September 29, 2012
Two speeches

We can learn something about Israel and Palestine from the speeches at the United Nations by the so-called President of Palestine and the Prime Minister of Israel.. One should note the "so-called" status of the Palestinian, insofar as his term expired in January 2009, and the Palestinians of Gaza recognize someone else as President.

For the full texts of their speeches, click here and here.

Several conclusions are reasonable. None can be offered with any certainty that it is the full story, objectively told. In the nature of such speeches, there is no end to the assessments of what the speakers intended to convey, what various audiences perceived as their message, and how the speeches will interact with other events to shape whatever comes next.

One reasonable conclusion--by one who has lived with the issues up close for more than half of a long life--is that Abbas spoke as the miserable leader of a weak entity, expressing helplessness and dependence by trying to blame someone else for what has been produced in his own regime by decades of corruption and missed opportunities, and seeking even more help from the UN agency that has coddled four generations of Palestinians. Nowhere in his language is a recognition of Jewish rights. He spoke about the persecution of Muslims and Christians, neglecting to note the it it mostly Muslim persecution that has emptied Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem of what had been Christian majorities..

"Palestine is intricately linked with the . . . United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees . . . which embodies the international responsibility towards the plight of Palestine refugees, who are the victims of Al-Nakba (Catastrophe) that occurred in 1948. . . . Settlement activities embody the core of the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people and all of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people.. . systematic confiscation of the Palestinian lands and the construction of thousands of new settlement units in various areas of the West Bank, particularly in East Jerusalem, and accelerated construction of the annexation Wall that is eating up large tracts of our land, dividing it into separate and isolated islands and cantons, destroying family life and communities and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families. . . . under a multi-pronged policy of ethnic cleansing aimed at pushing them away from their ancestral homeland. . . . The occupying Power also continues to undertake excavations that threaten our holy places, and its military checkpoints prevent our citizens from getting access to their mosques and churches . . . and to target Palestinian civilians by assassinations, air strikes and artillery shelling, persisting with its war of aggression of three years ago on Gaza, which resulted in massive destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques, and the thousands of martyrs and wounded."

Netahnayu barely mentioned Palestine. And when he did, it was to chide Abbas (and perhaps threaten some kind of retaliation) for the speech he had given an hour earlier from the same podium. One can also read Netanyahu as including Palestinians within the culture of backwardness, and darkness that has brought misery throughout the Middle East and threatens the forces of modernization and enlightenment in whose camp he firmly placed Israel.

"We seek to forge a durable peace with the Palestinians. President Abbas just spoke here. I say to him and I say to you: We won't solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN. That's not the way to solve it. We won't solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood. We have to sit together, negotiate together, and reach a mutual compromise, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the one and only Jewish State.Israel wants to see a Middle East of progress and peace. We want to see the three great religions that sprang forth from our region - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - coexist in peace and in mutual respect. Yet the medieval forces of radical Islam, whom you just saw storming the American embassies throughout the Middle East, they oppose this."

Netanyahu's principal mission went beyond Palestine or the peace process, widely viewed in Israel to be stalled or in deep coma due largely to internal Palestinian conflicts and intransigence. The incidence of Israeli Jews blaming Israel for the stall may be measured by the 11 (out f 120) Knesset Members of Meretz and Labor.

Iran was the purpose of Netanyahu's UN appearance. His cartoon depiction of the red line that should be drawn against that country's nuclear program was the high point of his speech. And insofar as Netanyahu with his poster appeared on the front pages of major newspapers in several countries, it may be fair to consider it the high point of the UN session.

Commentators and comedians have dealt with Netanyahu as poster boy, with the more generous of them recognizing that he was not trying to simplify what is a major task of technological and political analysis, as much as he was portraying the appropriate response to Iran as equivalent to what should have been done about Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

One can wonder, or argue, as to whether his red line was criticism of what Barack Obama has not said, i.e., parallel to his use of the phrase "libelous speeches" about what Abbas had said. Netanyahu spoke positively about the American President.

"For over seven years, the international community has tried sanctions with Iran. Under the leadership of President Obama, the international community has passed some of the strongest sanctions to date."

How much of this is fence mending by a prime minister who has been the annoyer in chef of the Obama White House, and how much is damning by faint praise?

We should remember Netanyahu's frequent statements that sanctions have been too little and too late.

And is this praise, or further annoyance by asserting that Netanyahu will provide the red line that Obama has failed to specify?

"Two days ago, from this podium, President Obama reiterated that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be contained. I very much appreciate the President's position as does everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program. This goal unites the people of Israel. It unites Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike and it is shared by important leaders throughout the world. What I have said today will help ensure that this common goal is achieved."

Public speeches are only a part, and perhaps the least important part of international relations. They are crafted for audiences in the speaker's domestic arena as well as in foreign venues.

The cartoonist of Ha'aretz dedicated two of his daily efforts to the speech. Friday's showed an upbeat Netanyahu on his way to the UN podium passing a downcast Abbas. Sunday's has Netanyahu relaxing at his desk with a satisfied gaze at a model of the red-lined bomb.

A splash of cold water on Netanyahu came from Ronald Lauder, son of the cosmetic baroness, financer, philanthropist, and activist in the United States and Israel, once a confidant of Netanyahu, and currently the President of the World Jewish Conress. The German magazine Der Spiegal headlines "Das wäre ein Desaster" an article quoting his warning against an Israeli attack without the help of its principal ally, the United States.

The plenary sessions of the United Nations General Assembly provide an assembly line for national leaders to make their presentations one after the other, separated by the polite applause of jaded diplomats. One can be impressed with the institutionalization of a world forum that has managed to survive almost 70 years of crises without going the way of the League of Nations.

We won't know for some time if Abbas speech will do aything more than express an bitter plea from a condition of helplessness, and produce nothing more than continued welfare payments. And if Netanyahu's speech was only a blip in the media, or an episode on the way to yet another crisis that will test the capacity of the "international community" to keep things like that from happening.


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 11:37 PM
September 27, 2012
Here we go again, on emigration

Every once in a while, certain themes return to Israel's headlines. One of them appears in Ehud Barak's recent call to withdraw settlements from the West Bank, which was the subject of my last couple of notes. Another is the hand-wringing cry against Jews who leave Israel.

Yom Kippur is a season of deep thoughts about one's conscience, and on the eye of Yom Kippur Israel Hayom's magazine supplement included an article by its most distinguished columnist, Dan Margalit, about Israelis who abandon the Zionist dream. Curiously, the English version is less harsh than the Hebrew version. The former features "Zionist dream" in its headline, while the latter features the nasty phrase that Yitzhak Rabin coined for those leaving, נפולת של נצושות. The term is not easy to translate, even while it clearly connotes some kind of low life. The weakest of the weaklings, or miserable wimps is the best I can do, even after consulting several dictionaries and my favorite native Hebrew speaker.

When Rabin spoke out about the phenomenon of departing Israelis, he was part of a wave of similar efforts that led me to arguments with a doctoral student who became my good friend and co-author, and who--against my advice--created an organization meant to discourage Israelis from departing. I was also moved to write, "Should the Israeli Government Combat Jewish Emigration?" (Jerusalem Quarterly, Winter 1987). That, in turn, produced an argument with the Minister of Immigrant Absorption, who came to my unit of the IDF lecture corps to promote lectures against the emigration of Israel's young men.

Since that wave of concern about emigration, Israel has been strengthened by a million Russians and more than a hundred thousand Ethiopians. There are now more than enough people in this small country, as well as the addition of beautiful faces with Slavic features and coloring and those of darker hue but no less attractive with the distinctive features shared by Ethiopians and Somalis. The new populations also add to what veteran Israelis had already done by way of congestion on the roads, crowding in the nature reserves and shopping malls, and a chronic increase in the price of housing. Israel's population has gone beyond 8 million. Its 6 million Jews account for more than half of those in the world. Israel is one of the most densely populated of countries, and even more crowded than shown by official figures of overall population per square mile insofar as about half of the country is empty desert.

Prominent reasons for opposing emigration are not so much economic or demographic as emotional. Margalit's recent article claims a national disaster, dilution of hope, destruction of the Biblical image of the return to Zion, abandonment of Jews' concern to take their fate in their own hands and the surrender of Jews' fate into the hands of others. He wrote about his disappointment in seeing the children and grandchildren of prominent individuals who contributed to the creation of modern Israel abandoning the country, and notes that the negative word used in the past for Jews who depart Israel, יורד, a person who "goes down," has been replaced with the neutral term "migrant."

There is at least a bit of irony in Margalit's writing his piece against the cross-national character of the Jewish population for his present employer, Israel Hayom. That is the paper of Sheldon Adelson, described by critics as Israel's Pravda or Bibipress, and representing an overseas billionaire's effort to influence Israel via a giveaway paper with the largest circulation of any Israeli daily. The latest on Adelson is a headline in Ha'aretz, "I will donate what is necessary to defeat Obama." If Grandma Tillie were alive, she would say something about the sin of immodest Jews.

Margalit recognizes that migration is ingrained in Jewish history. Substantial numbers of Jews departed the Land of Israel for opportunities in ancient times. Then, too, it was a small country with limited opportunities. Perhaps half or more of the Jewish population during the time of the Second Temple lived in communities from Persian, Babylon, Arabia, India and China in the east to Spain, North Africa, the Rhineland, Rome, Greece, and Britain in the west. Emigration also marked every generation of those who earlier migrated to Palestine and Israel from the late 19th century onward. Jews were prominent in the massive wave of migration from central and eastern Europe westward in the 19th century, and again after World War II. Those waves came from the push factors of poverty, persecution, and war-time destruction. Post-1948 departures from Israel come more from the pull factors of greater personal opportunities elsewhere.

