May 29, 2012
Politics at the top

My wandering the library stacks produced Jeff Shesol's Mutual Contempt:Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade (New York: Norton, 1997).

I recall the general picture from the 1960s onward, and have seen details in other writing. What challenges conventional wisdom is the degree of absolute nuttiness found at the highest reaches of government. Yet there they are. While some of the stories may be shaky, there are too many of them to cause me to decide that my memory is faulty, or that the good reviews of Shesol's book are wrong.

Other material helps with the credibility. Johnson and Kennedy had no monopoly on the weirdness that can co-exist with high position. Richard Nixon deserves mention in these sentences, along with John Kennedy. Nixon we knew about in real time. John Kennedy's personal irregularities became widely known only some time after his death.

Some Israelis may admit that Yitzhak Rabin had his rough edges, even though they have been smoothed to nothing in the iconic treament since his assassination.

A political scientist has known at least since Harold Lasswell's Psychopathology and Politics (1930) that people getting close to the top are likely to be different than the rest of us.

Shesol is balanced in describing the flaws in both of his subjects. Johnson's were fear and paranoia, described in this book as concerned largely with Robert Kennedy. Kennedy's involved an overwhelming attachment to his brother, both when alive and then to his memory. At times it seemed that he assumed that John was still the president after November 22nd, and that Johnson remained an interloper for the rest of Robert's life.

Shesol not only describes the personal faults of both Johnson and Kennedy. He gives almost as much emphasis to troublemaking aides, supporters, and hangers-on. Politics attracts nuts not only to key offices, but may surround them with other nuts who crave passing on nasty remarks that an adversary said about the great one, and in some cases inventing them, perhaps to add to their own status in the eyes of the person they claim to be serving.

Yet another insight that Shesol provides, more often by implication if not explicitly, is that both Johnson and Kennedy functioned, often alongside one another, despite an enmity that was severe, and reinforced by no end of comments they made and--if they were not made directly one to the other--were passed on by others who heard them directly or heard about them from someone else.

Kennedy remained Johnson's Attorney General more more than a year with responsibility for issues of civil rights that the new president had put close to the top of his agenda. Kennedy and Johnson campaigned for one another in the presidential and New York senatorial elections of 1964. Both were careful to keep their feelings out of their public utterances, even while they were well known among Washington insiders and to journalists who did not keep those secrets.

Another aspect of coping?

Not at the macro-strategic level of Israel and United States coping with Iran and one another, but certainly at the personal level. Great issues were in the background, initially the Great Society and then Vietnam. Both men come across in Shesol's book as wavering on Vietnam as well as calculating what each statement or action would mean for their nemesis. Both had their doubts about Vietnam, but both began as firm believers in opposing the Communists. Kennedy--despite his eventual turn against the war in his 1964 presidential campaign--appeared even more than Johnson firmly committed to an strong anti-Communist posture initially, perhaps acquired along with other baggage from his father and his Catholic upbringing.

There are no clearly good guys and bad guys in this tale of personalities and politics at the top, except perhaps for the aides who could not resist pleasing their bosses and advancing themselves by spreading the bile they had heard being said by the other side. There were those who sought to make peace, and even wrote lengthy memos indicating how one or another of the principals might operate to bring about reconciliation. But the air was too spoiled, and the principals too twisted for any such thing to work.

There is no indication in this book, nor any other source that I am aware of, that the extreme personal animosity between Johnson and Robert Kennedy affected a major issue of public policy. Both were political professionals, which meant that they were experts at compartmentalizing and theatrics. They could cooperate in decisions of mutual interest while hating and/or fearing one another.

Both ended badly. Johnson announced his retirement mid-way through a primary campaign where he may have been embarrassed, and went down in history as fumbling the Great Society while going nowhere in a lousy war. A Palestinian killed Kennedy, even though neither Robert nor his brother were prominent as supporters of Israel.

Shesol notes several times that Johnson tried to prevent Kennedy's burial in Arlington Naitonal Cemetery, but the details suggest that it did not go beyond comments that could have been misunderstood, and were passed on by others in a way that added to the image of enmity. Johnson participated in the ceremonies alongside the widow. He kneeled on the grass with her and recited the Lord's prayer, and went along--some say relunctantly--with her request for a permanent memorial at Arlington (Chapter 18).

It is curious that Israel does not appear in Shesol's book. There are plenty of Jews in the story, most of them close to Robert Kennedy, but neither "Israel" nor "Jews" are in the index.

This absence may signify that Israel was no where near the place it currently occupies on the White House agenda. The personal contempt described in this book ends with Robert Kennedy's death in 1964. Then Israel was still a fragile and heroic place, more often idolized in the movies than condemned as conqueror and occupier. That came later, some years beyond 1967, when leftist worthies had gone beyond Nasser and Khartoum, and began idolizing Yassir Arafat.

For some, the 1964 version is still the Israel they idealize. I'll take the present country, warts and all.


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 08:20 PM
May 27, 2012

Israel has learned from more than 60 years in a difficult neighborhood not to solve problems.

In case you are wondering, that is a compliment. It is a sign of political maturity.

The most important lesson came in the Lebanon war that begin in 1982 and lasted until the troop removal in 2000. The final days were not as embarrassing as the American flight from Vietnam, but neither were they the parades of victory.

We're hoping that big brother across the sea is learning the same lesson. Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have provided good opportunities to mature.

At times it may be necessary to be vicious with neighbors who didn't learn the lesson last time. A spate of great destruction that does not entail occupation may be a sufficient deterrent that works, at least for a while. Nothing is likely to deal finally with intensive enemies driven by religion or ideology.

Managing is better than solving for the problems not likely to go away. The theme song is Coping. I'm still looking for appropriate words and music, but that will be the title.

Israel does it with its domestic problems as well as what threatens from over the borders. And if you haven't noticed, the lack of clarity attached to some of the those borders is part of the demonstration.

It is clear to us, and should be getting clear to others that it will take a Messiah to solve the problem of Israel and the Palestinians.

That doesn't look promising insofar as Jews have shown time and again that the idea is great but the reality is elusive. Almost all of the Palestinians are stuck with a Prophet from 1300 years ago who has been nothing but trouble. There remain a few who have not been chased out who adhere to that Jew from long ago, but he hasn't brought the paradise his followers are still expecting.

Here and there are signs that an optimist can read as showing that even Americans can learn. Obama's withdrawal from unsolved Iraq and his commitment to the same from Afghanistan are better than the youthful bombast of his Cairo speech, or the foolishness of telling Israelis that not building in a large part of Jerusalem will bring forth accommodations from Palestinians.

Israel's government also copes with Jewish extremists. There is no solving our co-existence with the ultra-Orthodox. The most we can hope for is that economic incentives will penetrate the ghettos where they aspire to isolate themselves from everything beyond the Middle Ages. It doesn't pay to be too aggressive against ultra-nationalists who claim land rights from the Almighty while Palestinians are at least as crazy.

No one has yet written the book that describes precise rules for coping.

Among the problems is knowing when to cope, as opposed to a stubborn insistence trying to solve a problem. Some problems only look insoluble, and might respond to an as yet unconceived solution. Some are so serious as to warrant efforts that will be costly, and might not work as hoped, but where concerted efforts may be better than ignoring what seems likely to become a catastrophe.

For Israel, one problem that may be too threatening for coping is the prospect of Iran having nuclear weapons. Along with repeated statements of ranking officials that Israel must be destroyed, a nuclear capacity in Iranian hands is unacceptable. (Unless the Iranian is a potential Prime Minister or Defense Minister by the name of Shaul Mofaz.)

For American and European governments, the Iranian problem is farther away geographically, and Iranians have not been explicit about destroying them.

We'll be watching closely how Israel and other governments deal with the initial problem of deciding if Iran's nuclear ambitions will allow coping, and the follow-up problems of how to cope, or alternately how they may increase sanctions to draconian levels, or go about destroying Iranian facilities and their willingness to rebuild them.

The other problem waiting treatment in a comprehensive text is how to cope.

Flexibility, and wisdom in handling nuances appear to be key features of the skills needed. Neither or those traits lend themselves to crisp prescription, as to what should be done under which conditions.

Coping involves learning to live with a problem that one does not know how to solve, or whose solution may be worse than continued uncertainty and manageable discomfort. Minimizing the extent of the problem, or inducing those creating the problem to modify their behavior are goals that may be achieved--in part--by trial and error. Getting ultra-Orthodox out of the academies and into jobs is one prominent aspiration on Israel's agenda.

Coping may be no more than another way of describing political wisdom. When? and How? are the questions that should bother us as long as we have the capacity to ask.

And for those who may have noticed, it is appropriate to wish a Happy Holiday (שבועות).


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 12:34 AM
May 25, 2012
Illegal immigration, here, there, and elsewhere

An uptick in loud concern about illegal immigration is currently riling Israeli media and politics.

By "loud concern" I mean shouting on a prime time discussion program set off when moderators do not accept as appropriate the answers to questions they have asked, against the background of anti-immigrant riots in the poor section of Tel Aviv where many of the immigrants live, and sharp disputes between ranking politicians and other officials.about appropriate actions.

For those who have followed similar controversies in the United States and Western Europe, it looks all so familiar, and carries a heavy stink of hypocrisy.

It is not only that immigration officials and police look the other way when employers hire illegals and pay them less than the minimum wage, or that politicians speak up and propose major changes to legislation only when there are reports of especially heinous crimes committed by immigrants.

The hypocrisy also appears in an official report of the United States State Department, which criticizes Israel with respect to its treatment illegal immigrants, whereas the situation at home is not essentially different. Even the left-of-center and usually critical Ha'aretz takes umbrage over the most recent State Department report about Israel.

It may well be true that Israeli officials are superficial in their review of claims for refugee status and reject most of them, but how many illegal immigrants from Mexico or Central America have a fair chance to make a claim that current chaos in their country would subject them to danger if back home?

It may also be true that individual Israeli politicians may be extreme in their statements about sending them all home, or calling them a cancer on the society, but are American politicians, especially in states close to the Mexican border, significantly more moderate in their statements, their proposals, or the laws that they seek to enact?

The State Department report relies heavily on claims of NGOs and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees about Israel's actions with respect to African immigrants, while it is well known that NGOs and UN organizations are systematic in focusing almost exclusively on Israel and applying to it standards infinitely higher than applied to other countries.

The issue is so riven with complexities that defy simple solution, and so affected by populations that differ from citizens in color, language, and culture that it is dry tinder only waiting for one or another spark to begin another round of popular demonstrations that slip easily into rioting, with or without speeches or comments by prominent politicians that slip easily into incitement.

Undeniable is the pulling capacity of a wealthy economy and a society that offers relative peace in comparison with the poverty and insecurity found in much of Africa, Mexico, and Central America that supply the bulk of illegal immigrants to the Western Europe, Israel, and the United States. Also undeniable is the access of potential migrants to an infrastructure of shady characters who will guide them to a promised land for pay, but who may abandon them mid-route, exploit them sexually, or subject them to violence.

What to do with the migrants who succeed in crossing the borders?

