June 30, 2012
Haredim and Arabs

There are some general lessons about politics in the current maneuverings of Israeli politicians around the issues of drafting ultra-Orthodox and Arabs.

In Hebrew, the terms rhyme -- חרדים וערבים-- Haredim and Aravim.

The issues differ more than they overlap.

Lesson #1 is the distance between politics and policy, or between politics and government, or between politics and a rational assessment of what ought to be done.

We are seeing the shuffling of proposals and threats, which reflect politicians' sense of what their constituents want, or what they see as advancing their chances in the next election.

These proposals are not the same as a professional assessment of options, along with the benefits and costs (economic and otherwise) associated with each option.

Politicians have put on the table a variety of proposals dealing with the general questions of getting young ultra-Orthodox men out of the religious academies where a lot of unexceptional students spend much of their lives learning very little of use, and getting young Arab men into some kind of national service.

The why concerned with ultra-Orthodox men is a self-evident concern of non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis to stop subsidizing a population that produces more children who will demand public support. There is also a sentiment that the ultra-Orthodox population ought to share the burdens of military service.

Sentiments held by Jews about Arabs are more complex. They have something to do with burden sharing, i.e., if young Jews have to donate three years of their lives to the state, Arabs should also donate something. It would be asking too much of them to serve Israel's army dedicated to defense against Arabs. Many Arabs would not want to do that, and the IDF is less than enthusiastic about deciding which Arabs it would trust with weapons and information about the military.

Advocates of getting the ultra-Orthodox out of the academies and into something useful propose several options beyond funneling them all into the military. They are talking about the options of the Mossad and Shin Bet, dealing with intelligence and operations in matters international and domestic, as well as the police, fire brigades, prison service, and service in hospitals and social agencies, perhaps limited to social agencies that serve the ultra-Orthodox community. The prominent option being considered for Arabs is social service within their communities.

The reservations are well known, and feed into the arguments of those who aspire to a rational assessment of what would be appropriate.

The education of ultra-Orthodox men does not prepare them for any of the options being considered. Some ultra-Orthodox youth may be highly intelligent, but they have not learned much if anything about geography, history, science, or social studies, and have not the experience of other young men with physical education.

Almost all of the commentary comes from politicians who express what ought to be done. We hear very little from the units listed in the politicians' proposals about their willingness to undertake the schooling necessary to bring the ultra-Orthodox up to the levels of high school graduates, at which point the various services could begin the detailed training appropriate to what they expect of their personnel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's 94-member coalition is threatening to unravel over these issues. Jews from non-ultra-Orthodox parties are threatening rebelliion if the committee considering the issue sidesteps the issue of Arab service, and if it does not take strong enough steps to force the ultra-Orthodox into something. Those wanting to be tough would limit the number of annual exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox "geniuses" that would allow them to continue studying; denying welfare payments to men refusing to serve as well as to the families they create, and reducing financial grants to academies whose students refuse to serve.

Ultra-Orthodox Knesset Members are threatening to rebel if there is any pressure against individuals or academies.

One view of the opposition of ultra-Orthodox MKs is that the details are not important. No matter what reformers propose, ultra-Orthodox leaders are adamantly against any separation of young men from their community. It is not one kind of work or another that is their problem, but the threat of mixing ultra-Orthodox with secular temptations. Related to this is ultra-Orthodox opposition to the Internet and television. While "ghetto" is usually employed as a term of forced segregation, there was also an element in European history of voluntary separation of Jews from undesirable Gentiles. It in this this sense ultra-Orthodox rabbis insist on keeping their young men out of the IDF or any other alternative that secular Israelis propose.

Knesset Members affiliated with largely Arab parties are not in the coalition, but are threatening non-compliance and/or civil unrest if the government forces young Arabs to serve the Jewish state. Some say that Arabs should accept the burdens of citizenship, but only if the benefits of citizenship are also available. They cite the poor quality of infrastructure available in Arab communities, along with the low incidence of Arabs in prestigious programs of higher education, and the difficulties Arab graduates face in trying to get good job offers.

Also in the air is the view that this is an appropriate occasion to reconsider the nature of the IDF and the ideal of compulsory service.

Involved in this is the claim that Israel has matured beyond the point where it is appropriate or efficient to draft large numbers of young men and women, invest considerable resources in their training, and use many of them in low-skill activities that might be served with low-cost civilian contractors. The military's need for fighters and technicians can best be met via campaigns of voluntary recruitment with attractive salaries and other benefits. The result would be a professional military, backed up by its graduates serving in a ready reserve, more suitable to the country's needs than what Zionist ideology created years ago.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is twisting and turning in an effort to keep his coalition together. He speaks about requiring both ultra-Orthodox and Arabs to share the burdens of Israeli citizenship, but has been working to moderate the demands coming from his secular partners intent on pulling the ultra-Orthodox from the academies into the military and then into the workforce.

Postponing the Arab issues might work for some of his partners.

Netanyahu has also announced his support for increasing the budget deficit, which may mean payoffs to the programs favored by parties that would--in exchange for budget allocations--take a softer stand about drafting ultra-Orthodox and Arabs. However, the Governor of the Bank of Israel has weighed in with his reputation as a world class economist against the Prime Minister's financial plans. In the Governor's view, this is not the time to increase the deficit, which may grow in any case due to problems coming to Israel from economies in Europe and the United States. He mentioned the stagnation of the 1970s and the high inflation of the 1980s, and said that the United States was less able and less willing to provide financial help than in those years. If Israel wants to avoid the fate of Spain, Portugal, or--God forbid Greece--it should tighten its belt rather than loosen it.

Involved in all the maneuverings are calculations about what the Supreme Court will accept. Its ruling against the status quo on the basis of its inequality began the process of considering the drafting of ultra-Orthodox and Arabs that is unlikely to end without dissatisfied citizens or politicians submitting a petition that will involve the Court once again.

Lesson #2 has to do with changing political culture. It is easier to propose grand changes, such as recruiting ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, or an equally radical notion of turning the IDF into a leaner and more efficient professional military than it is to alter ideological or mythic notions of who should serve.

Societies do change. Evidence ranges from the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the status of Barack Obama, and to whatever is happening in several Arab countries. Israel's high-tech entrepreneurs and workers travel frequently to the Silicon Valley, Seattle, and sites in China, India, and Europe. This is not the Israel of decades past dominated by kibbutz agriculture and low-tech industries. One can still find signs of the country's socialist history, but they have been modified by private enterprise, along with increasing gaps between rich and poor.

What remains is an iconic military, huge in relation to other features of the country, and still justified by real threats. The IDF's own moves toward innovations in intelligence gathering and weapons put it, along with the industries serving it and staffed by IDF graduates, among the country's most dynamic sectors.

The ultra-Orthodox and Arabs are the laggards of the economy.

There is no obvious fit between a high-tech military, the ultra-Orthodox and Israel's Arabs, especially when none of the partners want to work with the others.

Among the professional questions to be answered are the best strategies and the best institutions to improve the laggards' contribution to the economy?

Among the questions apparent in the politicians' maneuverings are what do their constituents' prefer?

The two sets of questions may merge into a useful program, with a minimum of political rebellion by those unhappy with the prospects.

We can hope for the best, as long as we do not expect too much.


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 09:37 PM
June 28, 2012
America the fascinating

Among the things that keep me in touch with my former homeland are the family members and friends who respond to my notes. The friends include people I've never met in person. Some have trekked to French Hill in order to shake my hand and share in some goodies, face to face conversation, as well as some arguments that began on the Internet.

My guess is that a thousand people may see my notes, either directly, via people who pass them along, or on one of the blog pages that publishes them. Modesty and courtesy keep me from inquiring who actually reads them, or who have set up automatic deletes. I take solace in that only a handful have actually asked to be dropped from my list, and I'll admit that some of them have been family members.

I've gathered over the years that "old Jewish man" characterizes a disproportionate share of my readers, as well as the writer of these notes. One of the recent responses comes from a correspondent who, I sense, fits that category. It expresses something I have received from several others: a lack of satisfaction with Barack Obama, but an inability to defect from a lifetime of voting Democratic. There may also be unhappiness with this year's Republican alternative.

"I plan to vote Democratic and continue to try to favorably affect the administration policy towards Israel."

I'll be watching the results, assuming that Barack Obama wins another term, to check on the political influence of this old Jewish man and his friends.

Another note, from an up-scale retirement community.