Outmigration is not an easy phenomenon to measure. Legal immigrants have to register upon entering a country, and the numbers add up. Those leaving a country generally do not register their intentions in the way out. According to figures assembled by a US government source, Israel is among the countries with a substantial net in-migration, in a cluster that includes the United States, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Denmark. A number of Israeli sources--official and unofficial--produce different numbers for those living permanently or temporarily abroad. If they agree on anything, it is that the numbers of those emigrating, immigrating, and emigrants returning home fluctuate with economic conditions here and elsewhere.

Globalization being what it is, the phenomena of Jews and others moving away from and into Israel is something the country shares with others. Modern communication also makes it difficult to identify a person's place. We've met personnel in high-tech industries who live in one country and communicate electronically across national borders with their company and colleagues. Frequently travel, daily electronic commuting, and company mergers make it difficult to know if someone is working in Israel or elsewhere, for a company that is Israeli or something else. At least a few Israelis work in Europe four or five days a week and fly back for long weekends with the spouse and kids. Many Israelis with origins elsewhere have dual citizenship, and pass on their rights to Israeli-born children. Among the reasons are the ease of travel with a major country passport that provides entry elsewhere without a visa, the ease of working in the large markets of the United States or the European Community, and a concern that tensions in Israel may become intolerable.

Insofar as oy gevalt competes in Jewish traditions with dispassionate analysis, we should express no wonder at Dan Margalit's moaning about Israelis who leave for greener pastures, or what they perceive as environments that are safer, or less tense. Yet the bottom line of dispassionate analysis is that Israelis live longer than most other populations. Perhaps that is only the result of decent medical care widely available. There may be something healthy about Jewish genes. Or the stimuli associated with congestion and tension may help to postpone the bad sides of aging.


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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:02 PM
September 26, 2012
Better planning vis a vis Palestinians

Among the more moderate responses to Ehud Barak's proposal to withdraw some 30,000 Israelis from the West Bank (i.e, leaving aside those whose response was "absolutely crazy"), is the warning that planning must be better than in the case of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the withdrawal from Gaza was not ideal. Perhaps there was not enough Israeli effort to reach agreement with Palestinians.

On the other hand, perhaps no agreement was possibie. Hamas has come to rule Gaza with considerable popular support that may--despite elections that fall somewhat short of classic Chicago--justify the designation of "majority." Hamas qualifies for the label "extreme" in its refusal to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and it is buffered by factions even more extreme that send rockets toward Israeli towns and cities with or without the tolerance ,support, or encouragement of Hamas.

Could planning be any better for a withdrawal of numerous settlements from the West Bank?

What Americans and other westerners (and some Israelis) fail to recognize is the intensity of opposition to Israel within Palestinian society, and the weight of a political culture that has not accommodated itself fully to Israel's existence. The Middle East is not like the Middle West.

Despite a variety of opinion polls, we cannot be certain about the proportion of the Palestinian population that is opposed to Israel's existence to the extent of volunteering as suicide bombers or encouraging their children to suicide for the sake of Palestine or Islam. Or what proportions are politically indifferent, or appreciate that a closer relationships with Israeli and other western cultures can enhance their lives.

My own contacts with Israeli Arabs (including individuals who are Israeli citizens or Jerusalem residents and describe themselves as Palestinians) and other Palestinians are not likely to be a representative sample. They are primarily students at the university, with some of whom I have maintained a relationship of friendship, and friends I've acquired over the years in the university gym. Most seem to be political moderates. Some are intense Palestinian nationalists who have accommodated themselves to Israel's existence and have reached senior positions in its institutions. Some are politically active in Palestinian forums, or in one or another of the numerous entities seeking to improve relations between Jews and Arabs.

What is apparent from my own experience and a great deal of writing on the subject is the difficulty of individuals to depart from the norms expected and enforced within the communities of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. I have seen it up close in conversations about the failure of Arabs to vote in Jerusalem local elections. While Israeli citizenship is a requirement in voting for the Knesset, only local residence is a requirement for voting in municipal elections. The Arabs of Jerusalem (most of whom have not accepted the opportunity to become Israeli citizens) could select a third of the municipal council, and hold the balance in elections for mayor. Yet 90 percent or more refuse to vote.

The standard argument is that they are standing firm in opposition to the Israeli conquest and occupation of the city. Or--in more moderate versions--the Israeli conquest and occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

I have asked why they cannot vote for nationalist parties in the local election, and use their leverage in behalf of Arab causes. Examples would be more resources for Arabic-language schools, or better facilities in neighborhoods whose residents are largely or entirely Arab.

The responses are 1) the Jews would not allow it, 2) it doesn't work in the Knesset, and 3) the pressure from within the Arab community and authorities of the Palestine National Authority are so great as to prevent individuals from breaking the norm.

Reason #1 is nonsense. Not only has the expectation of Jewish opposition never been tested, but the record of Israeli judicial decisions and their respect by other authorities indicates that Jerusalem's Arabs could parley their political weight--if they used it--into substantial benefits.

Reason #2 is not persuasive insofar as the Arab parties in the Knesset have not played by the rules of political give and take. Instead of using their 10 or so votes out of 120 to tip things one way or another in exchange for benefits going to their constituents, the Arab parties devote themselves to immodest opposition. Some of the members pride themselves in operating at the edge of what is permitted by Israeli security regulations or laws against racist incitement.

Reason #3 appears to the the best reason for Arab avoidance of Jerusalem politics. Friends say that they cannot bring themselves to vote in Jerusalem elections, or encourage others to vote. I haven't heard about physical threats, but what seems to be intense social pressure. If my friends want to maintain their standing with friends and relatives, among professional associates and fellow political activists, they must recognize that participating in Jerusalem local elections is beyond the pale of what is acceptable.

What does all this say about careful planning for the removal of 30,000 Jews from the West Bank?

The same social pressure that prevents Jerusalem Arabs from taking the small step of voting in local elections appears to be operating to keep Palestinians from the much larger step of accommodating themselves formally to Israel's existence and reaching an agreement that takes all unresolved issues off the table.

Israelis and others argue as to whether Ehud Barak along with Bill Clinton offered enough to the Palestinians in 2000, or whether Ehud Olmert offered enough toward the end of his tenure as prime minister in 2007-08. Insofar as the Palestinian leadership rejected both offers, and avoided making any public counter-offers, it may be fair to conclude that any imaginable Palestinian leadership is not likely to accept an agreement considered decent by any imaginable Israeli leadership.

Yossi Beilin and his colleagues in the Geneva Initiative disagree. They have found Palestinian partners who say they would accept something more forthcoming from Israelis.

The Palestinian partners of the Geneva Initiative are political activists at a high but not the highest level of Palestinian society. They express attitudes similar to some of my students and gym friends. That is, they are personally willing to be forthcoming, but are not able or willing to do what is necessary to bring along the mass of Palestinian activists, and certainly not the religious and nationalist extremists inclined to violence.

Americans and others who like to imagine that all people are the same, despite their culture, might think of sensitive issues capable of provoking easily riled population groups in their own countries. Authorities in the United States and Western Europe are cautious lest they produce a spread of unrest among African-Americans or Latinos in the United States, or Muslims in Western Europe. Israeli authorities are cautious in dealing with Arabs and Haredim.

Some groups with a potential for violence are not in the ethnic, racial, or religious categories. They include students, some organized workers, "football holligans" well known to British authorities, and the combination of ideologues and troublemakers who gather around international economic meetings.

Police train their personnel to avoid missteps that may provoke widespread violence. Rodney King and Kent State are extreme examples of what can go wrong.

Does this make me pessimistic about the future of Israel or Palestine?

It doesn't make me ecstatic, but the present anomoly seems to be a decent accommodation in the context of political and social realities. Israelis live better than Palestinians and Israeli Jews better than Israeli Arabs. Western parallels are comparisons between the US an Mexico, and internal comparisons between ethnic majorities and others. Overall, the conditions of Israeli Arabs are arguably better than those of American or European minorities. (Note the data that Israeli Arabs are healthier (as measured by life expectancy) than American whites, and much more healthier than American minorities.)

Conditions of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians could improve with respect to those of Israeli Jews, but that depends at least partly upon their fuller accommodation with Israel's existence, and their leaders' capacity to take the political steps appropriate in the directions of engagement, compromise, trade-offs, and deal making.


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 11:05 AM
September 24, 2012
Brilliant idea, or Hail Mary pass that nobody will catch?

Ehud Barak is featured in the top of the front page headline of Monday's Israel Hayom, "Barak's Plan: Withdrawal, maybe one-sided, from Yehuda and Shomron"

Inside are the details. It is time to make hard decisions about the West Bank in order to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian State if the Palestinians want it. Israel should negotiate its absorption of settlements containing some 90 percent of the settlers. Those are, principally, Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ariel, and the towns near them. Israel should withdraw from the remaining small settlements, offering their residents compensation and alternate places to live either within pre-1967 Israel or the settlement blocs to be retained. Families or communities who do not want to leave the settlements to be abandoned will remain under Palestinian government, starting with a trial period of five years. Israel will retain troops on the strategic heights that threaten the international airport, as well as in the Jordan Valley. If the Palestinians can't accept something like that, Israel should proceed to do it unilaterally.

Why now?

Barak says that Yom Kippur is a time for soul searching and remembering history. He may be referring to the Yom Kippur War, which this year is being marked by a new book describing a plan offered by Sadat and promoted by Henry Kissinger before the war, which Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to consider.

It might also be Barak's Hail Mary pass. The party that Barak led in its split from Labor in January, 2011 (Independence) currently has five MKs. Polls have cast doubt on its winning enough votes to qualify for the minimum of two MKs required in order to enter the next Knesset.

