July 30, 2012
A visit

A popular song that we have heard from time to time for at least 20 years says that the Messiah has not come. And he has not even telephoned.

The Messiah didn't come this week. He may have telephoned, but there was no great impact.

Romney arrived on Sunday, and looked like he could be president of a company or a country. He didn't offend wholesale like his comments about the Olympics in London, but he did offend the Labor Party by a late and unexplained cancellation of a meeting with its leader and one of her Knesset colleagues. A year ago that slight might have been insignificant, but the present leader is a bright and articulate woman, and polls are showing that Labor may again become an important factor in Israeli politics.

Coverage was predictable. Pictures alongside the Western Wall with the candidate looking pious in black kipa. According to Ha'aretz, "The speech was Romney's, the words were Bibi's." There was more in Israel Hayom than elsewhere, with one headline alongside a picture of a near-embrace with the Prime Minister, "Friend in 'Jerusalem, capital of Israel.'" Even in Sheldon Adelson's newspaper, there was more attention on new taxes and spending cuts, and an administrative scandal in the Mossad.

Israeli Romney supporters wanting a clear message about Iran must work hard to find differences between his statements and Obama's. One Romney aide promised his support of an Israeli attack, but then another aide clarified the message downward. The closest Romney himself came to supporting an Israeli attack sounded like, Go ahead if you want. Good luck.

It's no surprise that some of the Chosen People living in the Promised Land imagine that the American election is about us. Commentators note that other issues are likely to be more important. Usually it's the economy. Issues of employment and government debt should be worrying the incumbent, no matter which of his predecessors ought to be sharing the blame.

One can think of a scenario in which Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities before the election, and Iran responds by attacking Israel, American military bases and warships in the Gulf. Some Israelis who deal with issues of security ridicule an Israeli initiative as foolhardy, while others say that it will occur soon.

Even if it happens, it might work to Obama's advantage. An incumbent should profit from a patriotic response to an attack on American forces, and maybe even an attack against the brave actions of an ally. Birthers and Americans convinced that Obama is an anti-Semitic Muslim can imagine him responding to an Iranian attack with Allahu Akbar, but that is unlikely.

Some worry about the closeness between the Prime Minister and the Republican candidate. They worked together years ago on a council dealing with economic issues, and are soul mates in admiration of capitalism. Netanyahu often praises his own wisdom as a policymaker (remember the supertanker), and in this case--perhaps reacting to some nasty treatment at the hands of Barack Obama--he might go over the line usually avoided by Israeli leaders by signalling too loudly his preference in an American election. The Netanyahu-Romney problem for Israel increases with every indication that Romney might be a loser.

Even if Sheldon Adelson spends the reputed $100 million in behalf of Romney, with an emphasis on Israel, there may not be enough Jews, or enough attracted to Adelson's campaign in swing states, to make a difference.

In all the curiosities involved in the American election are the Evangelicals. Their numbers dwarf those of the Jews, they are even more enthusiastic about Israel than many American Jews, but their Republican tendencies along with the Tea Party are among the elements keeping Jews from voting Republican. Yet if there is any cluster of Americans likely to shun Romney on account of his Mormonism, it is the Evangelicals.

Lot's of issues. More cerebral than the Olympics. Go figure.


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 12:17 AM
July 29, 2012
Who influences who? Who should influence who?

One of the responses received to my recent posting (Some ideas for my American friends) deserves a note of its own.

"I am still trying to understand why it is that Americans and Israelis both seem to believe that the US is responsible for Israel's future (isn't Israel a sovereign nation in its own right and therefore responsible for its own destiny and defense?) while at the same time the US is deemed a meddler in, and/or instigator of, conflicts in the MidEast that threaten the region. Frankly I'm tired of the Israeli lobby in Washington DC. Netanyahu is the Israeli version of Cheney, and the Israeli govt is about as effective as the US Congress. Obama may not be perfect for Israel -but we didn't elect him to be the President of Israel."

I am not so much interested in the writer's views about Netanyahu or Cheney as the topic of who is interfering where. In other words, does Israel demand too much of the United States? Or should Israel take more responsibility for its own destiny?

Where I appear to differ from the writer is in having an Israeli's perception of the United States role in the world. If there is an imperial capital anywhere, it is Washington. America's minions may not rule beyond their borders in the way of pre-World War II colonial poobahs, but they certainly weigh in with heavy aspirations to influence.

The "minions" are not only governmental. The American economy has its role, often in tangent with the American government, but sometimes in opposition to the American government.

Mexico is a case of conflict between the weight of America's economy, shown in its demands for illegal drugs, and efforts of the American government to pressure Mexican authorities to stop the flow. The result is something that may be less than civil war, but nonetheless accounts for thousands of deaths in conflicts between gangs as well as between gangs and authorities.

Israel is a small economy that depends on trade with Europe and the United States in about equal measure, but whose dependence on political support from the United States is greater than shown by the balances of trade.

The writer of the comment noted above, along with many others, may view Israel as unduly concerned about American politics and improperly active via AIPAC, individual citizens, Members of Congress, and figures in the administration. However, Washington not only provides important assistance with its political support in the United Nations and elsewhere. It also works to push Israel toward or away from actions in keeping with an American agenda. There is no way of measuring the relative influence of Washington versus Israel's own political choices in these matters. American officials have certainly worked to affect Israel's actions under the headings of "settlements," as well as its response to Iran's nuclear program and the repeated threats of Iranian leaders against Israel's existence.

An extreme example of American pressure was the President's insistence that Jews stop construction in neighborhoods that Israel has considered to be part of its capital city since 1967. Taking Barack Obama literally would mean that the Arab family living on the ground floor of this building could expand their living space out into their garden, while we could not put a gazebo on our balcony.

Given the weight of the United States in international politics, and its willingness to employ military power, Americans should not be surprised that countries seek to shape US policies. This is especially likely for countries that enjoy or suffer from a high profile on the US agenda. There should be no wonder that Israeli officials do what they can to affect American policy toward it, and about other issues that impinge on Israel.

While it appears that the United States has greater weight in Israeli policymaking than Israel has in American policymaking, the balance is closer to the mid-point than to an extreme of American dominance. Israel's settlement activities are not as limited as Washington seems to demand (some of the language is fuzzy), yet they are more limited than preferred by partners in Israel's governing coalition. We may not know the relative weights of Israel and the United States on a topic of special delicacy until we see if Israel attacks Iran before or after the American election, if it defers until an American attack, or--what would be preferable to both the US and Israel--Iran's capitulation to economic sanctions.

My recollection from previous correspondence is that the author of the response that provoked this note is an American woman with a family history in the Philippines.

If that is correct, she should be aware of the United States' heavy reach into the governing of the Philippines from the late 19th century onward, usually far more dominant than its influence on Israel.

She might also be interested in a result of globalization where the Philippines has shaped God's own language, via the modern idiom created in Israel.

Such a disproportionate share of the care givers imported for the sake of Israel's elderly and handicapped come from the Philippines that the Hebrew word for "care giver" has become "Filipino." It applies even to "Filipinos" we have encountered from Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and Bolivia.

In this note as in others, my emphasis is on what happens, rather than what should happen. The latter I leave to everyone else, along with the reservation that an understanding of what is--i.e., current realities with respect to American and Israeli influence on one another--may be essential to a wise choice as to which party should press more or less..


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 04:31 AM
July 27, 2012
Some ideas for my American friends

Elections instill panic. What should we do in order to solve the problems?

Wrong strategy. There are not any solutions for the stickiest of the problems.

The point is to select a candidate with the greatest chance of making things a little bit better, or only a little bit worse.

Avoid the choice most likely to produce disaster, or to make things a lot worse.

Face it: both candidates are problematic.

Barack Obama has been far from ideal for Israel and the rest of the Middle East.

His Cairo speech was a well balanced and articulate disaster.

It won him a Nobel Prize of doubtful legitimacy, contributed to Muslim and Israeli suspicions, Arab Spring, and what came next. Only dreamers see the onset of democracy in what is closer to instability in the best cases, and unrelieved slaughter in the worse case.

His insistence on no construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and starting negotiations with the lines of 1967 were infantile. His gesture to the Palestinians destroyed whatever confidence he enjoyed among the Israelis who would have to make concessions. Obama pushed an elusive peace process into deep sleep or absolute death.

