August 29, 2012
Juvenile terror

David Ben Gurion once said, "We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew."

A more up to date indicator of Israel's normality, taken from recent news, is young Jews terrorizing Arabs.

Are these occasions for "oy gevalt," or simply a recognition that we ain't all that different from others?

Or does the violence justify an argument as to how different, and whether we are doing enough to deal with our pathologies?

In one incident, a group of Jewish teenagers, mostly 15- and 16-year olds--hanging out at a place in central Jerusalem where careful adults do not venture at night--severely beat an Arab teenager who dared come onto their turf.

In another incident, two Jewish boys of Bar Mitzvah age threw Molotov cocktails onto a car with a family of Arabs, severely injuring its passengers.

Competing for an "oy gevalt" is news that a Jewish 10th grader was stabbed and moderated injured by another Jewish student in a school brawl less than a week after the beginning of classes.

Israeli law requires the masking of juvenile identities. What we know from partial reports and face-blurred pictures is that the two little kids involved in the fire bombing are residents of a village in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, and wear the religious settlers' uniform of kipot, peyot, and titziot.

Those responsible for what is called the Jerusalem lynching are said to have been egged on by a 15-year old girl ("Death to Arabs . . . Whoever wants to shows that he's a man go and hit the Arabs"), and to have come from Haredi homes, but to have rebelled against families and rabbis.

Okay. So we have our hate crimes along with skinheads, racists, Ku Klux Klan equivalents, or what a Hebrew expression loosely translates into simpletons or good-for-nothings.

These are not the first incidents of Jews terrorizing Arabs, but these are notable for the ages of the accused.

It's appropriate to claim that the incidence of such activity is microscopic compared to Arabs who have terrorized Jews, including very young boys and girls who throw stones.

It is also appropriate to note condemnation of the recent incidents from Israeli Jews high and low, contrasting with the widespread veneration of anti-Jewish violence that we hear from Arabs. In the case of the 12- and 13-year old fire bombers,as well as the older teenagers, the police and courts have so far stood firm against demands that they be treated as naughty children, and released to their parents pending court actions.

Among the indications of normality are some of the accused denying that they did it, or were even at the scene, with parents saying "It couldn't be them," or justifying their actions on account of Arab terror. Among the explanations for the Jerusalem beating by those who admitted to participating is a claim that the Arab insulted one of their mothers.

Religion is somewhere in the motivations of many, most, or practically all Jews and Arabs who have been involved in political violence. There have been scandals about rabbis who publish or preach discrimination or violence against Arabs, usually linked to a passage in old religious texts that is generally ignored. Any subscriber of knows that anti-Jewish ravings by Muslim religious figures drown out Muslim clerics who preach co-existence or tolerance. Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, has been jailed, released, and banned from Jerusalem on account of incitement to violence.

However, the weighing of religious doctrines, competing nationalism, personal revenge or other motives as elements in violence requires an analysis that is likely to be long, contentious, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Israel has imposed long prison terms on Jews convicted of violence against Arabs, even while activists charge that police have been passive in the presence of Jews acting against Arab individuals and property, and that courts have been much more lenient toward Jews than toward Arabs. Right-wing, religious, and nationalist Jewish politicians have demanded--with mixed success--leniency toward Jews accused or found guilty of violence against Arabs. The leader of the SHAS delegation in the Knesset demanded--but did not achieve--the release of Jews incarcerated for long terms as part of the prisoner-exchange involving Gilad Shalit.

There have also been violent Jews who saved the establishment competing demands and soul searching by virtue of being killed by Arabs at the scene of their carnage. In the case of Baruch Goldstein, however, official pondering of what--if anything--to do about his admirers occurs on anniversaries of his crime and death when there are pilgrimages to his grave.

Some officials have looked the other way or have been excessively "understanding" of Jews who have attacked Arabs or their property. However, the establishment acted more aggressively against Meir Kahane than against Arab MKs who, arguably, have been no less guilty of violating rules against incitement or racism.

Pressures and official ambivalence about Jewish terror were especially intense and prolonged in the case of Natan Zada, a newly religious soldier who went AWOL, killed four Arabs and wounded 12 others in Shfaram in August, 2005. A crowd beat him to death, but only after he was disarmed, restrained and hand-cuffed.

The sequence providing justification for claims of a lynching, and the possibility of murder charges against those who participated in Zada's death, but the prospect brought forth years of protest and official dithering. Israeli Arabs rallied against the prospect of criminal charges, and right-wing Jewish politicians demanded indictments for murder.

Prosecutors filed charges only in 2009, a trial lagged until 2012 when those identified with his killing were offered a plea bargain that included greatly reduced charges and limited jail time. However, the accused refused to accept the plea bargain, and have insisted on a declaration of their innocence.

Disputes about the details of these unpleasant events as well as larger issues of justice are part of our ongoing arguments. In this, as well, Israel fits somewhere within the range of normality.

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 08:28 PM
August 28, 2012
Rachel Corrie and Migron

Israeli courts dealt with two separate cases on Tuesday that touched related features central to the country's history and--perhaps--to its future.

In one, a lower court in Haifa dismissed a suit by the parents of Rachel Corrie, seeking to force Israel to admit responsibility for her death on a battlefield in Gaza during 2003. No surprise that the court expressed regret about her death, but assigned responsibility to Rachel for entering a dangerous situation. The decision found no indication that IDF personnel had acted improperly to cause her death, or that the IDF had failed to make a thorough investigation of the incident.

Also no surprise that the Arab attorney representing the parents, together with Corrie's mother, claimed that Israel's coverup was continuing. Or that a newspaper not known for its sympathy for Israeli interests published an article prior to the court's ruling emphasizing the Corries' suffering and loyalties.

"Apart from justice for Rachel, the Corries are also committed to justice for the Palestinians. Six months after Rachel's death, Cindy and Craig finally visited Gaza, and the house their daughter was trying to protect from demolition. There have been subsequent visits to Gaza, and Cindy hopes there will be more in the future. The family have made many friends from Gaza, including the occupants of the house, the Nasrallah family, whose home was finally razed in the spring of 2004. Cindy says she now has a "deeper sense of what injustice means".

Israeli media paid almost no attention to the case prior to the day of the verdict. One exception, also no surprise, was a lengthy article by Ha'aretz's resident Ramallah (formerly Gaza) correspondent Amira Hass. Her article carried the headline "What does it matter that the IDF operated in an occupied civilian area?" and begins the story of Rachel Corrie with a 1967 episode from the protests against apartheid in South Africa.

In contrast to the latest blip in the Corrie family's campaign against Israel, Migron has been a major media event, peaking with Tuesday's arguments before the Supreme Court.

Details of the case defy a simple or brief report. They involve

Earlier findings that Migron was improperly built on privately-owned Palestinian land

Recent claims by several Migron families that they have bought the land under their homes, paying one million dollars to an individual who subsequently died (only a gravely ill Palestinian would dare sell land to Jews, even for an extravagant sum)

Claims by Peace Now that documents affirming the sale are forgeries

Assertions by the state that Migron settlers have pursued a series of delaying tactics, and must accept an earlier court decision ordering their removal.

Whatever the ultimate decisions of Israeli courts in these cases (assuming the Corries appeal), the coincidence of these sittings on the same day point to the intertwined problems of Israel's acceptance along with the derivative issue of Israel's settlements.

Corrie's parents, along with supporters who have applauded various artistic efforts devoted to her, and residents of her hometown who instituted a boycott of Israeli goods by a Food Co-op, represent movements that oppose Israel's existence. Some may assert that they only oppose Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, but the Corrie movement challenges such a distinction insofar as its opposition extends to Israel's efforts at self-defense.

