forgiven a worry that the American president is more concerned about a "human rights" constituency than dealing with the toughter problem of Iran's nuclear weapons. At least some of his human rights constituency would not object to seeing Israel brought down a notch or two, or even thrown under the bus.

Among the hopeful possibilities is that Iran's leadership is more rational than North Korea's. The Mullahs and Ahmadinejad may avoid boasting about reducing Israel to ashes, or even going those final steps to nuclear weapons, but threats against Israel already made do not encourage us to hope.

Another item in the news that adds to one's doubts about international efforts against madness:

"A sharp rise in the number of deaths in the Syrian uprising is casting fresh doubt on the success of a UN peace plan, and testing a ceasefire deal.

Activists said nearly 70 people were killed on Monday, most in a government crackdown in the city of Hama.

The US said the UN monitoring mission was "risky and dangerous"".

An Israeli source is reporting a higher death total of 80 killed yesterday, 50 of them in Hama.

Perhaps we should give Kofe Annan an opportunity to interpret these tea leaves. Yet his record justifies skiping him, and going on to a conclusion that his highly touted peace accord, said to be accepted by Syrian officials and rebel leaders, was more imagined than real.

And the reliability of Barack Obama as compared to that of Kofe Annan?

That's for Prime Minister Netanyahu and his colleagues in the Israeli government to decide.

Looking again at Netanyahu's comment (#4 above), he may be inclined to rely more on Israel's political skill than its military capacity.

Or maybe not.

I think that covers the possibilities for now.

I hope to be still writing when it is time to comment on later developments, assuming I have electricity, an internet connection, and enough optimism to continue this discussion.


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 04:29 AM
April 22, 2012

Egyptian authorities have cancelled the agreement to supply gas to Israel, which hasn't been flowing in any event due to repeated sabotage of the pipeline running through the northern Sinai.

Various Israeli politicians have expressed the view that this is one more indication of worsening relations between the countries. One has said that Egypt is a greater problem than Iran. Another has said the cancellation threatens the peace agreement. Yet another has said that the United States should step in, on account of being a guarantor of that agreement.

Both the sabotage and the cancellation may reflect the end of the Mubarak regime, and the increase in assertions that the supply of gas is part of the illegitimate relations between Egypt and Israel.

The lack of Egyptian gas has been a serious inconvenience. It has led to the use of more expensive and more polluting fuel oil for generating electricity, and may produce some interruptions in service during the high use of air conditioning during the summer. It will take at least a year for the development of pipelines to Israel from its substantial gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Israel may become an energy exporter. However, it will also have to protect its gas fields from Hezbollah and Palestinians working out of Lebanon.

Things seemed calmer the morning after the announcement of the cancellation. Officials of both Israeli and Egyptian governments assert that the issue is not one of political importance, but reflects a commercial decision concerned with a dispute about payments and other issues between Egyptian and Israeli companies, along with international investors, being adjudicated in court.

Not so fast.

The simple view is that Egypt's control over the Sinai has weakened to the point of near zero, as part of a general weakness bordering on chaos since the popular demonstrations, the collapse of tourism, and the unraveling of government.

Egyptian rule in the Sinai is chronically problematic. The Bedouin residents of the peninsula view themselves as beyond the fringe of Egyptian services, except for sporadic but extreme modes of policing. Standard complaints concern a lack of health, education, clean water, and no economic opportunities other than tourism, smuggling, or other illegal activities. Bedouin individuals are likely to lack Egyptian documents required for services, feel themselves discriminated against in access to significant education or employment opportunities, and express greater loyalty to tribal leaders and traditional laws than to anything Egyptian.

Tourism has fallen significantly at Sharm el-Sheikh at the tip of the peninsula or along what Israelis call the Gulf of Eilat but most others label the Gulf of Aqaba. The Bedouin have contributed to the economic downturn by one of their anti-regime tactics of kidnapping tourists and holding them for ransom.

Another Bedouin business is smuggling migrants across the Sinai and into Israel. Those familiar with the US-Mexican border and its smuggling industry will grasp the nature of this activity. Clients paying for guide service into Israel include prostitutes, typically recruited and organized by Eastern Europeans, some of them Jews who made Aliyah and working in the trades that have historically attracted immigrants. More recently the greater flow has been comprised of African migrants seeking work.

Egyptian authorities have responded to Israeli demands that they stop the migration with the simplest routines imaginable. Their soldiers and police shoot to kill, apparently not concerned whether they aim at the migrants or the Bedouin guiding them.

Another Bedouin business is to select some migrants for involuntary organ donations, apparently performed by Egyptian physicians who sell the organs in an international market, with the donors left to die and buried in shallow graves.

Israel has undertaken the construction of a barrier along what had been a sketchily marked border with Egypt. There is no expectation that the Bedouin would take long to learn how to penetrate the barrier, but increased monitoring should help in the interdiction. Israel is also expanding prison facilities on its side of the border, and working its way through efforts to regularize the return of illegal immigrants to their countries of origin. As in the United States and European countries, the issue of illegal immigrants is not only a matter of law enforcement. Migrants routinely claim persecution at home, and ask for refuge. And there are employers who equate illegal immigrants with cheap labor, and do what they can to minimize enforcement.

Yet another Bedouin activity is to cooperate with Palestinians interested in attacking Israel. Some of this is commercial service in exchange for payment, and some reflects the signing on of individual Bedouin to campaigns against Israel. There has been Bedouin involvement in an attack on Israeli vehicles near the southern Egyptian border that took several lives, rocket attacks from the Sinai toward Eilat, and those explosions on the gas pipeline.

Among Israel's quandaries is its reluctance to take direct action in the Sinai. A brief incursion after the roadside attack produced a diplomatic incident that took some effort to quell. Some military officers say that it is foolhardy to risk the strategically important peace treaty by sending the IDF into Egyptian territory after the Bedouin or Palestinians. Others say that incursion will have to occur, sooner or later. Things may change if a rocket lands on a crowded tourist site in Eilat rather than an empty field. Israel may already be increasing its intelligence activities in the Sinai, and pondering ways to take action against the Bedouin that will stay beneath the level of official Egyptian notice.

I may be wrong about all of this. For Tom Friedman and Barack Obama, Bedouin unrest is unlikely to be anything more than a glitch on the way to Egypt's democracy.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:02 PM
April 16, 2012
Ashton, Netanyahu, Obama, and Iran

Israel and the United States are at another hiccup, or maybe something more.