Israel's active ambivalence is similar those those of other countries. Alongside formal policies to review claims that would justify giving individuals the status of refugees associated with rights to work and access to medical care and other social services is he weight of numbers that overwhelm even the most sincere bureaucracy. Sending migrants back home is not so simple when the governments of their poor countries are not anxious to receive individuals who will add to their own rickety efforts to provide employment, internal security, and social services. For many of Israel's immigrants, it is difficult even to be certain of their home countries. While Israeli officials have concluded that most of those currently arriving come from Eritrea, the Eritrean Ambassador said on a popular news program that most of those were not from Eritrea.

Claims heard from Israelis, that the immigrants are taking jobs from citizens, overloading the health system, threatening the security of Israelis who live or work near them, and threatening the character of Israeli society are identical to the claims heard by Americans or Europeans who speak out against illegal immigration.

The web site of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, could be translated into Hebrew and a number of European languages, then serve immigration opponents far from American shores. Along with arguments about traffic congestion, insufficient fresh water, 9/11, and non-citizen voting, it has a section on the uniquely American issue of "birth citizenship." (Almost all democracies except the US and Canada associate citizenship of a new born with the citizenship of the parents, and do not automatically grant citizenship to someone born within their borders.)

The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution appears to be clear:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

FAIR is not so sure.

"The phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" was intended to exclude from automatic citizenship American-born persons whose allegiance to the United States was incomplete. . . . In the case of illegal aliens, their native country has a claim of allegiance on the child. Therefore, some Constitutional scholars argue that the completeness of the allegiance to the United States is impaired and logically precludes automatic citizenship. However, this issue has never been directly decided by the U.S. Supreme Court."

What is most certain in this muddled area of public policy is inequities and its potential to provoke yet another round of shouting among competing advocates, and violence by those whose skills are more physical than intellectual. Some immigrants will get jobs from employers who use their political connections to keep immigration officials at bay. Some will find a citizen to marry, or at least to maintain a continuing intimate relationship, and do what is possible to keep the immigration officials at bay. Many more will find themselves unsuitable for deportation, on account of no documentation showing nationality or no cooperation from governments of what are said to be their home countries. Some of these will be housed, fed, and cared for in facilities that may not be exactly like prisons for criminals, but that keep them from the streets and from employment. Some will continue to roam free, not formally allowed to work or receive social services, but left to manage by themselves or with some help from sympathetic citizens, individual officials of local or national agencies, and humanitarian organizations.


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 04:12 AM
May 24, 2012
Obama, Israel, and Iran

In the great mystery of What will Israel do? there is another item that may help to resolve the problem.

Ha'aretz is the paper of Israel's intellectual establishment. And befitting that status, it is left of center, and generally critical of government policy. The posture of its editors affects their treatment of news as well as opinion. Articles by the pro-Palestinian journalist Amira Hass often begin on page one, and extend over two pages in the middle of the paper. Gidon Levy can be counted on to blast whatever the government of Benyamin Netanyahu is doing, especially if it has ramification for the peace process.

Ari Shavit is not among the most predictably left-wing writers of Ha'aretz, but he does carry the title of Senior Corespondent and is a member of the Editorial Board. Thus, we should pay attention to his recent piece that appeared in the most prominent spot, above the fold, right below the cartoon, in the center of the op-ed page.

It is a vicious attack and ridicule of Barack Obama's passivity with respect to Iran.

The headline in the Hebrew print edition translates as "The Brave President Obama."

On the English-language Internet edition, it is "The world should focus on Obama, not Netanyahu."

The Hebrew headline is a literary allusion to the The Brave Soldier Svejk, a Czech satire published in 1923 by Jaroslav Hasek, about a draftee in World War I that conveys the image of a bungling, insensitive military that can do nothing right.

The book has been widely read in Israel. When I was drafted into the IDF at the age of 40 and went off to basic training, Varda put a copy in my kitbag.

It is equivalent to the American characters Willie and Joe in the Bill Mauldin cartoons.

The essence of Shavi's column is

". . . the man sitting in the Oval Office is ignoring the possibility that his inaction will make the Middle East go nuclear and undermine the world order. He doesn't care that he might be responsible for losing the United States' superpower status and turning the 21st century into a century of nuclear chaos.

The dispassionate man from Chicago is proving every day what rare stuff he's made of. The president sees how the Iranians mock him - and does nothing. He sees radical Islam approaching the nuclear brink - and does not budge. With amazing courage Barack Obama watches the tsunami rolling toward America's shores - and smiles. . . .

He is staging a deceptive show of a deal with the Iranians, which will seem to dull the . . . threat. He is trying to make a fool of Jerusalem as Tehran is making a fool of him. The president is pushing Israel into a corner, but is hoping that Israel will accept its fate submissively. He is counting on Benjamin Netanyahu not to surprise him and ruin his election season. Never has the United States had such a gambler for a president. . . .

The international community and international public opinion are preoccupied with King Netanyahu these days - will he or won't he attack? But instead of focusing on a statesman who isn't supposed to save the world from Iran's nuclear program, it would be better to focus on the leader whose historic role is just that. In the past 40 months Barack Obama has been betraying his office. Will he wake up in the next four months, come to his senses and change his ways?"

While Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been saying that Israel cannot tolerate Iran with a nuclear program, commentators are inclined to find splits in the Israeli establishment, and speculate that Netanyahu and Barak are simply trying to pressure Americans and Europeans into an firm posture on Iran. Why would Israel risk its status among the decent countries by an lone attack, especially in the run-up to an American presidential election, and if the Americans and Europeans claim to have reached a satisfactory agreement with Iran?

There is no hard information about the sentiments of Israelis as they might be affected by the details of a formal agreement, along with reservations heard from Iranians, the continued insistence by ranking Iranian officials that Israel must be destroyed, and signs of Iranian waffling on what the Americans and Europeans describe as their commitments.

Israeli commentators did not greet with loud applause the claims of the International Atomic Energy Agency head that Iran had agreed to increased inspection. The news came along with the report that the Iranians had already cleaned one of its most suspicious facilities of nuclear activity in advance of an inspection. The halting and broken English of the Japanese at the head of IAEA adds its bit of negative symbolism. No doubt he had the advantage of translations from Parsi to English and Japanese, but his halting praise of progress did not convey a great deal of confidence that he understands the Iranians.

Shavit's editorial, including its prominent location in Ha'aretz, suggests the breadth of Israelis' lack of confidence in the American president and his colleagues in this mission. It does not help that Catherine Ashton, ostensibly leading the European-American-UN delegation, shown smiling as she was shaking the hand of the head Iranian delegate, is viewed by reputable journals in her own country as a caricature of a diplomat

Netanyahu may only be bluffing in his unmistable criticism of what the Americans and Europeans are offering the Iranians at the onset of negotiations, in order to get the strongest posture imaginable from the Westerners.

On the other hand . . .


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 06:00 AM
May 21, 2012
Two committees

Two committees are competing for Israel's media space. Both are dealing with items that have been near the top of the agenda for some time. And consistent with their long play without solution, the clear tendency of commentary about both is pessimistic.

One is dealing with Iran's nuclear program. Without trying to convey the details, the general picture is
•Israeli leaders are demanding the complete dismantling of Iran's nuclear program, civilian as well as anything with military significance
•Western leaders, with Barak Obama the most prominent pronouncer, are offering their approval of medium range nuclear enrichment, suitable for civilian uses, and demanding greater inspection opportunities
•Iran officials are speaking about accommodation, but insisting on their rights as an honorable country to continue a nuclear program that they insist is peaceful
•Credible experts are saying that Iran has already amassed more nuclear capacity than would be required by any civilian program
•The commanding general of Iran's military forces has been quoted as saying that Iran is committed to Israel's destruction

What we are seeing is an American-European opening posture more generous to Iran than Israel's demands. Given the nature of negotiations it is likely that the final agreement--if there is one--will be even further from Israel's demands than the opening postures of the West.

There are optimists who say that Israeli officials are making shrill demands for the sake of pressuring the United States and Europe, and really are willing to accept whatever the Americans and Europeans decide.

Pessimists are saying something else.

Israelis use the expression of negotiations "exploding" when the participants walk about without an agreement.

In this case, we cannot rule out explosions of a different kind, more likely produced by Israel than the United States.

We're hoping for better, but there is no good reason to expect better.

The second committee is meant to find a solution for the inequalities involved in the lack of military obligations imposed on ultra-Orthodox men, and maybe also for Israeli Arabs.

There are loud voices demanding that the Haredim be required to serve in the IDF for the same period of time, with the same demanding activity and risks as other Jewish young men.

The IDF does not want the obligation, which ranking officers see as more the provision of social service than the conventional activity of a military force. They see great expense in deciding which of the Haredi young men are suitable by virtue of health, education, and motivation for military service, and then providing a period of training that brings them up to the physical and intellectual levels where they are able to contribute to one or another activity of the IDF.

Many Israelis recognize the problems, and are willing to provide the Haredim an option of social service instead of a military obligation. The same alternative may be offered to Israeli Arabs. We can assume that many of them would not want to serve in the Zionists' army, and the IDF would not be enthusiastic about having to subject so many candidates to security checks of their own past activities and connections with family and friends known to be troublemakers.

Haredi politicians, for their part, want none of it. They are not participating in the government committee, and insisting that they will not accept any arrangement that violates a young man's religious obligation to devote his life to the study of sacred texts. Arab politicians may be more accommodating. A report in Ha'aretz cites Arab leaders who say that any Arab politician participating in the work of the committee would be an "Uncle Tom." However, individual Arab MKs have indicated that they will consult with the committee informally.

Pessimists are expecting this committee to produce a cosmetic revision of the current blanket deferral of ultra-Orthodox and Arab men, meant to deal with the Supreme Court's ruling against the gross inequities involved in the present arrangement.

If there are any optimists predicting an optimum, or even decent solution for this issue, I have not heard from them.

In the air is a dramatic contrast between morality and reality. Secular activists demand that Haredi young men face the same military service as they face, principally in the name of equality of burdens and responsibility. Many of the same activists want to go further, and produce a reform that removes almost all young Heredi men from their religious academies, and require them to work after a period of military service.

Against this posture concerned with the morality of equity, IDF officers--meant to be the principle manager of the equity--do not want to be bothered with the Haredim. Their emphasis is on an army of quality, rather than serving the spirit of equality. Officers are no more enthusiastic about bring problematic secular youths up to their standard than doing the same with the Haredim.

Israel is involved in one of the periodic upticks of the demands from secular taxpayers who are tired of supporting a Haredi community that does not contribute its share to the economy or the military, and insists on a program of study for its young people that does not prepare them for anything more than continued study of religious texts. Important in this issue reaching the agenda once again are last summer's protests in behalf of social justice. Leaders of those protests realize that they produced little, due partly to the lack of focus. Somewhere in the public's conception of social justice and the shopping list for reforms were demands that ultra-Orthodox to do their share.

Also involved in the uptick of this issue were several episodes receiving extensive coverage concerned with Haredi insistence about females. Recall the spitting and other actions against the little girl and her mother in Beit Shemesh who tried to walk on the sidewalk designated for men on her way to school, and the several women who made news by refusing to ride in the back of Glatt Kosher buses.