Migron's settlers and those supporting them represent another unsettled feature of Israel's existence. More than 300,000 Israeli Jews live in the West Bank beyond the pre-1967 boundaries, not including another 200,000 of us in post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Thus, more than half a million people out of a total population of 7.8 million are living in what important others consider to be illegal settlements. Overall, there are too many to move in an effort to satisfy contentious demands that it is Arab land.

Major centers are within the barrier that Israel began constructing during the wave of Palestinian violence that began in 2000, but smaller settlements are sufficiently spread throughout the West Bank as to complicate any aspirations to arrive at a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The settlements are not the only barrier to a Palestinian state. No less prominent is Palestinian opposition to accepting anything less than any Israeli government will grant.

Israeli and other leftists conclude that the impasse will force Israel to accept a one-state solution for the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, where--sooner or later--an Arab majority will do away with the Jewish state.

What the leftists do not address is who will force Israel to do accept that one-state solution?

The chaos and corruption within Palestine, as well as the unsettled character of much else in the Middle East leaves no one with the incentive to force an Israeli capitulation except for the minorities of Israeli, overseas Jewish, and other international leftists.

To paraphrase an epigram, the Pope has more troops.


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 05:48 AM
August 25, 2012
Judaism's view of the Almighty and Israel's almighty weapon

The status of nuclear weapons in Israel bears some tantalizing resemblance to the status of the Almighty in Judaism.

Those concerned with the history and role of God can click here, and continue further for as many years as the interest or life continues.

It is risky in the extreme to summarize the Judaic view of God, given the variety of movements under the tent, and the greater range of personal views and practices. However, it is fair to describe Judaism as the most purely monotheistic of the major faiths, without the Muslims' reliance on a single prophet, and Christians' mixture of god and man in the person of a Jew whose preachings may have been stretched by disciples years after his death.

Prominent in the Jewish view of the Almighty is distance and abstraction. Jews do not describe God's face, they do not hear God's voice, and they do not speak God's name. There are many words used to refer to the Almighty, but the true name is never mentioned. Religious Jews conversing in Hebrew tend to use השם (the name) to refer to God, or alter אלוהים to אלוקים (elohim to elokim) in order not to approach saying one of the prominent labels. Tradition is that only the High Priest pronounced the true name only in the most sacred room of the Temple and only on Yom Kippur. Since there hasn't been a Temple for two millennia, scholars no longer are sure about the sound of the true name. Religious English speakers seek to replicate the Hebrew practice by avoiding to write the conventional English name of the almighty, and do it as G-d.

Scholars who deal with the history and creation of the Jewish people see significance in several terms for God in the Hebrew Bible. Among the speculations is that each may be the name of a god worshiped by the various tribes or clusters of families that somehow came together, perhaps somewhere in the Judean mountains, most likely more than 3,000 years ago, and--using the terminology of the Hebrew Bible--described themselves as Hebrews, then Israelites, Judeans, and finally Jews.

What's the point of this for Israel's ultimate weapon, whose existence (like God's name) is not officially and publicly discussed in Israel, and has never been acknowledged?

Just as the most religious of Jews refer to themselves as God-fearing (Haredim) without daring to mention God's name, so there is an awe, fear, or ultimate respect for what is sometimes referred to as Israel's weapon in the basement.

As best as one can fathom, the weapon, if it exists, is meant to provide Israel with an ultimate protection against an enemy's final solution. It is not to be used casually. It is not even discussed by people likely to know of its existence, its numbers, the nature of its strength, location(s), how it may be sent to a target, or which units are responsible for guarding, maintaining, or activating it. Authorities have been very tough with the one individual who worked in the industry and went public with his knowledge.

Silence or ambiguity marks official policy. Israel does not want to use nuclear weapons, likely to signal its own catastrophe as well as others', and certainly does not want to be identified as the first country since World War II to use such a weapon, and thereby open a door to its further proliferation, more frequent use, and horrendous consequences.

Among the costs of silence and ambiguity, Israelis are not aware of the circumstances--other than a vague sense that it concerns something apocalyptic--when such weapons might be used. Reports are that the IDF activated its batteries during the first Gulf War when Israel suffered numerous scud missile attacks from Iraq, and sent out the word that it would respond with nuclear weapons if Saddam employed against us any of his chemical weapons.

We can do no more than wonder about those unconfirmed reports in connection with the chatter about Syrian chemical weapons, their possible transfer to Hizbollah, and however the Iranian threat develops.

And for those who feel provoked by these parallels between God and Israel's nuclear weapons, I will depart from my usual modesty and note that there is on my shelf, and in a library near you, a more wide ranging discussion of parallels between politics and religion. The Politics of Religion and the Religion of Politics (Lexington Books, 2000).


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 08:48 PM
August 24, 2012

In all the noise coming out of the White House and key spots in other governments, it is hard to know what is serious, and what is meant to soothe an audience of greater or lesser importance.

The latest mystery concerns a warning from Barack Obama himself against Syria's use of chemical weapons.

The words were sufficiently imprecise to leave the President whatever wiggle room he will want, but mentioned the possibility of American military action against Syria's use or movement of such weapons. One suspects that Obama's concern for Syrian civilians is his greatest priority, but we can also perceive a suggestion that moving the weapons toward Hizbollah may be part of the "red line" the President said that Bashar al-Assad must not pass.

Should we applaud, express dismay, or yawn?

My own thoughts, of doubtful connection to "reality" in this fuzzy space of interpreting the amorphous, lead me to worry about an excess of American humanitarianism that directs a well-intentioned, but naive President to the wrong target.

Obama is not the first. George W. Bush set the standard when he went after Saddam Hussein in the name of humanitarianism and democracy as well as weapons of mass destruction. No one found weapons of mass destruction, and estimates of deaths in Iraq since 2003 range from several thousand allied personnel to over a million Iraqis. The carnage is continuing in Iraq as well as in the United States as discharged but damaged soldiers kill themselves and others.

One can share Barack Obama's concern about Syria civilians who might be gassed, and see some support for Israel in his hints that the weapons should not be passed on to Hizbollah. However, he seems to be missing the major problem to us, the region, and further afield.

Israel Hayom captured it in a cartoon which showed Obama painting a solid red line in front of Assad carrying chemical weapons, and only a dotted line in front of Ahmadinejad carrying nuclear weapons. (see attachment)

Both my military experience and my access to current information limit my capacity to know what is happening and what may happen, but do not keep me from worrying and speculating.

My worries focus on the fuzziness of the White House's values and its understanding of the Middle East. The danger of nuclear weapons from Iran far outweighs that of chemical weapons from Syria. One can kill by the hundreds of thousands and destroy national infrastructures, while the other may kill by the hundreds or thousands.

I am also inclined to speculate that Israel can do what is necessary to keep Syrian weapons bottled up, and out of dangerous hands just as well--if not better--than Americans. I view Israeli intentions and capacities to protect Israelis from that stuff at a far higher level than my confidence in Barack Obama's intentions or capacities.

Other recent news--perhaps connected with the above--is that Hizbollah is training its cadres to invade and occupy the Galilee.

Is this more hyperbole from a leader who declared victory in 2006 and has been hiding underground almost all of the time since then? Or incitement ordered from Iran worried about losing its major ally in Syria and its link with the Shiites of Lebanon, and maybe even more worried about what Israel and/or the United States might do?