Barak has been wavering with respect to the prominent issue of Iran and the United States. He has been identified as the strongest supporter in the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu's inclination to attack, and sometimes viewed as the man pushing Netanyahu in that direction. (Their long time personal relationship goes back to when Barak was Netanyahu's commander in an IDF elite unit.) At other times Barak has expressed understanding and even support for Barack Obama's posture that Israel should rely on the United States, that the United States will not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons, even while the United States should not indicate just when and what it will do to prevent that from happening.

Barak's initiative may be his effort to reinstate himself as the left-of-center alternative to Netanhayu and Likud. The current leader of the Labor Party, Shelli Yehimovitch, has anchored herself as a proponent of social justice, and has no experience in Israel's iconic issue of defense. Barak became known as a military commander. He led the operation (with Netanyahu among the participants) that freed the passengers of the Sabena airliner hijacked in 1972. Eventually he became the IDF's commanding general. His political career has included terms as Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, and Defense Minister. He has been an active Defense Minister, on some occasions seeming to dominate the military head of the IDF within the general's nominal realm of command.

It will not be easy for Barak to get back to a prominent political slot to the left of center, even if his campaign takes off about solving Israel's problems with the Palestinians. While widely viewed as brilliant, creative, and an expert on things military, he also has a reputation for being prickly in the extreme, not tolerating fools, critics, or rivals. He made enemies among party cadres during his leadership of Labor, which he added to by his exit from Labor. While a political analyst should never say never, Barak will have a difficult job getting back into the leadership of the Labor Party, if that is what he wants.

One should also ask if his dramatic announcement will attract anything more than instant rejection and ridicule from Palestinians. His minimum demands do not corresponde with what they have indicated they would accept with respect to the territory he would absorb within Israel, as well as his concern to maintain troops at strategic points in what he suggests might become Palestinian.

Without Palestinian support, Barak's idea of unilateral withdrawal looks too much like Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Against Israelis who argue that Sharon's unilateral withdrawal worked to Israel's advantage by removing a chronic source of friction, assassinations of settlers, and casualties among troops needed to guard them, are Israelis who argue that it signaled weakness, and invited continuing missile attacks on southern towns and cities. A similar withdrawal from the West Bank will invite missile attacks from points even closer to the congested center of the country.

Already lining up on the side of "bad idea" is MK Dan Meridor (Likud). MK Silvan Shalom (also Likud) "all but dismissed the proposal."

"We must remember that this was Ehud Olmert's plan in the 2006 elections . . . But it must be said that I don't believe that Barak will be in such a position that he will be the person that decides in 2013 what the exact stance of the government will be."

Yom Kippur adds symbolism to the timing, but also problems. For about 30 hours beginning Tuesday afternoon there will be no newspaper, radio or television, as well as virtually no road traffic or planes landing and taking off from the international airport. If it is a normal Yom Kippur, Wednesday evening's news will be about how many Israelis fainted during the fast, and how many children required medical attentin on account of mass bicycling on normally busy roads. We'll only know on Thursday if Barak's idea has survived the lull, or passed immediately into the bulging cabinet of other suggestions thought brilliant by some, but seldom mentioned after an exciting announcement.

גמר חתימה טובה

May the Almighty sign you up for a good year.


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 10:12 AM
September 22, 2012
Clashes of civilizations

It's been three years since Barack Obama's Cairo speech, 11 years since 9-11 and the onset of efforts to reform Iraq and Afghanistan. If Americans and others still need to learn about the Middle East, they might focus on continuing riots over the Muhammad film ("Innocence of Muslims"), topped up by protests against cartoons published in a French magazine.

The latest wrinkle in the protests is the burning of movie theaters in Pakistan, although it is unlikely that any of those theaters were showing the film. Another 15 dead in that country, where the violence against the insult to Islam pits Muslim against Muslim.

(Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. On one of my visits a man by the name of Herbert Feldman sought me out. He came to India as a British soldier in World War II, stayed on, converted in order to marry a Muslim, and wanted to talk to me about Israel.)

Further insight into the clash of civilizations comes from comparing Muslim protests against perceived insults with Israeli protests against the ever more constant phenomenon of anti-Semitic cartoons, films, and school lessons that are standard in Palestine, Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere. For examples, click here, here, and here.

For examples of violent protests throughout Israel against those items, you don't have to click. Their absence makes the point.

A former student who attended a conference of Israeli high school civics teachers reported that the emphasis of most participants was the need to emphasize the civil rights of the country's Arabs. There is some concern that leftists have taken over civics education.

A parallel squabble about the political science department at Ben Gurion University concerns the teachers' tilt toward "post-Zionism" or "anti-Zionism." The Council of Higher Education, responding to a report from a committee of international experts, has moved toward a suspension of the department on account of its departure from a conventional curriculum. University officials are standing by the principle of academic freedom. So far no burning of buildings or other violence, but argument will continue toward the opening of Fall Semester after the holidays.

A Bedouin Member of Knesset initiated a suit in a Jerusalem court, asking that Google be required to block access to the Muhammad film for browsers in Israel.

According to one of the supporters of the ban,

"Islam is a religion of love, living together like brothers, and good livelihood. It's lies what they said, and anyone who said anything bad about Muhammad needs to have their tongue cut out."

Those noting that Islamic love like brothers includes cutting out the tongues of those who disagree might also have noted from one of the clicks above that a school lesson about hateful Jews and neighborly Muslims also praises parental beatings of kids who don't get the message.

The court rejected the demand for an immediate injunction against Google, and asked the parties to return after Succoth with additional briefs.

One of the judge's comments did not bode well for those wanting to prevent the film from reaching Israeli clients of Google.

"Whoever does not look for the film will not find it, so the public who would be offended by the film can avoid seeing it,"

Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations spawned an academic and journalistic industry of advocacy and criticism. Most obvious is the point that the notion of civilizations is overly simple. It overlooks variations within nations and regions said to share cultures.

That's true, but about as banal as the film provoking current protests.

"Oversimplification" is true of all theories within the social sciences. They are meant to guide rather than explain everything.

Edward Said went further than others in criticizing Huntington, and expressed his own version of an Arab's tolerance for dispute. He described Huntington's idea as a "vulgar notion," "invidious racism" and "Hitlerian science."

Israelis need no reminder of multi-culturalism within their Jewish communities. Secular, religious, and ultra-Orthodox Jews squabble with one another as well as among themselves, along with settler activists against Jews who see everything over the 1967 border as Palestinian..

Neither Huntington nor Said are alive, so we don't know how they would comment about responses to the Muhammad film and the French cartoons.

While both American and French sources are lamenting the film and cartoons, and defending the right of free expression, American and French embassies and consulates throughout the Muslim world are giving their personnel a vacation, and in some cases transporting senior diplomats and employees' families out of those countries. The German Interior Ministry put on hold a poster campaign meant to counter radical Islam, out of concern that now it would infuriate the 4 million Muslims living in the country.

Those of us living close to the borders of civilization (Isaweea is 200 meters from these fingers) need no reminders of the differences. There was a fire fight Friday on the Egyptian border that resulted in the deaths of one Israeli soldier and three Arabs. It is not yet clear if they were Bedouin from the Sinai, or Palestinians coming from Gaza through the Sinai. Their munitions suggest that they were on their way to whatever mayhem they could create within Israel.

Another clash of civilizations is likely to erupt when Israeli delegates raise the issue of Jewish refugees at a meeting of the United Nations. The topic is an old one, which Israel raises every so often in order to remind the world that the matter of Middle Eastern refugees is more complex than in the Palestinian narrative.

The well-known difference (parallel to the difference between Muslim and Jewish responses to offensive films and cartoons) is that Israel has absorbed Jewish refugees. They and their descendants have reached everywhere in the society, including my own family. Arab countries have preserved the misery of Palestinians by denying citizenship and the opportunities that come with it. Squalid neighborhoods, called refugee camps, are useful to repressive regimes in their fight against Israel.

Obama and Romney are doing their best to be politically correct with respect to freedom of expression, insults to Islam, and Muslim violence. The issues are on the campaign agenda, although outside the purview of the presidency. US Courts may have to express themselves about the film. The White House can avoid dealing with French cartoons.

Another clash of civilizations is the tiff between Bibi and Barack over Iran's nuclear program. It is not simply a dispute about when to stop the Iranians. It is a more profound difference in perspective between a small and vulnerable country under the shadow of the Holocaust and close to Iran, against a large and distant country whose leadership is tired of wars in the Middle East, would rather argue about the domestic economy, and may only be paying lip service to the Jews.

From reading the media as well as some emotional notes in my mailbox, it appears that American Jews are lining up pretty much where they align on other matters. Dennis Ross and Alan Dershowitz, described as "high-profile supporters of both Israel and US President Barack Obama," are among those trying to assure Israelis that "Obama has your back."

A Republican group, not exactly under the control of Mitt Romney, featured Bibi in a clip it has broadcast in Florida, where he is not so obliquely criticizing Obama for failing to clarify what he would do about Iran.

That has produced heightened criticism of Netanyahu for violating the Israeli norm of staying neutral with respect to American politics. That, in turn, brought disclaimers of involvement from the Prime Minister, as well as a visit in Chicago between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who most likely is still in touch with the White House.

According to the Chicago Sun Times,

"Emanuel and Barak -- friends for some 18 years -- lunched in Chicago's City Hall and the mayor presented him with a six-pack of Chicago's Goose Island 312 beer."

With friends like that, we'll hope for the best, despite clashes of civilizations.


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 06:24 AM
September 20, 2012
What is politically correct-- for politicians

Mitt Romney reminds us of a basic political lesson.

Politicians should lie.

What's this? An academic with a career in political science at distinguished universities saying that politicians should lie?


If they don't learn it from me they'd better learn it from someone else.

Even when they tell some of the truth, they should not tell all the truth. Or they should speak in a way that conveys different truths to different audiences. And pay lip service whenever they say anything.