A woman brought a homeless man . . . into the dining room and sat at the next table. Everything was fine till she went to the ladies room. Then he decided to sit with us. He just sat down at the table and started babbling about Hell's Angels and Bar Mitzvahs. He was scary. The people on the other side of us called over a dining room manager. Then came security and the police. . . . they took him out the back door. The woman who brought him is a new resident. I think she thought she could sneak him in and get him a good meal.

Compared to the nice lady who broke the conventions of her retirement community, I shouldn't complain about the lack of graces apparent in the most recent of Israel's social protests.

Beyond the insights provoked by these recent notes, my thoughts of America deal mostly with the contrasts between the power and quality of what exists within that country and what comes out of it to affect the rest of us. In short, the world's richest, most powerful, and most intrusive country seems beholden to a political culture that is the developed world's most backward and parochial.

Now we'll see how many more of my friends ask off of my list.

The backwardness appears in the cluster including guns, incarceration, health care, exaggerated individualism, widespread opposition to government, and the mixture of religious doctrine with public policy. The world's best medicine comes along with the developed world's worst mode of delivering health care. Even with the Supreme Court's approval of a key provision in the Obama mess of 2,000 pages, it is not clear how many Americans who think they will have health insurance actually will have anything like what is mandatory in Western Europe and Israel.

Obama's people have used the term "vulture capitalism" to describe the professional background of Mitt Romney, but not for the vultures who have dominated profit-making health insurance companies, and demand a high degree of intelligence and persistence on the part of customers who want payment for services seemingly covered.

While the rest of us don't care all that much about Americans who eat too much, have skimpy health insurance, and die younger than any other population in the developed world, we do worry about the intrusive nature of American power in places where its policymakers' ignorance of geography, history, and culture produce more damage than benefit.

The choice of the present leader on the basis of some good speeches but without any political experience worth mentioning is the most extreme affront to a world affected by America's economic and military power. The ignorance of things overseas that came to the White House with the governor of Texas may have been even worse. An Israeli has to wonder what is the most offensive to good sense: Obama's speech about democracy in Cairo, demanding an end to Jewish construction in neighborhoods of Jerusalem, or Bush's invasion of Iraq that produced several thousand American and perhaps more than a million Iraqi deaths.

Obama's supporters may be applauding the signs of democracy in Egypt. They will have to overlook what has happened in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and hope for the best in Egypt's future.

Those who have swallowed the Obama mantra that Islam is not the problem should note the comments of Iran's Vice President at an international conference on drug use. According to the Iranian, Zionists are responsible for drug addiction and dominate the international drug trade, as proved by the lack of addiction among even one Zionist. The Talmud teaches Jews to kill non-Jews. The Jews led the Bolshevik Revolution, and no Jews died in that uprising.

In the same spirit are assertions throughout Muslim countries that Jews were responsible for 9-11.

I've written about these issues a number of times. Like that old Jewish man who has become an Internet friend, I should not expect my words to weigh much against the culture of a people sure that they are the best, and who are so out of step with how most others view government, public services, and people beyond their borders.

To be fair to my family, friends, and other Americans, it may be because America is so powerful that it can be so parochial. Unlike Europeans and Israelis, a lack of dependence on others allows Americans to avoid learning foreign languages, history, and cultures.

Perhaps the Greeks, Romans, and Persians were not any more worldly in their time than the Americans in theirs. The Persian leader Cyrus earned praise in the Book of Ezra for allowing exiled Jews to return home and rebuild their Temple. Other empires were also known for loose rule, as long as their vassals did not challenge key demands. Communication was slow, with months passing between events in the field, the news getting to the capital, and the empire's decisions getting back to the provinces. Whoever was the equivalent of Barack Obama did not have to meet several times a day and decide about the latest news from afar.

And along with ridiculing the mantra that "Islam is not the problem," it is also appropriate to note that Presidents Bush and Obama have presided over the greatest crusade against Muslims in a millennium.

Friends who know more about ancient history are invited to educate me.

We can wonder if the Chinese are next in line, how worldly they might be, and how those dependent on them can rely on what they say.

If we have learned anything since Machiavelli, however, it is that fluency in Chinese or any other language spoken in the imperial capital will be a limited guide to the meaning of leaders' pronouncements.


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 10:59 AM
June 23, 2012
The State Comptroller, the Carmel fire, and 44 deaths

The blaze that spread through the forest on Mt Carmel in December, 2010 was distinctive among the fires that occur frequently in the dry brush and forests of Israel after the long hot summer. It spread into several villages and destroyed homes, and caused 44 deaths. Most were prison guard trainees trapped in a bus on a narrow mountain road on their way to help with the evacuation of a prison that was threatened by the fire. Also killed were three ranking police officers and two firefighters, including a teenage volunteer.

The magnitude of the disaster became a major project for the State Comptroller, who has now published a report a few days in advance of finishing his term of office. During the year and one-half since the fire, several draft reports (provided to governmental units and individuals subject to criticism, meant to provide them opportunities to comment) have attracted considerable media attention. Commentators speculated that the State Comptroller's report and recommendations would be sufficiently devastating to require the resignation of government ministers who had failed to act in ways to prevent such a disaster.

Involved in the chronic nature of forest fires is not only the long dry summer, but Israeli demographics. While some fires begin spontaneously and some from irresponsible campers, a significant number are set by Arabs as expressions of their nationalism.

The State Comptroller's long and detailed report deals not only with the tragedies of the deaths, but with a number of failures that contributed to the problems of dealing with the extensive fire, some of which may have contributed to the deaths. Several of these failures had been the subject of previous State Comptroller reports, and remained uncorrected. Several remain uncorrected until now, despite earlier reports on the Carmel fire by the State Comptroller and other officials, and claims by ranking politicians to having dealt with them.
•The failure of those responsible to clear the forest of the dried brush and other material likely to provide tinder for whatever would be the proximate cause of a fire.
•The multiplicity of fire fighting brigades, responsible to a number of local authorities, plus the organization with responsibility for forest management, and the police having responsibility for traffic control near a fire, with a lack of coordination among all these bodies.
•The lack of professional standards among the fire brigades, pertaining to appropriate measures of recruiting, physical examinations, training, and maintaining the standards of personnel.
•A lack of resources to provide an adequate compliment of firefighters and equipment, due partly to the actions of national ministries, and partly to the local authorities and fire brigades that had resisted demands from the national ministries to reform themselves. Involved here are jealousies among organizations and individuals reluctant to surrender their control over resources, decisions about who would be hired, and who would be promoted to key positions in the fire brigades. Also involved are the failure of the organization with responsibility for forest management to have on hand adequate supplies of the chemicals used in firefighting, and the lack of sufficient trucks and planes to deal with extensive fires.

The principal villains in the media coverage of this complex story are the Minister of Finance, who demanded a reform of the fire brigades as a condition for releasing funds that had been budgeted for them, the Minister of Interior, who failed to assert his authority to demand reform and coordination among the units involved in firefighting, and the Prime Minister for failing to note the potential for disaster evident in various reports about the poor state of firefighting organization, personnel, and equipment.

All of this would be the stuff of conventional criticism, most likely put on the shelf after a day of media attention, if the fire had only burned forest and brush, and had destroyed a number of homes in several villages. What makes it a political conflagration is 44 deaths, and family members concerned for justice or revenge. While some close relatives have sided with the ministers involved, others have employed one of the country's most distinguished attorneys in order to begin a suit in the Supreme Court meant to force the dismisal of one or another minister.

In a case like this it is necessary to reconsider the epigram that success has many parents while failure is an orphan. This failure has numerous parents. Each received mention in the State Comptroller's reports, but each can point to others in order to share the blame and minimize that accepted by any one of them. Deciding on parentage here has nothing equivalent to a DNA test to assign specific responsibility, or any other device to weigh accurately the share that each must accept.

Another epigram popular in Israel warns against blaming the lowest on the chain of command for a disaster, and to assign responsibility to commanders who failed to plan appropriately.

In this case, however, the blame for deaths may actually rest somewhere down the chain of command, where individuals did not act appropriately to prevent the bus carrying prison guards from traveling on a road likely to be dangerous.

The State Comptroller's report notes, close to the beginning of its summary:

"It will be emphasized at this stage that we do not claim that the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Interior are responsible for the 44 deaths during the terrible fire on the Carmel. That claim would be wrong in the extreme, without any basis." (p. 6)

Nonetheless, one may conclude that the lack of resources provided to the various units with firefighting responsibility, as well as the lack of reforms that had been suggested times in the past, contributed to the disaster. Among the administrative faults were failures to establish a central command upon the outbreak of the fire with sufficient means of observation and communication in order to provide detailed and timely information to officials with responsibilities for controlling fire brigades and the closure of roads likely to be dangerous (Chapter 1).