However, we must remind ourselves that "ideal" has no place in a discussion of political alternatives.

Obama's relative silence on Israel-Palestine in the last year, along with some electioneering good words for Israel, provides hope that he learns, and may only have made things for Israel a little bit worse.

Or maybe not worse at all, if we accept the idea that there was never much hope for a peace process. It is reasonable to conclude that the Palestinian leadership (moderates as well as extremists) have not brought themselves to accept Israel's existence within any borders.

We're still here and the economy is functioning as well as any in Europe and North America.

Given what is happening around us, those are comforting indicators.

Palestine won an arguably deserved boost from the comics who run UNESCO with the recognition that Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site, but they also got a damning report from the World Bank. Those financial wizards departed from political correctness and reported that the aid-dependent economy is not something that should be associated with statehood. Add to that Palestinians who complain about rampant corruption, and we see what we have long known. North American and European government donations to Palestine may make the donors feel good, but have harmed Palestine by retarding self-reliance.

If you accept the epigram that it is better to teach a person to fish than to provide fish, it's time to teach the Palestinians how to fish.

Jewish Republicans, along with disaffected Jewish Democrats, are mounting a campaign to persuade fellow Jews to vote against Obama. Among the themes are "What will they be saying after another four years of Obama?" and "He's going to place Israel in a position where they're in danger."

Despite Sheldon Adelson's millions, it is hard to imagine that campaigns will reduce Jewish voting for a Democratic candidate below 65 percent. Even in closely matched swing states, that may not be enough to give Mitt Romney the election.

Romney is no more ideal than Obama. His chances in the election are tainted with "vulture capitalism" and tax returns that anybody can envy. He is packaged with the Tea Party and practitioners from the administration of George W. Bush. Remember Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps more than a million deaths associated with naive aspirations to fix those countries. The Romney cluster also has problematic views on health insurance and a number of social issues.

Despite his often repeated support for Israel, Romney is largely an unknown quantity on foreign policy. If he is elected, Israel and other countries may have to tolerate surprises from another Freshman president

Israel enthusiasts have some hot button demands. Frequent expressions of undying support, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, and moving the embassy from Tel Aviv have wide appeal. However, they have nothing more than symbolic weight. They are not crucial--or even important--to the country's survival and well-being. Legitimizing settlements throughout the West Bank and freeing Jonathan Pollard attract those wanting even more, but are also below the threshold of real importance.

Politics are multi-dimensional. One-issue activists (e.g., Americans who think only about optimising all that they desire for Israel) isolate themselves from other desires, and alliances with antagonists as well as the like-minded Call it log-rolling or horse trading. The labels are not attractive, insofar as they involve compromise of important principals.

If "ideal" outcomes have no place in this discussion, "important principals" have only limited roles.

I remain optimistic about Israel's fate, no matter which imperfect candidate wins America's election. The country is strong militarily. Perhaps not strong enough to withstand an all-out onslaught from a great power, but that is unlikely. The economy is healthier than most in Europe or North America. Historic enemies are mired in economic and political problems that will take years to fix. The cloud of Iran is serious, but Israel has several kinds of leverage.

Those fearful of any president turning against Israel after the election should remember our friends in Congress.

There are moments when I aspire to having been born to a family of Swiss farmers, spending my life tending cows and making cheese.

Then I recall visits to lush valleys protected by beautiful mountains, and conclude that I would have died from boredom at an early age.

If I have learned anything from practicing my profession in a pressured place, the essence of wise voting is low expectations.


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 11:10 PM
July 26, 2012
Sheldon Adelson

Whenever the news described something troublesome, Grandma would wring her hands and ask God that it not be a Jew who was responsible. Life was placid and protected in Fall River, but that was not the case in Bialystok which still fit somewhere in Grandma's conception of home.

It's been close to 50 years since Grandma has been wringing her hands, and I dare not guess how she would vote in this year's presidential election, but I imagine that she would not be happy about a recent article in the New York Times about Sheldon Adelson. The world's most prominent newspaper that has been owned, managed, and, to a considerable extent, staffed by Jews has highlighted what it calls a Jewish "mogul" being the most prominent source of money in the presidential election, and using his considerable wealth to affect the outcome in a direction to affect an issue that is essentially Jewish.

Adelson may be spending as much as $100 million to push things in a way to benefit Israel. He want American Jews to vote the way Jews generally do not vote, especially in swing states with large Jewish minorities, where they might affect the whole shebang.

It's hard to imagine a better advertisement for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion than Sheldon Adelson. A Jew who is enormously wealthy on the basis of gambling enterprises on the fringes of respectability, who does not shrink from publicity about using his wealth for Jewish causes.

Israelis both kvel and kvetch about the man, and might well be worrying if he loses his most prominent gamble.

The kvelling is associated with his heavy bankrolling of Birthright, a program that for some years now has sent tens of thousands to young people with at least some Jewish family connection to Israel for 10 days of tours, lectures, and yiddishkeit.

The kvetching concerns Israel Hayom, Israel's newest and most widely read daily paper, which Adelson bankrolled. It features free distribution, meant to be self-supporting on the basis of ad revenues. The paper is about as right of center as Ha'aretz is left of center. It is as professionally respectable as Ha'aretz, with decent reportage and writing, and well known columnists. Personable agents in casual uniforms pass out the paper at prominent bus stops, shopping centers, and other points with high pedestrian traffic. There is an Internet edition in English.

While Ha'aretz is sure to feature stories about the suffering of Palestinians and less fortunate Israelis, and seldom finds anything to praise in the activities of Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel Hayom is prominent in its support of Netanyahu, and describes nice things happening in Israel that have no chance of finding mention in Ha'aretz. Left of center critics refer to Israel Hayom as Pravda. Its tilt extends to Sara Netanyahu. A prominent article, with an attractive picture of the woman Ha'aretz is likely to caricature as a harridan, carried the headline, "Lillian Peretz spills my blood in the media." It dealt with a court action brought by a household helper, described in detail Mss Netanyahu's defense, and did not describe the charges claimed by Mss Peretz.

The Israeli (and Jewish?) worry about Adelson is what may come from bankrolling a candidate who is by no means a sure thing. A popular Internet betting site has the odds at 57-40 in favor of Obama. Israeli polls about Obama tend in the opposite direction, but not overwhelmingly so, and change with events. Surveys find that Israelis have a favorable image of him, but do not think he is as supportive of Israeli interests as he should be.

In the event that some of those reading this note ascribe to the Protocols, it is appropriate to note that only a small minority of Israelis are also American citizens who vote as absentees in American elections. I abstain, as a matter of principal, insofar as my greater identity is here. This country provides me enough opportunities to act politically. I do not refrain from expressing myself about the United States, to the anguish of some readers, but that remains my right as a residual American and citizen of a democratic country that respects free expression.

Overseas Jews have no more rights in Israeli politics than overseas individuals who are not Jews. Those who have acquired Israeli citizenship here and then moved away can vote here only if they travel to their home polling place on election day. A few do that in the exercise of what they feel is important.

Is Sheldon Adelson is good for the Jews?

I'll leave to others to argue whether his political donations' fall within American and Israeli regulations.

Adelson fits in the long tradition of court Jews, using their wealth to gain access to whoever is ruling in order to benefit the Jewish community.

Where Adelson differs from Jewish traditions is in making his wealth felt in front of the curtains rather than behind them.

Will Obama punish Israel on account of Adelson's prominent support of Romney? With something like 70 percent of Jews still loyal Democrats that hardly seems likely. No doubt some critics will accuse Jews of seeking undue influence. Publicity about his activities may be unavoidable. Considerable contributions for education and health in his American home towns gain him credit with Gentiles as well as Jews. His support for right of center politicians in the United States and Israel may be kosher, but its extent and prominence justify some concern, and thoughts of hand wringing.


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 04:06 AM
July 24, 2012
Lessons in Israeli politics

Opportunism and politics go together.

Some call it dirty.

Some say that it is the essence of civilization.

One way to decide on important issues is the way they are doing it in Syria.

On the other side of the border (wherever it is) is the way we do it in Israel.