The committee dealing with Iran might come up with a deal that Israeli officials decide to accept, rather than risk its status among the enlightened by blowing up the efforts of a high profile endeavor of American and European leaders.

Haredi contributions to military and economy, along with the appropriate obligations of Israeli Arabs, is something Israelis have to deal with by themselves.

I am no more optimistic about Israel solving its primary religious conflict than watching Barack Obama dealing with another issue of the Middle East with good words and warm feelings more suitable for Middle America.


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 10:23 PM
May 20, 2012
Illegals in a land of immigrants

Not all immigrants to Israel receive a warm welcome.

The prominent exceptions to the smiles and good wishes concern Africans who pay Bedouin to smuggle them from Egypt through the Sinai.

Americans know the problem with Mexican and other illegal entrants from Central America. Europeans can think about North Africans, Turks, or others from poor countries who manage to get to Spanish, Italian, French, or Greek islands or the mainland, and from there elsewhere to Europe.

Israel suffers from being the only first-world country with a well-to-do economy and decent social services having a land border with Africa. Insofar as it is a small country with a centralized administration and alert security services, and close to being hermetically sealed with respect to neighbors, it probably has better statistics about illegal immigration than the United States or Western European countries.

Recent figures from the Interior Ministry are that there were 55,000 African illegal immigrants as of January, 2012. That number is double what was recorded 18 months earlier in July, 2010. More recently, officials said that there are now 60,000 illegal African immigrants in the country.

Somewhat less reliable are statistics about East European prostitutes who get to Israel, either via the same route across the Sinai, or coming as tourists through the international airport. There may be several thousand individuals engaged in this trade. Women claim they were forced into prostitution after being recruited to work as waitresses or dancers, and then managed by especially cruel handlers. The proprietors of this trade include legal Jewish immigrants with roots and connections in Eastern Europe. Individuals familiar with the history of mass Jewish migration to Western Europe, the United States, and Latin America should not be surprised that an underworld develops among immigrants along with decent folks who work as professors of political science and in other respectable trades.

Africans looking for work, as well as the ladies from Eastern Europe find themselves in situations similar to those of illegal immigrants in other Western countries. There are employers and customers who use their services, state authorities who go through the motions of enforcing the laws, but generally seem to look the other way in order to let the economy do its things, and occasional upswings in the efforts of elected officials to deal more thoroughly with the issue.

The immigrants suffer en route the same indignities and dangers as individuals smuggled into the United States or European countries. The Bedouin who organize their trek across the Sinai charge for the service, occasionally exploit their clientele sexually, abandon some in the desert, and murder others. Some have been drugged, have organs removed by Egyptian physicians who then sell them via the medical equivalent of the bazaars in Cairo or Alexandria, with the involuntary donors left to die.

As elsewhere, when the issue of the immigrants' illegality becomes a public issue, there are claims about them involved in crime or taking jobs that should be available to legal residents. Politicians call them a threat to Israel's character as a Jewish state. Currently underway is a physical and electronic barrier being constructed on what had been the long and unfenced border with Egypt from Gaza southward to Eilat. Bedouin have already managed to penetrate the portion of the barrier that is in place in order to deliver immigrants toward Eilat.

Israeli officials have sought the cooperation of Egyptian authorities to stop the movement, and are not entirely pleased with the response. Not only is Egyptian activity sporadic, but the most prominent action undertaken is to shoot in order to kill the immigrants.

Among Israel's problems in dealing with the immigrants are the unsettled nature of the countries which supply the bulk of the immigrants (Eritrea, South Sudan, and Sudan), which hinder efforts to repatriate them, the lack of diplomatic relations with Sudan, and the unwillingness of African countries to accept individuals who arrive in Israel with no documents showing nationality..

Israel is expanding a detention facility near Eilat. The practice has been to house immigrants initially for some months in that facility, then to release them. There has been limited success in repatriating illegal immigrants to their home countries.

Against the expressions of politicians who demand to imprison all illegals until they can be repatriated are the actions of Israeli human rights organizations who take the immigrants under their wings, and press authorities to provide them with health benefits and education for their children. Many of the immigrants do menial work in Eilat hotels and restaurants, or menial jobs in and around Tel Aviv. Most live in a poor area of South Tel Aviv. Occasional crimes committed by them become high profile and spur campaigns to "send them all home." There have been fire bombings of the Africans' dwellings and other vigilante actions by Israelis.

Most crimes associated with the African illegals appear to be committed within the illegal population. Statistical reports are that their crime rate is lower than than of the general Israeli population.

The head of Israel's National Police recently toured the area of Tel Aviv that has become heavily African, and said that crime would decline if the immigrants were allowed to work legally during the time that their future remains unresolved.

Minutes after his comments aired on the media there were contrary expressions from Knesset Members and other officials. The head administrator of the Prime Minister's Office said that the government would continue to enforce the law against employing illegal immigrants. A Knesset Member said that telephone calls from Tel Aviv to Africa would convey the message that coming to Israel could net an immigrant $1,000 a month, and that would produce even more massive illegal immigration. An official of the Population and Immigration Authority said that the police chief's comment "is a kind of open invitation for hundreds of thousands of infiltrators to reach Israel."

After the next government meeting, Israel Radio quoted the Prime Minister as saying that the present number of 60,000 illegal African immigrants would reach 600,000 if the barrier was not completed soon, and if harsher penalties were not imposed on the immigrants' employers. However, the minister with responsibility for police supported the comments of the police chief, and said that for the time being there would be no campaign to punish employers who provided work to the illegals.

Authorities are weighing criminal charges against the wife of the Attorney General for employing an illegal immigrant to clean the family resident. The Attorney General usually decides issues of prosecution, but he has recused himself from this case. There has been no noticable commentary about tensions within the family. We are left to wonder who is really to blame, and who may end up paying a fine or suffering an even more severe penalty.


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 05:10 AM
May 18, 2012
Migration from Greece, Israel, and elsewhere

Among the comments heard in connection with the imploding of the Greek economy and politics is the prospect that emigration will increase. With unemployment estimated at above 50 percent among young Greeks, and a long history of exporting surplus population, the outflow appears to be a natural response to economic and political problems.

And what, thought I, does that mean for Israel? No society that I am aware of has as long a history of diasporas, said from ancient times to be larger in population than the tiny and poor homeland. There may, in fact, be more Irish and Greeks abroad than at home, but nothing approaching the spread of Jews and the meager Judaic population of what they called the homeland from the Roman through the British periods of history.

Even now, with Israel into its sixth decade as an independent country, one can quarrel if there are more Jews living inside or outside. The answer, as far as I can determine, depends on how you deal with the knotty problem of defining a Jew. There are probably more halachicly defined Jews living in Israel than anywhere else, and perhaps a thin majority here of the halachicly defined Jews in the world. (On account of the high incidence of intermarriage in the United States and other countries outside of Israel.) If your definition ignores halacha and defines as Jews all those who say they are Jews, you might find more Jews in the United States than in Israel. But if you consider Jews only to be those for whom a Judaic identify is the central feature of how people define themselves, or require a minimal test of what being a Jew means, Israel may be back in the lead. (On account of Americans and others who say they are Jews, or are Jews according to halacha, but have limited knowledge of Jewish traditions, history, or culture.

In any case, the commentary about Greece led me to some international statistics about migration. They provide some insights into the nature of our contemporary world.

First off, the best data are not up to date enough to gauge what is happening in Greece currently. For another thing, the data, like most economic and social indicators, are probably reliable only for countries that are well off, democratic and open to criticism and self-criticism, with administrations concerned to find and report the truth most of the time.

If you want a story about how some countries collect the data they publish, bear with me about a meeting I had some years ago with a high ranking official of the Finance Ministry in a country with one of the best reputations in Africa. The subject was annual economic growth. When I asked him to tell me the most recent rate, he named a percentage. When I asked about the determination of the rate, he said that it was his personal estimate on the basis of what he had perceived about the current economy, as it differed from what he knew about the economy for the most recent year. And how did he determine the measure for the most recent year? He estimated it on the basis of what he knew about the economy during that year, and what he knew about the economy for the previous year.

The countries mentioned below in connection with their rates of emigration are generally reliable in terms of their economic record keeping. However, the issue of migration is more dicey than is the case for the more common economic indicators. Not only is there the fuzzy issue of poorly recorded illegal migration, but there is also the lack of certainty about the nature of emigration.

Israelis living abroad for decades, already with citizenship in their country of residence, may still be inclined to say that they are away from home only temporarily, perhaps until they can salt away enough money to buy a decent residence at home, or until a good job opens up in the country they still call home. Individuals from other countries with strong nationalist traditions, as well as their children already born and educated in their overseas locales, may say the same about what they call their homelands.

The most obvious finding in the data published by the OECD is that most well developed countries export a fair number of people. Moreover, smaller countries tend to have a higher rate than the larger countries, and most of those export a higher rate of well-educated people emigrating than other people.

What this reflects is the relatively few opportunities for professionals in countries with small populations that are wealthy enough to produce a lot of professionals in their institutions of higher education, but whose economies cannot absorb all the professionals they produce. I have met this phenomenon in the large number of Israeli PhDs who have found more attractive positions outside of Israel than inside Israel, and friends among professionals from European countries with small populations who are working and living outside of their home country.

Among the countries who fit this pattern, in the order of their overall emigration rates, are Ireland, Cyprus, Iceland, Greece, Switzerland, Hong Kong (considered separately from China for many statistical purposes), Finland, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Israel, Denmark, Norway, Singapore. Sweden, and Australia. Two other countries, without small populations, whose rate of emigrants are in the range of these countries, and export a higher incidence of people with academic degrees than people without degrees are the United Kingdom and Germany.

Compared to these countries, the United States is the archetype of a large country with a well developed economy. It not only provides work for its own graduates of higher education, but it attracts a lot of graduates from other countries. While the other countries noted above have an average 6.6 percent of their population living abroad, the United States has only 0.4 percent of its population living abroad. (The rate of emigration is determined by the number of individuals living abroad in 2000 as a percentage of a countries average population between 1985 and 2000). Even though the rate is low for US emigrants, there were still more than 845,000 of us living abroad according to the OECD figures. Overall, there were about 11.5 million individuals living abroad from the well-to-do countries listed above as having a tendency to export individuals with academic degrees.

Note that Greece was a high exporter of people, even before its current problems. But it was not significantly different from the more well-to-do countries of Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and it was a lower ranked exporter than Ireland, Cyprus, Iceland, and Luxembourg.

Another finding of interest is that several of those countries exporting a high incidence of individuals with academic degrees also have a positive net flow of migration. In other words, the exporters of people also import people from other places. In the order of their net flow, those with a net influx of population are Cyprus, Luxembourg, Australia, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Israel, Austria, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, and Iceland.

The United States scores between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom in this list, indicating that it is both a low exporter of people and a relatively high importer of people.

What we are seeing here is the relative ease of population flows, as well as the capacity of well-to-do countries--which export well-educated people--to also attract people from elsewhere who are looking for better lives.

While Greece may well be exporting a higher incidence of its population than in the past, it also continues to attract people from even poorer places, and probably even more undocumented people from poor countries who manage to get across the borders one way or another. Among the more radical political parties in the current confusion, is one with a fascist appearance campaigning on the theme of foreigners out.