Catherine Ashton, serving as the European Union's foreign minister and the chair of a meeting in Istanbul between Iran and representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and China, is upbeat after the first meeting about Iran's nuclear program.

"We have agreed that the nonproliferation treaty forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement to ensure all the obligations under the treaty are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy."

She also said that the meeting provided a basis to establish a "sustained process of serious dialogue."

Ms Ashton received a lashing from Israel's prime minister for doing little more than setting another meeting, in late May, and giving Iran more time to enrich unaranium without inhibition.

The cartoon in Ha'aretz goes further in criticism, It shows Ashton making a note in her date book along with the Iranian representative, scheduling one further session for May, another in September, 2014, and another in June, 2015.

Ms Ashton receive an earlier drubbing from the prime minister for comments that seemed to link the shooting of children in Toulouse with problems of Palestinians in Gaza. A tape of her comments showed that she did not do that exactly. She lamented the suffering of children in both places and in other locales of violence. However, putting Toulouse and Gaza in the same paragraph was enough to justify at least a pointed question about her intentions, and her suitability for international affairs.

The Washington Post dealt with the Istanbul meeting and Netanyahu's comments by beginning an article with

"Exposing a rift with Israel, President Barack Obama on Sunday insisted that the U.S. had not "given anything away" in new talks with Iran as he defended his continued push for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions . . . "

"So far at least we haven't given away anything, other than the opportunity for us to negotiate and see if Iran comes to the table in good faith . . . The clock's ticking."

According to the Jerusalem Post

"US President Barack Obama said there would be more sanctions imposed on Iran if there is no breakthrough in nuclear talks with global powers in the coming months, responding to Israeli accusations that Tehran has been given a "freebie."

Ashton may be a continuing problem, insofar as the Iranians turned down a request from the American delegation for a direct meeting with the Iranian negotiator.

If I were the Iranian in charge of this, I'd stay with Ashton as long as possible.

Catherine Ashton moved into government via a series of appointments, picking up from an earlier career as activist and then manager of activists' organizations.

There has been enough negative comment in the British press about her, of the kind one seldom reads about ranking figures, to raise the possibility that she was the UK Cabinet's candidate for an EU position in order to get her away from more important things at home. Various distinguished journals have written
•"a virtual unknown with paltry political experience, having no foreign-policy background and having never been elected to anything".
•"totally unqualified for almost every job she has done, she has risen to her current position presumably through . . . down-the-line Stalinist political correctness . . . :"
•"Cathy just got lucky... (her) appointment was a complete disgrace. (She is) no more than (a) garden gnome."

Sources within the EU:
•criticiized her failure to visit Haiti in the wake of the earthquake
•said that she lacked leadership abilities during ministerial meetings and policy briefing
•speaks only in generalities
•lacks commitment to the job, switching off her phone after 8 pm every day
•is unable to speak any language other than English

A survey of EU policymakers and national officials at the beginning of 2011 Ashton rated as the worst of European Commissioners.

Among the unpleasant possibilities:

Last weekend's meeting at Istanbul, and what comes next, will be little more than the blah blah expected of Ashton.

Obama is made of the same stuff as Ashton, and is over his head whenever he deals with an issue more than 200 miles east of Washington. The latest indication of this comes from the editor of a well-known Arab newspaper, who has ridiculed American officials for seeming to place some credence in a leading Iranian's claim that there is a fatwa (religious ruling) against the development of nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu's comments may or may not signal the start of counting down to an Israeli attack.

The prime minister may only be reminding Americans and others about Israeli impatience or anxiety

Perhaps, however, he is renewing a threat of independent action.

There are also some positive possibilities.

Obama is serious about pressuring Iran to rid itself of nuclear weapon aspirations.

Obama's stopping the food aid to North Korea in response to its long range missile test may indicate his determination, and should warn the Iranians about greater sanctions, or even more.

So many possibilities.

So little certainty.


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 11:19 AM
April 13, 2012
Syria et al

Wednesday morning, a day before Kofi Annan's cease fire was scheduled to reach its final implementation in Syria, and a day after Syrian forces were supposed to withdraw from major population centers, I read on BBC's Internet site that "Kofi Annan, says he has received assurances from Damascus that it will respect his ceasefire plan."

At the same time I heard a live report on Israel radio, picked up from its origin in the Syrian city of Homs. The translation of the Arabic was of an attack by artillery, rockets, and mortars of unmatched intensity, with sounds of explosions in the background.

The lead item on an Israeli news web site: "168 killed yesterday, Annan: Assad promised to honor the cease fire."

Reports Thursday morning were that the onset of the cease fire at 6 AM seemed to be holding. No reporters were optimistic. Some suggested that it was still too early to judge. The fighters had not yet finished breakfast. Others emphasized the conditions that Syrians added to their agreement: that outside financial and material help from Qatar and Saudi Arabia must cease.

Even without overt bloodshed, it was clear that Assad had not complied with the condition of removing his troops from populated areas.

Reports at noon were Syrian soldiers beginning to fire in several locations, and had sent more troops and tanks to various cities.

By mid-afternoon there were reports of several deaths due to the army's sniping and artillery, and the deaths of government troops. Each side was accusing the other of violating the agreement. .

An hour later Kofi Annan was calling his cease fire a success.

A day later he was saying it was incomplete. Syria must remove its forces from the cities. There would be meetings in the United Nations to authorize the dispatch of unarmed observers, seemingly to watch and record the next rounds of fighting.

Rebel leaders were committing themselves to the cease fire, but urging their followers to the streets in order to demonstrate opposition to the regime.

There would be marches after Friday prayers. A year ago it was those weekly occasions that helped move the process up the scale from demonstrations to rebellion.

By 5 PM on Friday, an Israeli web site was reporting, "Killings in Syria: 11 people killed since the morning.

The New York Times was more cautious.

"Thousands of Syrians took to the streets after the noon prayer in countless mosques on Friday, offering the biggest test of the country's fragile cease-fire since it was declared at dawn on Thursday and reviving the public protests that ignited Syria's 13-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. . . .The response of the government security forces was uneven and difficult to gauge. . . . "

There shouldn't be any surprise in this, except among those who expected better from Annan and the UN establishment. And perhaps those others--likely to be among the same ones--still singing in the choir led by Thomas Friedman and Barack Obama who expect good things from Arab Spring.

It is not easy to assign blame for the failure of Annan's cease fire. While he should have known that Assad would lie, he also should have known that a leaderless collection of rebels couldn't be expected to operate with the same discipline shown by all those governments that vote in the United Nations.