From these failings there might be linkages to the responsibilities of the Interior Minister and Finance Minister, or even the Prime Minister to press their underlings to attend to problems likely to exist in the event of a major fire.

Fairness is this case is elusive in the extreme. The Supreme Court will express itself in one way or another, even if it is to avoid comment or action. Some family members may rest with their day in court, but others not. This can become an iconic event that provides the stuff of further official reports, media commentary, seminar papers, dissertations, unresolved allegations, and unrelieved bitterness.


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 08:26 PM
June 21, 2012

The slaughter of innocents in Syria bothers Israelis no less than it bothers others. Perhaps it bothers Israelis more, insofar as it is happening next door. Syria's capital is less than 200 miles from Israel's capital, and less than 50 miles from the Israeli border. What happens there has spilled over into Israel, and can do so again. However, the complexity associated with events in Syria keeps Israelis from expressing any simplistic morality by cheering one side or the other. No Israeli in his/her right mind expects democracy or any other kind of enlightened government to emerge from the present chaos.

The history of the Assad regime gets mixed reviews in Israel. It was not noticeably more repressive than other places governed by Muslims between Assad Senior's repression of a rebellion in 1982 that cost anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 lives and Assad Junior's efforts of 2011-12. This death toll may have reached 20,000, with up to 180,000 Syrians refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. As many as 4,000 of the dead may have been members of government forces.

Syria is a country of minorities, with one of them dominating the regime since Assad Senior seized power in 1970 and began distributing key roles to fellow Alewites. The people at the top have emphasize the Arab character of Syria, but have kept Muslim extremists quiet or repressed. For Israelis and others, that is a big plus that deserves recognition.

The present Assad is linked with Iran, which produces little applause in Israel, insofar as Syria is a conduit for weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Israel-Lebanon border area has been quiet since the summer of 2006. The Iran-Syria connection has provided enough missiles of considerable range and carrying capacity to be a serious threat to Israel, but the prospect of what Israel could do in return has kept Hezbollah's leader hiding underground for virtually all of the most recent six years

And for almost the whole time since the cease fire at the end of the 1973 war, the Israel-Syria border area has been quiet. Syrian rulers, like those of Hezbollah, recognize the realpolitik of balanced force.

Complicating the image of good guys vs bad guys conveyed in western media are indications that what began with anti-Assad protests has matured into two-sided or more complex violence with regime opponents getting material and financial aid from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other countries dominated by Sunni Muslims. Part of what is happening is Sunni Muslim opposition to Alewite heretics, and part of it is Sunni Muslim opposition to the principal client of Shi'ite Iran.

Some of the bloodiest incidents may have been the work of Muslim extremists operating under the label of al-Quida.

Commentators with reputations as experts on Syria quarrel as to whether events have escalated to a "civil war," or remain an "uprising" or some other term in the amorphous vocabulary for things political and violent. The armed and political opposition is highly fractured. Politicians claiming leadership of the anti-Assad forces are expatriates who have not agreed on a government in exile, and have little leverage over the various localized forces using imported weapons of increasing capacity to kill and destroy.

Involved in the outside participants' debates over what to do about Syria is a reincarnation of the Cold War with Russia and China on one side against the United States and some Western Europeans. Involved in this competition is a simplistic American morality, which assumes that everyone is like Americans. Historian Robert Kallek portrays this as a moving force of American foreign policy since the middle of the 19th century. Kallek published The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and Foreign Affairs almost 20 years before George W. Bush confirmed his thesis with an invasion justified as meant to bring democracy to Iraq. Against this is Russian and Chinese realism--what some may call amoral realism--bolstered by their efforts to counter anything American. They are supporting the Assad regime, which still has the upper hand, arranges its own demonstrations with tens of thousands of participants, and may actually have a moral right to oppose those rebelling against the government in place.

Among Israel's concerns is the fate of considerable munitions, including long range rockets, chemical and biological weapons that the Assad regime has produced or acquired.

Among the nightmares is that the nasty stuff will fall into the hands of Muslim fanatics who have not learned the lessons of balanced force, or think that their own deaths are less important than killing Jews.

Some of my correspondents have accused Israel of being excessively concerned with itself, and suffering from a paranoia that leads it to favor the status quo over the prospects of reform in its surroundings.

I would expect nothing less from friends who applaud aspirations that George Bush expressed for Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama along with Thomas Friedman expressed for Arab Spring.

We all hope for enlightenment, domestic equality and opportunity in the region from West Africa to Indonesia upward to Central Asia and downward to Central Africa, but we should not expect it to come quickly, if at all. Islam is a problem, inherently opposed to democracy, despite the declarations of Western leaders hoping that political correctness will keep most of a billion Muslims quiet.

Even in the best of circumstances, if a kind of democracy begins to grow in this area, it will take years, decades, or generations to mature. In the meantime there is likely to be chaos, a jockeying for power, with opponents competing by aggressive postures toward Israel. Barack and Thom may feel that patience is a small price to pay for eventual goodness, but it is Israelis who will pay a disproportionate share of that price.

Thus, our limited enthusiasm for Arab Spring, which by now should be renamed into something more likely to continue, so far with hardly a flicker of light from the protests, uprisings, rebellions, or civil wars.


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 02:31 AM
June 19, 2012
Illegals in a land of immigrants

Illegal immigrants from Africa remain on Israel's front burner.

Minister of Interior Eli Yishai has made a high profile effort to arrest several hundred from South Sudan, and send them on free flights home, each with 1,000 Euros to get started in their old/new country. 123 have already left. Weekly flights have been scheduled for several hundred more who have signed on to voluntary repatriation, and are in detention. Yishai is promising continued action with respect to migrants from Eritrea and other countries where sending them back will be more complicated than in the case of the South Sudanese.

Work began on a holding facility capable of containing 16,000 illegal arrivals, and providing them with food, a place to sleep, and medical care. However, a local official who did not want them in his back yard found an opportunity in the regulations that caused a temporary delay in the construction, until the national planning authority approved the project.

Daily reports are about more newcomers. Optimists have said that a dip in the numbers shows that Israel has sent a message to potential migrants that they cannot work and earn money in the country. Others are not so sure, and say that Bedouin guides are resourceful enough to find a way to continue earning what migrants are willing to pay.

There are Israelis who have vented their feelings by violence aganst Africans, their residences, and the small businesses that some of them have established. Some Israeli Jews of Ethiopian backgrounds have also suffered at the hands of toughs who do not distinguish between people with black skins.

All this is regretable, but surprising only to those who expect Jews to be free of the animosities that appear in other populations among individuals who fear competition or the encroachment on their turf of people who are different. Israel also has politicians who see opportunity in declaiming the presence of outsiders who threaten what they say the country should be.

We are hearing from those who oppose official actions. A number of Israel Prize Winners, a distinguished group of academics, artists and other prominent figures, has weighed in on behalf of the migrants' rights, and the problems they are likely to face if sent home.

Other figures support the efforts against the migrants, but doubt that efforts currently underway--or anything else so far heard--will deal effectively with the problem.

Africa has an unlimited supply of people wanting help. Israelis who have signed on to their cause claim that authorities are not being fair. They are asking South Sudanese to sign documents saying that they are willing to return home which are written in English, which many South Sudanese do not comprehend. Authorities may also be threatening the migrants with arrest if they do not go quietly. And they may not be probing thoroughly enough the reasons for individuals claiming the rights of refugees.

I haven't heard from any Israeli that they would like to live in South Sudan or Eritrea. The question is whether those places are so intolerable as to require Israel to provide a home for those who have made it across the Sinai?

There are quarrels about the facilities said appropriate for holding the newcomers and others taken off the streets. There is mention of incarceration for up to three years, by which time it may be possible to send them home.

There is no quarrel about providing those in the facilities with food and medical care. How much medical care might be an issue. The migrants come with a high incidence of serious diseases and other problems.

What will the migrants do in the facilities for up to three years? Keeping them busy with work or recreation will lessen the problems of the guards. Can they be given work without advocates making charges of slavery? And who will guard them? Most ideal would be personnel of the prison system, who are already trained for such work. As yet unresolved is money for this, including an increase in the budget for the prison system that would allow additional recruitment. If Israel's history of labor relations is any guide, all prison guards will demand an increase in salary for the change in their collective responsibilities, and that is likely to hold up any resolution of who will guard the migrants. An alternative is using soldiers, but that raises the problem of appropriate training.