In the background of all these statistics is the ease and low-cost of international travel and adaptation in this age of globalization. It's not like the mass migrations of unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe westward during the period from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries. Most of those trips were long and involved several months without working, and passage that was expensive in terms of contemporary purchasing power. Relocation tended to be permanent, and required the learning of a new language and culture. Current movements, especially for the large number of academic graduates who uproot themselves, bring language skills, professional training and information about economic opportunities, are much quicker (i.e., involve a shorter period of enforced unemployment), and are less expensive in contemporary purchasing power than older sea travel. Moreover, the ease and low cost of international travel allow occasional visits home, or even a return home when conditions appear suitable.

Israelis are, as always, nervous about their future. The issue of emigration surfaces every so often, provokes commentary about the erosion of Zionism, the need for government to do what is necessary to persuade Jews not to emigrate, to attract those who have left to return home, and do more to attract Jews born and raised elsewhere.

In fact, Israel scores about the middle of the lists described above, with emigration not among the highest, and with a net inflow of individuals. For those of us having to navigate Israeli roads and find parking places, it is easy to feel that we have enough people. Those worrying about Zionism, some of them overseas Jews, should best worry about something else.


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 11:53 PM
May 14, 2012
An immodest proposal

This note is immodest, and is likely to provoke condemnation.

It makes an appropriate nod in the direction of Jonathan Swift's classic of a slightly different name. It also fits within my concern for politics, and the plight of Americans, old enough to vote and do other things, who are not yet sure of what to do in November.

My proposal follows from an assessment of Barack Obama's declaration of support for same-sex marriages and his opponent's reaffirmation of his own staunch opposition.

A public opinion poll and its analysis suggest that the President may have erred.

Or maybe not. Analyses say as much about the analysts as about the American people.

USA Today, which commissioned the poll, headlines the findings that "51% agree with Obama's endorsement of gay marriage."

The first paragraph (the one readers are most likely to see before their interest pales, says

"More than half of Americans say they approve of President Obama's stance that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally, but 60% say that his shift in position will have no bearing on how they vote in the November election."

The next paragraph is not so good for the President.

". . . . Nearly 13% say his shift in position will make them more likely to vote for him, while 26% say it will make them less likely, suggesting that more supporters of likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney feel more strongly about this issue than do base supporters of Obama."

The Christian Post article about the same poll emphasizes the problems for Obama.

Its headline is that "Obama's Gay Marriage Stance Could Cost Him Votes," and the first paragraph

"A new poll shows that President Barack Obama's decision to support gay marriage might make many independents and even some Democrats less likely to vote for him in November."

So we are not sure, but the President may lose more than he gains.

He was wise to get his position out early, firm up his support among contributors and voters (in that order of importance) for whom the issue is vital, and hope that other matters will smother the importance of same-sex marriage by the time those who oppose, but not intensely, will be deciding how to vote.

Given the lack of certainty, my proposal can help Obama to drive his opponent into a corner where the vast majority of Americans will sneer or even jeer, at least in the quiet of a private room.

Beware. The following is for consenting adults only.

It is meant for a population that kvells at the opportunity to legislate about bodily pleasures.

The President should bolster his support for same sex marriage with a statement in favor of masturbation.

Research by a distinguished British medical college indicates that at least 75 percent of males and close to 40 percent of females admit to doing it. The data shows that admission of the practice increases along with socio-economic status. Authors of the study surmise that many more people do it, but that it is especially the better educated who are willing to admit it. A compilation of American studies find that the incidence is at least as high in the United States.

What's the payoff for the President to admit that he supports masturbation, and may even have partaken of its pleasures himself?

Mitt Romney may be forced by the positions he has held in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Ward Bishop and Stake President) to support his Church's doctrine, which is four-square against the dirty stuff.

The guide for Mormon missionaries makes explicit a prohibition against homosexuality.

"God delights in chastity and hates sexual sin. . . . Baptismal candidates are to live the law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relations outside of a legal marriage between a man and a woman. They are not to participate in abortions or homosexual or lesbian relations." (Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, p. 77)

Spencer W. Kimball, who served as Prophet and President of the Church 1973-85 linked masturbation with homosexuality.

"Prophets anciently and today condemn masturbation. It induces feelings of guilt and shame. . . . no young man should be called on a mission who is not free from this practice. What is more, it too often leads to grievous sin, even to that sin against nature, homosexuality. For, done in private, it evolves often into mutual masturbation-practiced with another person of the same sex and thence into total homosexuality...."

Apostle Mark E. Peterson, who served as a leading member of the Church hierarchy from 1944 to 1984, wrote a letter for missionaries that he entitled, "Steps in Overcoming Masturbation." It included the following points:
•"Never touch the intimate parts of your body except during normal toilet processes.
•If you are associated with other persons having this same problem, you must break off their friendship. Never associate with other people having the same weakness.
•When you bathe, do not admire yourself in a mirror. Never stay in the bath more than five or six minutes -- just long enough to bathe and dry and dress and then get out of the bathroom into a room where you will have some member of your family present.
•When in bed, if that is where you have your problem for the most part, dress yourself for the night so securely that you cannot easily touch your vital parts, and so that it would be difficult and time consuming for you to remove those clothes. By the time you started to remove protective clothing you would have sufficiently controlled your thinking that the temptation would leave you.
•When the temptation to masturbate is strong, yell STOP to those thoughts as loudly as you can in your mind and then recite a prechosen Scripture or sing an inspirational hymn. It is important to turn your thoughts away from the selfish need to indulge.
•It is sometimes helpful to have a physical object to use in overcoming this problem. A Book of Mormon, firmly held in hand, even in bed at night has proven helpful in extreme cases.
•In very severe cases it may be necessary to tie a hand to the bed frame with a tie in order that the habit of masturbating in a semi-sleep condition can be broken."

There are Mormons who consider themselves faithful, but depart from official doctrine. They are organized and publish regularly. Church officials advise the faithful to avoid reading dissenting publications, and have threatened sanctions against those who contribute articles.

Among the items produced by Mormons who hold reservation about Church doctrine, and an indication that an Obama endorsement of masturbation might attract some Mormon voters, is a long and thoughtful article from "a faithful LDS Physician (who) in fear of reprisal from church leaders . . . asked that his name be withheld." Among his points:

". . . Jesus Christ never said anything about masturbation. . . almost 100% of males report masturbation during puberty. This demonstrates that it does not lead to a change of sexual orientation, or disease, or anything negative, but that it is developmentally appropriate and leads primarily to a healthy marriage bond in the majority of cases. . . . Church leaders only began talking about it in the very late 1800's when they told youth the same false medical information that was popular at the time - that it caused insanity. . . . masturbation can be a spiritual celebration . . . God absolutely approves of masturbation. . . . I have felt God's presence and spirit with me as I have thanked him for the great gift of sexuality while masturbating, and while daydreaming of how much I loveand am attracted to my beautiful wife. Masturbation helped my wife learn how her body can experience orgasm."

At times it may be difficult knowing if you are encountering a light-hearted affirmation of Mormon doctrine, or an anti-clerical spoof from among the faithful. See, for example, the clip linked here, "Mormon Beliefs: Masturbation Causes Homosexuality."

Mitt Romney owes the American voter clarity. And those outside the country who depend on its support, yet also worry about sacred doctrines against spilling their seed. (Genesis 38:9-10)

Obama's sense of propriety, or his staff's calculations of offending voters by hitting below the belt, may curtail any such campaign in behalf of masturbation. It will demand artistry from his staff to produce comments as sanctimonious as those he made in behalf of same-sex marriage. Then he spoke about his daughters' friends who were children of loving same-sex parents, and loyal aides in same-sex partnerships. Masturbation will bring the President to talk about his own behavior.

Did he do it? Does he still do it? Can he talk about it? Will it hurt Romney?

Will a presidential challenge dealing with masturbation do anything more than affirm the view that America's style of politics is touchy-feely in the extreme, and prefers such stuff rather than debating the hard issues of economics and foreign policy?


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 08:39 PM
May 13, 2012
Catholics, Jews, and other Americans

Among the glories of a professor emeritus is a capacity to wander the stacks of a good library in search of something that looks interesting, without worrying how it will fit into this semester's courses.

I found by chance FDR, the Vatican, and the Roman Catholic Church in American, 1933-1945, Edited by David B. Woolner and Richard G. Kurial (Palgrave: 2003). It is a collection of articles that emerged from a conference in 1998 that focused partly on the Vatican document, We Remember: A Reflection no the Shoah. The authors of the papers appear to be all American Roman Catholics, some of them members of religious orders and/or affiliated with Catholic institutions of higher education.

The papers deal partly with Jewish issues, i.e., the Vatican's activities with respect to the Nazi conquest of Europe, the Holocaust, and the anti-Semitic priest with a huge radio following, Charles E. Coughlin.

Those are worthy of discussion, but the primary message that I drew from the book, which it does not discuss directly, is the similar political status of American Catholics and Jews in the period before and after World War II.

What I'm talking about is the extent to which Catholics and Jews shared the status of outsiders in America. Similar to what is apparent in many histories of Jews in America during the period, this book demonstrates Catholic political insecurities in the presence of an Administration that was overtly concerned with the votes and the economic opportunities of the working class and lower middle class, in which Catholic and Jewish "newcomers" were prominent. Catholics and Jews had immigrated in large numbers from the mid-19th century to the onset of World War I. There were many more Catholics than Jews to attract Democratic politicians. However, both came as supplicants to the Protestants who were firmly in control of national politics, with the aristocratic Roosevelt the archetype of the class.

A prominent indication of Jews' status as outsiders was Roosevelt's concern not to portray the fight against the Nazis as something for the Jews. Important here were the largely unsuccessful struggles of Jewish leaders to get the State Department and the White House to relax immigration restrictions for the sake of Jews who sought to escape Nazi-controlled or Nazi-threatened areas of Europe, and the later refusal of the US armed forces or the White House to order air strikes against the death camps.

Catholic insecurities were not associated with anything close to life or death, but were none the less much different from what has been apparent subsequently. Then they appeared in the difficulties of Roosevelt to send a representative to the Vatican. An Ambassador was out of the question. He even had to obfuscate about a "temporary" personal appointment in order to slip through the vicious anti-Catholic campaign directed at the media and Congress by Protestant clergy.

Prominent Jews and Catholics were welcome at the White House. It would be a great distortion to agree with extremists who persist in describing the President as anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic. Yet both Jews and Catholics were considerably below the top of the President's agenda. Their concerns less important than his efforts to influence Congress, as well as the State Department and military leaders (who did not simply "take orders" from the White House), and to keep together a political coalition of Northern Catholic and Jewish voters along with Southern Protestants who included more than a few anti-Catholics and anti-Semites.

There were more than a few anti-Semites among the Catholics. Most prominent was Father Charles E. Coughlin, and an Irish-American member of the Vatican Secretariat who--according to a chapter in this volume--did what he could to mask the anti-Semitic nature of Coughlin's radio messages while transmitting to the Pope and his advisors messages from the White House and American Bishops who wanted the Vatican to act against the Detroit priest on account of his anti-Semitism as well as his opposition to the New Deal and the President's foreign policy.