What's in it for the Jews?

Israeli officials have generally been quiet about the slaughter occuring just over their border. Occasionally a minister in the government has sought to gain some media traction with comments about humanitarian aid, cynicism about the impotence of the United Nations, or the silence of human rights organizations. However, the Prime Minister has been quick to silence them.

In a situation when the world is only clucking its tongue and sending Kofi Annan to the front, why should Israel express itself about warfare among Arabs who--if they would take time out to speak about Israel--would be competing with condemnations and threats?

The hope is that whoever comes out on top will attend mainly to Syria, and not take too seriously the rhetoric about destroying Israel. We'll have to live with whoever wins.

Israel's Arab-knowledgeable commentators are not quiet. They fill the airwaves with the names and pretensions of various rebel leaders. Those speaking on television accompany their reports with films from the video cameras or telephones of individuals engaged in the rebellion. Explosions, fire, crumbling buildings, screaming women, running men, and dead bodies--often of low cinematic quality--are what can see on one channel's news or another.

None of the Israeli commentators I have heard expresses optimism about democracy or any other kind of enlightenment coming out of the events in Syria or any other locale affected by Arab spring, with the possible exception of Tunis. A number of them agree that the struggle in Syria is far from over, and that Assad has will and resources to keep up the bloodshed. The aggregate of Alawi, Christian, and Druze minorities approximates 40 percent of the Syrian population, and they are the base of Assad's continuing support. We have seen organized demonstrations in his behalf, which have brought several hundred thousand people to prominent sites in Damascus.

Thomas Friedman continues to write about an "Arab awakening."

"Make no mistake where my heart lies. I still believe this Arab democracy movement was inevitable, necessary and built on a deep and authentic human quest for freedom, dignity and justice."

He is also writing that the whole thing has a lot to do with Arab governments' failure to concern themselves for the environment. Right thinking people of the world, applaud. Friedman is still your leader.

Friedman has sobered, a bit. While he remains optimistic about Tunis and Egypt, he now fears that the rest of the chaos will end up more like the bloody civil wars in the former Yugoslavia. That was multi-ethnic and multi-religious like many of the Arab countries, and "exploded into pieces."

We can wonder why he remains optimistic about Egypt, insofar as he also writes

"Even evolution is difficult in Egypt. The army overseeing the process there just arrested a prominent liberal blogger, Maikel Nabil, for "insulting the military."

For those tired or frustrated by Syria, they may also note the failure of worthy leaders to keep a lid on North Korea. Despite urgings against such things from that country's friends (e.g., China) and adversaries (just about everyone else), the North Koreans went ahead with the test of a long-range rocket. North Koreans said it was part of their campaign to put satellites in orbit. Others are wary of that peace-loving explanation.

The rocket failed soon after lift-off. North Korea's neighbors and others concerned about its nefarious activities might breathe easier for a while. However, reports from South Korea are that their cousins are preparing for a nuclear weaspons test.

The United States is making noise about stopping the food aid that it used to buy North Korea's abandonment of its nuclear weapon activities.

Meanwhile, a commentary on the meeting with Iranian representatives in Istanbul:

"When Iran meets with Western powers Saturday, it surely won't agree to changes in its nuclear program, diplomats say. But an agreement to keep talking will be encouragement enough.".

With Thomas Friedman as political savant, Barack Obama as definer in chief of what is politically correct, and Kofi Annan as head diplomat, the future of the Middle East is assured. As I look out from this little corner of the region, however, what is assured is all bad.


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 09:38 PM
April 12, 2012
Comments on Pollard

My note on Jonathan Pollard has produced a larger number and more varied responses than is usual. Most support his release. Several accuse me of being hard hearted and distorting the record. One doubts the wisdom of relying on Wikipedia. One from a Jewish friend of long standing reports that there had been a willingness in his family to pull the switch if the traitor had been sentenced to death.

Some of those supporting his release admit the seriousness of his crimes, but feel he has been punished enough. A number identify the problems of a Pollard free to roam and speak. One respondent would prevent him from entering Israel. Another would forbid any public comments.

Several mention the anti-Semitism of the American establishment, as well as the disproportionate nature of Pollard's punishment.

One noted Barack Obama's sensitivity to African-American interests ("If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon") far out of proportion to his concern for Pollard.

Pollard is like other symbols that generate feelings that go far beyond the details. He serves a variety of functions, some of which have no connection to what he may have done. He reminds me that Jesus would not choose to be a Christian, that Karl would reject the label "Marxist," and that a book called a classic is one that everyone quotes and no one reads.

Pollard's case bears some resemblance to that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The details differ, not only in the crimes they were said to commit, but the punishments. However, the parallels involve all three being Jewish, the divisions in the American Jewish community about the severity of their punishments, continuing disputes about the accusations, and allegations that the punishments were excessively severe in order to deter other Jews from the temptations of double loyalties, or greater loyalty to a foreign government than to the United States.

Pollard's life sentence, rather than the death penalty that was considered, may reflect the lesser nature of the allegations against him compared to the Rosenbergs, the greater reluctance to impose the death penalty that developed over the span of 40 years between the two cases, and/or the increased weight of Jewish opinions in American politics.

Pollard's case also recalls that of Mordecai Vanunu. He was a technician working at Israel's facility at Dimona, who passed photographs to foreign journalists purporting to show the production of nuclear weapons. Mossad agents lured him from Europe onto a ship with the promise of something sexual, drugged and brought him to Israel, where he was tried and served 18 years in prison. Since his release he has been subject to restrictions against speaking to journalists and traveling outside of Israel, and has been re-arrested several times for violating those restrictions.

Like Pollard, Vanunu was recognized as something of a kook by co-workers and superiors, who later regretted that he had been allowed access to sensitive materials. And like Pollard, Vanunu has supporters who accuse authorities of imposing overly severe punishment, as well as being kidnapped, tried behind closed doors, and subject to severe post-release restrictions of his personal liberties.

While Pollard lives as a religious Jew, Vanunu has renounced Judaism as well as Israel. He converted to Christianity, and has sought refuge in a church. He claims that conversion adds to the animosity shown by Israeli authorities.

Vanunu's problem is that he is in Israel, and violated one of the country's most sensitive taboos, i.e., selling information about its nuclear activities. Pollard, in contrast, is in the United States, but is widely viewed with sympathy in Israel.