Neither are as neat as an academic seminar.

But take it from me, not all seminars are orderly or admirable.

Somewhere close to the top of the Israeli agenda is the issue of the Haredim. Somewhat less pressing is the issue of the Arabs. The goal is to draft Haredi and Arab young men to the IDF or some other national service, and get the Haredi away from a lifetime of studying in religious academies (often falsified) with multiple subsidies, and into jobs where they support themselves and their families.

Two months ago, Kadima joined the Likud-led government with mutual pledges of changing the law to equalize the burdens of national defense and economic viability.

Last week it was evident that it would not work. Likud's linkage with the ultra-Orthodox parties was a Catholic marriage, and Netanyahu's proposal to deal with the Haredim differed from what Kadima would accept.

Bibi would allow the Haredim to decide about their recruitment up to the age of 26, by which time they would have enough kids to exempt them from the IDF.

Kadima left the coalition with its own declarations of principal, on the basis of a large majority vote among its Knesset members.

Now the 28 MKs of Kadima may becoming something less.

Monday morning we heard that several of them had made good deals for the price of their joining Likud. Two were to receive "ministries" produced for the purpose (Minister of Mass Communication, Minister of the Home Front), and two others would become Deputy Ministers in existing departments. One received assurance of a diplomatic appointment.

We rested assured that none of those appointees would harm the country. The faux ministers would get a car, driver, and assistant; the deputy ministers would get less. They would all complain about their lack of duties. Or they wouldn't complain and enjoy their upgrade in title.

According to the Monday morning news, the departure of seven MKs from Kadima was a done deal.

By Monday evening several of those counted were denying their intentions. Only four MKs confirmed their intention to leave Kadima, and that was not enough to fit the regulations for dividing an established party.

Kadima leaders are trying to expel the four, but that may not fit with other Knesset members.

The rules reflect the ambiguity of Knesset Members. They are elected according to their ranking on party lists. Israelis vote for parties, not directly for individuals. In a sense, the parties own the members' seats. But not entirely. The individuals elected are Members of Knesset, and can do what they want. Abandoning one's party, however, violates the norms, and may be unhealthy for one's political future.

The political manipulations have featured two figures with distinguished records plus less than distinguished experiences with the police and courts, who now qualify for the label "has beens." One of those fishing in the turgid waters of Kadima tried and failed to induce the minimum required number of defectors to join the right of center Likud. Another is trying to persuade the minimum required number to join him in a left of center party of his own creation.

Commentators describe the four MKs who admited to leaving Kadima for Likud as "nobodies." The more polite designation is "back benchers." Kadima party members who are well known to the public had considered joining Likud, but the price offered was not high enough.

It is common to say that Kadima was born in sin, with opportunism as its guiding principal, on the basis of MKs who left Likud and Labor. Those parties claim more traditional and respectable principals (nationalism for Likud and social justice for Labor).

Against those nasty comments are those who say that opportunity is the lubricant of politics, especially for a party aspiring to be centrist, pragmatic, and not tied to anachronistic ideologies.

Why would the Prime Minister offer such temptations to individuals with limited merit?

Most likely to assure him more votes for passing next year's budget, to support whatever he decides with respect to Iran, and the Haredim.

Speculation is that Kadima's leader, Shaul Mofaz, strongly opposed attacking Iran, and that issue--more than the Haredim--was behind his lack of fit with the Prime Minister.

Whatever happens in the Knesset's party clusters, Prime Minister Netanyahu may push through changes with respect to the recruitment of Haredim and perhaps Arabs. While he is likely to describe what he does in the most superlative of terms, others are sure to call it an "Isra-bluff" (Hebrew for deception).

Syria is producing its own contemplations, preparations and maneuvers among Israelis.

This involves more weighty matters than who gets what job.

One of Israel's most prominent military commentators has reported about three scenarios being discussed at the pinnacle of the IDF and government. All assume that Bashar al-Assad will feel his back to the wall, and do something desperate that will buy time.

One option is to bombard Israel with missiles, and have his client Hizbollah do the same. Another is to use his chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, and maybe against Israel. A third is to pass on his chemical weapons and the best of his missiles to Hizbollah.

Against the option of intervening against one or another of these possibilities, Israeli leaders are pondering the advantages to be gained by staying out of the Syrian fight.

Another report from the north is that a unit of the Syrian army crossed into the no-man's land between Israeli and Syrian borders on the Golan. The response was to complain with United Nations personnel assigned to monitor the border, rather than to push the Syrians back where they belong.

There has been limited attention to this report, suggesting that it is one of those things that the political and military leadership wants to keep below the threshold of public discussion. Thus, Israel's leadership can avoid responding to a local event, and keep things from getting out of hand.

An Iranian expert with memri.org.il reports that Iranian leaders are threatening to have their Hizbollah clients attack Israel, and are promising nasty things for the United States and Russia, if their esteemed ally Bashar al-Assad loses out to Sunni rebels.

The heat is growing. Commentators are asking if bumbling politicians who cannot manage the simple process of deciding about Haredim or engineering the movement of Knesset members from one party to another can manage their way through the threats from Iran, thousands of missiles in the hands of Iran's allies, and the strong desire of the White House to avoid complications before the November election.

Other lessons come from the ­sector of domestic protest. Several Israelis have attempted to immolate themselves since Moshe Silman (now deceased) did so last week. One succeeded, and is in critical condition.

Individuals claiming to be protest leaders are divided on what they see as threat or opportunity. One has spoken out against the practice, but there are others who lionize the immolators, and parade to chants of "we are all Moshe Silman."

Last weekend's demonstrations that employed the symbol of Silman attracted some 1500 participants all told in several cities. At one point, the media reported that the major site in Tel Aviv had fewer marchers than police meant to guard against further immolation.

The appeal of self-immolation in a public place has some weight among a fringe of Israelis suffering clusters of personal and economic problems, as well as radical protesters. They are not the people who led or were the prominent participants to last year's parades of several hundred thousand.

Some combination of frustration at minimal accomplishments, as well as rivalries among protest leaders, has rendered social protest more prominent in the media than in the streets.

Thanks to the Internet, my daily inbox has a rich sample of Republicans' and Democrats' campaign screeds. Democracy being what it is, I will attempt no comparison of whether Israeli or American politicians and activists are more deserving of the label "bottom feeders." That is a term I learned from my Wisconsin fishing friends, who used it for the undesirable stuff they threw back into the water, or fed to the dog.

All that being said, anyone with a better way of doing the honorable, important, and difficult work of leading government should let me know.

Cooks and physicians also do valued work, and dirty their hands in the process.


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 02:15 AM
July 20, 2012
Burgas and Aurora

Coming only a day apart, the tragedies of Burgas and Aurora point to the different vulnerabilities of Israel and the United States.

With all its goods and not-so-goods, one feature of the United States that keeps it from full membership among civilized countries is the rampant freedom of acquiring weapons. The assailant's use of an assault rifle, as well as a pistol and gas canister, and having primed his apartment with as yet unknown quantity and quality of explosives reminds us of Colorado's lawless past, as well as not so long ago Columbine.

Similar tragedies have happened in European countries with strict weapons control. No society is hermetically sealed against madness, but the United States' record of gun-related violence is sufficiently off the charts to cause wonder as well as sadness.

Israel's story is not one of individual madness but being the target of organized violence, meant to terrorize civilians, directed by hostile governments. Iran has taken up the leadership of evil, with no shortage of agent-organizations to recruit and dispatch individuals willing to die for a religious cause.

There is also a pathological (Jewish) response to Burgas that faulted Israelis:

"If Israel didn't continue to disrespect almost everyone in the world including American Jews who dare question any aspect of Israeli policy, Israel might have more friends sympathetic to Israel's real concerns about existential threats."

Both Americans and Israelis are in a trap of their histories.

One of Americans' problems is love of a romantic image where unfettered individualism is a value to cherish rather than a barrier to progress. It appears not only in the largely uncontrolled access to means of violence, but in the dominance of health care by profit-making insurance companies. One can applaud President Obama's efforts to broaden coverage, but still to be tested by the rigors of implementation and regulation (as well as Republican aspirations) is the quality of insurance against companies' capacity to decide what procedures fit within each customer's policy.