Several chapters deal with Pius XII's attitudes, activities, and non-actions with respect to Nazis and Jews. Contributors reflect the change in Catholicism that came after the Holocaust. Prominent were John Paul II's visit to Yad Vashem, and his description of Judaism as Christianity's "older brother,"

Essays describe Pius XII's primary concerns with the Catholics of Europe, and his preoccupation with keeping Germans and the Allies from bombing Rome and other sites important to the Church. He also expressed his impotence with respect to Nazi power and determination. Contributors report the reluctance of the Pope and some of his senior colleagues to make explicit the revulsion they felt about mass killing of Jews that was known to them early on due to reports from European church personnel. This reluctance was associated with a belief that explicit anti-Nazi statements would make things worse for Catholics without helping the Jews.

The authors of this volume do not avoid severe criticism of Pius XII's actions and lack of actions. Prominent among them was his severe criticism of Allied bombings of European cities compared to his silence in response to the German bombing of British cities.

The authors do not deal explicitly with the still-unresolved and controversial question of Pius XII's sainthood. However, several chapters fit it with the numerous other writings and archival material on both sides of that man's holiness and failings.

A great deal has changed in the United States since the 1940s. There is an American Ambassador to Vatican, and Israel. Varda and I have hiked and talked at length with a friend who is a former Ambassador of Israel to the Vatican, and the Honorable Mrs. Ambassador.

African-Americans now demand greater economic opportunities rights rather than having to pursue a battle against lynching and legal segregation. Hispanics, East Asians, and South Asians are prominent in parts of the United States--and factors in politics--where they were virtually unknown in the 1940s.

A Catholic has not made it to the White House since John F. Kennedy, and a Jew has not made it past a Vice Presidential nomination. However, the presence of both groups in the upper strata of government, business, and academia is so great as to be unremarkable. I can thank one of my friends, a Christian Arab who is Associate Dean of the Hebrew University Law School, for pointing out that the present Supreme Court of the United States includes six Catholics, three Jews, and no Protestants.

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 10:21 AM
May 10, 2012

The country once riled (and still so in some localities) on the subject of alcohol and which has pursued a war against drugs since the 1970s is now beginning a presidential campaign with same-sex marriages as a central issue.

Its difficult to decide between ridicule and laughter, sadness and tears The country involved so heavily in the world is tying itself up again in an issue that is existentially personal.

While there are a number of countries that recognize or permit same-sex marriages or civil unions of various kinds, I know of none where the issue has the same political centrality as in the United States.

Israel and a number of other countries do not allow the performance of same-sex marriages within their borders, but recognize those performed elsewhere under generalized treaties granting recognition to the lawful actions of other countries. Israel also provides health insurance and survivors' benefits for couples of the same sex living together without the sanction of any formal arrangement.

Gay and lesbian couples, as well as heterosexual couples who do not care for the ceremonies of the Rabbinate, have wedding parties with symbols and words of a conventional Jewish marriage, and lots of guests who eat and dance, but without an Orthodox rabbi performing the ceremony and without being able to register the results with the Interior Ministry.

A number of heterosexual couples--including those with a partner not recognized as "Jewish" by the Rabbinate--may follow those ceremonies by a visit to Cyprus for a civil marriage, which they register with the Interior Ministry on their return.

With or without registry, most Israelis and the Jewish State does not bother themselves with couples whose arrangements are "unconventional."

The day after the President's announcement, Ha'aretz devoted the top half of its first page to an article headlined, "Following Obama, Ministers and Knesset Members: To Consider Same Sex Marriages." There was a picture of the Finance Minister at a meeting of Likud Gays. Quotations expressed his ambivalence on the matter--he's changing his mind but not yet ready to vote in favor--and other political figures who spoke about religious parties along with their own commitments to personal rights.

The print or Internet editions of other secular dailies emphasized the prospects of the new coalition changing policies dealing with settlements and the recruitment of ultra-Orthodox. There was some coverage of the President's announcement, not especially prominent, without anything like Ha'aretz's concern with its implications for Israel.

A radio interviewer pressed the Chair of Knesset to express himself on same-sex marriages. The response wandered to and fro, and can be summarized by,

It's none of my business. . . I occupy a public position (He did not say that he was a leading candidate to be chosen President of Israel at the end of Shimon Peres' term) . . . People must realize that Israel does not have an absolute separation of religion and the state (Reshet Bet).

The English edition of the ultra-Orthodox Hamodia put an editorial on its frong page, "Obama Takes A Giant Step Backward."

The media drama surrounding the announcement by Barack Obama of his support for single sex marriages came a few days after Vice President Joe Biden's "outing" on the same issue, and produced predictably strong counter pronouncements by Mitt Romney.

On the evening of the day after his announcement, "Obama on same sex marriages" brought 738 million Google hits. Earlier on the same day is brought 374 million then 482 million. Those numbers are as good an indication as any for its political salience.

"Obama on Iran" brought only 238 million Google hits, "Obama on the economy 969 million, and Obama on Israel 360 million. We seem to be more important than Iran, and less so than the American economy or gay rights.

Same-sex marriage is arguably a matter of civil rights. Equivalent to the end of slavery or at least the end of racial segregation? Maybe.

It should also be viewed along with a great country's prior concern with alcohol and present concern with drugs, both to an unusual extent among western democracies, and its equally unusual incidence of incarcerated citizens, many of whom have been taken out of society because of extreme attitudes about drugs. The country that prides itself on freedom has a history of being one of the least free among democracies.

The ban on same-sex marriages by most states is a continuing existence of this lack of freedom, while the debate as part of presidential politics shows a continuing struggle in public about issues considered personal in many other countries.

All of this fits with the United States as unusual it is preoccupation with religion, shown by standing beyond other democracies--including Israel--for the incidence of citizens who say they believe in God, pray regularly, and demand legislation about abortion and marriage.

Commentators indicate that the decision to go public was not an easy one for the White House, insofar as it may cost the President more with some groups than he gains with others.

He was already on the right side with gays and lesbians, given his actions on "don't ask don't tell." One poll shows 52 percent of Americans favoring same-sex marriages, but opposition prevails among African Americans and Hispanics--two groups important to the President--which tend to be religiously conservative.

If same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, and throughout the South reflect voter sentiment in those states, the issue could tip the election to Romney.

Barney Frank is not a disinterested party. He also represents my home town of Fall River in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has said that voters have lost interest in the issue, and that the economy will outweigh sex in voters' decisions.

"This country is moving, and what's interesting is every time somebody does something that's supportive of our rights, it turns out to be (a) popular and (b) not very controversial . . . Many Americans already assumed Mr. Obama supported same-sex marriage . . . Politically, it's kind of a nonevent."

According to a New York Times reporter,

"President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage on Wednesday was by any measure a watershed. A sitting United States president took sides in what many people consider the last civil rights movement, providing the most powerful evidence to date of how rapidly views are moving on an issue that was politically toxic just five years ago."

Bombshell or nonevent, the substance of the dispute marks American society again as an outlier among western democracies.

It's importance to American politicians makes us wonder about big brother.

Coming up is another meeting of the European-UN-American committee and representatives of Iran. Discussions in advance of the meeting suggest that Iran's representatives will accuse the committee of unfairness in its excessive concern with Iran's nuclear program, while Europeans and Americans will urge on Iran low- or mid-level enrichment that will, hopefully, keep its program short of military utility. (If it doesn't keep slipping out of the net like North Korea.)

The new minister in the Israeli government, former commanding general of the IDF Shaul Mofaz, has expressed himself against any Iranian nuclear program, including those that others may define as "civilian."

With the American president seeming to give priority to continued discussion with Iran, and immersed in a debate about marriage, those inclined to bet should put a bit more on the side of Israel giving up on outside help and acting independently.


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 09:47 PM
May 09, 2012
Politicians: puppets or professionals?

The affiliation of Kadima to the Likud-led coalition came in the middle of the night, at the 11th hour before a Knesset vote to dissolve and begin the onset of an election campaign. It triggered not only the surprise and wonder of commentators, but shrill criticism of Shaul Mofaz for being a turncoat.

On the evening following the announcement, prime time news showed one film clip after another with Mofaz calling Benyamin Netanyahu a liar, and swearing that he would never join a Netanyahu coalition.

The next day the left-of-center Ha'aretz headlined on its print and Internet editions, "63 percent: Netanyahu and Mofaz acted on the basis of political motives and not out of concern for the country." The number came from a poll whose key question might be faulted for its capacity to produce a desired result. ("Did the agreement between Netanyahu and Mofaz to work together result from a concern for the country or personal political motives?") The right of center Israel HaYom (Israel Today), bankrolled by Netanyahu supporter Sheldon Adelson, headlined, "Unity and Opportunity."

What is described as several hundred or a thousand individuals, said to be Kadima supporters, participated in an ad hoc street demonstration in Tel Aviv against the agreement. Insofar as organizers moved quickly without a formal permit, the police moved to break up the demonstration with what Ha'aretz described as excessive force. Tzipi Livni approached the crowd, expressed herself against the old style unprincipled politics of the man who defeated her in the party election for leadership, but may not have actually participated in the demonstration.

What we have in the responses to the broadening of the coalition is an insight into contrasting views of how politics ought to be.

On the one hand is a view that we might call rational and honest democracy, where candidates and parties present their case to the voters, speak nothing but the truth about their values and intentions, and persist in those postures until the next election.

On the other hand is a view of more limited democracy, where the voters select individuals and parties, but implicity grant them discretion to operate as they see fit until the next election. Then they can be judged on the basis of fidelity to earlier promises, and their success or failure on other grounds, including whatever allegations are levelled against them for one or another kind of corruption.

The second view of politics is the more complex and nuanced. It recognizes that politicians are actors of a sort, whose career depends on their appeal to the masses. They must speak well. It helps if they are good looking. In some cultures (e.g., the US more than in Israel) they campaign along with wives and children trained to look adoring. It is recognized that politicians lie. (Googling for "why politicians lie" produces 38,100,000 hits.) Reading some of the "literature" gets quickly to the need to please a diverse cluster of potential supporters, the fluid nature of political discussions and memory, and notions about the boundaries of acceptable lying, fudging, or dissimulation.

If it is not already clear, I'll admit to my support of this second view. I see politics as a profession. Its path to excellence is not as codified as medicine or law, but resembles them in combining study and experience along with requirements of personal intelligence.

Among the skills required of politicians is a capacity to adjust in the face of complex issues and changing circumstances, with an eye on how the voters will respond to whatever alterations in posture or tactics seem appropriate between one election and the next. Depending on laws and politics, an individual may have to operate in a between-election mode for several years, all the while economics and foreign affairs are fluid, small or major crises erupt to demand responses, and party colleagues, political allies, or antagonists present changing problems or opportunities.

Experience is important in medicine, law, and politics. What is regrettable is that the world's richest and most powerful country, important for all others, is also inward looking and parochial. This is understandable. The rest of the world may lament the situation, but Americans can afford to think mostly about themselves. They also tend to be limited in the languages and histories of others.