In this case and others, I find Wikipedia useful to refresh my memory about names, dates, details, and spelling. It is generally reliable and well edited, with comments in numerous articles indicating that one or another section is weak, needs further detail, or lacks appropriate citations. The article linked to my note on Pollard is well documented with an impressive collection of footnotes. I followed some of them to their sources, and found them to be genuine. I wrote only that the details in Wikipedia were disturbing to anyone whose information was limited to the campaign in behalf of Pollard, without asserting the truth of one narrative or another.

The comments received led me to recall my own apparent connection to the Pollard affair. I say "apparent." The linkages appear to be likely, without absolute confirmation.

Sometime in the mid-1980s I was invited to lecture at the US Military Academy at West Point. It went well enough so that my hosts asked if I'd be interested in spending a year there as visiting professor. I was due for a Sabbatical from the Hebrew University, and gave my assent. Sometime later I was invited back for another lecture, and the opportunity to check out the housing accommodations.

I found long faces on my arrival. My file had worked its way up the chain of command, was bumped to the White House, and came back with negative instructions. I asked one of the colonels in political science what happened. He did not want to talk about the details, but indicated that it had to do with my address.

The year was 1986, between the time of Pollard's arrest and his sentencing.

In previous years I had lectured or participated in seminars at a number of US military installations, including some of the most senior staff colleges where my participation required a security clearance. My overseas travel documents listed my rank as equivalent to Lt. Colonel. By 1986 I was a only a private in the IDF lecture corps. I doubt that it was my rank that prevented my service at West Point.

At the time West Point was making an effort to attract Jews. Studies undertaken after the end of compulsory conscription indicated that virtually the only Jews in the military were physicians, dentists, attorneys, and accountants.

My guess is that the aura surrounding Pollard led military and/or political officials to look negatively at the prospect of a Jew who had left the US for Israel teaching cadets at West Point.

At about the same time, I passed on to a Jewish faculty member at West Point a family story that gets to the point of dual loyalties. It involves Varda's Onkel Albert, who was a sniper in the German army during World War I, posted somewhere opposite my father, who was on the Western Front in an American uniform.

One morning Onkel Albert had a French soldier in his sights, and was about to fire when he heard the enemy begin his prayers: ". . . שמע ישראל".

Albert did not shoot.

Here the story resonates positively. My experience is that it is likely to trouble Americans. The Jewish faculty member at West Point did not like it.


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 04:16 AM
April 10, 2012
Jonathan Pollard

Jonathan Pollard has returned to Israeli headlines, first with his hospitalization, then the appearance of Esther (who he married after being incarcerated) before President Peres, Peres' appeal to President Obama to release him due to his long imprisonment and ill health, and an announcement from Washington that the President does not intend to change his government's policy toward Pollard.

The campaign heard in Israel over the course of the 26 years Pollard has been imprisoned includes the following points:

•His actions were meant to benefit a close ally of the United States
•The information he disclosed did not harm the United States
•The information should have been provided to Israel under existing agreements, but had been withheld from Israel
•American officials violated the plea bargain with Pollard, especially in the opposition expressed by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger
•The judge imposed a life sentence despite Pollard's cooperation with the prosecution
•Individuals who spied for other countries against the United States, including those working for the Soviet Union during the Cold War, served lesser sentences than what Pollard has already served.

One cannot claim to know the whole truth of this complicated story. However, for those who have been exposed only to a campaign calling on the United States to release Pollard, a detailed article in Wikipedia raises a number of disturbing points.

•Pollard is said to have offered classified information to at least three other countries beside Israel.
•He was described by acquaintances as claiming while still a student that he worked for the Mossad and was a colonel in the IDF.
•He had been cited during his career for doubtful stability and reliability. Various superiors sought to remove his security clearance, lower it, and to dismiss him from Naval Intelligence.
•He violated the terms of his plea bargain by granting interviews in which he detailed the information he passed on to Israel, and urged those supporting him to rally in his behalf.
•His activities were damaging to the United States. According to one claim, information he passed on to Israel reached the Soviet Union and resulted in the deaths of American informants.

Pollard's case makes its contribution to the recognition of differences in interests and perspectives between American and Israeli Jewish communities. Important here are recent articles published by The Jewish Daily Forward (formerly the Yiddish language Forverts פארווערטס).

The simple picture--perhaps too simple--is that the campaign to release him is an Israeli production that provokes some embarrassed expressions of reservation among prominent American Jews. For Israelis, Pollard is a proud Jew serving their country, and subject to unduly harsh punishment by the United States. For a number of prominent American Jews, he has raised once again the disturbing issue of double loyalties.

According to one of Pollard's own former superiors, an admiral who is himself Jewish

"We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody screw it up... and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me."

On the other side is Alan Dershowitz,

"[E]veryone seems frightened to speak up on behalf of a convicted spy. This has been especially true of the Jewish leadership in America. The Pollards are Jewish... The Pollards are also Zionists, who--out of a sense of misguided "racial imperative" (to quote Jonathan Pollard)--seem to place their commitment to Israeli survival over the laws of their own country... American Jewish leaders, always sensitive to the canard of dual loyalty, are keeping a low profile in the Pollard matter. Many American Jews at the grass roots are outraged at what they perceive to be an overreaction to the Pollards' crimes and the unusually long sentence imposed on Jonathan Pollard." (Chutzpah!, p. 291)

The Israeli campaign in behalf of Pollard has been led mainly by right of center politicians. It has featured an unusual grant of citizenship to an overseas Jew, and several requests for his release by Israeli prime ministers. However, activists have complained that messages to American presidents have been routine, more in the line of lip service than strong assertions. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert once cut off discussion about Pollard in the presence of the U. S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that it was not appropriate at that time. Israel's Supreme Court twice rejected Pollard's requests to intervene in his behalf.

The campaign has lacked the mass demonstrations and enthusiasm seen in behalf of Gilad Shalit.

On the evening after President Obama rejected the latest request to release Pollard, one prominent television news programs did not mention him. Another included an item after its coverage of fighting in Syria. It consisted mostly of an interview with a former American official who supported the release of Pollard, but who has been out of government for more than 25 years,

President Obama's refusal to release Pollard repeats the decision of President George W. Bush in 2005. President Bill Clinton seemed inclined to consider a release, but backed down in response to opposition from present or former ranking officials, including Secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Melvin R. Laird, Frank C. Carlucci, Richard B. Cheney, Caspar W. Weinberger, James R. Schlesinger and Elliot L. Richardson, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The committee that works for Pollard's freedom has not given up hope. Despite the announcement from the White House that the President has not changed American policy, a committee member sees an opportunity in June when President Obama is scheduled to award the Medal of Freedom to President Peres.