Israelis are trapped in the reality of being Jewish. While the Holocaust produced Christian introspection and abandonment of persecution, Israel's creation and success has led Muslims to take up the cause. Holocaust denial, promoting the Protocols as gospel, and suicide bombing have taken over from Christians' burning Jews in the Middle Ages and pogroms extending until the Holocaust.

Israelis' responses to Burgas demonstrates a recognition of history and identity.

Media provided full coverage from first reports of an explosion involving Israelis. Several planeloads of medical and security personnel went to Burgas, including one of the country's best known specialists. Those of the injured who could be transported were brought to facilities in Israel better equipped than those in Bulgaria. National Insurance financed flights to Sofia for family members of the injured who had been moved to Bulgaria's better hospitals, and could not be transported internationally. Close to half the newspaper pages in the following days as well as extensive television coverage described the event, details of those killed, responses of family and friends, and funerals. Prominent in the stories was a 40-year old couple, who had saved for a low-cost vacation package in order to celebrate the wife's pregnancy after years of fertility treatments. The husband was injured, and did not learn of his wife being identified among the dead until he was returned to Israel.

Thousands went to the cemeteries, as is typical of such events, most of them not personally connected with the victims.

Political and security leaders are promising an appropriate response, but it may take a while, and it is unlikely to be closely targeted at the perpetrators of this event. Burgas was part of an ongoing cycle of violence involving Iran and its agents, most notably the Shiites of Hizbollah and the Islamists of Gaza. Syria had been an important intermediary, but that link is now chaotic.

Iran has followed the older pattern of focusing on soft Israeli or overseas Jewish civilian targets, seemingly on account of Israel's existence as well as in retaliation for Israel actions against Iran's nuclear program and leading terrorists.

My correspondent who picked on Burgas to criticize Israel insists on portrayals of history balanced by admissions of blood on our hands.

Israel has killed civilians, and more will die as a result of Burgas and the larger conflict of which it is a part. However, Israel does not set out to kill civilians, and its record of warning civilians or aborting actions on account of civilians compares well with other armies.

Warfare is not as precise as the judiciaries of democratic countries, leaving aside doubts about the death penalty.

We'll have to wait to see how Israeli political and military leaders chose to deal with this and other provocations. The only certainty is that enemies, antagonists, and simpletons claiming to be our friends will accuse Israel of excessive force.


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 11:35 PM
July 19, 2012
Things to worry about

The first news about the bombing of a tourist bus in Burgas, a resort in Bulgaria, came at about 7:15 PM on Wednesday. From then on we returned to the routine of the intifada. Piece by piece bits of information about a bus full of young Israelis who arrived on a recent flight. There were casualties. Then there were deaths. I thought about the families in Israel of those who traveled to Burgas, but who would not know who was on that bus, if they were hurt or killed.

A half day later authorities were still withholding the names of victims. It's not easy identifying body parts from an explosion in a closed bus. Indications pointed to Iran and Hizbollah. Eighteen years ago to the day operatives with connections to the top of the Iranian regime bombed a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people.

Among the worries are the next acts in this conflict, perhaps an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, followed by missiles coming from Iran, Lebanon, and Gaza, what Israel would do in response, as well as Iranian attacks on American ships and bases, and where that would lead.

After recent meetings between senior American and Israeli personnel, Americans said they remain unsure about Israeli intentions.

This could be disinformation meant to keep the Iranians on edge, or Israeli ambiguity meant to spur Americans and others to increase sanctions. The claim of ambiguity may reflect American and Israeli cooperation, meant to pressure European governments wavering on tougher sanctions. We hear that the Iranians are hurting economically, but not that Iranian leaders are rethinking their nuclear intentions.

The ambiguity may be a serious message from Israel to the United States and others, reflecting frustrations that there is no sign of a change in Iranian policy. One might expect an Israeli gesture to the United States in avoiding an attack until after the election, but maybe not.

There are also reasons to worry about Syria. Wednesday's early media focus--before Burgas--was an attack that wiped out a substantial number of the Syrians leading the fight against rebels. Thursday morning's news was that Assad's wife and children had gone to Russia, and that Assad himself left Damascus for a more secure site elsewhere in Syria.

Thursday noon rebels were battling government forces outside the presidential palace in Damascus.

I hope we'll be spared clips like that of Muammar Qadaffi's last moments, but there will be some of that directed against captured soldiers and officers, if not the president himself.

Syrian forces have shelled rebels near the Israeli border on the Golan, the IDF has cancelled weekend leaves, and increased its level of alert.

Few expect a smooth transition to a stable government able to control the country. We don't hear the word "democracy" in the commentaries. Chaos, bloodshed, and ethnic slaughter are more likely.

Israelis with the responsibility for worrying about such things are concerned about Syria's chemical weapons. They have threatened large scale warfare if they find their way to Hizbollah.

The good news is that Iran and Hizbollah are losing a key ally in the Assad regime.

The bad news is that extremist Sunnis, with elements of al Quaida, will contend for control. They not only oppose the Shiites of Iran and Lebanon, but may also be fanatic with respect to Alewite, Christian, Druze, and Kurdish minorities in Syria, and have more aspirations toward Israel than those of Assad or his father.

Not in today's headlines are Israel's election, Haredi and Arab service in the IDF or some alternative, the future of higher education in Ariel, social reforms kept on the agenda by weekly demonstrations, settlements in the West Bank, or peace with Palestinians. A messianic Jew provoked a brief spat by sending copies of the New Testament to all Members of Knesset. Some cursed missionaries and a book that had fueled two millennia of persecution. A MK who views Meir Kahane as his personal hero earned a rebuke from the Knesset chair when he desecrated the New Testament, and an Arab MK earned a rebuke when he desecrated a picture of Meir Kahane.

All that pales alongside Burgas' reminder of exploding buses, Iran's nuclear program, and what comes next across the border in Syria.


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 10:06 AM
July 17, 2012
Higher education in Ariel

Moshe Silman is still in intensive care, at least four copycats have failed to immolate themselves alongside banks or government offices thanks to alert bystanders, politicians are accusing one another of being too soft on the Haredim or being too stubborn about one or another detail of what to do with them, and the Middle East is still the Middle East.

One of the two hottest topics of the moment is the upgrading of the Ariel University Center of Samaria to full university status, against those who opposed the move for good or nefarious reasons, and some who wish it would go away altogether along with the rest of Ariel and its 18,000 residents.

Until 2007 it was the College of Judea and Samaria. Its intermediate title as a university center suggested, without actually saying, that it was already a university.

The nomenclature associated with institutions of higher education is fuzzy in the extreme. Differences between colleges and universities, and other vague terms like center or institute, are there for the picking. "University" may generally be at the top of the prestige heap, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and a few others would quarrel.

In Israel the difference between a college and university is money. Universities get more, enough to support research by faculty members.

The arguments about the institution in Ariel are academic, financial, and political. The heads of Israel's seven universities have been united in opposing the upgrading of Ariel's name and status on the grounds of insufficient money in the overall pot for higher education, as well as their conclusions that Ariel's faculty component is not up to what is required for serious teaching at the doctoral level. They claim that existing universities suffered greatly in budget reductions and staff downsizings in recent years, and that another university will worsen whatever chances they have of repairing the damage.

Ariel's supporters claim that the size and quality of is staff does not fall below what Israel's newer universities had achieved when they passed from college to university status.

Politics is the elephant in the living room. Ariel is not only in the West Bank, over the "green line" of the 1948 armistice that became Israel's border until 1967. It is the most prominent incursion into what Palestinians claim to be theirs. Significant members of Israel's cultural, artistic, and academic elites have declared boycotts on Ariel's theater and concert hall, as well as its institution of higher education.

No surprise that Israeli academics are generally left of center on the topic of Israel and Palestine, along with just about every other issue. The trait may be somewhat less true of academics in the natural sciences, engineering, business administration, and economics than in other social sciences and humanities, but those gaps are more than made up by international allies of Israeli academics who have declared that Ariel is out of bounds.

The other side is also well represented. Settlers have weight in Israeli politics, and they have friends in overseas Jewish communities who have been generous with their wealth.