We are hearing reports that African-Americans are complaining about Israel's treatment of the African immigrants, and that American Jews are nervous about the morality of Israel's actions, and the images being broadcast of Israeli politicians speaking against Africans.

I considered giving this note the title of "Cleaning the streets," but changed my mind in light of what seems not to be politically correct. "Hot potato" may be less incendiary, but does not encompass.the multitude of complex issues ranging from administrative details to the international problems of finding places to take these people.

It is no simple task to balance the desire of people wanting to improve their lives, some of who might have serious claims of being the targets of persecution that qualifies them under international agreements about refugees, against the right of Israel like other countries to control its borders.

As in other knotty issues that surround me in this small place and help to keep me alert intellectually, I will concentrate on parsing the problems and efforts to deal with them, rather than weighing in with my own sense of morality.


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 11:16 PM
June 15, 2012
Another report on the Marmara

Israeli media has put on one of its circuses of prolonged discussions following the publication of the State Comptroller's Report on the incident invovling the Turkish ship Marmara carrying protesters toward Gaza in May, 2010.

The essence of this report is that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not carry out all of the consultations required in such circumstances, and as a result was not fully prepared, and did not prepare underlings to handle the situation in the way most favorable to Israel.

The great majority of commentators appear to agree with the State Comptroller, and they have not been shy of piling on the Prime Minister for his alleged failings.

A prominent exception to the endorsement of the report comes from MK Hanin Zoabi, arguably one of the brightest and most extreme of the Knesset Members, an Arab woman, who was a passenger on the Marmara.

"Instead of investigating the nature of the pirate operation, of the murder of activists and the attack on a civilian ship, the State Comptroller is cooperating with the Israeli security establishment in suppressing the facts,"

Some of the commentators have other issues with the State Comptroller. While his report accuses the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister for not consulting with all who should have been in their loops, critics note that the report indicates that there was a lot of consultation with personnel having expertise and responsibilities for the relevant political and military issues.

Relations between Israel and Turkey had already soured. Netanyahu sought through a variety of channels an assurance from Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that he would keep the flotilla from sailing. At one point it was thought that Erdogan was inclined to cooperate, but in hindsight it appears that he was intent on embarrassing Israel.

Commentaries have raised again details about the Marmara incident, the inquiries, condemnations, reports, and continuing squabbles with Turkey, including its most recent decisions to bring criminal charges against the senior Israeli military personnel involved.

Israel's State Comptrollers have issued incisive reports revealing important flaws in government policy or exposing corruption, that have resulted in significant changes. On the other hand, many reports deal with details that are improper in terms of official procedure, but do not clearly lead to decisions that may be faulted in terms of wasting significant resources, or violations of citizens' rights.

The State Comptroller's report on the Marmara differed from reports that put the onus on bureaucrats for not following all the required procedures. This one directed attention to the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. It allowed politicians and commentators to make strong assertions about the most prominent politicians of them all, bolstered by the prestige of the State Comptroller.

Like other reports of the State Comptroller that fault officials for not following all of the written rules, this one does not ask the difficult question, Did those lapses make a significant difference for the outcomes?

No doubt the incident was less than ideal. However, many confrontational encounters, especially those involving extremists and the likelihood of violence, are also less than ideal. People get hurt. It could always be better or less costly. However, the outcomes in this case appear to have been produced by factors other than those emphasized by the State Comptroller. Moreover, they do not appear to have been the catastrophe that commentators are describing.

The head of the Turkish government seemed intent on making a problem for Israel.

The ship did not make it to Gaza.

Nine individuals died as a result of conflict with Israeli personnel. Films of the confrontation justify labels as extremists or terrorists for the violent passengers on the Marama

While some IDF personnel were injured, the men sent to the Marmara recovered from whatever surprise they encountered and overcame their adversaries

A senior official in Office of the State Comptroller once conceded to me that many of its reports were trivial. "Not all of our employees are geniuses," he said, "and we must give them something to do."

In settings where optimal outcomes are the stuff of aspirations rather than reality, one should always ask, How did the outcomes compare to other confrontations?

We must always say that all human life is precious, but the numbers of dead and injured associated with the Marama are less than occurred in numerous Turkish actions against Kurds, the protests in Cairo, confrontations between Hamas and Fatah, current activities of the Syrian government, or the costs versus the accomplishments of the United States and allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya.

Israel emerged from the incident with some international battering of the type that has been conventional and was expected. Its loosening of the isolation on Gaza hardly seems to be a major defeat. What has occurred in Gaza since the Marmara owes more to changes in Egypt than to what Israel's Prime Minister did, or failed to do. The sea blockade remains in force, and there has not been a serious challenge since the Marmara incident.

Israel's response to the flotilla came after considerable discussions about political and military issues, even if they did not include all of the discussions with all of the personnel that may have been appropriate.

It is not possible to plan for all the contingencies likely to occur in military or quasi-military confrontations. One's opponents, antagonists, or enemies have their own plans, resources, skills of maneuver, surprise, and improvisation.

The bottom line is what counts most, and it is hard to see a significantly different bottom line coming from a process where there would have been more consultations prior to the IDF's encounter with the Marmara.

We should not be surprised at how the media has responded to yet another report on an event that all would call imperfect.

That is the way Jews govern themselves.

It could be worse.


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 12:24 AM
June 14, 2012
Obsessions and higher education

The United States has the least centralized government, with the strongest norms in behalf of individual freedom among well-to-do democracies. Among its detailed traits are
•Variations in public policy between states and localities
•Commendable indications of research and innovation in science, medicine, and technology
•High flow of immigrants--not all of them legal--seeking individual opportunity
•The developed world's greatest inequalities as measured by family incomes
•The developed world's highest levels of violence and incarceration
•The developed world's greatest reliance on profit-making health insurers
•The developed world's lowest levels of life expectancy
•Great unevenness in the qualify of secondary education
•The highest levels of attendance in post-secondary education
•Great unevenness in the quality of post-secondary education

A long article in the New York Times describes some implications of Americans' pursuit of individual opportunity via higher education: the obsessive drive for entrance to prestige colleges and universities by high school students, their parents, teachers and school administrators.

The headline and theme of the article is, "Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill." It describes high schoolers who have learned that certain drugs can increase their concentration and capacity to get good grades after long nights of cramming. They have also learned how to persuade physicians to prescribe the medications, or how to obtain them from friends or others illegally, and to profit from selling them.

Authors of the article claim that use of the pills are highest in the more affluent suburbs, better urban neighborhoods, and more prestigious private and public schools. They report the claims of young people and parents that "everybody uses them," and the claims of school administrators that such reports are exaggerated, especially as they pertain to their schools.

The drive of ambitious parents and teenagers for admission to high ranked colleges has been part of the American scene since college attendance became widespread after World War II. It has produced a small industry of researchers and claimants about the benefits of good colleges, not all of it well done or free of self-interest. Mass circulation journals compete with their annual rankings, college administrators do what they can to get their institutions on one or another list, and high school administrators do what they can to improve their record of getting graduates into the places with high scores.

There is no end of claims that the graduates of the high ranking institutions are most likely to get the best job offers upon graduation and have the highest incomes years after graduation.

Not so simple is the question about how much value the prestige colleges add to their students' life chances, and whether the value added is worth their high tuition.

A compilation of research findings goes by the title "College Prestige Lies." It argues that students with innate skills and the advantages acquired from well-educated and high-income parents are more likely than others to do well in their careers no matter what college they attend. Among the items cited is a sophisticated article in the distinguished Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Its most prominent findings, reflecting research done years after graduation:

"Estimates of the effect of college selectivity on earnings may be biased because elite colleges admit students, in part, based on characteristics that are related to future earnings. . . . we find that students who attended more selective colleges earned about the same as students of seemingly comparable ability who attended less selective schools. Children from low-income families, however, earned more if they attended selective colleges."

This squares with other research showing that school and family both affect academic success and life opportunities. Well healed kids are likely to do well. What most students receives from home by way of parents with education, a concern that their children learn, and money, is likely to be more important than what the student receives by way of instruction in school. It is children from disadvantaged families who are most likely to be helped by good schools and colleges, if they can surmount the hurdles of admission and expense.

My own life chances may have depended on that scholarship to Wesleyan, which got me out of a poor industrial city whose adults had an average 8 years of education, and the low quality of schools that one might expect in such a place. Subsequent experiences led me to appreciate the quality (and the benefit-cost advantage) of state universities in the US, and universities in Europe and Israel more thoroughly monitored by governments than in the US. European and Israeli universities lack the wide diversities of quality along with the nerve-wracking concern with applications and admission that mark the American scene.