Hebrew adds to this lesson. Its version of lip service is מס שפתיים. Lip tax. Or a payment that must be made to keep people satisfied.

Speak truth to the power of the people?

Not if you want to be elected.

American politicians may have to obfuscate more than others, on account of their government being so important for so many people and countries. They must pay a great deal of lip service or lip tax in order to keep all the domestic and foreign interests at least minimally satisfied.

Romney violated these rules when he articulated what should be obvious to all who are realistic about Israel and Palestine. The Palestinians are not prepared to create their own country, or they can't make it happen, on account of their violent factions and the slogans repeated since 1948 that they have a monopoly of justice and all of them--along with children, grandchildren, greatgrandchildren et al--will return home.

Don't fool yourselves into thinking that Palestinians' inability to create a state alongside Israel means that there will be one country with Israelis and Palestinians together.

No Israeli government I can imagine will let that happen, and no other government will force the issue.

The Palestinians seem destined to be stuck with an anomoly. No state, a considerable measure of autonomy except when they don't control the violent among them from acting against Isaelis, along with Israeli Jews living here and them among them.

It isn't neat or conventional, but it works, and no other arrangement seems feasible.

Romney also said the Iranian leadership was crazy.

Again something we should know, but not what a presidential candidate should say in public.

This is not the first time Romney's "private" remarks have gone public.

He managed to insult the British with a remark about their management of the Olympics in London. A spokesman (almost as bad as the candidate himself saying it) responded with "kiss my ass" to a reporter in Poland. A comment by the candidate leaked from a fundraiser about 47 percent of the American public who don't pay taxes and are dependent on the government has opponents licking their chops about him insulting half the electorate.

Either he doesn't know the rules of the game, or his aides don't have sufficient control over him or the people who come with cameras and recording gadgets to "closed" meetings.

What he said about Palestine and Iran is well known, but American presidents don't say those things out loud to the public.

Sometimes we wonder if they are aware of the realities..

That sentence of Hillary Clinton about Libya ("How could this happen . . . ?") still echoes and should make us concerned that American office holders really don't have a clue. That is the most disturbing possibility in the arena where vagueness, symbolism, platitudes, and obfuscation are the languages of politicians, and the rest of us understand what we want to understand.

Will Romney's honesty (or naive outspokenness) cost him the election?

Not among Israelis who notice what he said, but the vast majority of us do not vote in American elections.

Academics and journalists will argue about what shaped the outcome. As always, their problem will be to isolate one element (Romney's loose tongue) from all the other factors--personal and party traits, economic and international conditions, and events during the campaign--that will have a part in determining who wins.

In the event that he does win, will comments during the campaign affect his presidency?

According to a New York Times headline, "Middle East Comments Could Vex a Romney Administration."

However, against the possibility that Arabs and Iranians (along with Brits, Poles, and 47 percent of the American public) will carry suspicions about President Romney (if there is such a creature) out of the campaign, is the likelihood that other elements will also influence how they react to whatever he and others in his administration eventually say or do.

Along with the lesson that loose tongues are problematic is the lesson that the American government is one of the world's largest, most complex and internally competitive institutions. It speaks in many voices. There are strong competitors for the attention of the president, Congress, and key officials in the administration that shape decisions (often contradictory) that come out of the policy machinery.

One can also ponder the impact of honesty and obfuscation on the well being of democracy.

The language of politicians--and perhaps a higher percentage of successful politicians--lessens the quality of democracy insofar as voters really do not know what they are likely to get as a result of voting one way or another.

What do Obama or Romney really think?, and what do they really intend? (not the same questions) about the variety of issues they are likely to face as president?

We also know enough about government to realize that what a candidate thinks or says during a campaign need not be the same as what the victor thinks, says, and does months or years later when conditions have changed.

All of the above tells us that the words of candidates are less important than the tone, the drift, the music, perhaps also the body language, along with the national mood, and how the media portray what each says. Do not forget personal and family traditions (lots of people vote like their parents), and whatever public and personal drama occurs during the campaign. Then after the election are the fluid events domestic and international, and the many voices as to how officials should react.

Democracy may be more desirable than other forms of government, but don't imagine that reasoned debate and a studied consideration of the alternatives during a campaign determines who wins and the subsequent actions of government.


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
September 18, 2012
Jimmy Carter vs Sarah Palin

From here, it looks like my American friends are facing a choice between Jimmy Carter and Sarah Palin.

Barack is Jimmy, nebech in chief with respect to dealing with the important region of the Middle East. Like Jimmy, Barack has a naive hope for democracy among the countries with no cultural foundations for democracy, and is antagonistic to the one country that is as democratic as any in the West and the closest to being a reliable ally of the United States.

(nebech is one of those Yiddish terms hard to pin down. One source uses the terms fool, ineffectual,clumsy, and pathetic.)

Mitt is too much like Sarah. He may have a better grasp of history and geography than the pretty lady from Alaska, and had a decent record as governor of Massachusetts, but he has signed on with the Neanderthals in his party. Opposition to public health care and other features shared by decent, modern, and respectable democracies puts him in the category "anybody but them" created when John McCain chose his running mate.

The problem is that the alternative is too much like Jimmy.

This region is important not only to those living in it. Oil and gas, along with religious fanaticism potentially coupled with weapons of mass destruction define its importance. There are a billion Muslims, with an increasing number of them living in Western Europe and the United States. Many maintain their insularity and fanaticism over the course of generations. 9-11 represents one bridge between places like Saudi Arabia and American immigrants. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, formerly of Ft Hood, is another. Britain, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark have their stories.

The ongoing violence against that banal filmlet should be sufficient indication of what Moshe Arens said repeatedly, that the Middle East is not the Middle West. There are signs that Americans are taking note. However, there are voices within the administration holding to the same naivete that the President expressed in Cairo and later, i.e., we have not tried hard enough. . . . perhaps greater pressure on Israel, and intervention on the side of the good guys in Syria will fix things.

Hillary's expression of juvenile amazement ("How could this happen in a country we helped liberate?") is the best example of Americans who think that the Middle East is like the Middle West. Pity the rest of us--as well as my American friends--that she is nominally the advisor in chief of the commander in chief on matters of foreign policy.

Culture matters. Religion is an ingredient in culture. In case you haven't noticed, those Muslims screaming, burning flags, breaking windows and killing do not resemble the decent Episcopalians of Indiana and Ohio.

Perhaps some of the rampaging is not so much religious fanaticism as animosity toward American power, arrogance, and interventions. Some of us are old enough to remember "Americans go home" from Western Europe of the 1940s, even while it was being saved by Americans from fascism, communism, and starvation. A Muslim friend, who I know to be moderate on things religious, has used one of the nastiest terms in Arab culture,"Crusaders," to describe American actions in this region.

American officials and commentators are piling on Prime Minister Netanyahu for insisting that the administration define red lines with respect to Iran's nuclear program.

It is true, as Netanyahu's critics say, that red lines limit options where a government must have flexibility. However, that is only for red lines publicly announced. One can assume that Netanyahu asked for greater specificity in private communications, in order to have assurance that the United States was serious about preventing Iran's development of nuclear weapons. The administration's campaign to ridicule Netanyahu, by suggesting that he was demanding a public announcement of red lines, adds to the conclusion that the Obama administration is not serious about stopping Iran. Need we find more reasons to think of Barack Obama as Jimmy Carter?

A prominent trait of culture is its resistance to change. Americans have been insular and parochial, with a certainty about their superiority, since the Pilgrims and Puritans settled in became my native state of Massachusetts. The slogan of the Revolution against taxation still shows itself. Need we cite the Tea Party's self-assigned label, along with its opposition to mandatory health insurance and other features of modern democracies?

One should not exaggerate the ease of reforming the United States. Breaching the power of profit-makiing health insurance companies and making basic coverage universal, extensive, and hassle-free may be the equivalent of finding a way to end slavery in the 1850s without a civil war.

More important for me--with better mandatory health insurance than anything imaginable in the United States--is that Americans at the peak of the current administration seem unable to abandon the notion that Middle Easterners can be dealt with like Middle Westerners. Rational discourse coupled with reasonable incentives of cooperation are not the ways of populations that swear by the Protocols and persecute Christians.

What can happen as a result of American insularity, ignorance, and stubbornness?

Note that I wrote "can" and not "will." I am dealing with possibilities and not predictions. The possibilities are many, and there are no good reasons for anything close to certainty. Each of the following can be broken down to variations in detail.
•Increasing sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western countries, that serve to produce change in Iran, perhaps by severely worsened economic and social conditions that the regime cannot withstand
•Further cases of sabotage directed at Iran's nuclear program, that serve to postpone and perhaps deter its development of workable weapons
•Israeli military action, with who knows what degrees of effect, and a capacity to produce a wider conflict involving American military bases and energy exports from the Gulf

Among the least attractive possibilities is Americans led by their innocence and a simplistic humanitarianism to think that the most pressing problem of the Middle East is the carnage in Syria.

It is not my intention to praise Bashar al-Assad. However, there is a point to the view articulated by Russian officials that a regime has a right to defend itself against rebellion. I know that world norms have changed over the last century and one-half, and such a statement as follows will be viewed by many as sacrilege. Nonetheless, Assad so far remains far from the carnage that Abraham Lincoln invoked to protect the American Union.

It is tempting to work against the Assad regime, but the ramifications are not clear. Apparent from the reporting, claims, and rumors are a variety of uncoordinated opposition groups. They are receiving enough assistance to keep going (what some call insufficient dribbles of money plus light and medium weight munitions) from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States, along with one or another kind of aid from the United States government and western do-gooders. Among the contenders for power are Muslim extremists, some under the umbrella of al-Qaida. What emerges from the best intentions of assistance may be no better, and even worse than what the Assads have provided, especially for the non-Muslim Syrian minorities .