There is an institutional complication that will affect what happens. Israel's Coordinating Committee for Higher Education makes decisions about the programs each university is entitled to offer, as well as the status of institutions. The Coordinating Committee represents the heads of universities and other institutions of higher education, and it opposes Ariel's upgrading.

However, Ariel is not in Israel. The separate Coordinating Committee for Higher Education for Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank), approved Ariel's upgrading. Likud Ministers of Education and Finance, as well as the Prime Minister support the move, with the Minister of Finance promising more money to accommodate financial concerns.

Due to requirements for "occupied territory," the ultimate authority for Judea and Samaria is the Civil Administration section of the IDF. Military personnel will have a say about the status of the Ariel institution, as well as what courses and degrees it is allowed to offer.

Another complication is that the budget committee of Israel's Coordinating Committee for Higher Education parcels out the money coming from the government budget for higher education. It may require some political and administrative acrobatics to overcome its members' reservations about Ariel.

The conventional wisdom in political science is that government decisions often do not play out as expected. Implementation is anything but automatic, especially in the case of decisions that are controversial. There is politics after an official decision as well as before a decision. In this case, the folks supporting a university in Ariel may be able to proclaim victory, but they will not have anything like Harvard--or even the Hebrew University--overnight, in the next year, decade, or maybe millennium, we should all live that long.

One can spin out scenarios until the cows come home, which is a metaphor popular at my former home in the University of Wisconsin.

Colleges and universities change slowly, if at all, in quality and prestige. Faculty tenure means that it can take 30 years to change the character of teaching. Or even longer, insofar as the old fuddies make the crucial decisions about new hires and promotions. Institutional prestige may linger longer than it should, and continues to influence where a country's best students choose to study. They add their own accomplishments to each institution's prestige.

In Ariel's case, the politics will carry on long after there is a decision about nomenclature. Anti-settler feelings in higher education will affect things, along with pro-settler loyalties in Likud and parties further to the right. The standing of parties to the right of center may not be passing fashions in a situation where the peace process is in deep coma.

Among the possibilities is that with Ariel as a university, the weight of settlers and Likud may bring enough new money into the overall budget for higher education to benefit all the universities.

Yet there was an earthquake in another quadrant of politics on the day that the Coordinating Committee for Higher Education for Judea and Samaria decided on upgrading Ariel,

Kadima withdrew from the government coalition over the issue of drafting Haredim. Support for the Netanyahu-led government thereby dropped from 94 MKs to somewhere in the mid-60s or even less than a majority, depending on whatever subsequent realignments occur.

Among the new possibilities is an election in the next six months where support or opposition for continued benefits to the Haredim will be the central issue. Should that overcome Netanyahu's rhetorical skills, the next government could be less friendly to the settlers as well as to the Haredim.

It's too early to lay your bets. Yet it's also too early for a grand celebration about the future of higher education in Ariel.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:49 PM
July 16, 2012
Today's headlines

We are seeing the reality of that quotation attributed to Josef Stalin about one death being a tragedy while a million is a statistic.

Moshe Silman has not died as of this writing. He poured gasoline and set himself on fire during a Saturday evening social protest demonstration in Tel Aviv.

Physicians are fighting for his life. Meanwhile he has wiped from the headlines concerns about drafting ultra-Orthodox, the Levy Report legitimizing settlements in the West Bank, the visit of Hillary Clinton along with its issues of the peace process and Iranian nuclear weapons, the latest worries about Syria's chemical and biological weapons, and this weekend's slaughter of hundreds more not too far from Israel's northern borders. Even the confrontation between Sara Netanyahu and the housekeeper suing her received only limited coverage at the tail end of everything else.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu spoke of Silman's tragedy at the weekly government meeting. President Shimon Peres said that he was praying for his recovery.

Two days after the event, an unusually large headline on page one of Israel Hayom was, "The Tragedy." One of the sub-headlines ,"Thousands demonstrate across Israel, (chanting) 'We are all Moshe Silman.'"

Several groups have fastened onto Silman, including one that lit a fire at the entrance to a National Insurance office in Ramat Gan. A graffiti reading "Price tag Moshe Silman" played on the "price tag" label used by settler extremists who attack Palestinians. The Internet site of Ha'aretz headlined that governmental bodies dealing with sucide prevention will increase their concern with economic distress. Analysts worry that the attractions of self-immolation in a politically aroused crowd will spread in Israel's vulnerable population like suicide bombing among its enemies.

The details of Moshe Silman's story are as complex as they are tragic. We hear about a disabling health episode, lack of success in disputes with tax and welfare authorities, unsuccessful investments, loss of his business and two apartments, homelessness, unwillingness or inability to gain help from close relatives, and a previous attempt at suicide. The act that put him in the headlines occurred in the midst of a Saturday evening demonstration of perhaps 5,000, whose leaders were trying to revitilize last summer's demonstrations that had attracted hundreds of thousands.

Israel has moved along with other western countries from socialism toward individualism. The political icons are Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Benyamin Netanyahu. The themes of public policy used to be housing, medical care, and basic education for masses of European refugees from the Holcaust, and threatened Jewish communities in the Middle East. Now the grandchildren of those refugees compete for investments in high-tech start-ups, and sell their companies for hundreds of millions to multi-national firms. Free child care for two-professional families has proved to be more popular than building public housing for the severely distressed.

Against those who say that Silman demonstrates greater needs for affordable housing are those who say that he demonstrates greater needs for mental health. One of Israel's financial dailies headlined the comments of a neo-liberal economist, "Don't believe in public housing for parasites who don't work." The article cited his reference to emotional counselling only in its last paragraph.

This inept academic might have a small impact on another discussion, about whether to upgrade his institution to a university. It is located in the town of Ariel, a controversial place at the tip of Israel's most prominent intrusion into the West Bank. The heads of established universities are united in a campaign against upping its status at the cost to their own slices of the budget. Heads of other colleges are questioning whether the institution in Ariel is the closest in deserving university status.

Insofar as the Likud Minister of Education has already signed on to the settlers' campaign to upgrade the institution, the clumsy comments of one economist (or his exploitation by a journalist) might do nothing more than raise some eyebrows among other academics.

For the time being, Moshe Silman owns the headlines. While there are some who see his tragedy as able to change the nature of Israeli policy, we'll have to see if it has staying power against those wanting to draft the Haredim and send them to work, those wanting to expand settlements, those wanting to remove settlements, Sara Netanyahu's latest tift with household help, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and whatever happens between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725

Cell: +972-54-683-5325
Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:55 AM
July 12, 2012
The West Bank

The "West Bank" is a tricky place legally, politically, and semantically.

There is one semantic conception that it is everything on the west bank of the Jordan River, all the way to the Mediterranean.

More limited and conventional is the notion that it is the area between the Jordan River and the 1949 armistice line.

Even more limited, and perhaps less conventional outside of Israel, is the notion that it is the area between the Jordan River and the 1949 armistice line, except where areas of Jerusalem declared by Israel immediately after 1967 extend into what others call the West Bank.

Recently we have heard another conception of the West Bank: the land between the Jordan River and Israel's security barrier, which pokes here and there east of what had been the 1949 armistice line and the 1967 border.

The legal confusion consists of one view, widely supported, that the West Bank is occupied territory upon which various international agreements apply. By this view, heard frequently from foreign governments, many Israelis, and supported by some decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court, the occupying power cannot act against the rights of the existing population, and cannot move its own population into the area in a de facto annexation.

Another view, articulated again most recently by a committee established by the Prime Minister and including retired Justice of the Supreme Court Edmond Levy and former Legal Advisor to the Foreign Ministry (and former Ambassador to Canada) Alan Baker, is that the area is not occupied territory. The idea rests on the absence of any legitimate occupying power prior to 1967. Jordan's occupation as a result of the 1948 war was recognized only by Pakistan and the UK, and there had never been a state of Palestine. From this perspective, the area is "disputed" rather than "occupied," and there are no legal restraints against Jews living there.

Somewhere in the archives is a United Nations decision that divides the British Mandate between a Jewish State and an Arab State. That seemed to disappear with the Arab attack on Israel and the War of 1948, but not in the view of all international lawyers.

One can write at length about whether the United States and other western governments view parts or all of Jerusalem: West Bank, Israeli, or something else?