Among the reservations heard from the United States is opposition to Pollard becoming a symbol of brave Jews loyal primarily to Israel. While there is no anti-release movement apparent among Israeli Jews, it is not hard to imagine a lack of enthusiasm for citizen Pollard's heroic arrival and public appearances among Israelis who worry about extreme nationalism, and among those concerned to maintain good relations with US military and intelligence agencies.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 08:23 PM
April 09, 2012
Palestine, Iran, and the limits of citizenship and political science

It is hard to know if this is a time to cry, laugh, or more simply to recognize the intractable nature of Israel's problems in the Middle East.

I'm not about to go back to Fall River, and certainly not to my grandparents' home town of Bialystok.

I've gotten used to the stalemate surrounding me, and see it as damn near permanent, or at least outlasting me. And maybe outlasting my children and grandchildren.

The latest signs reinforcing my ennui are the mornings news from Ramallah and Tehran.

Neither show any signs of anyone being able to resolve our problems with the Palestinians or the Iranians.

The first problem is both a lot closer and a lot simpler.

Mahmoud Abbas, the continuing President of the Palestinian Authority despite his term of office ending in January, 2009 has defined his conditions for resuming negotiations with Israel.

"there would be no resumption of the peace talks unless Israel halted settlement activities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, accepted the June 4, 1967 lines as the future borders of a Palestinian state and released Palestinian prisoners."

Abbas is threatening to return to the United Nations if Israel does not agree, and ask for membership in that body for Palestine even if it remains without statehood.

More positively, he swore himself as loyal to peaceful politics, without violence.

It is easy to say that Israel will not bow to Abbas' demands. It is harder to decide why he bothers making them. Among the alternatives:

•He's dumb, and hasn't gotten the message
•He's trying for a Hail Mary, hoping the support expressed time and again by many countries for Palestine will spread to the American government, and let him score a victory at the United Nations
•He's trapped in his own impossible political situation, unable to move toward an accommodation that Israel will accept on account of a subset of Palestinian conditions that include:
◦Hamas and other movements not able to accept Israel's existence, much less its presence in the boundaries of 1967
◦Elements in his own political party and government--and perhaps in himself--not able to challenge the Muslim ethos that the Middle East (perhaps extending from Spain north to Central Europe and on to Indonesia) is Muslim by heritage, with no Muslim daring to surrender any of it to non-Muslims

Abbas conveyed his conditions in a meeting with Yossi Beilin and other activitists of the "Geneva Initiative." This is an effort of unofficial Israeli and Palestinians going back to 2003, and bankrolled since then by international worthies and some European governments. Beilin is a PhD in political science who gave up the prospects for an academic career to work as an aide to Shimon Peres. He served at various times as Cabinet Secretary, Director General of the Foreign Ministry, Justice Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister, had several years as a Knesset Member, first with the Labor Party and then with Meretz, including a term as Meretz party chair. Peres' rival, Yitzhak Rabin, referred to Beilin as "Peres' poodle."

Beilin was instrumental in creating the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO in 1993, but currently seems ill suited to any established political entity.

Currently he is doing what he can to nuture Palestine from the extreme left of the Israeli spectrum, He has condemned the Netanyahu government for ignoring any prospects of accommodation. He urged the Palestinians to abandon the Oslo Accords and their national authority with its opportunities for political autonomy, and "give back the keys to the West Bank" so that Israel would be faced with all the messy details of traffic control, welfare, education, and health.

Beilin's latest posture has proved too extreme for the Palestinians, who were quick to reject it. According to unnamed Palestinians termed "senior officials," the dissolution of the Palestine Authority would be "political suicide."

It is better to head a mini-non-state than to operate a failed political movement, with no semblance of authority other than to issue declarations and promote demonstrations.

Palestinians, Yossi Beilin, and a few like-thinking Israelis are in the same corner. They are frustrated and angry, but with few alternatives other than one or another set of demands likely to go nowhere.

The chances of significant movement on the Palestinian front is minimal in the extreme. Never say never in politics, but "not likely" is an acceptable alternative.

Iran is a tougher nut to ponder. It, too, has an easy part. The postures offered by the US leadership of international negotiations about Iran's nuclear future have been rejected by Iran before negotiations get underway.

"Ahead of negotiations with world powers, Iranian president says Iran will continue on its nuclear path even if the whole world stands up to it, will not give up dignity under enemy pressure."

There is nothing new here. Western governments have long offered support for a nuclear program limited to civilian uses which the Iranians time and again have rejected, squirmed out of, or subjected to endless negotiations going nowhere.

Israeli commentators range from those saying that Israel and the United States cooperated in defining the demands being made of Iran, to those saying that demands coming out of Washington fall short of those expressed by Israel's Prime Minister and/or Defense Minister. Some express the hope that American and Iranian proclamations of conflicting demands are only the opening gambits of long negotiations, and not signs of Iranian intransigence and certain stalemate.

The difference between our Iranian problem and our Palestinian problem is that Iran concerns nuclear weapons and often repeated hatred of us. While Palestinians also express intense antipathy toward our existence, their weapons are rocks, slingshots, knives, pistols, rifles, and homemade missiles that are as likely to fall on Palestinians as Israelis. They have acquired and used missiles of medium range and power that can damage us, but are likely to invite Israeli responses sufficiently disproportionate to postpone the next round of violence.

The imponderable is having to guess if Israel can undertake a political effort that will lead the US and other Western powers to do what is necessary to force limitations on Iran's nuclear program. Or, if Israeli leaders will decide that Americans and other Westerners are unreliable, and undertake their own attack. That can either drag other countries into a military confrontation with Iran, or lead Israel to even greater political isolation and condemnation by governments we like to think of as friendly.

It's easy to decide that it is worthwhile to devote only 10 percent of whatever brainpower I can allocate to such things worrying about Palestine, and the rest worrying about Iran.

However, I don't aspire to come up with a solution for Iran, or even to know with any certainty what Israel or our allies is likely to do.

In this setting of total unpredictability about one problem of modest weight and another much heavier, the best use of my brainpower is to ponder things that I can control. Like what to have for dinner. Or what clothes to buy for Tamar's upcoming wedding.