In all these mysteries, one is entitled to think about Israel's ultimate deterrent.That is the weapon that Shimon Peres did as much as anyone to obtain, that Mordecai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison and continues to be denied permission to leave Israel for talking about, and which no Israeli in authority is inclined to discuss.

I will continue in the mode of speculation caused by all the fuzziness coming from Washington, Jerusalem, and other capitals, with explicit threats coming from Tehran and Hizbollah.

Recent threats and commentary have spurred Israelis to crowd the distribution points for gas masks. Friday's headline in Yedioth Aharonoth is "Scandal in Gas Masks: 46 percent of Israelis do not have masks, and most will not have them." Next week we can expect panicked ministers demanding more money to acquire and distribute the masks.

Distant Americans and Europeans who have heard of the Holocaust should ponder the pressure on a Jewish government by survivors, their children and grandchildren. Predictions are not appropriate in this setting. However, should the chemicals start coming from Lebanon, I would expect great demands on Israeli authorities to use whatever they have against Lebanon and Iran.

Insofar as my own wee voice may not be the only one expressing these thoughts, one can hope that not all Shiites aspire to self-sacrifice, or believe that death will bring them the service of virgins.


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 02:48 AM
August 23, 2012
Republicans and Palestinians

If I've learned anything in a half-century of studying politics, it is that those who demand everything risk getting nothing.

Currently there are two examples of major players who haven't gotten that message.

One is the Republican Party of the United States, which, according to reports, is likely to include a plank in its platform calling for a total ban on abortion to be written into the Constitution, without exceptions for cases of rape or incest. What advocates call a "human life amendment" may better be described as the Sarah Palin event of 2012. For those who are confused by the linkage, a Sarah Palin event is one capable of leading voters who intended to support a party to either stay home or vote for someone else.

Republicans are also the people whose candidate for the Senate in Missouri--and crucial for their their hope of achieving a majority in the Senate--linked the words "legitimate" and "rape" in responding to a talk show host. The storm he set loose may lead party bigwigs to rethink the human life amendment in their smoke filled rooms, assuming that smoking is still allowed at political gatherings.

Abortion is one of the issues that causes residents of smaller places to wonder about the people who populate and lead the country that has so much influence upon us. In almost all other democracies, individuals can decide the moral issues for themselves, without the leaders of a major political party aspiring to write laws that limit their choices. It does not add to our confidence that the same cluster of politicians sought to bring democracy to the Muslim countries of the Middle East. And Barack Obama's obsession with Jewish settlements as the key to a peace process does not elevate the pinnacle of American Democrats above the pinnacle of American Republicans.

Outsiders gain support for their view that Americans are a daffy breed from recent polls showing Obama and Romney closely matched despite Republican aspirations for a human life amendment.

A Palestinian parallel to American Republicans shooting themselves appears in a speech by Mahmoud Abbas, the ostensible President of Palestine (West Bank), continuing in office despite his term expiring on January 15, 2009. His academic work, done in the Soviet Union, is said to have come close to--if not gone over--the border of Holocaust denial. Now, according to the Jerusalem Post, he "denies the Jewish connection to Jerusalem."

The occasion was the 43rd anniversary of the attempt by an Australian Christian to burn down al-Aksa mosque. According to Abbas,

""the fire, set by a criminal under the eyes of the Israeli Occupation Authorities, was the first [attack] in a series aiming to demolish al- Aksa mosque and build the alleged Temple in order to uproot its citizens, Judaize it and eternalize its occupation . . . (Israeli excavation work in Jerusalem, and tunnels underneath the mosque) will not undermine the fact that the city will forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian . . . there will be no peace or stability before our beloved city and eternal capital is liberated from occupation and settlement."

I know enough about politics to realize that it is appropriate to consume American party platforms with a grain of salt, if one considers them at all. And that statements, such as Abbas', made by politicians at ceremonial occasions, need not get in the way of serious negotiations. Nevertheless, a party platform offers clues as to who is in charge, and it is hard to imagine a candidate winning a presidential election without lots of votes from the broad center of the political spectrum.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process was dead--or at least deeply dormant--before Abbas' most recent comments. Responsibility for what seems to be a deadlock without end is hard to pin down. The possibilities include Palestinians' inability to accept Israel's existence and the end of their dream to undo history and return refugees plus their descendants to homes that no longer exist; the even more extreme sentiments of Hamas and its allies in charge of Gaza, whose rocket attacks aimed at Israeli civilians perpetuate their status as "terrorists" in the eyes of many governments; and several hundred thousand Israeli Jews living in "disputed" or "occupied" land, depending on perspective. The more extreme Jewish settlers, along with overseas allies, are convinced that God gave it all to us. The most extreme of them are on a similar wave of spirituality as Republican and Palestinian extremists. They view Palestinians as modern equivalents of Amalek.

"Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (I Samuel 15:2-3)

Most of the Israelis I know look upon advocates of the Amalek-Palestine linkage like they look at Americans obsessed with abortion and Palestinians who deny Jewish history, or want to turn back the clock of Palestinian history.

Another thing I have learned in 50 years of studying politics is that some problems can't be solved.


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 01:15 AM
August 22, 2012
Demsey, Obama, and Israel

The head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff caused a mini-row in Israel by remarks about Israel's capacity to deal with Iran's nuclear program. According to one view on a prominent Israeli web site.

"Once every few years Israel needs a slap in the face to remember where it stands in the world. On Tuesday it was US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey who assumed the role of the responsible adult and slapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak . . . Israel can "delay but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities," . . . .Dempsey's comments should be taken seriously, as should the stern message conveyed by Panetta, the White House and the American security establishment: If we can't reason with you, the Israelis, we will have to get tough."

I see Demsey candidly expressing the difference between American and Israeli perceptions and interests. His comments about delay but not destroy resemble what Israelis with military experience are saying. He has also said that American and Israeli professionals interpret the same intelligence about Iranian activities differently, that the Iranian threat to Israel is to its very existence while that is not the case with respect to the Iranian threat to the United States, and that he is not sure about Israel's intentions and capacities. He admits that Israel and the United States share a great deal of information, but not everything.

Israel is dependent on the United States, but not totally. The United States also is dependent on Israel, although the balance of dependence is by no mean symmetrical. On several occasions Israeli officials have tempered their actions with respect to one troublesome neighbor or another, in response to American demands. Who is dependent on who? The actions of each country in the Middle East depend to some extent on the other.

There is no precise metric to measure "dependence" in a global, interdependent world. Israel has demonstrated a significant level of independent action on several occasions.

All should understand that Israelis view Iran's nuclear program, along with its president's obsession with Israel, as a threat of Holocaust proportions, and remember the tepid response of the United States and other powerful countries to the Holocaust while in progress. Ending that threat, at least temporarily, will be worth the consequences of Iranian, Hizbollah, and Hamas retaliations that will kills hundreds or thousands of Israelis. Iranians, Lebanese, and Gazans should recognize, however, that Israel's subsequent retaliations are likely to surpass anything they have felt in previous encounters.

Involved in Israelis' recognition of their capacity to only delay Iran's nuclear program is the realization that "delay" can be a serious setback, and lead Iranians to realize the costs of their aspirations. True, some Iranians may be spurred to greater efforts by an Israeli attack, but other things can intervene and contribute to their continued frustrations. Observers said that Israel only delayed the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981.

Why doesn't Israel accept the American assurance that it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, and go about other business without an obsession with Iran?