It should be no surprise that American politics emphasize domestic issues. What is most risky for the rest of us is the nature of presidential politics that allows the speedy ascension of individuals with no or severely limited experience in issues beyond the country's borders. George W. Bush and Barack Obama may be good enough for Americans to win two terms, but their actions in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East produced tragedy or ridicule.

The differences between politics in autocratic and democratic regimes are clear, but more a matter of degree than kind. Things are more open in a democracy, and the rules permit freedom of criticism and organization. Yet even dictators must think about the limits, beyond which there is likely to be a more severe penalty than in an orderly democracy for violating what is acceptable to powerful others.

What we are hearing by way of shrill criticism of the Netanyahu-Mofaz deal is partly the harping of individuals and parties who feel they have been left out and will lose by the arrangement, and partly the shrill comments of individuals who would like politics to be simpler, more straightforward, and what they call "honest."

The first group I respect for their adhering to the political norms of opponents. They are using language likely to enhance them with supporters, financial donors, and those who might be enticed to vote for them whenever the next election rolls around.

The second group provokes me to use the word "naive."

I also admire truth and predictability, but I see the environment of political decision-making as requiring skills of maneuver and flexibility.

There are limits to what is acceptable.

Against politicians who break the law, a decent society has ample capacity to interrupt an established period of office holding. Israeli authorities moved Moshe Katsav to trial and eventually to prison from the presidential residence. For a while he shared a cell with a former Minister of Health, and may have encountered a former Minister of Finance. Ehud Olmert has been in court for some time after having to resign as Prime Minister. The file of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is still with the state prosecutor, who promises a decision about bringing charges in the near future.

Against politicians who operate within the law, but who violate what voters view as campaign commitments or good sense, the opportunity for change comes at the next election. In the United States, elections occur on fixed dates. Israel and other parliamentary regimes are more flexible. Along with maximum terms, which may seldom be served completely, there is always the opportunity to declare the end of a parliamentary term, and schedule an election. What produces a sudden opportunity may be the calculation of the leading party that time is ripe for renewal of its mandate. Or the realization that sitting members cannot bring themselves to decide about budgets or other pressing matters. Or the sense that voters are restive, and demand an early change.

As in other cases, there is room for discretion. The voters' mood months or years ago cannot provide clear instructions for what sitting politicians must decide today or tomorrow.


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 12:44 AM
May 08, 2012
What now?

Israelis went to bed expecting the Knesset to finalize arrangements to dissolve itself and declare a national election for September 4th.

We woke to the news that Benyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz (who recently defeated Tzipi Livni in a party election to be the leader of Kadima) had agreed to Kadima's entrance into the government, and had cancelled plans for an election.

Media managers sent wake up calls to commentators, and they began their work about 3 AM. Since then a larger number have gotten the news, and are expressing themselves.

Speculation is the name of the game.

Prominent among the possibilities that seem reasonable is an ability of the government to function without the support of utra-Orthodox parties. Currently there are 94 out of 120 MKs whose parties are in the government, only 16 of which are the ultra-Orthodox parties SHAS and Torah Judaism.

High on the agenda will be the exemption of yeshiva students from the military. There is a standing order of the Supreme Court that the status quo violates standards of equality, but the subject will remain complicated even with the diminished power of those opposed to major change. There will be pressure to include Arabs in the demands for some kind of national service. Arab members of Knesset have for some time expressed their opposition to having their people forced to work for the Jewish state.

The IDF is not enthusiastic about having to accept ultra-Orthodox or Arabs. The one is not prepared by education for the demands of a modern army, and the other will present a myriad of security problems. Both groups, if they are included in a revised law of national service, are likely to face the alternative of working in social service agencies, with the Arabs assigned to work in their own communities.

Among the questions-- Would the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs have the choice of military service or something else, or would the IDF be given the role of taking them into military service, or turning them over to a National Service Administration?

The issue of military exemptions is part of a larger array of questions concerning the ultra-Orthodox. It is widely recognized that many of those claiming to be studying all their lives are not doing that. They are working in unreported jobs or doing domestic chores while their wives work. Religious academies are keen to cooperate with the bluff insofar as they get money from the government per student reported. We only hear about a few of the most blatant cases of falsehood, e.g., students who never existed or are no longer living in Israel.

Reformers hope that the end of blanket military exemptions will allow the ultra-Orthodox to live honest lives, go to work, pressure their rabbis to include useful subjects in their children's education, and maybe become too much involved with the burdens and advantages of modern life to have so many children.

The lessened weight of the ultra-Orthodox in the Knesset may also produce pressure against existing policies to grant large families discounts on local taxes and water bills, and favorable mortgages used for purchasing housing in neighborhoods designed for them.

Also outstanding are Supreme Court dictates about removing settlers from land owned by Palestinians. Prior to the suprise announcement of the new coalition, right-wing Likud and other MKs had been formulating a proposal to alter the law in order to deal with the Supreme Court decision in at least one of these cases.

This, too, is complex. Israel claims to be a nation of laws, but that may not prevent the settlers and their friends from changing the law to protect their assets. "Illegal" houses and residents are already in place, alongside other neighborhoods of Beit El. The offer of compensation to the Palestinians who the Court has found to be the actual owners of the land is not likely work. Individual Palestinians refuse to be open about taking money from Jews for their property. To do so would violate the law of the Palestine Authority, and subject them to the death penalty. If the houses are vacated or destroyed, the IDF (with responsibility for governing areas of the West Bank not already turned over to Palestinians under the Oslo Accordss) is unlikely to allow Palestinians to live alongside Jews by virtue of the threat they would pose to the security of Beit El.

Yair Lapid is expected to sink, at least in the short run. With a new coalitiion having a large majority in the Knesset, there is little reason for Israelis to flock toward another party offering a better deal for the middle class. He has denounced the agreement as the old style of politics, and a way of providing jobs to insiders.

The rivals of Kadima who remain outside the government (a minority of 26 out of 120 MKs) are accusing the party, once again, of not having a clear program that distinguishes it from other parties. Whenever the election does occur, perhaps no earlier than the Fall of 2013, Kadima may claim that it is the most pragmatic and responsible of the parties. Or it may disappear as its MK's drift back to Likud or Labor from which they came.

A minister in the government, affiliated with Likud, has urged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to worry more today than he did yesterday. (Yisrael Katz, speaking on Reshet Bet) Prior to the coalition agreement, Mofaz (a native of Iran), accused Netanyahu of "overplaying" Iran's threat, but he also criticized Barack Obama for a weak stand on Iran's nuclear program, and said that Israel could not allow Iran to have even a civilian nuclear program.

Beyond the speculations about details that may or may not flow from the new coalition, it is possible to see an affirmation of politics in the Netanyahu-Mofaz agreement.

Kadima emerged from the last election as the largest party in the Knesset. However, the party leader, Tzipi Livni could not bring herself to compromise principles by coalescing with Likud, Israel our Home, or the ultra-Orthodox. She proved herself an anti-political politician. For those who see politics as a process akin to religion as a cement of social harmony and good deeds (i.e., via political negotiations, compromise, and ultimately counting votes as the most civilized ways of dealing with dispute), she was the equivalent of an anti-Christ.

Israel is as divided by its multiplicity of cultures and perspectives as any western democracy. The religion of its large majority is one that celebrates national history and dealing with adversity. The Hebrew Bible portrays difficult encounters with others. The prophets elevated severe criticism of governmental and economic elites to sacred values, with their words read in synagogues on every Sabbath and religious holiday. The Book of Job subjects God Himself to severe criticism. Ecclesiastes depicts the fluidity of human experience (a time for love, war, peace et al) along with the folly of expecting salvation (nothing new under the heavens), and casts doubt on all absolutes.

Neither our culture nor our more recent history--from the Holocaust to the latest terrorist incident--provides us with the luxury of ignorinig politics as a way of dealing with others and ourselves.

Whatever comes out of this new coalition will not be perfect. We know that from Ecclesiastes, as well as from all previous coalitions. Members of Likud and Kadima are already indicating what they will not accept from their leaders' arrangements. Ultra-Orthodox MKs say they will protect the interests of Yeshiva students, and the Prime Minister says that he will work to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into the society and economy, rather than force them into the military.

The essence of politics is to argue, refine proposals in light of disputes, and ultimately vote. And even more ultimately it is to think about the fluidity of political arrangements. One should not expect an unrestrained crusade against the ultra-Orthodox. Israel's leading politicians--unlike the man currently sitting in the Oval Office--have reached their positions as a result of long apprenticeships and slow climbs up the governmental ladder. They know that coalitions are temporary. Each of the parties may need the ultra-Orthodox in the not-so-distant future.

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:51 AM
May 07, 2012
Benyamin Netanyahu-- Oh so strong but maybe not

Benyamin Netanyahu is sitting pretty with Israeli voters. Recent polls make him a sure bet to repeat as prime minister.

Not so simple is his standing within his own party. While his leadership is likely to be secure, there are enough signs of right-wing opposition to provide some worry. They also provide analysts with evidence that Bibi may be right of center, but not an extremist.

That label falls to others within Likud.

Moshe Feiglin is nemesis #1, nipping at Bibi's heels for more than 10 years. Feiglin is religious, and would emphasize the Jewish nature of Israel within and beyond its present borders by offering Palestinians financial incentives to emigrate. However, he has opposed programs of religious coercion. He would loosen requirements about kashrut, and facilitate civil marriage.

Parsing Feiglin's numerous ideas from his frequent, articulate, creative and idiosyncratic expressions is not worth the effort, given his minority position within Likud. He is a significant, but not more than an ideological troublemaker. Americans might compare his status to that of Ron Paul within the Republican Party. Feiglin has shown that he can win about a quarter of the vote in Likud primaries. He is enough of a threat to encourage Netanyahu to employ arcane party rules to keep him off the list of Knesset candidates and from other accomplishments.

Netanyahu's problems within Likud go beyond Feiglin. Sunday evening the prime minister convened a meeting of the Likud Central Committee, an often unruly assembly of some 3,500 members, in order to endorse his position as party chairman. Bibi wanted an open vote by raised hands, which would allow him to declare an endorsement by acclimation. Alas, there were opponents, shouiting loud enough to be heard above the din and with signs already prepared and waved in front of the TV cameras insisting on a secret ballot. The commotion caused Netanyahu to postpone a decision.

Netanyahu wanted an endorsement as "temporary" party leader that would hold until after the election, when there would be another internal election to select a "permanent" party leader. After the election, the post would be largely symbolic. Now, four months before the voting on September 4, it has the capacity to provide the leader with an opportunity to influence the crucial selection and ranking of party candidates on the list that will go before the voters. In Israel's system of proportional representation, members of a party's list enter the Knesset in the order of their placement, depending on the proportion of the vote received by their party.

Of special sensitivity here is Netanyahu's affinity for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, nominally a member of the Indepedence Party, but not assured of entering the Knesset on the list of that new and small break off from the Labor Party. Netanyahu's opponents in Likud, including some in the center of the party's spectrum, do not want Netanyahu to give a reserved place, high on the list, to someone who has not worked within the party organization, going to weddings, bar mitzvah's, circumcisions, and funerals, shaking hands, slapping backs, and promoting the party to potential voters.