Three of Israel's seven universities have achieved international renown for their faculties' research, and there are not great differences among the universities with respect to undergraduate education. Admission depends almost entirely upon scores on standardized national examinations. Tuition resembles that at American state universities. Faculty salaries and working conditions are similar across departments and institutions.

The development of more than 50 colleges has come in the last two decades of growing national wealth and a larger incidence of young people wanting higher education. The colleges are less regulated than are the universities by the national authority for higher education. Tuition in many is not subsidized, and varies along with admission standards, the quality and working conditions of the teaching personnel. The colleges include some older institutions that provide high quality training in music and art, some that specialize in engineering, computer science,and the preparation of teachers, and a number that resemble American community colleges.

Israeli young people show some of the anxiety of their American peers as they prepare for national examinations. By the time they are ready for university or college, however, most have matured via several years in the IDF. The selection process is less frantic than what is described for the United States. On the basis of my poking and prodding over the years, it appears that most of the talented people who want a high quality education find places in the universities or better colleges.

For the upper-income American family that is the focus of the New York Times article on drugs and grades, it is best to relax, wean the kid from the drugs, and talk up the less competitive state university with tuition a quarter or less than that at a private college. If the same families wish to be socially responsible for the sake of children from poor families who are most likely to be helped by an elite institution, they should send the money they save on their kids' tuition to the scholarship fund of a distinguished school, whether it be public or private.


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 05:04 AM
June 11, 2012
Ethiopians and other immigrants

The New York Times has discovered racism in Israel.

An Israeli response to such a revelation is "Mazal tov. You've discovered America."

The meaning does not deal with racism in America, which has been there since Columbus. In modern Hebrew, "You've discovered America" means you have said the obvious. What we have known for a long time.

The racism in the most recent article is directed against Ethiopian Jews. There are Israelis who do not accept them as Jews. Or do not hire them. Or do not pay them the same salary as other employees. Or do not rent apartments to them. Or do not accept their children into desirable schools. Some time ago we learned that blood banks routinely destoyed blood donated by Ethiopians due to the high incidence of HIV among the population.

All this is regretable, but should not surprise anyone except those who thnk that Israeli Jews should be more perfect than other populations on all dimensions of intelligence, skills, and morality.

The headline and theme of the article report that Ethiopians do not accept their status as second class citizens. They are marching and demonstrating.

Another discovery of America. It did not take Ethiopians long to learn that there is no justice without complaint.

The article is fair in noting the financial support provided to Ethiopians, and that earlier arrivals from Yemen and Morocco also had problems in finding acceptance.

The article also notes what is the most sensitive issue involving the Ethiopians.

"A recent parliamentary report said that 30 percent of the killings of women by their husbands occur within the Ethiopian community, though the 130,000 or so Ethiopians make up less than 2 percent of Israel's population."

One indication of Ethiopian maturity in Israeli society is an organization intent on dealing with domestic violence in their community. Among its complaints is official shame that gets in the way of treatment.

"A few years ago the Yachdav coalition successfully lobbied for anthropological research on domestic violence among Israeli Ethiopians, which was subsequently funded by the Ministry of Welfare. The coalition was outraged to learn . . . that the Ministry had intentionally hid some of the report's findings in order to obfuscate its own failure to invest resources on this issue."

Ethiopian immigrants have no monopoly on this problem. An organization concerned with domestic violence against women found that the murder rate of women among newcomers was more than twice than among veteran Israelis. The rate was also higher among immigrants from the former USSR than among veteran Israelis, but not as high as that among immigrants from Ethiopia.

The explanations resemble what has been conventional wisdom since sociologists began studying pathologies among European immigrants to the United States in first decades of the 20th century. The classic study, still useful, is W.I. Thomas and Florian W. Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in European and America (1918). Culture shock is the general problem, whose details vary from one population to another.

"The Ethiopian newcomers came from a vastly different society, mainly rural, where women had no access to money, and depended on tribal and religious leaders for solving all family problems. Ethiopian men found the loss of their power as heads of families overwhelming and difficult to cope with. . . .

Men often lose status in a new society, where the language, skills, education, occupation, culture, politics, climate are different to those they were used to. In a violent family this will trigger extra and unwarranted violence."

Immigration is the story of Israel, with its positive and negative features. A million arrivals from the fomer Soviet Union included more than their share of world class physicians and other scientists, academics, musicians, chess players, and my friends.

The 15 percent increase in population that began with initial arrivals in the late 1980s no longer makes it necessary for middle-aged immigrants to go through my experience of being drafted into the IDF and sent to basic training. The military now has a large enough draft pool of young people, and has become more selective for the sake of quality.

Russian speakers also have higher rates of domestic violence than veteran Israelis, and have boosted Israelis' consumption of vodka and other kinds of alcohol, along with the work it produces for the police, mostly on Friday evenings. .

Even in the best of circumstances, migration between counries is a difficult experience. I came to Israel 35 years ago as a tenured professor in the country's most distinguish university. I had also written about the experience of immigrants in the United States, and was prepared for difficulties. Colleagues in the university and neighbors were outgoing and generous with their advice.

Language was my greatest challenge, but not the only one. For some years now I have felt more Israeli than American, but not entirely so. Varda's late father and I talked often about his experiences and mine. He never felt entirely at home, even as he passed 65 years in the country and had reached a senior position in the Bank of Israel.

Among my earliest articles about Israel was "How to Cope with the Bureaucracy" (Jerusalem Quarterly, 1978). Immigrants deal with officials more often than established residents, and are likely to suffer from their ignorance of language, culture, formal and informal procedure.

Some years ago I advised a doctoral student writing her dissertation at the University of Gothenburg about the reception of refugees in Sweden and immigrants in Israel. Among her findings: the Swedes are more reliable in providing applicants with what the law required, no more or no less. Israeli officials are more flexible, and more likely to take initiative in going beyond the formal routines in order to help their clients. The negative side of Israelis' disregard for the rules is that they are more likely than Swedish officials to provide less than the regulations to some claimants. The positive side is that they are more likely to provide more than the regulations allowed to others.

Immigration is wrenching enough so that many of the migrants eventually return home. Earlier studies found that one half of the immigrants to Israel from open societies went back. Recent statistics are that half or more of Israelis who emigrate are previous immigrants. Sizable numbers of Europeans who made the long journey to the United States in the 19th century also went back home. The process continues with older Italians, Poles, and others receiving their monthly US Social Security payments in the villages they left as children or young adults. Air travel makes it easier now to live in one place and visit another. Reforms in what used to be the Soviet Union attract some migrants to Israel who thought they were making a one-way journey in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Regulations of the European Union make it easy for Europeans to work away from their native land and return home for an occasional weekend. Lots of Israelis have obtained second and even third passports on the basis of what had been their parents' or grandparents' citizenships. Some use those passports to find desirable jobs, and a few make intercontinental flights weekly between home and work. There has been some media attention to Ethiopian-Israelis who go back for a visit, but nothing that I have noticed about a permanent return home.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:37 PM
June 09, 2012
Personalities at the top

You have heard of of the Lyndon Johnson-Robert Kennedy feud, and Watergate. Those cases were separate, involving two clusters of individuals in different political parties, with four years intervening between the end of one and the onset of the second, and another two years until Watergate produced the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Israel is going through something that combines features of Johnson-Kennedy and Watergate with one cluster of overlapping personalities. Insofar as it involves the peak of the security hierarchy, key details are not available to the public. The central figures and labels employed by the media have changed over the two years it has been in the headlines.

For anything better, we can call it the Galant-Harpaz-Ashkenazi-Weiner-Barak-Lindenstrauss-Weinstein affair, and tell what can be garnered from journalists forbidden to reveal everything they know.

In the background was some kind of animosity between Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of the IDF General Staff and his nominal superior, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, himself a former Lt.Gen and head of the IDF General Staff. Ashkenazi was said to want an additional year added on to his three year term of office, conventionally given to IDF heads, while Barak, with the authority to decide on such things, wanted someone else.

Barak has long been know for his brilliance, an overdeveloped ego, and problems in working with others. Ashkenazi's reputation as an honest "soldier's soldier" is now a subject of dispute.

In August, 2010 one of Israel's television channels broke the news of a document circulating among senior officers of the IDF, said to be part of an organized effort to affect the selection of the next Chief of the General Command. That came to be known as the Galant document. The public has never seen the whole thing, but it was originally said to have as its goal the selection of General Yoav Galant, and later said to be a cabal against Galant's appointment.