There is a problem of trust. One can admire Barack Obama on other issues, yet not rely on his statements about Iran's nuclear program. His strong and repeated statements about negotiating with Iran have impressed Israelis as more of his naivete with respect to the Middle East. Most impressive, in a negative sense, was his demand that Israel cease construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem acquired after 1967. His approval rating among Israelis dipped to 6 percent by some reckoning, and 4 percent by others. It has improved since then, but he still has a problem with Israelis and with members of the Israeli government.

No surprise that perceptions correspond with politics. While Shimon Peres urges Israel to rely on the United States, Israel Hayom--the paper financed by Sheldon Adelson and closely identified with Prime Minister Netanyahu--quotes a former aide of Dick Cheney, "The American cavalry will not come to your aid . . . Don't count on an American attack on Iran . . . The United States will act only if something injures it." On the same page, the newspaper quotes the French paper l'Express on Obama, "He wanted to change the world, and disappointed . . . He did not live up to expectations."

The cartoon in Wednesday's Israel Hayom shows Barack Obama with paint and brush, saying "This is my red line. Don't dare to pass it." Part of the line in front of Bashar al-Assad carrying a chemical weapon is solid, but the line in front of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad carrying a nuclear weapon is a series of dashes, with space between them.

A set of recent Pew Research Center polls that covered several countries, but not Israel, found a general decline in overseas opinions about the president's record in foreign policy.

What happens will happen. My guess is that it is more likely to come from Israel than from the United States, with American officials and citizens responding as they will. If it comes before the election, and my fingers are still working, I am likely to comment.


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 04:01 AM
August 18, 2012
Peres, Netanyahu, Iran, and Uncle Sam

"Anybody but Peres" was the slogan in the Knesset when the Members were choosing between presidential candidates Shimon Peres and Moshe Katzav in 2000. Katzav received 63 votes to Peres' 57. Some MKs who had promised their support to Peres voted for Katzav.

Seven years later, it was clear that "Anybody but Peres" had put a rapist in the Presidential Mansion. The hope was that an older Peres might be less inclined to use the presidency for his own political agenda.

Israel's presidency was modeled after the British monarchy, with more ceremonial than practical duties. The country's first president, Chaim Weizmann, complained that the only place he could put his nose was into his handkerchief.

This week Peres celebrated his 89th birthday, and got headlines for a controversy that has been brewing for some time.

The lead paragraph in a New York Times article

"Shimon Peres, Israel's president and elder statesman, spoke out Thursday against the prospect of a lone Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, a message that contradicts the hawkish, go-it-alone line emanating from the offices of Israel's prime minister and defense minister."

The essence of his comments

""Now, it is clear to us that we cannot do it alone . . . We can delay . . . It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone."

It should be no surprise to those following Israel that Peres is on the side of the angels. Friday's headline on the front page of Israel Hayom quoted individuals close to the Prime Minister saying, "We were lucky that Begin did not listen to Peres in '81." Comments from similar sources (perhaps a journalistic convention to allow the Prime Minister to avoid a direct confrontation with the President) said that Peres not only erred in connection with the attack on the Iraqi nuclear facility, but also in his support for the Oslo Accords, and for the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza. Others said that the Prime Minister was angry and disappointed that Peres had departed from the presidential function and was expressing himself on a controversial matter of policy. An unnamed minister said that Peres' statements were "Very serious . . . a challenge to political office holders. . . at the end the political authorities will decide, not the president, who should remain representative and not political."

Peres is not the first of Israel's presidents to depart from the image of ceremonial figures who shy away from political controversies. Chaim's nephew Ezer had a stormy presidency (1993-2000), drawing criticism from the right for his initiatives in promoting a peace process with the Palestinians and withdrawal from the Golan. He also stepped over the line about accepting money from individuals with a likely interest in his influence, and resigned the presidency under public pressure.

Peres has been an asset to the politicians as well as an annoyance. He outranks all other Israeli public figures in his international standing. The Prime Minister has employed him as a distinguished emissary, more likely to be welcome than himself in foreign capitals.

Ha'aretz led off its Friday Internet edition quoting a former head of military intelligence who was even more pointed than Peres. As a retired professional, this person might also be said to have wandered improperly onto the political patch. However, this is Israel, which operates by its own flexible rules. Moreover, this former professional has joined a number of his former colleagues in speaking out on this issue.

"It is impossible to rely on Netanyahu and Barak. They are spreading hysteria and panic."

If Israelis with the authority to decide on such things are serious about attacking Iran, the continued discussion in the most public of venues is not the best way to do it. Debating a fateful decision is one thing, but advertising intentions about a military attack is something else.

On the other hand, if the intention is to spur the United States to action, the demonstration of nervous Jews arguing about a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of a nuclear Holocaust, and accusing one another of panicking in the context of an American presidential election, may be just what the doctor ordered.

It is far from the capacity of simple citizen observers to know what is serious dispute and what is performance at the pinnacle of Israeli politics. It may all be meant to get the Americans into action by suggesting that Israel might pull them in at an inconvenient time if they don't move with greater resolution.

I brought along my American passport during our recent trip to Scandinavia, against the prospect of an attack, the resulting stoppage of all passenger air traffic into a war zone, and the need to call in some of those refuge offers that we heard during previous crises. Now that we have made it back home, Varda is inquiring about the acquisition of gas masks.

During the crisis with Iraq in the early 1990s there was a national campaign to equip us all with masks and the antidote atropine, along with instructions on how to seal rooms with plastic sheeting, masking tape, and wet towels under the door. The gas didn't come, perhaps because Israel was said to have warned Iraq that its response would be nuclear. Some years later the government recalled all the mask kits, and has been confused and confusing about replacing them. The mass distribution is expensive, and an official report suggests that they may not be all that effective. A threat of nuclear retaliation might do the same job more efficiently.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:47 PM
August 15, 2012
Jews get less. The goyim are watching.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to file away last month's report by a committee headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, which endorsed an Israeli view of international law that Yehuda and Samaria (the West Bank) are not "occupied territories," insofar as they never were the possession of any country. The prime minister was not rejecting the committee's conclusion, but putting it in the archives without a formal endorsement in order to avoid international complications.

In other words, the Jewish state, like Jews historically, was settling for less than is due in order to avoid provoking the goyim.

Now lets hear it from the anti-Semites, self-hating Jews, both Jews and non-Jews who think Jews and Israel already have more than they deserve and should be a light unto the Gentiles, along with all the rest who think that I am just plain crazy.

I support the prime minister's action, but also feel it appropriate to call it as it is.

Israel is a tiny country, supported by some of the few Jews in the world, and by some other decent folks and governments. But it does best, like Jews historically, when it operates in full recognition of its limited power.

Israel's actions in the West Bank are limited, but more sloppy than elegant. Government officials praise settlers and provide them with subsidies. Policy is to avoid the expansion of existing settlements, and to allow construction only within the boundaries of those existing. Some of the settlements have "boundaries" beyond existing structures. Officials oppose "illegal" settlements, and occasional move against them, all the while proclaiming that Israel is a country ruled by law.

Another case of Israel accepting less than what is arguably its due concerns African migrants coming over the Sinai.

According to one view of international law, they may deserve consideration as refugees in the first country that they enter which is not their own.

That's not Israel. Egypt appears to qualify, where Israel can dump them all back and be done with them, along with a sense of being law abiding.

However, experience is that Egyptian police and soldiers are likely to shoot them on sight, aiming to kill. So something akin to an generous interpretation of international law and Jewish morals has Israel accepting them, at least for a while. An imperfect set of coping mechanisms includes keeping some of them in camps (what opponents call jails), letting some wander the country and earn their keep as best they can, providing medical care and other basic services, and putting some on a plane back home along with a thousand euros to keep them quiet and give them a fresh start where a thousand euros is a lot of money.