Journalists report that opposition to Netanyahu at the Central Committee was heavily religious. This suggests that it reflects a substantial input of settlers or their supporters, similar to the population that provides the base of support for Moshe Feiglin.

Netanyahu is usually an articulate speaker, able to play the right chords in order to excite his audience. Sunday evening was not his best. Perhaps he was distracted by the opposition. He thanked the people of Israel for their show of support during Memorial Week for his late father, and went on to praise himself for leading the country to three years of economic progress with lower rates of unemployment than Western Europe or the United States. He also emphasized the greater sense of security felt by Israelis, due to the low incidence of Palestinian terror.

Here he showed himself to be detached. The day's news, peaking in the prime time shows which had just presented their headlines prior to the onset of his speech, highlighted citizens' expressions of insecurity. The reason was several recent killings, seemingly by young Jews fired up by another Friday evening of drinking and carousing.

By the next day, the prime minister had been put back on message. He opened a government meeting sounding more like a typical Israeli troubled by crime, and promised to increase the personnel on police patrols..

(Lest my overseas Zionist readers worry about their virtual country, police issued an official report showing that violent crime is actually decreasing.)

This Sunday was not the first time that Netanyahu has felt the hot breath of the right. Arguably it was his party colleagues and other Knesset Members of the right who brought about the end of his first term as prime minister in 1999. His offenses at the time were agreeing to American proposals at the Wye River conference to move the Oslo Accords further along by granting concessions to Palestinian in Hebron, and shaking the hand of Yassir Arafat.

The failure of one effort to slip through a resolution firming up his power in the Likud Central Committee, and a weaker than usual speech does not foretell the end of Netanyahu's career. Right wingers in his party can snip and remind hm of their potential, but they have no better candidate to get at least part of what they want.

On the other hand, many of his opponents are intense religious nationalists, whose faith does not contain concepts of compromise, concession, or down to earth reality. Bibi needn't worry now about surrendering the keys to the Prime Minister's Office, but he doesn't have anything like the tenure of a professor or government bureaucrat. The right wing of Likud and its friends in other parties will not go away, and may decide once again--as they did in 1999--that they would rather be right than be in power.

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 04:25 AM
May 05, 2012
Don't expect much politicians promising change

Years ago, at the beginning of my career as a political scientist, I learned about incrementalism.

That describes the gradual changes that generally occur in government.

I made my contribution to the subject by examining government spending. I found that governments that spent more or less, and were more or less generous in the provision of public service had been--compared to others--like that for several decades. All governments' spending increases in absolute amounts, due to inflation and population growth. However, high- and low-spenders tend to remain high- or low-spenders

Budgets and service levels are highly correlated with economic resources. The citizens of rich regimes generally enjoy better services, longer lives, and higher living standards than those of poor regimes. (The US is a notable exception, due to an unusual antipathy to government and taxation.) Economic change is also incremental. There are few cases of poor regimes suddenly becoming rich.

Since then, I have seen the same principle in most governmental actions, and have thickened my understanding of the process and its implications.

Policy is an accretion of actions, reflecting the balancing of demands from different interests. No interest gets all that it wants. Domestic peace requires a sharing of resources. Activists demand more for their concerns, but policymakers do what they can to keep most voters happy.

That generally means no dramatic changes in what governments do from one year to the next. There may be changes that continue in the same direction over the course of years, with results that do amount to significant change. However, dramatic change seldom occurs quickly.

One implication of incrementalism is distrust of politicians. They promise more than they deliver, and lead to the popular views that "they are all the same," and "you can't believe any of them."

The reality is that politicians who become policymakers cannot deliver more than a small portion of what they promise, without taking the difficult route of squeezing more resources out of an economy that is growing incrementally, or the even more difficult route of taking resources away from existing programs serving alert voters.

The model is most easy to conceive for a democracy, but also works for autocratic regimes. Rulers with a monopoly of power risk their jobs--and their heads--if they depart too sharply from what their regime provides and demands.

Note the frequency of the term "generally." Occasionally there are dramatic changes; sometimes revolutions, but not too often. Usually there are promises of reform, with only a small incidence of the promises actually implemented.

Politicians must sound innovative in order to garner support. Yet resources are limited. Change may occur in a few programs chosen for emphasis, but the status quo will prevail elsewhere.

Foreign policy also shows the influence of incrementalism. Stability is the norm, and woe to those who are overly heroic.

Witness the problems brought to the Middle East by the dramatic efforts of Al Quaida on 9-11 and the subsequent US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The current occupant of the White House is playing a more cautious game. He may have learned from the adventures of his predecessor. Caution in dealing with Iran and Syria reflects, in part, an effort to avoid the unknown repercussions of messianic actions.

Don't make things worse is the prime norm.

Israel's leadership may decide that breaking the status quo with respect to Iran is worth the risk, and better than accepting the dithering of other western governments. If so, it will have done so cautiously, after extended discussion and no shortage of reservations.

Jews learned long ago that waiting for the messiah was more appropriate than accepting a messiah, the latest prophet or guru who promised to remake the world. Jews subjected candidates to intense scrutiny, and none of them passed muster. The list of those rejected begins with various pagan emperors, then you know who, and goes on to Mohammed, Sabbatai Zvi, and Martin Luther. Each confrontation has been costly, especially in the cases of rejected messiahs or prophets who had numerous followers among the Gentiles.

Currently the dramatic ideas rejected hereabouts are to stop settlement activity, withdraw settlements, and do what is necessary to make peace with the Palestinians.

We've tried.

Lots of Israelis, overseas Jews, and Gentiles claiming to be our friends continue to press for change, but the support given to Benyamin Netanyahu in recent polls, and the emphasis of left-wing Israeli parties on domestic social issues suggests that the status quo with respect to Palestinians is the favored option.

Will the future tolerate a continuation of the status quo involving us and the Palestinians?

We'll have to wait and see. Prophets certain of Armageddon have failed to convince enough of the leadership or enough of the electorate.

The Oslo Accords of 1993 define the status quo.

The prior status quo was that resulting from the War of 1967. Between 1967 and Oslo, the IDF's civil administration was the government of the West Bank and Gaza.

Oslo provided the Palestinians with administrative autonomy in substantial areas of the West Bank and Gaza, and promised to move in stages to full peace.

Despite the claims of frustrated leftists that Oslo failed, and is dead, the Oslo Accords worked, are are still valid, at least to an extent. They did not produce a peace equivalent to that between the US and Canada, but have approached that currently prevailing between the US and Mexico.

Oslo provided autonomy to the Palestinians, which has held for close to 20 years. Palestinian authorities are responsible for social services, taxation, and domestic security in much of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Israel's forces enter Palestinian areas occasionally and briefly when its security demands it. Economic development is proceeding in both parts of Palestine. Living standrds are increasing, Israel is relying more on Palestinian security personnel in the West Bank, and Palestinians appear wary of heroic actions urged by activists. A prominent item in Ha'aretz carries the headline, "Palestinians struggle with apathy." (May 4, p. 3) When the Palestinian leadership was promoting its recognition by the United Nations last Fall, an article in the Los Angeles Times headlined apathy in the West Bank.

A slogan of the left is that Israel must agree to a two-state solution, or face a one-state solution, including all of Palestine and Israel, where the Palestinians will eventually dominate.


Israelis leaders and population have shown ample indications that they will reject a one-state solution, and neither the Palestinians nor the international community has shown the will or the teeth to enforce it.

If Arab spring, summer, winter, fall, winter and again spring has demonstrated anything, it is that the Arabs of Israel live better than Arabs under Arab rule. They would live even better if they could bring themselves to create centrist political parties that trade support and participation in the government for constituent benefits. Their cousins in the West Bank and Gaza appreciate the benefits of the status quo over the prospects of another tussle with Israel.

My findings of incrementalism a half century ago have led me to caution in politics. While I do not oppose all change, I am wary of heroics, and loath messianics. It is easier to see the reasons for what exists than to be certain of what change will bring. We all know the value of campaign promises. Sometimes we vote to give change a chance, or to rid ourselves of incumbents who have proven themselves incompetent, evil, or corrupt. Change occurs. Often it is welcome, but generally it is incremental.


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 06:33 AM
May 03, 2012
Getting ready for an election

Israeli voters appear ready to renew the lease of Benyamin Netanyahu on the Prime Minister's Office.

A poll reported in Ha'aretz shows a near majority (48 percent) favoring him as Prime Minister. The aggregate support of his three nearest competitors do not match him: 15 percent prefer Shelli Yehemovich of Labor, 9 percent Avigdor Lieberman of Israel our Home, and 6 percent Shaul Mofaz of Kadima.

Ma'ariv's poll shows Likud winning 31 seats in the Knesset, Labor 18, Kadima 11, and the new party of Yair Lapid also 11.

American Jews and my Israeli friends who are embarrassed by Bibi's statements, actions, or inactions about Iran, settlements, domestic social policy, and Palestinians may have to accustom themselves to another few years of the same.

With Netanyahu's future assured, the question for some is which other party to support in order to influence the coalition he will create.

We are seeing in the run-up to the election (likely to be scheduled for September 4) a repeat of a pattern going back to 1977. While Likud and Labor have jostled for leadership of a coalition during most of that time (none ever winning an absolute majority of the Knesset), a series of political entrepreneurs have created what they typically label a third force, or centrist party, hoping to gain a place in the Knesset and becoming an important force in shaping coalition policy.

Stars have risen, shined brightly for the dissatisfied, and fallen. Individuals at the head of new parties have succumbed to the temptations to join a coalition in a minor role and thus lost their luster with voters looking for a new alternative, or have fallen victim to the scurrilous behavior of political nobodies who somehow got a place on the new party ticket, and then behaved badly once in office.

First up was ד"ש (Democratic Movement for Change), led by former commanding general of the IDF and well known archaeologist Yigael Yadin. The party won 15 seats in the election of 1977, Yadin accepted Menachem Begin's offer to join the coalition as Deputy Prime Minister and head of a major venture to renew poor neighborhoods. The party disintegrated less than a year later over its MKs' inability to agree on issues of policy

One of the results of the split in the Democratic Movement for Change was שינוי (Change) a party that went from tiny after the elections of 1981, 1984, and 1988 (2-3 seats), disappeared into Meretz over the next two elections, but came back with a refurbished anti-religious platform and won 6 seats in the election of 1999 and then 15 seats in the election of 2003. Then it crumbled when one of its Knesset Members was found to have hired a private investigator to dig up dirty stuff about another of its Knesset Members, and when the party leader, Yosef Lapid, waffled about participating in a coalition with religious parties, and was eventually ousted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for anti-coalition behavior.

The label of Israel's most bizarre meteortic third party belongs to גיל-גמלאים (Age-Pensioners). A perennial also-ran, the party seemed destined for the same fate in the run-up to the 2006 election. However, it somehow became the darling of Israelis (most of whom well before the age of pension) looking for an alternative to the major parties. It won 7 seats, and its leader (80 year old Rafi Eitan with a distinguished background in intelligence and business, involved with the capture of Adolf Eichmann and the management of Jonathan Pollard) was given the title of Minister of Pensioner Affairs but virtually no functions, staff, or budget. Then one of the 70 year old unknowns who entered the Knesset on the basis of the party's unexpected victory found himself the subject of a sexual harrassment charge by a party activist said to be "over 50." According to her story, supported by a polygraph test,

"during a campaign meeting at his home . . . (the MK) took her on a tour of the house. When they reached the bedroom, he committed indecent acts and threw her on the bed, but she escaped and fled the house."