Americans are investing a great deal of effort in planning for Syria's future. One hopes that the folks in charge are as cautious as the New York Times.

"Mindful of American mistakes following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, (the State Department and Pentagon) have created a number of cells to draft plans for what many officials expect to be a chaotic, violent aftermath that could spread instability over Syria's borders . . . "

Our Israeli mandatory health insurance is far better than the best assessments of what Obamacare promises, and other social services are thankfully closer to European than American norms. Sure, our taxes and what we pay for gasoline are above those tolerated by the mass of Americans who deserve the label of libertarians (and considerably above the levels demanded by Americans who pride themselves in the label of libertarian).

I do not envy Americans their presidential choices. Barack Obama looks much better for things domestic, but comes with the baggage of Jimmy Carter on the world stage. And there--sad for the rest of us--is where the United States is dominant. Mitt Romney may be wiser about things international, but he comes with those who thought Sarah Palin should be Vice President.

Here we have Bibi Netanyahu, at least until the next election, and quite possibly beyond. He may not be the ideal politician, but a half-century in the business has convinced me that there is no such thing. He ranks far above any available American alternatives in understanding this region. He is not America's puppet. But there are strings.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)

Department of Political Science

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tel: +972-2-532-2725

Cell: +972-54-683-5325

Fax +972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:04 AM
September 14, 2012
Who's naive?

An Israeli should be careful in criticizing the United States.

One reason is pragmatic. The United States--like all the rulers of empires in the past--holds our fate in its hands. True, the United States does not aspire to rule in the fashion of Rome or latter day Britain, but the mixture of money and occasional military intervention minimizes the difference between aspirations to rule and aspirations to influence.

Another reason is intellectual honesty and fairness. It is wise to recognize America's own hierarchy of interests. "Its the economy, stupid" (Bill Clinton) and "All politics are local" (Tip O"Neil) represent two important caveats vital to our understanding.

America's distance from the Middle East has shrunk a great deal since the inspiration of the Marine hymn (From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli). However, it remains far away There can be no doubt that their local economy is far more important to Americans than a potential Iranian threat from somewhere over the horizon.

Occasionally the Iranian rulers curse America, but the focus of their enmity is Israel. Even American Jews weigh their own livelihood or their feelings about things American (environment, equality, health) higher than their feelings for Israel and its Jews. The vast majority of other Americans think of Israel positively, especially in the case of the Christian Right, but there are those who applaud the near majority (or clear majority) of convention delegates who booed the inclusion of the Jerusalem plank in the Democrats' platform.

With all that being said, Americans like Israelis (I am both) are entitled, and even encouraged, to be critical.

What provokes this note is what may be the unleashing of Arab winter against the background of American naivete 18 months ago with what then was viewed as the onset of Arab spring and the coming of democracy.

The thread of intellectual and political innocence stretches from Barack Obama's call for democracy in his Cairo speech of 2009, then applauding the fall of dictators and pushing old friend Hosni Mubarak under the bus, to Hillary Clinton's expression of amazement this week in response to the murder of American diplomats in Benghazi, "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate?"

Hillary's comment has gone viral on Israeli media, along with ridicule. One popular personality, a member of the community that has been in the Middle East since leaving Spain, speaking Ladino, Arabic, and Hebrew, asked "If she doesn't understand that, what else doesn't she understand?"

The "how could this happen" is that things have not changed. The culture of the Muslim Middle East, infused by religious dogma and incited by the dominant clerics and most of the rulers is suspicion quickly turned to anger and violence toward all who would challenge the faith. That a crude film created by a marginal fringe of Christian fanatics could produce this wave of violence testifies to the distance between what is comprehensible to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the reality from Morocco eastward.

The massive detours on Arab spring's march to democracy suggest that strong leadership, or one or another kind of dictatorship, is essential for keeping Muslim rage bottled up.

The best commentary I have seen on this point comes from Professor Eyal Zisser.

"Close to two years after the onset of Arab Spring the Arab masses found themselves a new-old target for their anger and frustration, which did not disappear or even lessen with the fall of dictators, but appears to have grown and become more powerful."

(For a somewhat different version in English, click on this)

There are minority voices in Islam, and most Muslims may not share in the fanaticism. I can say with honesty that some of my best friends are Muslims, with whom I share political conversations and note our agreements and differences, without any sense of animosity. However, they do not balance the mobs who are attacking American installations while screaming their hatred of Americans, Israelis, and other infidels.

I have signed off on an excellent dissertation, written by a Palestinian about Israel and Arabs. I would welcome the day that he could invite me to lecture in his classes at Birzeit University. That will not happen anytime soon, if at all.

It is easy to understand Americans and Europeans who shy away from a criticism of Islam. The best reason is pragmatic. Why incite further animosity and violence when one's own societies already have large Muslim minorities, more are coming every day, and important countries are dominated by Muslims?

It is also the case that the problem is not so much Islam as Muslims. The nuance is subtle, but important. The doctrines of Islam overlap those of Judaism and Christianity. Each has humane expressions along with those hateful of others. Yet the prevailing Islamic culture, inspired by most of the prominent clerics and shared by a great many Muslims is one that aspires to dominance in the region if not worldwide, and is violent toward those standing in the way.

The Obama-Clinton perspective appears to go beyond pragmatism to naivete bordering on ignorance. When Obama encouraged democracy in Cairo, and received a Nobel Peace Prize for his effort, he made a small or large contribution to what became Arab spring.

Dreaming of democracy in Muslim countries may be admirable and understandable among Americans, but expecting it is dangerous. Now it is necessary to mourn and replace four diplomats, repair and reinforce several American embassies and consulates.

Some see indications of learning in the most recent Obama comment that Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, "is not an ally and not an enemy."

The Economist enters this fray with an item that remains optimistic about Arab spring, but also notes

"The slaying of Mr Stevens is hardly the only recent example of Arab dysfunction. Just to take the seven days prior to the killing: in Iraq scores of people were killed in bombings on one day and the vice-president was sentenced to death in absentia for alleged murder; in Yemen the defence minister survived an assassination attempt; in the Gaza Strip Israel killed six militants; in Tunisia extremist Salafists smashed up a bar that serves alcohol to the town where the Arab spring began; and most graphically of all, in Syria the death toll in the gruesome civil war continued to rise exponentially--to over 25,000."

After this paragraph, I can only wonder about the newspaper's optimistic urging of America to keep up with its promotion of democracy. I also note that there is no mention of a role for its own government.

Still pending is that elephant about 1500 kilometers east of here. For Americans unfamiliar with distant geography, that's less than a thousand miles, or something like Chicago to New York.

Tensions, sharp comments and unpleasant silence between Bibi and Barack suggest to some that the American might want to throw us under the bus. Israelis disagree among ourselves about the wisdom of Netanyahu's politics. Some think he belongs under a bus. For a good commentary on Bibi and Barack, click here.

As I understand the media, the people I meet, my principal advisor, confidant and critic who some of you know as Varda, and my own wandering thoughts, we will not go quietly under any bus to please Americans who aspire to peace and quiet. We may even succeed in dragging Americans with us wherever we go.

I may be overloading the tolerance of friends, relatives, and others for these commentaries. View these as my therapy in the face of tension, as well as the best I can do to sort through what I hear and read. I write primarily for myself. Others are free to ignore, delete, or 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 04:02 AM
September 13, 2012
Varieties of religious experience

It is pathetic that a film so bad could involve deaths and the likelihood of more turmoil and bloodshed.

Spend a few minutes looking at the trailer of what is call the Muhammad Movie, or as long as it takes to conclude that it is no better than juvenile in the acting and script, as well as gross in its capacity to insult and inflame Muslims.

The quality is so bad, and its capacity for incitement so extreme. If you want an image that might be more familiar to Americans, think of a high school skit from an unknown locale that harks back to the bad days with angry outbursts of the N word.

Part of the brouhaha about the film, riots and deaths is the claim that the person responsible "an Israeli filmmaker based in California" by the name of Sam Bacile.

Israeli news was hard pressed to identify the subject, despite the likelihood that an Israeli film producer, wherever based, would be well known to someone in the studio. American inquiries have concluded that Bacile is neither Jewish nor Israeli, nor is Bacile his real name. He is said to speak colloquial Arabic with an Egyptian accent, may be a Copt, and is associated with radical elements in the Christian right. Also in the picture is an individual with the name of Klein, said to be associated with an anti-Muslim hate group calling itself the Church of Kaweah. "Klein" could have several rootings, but there may be an apostate Jew in the mix.

The day's quote of innocence is from the American Secretary of State, in response to what occurred in Libya, "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate?"

Also worthy of consideration is that the attack on American diplomats occurred on the anniversary of 9-11. Thinking is that it was planned in advance, with the production of mass riots an opportunistic add-on when someone saw the film.

Many in the Christian right are enamoured of Israel. The claim by these fanatics about an Israeli Jew is hardly the work of friends.

To paraphrase Jean-Paul Satre, all of us have a god-shaped hole in our heads. Many of the atheists I have met are not all that different in their faith from believers. What this incident tells us--if we did not know it already--is that there is a gradient from one pole where are those who identify passively with a religious community, to those in the harmless middle who assert belief in unbelievable details (Red Sea, virgin birth, resurrection), and onward to those who justify violence while asserting that theirs is the one faith that is true and compelling.

A further break down of the extremists should distinguish between Jews moved to spit on females who dare wear short sleeves or walk on the sidewalk they designate for males, or those who claim higher rights to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel, to Christians with a vehement opposition to abortion and on to those who kill abortionists, then further out to Muslims who generate riots by thousands of the screaming faithful. Muslims involved in wholesale killing justify the shifting of Christians attacking a few abortionists somewhere closer to the pacifists' end of the spectrum along with Jews who spit.