There is also a barrier being built, regulations against those working in the country to send money home, and occasional indications that Israeli soldiers are going a few meters into the Egyptian Sinai where the barrier has not been completed, seizing groups of migrants, and keeping them from continuing to Israel.

It's kind of messy, and not at all clear as to the effects of all these steps on the intentions of Africans to keep coming. The messiness also reflects an Israeli pattern of dealing with a difficult issue when Israeli leftists, overseas Jewish leftists, and the goyim are looking and judging.

International law is also messy. There are numerous provisions, some of which seem at odds with others, different ways of judging the meaning and importance of various sections, no proper judges to rule fairly without a political agenda, and no international force to apply their rulings in a professional manner.

Israelis have created a decent country, rated among the world's wealthiest, with its share of Nobel prizes, highly ranked universities, decent medical care with one of the world's longest life expectancies, and lots of reasons for Jews to complain.

Social services are not as good as in countries that have wealthier economies and lesser problems of national security requiring one of the world's most expensive armies per capita. A visit to Norway can easily make an Israeli jealous of all that water, hydro-electricity, oil, abundant fish for export, only a bit more than half of Israel's population, one of the world's three or four highest per capita incomes, a 25 percent value added tax that pays for lots of social services and helps keeps down the incidence of foreign tourists.

Jews may not, by nature, be a modest people. I've known Jewish nouveau riche who remind of the wedding scene in Goodbye Columbus. However, Israel's government must be modest. It lives in part by sufferance, and in part by its own resources and willingness to take risk in its defense.

Currently the most pressing issue is not the African migrants or how much of the West Bank Israel can settle, but what should it do about a country developing nuclear weapons and means of delivery, along with frequent declarations that Israel ought to be destroyed.

Israel does not have the resources to invade Iran, oust the current government, and make things right. It may have the capacity to destroy a lot of that country along with many of its people, but that is not an option on the table.

Israel may have the capacity to set back Iran's nuclear program, and maybe involve a bigger power in the operation.

That prospect is on the table, but is being discussed like Jews discuss things. Lots of argument, and with a concern not to do something that will upset too many of the goyim.


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 AM
August 13, 2012
The Jews of Norway-- a short note

Neither Varda nor I are Holocaust mavens. We know what happened. Varda lights candles each year for her uncle and grandmother, whose name she carries and who last wrote to the family from Theresienstadt on her way elsewhere. Neither of us have visited Yad Vashem in decades, since the site added several new buildings. I have written cynically about the Wiesenthal "Museum of Tolerance," meant to compete with Yad Vashem, and being built over protests on the site of a Muslim cemetery. Insofar as any construction over what are thought to be Jewish graves brings the rabbis and their students out in force, the creation of a Jewish Museum of Tolerance on a Muslim cemetery would best be designated as a Museum of Hypocrisy.

All that being said, we could not ignore the notation on an Oslo map of a Holocaust Center. I knew something about the Nazi occupation and its impact on a small Jewish community. Norway has always been marginal to things Jewish. Jews made their way here long ago, but never in impressive numbers. The history includes some minor pogroms, and a ban on Jews that was not enforced with great rigor, insofar as there never was much of a reason for authorities to pay serious attention to a few Jews.

Shortly before our trip, a religious Israeli asked why we were going to Bergen, where there were no Jews and nothing Jewish. There are direct flights from Israel to lots of provincial places in the former Soviet Union, but none to Norway or Sweden. In both Oslo and Bergen we heard fellow tourists chattering in Hebrew only a couple or three times. There is much more at other tourist sites during the summer travel season.

Some years ago we violated the boycott still then in existence that rabbis had declared against Jews visiting the city of York, due to a slaughter of its community in the early Middle Ages. Norwegian Jews never merited any such rabbinical edict.

Nonetheless, we found that anti-Semitism is possible without Jews, or without many of them. There are something like ten times the number of Jews in French Hill as in all of Norway. The Nazis managed to round up close to 800, with the assistance of the Norwegian police, and almost all of them died. That was perhaps a quarter of the country's Jewish population. Most of the rest escaped to Sweden, some of them warned the night before by Norwegians who were to take part in the roundup the next day.

Compensation for what the Germans and others did in Norway and other places is a knotty and emotional issue.

After the war, Norway was hard pressed on account of considerable losses and destruction. The government provided for the return of property and other assets confiscated. An official report issued years later included majority and minority opinions about the fairness of what the Jews received. Among the findings: Jews' losses were calculated like the losses of other people, despite acknowledgement that Jews were singled out because of their "race." Jews who had escaped were allowed back into the country, but--in contrast to non-Jews--the government did not pay for their transportation. Nowhere in the report is there an indication that Jews ought to have been compensated for the loss of family members or their own suffering. In this, Norway stands like other countries occupied by the Nazis, and perhaps somewhat better than some others, where the local authorities also did some of the dirty work.

If one is looking for a country that has paid a great deal for the pain and suffering of the Jews, including pensions paid for lost career opportunities, one can start and finish with Germany, noting that its most generous payments were for German Jews.

Oslo's Holocaust Center is part of the government's compensation to the Jewish community for families with no surviving members. Vidkun Quisling built the structure as his official residence, and it remained empty with no takers among Norwegians until it became the Holocaust Center. Its few exhibits have explanations in Norwegian only, but it provides an English-language summary of the community's history, its experience during the war, and recent episodes of anti-Semitism. Some appear to have been the work of the city's Muslim immigrants, and some no more destructive than tasteless comments of night club comedians.

Of doubtful merit in any discussion of Norwegian Jews is Anders Behring Breivek, responsible for a killing spree at a summer camp outside of Oslo in 2011. Among his angry, and perhaps mad writings (that point has been a matter of professional dispute) was testimony to strong feelings against Muslims, and in favor of Zionism.


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 06:18 AM
August 11, 2012
Political muddle

Israeli politics is currently more a muddle than usual.

Leaving aside the knotty problem of defining the "left," two newspapers identified with the Israeli and American Jewish left have published reports that define the problem of the left. Ha'aretz headlined a survey of Israelis finding that about half the adult population identify themselves with the left and hold attitudes associated with the left, but are put off by left of center parties and politicians. A majority thinks that right of center parties are better at governing, especially in the field of national security, and express general satisfaction with the results. Most troubling for the left are the findings that young Israeli adults are more inclined than other age groups to negative attitudes about the left.

The New York Times published an op-ed piece by one of Israel's leftist icons--who has assumed the titular position as head of an organization concerned to revitalize the left--that seems likely to worsen the sector's standing in the public, and maybe even among Israelis who still are thinking of voting with a left-of-center party.

Avrum Burg began in the home of Yosef Burg, a leader of the National Religious Party that has emphasized settlement in throughout the Land of Israel since 1967. Avrum is a story worthy of serious research. He remains religious, but early on entered the Labor Party and climbed to its leadership circle and served a term in the prestigious role as Chair of the Knesset. Then he resigned from the Knesset and moved further to the left, to the point where he went beyond Israeli conventions. In his latest New York Times op-ed, he begins by referring to Israel's prime minister as "warmongering," and continues

"Israel today is a religious, capitalist state. Its religiosity is defined by the most extreme Orthodox interpretations. Its capitalism has erased much of the social solidarity of the past . . . With the elevation of religious solidarity over and above democratic authority, Israel has become more fundamentalist and less modern, more separatist and less open to the outside world . . . When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle. Every time the prime minister says "peace" the world will actually believe him, and when he talks about justice and equality people will feel that these are synonyms for Judaism and Israelis."