The message provided in the media was that ranking officers were engaging in a illegitimate effort to organize in behalf of one of them, and/or against others, in order to influence a decision that should be in the hands of the IDF's political superiors. Formally, senior positions in the IDF are nominated by the Defense Minister, after consultations with military personnel, and approved by the Government.

As the story developed, Boaz Harpaz was said to be the author of the document. Harpaz had reached the rank of Lt Col in the IDF, but had personal contacts throughout the higher reaches of the IDF that seemed peculiar for his rank at the lower end of the IDF's upper echelon. Hapaz was arrested and investigated, the document was said to be a forgery, Ashkenazi was involved due to assertions that he knew of its existence and kept a copy in his office for some time without reporting to authorities what seemed to be an illegitimate conspiracy among senior officers.

General Galant received the Defense Minister's nomination as Ashkenazi's successor, and his appointment was approved by the Government. However, a simmering issue of Galant's property dealings concerned with his personal home produced a damning decision by the Attorney General, and the Government was forced to reverse its decision. It did not help Galant that Ha'aretz published a photo of his home on its front page, showing a structure called a palace, beyond the dreams of the average Israeli and not in keeping with the modest profile expected of senior military personnel.

Occasional news of developments, still without details of the actual letter, appeared over the course of the next two years. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss weighed in with his brief for dealing with issues of moral integrity and his sense of what was newsworthy, and proceeded to investigate, as typical of his office, behind closed doors.

Pressure on Lindenstrauss and the rest of us mounted with the impending end of his term as State Comptroller, and his concern to finish with this and another high profile investigation having the potential to roll some political heads, i.e., the 2010 forest fire on the Carmel that claimed 44 lives.

Lindenstrauss informed Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that the Galant case deserved police attention due to the likelihood of someone in authority violating criminal laws. Eventually that produced a dust-up between Weinstein and Lindenstrauss with a headline "Attorney General blasts comptroller over 'Harpaz affair' claims: In furious letter, Yehuda Weinstein charges that Micha Lindenstrauss never mentioned criminal investigation."

The article began with

"Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has gone on the offensive against outgoing State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, charging that recent statements regarding the "Harpaz Affair" were not true, and that Lindenstrauss was misleading the public in claiming to have called for a more in-depth criminal investigation. . . .

In early May, Haaretz reported that Lindenstrauss requested that Weinstein reopen the investigation upon receipt of new information that he claimed strengthened the suspicions he had presented in his March draft report on the affair. Lindenstrauss has recently been quoted by Israeli media on several occasions calling for a wider criminal investigation into the case.

Then, on May 14, Weinstein sent a letter to Lindenstrauss, which those who have seen are calling the "harshest" letter ever written from an attorney general to a state comptroller. Weinstein wrote that, "throughout the entire investigation, from its beginning to its end, through all the final communications between me and you, between my staff and the staff of your office, at no time was there any mention of the criminal aspects of this case -- neither explicitly nor implicitly, not in writing and not by word of mouth."

No less caustic is the flare up of enmity between the still-sitting Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the now retired Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. One headline is that "Harpaz says Gabi Ashkenazi tasked him to dig for dirt on Defense Minister Barak: Boaz Harpaz's statement was primary reason for comptroller's recommendation to reopen criminal investigation into so-called Harpaz affair." Another headline reports "Barak accuses former IDF chief Ashkenazi of bribery, conspiracy." That story goes on to the accusation that Ashkenazi and his aide, Colonel Erez Weiner, were the heads of a pyramid that not only conspired to prevent the appointment of Yoav Galant, but also were involved in taking bribes to influence high appointments in the IDF.

Major figures are accusing one another of lying, with some of them claiming to have been cleared by lie detector examinations while their adversaries have avoided being probed sufficiently by the police or by a lie detector. Col Weiner went to court in order to get the State Comptroller to release documents involved in what might become a report that damages him personally.

The story continues, typically with reports about who has said what about who in the last 24 hours, without supplying a synopsis of the larger picture and how the latest details fit into it. It is hard to put the details into a larger context, partly because of the media's focus on the latest revelations about personalities, and partly because of the secrecy imposed on key details.

It resembles the Lyndon-Bobby feud insofar as there are intense rivalries fueled by the kinds of super egos required to reach the top of national politics and the military. As in that feud, as well, in this case there is no indication that the principals were unable to work with one another despite their personal animosity.

It resembles Watergate insofar as the follow up has proved to be more involved and spicier than the initial incident. No American should have been surprised that political operatives engage in dirty tricks, including a break-in and thievery of campaign plans. No Israeli should be surprised that professionals at the peak of the military or other government units seek to influence senior appointments.

Arguably it was the cover-up of Watergate that brought down Richard Nixon. Claims of the Chief of the General Staff accepting bribes to affect military appointments represent a major departure from the original claims of conniving about an appointment, and have the capacity to shake one of the foundations of the Israeli regime.

My own hero in this is the late political scientist Harold Lasswell. His Psychopathology and Politics (1930) tells us what to expect about people who reach high position, and his Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1935) reminds us that personality differences at the pinnacle of government are less important than outcomes.

Reaching the top seems to require ambition and ego of abnormal proportion, but also the capacity to keep those inner drives in check in order to do what is necessary to function in high positions. Americans should have recognized that in the cases of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and Richard Nixon, while Israelis are seeing something similar in the cases of Gabi Ashkenazi, Ehud Barak, Yoav Galant, Micha Lindenstrauss, Yehuda Weinstein, and assorted others.


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 04:59 AM
June 07, 2012
Bibi 1 rebels 0, but . . . and but . . . and but

The Supreme Court ruled that Israel has until July 1 to abandon a row of apartment buildings constructed on land owned by Palestinians in the neighborhood of Ulpana on the fringe of the sizable settlement Beit El. Several members of Netanyahu's government and more back benchers of Likud said they would vote for a legislative proposal meant to sidestep the Court's ruling. The key component of the proposal was that Palestinians who did not claim ownership during a specific period of time from construction said to be on their land would lose their rights to the land.

The proposal had several features that upset the lawyers. It would be retroactive and directed against a decision of the Supreme Court, affirmed in an appeal, and it would have the Knesset imposing Israeli law on what many consider to be "occupied territory." While Israel has ruled much of the area since 1967, it has done so by a combination of military government and the remnants of Turkish and Jordanian laws. There is an Israeli position that the territory is "disputed," rather than "occupied". The worthy countries of the world, along with all the unworthies prefer the label "occupied." However, with anything resembling a peace process dormant for most of 45 years, the semantics are of questionable value. Israel does not ignore the opinions of important others, but it also does not ignore its own settlement constituency. Recent governments have pursued a modest policy of expanding construction in established communities.

Prime Minister Netanyahu set himself in opposition to the proposal, saying that it would cost too much in lost international support, and would violate the status of the Supreme Court in a country committed to the rule of law.

As the time for voting in the Knesset approached, the Prime Minister threatened to dismiss from their administrative posts any minister or deputy minister who voted for the proposal. He left open the possibility of abstaining. As a sweetener to the settlers and their supporters, he claimed that no imaginable government would be more friendly to the settlers than his. He would move the contested buildings, and--to show where his heart was and to combat Peace Now and all the other anti-settler activists--he would approve the construction of more than 850 new apartments in Beit El and other settlements throughout the West Bank.

Residents of Ulpana along with supporters from elsewhere in Beit El and throughout the West Bank began a two-day march toward the Knesset, meant to arrive in advance of the vote.

The drama of who would vote, and how, were exciting enough for Israel Radio to broadcast live from the Knesset.

As it turned out, no minister or deputy minister voted in favor of the proposal. All those who had indicated their full support for Ulpana and the settler movement either said that Netanyahu's compromise was the best attainable, or said nothing and stayed away from the Knesset. The vote was 22 in favor, 69 opposed.

So Bibi won this round, and his supercoalition remains intact.

Now for the buts

The first of several buts is that the leader of Jewish Home-New National Religious Party, a tiny group of 3 that used to be the more serious National Religious Party, threatened to leave the government and continue the struggle against a Prime Minister who could no longer be relied upon to look after settler interests.

A coalition of 94 MKs could overlook the departure of three, but settlers and their friends make up a substantial block of Likud voters. There is an aspiring leader of the Prime Minister's party who is even more extreme than the MKs of Jewish Home-New National Religious Party, who has approached a quarter of the votes in several efforts to take Likud leadership from Netanyahu.