Where to put Christians who identify themselves as Israeli Jews while arousing Muslims with a childish and insulting depiction of Muhammad?

Ideally they would go into the closed ward of an asylum. However, they have operated under the umbrella of an administration committed to the slogans of protecting religious freedom and insisting that Islam is not a problem.

I cannot fault Barack Obama for his condemnation of Libyans who murdered American diplomats, and calling presidents across the Middle East to urge the protection of Americans. I wonder about the utility of warships alongside the coast of Libya. That was a tactic favored by the Navy and State Department for Central American trouble spots in the 1930s, occasionally followed by sending the marines ashore.

Rioting continues near the American embassies in Egypt and Yemen.

"Protecting one's own" is a compelling argument. It is admirable so long as it is accompanied by dispassionate analysis. With all the sorrow and anger about the death of four Americans, the President should not go after the gnats on the elephant angered by an film produced by marginal Christians in place of doing something about the Iranian beast capable of much more.

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 04:45 AM
September 12, 2012
Problems big, small, and in between

You want irony?

The most obvious problem on our horizon involves Iran seemingly intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, and the world's greatest power claiming to have our interests at heart. but with a President and Secretary of State who are sounding like Neville Chamberlain.

Another problem that may be equally serious is lots of Palestinians armed with stones, which they are throwing in the direction of other Palestinians.

Enough has already been said about the first problem. A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times spells out as good as anything the conundrum. It carries the headline "Nuclear Mullahs" and reaches the tentative conclusion that the United States can live with a nuclear Iran. Israelis are fearful that the item reflects thinking in the Obama White House, and recent reiterations of a reliance on a "political solution" reinforce that view.

The item also says that Israel can live with a nuclear Iran, given its capacity of massive retaliation.

For me, the analysis does not give enough weight to Shi'ite fanaticism or the small size and dense population of Israel. Destroying Iran would give Israelis little pleasure if a substantial part of this country and its people disappeared in the first strike.

Associated with that first problem are Israeli quarrels about how to deal with the greatest power, as always concerned about its exalted status. Has the Prime Minister pushed too hard? Given Israeli fears of yet another Holocaust, should he push harder, even in the context of a presidential election? Are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fixed by their culture to be quick to offense, and concerned to put American interests far ahead of those claimed by distant Israel? Will this be another case like that of the Roosevelt Administration, quieting Jewish protests with platitudes but concerned to avoid a war for the Jews and intent on keeping American borders closed to all but a selected elite?

There are no obvious answers to those painful questions.

Meanwhile, there are commotions in all the major Palestinian cities of the West Bank, ostensibly protesting the existing regime. Involved in the motivations are economic problems in the context of an unresponsive and corrupt elite. For some time now we have known that Palestinian nationalism co-exists with intense cynicism toward its own leadership.

For Israel the internal Palestinian crisis--not yet at the level of Arab spring et al as manifest in numerous other Middle Eastern countries but moving in that direction-- may be even more pressing than the Iran-Washington elephants in the living room. The Palestinian problem is more immediate in location and timing. Israel does not occupy Palestine, but we live cheek by jowl with the Palestinians. Members of the Palestinian governing elite, known for having their personal and family fingers in the economic pie, are blaming Israel for the problems of the West Bank in a way that may translate into another round of incitement and violence. Or the Palestinians' cousins in Israel may join the protests and present Israeli security personnel with difficult challenges of stones, pistols, rifles, and low-level explosives that have to be met without a full scale onslaught that would have undesirable spillovers in the assurance of international condemnation and another round of unwanted occupation.

Also on the agenda, perhaps of particular interest to academics, is the not quite yet born University in Ariel. The government has approved its upgrading from University Center (formerly college) to University, but the final decision is waiting on a case in the Supreme Court and the imprimatur of Defense Ministry and IDF officials, who have responsibility for governing "occupied territories."

Leaving aside the professional and political squabbles about whether the institution is ready for University designation, no less a figure than the British Foreign Secretary issued a "strong condemnation" of the government's decision. William Hague said he was "very disappointed," about the establishment of a university

""beyond the Green Line in a settlement that is illegal according to international law. This decision will deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace with the Palestinians."

That a ranking British official sees Ariel as a serious obstacle to peace with the Palestinians is in the same category of ranking Americans who think there is still something to be gained by negotiating with Iranians. Such expressions hand around our neck as part of the international environment that begins an explanation of Middle Eastern problems with Israel's actions or inaction.

Friends of Britain would say that the government is working to avoid movements among its academics to impose boycotts on Israeli institutions, and the timing of Ariel's upgrading will make that task all the more difficult.

Take your pick and start by ranking the problems: Iran, Obama's White House, Palestinian protests so far primarily against Palestinians, Ariel. Once you've decided which is more serious, or which is more amenable to treatment, get down to the business of drafting plans of action.

I'm all ears.


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 12:06 AM
September 10, 2012
The Chosen People

The New York Times changes from moment to moment the stories at the top of its portion on my home page. If I had not seen an item on Gaza ("'Forgotten Neighborhood' Underscores the Poverty of an Isolated Enclave") in that prized spot we could have spent this time on something else.

But here we are, pondering the significance of something that says more about the New York Times, and perhaps journalism generally, than the substance of the article.

The 40 families at the focus are no doubt as miserable as the article describes, but probably not more so than an equal number of people who could be found within spitting distance of the New York Times' editorial desks. The item itself notes that "There are certainly less-livable slums in Africa, South Asia or in Delhi, India's financial center, or Cairo, just across the desert . . . "

The article passes other tests for journalistic balance. It mentions the charge that Israel is responsible due to "restrictions on trade, fishing and travel (that) make the place a concrete prison" and then notes that "Others say Gaza already attracts far more attention and international aid than other impoverished regions of the world, and that it is corruption, mismanagement and infighting among Palestinian factions that repress Gaza's living standards." It notes a "report by the United Nations office in Gaza says the situation is worse now than in the 1990s and due to deteriorate further as the population surges to 2.1 million over the next eight years" balanced with "Israeli officials have been harshly critical of the United Nations operation in Gaza, which they view as pro-Palestinian and hostile to Israel's security concerns . . . .the United Nations, which still provides food aid to some 1.1 million of the 1.64 million residents who remain classified as refugees generations after their families left what became Israel in 1948."

It also notes that "The Forgotten Neighborhood . . . is an extreme case (within Gaza). Much of the strip has seen a building boom since Israel eased its blockade two years ago, and the smuggling tunnels from Egypt are thriving once again after being closed briefly last month because of a terrorist attack on the border."

The item carries the bi-line of Jodi Rudoren, and notes that Fares Akram contributed reporting.

Given the inhospitable nature of Gaza, my guess that Jodi wrote the copy on the basis of what Fares e-mailed.

The larger question is why the prominence given to the piece. It describes poverty in detail, within the context of what politics and the UN bureaucracy contribute to its perpetuation. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Jewish angle is the best explanation for its prime location on the Times web site. It is yet another item in the category of "man bites dog" or more simply the attraction of a story connected to Jews. The Chosen People are again in the headlines, where they have been since the Hebrew Bible, in its many translations, became the Holy Book.

Has the status been good or bad for the Jews?

There is no definitive answer. The prominence of anti-Semitism from ancient times (Josephus, Against Apion) through to the Holocaust, the Muslim revival of the Protocols and countless condemnations by the United Nations are prominent on the negative side of the ledger. On the other side are philo-Semitism, the Balfour Declaration, and that questionable majority in the Democrats' Convention restoring the line about Jerusalem as Israel's capital. We can argue as to whether Jews' standing on measures of income, education, and Nobel Prizes deserves association with the Chosen People designation or owes itself to something else.

Also to be reckoned are all those Democrats who booed the restoration of Jerusalem. They may be less significant for themselves (uncounted by the convention's chair) than for what they suggest about political activists who have tired of others' concern with Israel.

The latest from Gaza are rocket attacks, said to be from splinter groups tolerated by Hamas, now having a far enough reach to cause another day's cancellation of school classes in Beer Sheva, followed by attacks against low-grade targets in Gaza along with routine comments from military and political sources that sooner or later Israel will do more.

One of the Chosen People's newspapers, Israel Hayom, puts Iran's nuclear threat in the middle of the American presidential election. The headline on the top of Monday's page one says "Iran--the great failure of Obama. Two months before the American election, the Iranian threat is a significant issue. Romney, "Obama did not distance us from nuclear Iran."

You might wonder where Israel Hayom got its information if you had read Gallup's reading of what Americans think are their most important problems. National security and war each got mentioned by one percent of the sample, while 31 and 23 percent mentioned the economy or unemployment.

We can best understand Israel Hayom's corner of the Chosen People by virtue of its owner (Sheldon Adelson) being Mitt Romney's biggest contributor.

Maybe I shouldn't remind you about Jewish money.

Jewish comics have thanked God for the honor associated with the designation of being Chosen, and asked Him to choose someone else.

Too late. We're stuck with the minuses and the pluses.

I will not promise to avoid writing in the next week, but this is an appropriate opportunity to remind you of the Jewish calendar, and wish you Shana tova. Or שנה טובה for those with a Chosen Computer.


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 02:27 AM
September 07, 2012
Coping with Africa and ourselves

It isn't pretty. Israel did what it could to keep the photographers away. It doesn't play well against the history of Jews having to move from place to place, and encountering borders closed against them. Jewish officials have problems with their own population, ambivalent about providing refuge and the prospect of suffering millions within walking distance. Human rights activists are assiduous in their views of international agreements that would encourage more of those millions to begin their journeys.