The most successful third party, and the one that was able to select a prime minister, is Kadima (Forward). It benefited from being formed by a sitting prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who split with Likud on the issue of disengagement from Gaza. It went on to win 29 seats in the election of 2006 when Ehud Olmert became party leader after Sharon's disabling stroke. Olmert served as prime minister until forced to resign due to multiple charges of personal corruption. The party also emerged as the most successful of the parties in the election of 2009, but the new leader, Tzipi Livni, proved unable to accept the politics necessary to create a coalition or to join the government formed by Netanyahu. The party declined during her role as leader of the Knesset opposition. Livni lost a party primary to Shaul Mofaz by a wide margin (65-35 percentages of those voting), and after a month sulkiing at home resigned from the Knesset.

From its beginning, Israeli critics accused Kadima of not having a distinctive platform that provided a clear alternative to those of Likud or Labor. In that context, it is ironic that the party fell at least partly on account of Livni's repeated insistence on the purity of her principles, which she refused to compromise by joining with obvious coalition partners.

The current darling of disatisfied Israelis is Yair Lapid (son of the late Yosef), a successful and handsome media personality who quit a prominent role in television news to create a party he calls יש עתיד (There is a future). So far his proclamations of principle have encountered commentators' yawns or criticism. One of his planks claims to represent Israel's Middle Class, while several parties already say they are doing that. Another plank claims to be a creative way of dealing with military exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, by giving them a blanket exemption of another five years, after which young ultra-Orthodox men must serve in the military or national service. Critics claim that this provides Lapid with a nice way to say that he is reigning in the ultra-Orthodox while sitting with their parties in the coalition, and producing a reform claiming eventual equity but likely to be extended after its initial five year period of being "the end of examptions."

The once-dominant Labor Party may have come back from a bad patch. It last selected a prime minister (Ehud Barak) after the election of 1999, when it won 26 seats under the name of ישראל אחת (One Israel). Labor selected two left-of-center leaders in succession who led them to 19 seats in the election of 2003 (Amram Mitzna) and again 19 seats in the election of 2006 (Amir Peretz). The centrist Barak won back the leadership, but the party dropped to 13 seats in the election of 2009, and then further to 8 seats after Barak led five colleagues out of what he called a leftist aggregate to create the party he calls עצמאות (independence). Current polls show that Barak's party may not clear the minimum necessary to elect any Knesset members, while Labor may be refurbishing itself to become again one of Israel's two largest parties.

Completing Israel's likely party lineup will be the leftist Meretz, currently languishing with 3 seats, Sepherdi and Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties now with a feisty and internally divided total of 16 seats, an Orthodox, Religious Zionists, and right of center settler aggregation of several parties currently with 7 seats, the right of center and largely Russian-speaking Israel our Home with 15 seats, but worried about the prospect of an indictment for economic wrong-doing against its iconic leader, Avigdor Lieberman.

All of this may confirm the analysis of Jewish comity that begins with the question, why do two Jews require three synagogues?

It is common to say that Arabs are learning democracy alongside of us. The next Knesset is again likely to have three largely Arab parties with 9-11 seats,


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 04:28 AM
May 02, 2012
Obama, Afghanistan, and Israel

There is a lesson in the reports of Barack Obama's visit with the President of Afghanistan a year after bin Laden's killing.

As reported by the BBC

"US President Barack Obama has pledged to "finish the job" and end the Afghan war, addressing the US public live from a military base in Afghanistan. . . . He arrived in Afghanistan on a publicly unannounced visit to sign an agreement on future Afghan-US ties with President Hamid Karzai, ahead of a Nato summit. . . . Mr Obama said signing the pact with President Karzai was "a historic moment" for both nations. . . . In the speech, beamed back to prime-time evening audiences in US, the president said that at the upcoming Nato summit, to be held in Chicago, the alliance would "set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year"."

One should view this against the background of numerous reports about the chronic corruption of the Karzai regime, the history of Afghanistan being a place but not a country with a functioning government, and the foolhardy efforts of the Bush Administration to remake the place that by all signs is unable to be remade.

Obama's actions and comments appear to be transparently ridiculous, but they are wise. They reflect how a president should deal with a legacy of madness.

It seems like he is throwing Afghanistan under the bus, but there may be no real buses in that God-forgotten place.

One of my own Afghanistan stories, not meeting the standards of social science research, but still worthy of attention--

In 1976, the U.S. Information Agency brought me to Kabul to lecture at the university. I was put in the Intercontinental Hotel on an inner-city mountaintop, away from everything of interest. I persuaded my handler to put me in a less isolated hotel. After a day or two wandering the town (my handler could not get permission for me to lecture to students, and my sole venue was a two hour discussion with faculty members), I asked how to get to an interesting locale out of the city. Directed to the "central bus station," I climbed about a truck, whose body was outfitted with wooden benches, and headed west. Over the course of the next 50 miles or so, the truck broke down several times. Alongside the driver was a fixer, whose job was to jump out, open the hood, do something, jump back alongside the driver, and sit there until the next need to fix.

At the end of the ride, I found a place to spend the night, which cost me about $4, including meals, with another $2 required to have a man sit in my room throughout the night and keep feeding the stove with pieces of wood. The location was high and cold, and it seemed wise to spend a little more in the village. This was the man who asked me, "How long does it take to get to America from here by bus?"

My conclusion: no real buses in Afghanistan, so Obama is not really throwing the country under the bus. Rather, he is doing what he can to lessen the damage caused by his predecessor's foolishness, and covering over the decision with a rationale that may appeal to American voters who don't know much about Afghanistan, and probably don't care.

No doubt that Obama's profession of concern for Afghanistan is a blatant lie, but infinitely wiser than what George W. Bush proclaimed as his aspirations. Likewise, Obama's exit from Iraq. No less a transparent cover for fleeing from an impossible dream, but that is what politicians may have to do.

And what is likely to be the result of the American exit from Afghanistan? Probably more Afghan taxi drivers in those American cities where I have met them, some of whom may be those professors I met in Kabul, and hopefully more writing like Kite Runner. I'll guess that Afghanistan will go back to something like it was before George W. Bush, or before the Russians sought to remake the country, or before the British tried in the 19th century.

You think this is a lousy way to run a country?

The United States is not a country, but an empire. Think Rome, Britain and France at their height, or maybe even the Soviet Union. Extraordinary renditions are not all that different from the Gulag.

Empires have places like Afghanistan and Iraq. One can argue about the US going there, but the American leadership must find some way to leave.

And the implications for Israel?

Different story. This is not Afghanistan, but a western democracy with social services similar to those enjoyed by Americans, a military capacity to be wary of, and well placed advocates in Congress and the US Administration. Some of Obama's actions in the Middle East have been nutty in the extreme, but Israeli politicians and their American friends will push for better.


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 02:44 AM
May 01, 2012
Politics and war

At one time, a mantra of American politics was that politics stops at the water's edge.

Then there was Vietnam.

Long before Vietnam there was considerable dispute about entering World War I. Irish immigrants were prominent among those not wanting to risk themselves for Great Britain. When the next European war was already underway in 1941, with growing implications for the United States, the United States House of Representatives approved the extension of the draft by only one vote. Three and one-half months later, the response to Pearl Harbor was widespread, but later were claims about Roosevelt overlooking clear signs of a Japanese attack, and letting it proceed in order to give him a good excuse for joining Britain's war.

Post-Vietnam controversies about Iraq and Afghanistan, the "war on terror," Guantanamo, and extraordinary renditions ought to snuff out any life remaining in the American notion about politics stopping at the water's edge.

So why the surprise that Israeli politicians are quarreling in public about attacking Iran?

Prominently against an attack are former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Notice the label of "former." The most outspoken opponents are out of power.

Prominently not against an attack are Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, who is a former commander of the IDF, and another former commander of the IDF, Moshe Ya'alon, who is also a minister in Netanyahu's government.

The most recent commander of the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi, has commented in public, but it is difficult to determine if he supports or opposes an Israeli attack. He has said that sanctions against Iran are "less costly than all the other options" while advocating "keeping all the options on the table."

The present commander of the IDF, Benny Galtz, has said that he does not expect Iran to be intent on developing nuclear weapons, but is not on record as firmly oppoised to an Israeli attack.

The issue is difficult and well as sensitive. There is no assurance that the international community or the United States is serious about taking the steps necessary to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. There is no assurance that a nuclear armed Iran can be kept from using its weapons by the capacity of Israel to respond with its own nuclear weapons according the epigram that worked in the Cold War and so far in the case of India and Pakistan--i.e., MAD, or mutually assured destruction.

There is no assurance that an Israeli attack can do more than destroy part of Iran's nuclear facilities. Opponents claim that Iran can recover from such an attack in a matter of months, and then be even more assiduous about using nuclear weapons against Israel.

On the other hand, advocates claim that other countries may participate in an attack begun by Israel and that the damage to Iran can be severe enough to tip the balance of argument within Iran against continuing its nuclear program.

There is no firm evidence in support or opposition to these competing scarios.

We should not be surprised that individuals with serious credentials in the field of security disagree about the likelihood of one scenario or another. And once arguments go beyond the inner rooms of government and out into the public, we should not be surprised to hear participants accusing one another of political motives.

What are prominent are only the most general scenarios. Individuals with technical expertise are arguing about the probabilities of one or another kind of munitions available to Israel or the United States being able to destroy one or another element of Iranian nuclear, missile, and air defense capacities.

Israelis high and low do not lack for other imponderables. Chief among them is the willingness of President Barack Obama to maintain sanctions severe enough to curtail Iranian nuclear ambitions, or to use his own military options at an appropriate time if sanctions do not deter the Iranians.

The lack of success in restraining North Korea and the waffling of Europeans and Americans in the face of platitudes from Iranian negotiators do not encourage Israelis who are themselves waffling about military options.

Americans have their own problems, beside being unsure of Iranian intentions or capacities. Not the least of their worries is an inability to determine what Israel is likely to do, how far Israel can be pressed, or what "red line" crossed by Iran will trigger an independent Israeli attack.

Israelis with weighty reputations do not readily dismiss other Israelis with weighty reputations who express opposing views. Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks forcefully, but has not acted.

Soon after Yuval Diskin criticized the Prime Minister and Defense Minister for their "messianic" and indefensible postures with respect to Iran, Israeli politicians began discussing dates for an election.

Does this mean that postures about attacking Iran will be the stuff of a political campaign from now until whenever the election occurs, perhaps in September and October?

Other issues likely to figure in the campaign are the military exemptions and other benefits granted to the ultra-Orthodox; the government's posture with respect to settlements defined as illegal by activists or the Supreme Court; demands for greater social equity, economic regulation, and lower prices that were subjects of last summer's demonstrations; and the perennial issue of Palestine.

Anyone expecting clarity and simplicity about attacking Iran should not be in this game.


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 12:30 AM