Somewhere in the buts is the authority of the Defense Minister to approve new construction in the West Bank. He is known for a low level of enthusiasm about expanding settlements.

Another but is that the US State Department required less than 24 hours to remind Israel and the world that it "doesn't accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,"and that "continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations including the 2003 road map."

A but that works in favor of Israel is that the same State Department made another pronouncement on the same day that Bashar al-Assad must observe the cease fire brokered by Kofi Annan.

Yet another but is that the Prime Minister's commitment to move the apartment buildings at issue might not survive the surveys of engineers, the money guardians in the Finance Ministry, and legal advisers who have already mentioned problems about the plots where the buildings might be relocated.

More buts concern the looming date of July 1. Will the residents of Ulpana go peacefully to the trailers meant to be their temporary homes? And will anti-settlement activists and the Supreme Court remain quiet while the government dithers over the Prime Minister's proposal to relocate buildings, said to be equivalent to the supertanker he ordered to fight a forest fire, that was less appropriate for the job than smaller and cheaper planes.

Another but concerns the fate of that land under the buildings of Ulpana said by the Supreme Court to be owned by Palestinians. Chances are it will remain vacant, with nothing more than a pile of construction debris left over from whatever happens to the present buildings. Security personnel will not be receptive to Palestinian housing or other activity so close to Beit El.

And what about the estimated 900 other housing units said to be built on privately owned Palestinian land? Anti-settlement Jewish activists and Palestinians claimants are somewhere in a line waiting their turn for a day in Israeli courts.

Pro-settlement activists and officials are said to be learning from their tactical mistakes in trying to defend Ulpana. A proposal that does not try to undue a court decision already made, skirts around the problem of the Knesset enacting a law to govern the West Bank, and offers compensation to Palestinians able to prove ownership might do something to protect those 900 or so other Jewish homes.

The argument is widely heard that Israel should not violate Palestinians' rights of property ownership. Yet no right is absolute. Americans who remember restrictive covenants should recognize that the refusal to consider to selling to someone on account of race, religion, or national origin compromises one's claim of an absolute right to property. In the case the West Bank, individuals face a law of the Palestine Authority prohibiting their sale of land to Jews, and a death penalty by way of punishment.

The result is convoluted property transactions in the Wild East of Israel, where buyers pay high sums to a chain of sellers and buyers, some of them overseas, meant to mask the intention of all the Palestinians in the chain. At the end of the process, one or another Palestinian is certain to claim that key documents were forged, and that the real owner did not agree to sell.

The muddle, confusion, and deception does not lend itself to clear determinations of an appropriate purchase, clear title, or the lack of what honest civil rights advocates would call a process free of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or national origin.


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 04:54 AM
June 06, 2012
The State Comptroller and Israel's political culture

Justice Micha Lindenstrauss is nearing the end of a 7-year term as State Comptroller. The Knesset has already selected his successor, and commentators have summed up what has been described as Lindenstrauss' "tumultuous" term, comparing it to the activities of his predecessors, and contemplating what he has meant for Israel's present and future.

The Israel Democracy Institute hosted a round table discussion spanning three hours from the late afternoon to the early evening, with decent sandwiches. The 20 or so participants included Lindenstrauss, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, several present or former members of the Knesset who have been ministers in the government or members of the committee with responsibility for examining the Comptroller's reports, present or former senior civil servants, as well as a few professors, most of them individuals who combined academic and governmental careers. Those who are comfortable with Hebrew can access a video of the meeting when the Institute puts it on its website.

Criticism of the Comptroller's activity was pointed and sharp, but well argued and usually coupled with comments that the issues were difficult, nuanced, and required a careful consideration of conflicting values. There was an occasional raising of voices, but no shouting. A strong moderator did what he could to stay close to the format of issues defined in advance.

Central to the meeting was a consideration of two questions. Whether the Comptroller should aspire to audit and criticize governmental actions in "real time," or while they are unfolding? And whether the Comptroller should limit reports to failures by governmental entities, or actually name the individuals considered to be responsible for improper, undesirable, or dangerous actions, or their failure to act to prevent such actions by others?

The consensus seemed to be that Lindenstrauss was not all that different from previous Comptrollers, but that he differed in significant degree. He more often sought to deal with highly controversial issues while in the headlines, rather than take the conventional auditor's route of waiting until they have played themselves out and criticize those who have erred. He also has been more active in naming individuals felt to have acted in contrast with law, regulation, or the public interest, rather than following the conventional norm of state auditors in other countries of not naming names, but criticizing units of government that have overspent their budgets or fallen afoul of some other regulation.

Several of the Comptroller's critics commented in ways that seemed to reflect their personal experience with him, or something else in their careers that left them with an ax to grind. Most dealt with one or another provision of the laws that define the role of the State Comptroller, and contended that a particular report fit within the provision, violated a provision, or was in a gray area that demanded more careful consideration by this Comptroller and his successor.

My own perspective, reflecting research into Comptrollers of Israel and other countries, as well as an occasional task as consultant with several of Lindenstrauss' predecessors, is that details of the law are less important than its wide expanse, and its inclusion of "moral integrity" as a criterion of audit. This sets Israel's Comptroller apart from others, whose authority is typically defined as dealing with issues of legality, economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.

"Moral integrity" reflects an element long ingrained in Jewish culture, at least since the Prophet Amos said that God demands justice, and sees it as more important than the observance of religious rituals. (Amos 5) This cultural trait helps to explain Jews' appreciation of argument and criticism, and goes a long way in explaining the creation and maintenance of Israel's democracy, despite its experience of trauma of the kinds employed by other countries to excuse their lack of democracy.

With access to all government bodies and other entities associated with government in one way or another, as well as the discretion to criticize them for moral failings, Israel's State Comptroller has the potential to be a major actor in policymaking and political circles. Survey research shows that the public holds the Office of the State Comptroller in high regard. Its reports are assured prominence, at least for a day or two, in all major media. Some of its reports have been instrumental in affecting government decisions about matters involving great expense, numerous citizens, and sensitive issues of political values.

Like other actors in the overheated center of Israeli politics, the State Comptroller does not only criticize others, but feels the heat of severe criticism about his (or her) own work. (One of Lindenstrauss' predecessors as State Comptroller, with a record hardly less aggressive than his, was former Supreme Court Justice Miriam Ben-Porat.)

This week's round table at the Israel Democracy Institute was part of the heat that Comptrollers must endure, even while it was moderate, well-spoken, and otherwise more civilized than some committee or plenary meetings of the Knesset, street demonstrations, and a great number of unrecorded discussions among family members and friends in Israeli homes.


As I have indicated on occasion, I do not accept comments on this blog in order to avoid a great deal of spam. However, I do welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:26 AM
June 04, 2012
Restive natives

There is an old rule of politics, which you can find in one or another textbook, that a ruling party or a coalition that is too big is bad.

Small is better, insofar as its members are afraid of losing the whole game if they wander off the reservation. When a ruling party, or a cluster of parties that rule as a coalition, is too much greater than a simple majority, its individuals feel free to express themselves, test the limits, and may begin acting in ways that develops into a rebellion and crumbles the collective castle.

We may be seeing the beginning of that in Bibi Netanyahu's Promised Land of a coalition put together only a month ago with parties totalling 94 out of 120 Knesset Members.

Indestructible? Or a disaster waiting to happen?

We'll see.

The natives are restless.

Several clusters are threatening to bolt in order to achieve their desires, or to protect them from others in the coalition.

First up is the revision of ultra-Orthodox men's exemption from the military draft. Advocates aspire to use the opportunity to remake Israeli society. Ideas deal not only with ending the blanket exemption from the draft, but extending the idea of military service or a period of enforced social service to Arabs as well as the ultra-Orthodox, along with several proposed ways of getting the ultra-Orthodox out of lifetime study and turning them into workers and taxpayers.

So far the ultra-Orthodox parties, committed to the God-mandated priority of Torah study, have refused to attend the meetings of the government committee appointed to deal with this.

Torah Judaism and SHAS represent 16 out of 94 MK's in the coalition. Members of the secular parties are casual about letting them go, but their rebellion is only the start of things.

Also up is a cluster of unknown size, from the right wing of Likud and other coalition partners inclined to legislation that will evade the Supreme Court's ruling about the removal of a neighborhood in the settlement of Beit El that is built on land owned by Palestinians. The Prime Minister has opposed legislation his colleagues are threatening to introduce, due to legal advice, his commitment to the "rule of law," (i.e., following the dictates of the Supreme Court), and a concern for international repurcussions (i.e., there may be only so much the Obama administration will tolerate concerning Israeli settlement policy).