It is not only the left that is in trouble.

Things are not rosy for the right. Polls are showing a significant drop in evaluations of Netanyahu, perhaps in frustration about his choice of continued rapport with ultra-Orthodox parties over a serious reform of Haredi exemptions from the draft and their economic benefits. However, a recent Saturday evening demonstration that was supposed to unite activists concerned to reform the draft laws along with welfare, taxes, and other issues under the umbrella of social justice attracted only 3,000 at the central site in Tel Aviv, and produced some pushing, shoving, and other low level violence between activists with different conceptions of social justice.

For some time now there has been tension among the various reform clusters. Last year's demonstrations of hundreds of thousands included many upper-middle class, two-professional couples seeking an even better deal on affordable and desirable housing, as well as free child care. There were also poorer, less well educated, and more hard-up Israelis, along with some having a touch of anarchism and an inclination to violence. Prominent in the mix was an anti-Haredi sector, fueled by animosity to ultra-Orthodox economic benefits and their lack of a military obligation. Several individuals had acquired a standing as "protest leaders" and did not produce an agreement as to who would lead in what direction. Some exploited he marginal phenomenon of self-immolators, while others spoke against any kind of extremism. Politicians seeking leadership of the left, middle, or left-middle, competing with other leaders who wanted politics to be kept out of their movement.

Commentators see no alternative to Netanyahu. Despite a drop in public regard, he still has the support of enough parties in the Knesset to preserve his government, and there appears to be no party or figurehead capable of unseating him and Likud should an election occur in the near future. Shelly Yehimovitch, the leader of the reviving Labor Party, is flawed for lack of experience in the politically crucial field of defense and international affairs. Security is still the elephant in the living room, trumpeting loudly with an Iranian accent.

Cynics with a flair for the conspiratorial see Netanyahu ordering an attack on the elephant before the American election. Not only might that cause a vote-seeking Obama to come into the fray, but whatever he does might not be enough for Mitt Romney, and thereby help the campaign of the candidate widely seen as Netanyahu's friend and favorite.

One doesn't have to be conspiratorial in order to appreciate the delicacy of the uncertain timetable associated with Iran's nuclear program, its threat against Israel, and the American election.

Last week''s small and unruly demonstration makes a muddle of what had been seen as prominent issues of equality and social justice.

The uncertainty bears some resemblance to one of my evening meals in Oslo. The menu was unintelligible. The waitress described something that was not exactly soup, and not exactly a casserole. It contained fish (what else in Norway?), vegetables and spices. It was better than passable, and the wine was good. But it remained on the edge of my skills to eat what was nearly soup with a fork, and beyond my skills to recognize the ingredients or to know which contributed what part of the complex taste.

There were no unpleasant aftereffects later in the evening or the next day.

I wish the same for the muddle that is Israeli politics.


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
August 07, 2012

Oslo is one of Europe's historic cities, having begun about the time William sailed to England. And a cool and damp respite from Jerusalem's summer, where midday is only for mad dogs and Englishmen. This trip is part of my on-going project to compare other old cities with Jerusalem in their treatment of iconic sites.

Oslo has scenery and architecture, but nothing to match Jerusalem's sacred sites. It also brings up 1993.

Convention is that the Oslo Accords of that year, between Israel and the PLO, were a failure.

I'll emphasize their success.

Sure, they did not bring a formal peace. Since then, there has been a bloody intifada and an even bloodier invasion of Gaza brought on by attacks against Israeli civilians. The Hamas rulers of Gaza will not talk with Israelis. The Fatah rulers of the West Bank and the Israeli government have been posturing for more than three years about whether to negotiate.

The enormously important "however" is that Israel no longer has responsibility for major Palestinian settlements.

Israel as well as the Palestinians enjoy the autonomy granted to the Palestinians. Palestinians are mostly on their own, even while lacking the panoply and prestige of a "state," with a formal vote in the United Nations and all that goes with having a real place in the world. Israel lacks the headaches of having to police, educate, and provide other services to a hostile population.

Differentials in power provide the Israelis with the capacity to enter Palestinian areas in order to assure its own security. That occurred regularly and massively once the intafada of 2000 got underway, even more emphatically in Gaza during 2009, and sporadically in recent times of relative quiet.

The Palestinian leadership also benefits from its amorphous status. They have a flag (or two depending on how one views the Islamic banner of Hamas), and representatives with the rank of "ambassador" in a number of countries. Depending on the internal politics, international organizations grant them membership or observer status.

Of greater practical importance, the de facto suspension of the timetables included in the Oslo Accords and the moribund nature of the peace process provide the Palestinians with their beggar's cup. Their tales of misery at the hands of Israel produces what may be the world's most lavish record of living off of donations from governments, churches, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. The United Nations recognizes them and their descendants as unsettled refugees more than six decades after acquiring that status. A recent report of the World Bank notes that the Palestine Authority's reliance on donations is so heavy, and its self-taxing and financial management so weak as to render them unqualified for statehood.

Explanations for the largess mention the voting bloc of Muslim states in international organizations, and the facile way in which vocal support for "Palestine" unites a cluster of countries whose governments disagree on so much else. The bloc not only gives the Palestinian cause weight in the deliberation of those international organizations, but makes other governments susceptible to Palestinian appeals in order to appease Muslim countries on issues that arise outside of the international organizations.

It also helps the Palestinian cause that the Holy Land is the focus of their claims. Christian churches and the governments of countries whose populations are mostly Christian can feel attracted to what is claimed to be misery in the place of Christ's birth and crucifixion. In the process they have to overlook the substantial evidence of Muslim persecution of Christians and the virtual disappearance of Christians from locales they once dominated in the Holy Land. It helps to have Jews in the stories of who is responsible.

One of my Palestinian students, an intense nationalist and non-religious Muslim, said that his people truly would be miserable and forgotten if they were not alongside of Jews in the Promised Land.

Can the present continue?

Jews with a more recent European or Middle Eastern family experiences than most Jews of North America are aware of having lived peacefully for years alongside of Christians or Muslims, with sporadic outbursts, That has also been the history of Jews in Palestine then Israel from the early 20th century to the present. The Jews of Israel have the IDF rather than the option of hiding in the cellar or with especially good non-Jewish neighbors. The weight of Israel and the moderation of its governments have provided it with favorable treatment, even by governments that vote with Muslim countries on symbolic expressions of Palestinan claims.

It will last as long as it lasts. Israel's military, economic, and political capacities have continued to grow despite routine expressions by the Israeli left, overseas Jews and non-Jews claiming to be concerned about our welfare, and saying that only major concessions will save Israel from an inevitable disaster.

So far, concessions offered by Israeli officials who thought they were major, along with their endorsements by western governments, have never been enough for the Palestinian leadership. Apparently it is easier for the Palestinians to stay with their beggar's cup rather than making the hard decisions of telling their people they cannot have all of their demands, and putting their finances on a setting more suitable to governing than the enrichment of those able to benefit personally from overseas donations.

Currently Arab Spring has becoe chaos in Syria, concerns about stability in Tunis, Egypt, and Libya, a tense quiet in Jordan, who knows what beyond the coverage of international media in Yemen and Bahrain, and much less than the ideal in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan.

It will be a while before we have to worry about a united Muslim army marching on Jerusalem.