Where law is ambiguous--as it usually is--there is room for perspective, judgement, and political struggle.

Dan Margalit is a respected and centrist Israeli commentator whose op-ed piece entitled "The Settlements between Two Reports" defines the politics involved in legal opinions. One of the reports, from 2005, was prepared by a senior official of the Israeli Justice Ministry, and has become a landmark on the side of the West Bank as occupied territory, where Israel most act in accordance with international law. Margalit notes that the report's author, Talia Sasson, was not only a government lawyer, but also a political activist who presented herself as a candidate for the Knesset on the ticket of the left-of-center Meretz.

The members of the committee appointed by Netanyahu, including former Justice Edmond Levy and Alan Baker, were well known for their views on the legal status of the West Bank.

Margalit's point is that the contents of both reports were predictable by anyone familiar with the authors.

Neither report is the work of extremists. Sasson reveals her own views, recognizing the complexity of the Israel-Palestine conundrum, in a lengthy interview. Anyone reading it will get a decent lesson on the issues involved, even taking account of Sasson's perspectives. Baker has been careful to note that private Palestinian land ownership takes precedence over Israeli settlement activities.

Overseas officials, including a spokesman for the Obama administration, have been adamant in terming the Levy report unacceptable.

"We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts,"

Prime Minister Netanyahu was careful to avoid commitment when receiving the report of the Levy Committee. He said that a government committee will give it careful consideration. Israeli politicians and commentators of left and right are expressing themselves as expected. On the one hand Levy's report is a danger to Israel's continued existence as a democratic and Jewish state that can enjoy international support. On the other hand, Levy's report legitimizes Jews' settlement in the land of their ancestors in a setting where Palestinian extremism prevents a reasonable agreement about two states.

In reality, it is likely that Israeli politics will keep away from either extremes.

Currently this brouhaha is competing for media space with apocalyptic threats from various sides about the issue of recruiting Haredim and Arabs. An ultra-Orthodox MK is chair of the Knesset finance committee, and we have heard that there will be no approval of next year's government budget if there is a vote to draft Yeshiva students. Other brickbats result from the verdict about Ehud Olmert. One of his supporters went so far as to say the chief prosecutor owes the country his suicide for daring the charge a sitting prime minister on what Olmert's friends call flimsy evidence. Defenders of the prosecutors are asking how the judges could accept Olmert's claim that he was not aware of having received $450,000.

All of these issues will leave the front pages without destroying the country.

Most likely there will be a resolution of Haredi and Arab enlistments that are widely criticized as unsatisfactory.

While there are supporters who see Ehud Olmert returning to politics and standing against Benyamin Netanyahu in the next election, it will be difficult for Olmert to get closer to power than the fringes of political activity. He has been marked as guilty of some misconduct, not guilty of others only by virtue of the judges' uncertainty, and a trial including charges of accepting bribes is likely to continue for a year or more. He has said that he has no intention of returning to politics. 55 percent of those questioned said that he cannot serve in a government position.

With respect to the report offered by Justice Levy, Prime Minister Netanyahu knows how to express himself in favor of settlers, while recognizing the limits of how far that can go. He has no interest in absorbing large swaths of the West Bank into Israel, both to avoid a confrontation with the United States and other worthy governments, and even more in order to avoid responsibility for governing West Bank Arabs, or making them citizens of Israel.


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 09:29 PM
July 10, 2012
The process is the punishment

Some years ago, my friend Malcolm Feeley published The Process is the Punishment. It deals with criminal charges against individuals at the lower end of America's urban communities, widely viewed as guilty, but who manage to be judged not guilty or to have their cases thrown out of court. The process itself, including sitting in jail waiting for their day in court, was the punishment. Often it was repeated time and again in the case of individuals whose lives--likely to be shortened by violence--consisted of revolving between tough times on the street--on or over the lines between legality and illegality--and yet another process that added to their punishment whether or not they were found guilty and sent to prison.

We are seeing a similar process at the peak of Israel's government.

Accusations against Ehud Olmert, former mayor of Jerusalem, Prime Minister, and minister in charge of several other government departments, has long been accused of irregularities. Details have dealt with giving government contracts to political allies, double-billing travel expenses, receiving sizable sums of cash, and bribes in exchange for governmental decisions that provided considerable profits to individuals who paid for them.

Involved in the story is a younger brother with an impressive reputation in Israel as as political analyst attached to distinguished academic institutions, who found himself in debt due to non-academic activity. He left the country, perhaps to escape debt collectors who could be rough, and may have received some of the money his older brother collected in less than legitimate ways.

Also involved is a woman who served as Olmert's assistant over the course many years and several government functions. She is accused of some wrong doing linked to accusations against Olmert, and some for using governmental connections to help her businessman brother and others.

So far Olmert as well as his assistant appear to be punished more by the process than by convictions for serious offenses and harsh sentences.

Although Olmert's supporters and attorneys have spoken of "innocence" with respect to th latest court decisions, there is no justice in their claims. The judges noted the appearance of improprieties, but ruled that prosecutors did not prove illegal intentions beyond the level of doubt required in criminal cases.

On one item the verdict was guilty, with the process of determining punishment to begin in two months.

The principal punishment consists of several years of police investigations, resignation as Prime Minister on account of the process, a long trial, the likelihood of further hearings and appeals, along with an ongoing trial in another court concerning large bribes said to be paid for decisions concerned with a prominent real estate development in Jerusalem.

Olmert has aged noticeably during the process, but that may be due more to a natural process rather than to activities of the police, prosecutors, and judges. He has remained active after resigning as Prime Minister. He has lectured overseas, participated n prestigious conferences in Israel, and has provided advice to key players in ongoing political maneuvers.

The most recent decision covers 900 pages, with a summary of 40 pages read out loud by the judges.

Israeli media gave itself over to the details from the early morning of the decision. Commentators speculated on what was likely. Changing headlines on Internet news sites reported when Olmert left his home, when he arrived at the court house, the entrance of his co-defendant, their attorneys, prosecutors, and the three judges. The regular 9 AM news program on the most popular radio station gave way to detailed reports about the opening of court. Reporters sitting in the court passed to reporters outside details of the judge's ongoing reading of the summary verdict, and commentators weighed in with instant thoughts about pieces of the verdicts, what some claimed was the overreaching of the prosecutors, and what may come next in procedures dealing with the punishment handed out for those parts of the indictments where the defendants were found guilty. Will there be jail time, an exclusion of Olmert from further government office, or a slap on the wrist and a sentence of a few months' community service?

The time required for the sentencing phase, possible appeals by the prosecutor and the defendants, as well as that ongoing other trial may well consume several more years of Olmert's life.

Even if the major punishment will be the process, that it may be appropriate. Ehud Olmert has been close to if not over the line of improprieties during a long career in several government offices. So far the verdicts have been close to, but not over the line of being found guilty on major transgressions.


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 05:16 AM
July 09, 2012
Jews here and there

Israelis are fortunate to have a large and active diaspora of Jews.

Israelis are also unfortunate in having a large and active diaspora of Jews.

The benefits are well known: a bit of money to top off the much larger sums that we provide for ourselves, political support where the Jews have become members of the intelligensia and other elites, as well as friends and relatives to visit when overseas.

The costs are also considerable, and are less often discussed from this side of things. The principal one that impinges on me are individuals who have idealized what Israel should be, and accuse us of falling short of their aspirations. There are also Jews who seek to employ their intelligence and money to influence their governments to pressure Israel in ways they feel are most in keeping with their views.

The range of meddlers from the outside pretty well matches the range of Israelis who express themselves about public issues.

On the left are diaspora Jews who want Israel to be what they imagine to be a classic Zionist or Biblical model of justice. This may mean going the extra mile to accommodate what they view as reasonable Palestinian expectations, and smoothing out the bumps in the Israeli economy so that equality of opportunity and/or rewards prevails for all: Jew and Arab, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, along with Ethiopians who don't fit into either traditional Jewish category, as well as the downtrodden Africans who make their way across the Sinai in hopes of getting a piece of Israeli opportunities.