My residual problem is worrying if I am giving up on my responsibilities as citizen and political scientist, or acknowledging the limits of both citizenship and political science.


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 04:36 AM
April 08, 2012
Barak, Barack, and Brigham Young University

There are some disturbing elements and some that are optimistic in a Washington Post article about expanded US intelligence activities with respect to Iran.

As is the nature of reports about these most secret of things, the optimism may come from some of the fluff added by unattributable sources, or by the journalists who compiled the article.

Key points in the article:

"White House officials contend that Iran's leaders have not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and they say it would take Iran at least a year to do so if it were to launch a crash program now.

"Even in the absolute worst case -- six months -- there is time for the president to have options," said the senior U.S. official, one of seven current or former advisers on security policy who agreed to discuss U.S. options on Iran on the condition of anonymity. . . .

A key demand (at upcoming talks with Iranian officials), Western diplomats say, is for Iran to halt production at its uranium enrichment plant at Qom, which was built in mountain tunnels beyond the reach of all but the most advanced bombs and missiles. In return for such a concession, Iran could be allowed to keep some semblance of a commercial nuclear power program under heavy international oversight, diplomats say. It is unclear, however, whether Iran would agree to restrictions on its program. In recent days, Iran has refused even to commit to a venue for the talks. . . ."

In case you didn't notice, the last two sentences in that paragraph fall into the "disturbing" category.

"The expanded espionage effort has confirmed the consensus view expressed by the U.S. intelligence community in a controversial estimate released publicly in 2007. That estimate concluded that while Iran remains resolutely committed to assembling key building blocks for a nuclear weapons program, particularly enriched uranium, the nation's leaders have opted for now against taking the crucial final step: designing a nuclear warhead.

"It isn't the absence of evidence, it's the evidence of an absence," said one former intelligence official briefed on the findings. "Certain things are not being done."

It adds to the image associated with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that Israel figures close to the center of discussions about the United States and Iran.

"The Obama administration has cited new intelligence reports in arguing against a preemptive military strike by Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is one of two people who will be crucial in deciding whatever Israel does, as well as possessing considerable formal authority to implement those decisions.

The latest coverage of Israel's Barak on Iran:

"Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he doesn't think the current sanctions against Iran will persuade the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear program and that Israel hasn't decided how to respond.

"I don't believe that this amount of sanctions and pressure will bring the Iranian leadership to the conclusion that they have to stop their nuclear military program," Barak said on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program."

We simple citizens of this beleaguered, ridiculed, but powerful little place can express our positions in favor, against, or ambivalence about such great issues in the supreme confidence that no one will provide us with the important information or ask our opinion.

In all probability it will be Ehud Barak and Benyamin Netanyahu who decide, with reference to whatever they know and expect. That other Barack on the other side of the ocean will be an important factor in their discussions, but who knows how much lesser in importance.

Just last week we had a media experience to remind us about the closeness of Netanyahu and the Israeli Barak. Their cooperation goes beyond the pathetic political weakness of the Defense Minister when measured in the conventional indicators of party power. Mid-way in the Netanyahu-Barak partnership as Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Ehud Barak split with the Labor Party which he had led, and created a tiny party of five members, which he calls "Independence." The Labor Party previously had a Knesset delegation of 13 members.

Likud has 27 members. Israel our Home has 15 and SHAS has 11, but neither of those middling parties has anything close to the importance of the Defense Ministry.

Netanyahu and Barak were leading figures at the 40th anniversary of the IDF operation when a squad of commandos rescued the hostages of Sabena Flight 571. Ehud Barak commanded the mission, but he was not the leading figure at the celebration. That role went to Benyamin Netanyahu, who was one of the 16 participants in the operation disguised as airport technicians.

Somewhat better news for the non-Israeli Barack came from an affiliate of the Washington Post, reporting something flapping around close to the pinnacle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the center of the commotion is Randy Bott, a Professor of Religion and said to be the most popular teacher at Brigham Young University.

What may be causing an itch for Mitt Romney is language like this:

"The Mormon Church's own longstanding priesthood ban was, according to Bott, not racist. Rather, it was a "blessing." Prior to 1978, blacks weren't spiritually mature enough to be ordained with such authority. Bott compared blacks to "a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father's car," . . . misusing priesthood authority--like crashing dad's Oldsmobile--could have put blacks "in the lowest rungs of hell," reserved for serial killers, child rapists, world-class tyrants, and "people who abuse their priesthood powers."

It's still more than five months to the Republican Convention in late August, and it'll be another two months to the November election. Someone here or elsewhere will make a crucial decision to go or not toward Iran, maybe before or after those dates.

Whatever the decision, or non-decision, one can count on more reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere, along with commentary about the weight of Barak's decision in Barack's political campaign. And maybe something more about African-Americans and Mitt Romney's religion.

This remains an interesting retirement.


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 07:01 AM
April 06, 2012
One people or two?

A recent poll about American Jews' political inclinations raises once again the issue of how the two largest Jewish communities are developing, each in its own way.

Figures are not entirely reliable, especially outside of Israel, but one reasonable compilation shows that the American and Israeli communities comprise about two thirds of the people who consider themselves Jews. The rank order of lesser communities, which together amount to another 15 percent of the Jews, is France, Canada, Britain, Russia, Argentina, Germany, Ukraine, and Brazil.

A prominent finding is that Israel is not the principal concern of American Jews as they face the presidential election. Domestic economic issues and traditional Jewish liberalism was seen as highly important by 51 percent of the respondents, while support for Israel is highly important for only 20 percent.

Jews' inclinations toward one or another presidential candidate gained some of the headlines in reporting the poll. Democratic loyalties remaining strong, but Barack Obama's 62 percent support would--if it continued through November--mark him as one of the Jews' least liked Democratic candidates since polling began. Preferences expressed for Republican contenders suggest that liberalism has appeal even among Jewish Republicans. Obama's support among Jews might increase if Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul received the nomination.

A poll of Israeli Jews from about five months ago showed Barack Obama viewed favorably by 54 percent, and unfavorably by 39 percent. That is a dramatic improvement from the time earlier in his administration, when a poll showed only 6 percent of Israeli Jews thought that Obama had a favorable view of Israel.

Israeli suspicions of Obama's role in the Middle East remain considerable, with 39 percent having a dim view of his role in their region and only 22 percent expressing a positive view.