Those of us an urban bus ride from the Prime Minister's Office do not know Israel's intentions about Iran. For the time being, however, we are aligned with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in being concerned about Iran. Along with those energy producers, we may actually get the United States and Europeans to do something in our behalf. Israel may act alone.

Norway has acquired a reputation as being anti-Israel. I stumbled across roots of that in the late 1970s, when lecturing above the Arctic Circle at the University of Tromso. My hosts guided me through three meter-high canons of snow to reach my venue, and said that some of their colleagues were staying away in protest against an Israeli lecturer.

The weather has been damp and cool, something like Jerusalem on a mild day in mid-winter. Once poor and an exporter of surplus population to places like Wisconsin, oil has made Norway one of the richest of countries on a per capita basis, but with an emphasis on middle class equality distinguishing it from those other oil exporting places. Georgraphy and architecture, and a good national art museum make it an attractive place to visit. Among the striking differences from Jerusalem, an abundance of statuary intead of our concern for graven images.


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 PM
August 05, 2012
Iran et al

Others can accuse Israel of bringing the world to the edge of disaster over Iran, but not for doing it without discussion.

It's been going on sporadically for several years, and may be reaching a crescendo.

Israel Hayom dedicated its weekend supplement to the subject, and gave it the headline "Before it will be too late." The lead articles carried the titles, "Bomb or Bombing: Poker with the Cards Close to the Vest," and "The Decision."

On the other side of the political divide, Ha'aretz had one item dealing with the role of an attack on Iran in Netanyahu's recent political manipulations, and another with the headline, "Netanyahu and Barak Decided, Apparently, in Favor of an Attack on Iran, but Are Not Certain of Implementing their Calculations."

Ma'ariv weighed in with "Did Panetta's Visit Calm Israel?

The contributions of Yedioth Aharonoth were items warning that attacking Iran would not be like attacking the Iraqi reactor, and that Israel was risking the loss of American backing.

We received more from two former heads of intelligence agencies on the Friday evening discussion programs.

One argued against the image that leading security figures opposed an attack, while Netanyahu and Barak supported it. He said that political and security figures spoke the same language, and were not all that far apart. Two government ministers are former heads of the IDF, while leading security figures have wide perspectives and substantial experience at the peaks of national politics in Israel and the United States. If there are differences in opinion between political and security personnel, they are nuanced and deal with timing rather than support or opposition.

Another talked about an Israeli attack likely within a few weeks or months, but then expanded his time frame to six months. Varda and I argued throughout much of our walk around the neighborhood about how to read between his lines. Neither of us convinced the other whether this former head of an intelligence agency favored or opposed an Israeli attack, or how certain he was that such an attack would occur.

Sunday morning's Jerusalem Post quotes another former security head as saying that Israel should not--and most likely will not-- act without the consent of the United States.

The Prime Minister has expressed himself against the chattering of retired security chiefs. He interprets their noise as being meant to oppose, or at least to cast doubts on the idea of an Israeli attack. "I will decide . . . and I will be responsible."

Prominent in last week's news was yet another threat by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the "annihilation of the Zionist regime."

The plusses and minuses associated with an Israeli attack are well known.
•Does Israel have the capacity to inflict anything more than a delay on Iran's intentions, and most likely upping its motivations to go nuclear?
•How many Israelis will die in the retaliations coming from Iran and its allies in Lebanon and Gaza? We have heard estimates of 300, 500, and thousands.
•Will Iran attack American installations in response, and bring in the United States even if Washington had stayed out of the first round, and may even have denied Israel logistical help and other measures of support?
•Will Israel's status in American politics suffer from the charge that Americans died in order to protect Israel?
•What if Israel attacks before the American election, and thereby challenges the political calculations of the man who may win a second term?
•Will sanctions by the United States and Europe bite hard enough to cause Iran to abandon what seems to be a project of the highest priority, and thereby make an attack by Israel or the United States unnecessary?
•Can Israel rely on the United States to deliver on its promise of keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
•Can Israel rely on mutual assured destruction vis a vis Iran? Assuming there is truth in the muddled reports about Israel's nuclear capacity, it will take years for the Iranians to match Israel's ability to destroy. Can Israel rely on that time frame as an opportunity for non-fanatical elements in Iranian society to take control?
•Against that is the element in Shi'ite Islam that makes self-punishment and suicide sacred acts.
•Can a nation built on the ashes of the Holocaust and persecution by Muslims ignore the Iranian equivalent of Mein Kampf?

What we do not know is Israel's plan of attack, and whether it will be coupled with pre-emptive strikes against the munitions acquired by Hizbollah and our neighbors in Gaza. Also among the unknowns is whether Israel has the military resources to do what is necessary to destroy what it must in Iran and keep its own civilian casualties at a minimum, whether the United States will help or turn a cold shoulder, and what comes next in terms of Israel's security as well as its continued acceptance as a partner in trade, political discourse, and cultural exchange?


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 03:38 AM
August 03, 2012
Thomas Friedman, Mitt Romney, and Sheldon Adelson

Mitt Romney and his crew were not at their best during the campaign trip outside of the United States. The candidate insulted the British in London, raised hackles of Palestinians and the politically correct everywhere with comments about the superiority of Jewish culture in Israel, and his press secretary lost his cool in Poland and responded to an unwanted question with, "Kiss my ass."

Romney also provoked Thomas Friedman to mix some of his clever phrasing with the same old obsession about Israeli responsibilities for a failed peace process.

"it was all about money . . . how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return. Really, Vegas would have been so much more appropriate than Jerusalem. They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas."

Friedman wonders about the capacity of Palestinians to respond positively to the most liberal Israeli offer imaginable. Nevertheless, the full weight of his argument is that Israel bears most of the responsibility, along with the United States for not putting enough pressure on Israelis. Romney will only make things worse.

Nothing about Hamas, in control of the Gaza half of Palestine, and its steadfast rejection of recognizing Israel's right to exist.

Arab Spring gets no mention in this article, yet it is arguably at least as much an influence on Palestinians' reluctance to depart from decades of insisting on non-negotiable demands as anything Israelis have been doing. For Israelis concerned about how the instability might work itself out, this looks like a good time to hunker down and wait for the neighbors to reach wherever they are going.

Friedman assigns responsibility to AIPAC and Jewish money in American politics for the setlers' claims that "the game is over, they've won, the West Bank will remain with Israel forever -- and they don't care what absorbing all of its Palestinians will mean for Israel's future as a Jewish democracy."

Who said Israel wants to absorb all the Palestinians of the West Bank?

That is the leftist alternative to the two-state solution, used as a threat so that Israel will be more forthcoming.

No combination of Israeli politicians I know anything about wants to accept responsibility for all the Palestinians of the West Bank. That is partly what the three-meter high concrete barrier is all about.

For Friedman, Romney illustrates what is wrong with other Jews, unlike himself. Romney was "pandering" during his visit to Israel, speaking as he did in order to get the money of the "American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson."

Friedman does not shy away from the a-word that Jimmy Carter helped to make famous in connection with Israel. After noting the resistance of Palestinians to good offers,

"It is in Israel's overwhelming interest to test, test and have the U.S. keep testing creative ideas for a two-state solution. That is what a real U.S. friend would promise to do. Otherwise, Israel could be doomed to become a kind of apartheid South Africa."

As his peroration, Friedman mixes all the boogey-people issues of Jews, money, uncompromising Israelis, and injustice.