Ha'aretz is the left-wing icon of Israel's daily press, but its cartoonist could not resist adding to the quandary. We see Africans on the other side of the newly erected fence, a soldier emptying a bottle of water into the mouth of one, and an officer saying, "Now they will ask for Cola Zero."

The most recent story touches on a number of details that render the implementation of public policy a process that is generally less than satisfying. Coping, or managing problems that defy solution, happens across the range of issues that press on officials and citizens. The case of African migrants adds human faces, along with the tragedies of Jewish history, to render it especially problematic.

Israel began a high profile, rushed job of building a border fence along the desert boundary with Egypt during a period of monthly increases in the incidence of African migrants coming across the Sinai, led by Bedouin guides who often abused them, reports about forced organ donations where the victims were left to die, and Egyptian troops who shot to kill. Those reaching the border overwhelmed the capacity of Israeli officials to investigate claims of deserving refuge under international agreements, and overwhelmed the tolerance of residents in poor areas of Israeli cities to deal with individuals who were different, competed for menial work, and occasionally violent.

The incidence of migrants declined as the fence neared completion and the IDF increased its patrols in areas that remained open. The challenge came when a group of 21, said to be Eritreans and Sudanese, reached the fence and began to wait.

Human rights activists sought to provide them food, water, and medical assistance. Insofar as the fence is not exactly on the border, but here and there a few meters into Israel, lawyers claimed that the migrants were already in Israel, and had the right to official inquiries about their qualification for refugee status.

Israel can't build a fence exactly on the border without personnel and equipment entering Egypt and causing a different kind of incident.

Given problems of language, documents, and various standards for verification, a process of examining claims of refugees status that would satisfy human rights advocates might last for months. Or forever in the case of those without documents claiming that they came from Sudan, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and is not likely to cooperate with inquiries or with the eventual efforts of repatriation when claims of refugee status can be denied. Even African countries with ambassadors in Israel are inclined to say that people without documents, "are not ours," or to find other reasons for declining repatriation even when it comes along with offers of money for the individuals and for governments willing to take them.

The campaign in behalf of the 21 threatened the utility of the border fence, whose construction has already cost more than $250 million. If 21 could wait at the fence until Israel caved under their pressure, there would soon be thousands more.

Even with IDF efforts to keep the media, activists bearing food, and physicians wanting to help away from the area, the issue reached the headlines and the first minutes of nightly newscasts. The IDF said it was providing water, food, material to create shade, and essential medical care, but the sun was hot and the prospects of being left to the whims of Bedouin predators or Egyptian soldiers were well known to Israeli officials and the public.

One of the women in the group was said to have been pregnant, raped by Bedouin guides, and to have suffered a miscarriage as a result.

Among the problems associated with undocumented Africans are attacks on Israeli Ethiopians by individuals protesting the Africans. More than 120,000 Ethiopians have had a spotty record of assimilation and acceptance, despite being recognized officially as Jews, brought to Israel and provided material assistance by governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Human rights organizations initiated a suit in the Supreme Court, demanding that Israel accept the latest group of 21 migrants, at least to examine their claims of deserving refuge from persecution in their homelands. Officials argued in behalf of Israel's rights to guard its borders, in this case against the prospect of millions coming over the desert for whom menial work, subsistence on welfare in a poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv, or even an Israeli detention camp would be better than what they had at home.

The judges heard argument and recessed the case over the weekend.

Israel pursued a typically inelegant way to cope with this cluster of migrants. It opened its gates to two women, one of whom had recently miscarried, and one youth. Egypt will deal with the remaining 18.

Friday evening's news showed how serious is the Israeli establishment about keeping undocumented African from coming over the Sinai. Pro-migrant activists recruited Knesset Member Dov Hanin to employ his parliamentary immunity to get through the cordon that the IDF had drawn around the area of the fence where the migrants were waiting. However, the army kept him at some distance for several hours, protesting that his status allowed him to go anywhere within Israel, and telephoning up the levels of the IDF and government to get the clearance that was his due.

When the IDF and unknown others finally relented and brought Hanin in an army vehicle to the fence, the Africans were nowhere to be seen.

The Knesset Chair (Speaker) Reuven Rivlin complained about the violation of law and democracy.

Hanin is one of the brightest, best educated, and most articulate Members of Knesset. He is also the prominent Jew in the largely Arab-supported party now going by the name of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. The party's roots and Hanin's are in the Israeli Communist Party. Hanin's father was a Communist activist, and Dov was active in the party as a student on the way to a law degree from the Hebrew University, a PhD in political science from Tel Aviv University, and a post-doc in political science at Oxford. In the Knesset he has specialized in environmental policy, and is well-known as a persuasive spokesman for environmental causes.

It may take a while to see how Israeli activists and judges respond to the various elements in the incident of the 21, or the 18 sent back into the Sinai.

Don't bother telling me the problems. You can find them in the discussion above. If there is something I missed, let me know.

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 10:11 PM
September 06, 2012
Jerusalem, God, and American politics

You've heard about the dog that didn't bark.

Now we have the sentence that was not in the draft of the Democrats' platform.

It was there in 2008.

According to the New York Times, the key sentence was, "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel".The Jerusalem Post adds "It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."

The Jerusalem Post has it almost right. The 2008 language, now replaced in the 2012 version, is

"Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."

The nuances between the New York Times and Jerusalem Post might be worth a quarrel if anyone actually believes that party platforms are serious commitments.

God also was absent from the draft platform, and got a reprieve in the final version. The Almighty doesn't get as many words ftom the Democrsts as His Holy City, but there He is, saving the Party from a Republican assault that it was out of touch with all that is sacred. In keeping with Democratic traditions, He is assigned to the working class.

"We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."

Jerusalem's status did not return without noisy opposition. The New York Times reports, "The change, approved in a voice vote that had to be taken three times because of a chorus of noes in the arena." (Well known is the rule that interpretation of a voice vote depends on the chair, and when the chair wants approval there is approval, sooner or later.)

The Times' lead paragraph assigns responsibility for the resurrection to the President himself. "President Obama,seeking to quell a storm of criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel groups, directed the Democratic Party on Wednesday to amend its platform to restore language declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital."

The Republican platform is stronger on both God (two mentions) and Israel. Both parties adopt the two-state solution, but the Republicans are explicit in blaming Arabs for frustrating the peace process.

"We support Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states - Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine - living in peace and security. For that to happen, the Palestinian people must support leaders who reject terror, embrace the institutions and ethos of democracy, and respect the rule of law. We call on Arab governments throughout the region to help advance that goal. Israel should not be expected to negotiate with entities pledged to her destruction. We call on the new government in Egypt to fully uphold its peace treaty with Israel."

When it became apparent on Wednesday that the dog did not bark, the silence received prominent attention by Israeli media and politicians. Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom had a headline on the top of its front page, coupled with a picture of Barack Obama, " 'Jerusalem capital of Israel' erased from Obama's platform . . . Romney attacks, 'Shameful' ."

The Chair (Speaker) of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, said that "Obama doesn't understand the Mideast" and "Democrats' removal of Jerusalem as Israel's capital from platform is a bigger problem than disagreements on Iran."

Rivlin is intense on the issue of Jerusalem. He is the most prominent figure in his generation of a family that has been in the city for generations, with its name on several landmarks. When interviewed about just about anything, he typically begins his response by noting that he is speaking from Jerusalem, the undivided capital of Israel.

Several editions of Israel's Thursday morning news broadcasts led off with Jerusalem's return to the Democrats' platform. However, Knesset Chair Rivlin was skeptical. He said that the Democrats' reinstatement of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in the party platform was too little too late, and the original omission indicates a "reduction of US government's strategic commitment to Israel. . . . I have no doubt that Obama put Jerusalem back in his party's platform out of political and electoral considerations and because of the sharp criticism from Israel and the US."

What does all this portend about
•The weight of Jews and/or Israel in American politics?
•The importance of those convention delegates who shouted "No" on the voice vote to restore the language on Jerusalem?
•The outcome of the presidential election?
•The future of Jerusalem?
•Israel and Palestinians?

I'll admit to being ignorant of any political science that shows connections between party convention maneuverings over platform language and what is likely to happen in the election or subsequent to it. If any of my professional colleagues knows something I have missed, please let me know.

Insofar as both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama had major roles in the conventions, someone might search the web to find their thoughts on Jerusalem.

Maybe God knows the answers to all of these questions. Both parties recognize Him, and Jerusalem is His City.


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 04:44 AM
September 04, 2012
What you see when you turn over a rock

My most recent note, asking if Israel and the United States are friends, brought forth some of the nasty stuff that is known to exist, but is disturbing when it comes to light.

Among the comments sent to the Jerusalem Post blog section
•"WE ARE NOT FRIENDS. Get it through your thick skulls. Nations are not "friends" they are allies and right now the US has little incentive to be dragged into conflict with Iran. Fight your own wars and get the hell out of our domestic politics. Amazing the chutzpah of some of these Israelis. Glad to know you are so grateful for everything we give you."
•"Let the Jew fight their own war. They have bought off the GOP and now wish the USA to defend them again. Good luck suckers. It is enough we send you 3 billion a year. Give Gaza back and you won't be hated by the world."

"If Israel attacking the USS Liberty, slaughtering American sailors and machine-gunning the injured on life rafts is friendship, then we are the best of friends. If creating false documents, intelligence and computer laptops to lie the US into war means good relations, then we Americans are on the best of terms with the Zionist state. If having Zionist Jews control our media and government is cooperation, then we fully cooperate with Israel."

" Hope Obama doesn't try to draft me to save Israel from Iran, I'm not going. Iran is no problem. Who have they ever attacked?"

Assuming the names associated with these comments are genuine, my guess is that the authors are neither Jews nor Arabs.

I haven't figured out why people holding such views read the Jerusalem Post. Maybe they don't they realize that its orientations are Jewish and Israeli? Or it may be the best source for renewing their animosity.