There is no obvious and sweeping conclusion to be seen in these polls. Conditions change. Political contests depend on who is competing against who. The Middle East has changed over the course of the last year with a marked increase in the instability of Arab countries. Over a somewhat longer period, it is possible to see a change in comments coming from the top of the American administration-- from severe pressure against Israel due to its lack of movement toward peace, to a tendency toward quiet, with some emphasis on the problems manifest among Palestinians.

One should not be surprised by whatever indications of social and political differences are apparent between American and Israeli Jews. The communities' roots and recent experiences are substantially different.

We can trace considerable portions of those differences to the 1880s, with the beginning of mass movement from the Jewish heartland in the Russian and Austrian empires toward Western Europe and North America, with only a tiny trickle to Palestine.

Most American Jews had no direct experience with the Holocaust, and few of them have the Middle Eastern origins that mark more than half of Israeli Jews.

American Jews have moved into their country's mainstream. During the last half-century Jewish quotas have disappeared in colleges and universities along with restrictive covenants on real estate. There has been considerable advancement of Jews into the top levels of major corporations and government. Rates of intermarriage that may be above 50 percent make it increasing difficult to decide who is a Jew.

Writing this note on the eve of the Passover Seder, it is tempting to emphasize that observant American Jews must pray, eat and drink at length twice, while Jews in the Land of Israel fulfill the mitzvah with only one Seder. (Thank God for small favors.)

The holidays of the two communities differ in more profound ways. While American synagogues and temples may mark Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day with special prayers and a festival in the case of Independence Day, here those days are among the most important in the calendar. Little serious work is possible in Israel during the month from Rosh Hashana through Succoth. For the week of Succoth and again on Passover, virtually the whole country is on vacation and travelling. Schools, universities, national and local governments, plus major corporations close all but their most important operations.

A concern for national security is the most apparent difference between the two populations. Threats to Israel are persistent and come from nearby. Security issues dominate the media, polling, and politics, while they are a distant concern for American Jews. The incidence of direct participation is stark in its contrast. Military service in Israel is the rite of passage for most non-religious Jewish women and almost all Jewish men who are not ultra-Orthodox. In contrast, a small incidence of American Jews volunteer for military service. The exemption granted to ultra-Orthodox men is a perennial topic of controversy in Israel. There is at least a bit of concern in the United States that Jews are not carrying their share of the military burden.

Almost all of the Jews here (i.e., those who have not flocked overseas in order to avoid the holiday) and quite a few in the United States will end the Seder with "next year in Jerusalem." Some 15 percent of the Israeli Jewish population is already here, and the city is only a short drive from those eating, drinking, and singing elsewhere. Other data show that two-thirds of American Jews have never visited.


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 12:47 AM
April 04, 2012
One of the knotty problems

Among the knottiest of problems Israelis have to deal with are the aspirations of Jews to move into areas thickly settled by hostile Arabs.

The issue is not the simple one of most settlements in the West Bank or the established post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Think what you will about justice of those, but they are mostly built on vacant land, not contested by Palestinian owners, and supported by Israeli government decisions with considerable (if not wall to wall) support by the Jewish population.

The issue more troubling by far is illustrated by the hassle about a structure in Hebron, near the Cave of the Patriarchs, ostensibly purchased by Jews. Several families moved in. The Defense Ministry, with authority on such matters, ordered their evacuation insofar as they lacked the MInistry's approval for moving into sensitive areas of occupied territories.

Right-of-center Ministers in the government, Knesset Members, and outward to voters of Likud, Israel our Home, and the large community of settlers and their supporters demanded that the residents be allowed to stay. Those backing the residents say that they bought the property from its Palestinian owners, via the typical route of the owner selling it to another Arab, perhaps living overseas beyond the reach of Palestinian Authority officials who might be inclined to impose the death penalty for selling land or buildings to Jews. The "straw man" buyer was the seller to the Jews, or it may have passed through several additional straw men on the way to the Jews, each meant to support one another's claims of not violating Palestinian norms and laws. (Those sensitive to issues of gender should realize that there is probably no need in this case to consider the possibility of females in the chain of Arabs buying and selling on the way to the Jews.)

Palestinian authorities for their part are making the standard assertion that the documents are forgeries, and that the sellers (some of them already in custody) had no right to sell the property.

We heard that the evacuation order had been stayed until after Passover and beyond to give the buyers an opportunity to substantiate their claims. Speculation was that pressure would build on the Defense Minister, and he would put the evacuation order in a back drawer.

Alas, the Attorney General and the Defense Minister decided that the evactuation had to occur, and its implementation was kept secret until it was done two days before the Seder.

At the same time this was brewing, we heard again from Irving Moscowitz. He is a wealthy American whose mission in life is to finance the movement of Jews to Arab neighborhoods. His most recent plans are to bankroll an entire neighborhood to be built alongside the Arab neighborhood of Abu Dis. That is on the fringes of Jerusalem which the Palestinians have designated as the site of their Parliament Building, should they ever be able to claim a piece of al Quds as their national capital. Jerusalem's mayor has announced his endorsement of the new neighborhood, to be called Kidmat Zion (Advance Zion), and his intention to bring it to planning authorities for approval. Reports are that some of the land has been owned by Jews for decades but left undeveloped, while other parcels have been purchased by Moscowitz.

The claim that land has been owned by Jews for decades is a problematic justification for settlement activity. It raises the issue--dealt with by Israeli law but not to the safisfaction of everyone--about Arab property abandoned during or since 1948, taken over by the State of Israel, and provided to Jews via long term leases.

Judgement is complex, no matter what is decided about one propoerty or another by Israeli authorities, along with the media circus and threats of Palestinian violence that are inevitable.

On the one hand are the desires of Jews, political extremists and even messianic, to place themselves in locations chosen for their religious and nationalist significance. It may be their intention to arouse Palestinian nationalism, or at least to sprinkle Jewish residents among Arabs and make it even more difficult to divide the land on the way to an accommodation between Israel and Palestine.

In these cases, the Jews claim proper ownership, subject to examination by administrators and judges, along with assertions of their rights to live where they will.

Remember restrictive covenants in those desirable American neighborhoods that forbid the sale of property to Jews, African-Americans, and/or Catholics. If those are no longer politically correct or legally kosher in the United States, why should Israel forbid Jews from acquiring property alongside Arabs?

Arabs rent or buy property in neighborhoods of Jerusalem and other Israeli cities that are almost entirely Jewish. Individual Jews may object, and there can be unpleasant incidents, but there is no legal barrier. There are numerous cases of peaceful co-existence in the neighborhoods of French Hill and Pisgat Zeev that abut Arab neighborhoods. Some of us have trouble deciding if we would rather have--or would rather not have--additional Arabs or additional ultra-Orthodox Jews moving onto our street.