On the right are diaspora Jews who believe that God has given all the Land of Israel to us (and them), and adopt an outsized view of that grant. For some of the extreme among them, Baruch Goldstein is a hero. Leaving them aside, I have Internet friends who see no problem other than Israeli timidity standing between us and solving the Arab and Iranian problems once and for all times. What is the IDF for if not for those missions?

My correspondents do not fit simple patterns on the hot Israeli issues concerned with the Haredim. Some anti-religious Jews oppose anything that smacks of God. Others express wonder that Jews cannot get along with one another. Most of my correspondents who are quick to express themselves on anything having to do with Palestinians are quiet about our religious issues.

One can put all of this aside. Diaspora Jews, as well as Israelis who have left the country, cannot vote in Israeli elections. Some of the well known may be able to get a few minutes of attention from an elected official, but their payoffs are unlikely to go beyond a cup of coffee, a picture, and a handshake. Insofar as their range of opinions overlaps those heard from Israelis who live here, vote, and otherwise express themselves, we can dismiss diaspora Jews we disagree with as minor nuisances.

My annoyance rachets upward when the home country of the critic is nowhere close to Israel in providing benefits to its less fortunate residents, and far from Israel's record in being able to defend itself without wrecking great havoc in the places thought to be threatening it. My outspoken American friends should recognize themselves on both those dimensions.

Also at the top of my annoyance index are diaspora Jews who donate money to Israeli and other organizations intent on influencing what happens here. Yet there is money coming from the right as well as the left. It is hard to decide if overseas branches of Peace Now balance the likes of Irving Moscowitz. It is also hard to determine if campaign contributions from overseas benefit one side of the Israeli spectrum more than another. Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom has become a leading newspaper thanks to free distribution and decent reporting. There is no indication that it has distored Israeli politics any more than Ha'aretz.

Also not clear is the influence of overseas Jewish activists, journalists, politicians, and senior office holders on their governments' actions toward Israel. To the extent that realpolitik functions in international relations, Israel's capacities and actions may shape policies toward it more than the conferences, campaign contributions, and lobbying of those concerned with our fate.

AIPAC, J-Street, and all those organizations claiming a human rights agenda may contribute more to the personal satisfaction of their activists than to what happens in the Middle East.

Thomas Friedman and Fox news may entertain or provoke their audiences more than they influence what governments do.

Personal e-mails remain minor annoyances, manageable by being ignored. My computer has a delete button as well as yours.

Beyond personal pique, a diaspora aspiring to influence Israeli raises some provocative questions about Jews.

I'm not the first to raise these questions, and my brief mutterings reflect only a small portion of what has been expressed by people who have pondered these things at greater length.

Prominent in the explanations are shared history and Jewish perfectionism, inherited from the Biblical prophets and manifest in a long list of Justice-minded Jews from Jesus Christ onward.

Also apparent is a continuation of Jewish marginalism. Jews have made it in the economies, academies, and other elite circles of the United States, Britain and France. There is no comparison to their status now and as recent as the 1960s. But they still may fear that they will not fit in unless they make special efforts in behalf of Justice. Perhaps their arrival to the mainstream is too recent. It may take additional generations for Jews to be more like their surroundings, to think less in terms of the optimal, and not to demand better conditions than available from their own government from a distant country that has shown it can take care of itself.

This assume that things will remain good for the Jews of the diaspora, and that present accomplishments are more permanent than those of Weimar Germany.

There is also aid and advice flowing from Israel to Jewish communities overseas. Intermarriage, ignorance of Jewish history and traditions lead Israelis to worry about the future of their people.

Too much involvement?

Not from me. The value of quiet from afar should work in both directions.


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 12:17 AM
July 05, 2012
High intensity squabbles

Lots of politics, brought about by the high intensity squabbles over what to do about the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim), and to some extent the Arabs.

Animosity toward the Haredim and a somewhat different concern about Arabs is always present, along with whatever else is happening. Feelings about the Haredim peaked some months ago with several episodes concerned with their insistence on separating men from women, boys from girls. Remember the cursing and spitting on the little girl in Beit Shemesh who, with her mother, walked to school on the sidewalk the Haredim wanted reserved for boys and men? And the daring young women, an Israeli version of Rosa Parks, who insisted on entering a "glatt kosher" bus via the front door?

Lots of Israelis are tired of the state (i.e., their taxes) supporting the families of ultra-Orthodox men who do not work, have lots of children, and get special deals on mortgages, water bills, and local property tax. There is a persistent demand that young ultra-Orthodox men serve in the IDF, or at least put in some years doing community service, and then go to work and support themselves.

The Supreme Court put the politicians' feet to the fire by a decision that the law granting exemptions to ultra-Orthodox violates legal requirements of equality, and must be altered by August 1st.

For some time now the other macro issue of peace with the Palestinians has been in a deep coma, due partly to Palestinian paralysis resulting from the split between the not-so-moderate Fatah in charge of the West Bank and the extremely extreme Hamas and their allies in charge of Gaza. Arab uprisings have not helped the cause of the Palestinians, insofar as countries from Morocco to Indonesia are more concerned with their own problems than with the Palestinians and Israel.

The latest Palestinian kerfuffle comes from Yassir Arafat's widow (with whom he managed to live for only a short while before a separation), wanting to dig up his remains to test for the possibility that he was poisoned. We can expect fingers pointing to Israel, without Israel having an opportunity to examine what remains of the body.

The government appointed a committee to propose alternatives to the existing exemption of Haredim. It met over the course of several weeks, with the Haredi MK's appointed to it refusing to attend the meetings. A lawyer identified with them left the committee in a huff, charging that it was blind to the needs and contributions of the ultra-Orthodox. Then the prime minister dismissed the committee, but its chairman continued on his course and produced a formal announcement of his, or the committee's, recommendations.

They include a limited number of annual exemptions from military service, meant to be given to Torah students of exceptional talent, along with some options of public service or the IDF for the mass of Yeshiva students, and a reduction of matetrial benefits for those who refuse to serve.

There is also a provision in the proposal for enrolling an increasing number of Arab youths in some kind of national service, with the whole thing--for Arabs as well as ultra-Orthodox--to be phased in over several years.

Nobody is leading the cheers.

For some, the pressure on Arabs is not great enough.

For others, the pressure on Haredim is not great enough. Requiring them to serve only two years does not stand up against the requirement that non-Haredi Jewish men serve three years and then face several decades of reserve obligations.

We hear that some Haredi rabbis are willing to go along with some of the proposals, while other Haredi rabbis ridicule anything that denies their young men the opportunity to choose a lifetime of Torah study. It is that activity, according to one of the mantras, that provides the essential defense of Israel.

The chair of the defanged committee is a Kadima back bencher who has spent some years being concerned with the issue of drafting Haredim, and is said to have been insufficiently flexible in entertaining any proposals other than his own. The chair of Kadima is the former Defense Minister and Chief of the IDF General Staff, Shaul Mofaz, who has made reform of the Haredi issue the key reason for bringing Kadima into the government coalition. Mofaz is threatening to leave the coalition if the Prime Minister does not support something close to what his party colleague is proposing. The Prime Minister has said that the proposal is a decent starting point of negotiations.

There are signs of a split among Kadima MKs. Some say that if Mofaz cannot obtain a reform close to the proposal on the table, and decides to leave the coalition, he will mark himself and Kadima as unable to accomplish anything. Others say, in contrast, that by sticking to his demand, Mofaz will rescue Kadima from disappearance; he will show that Kadima stands by a principal that appeals to the country's secular middle class. Some Kadima MKs are taking advantage of the dispute about Haredim to rekindle the battle between Mofaz and former leader Tzipi Livni, who resigned from the Knesset after losing the party leadership to Mofaz.

Also in the air are a couple of former political stars, both talented but with one of them forced out of government due to a verdict of sexual harrassment, and in the other because of political corruption.

Haim Ramon is talking about forming another centrist party on the claim that the several other centrists parties really aren't centrist parties. Tsachi Hanegbi is trying his hand at being a mediator. Ehud Olmert is also rendering advice, while he is not busy in a Tel Aviv court that is hearing criminal charges against him for accepting bribes while mayor of Jerusalem, and waiting the verdict of a court in Jerusalem on other charges.