"So how about all you U.S. politicians -- Republicans and Democrats -- stop feeding off this conflict for political gain. Stop using this conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ops and fund-raisers. Stop making things even worse by telling the most hard-line Israelis everything that they want to hear, just to grovel for Jewish votes and money, while blatantly ignoring the other side. There are real lives at stake out there. If you're not going to do something constructive, stay away. They can make enough trouble for themselves on their own."

A more nuanced, and less partisan analysis than Friedman's would focus on the actual expansion of settlements in recent years. Do they continue to creep across the diminishing landscape of the West Bank, or is there merit to the claim that the IDF's Civil Administration has only allowed modest expansions, mostly a "thickening" of existing settlements with additional dwellings? There is enough ideology in the movements that have taken upon themselves the promotion of settlement or denouncing it as evil (settlers complaining about a near freeze and opponents cursing settlers and the government as the source of Palestinian suffering) as to cloud our capacity to judge what is happening.

The lack of a Palestinian state is one of several anomalies in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. The status of Jerusalem is another. Both are caught somewhere in the language of United Nations resolutions crafted in the realities of the 1940s, and preserved by a cluster of elements including the Muslim voting bloc in international organizations, the politics of energy, the self-interest of organizations that live by perpetuating the status of refugees, Palestinians who have acquired wealth and status by promoting the politics of suffering, the aura of the Promised Land and the history of Christianity that gives the governments of predominantly Christian countries an inordinate interest in what happens here, and Jews whose selective reading of sacred texts tells them that God gave it all to us.

Neither the partisanship of Thomas Friedman and his status with the New York Times nor the partisanship and money of Sheldon Adelson will rid us of these anomolies. Policy planners ought to proceed on the assumption that they are with us for the foreseeable future.

How long will that last?

God may know. It is His (or Her) turf we are talking about.

Perhaps when people stop being religious, or responding to religiously-charged symbols, we can get down to business and solve this with political bargaining.

Don't hold your breath.


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 10:08 PM
August 01, 2012
Jerusalem, Romney, and Obama

Americans who identify with Israel, and who are looking for another reason to vote against Barack Obama, can find it in Monday's headlines.

"The White House: Romney must explain why he said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel."

Palestinians responded even more forcefully. Not only did they object to Romney referring to Jerusalem as Israel's capital. They insisted it is Palestine's capital. Palestinians also objected to Romney's praise of Jewish culture, linking it to Israel's economic development, and saying that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem if he were elected.

Why the concern of the White House with the hoary questions about Jerusalem rather than the more timely subject of Iran?

Perhaps because there was no discernible difference between Romney's comments on that topic and what the White House has been saying all along. Iran should not be allowed to develope nuclear weapons, and all options are on the table.

The city that spurred Crusades also provokes strong feelings in our generation. Yet it may help to recognize that esoteric claims about whose it is--if anyone's--has no substantial importance for Israel's security, prestige, or daily activity.

The city's status in international law--for whatever that means--is stuck in a limbo created in 1947 and reinforced in 1949. According to United Nations resolutions still honored by the United States and many other countries, the city is a separate entity, not part of any state, waiting an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, assuming it is they who have inherited the possibility of creating what the United Nations meant by an Arab state.

There were times when foreign dignitaries insisted on meeting Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, and when some would not visit the Western Wall or other sites in East Jerusalem while on official business in Israel. "West Jerusalem" acquired status as an Israeli city in some eyes, but not "East Jerusalem" after 1967.

I do not remember the last occasion when Israeli was troubled by such slights to its national pride. For all practical purposes, Jerusalem is not only an Israeli city, but also the capital. Visiting heads of state and diplomats conduct their business in Jerusalem at the official residences or offices of the Prime Minister and President, and the Knesset. They stay at the King David or one of the city's other plush hotels, and visit the Jewish shrines of the Western Wall on one side of the 1967 line, and Yad Vashem on the other side of that line.

Israelis living in Jerusalem or its environs receive their consular services (visas for visiting the United States, applications for Social Security payments and passport renewal and birth registrations for those who are US citizens) at the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which also serves the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Jerusalem Consulate officials represent the United States in "Palestine," doing what Embassies perform elsewhere.

Documents issued by the Consulate indicate that they come from Jerusalem, with no country designation. Israelis living outside of the Jerusalem area acquire documents indicating that they come from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel.

There is a spanking new Consulate building, a few meters to the east of the 1967 boundary, in what has become a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem. It replaces a structure in an Arab neighborhood, which felt like it was left over from the British era or even that of the Turks. On my visit to the new Consulate, I was impressed by improved access and facilities, but wondered how Palestinians from outside of Jerusalem reach it. The Consulate's website describes Israel's control over entry to Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, notes that access might be denied to non-Israelis for a variety of reasons that may not be made clear, and provides telephone and e-mail information for individuals seeking the assistance of the United States Government.

Israeli politicians take every opportunity to express the mantra that Jerusalem will remain a united and Israeli city. Some of us are willing to give up troublesome Arab neighborhoods that we never visit, but that is unlikely to happen without far reaching negotiations that are also not likely to happen anytime soon. Meanwhile, municipal and government authorities provide minimum (or less) services to Arab neighborhoods, a situation unlikely to change as long as Palestinians continue to press heavily against Arab residents of Jerusalem that they do not take part in municipal elections.

It is reasonable to note that Jerusalem is united, but only in a formal sense.

Residents of large American cities with ethnic ghettos they avoid can think in the same terms about Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Police enter some of them only when necessary, and in force. The fire brigade sends Arab personnel in order to minimize the stoning of efforts to save lives and property. There are Arab ambulance services and an Arab bus company that links Arab neighborhoods with one another.

Jews and Arabs pay their prices for sharing Jerusalem. The population ratio is about 63-37. Peace-loving Arabs suffer security checks on account of Arabs who are not peace-loving. Jews living near Arabs hear loud calls to prayer five times a day from mosque loud speakers, which some believe are upped in order to disturb the Jews. Those of us in near the city's eastern borders often cannot receive Israeli radio stations clearly, due to the Arabic music and chatter on the same frequencies, perhaps from pirate transmitters. Religious and nationalist Jews wanting to pray on the Temple Mount cannot do so. Israeli police act against them to avoid offending Muslims and another volley of stones onto the Jews at the Western Wall. Orthodox rabbis urge Jews to avoid the Temple Mount in order to keep away from sacred space whose precise location is not certain.

Israelis are used to American presidential candidates promising to move the Embassy to Jerusalem, then not doing it once elected. Perhaps the wonder is not that Romney said what was expected, but that someone in the White House thought it necessary to call him on the meaningless assertion that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

Mr. Romney was saying it as a tourist, not as President.

Ah! You say he was saying it as the Republican nominee.

Not yet.

And even if he was saying it as a major party nominee, we all know the value of campaign statements.

The White House making an issue of this may reflect the continued feeling of someone that the peace process still has some life in it, and all should be done to avoid offending one of the parties.

Challenging Romney on a campaign statement might not have been a presidential decision. What is called the White House or the Executive Office of the President is a big place that spills over into several buildings and employs a lot of competitive and anxious people, with perhaps 2,500 of them having "policymaking responsibilities."

Approaching 40 years here, I've never been bothered by the city's formal status, or its lack of a formal status that fits reality. There are neighborhoods I do not enter, but that would also be true if I lived in Washington, D.C.

Should the issue bother us?

Only if one expects perfection in politics, if one is looking for yet another reason to vote against an incumbent president who has not done or said everything that supporters of Israel prefer, and if one believes that Mitt Romney will be the first president to deliver all he promised in the campaign and to merit unqualified praise.

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 12:03 AM