The Prime Minister has proposed something akin to the Supertanker he ordered at great expense and limited usefullness to fight a forest fire. He would move the objectionable houses to another area of Beit El. Engineers are mocking the expense and the practicality of the idea, given the distance, the terrain, and the size of the structures.

It is not clear how many Knesset Members are inclined to violate the Prime Minister's leadership on this issue, but it is more than in the case of the 16 restive ultra-Orthodox. The pro-settlement rebels might be numerous enough to move forward a proposal that will at the least embarrass the Prime Minister, and might actually raise the possibility of a split in his grand coalition.

Also in the air is a restive element--overlapping with the two groupings concerned with the ultra-Orthodox and settlements--anxious to do something about illegal immigrants from Africa. Their concentration in a poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv is a social and political tinder that excites politicians looking for a mission. It reminds me of poor Southern whites and the Democrats who served them during my youth and early career.

Among the ideas:
•shoot the illegal immigrants at the border,
•dump them back into Egypt and let the Egyptians shoot them,
•build more prisons and get them out of Tel Aviv,
•ask the United Nations to find a solution,
•distribute them to rich neighborhoods and see how the well-healed leftists would deal with them,
•speed up the construction of the barrier along the Egyptian border,
•if the Beduin guides respond to the barrier by expanding the route they have already pioneered--across the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan and then over the Israel-Jordanian border--Israel should shoot them at that border, expect the Jordanians to shoot them,.or think about another barrier along the long border with Jordan south of the Dead Sea.

Eli Yishai, the Minister of Interior, has claimed responsibility for the problem, and has opened discussions with the Ambassador from Eritrea about sending home the large group of Eritreans. This Minister is the parliamentary leader of SHAS. Not only does he have a considerable number of voters among the low-income Sephardis in South Tel Aviv, but the issue might add to his points gained from battling what he and his colleagues view as the anti-Semitic campaign to force his ultra-Orthodox voters out of their academies and into the IDF, social service, or the workforce.

Whatever Yishai's motives, the Foreign Ministry is rebelling against the idea of the Interior Ministry meddling in its field of expertise and responsibility.

Foreign Ministry personnel are well aware that Eritrea and a number of other African countries do not want the return of people they have managed to push out of their surplus populations. Most potential African homelands have already turned down financial offers to help with the problem. Moreover, Israel has signed onto international agreements that tie its hands with respect to force repatriation.

The 60,000 illegal Africans are more prominent and more problematic than what has been said to be something on the order of 200,000 other illegal immigrants from the Balkans and Asia. They are mostly workers who came to Israel on permits to work in agricultural, construction, or the care of the elderly and other handicapped, and have overstayed their permits. They are less problematic than the Africans because they are more widely distributed throughout the country, and have skills that are in demand.

The prominence of all those Africans, growing daily by new arrivals, may be the most pressing of the country's problems, kept in the headlines by stories of violence and other crimes attributed to the Africans, anti-African violence attributed to fearful or fed-up Israelis, and the worry about more serious violence that will disturb Israeli morality and give the country a bad press internationally.

Not yet a serious threat, but somewhere out there, is a renewal of last summer's social protests.

Note the plural in "protests." Last year's protesters seemed to get nowhere, despite demonstrations that may have reached 400,000 at their peak. There was too great a variety of demands being expressed by different clusters of protesters, and no unity or discipline among the contenders for protest leadership.

Last weekend saw the onset of protest season, but the effort was piddling and the multiplicity of goals no less than last year. Estimates range between 3,000 and 5,000 marching in Tel Aviv.

Vulnerable to whatever develops on the streets are coalition partners Kadima (28 MK's) and Independence (the split off from Labor with five MK's). It is among those parties' MKs where one hears about support for the middle class and others claiming to suffer from one or another social or economic disadvantage. The populist voices from Likud in behalf of its poor voters in South Tel Aviv and populists in Israel our Home may add to this segment of troublemakers disturbing the sleep of the Prime Minister.

It is too early to say Kadish for the coalition, or to prepare the shrouds and shovels.

But it is not too early to exercise my fingers in order to write about the possibilities.


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 12:45 AM
June 01, 2012
Religion and Israeli politics

Almost 28 years ago, our youngest child was born. Due to our advanced age, we gave him the name Mattan. The English translation of mattan (מתן) is "gift."

Some time later, when in a US college book store, I happened on a Bible Dictionary, looked up the name, and found a listing in the Book of Jeremiah.

Back in my motel room, I open the Gideons Bible and found that Mattan was a minor character. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I started reading the Book of Jeremiah. I experienced the beginning of an epiphany which heightened eventually as I read elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, and eventually through the whole thing.

Christian travelling salesmen in Wisconsin began the Gideons movement at the end of the 19th century, to convert colleagues who when away from home were likely to spend their evenings in small town bars and brothels. My experience is that just about every hotel room in the US has a copy of what Christians call the "Old Testament" along with the New Testament. Outside the US I have generally found a New Testament only, usually in English as well as the local language.

My epiphany was not about God but politics. I found that the Hebrew Bible is a political book, and that a central component of Judaism is an affirmation of politics as central to the survival of the nation. The Bible describes how prominent figures, at least from Joseph onward, and sometimes the Almighty, used political tactics to establish themselves and to do what they could to preserve or enhance the status of the people who began as Hebrews, and went through the stages of being Israelites, Judeans, and eventually Jews.

If you want to see the weakness of God, read the Book of Job. For the challenge of all absolutes, see Ecclesiastes. For the shrill criticism of economic and political elites, there are the Books of Amos, Hosea, and especially Jeremiah.

Those interested in seeing the evolution of my epiphany can look at The Politics of Religion and the Religion of Politics (2000).

Israel is explicitly a Jewish country that offers full legal rights but is somewhat short on their delivery to the non-Jewish minorities. Most of its Jews are secular, but religious issues are usually on the agenda. Currently near the top is the perennial issue of ultra-Orthodox men, especially their exemption from military service and lifetime financial support while they study in religious academies. The Supreme Court ruled that the military exemption violates the equal rights of non-ultra-Orthodox men.

Israelis wanting reform have focused on the day in August when the existing law on exemptions is scheduled to expire, but the chances of legislation by then are minimal. There are too many options on the table and too much maneuvering by various activists who want great reform and ultra-Orthodox politicians who want no action.

Also upsetting the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox are more recent rulings that grant limited recognition to non-Orthodox rabbis. Currently this means that those rabbis may receive salaries from state funds. Activists are hoping to extend the recognition to a capacity of non-Orthodox rabbis to perform marriage and conversions to Judaism in Israel, and to receive greater support for schools administered by their congregations. No surprise that established religious leaders are up in arms, with some of them shocked into momentary silence by the surprising audacity of judicial officials to act against their monopoly. Orthodox Jews may concede that individuals who consider themselves Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist may be Jews according to halacha, but they are likely to say that they are pursuing a religion other than Judaism, and that their leaders have no right to the title of Rabbi.

With the issue of peace with the Palestinians probably dormant until the Palestinians sort out the differences between Fatah, Hamas, and others even more extreme in their animosity to Israel, Israeli politics is concentrating on Iran and these problems among the Jews. The governing coalition seems strong enough to deal with those topics, but no one should expect anything close to an ideal solution to any of them.

In the meantime, the epiphany that began with my reading of a Gideons' Bible has brought forth several Hebrew University dissertations. Most recently we celebrated Rabbi Hadar Lipshitz's "Influences on Budgeting for Religious Education in Israel" at his home in Alon Shvut. In contrast to the conventional wisdom that the ultra-Orthodox have great sway over Israel's budget and other governmental actions, he found that political competition, as well as the powers of the courts and the Finance Ministry are significant counter-weights to the alleged power of the Haredim.

There has also been Michal Neubauer-Shani's "Agenda setting in the Israeli context: religion and state issues," the Reverend Kangkeun Lee's "Religion and Politics in Israel during the Intifada," and Cnerret Rubin-Shostak's "Fundamentalism in Israel: Shas and Social Change in 1990's." Readers can find electronic editions of those dissertations via the Hebrew University Library web site. The Reverend Lee's dissertation is in English. The others are in Hebrew, but with extensive summaries in English.

Religious squabbles among the Jews are not all we argue about in the Promised Land. At times, however, they outshine other problems. As these and other studies have found, Jews' wariness about one another--along with the powers of the courts and the money-guarding Finance Ministry, can be counted on to limit what any one cluster is able to achieve.

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 06:05 AM