A group of young men calling themselves suckers (פריירים) for accepting military service began demonstrating against insufficient efforts to make the Haredim take on the burdens of citizenship. It is no surprise that the national organization of university students has signed on to their cause, due to most university students having been through two or three years (depending on gender) in the IDF. This campaign in regard to the Haredim is threatening to divide those aspiring to lead another season of middle- and upper-middle class secular Israelis demonstrating about a more extensive list of social problems.

The Arab issue in all of this is something of a minor chord, except that Avigdor Lieberman has threatened to vote against any arrangement that does not impose significant demands on Arabs as well as the ultra-Orthodox. Lieberman also is insisting on recruiting the Haredim to the IDF at the age of 18, as in the case of other Israelis, rather than giving them more years to decide about the military or some other kind of public service.

And somewhere in the muddle is simmering disunity between SHAS and Torah Judaism. One is the political party of the Sephardim, mostly those with a North African background, and the other the political party of the Ashkenazim. Both are ultra-Orthodox, but the Ashkenazim do what they can to hold onto their esteem as the most pious, most familiar with religious law, and generally of better stock. Every once in a while there is a headline of an Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox school not admitting Sephardi applicants on the ground that their level of observance is not up to snuff.

There are some signs that the SHAS rabbis/Members of Knesset are more forthcoming with respect to recruitment to the IDF or some other national service. In the competition between rabbis as to who is the greater guardian of holy tradition, however, none of this may go beyond the indications perceived by commentators who are not directly involved in the inner most conversations.

Also in the air are claims by ultra-Orthodox spokesmen that their people actually are serving in public service, obtaining higher education, and working in real jobs more than secular critics acknowledge.

One can wish for hard facts or real numbers from an official or at least an unofficial reliable source. That is not likely in a contentious arena where religious dogmas (note the plural) as well as anti-religious dogmas (also plural) dominate the conversations (again a plural) about military service or something else.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:27 PM
July 03, 2012

Living alongside Isaweea is an adventure that provides insights into larger issues about Israel and the Middle East.

We've been here for 20 years, and have never visited the neighborhood 200 meters to the east. Arab friends have urged us to stay away, for our own good.

Twice in the last 18 months, Jews have driven into Isaweea by mistake, and barely escaped with their lives. Also on two separate occasions we have witnessed early evening attacks on young Jewish women who were jogging in French HIll. The attackers were young men who ran in the direction of Isaweea when interrupted. One victim was the daughter of close friends, who we have known since she was a little girl. We didn't know the other victim, but it was us who yelled, caused the perpetrator to run, called the police on a cell phone and stayed with the young woman, shocked and crying but otherwise unhurt, until official help arrived.

The nature of Arab attacks follow patterns. Some years ago it was fashionable for young Arab men using kitchen knives to attack Jews at bus stops or walking on the sidewalk. At the time, we told our children, then in primary school or junior high, to respect Arabs, but also to step aside if they noticed an Arab walking behind them, in order to let the Arab go ahead of them.

It was also a practice for residents of Isaweea to lob stones onto cars from a cliff that overlooked the main road from the northern area of Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. The initial response was to use intelligence assets in the neighborhoods (locals called "stinkers") to identify the culprits. Authorities also installed strong lights to illuminate the cliff top at night, and eventually moved the roadbed further away from the cliff face.

Observers might call that multi-force coping to deal with a nuisance that is life threatened. Imagine a sizable stone landing on your car when driving at highway speed.

Currently one of the popular activities is setting fires in open fields, rendered dry by the summer heat.There have been thousands of fires throughout the country, and more than 200 in the Jerusalem area. Firefighters say that most have been set.

Last week the police arrested two youths from Isaawea who admitted to setting fires in the area.

At stake is more than dry scrub. The gas station on the border between Isaweea and French Hill is alongside a field used by the Bedouin of Isaweea for their sheep and goats. The gas station is an attractive target for Arab extremists, even though its management and employees are Arabs. Often there is a contingent of Border Police stationed there. This is Israel's gendarmerie with Druze and Bedouin recruits along with Jews from poorer urban neighborhoods.

I talked to a group of Border Police trainees on one of my assignments in the IDF lecture corps. It was during the first intifada, and the policy of the lecture corps was to urge restraint. Beating Arabs with batons did not play well on international TV. I was introduced as a soldier who was also a professor. When I finished my talk, one of the trainees raised his hand. "Professor, you should know that a lot of us here like to hurt people."

Twice in recent months we have seen the beginnings of smoke coming from the field alongside the gas station, and did our citizens' duty by calling the fire brigade. When we identified the source of the smoke, we were asked if it is close to Isaweea. If close to Isaweea, the fire brigade will send a unit staffed by Arabs, thus reducing the chances of being stoned by residents intent on doing what they can against the Jews.

Isaweea is a neighborhood in Jerusalem, so there is no barrier between us and them. The village of Atarot not much further away from us. That is not in the Jerusalem municipality, and it is east of a three meter high wall.

Most of our contacts with people from Isaweea are anything but hostile. We've gotten to know some of them, at least enough to say hello, from meeting them on our walks around French Hill. We share the sidewalks, post office,as well as the bank, supermarket and coffee houses of the French Hill shopping center. Boys and young men from Isaweea play football in the schoolyard that abuts our apartment. On rare occasions we have seen Jews and Arabs playing together or against one another. Occasionally a ball sails onto our balcony, or into an open window. Whether it comes from a Jewish or an Arab group, it typically brings a knock on our door, an apology, and a request for the ball.

On a few occasions we have found sizable stones thrown into our apartment, without a forthcoming apology. And school personnel have found "Fuck the Jews" scrawled on their walls.

Arabs celebrate their weddings with fireworks. They used to fire guns into the air, with the occasional injury or fatality when the bullet landed on a celebrant or a neighbor. The police and community leaders worked out an arrangement whereby firearms (most likely illegal) would give way to fireworks.

For us, the result is an occasional display, with no fear of being on our balcony to watch it, and to hear the music that comes along with the party.

Some of our neighbors object to loud Arab music that may continue from a wedding party into the wee hours. Others feel that the calls to prayer, especially that which comes early in the morning, are made especially loud to annoy the Jews. For us, annoyance is a price of co-existence.

There are also sounds from the village that are more likely gun shots than fireworks. Sometimes it is not clear whether we are hearing a celebration or confrontation. When the noise of explosions coincides with a police helicopter circling overhead, we assume that it is not a wedding party.

Virtually all employees of the municipality who work as street cleaners and gardeners are Arabs. We meet them in the neighborhood, some of them with a friendly greeting for people they see regularly.

There is also a Jew who stands out as an exception in his municipal uniform. His appearance and Hebrew mark him as one of the eastern communities, perhaps a Yemenite or Kurd. He asked if I would accept a religious booklet. It was a collection of Biblical wisdom compiled by a son of Maimonides, and fits with this note.

"Accustom yourself to speak all your words with gentleness to all people at all times. This will protect you from anger - which is an unfavorable trait that brings people to sin. . . . And when you free yourself from anger, the trait of humility will enter your heart - for this is the finest quality of all favorable traits. . . . And now my son know and observe, that the one who is haughty in his heart over his fellow creatures, rebels against the Kingdom of heaven. . . . It is found that all is equal before the Omnipresent, because with His anger He makes the haughty fall, and with His will he raises up the fallen. Thus lower yourself and Hashem will raise you. . . . Therefore I will advise you how you should be accustom yourself to the trait of humility - to act with it always. All your words should be said with calmness, and your head should be bowed. Lower your eyes down to the ground, and direct your heart upward. And do not stare at a person when you speak with them. Each person should seem greater than you in your eyes - if he is more wise or wealthy than yourself, it is upon you to honor him. . . . If he is needy and you are wealthier or wiser, think in your heart that you are more obligated in your deeds than him and he is more meritorious than you when he does good deeds. Because if he transgresses, it is unintentional, and if you do, it is deliberate."

Good advice, but not always easy to remember so close to Isaweea.

The encounter with a Jew doing work usually done by Arabs also reminded me of a story about Jews who worked in construction before that was taken over by Arabs.

A boy and asked grandpa what he used to do.. "I worked in construction and built houses."

"Gee, grandpa, I didn't know you were an Arab."


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 09:52 PM