Admittedly the movement of Jews into hostile Arab neighborhoods is not wise in the perspective of the slim opportunities for an Israel-Palestinian peace. But who said that the Palestinians are ready for peace, with their anti-Semitic school books, death penalty for selling property to a Jew, and the weight of Hamas and even more extreme organizations in the Palestinian community?

Among the complicating factors:

•The expense and danger to soldiers resulting from having to protect Jewish settlers from Arab neighbors
•The complications to Israeli politics that result from the passions involved.

Jerusalem's politics may depend on the secular mayor keeping left-wing secular parties in his coalition while giving into right wing nationalists, against the possibility of the city falling once again to an ultra-Orthodox mayor if the secular left wing cannot swallow the mayor's support of this new neighborhood.

It's something for everyone to decide.

No need to hurry. The problem will still be here after Passover.


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 04:37 AM
April 03, 2012
On democracy and the margins of government

Among the things I remember from my history lessons in Fall River is that the British forces employed Hessian mercenaries against the American patriots. Both "mercenary" and "Hessian" had a nasty tone in the textbooks and class discussions.

I wonder if those lessons remain in place, and if they are coupled with reports that the US military has employed more contract employees than its own soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more contract employees than soldiers killed in those wars. American and well as foreign national contract employees are prominent in logistics, transportation, and translation, and have been involved in guard duties and actual combat.

Since leaving Fall River I have also learned that Americans fighting for independence were just as likely to be the village riffraff with nothing better to do than dedicated patriots, but that is another story. (Those surprised or offended might begin with Fred Anderson's A People's Army, and Gary Nash's The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America )

Back to those contractors.

The purpose of this note is to raise some questions about the nature of government, and the capacity of elections and other tools of democracy to control things.

The topic has attracted my attention for a long time. Thirty some years ago I published Wither the State? It dealt with companies and other bodies owned by governments and ostensibly responsible to them, but largely independent. I employed the concept of the margins of the state to denote activities financed in part or whole by governments, and meant to be governed by them, but mostly beyond the reach of elected officials and those directly responsible to them. I began the research in East Africa, and then moved to the experiences of Australia, Israel, and the United States. Since then, the phenomenon has grown considerably. Contractors of various types provide all kinds of social services as well as foreign relations and military activities. I know of no major country that has maintained public services solely within the framework of departments under the direct control of national, regional, or local governments.

Prominent among the reasons for increased reliance on contractors are:

•Populations demand more services than politicians, or senior administrators in charge of established departments are able, or willing to control closely
•Governments can maintain or expand services without expanding the official civil service, thus saving on salaries and benefits, and avoiding unions

A common pattern is for an established charity, perhaps associated with a religious group, to expand its services from purely voluntary work funded by contributions to become a government contractor. It may still pose as a charity with some of its funds donated by individuals or corporations, but often the larger portion of its money comes from a local or national government.

There are also incentives for governments to "hive off" to others dirty tasks that laws within their own country would constrain or forbid. Thus the US government's practice of outsourcing torture, under the euphemism of "extraordinary rendition." to countries of Eastern Europe or the Middle East for individuals swept up in anti-terror operations.

Also in this murky realm on the margins of governmental activities are the rentable soldiers who learned their trades in the IDF or the armies of South Africa, France, the United States, Britain or elsewhere, and become trainers, arms dealers, combat officers or grunt fighters for a Third World country's official army or one of the movements doing combat with a government's army.

Somewhat more praiseworthy have been ex-IDF soldiers hired as guards on ships sailing off the coast of Somalia, who have managed to repel pirates with less concern for the niceties that limit the official naval ships of various countries assigned to that task.

Less praiseworthy are Israelis who have parleyed their experience and connections with defense industries to sell expertise and equipment to some dicey customers. Also prominent is a Russian who gained wealth during the sell-off of assets by the Soviet Union, linked himself to Israel and sought a role in politics via high profile donations to worthy causes, perhaps to gain refuge from criminal prosecutions in Israel and elsewhere.

The upside of contracting is the flexibility provided to governments to provide more services than they can--or want to--manage directly.

The downsides include:

•What activists term the "exploitation" of workers in these organizations, who lack the benefits and protections associated with the civil service
•What activists term the "exploitation" of clients, who suffer when contractors skimp on their obligations, and provide sub-standard services to needy individuals who lack obvious routes of appeal to government officials who are formally charged with overseeing the contractors.
•Contractors in military settings who are less assiduous than official soldiers in avoiding the collateral damage to innocent civilians, and who provide less care to their personnel who suffer injuries.

Currently on the agenda of the United States, depending on the Supreme Court, is the extension of health care via profit-making insurance companies, already known for problems in delivering the coverage expected. Americans who are proud of their free enterprise traditions may be less proud of profitable insurance companies that seek to protect their bottom lines by skimping on treatments, overly scrupulous controls of physicians' recommendations, complex paperwork demanded of claimants, and life-threatening delays in the approval of procedures.

There is no summary assessment possible about the overall benefits or problems due to contracting and other activities on the margins of government. The problems are no so much those of democracy, as of government administration that has grown as a result of public demands beyond the capacity of elected officials or their professional subordinates to manage what they provide to citizens. The problems appear in activities directly administered by government departments, and even more so those indirectly administered. The field is murky, some of it intentionally so, as in the case of arms dealing, extraordinary renditions, and other activities that may be justified for one or another reason, but are also embarrassing with respect to one or another moral virtue.

Among the issues on Israel's agenda this week are several hundred organizations providing the ingredients of a Passover Seder and other foods to needy families. Critics charge that the organizations are filming their distribution points, to the embarrassment of clients, for the sake of increasing contributions. Unknown, and perhaps unknowable, is the portion of their funds received indirectly from the government budget, via funds originally allotted to religious academies, municipalities, or a social service contractor from one government ministry or another.

Such are the mysteries of governmental financing. But they will not keep me from wishing you all an appropriate Passover, with the rituals and degree of kashrut suitable to your traditions and tastes.

And to make it easier for us all, the Hebrew University has just announced a generous offer for staff members to sell their chametz to a Gentile for the period of the holiday via the university's Internet site.

I am pleased to conclude this note with the observation that not all quasi-governmental, quasi-private organizations warrant criticism.


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 02:52 AM