If anyone out there is inclined to check the talkbacks in other overtly Jewish media (leaving aside the point that all the media are owned by Jews), let me know what you find.

Individuals--some with Jewish names--answered those comments. One noted that Gaza was "given back," and did not produce anything like peace. Others indicated that the US was no help when Jews were under intense pressure in Europe, and chided the Obama mantra that "all options are on the table."

The comment about the USS Liberty led me to a detailed article in Wikipedia. It describes missed communications and other snafus among American and Israeli personnel, and offers reasons to blame both sides for the disaster. Rather than Israelis shooting American survivors, Israeli helicopters rescued Americans, expecting to find that they were Egyptians.

Extreme antipathy to Israel is not restricted to Gentiles. I hear from an American Jew with a long history of activity in the community, who has gone off the rails. By associating Israel with one of the most prominent of the Nazi symbols, he is beyond what deserves a response.

"It's been quite a while since Arabs have tried to annex Israeli lands. Israelis, on the other hand, feel they are entitled to take Arab lands for lebensraum in East Jerusalem and elsewhere."

We needn't parse these comments for anti-Semitism or self-hating Jews. (If it looks like a duck . . . ) Nor should we gnash our teeth or seek refuge in the cellar of a friendly Gentile.

Attitudes like these are less apparent in predominantly Christian societies than in the past, or perhaps they more often reside under the rocks on account of not being politically correct, Anti-Zionism/Semitism among Muslims has taken its place. The status of Jews in Muslim societies was not the paradise that some claim. One of my neighbors comes from the Mashadi (Iran) community, where families had been converted to Islam by force in the 1830s, but preserved their Judaism for several generations in secret.

This is not the 1930s. Israel needn't beg for protection. Diaspora Jews are no longer powerless and fearful of annoying others with their protests.

Some may object to the "pushy" nature of Israel's Prime Minister and think that quiet respect is the best way to maintain friends. Yet those who note the comments and actions coming out of Iran (as well as Washington and European capitals) should wonder about timid reliance on others.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tel: +972-2-532-2725

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

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:44 PM
September 03, 2012
Are we friends?

How bad are the relations between Israel and the United States?

It's a question in our headlines, reflecting the latest blips in the ongoing disagreement between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations about the need to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Things have not been all that good between Israel and Barack Obama since the Cairo speech in 2009 that won for him a Nobel Prize, and a subsequent demand to stop building homes for Jews in neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Now the issue of trust may be dipping to a new low, with comments from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Demsey about it being too early to strike Iran, his not wanting to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack, and an even more recent report in TIME Magazine that the United States decided to downsize a joint military exercise with Israel.

Israeli officials are asserting that the reduction had been known for some time, that it was a product of professional considerations rather than a political signal, that it was not a significant downsizing, and that relations between Israel and the United States remain firm and friendly.

Not all commentators are convinced. The timing is too good for it not to be an indication of US displeasure on account of continued Israeli discussions about a need to attack Iran, and soon.

Perhaps the signal was the TIME article and not the reductions in the exercise. Even if the reductions had been known for some time, it may have been someone in the vast, complex, and competitive White House-Pentagon-State Department establishments--with or without Obama's knowledge, prompting, blessing, or even agreement--who let a contact in TIME know about it now in order to send a signal of discontent with Israel.

An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal added its considerable weight to Israeli concerns. It begins with the headline, "Why Israel Doesn't Trust Obama."

"Administration officials have . . . repeatedly told the media that they aren't entirely sure if Iran really intends to build a bomb. . . .

No wonder the Israelis are upset--at the U.S. Administration. It's one thing to hear from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he wants to wipe you off the map: At least it has the ring of honesty. It's quite another to hear from President Obama that he has your back, even as his Administration tries to sell to the public a make-believe world in which Iran's nuclear intentions are potentially peaceful, sanctions are working and diplomacy hasn't failed after three and half years.

The irony for the Administration is that its head-in-the-sand performance is why many Israeli decision-makers believe they had better strike sooner than later. Not only is there waning confidence that Mr. Obama is prepared to take military action on his own, but there's also a fear that a re-elected President Obama will take a much harsher line on an Israeli attack than he would before the first Tuesday in November. . . .

Since coming to office, Obama Administration policy toward Israel has alternated between animus and incompetence."

Yedioth Aharonoth expressed at least part of the Israeli perspective on the Obama administration.

"Claiming that on the one hand, it supports Israel while on the other actually seems more inflexible towards Israel than towards the Iranian nuclear program."

Yet another item reports a "heated" meeting between Prime Minister Netayahu and American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.

" . . . unnamed sources present at the meeting (are) saying "sparks and lightning were flying" when the two men discussed the Iran situation. According to the sources, Netanyahu openly blasted what he called Obama's ineffectual policies vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program . . . Netanyahu reportedly told Shapiro that instead of worrying about whether or not Israel will strike Iran, Obama should focus on the root of the problem and put some real pressure on Tehran. At that point, Shapiro was said to have broken diplomatic protocol and snapped back at Netanyahu, insisting that the Israeli leader was misrepresenting Obama's position."

The Ambassador denied the tension on an interview with Channel 2. He said the newspaper accounts of the meeting were not accurate.

That is what we expect a polished displomat to say. The reports may not be accurate in all the details.

No surprise that Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom is waxing enthusiastic about Mitt Romney, along with a front page headline "Why doesn't Obama dissociate himself from his commanding general?"

Perhaps in response to all of this, the New York Times headlines that Washington is trying to calm Israel by upping its efforts to restrain Iran.

"With Israel openly debating whether to strike at Iran'snuclear facilities in the coming months, the Obama administration is moving ahead with a range of steps short of war that it hopes will forestall an Israeli attack, while forcing the Iranians to take more seriously negotiations that are all but stalemated."

Israelis are--for good reason--preoccupied with the President's real intentions about Iran, even while aware that Israel is a minor issue among Americans--and even among American Jews--who will vote in the presidential election. Romney is widely viewed as a more supportive candidate, but journalists who parsed his comments during a recent visit here noted that he provided less than a firm promise to help if he was elected. Moreover, other positions promoted by Romney and/or those who controlled the drafting of the Republican platform cause wonder about the incidence of Americans who are off the edge of Western civilization on the issues of abortion. medical care, taxation, and the role of government.

I perceive in increase in the incidence of commentators concluding that Israel will strike Iran soon, with or without America's blessing and support, even while there remains considerable skepticism or opposition to such a strike.

Last week Varda came from the distribution center with our new gas masks. Along with a few more notes from me, that will be the extent of this aged couple's contributions to the national emergency.


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 12:35 AM
September 01, 2012
Corrie, Samsung, Apple, Israel and America

The Haifa court's decision about Rachel Corrie, and the California court decision on Apple vs Samsung provoke me to think again about my former homeland.

The Corrie decision received considerable attention in American media, at least for a day or two. Numerous Americans echoed the Corrie family litany of injustice, official cover-up, and biased courts.

In contrast, Israel's response was modest, restrained, or indifference. An Israeli can only be amazed about Americans who think that a civilian political activist can go onto an active battlefield and expect soldiers concerned with their tasks and protecting themselves to stop their work on account of her. Israeli investigations that cleared personnel of improper actions and official expressions of regret compare favorably with other governments' responses to episodes of "collateral damage" in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The IDF's investigation into Corrie's death appears to have been more thorough than in most cases of complaints about soldiers, due to her being an American, appeals to Congress organized by her parents, and demands for an inquiry received from American government personnel.

The Jerusalem Post blog section publishes my notes. Most attract three or fewer comments. The note dealing with Corrie and Migron attracted more than 80, almost all arguing among themselves about the Corrie verdict with no reference to what I had written. The site editor removed some of them, seemingly on account of nasty language.

The family is also upset against the United States administration for its failure to support their claims against Israel.

At one time the family received official word from the American government that Israel did not keep its promise to conduct a "thorough, credible and transparent" investigation. However, the government that has its own experience with civilian casualties appears to accept Israel's responses.

Corrie is on track to become a latter-day USS Liberty. That was the ship attacked by Israel during the Six-Day war with numerous casualties. Israeli and American officials reached an amicable resolution (more or less) after years of investigations, discussion, and Israeli payments of compensation, but the Liberty remains a symbol for Americans unhappy about what Israel represents.

Apple vs Samsung occurs against the complexity of electronic gadgets. A smartphone may involve more than a quarter million patents, and produce a plethora of claims, suits and counter-suits as to who owns rights to what.

It's amazing that such issues can be assigned for decision by a jury, but that's the American way. Reports about nationalist incitement in the court room, claiming Korean exploitation of American inventions, recall the trial of O.J. Simpson.

Alongside the California court's are Korean and Japanese court decisions favorable to Samsung.

A host of legal and technical issues keep me from assessing the justice of each decision, or its implications for this onging patent war.

Googling "apple vs samsung" produces 321 million results.

Reading only a few of them leads to the view that Samsung, Apple, and other high-tech players all steal ideas from one another, and continue to cooperate on some issues while they do battle on others. I doubt that the Samsung treasurer has prepared a check for $1 billion. Appeals will hold things up, perhaps for years. The judge in the California case pressed the parties to reach an agreement, and an appeals court may try harder in that direction.

I have no loyalties in this contest. I've enjoyed both Samsung and Apple products, and recently chose a Galaxy over an IPhone on account of their features. My family is more American than Korean, but I have Korean in-laws. I have visited Korea several times, and enjoy good relations with Korean colleagues, including two of my PhD students. My senior grandson is a blend of Korea and the United States, with Jewish and a variety of other roots. His heritage includes Bialystok and Lithuania along with East Asia.

The Chosen People of the Promised Land are by no means innocent of ethnocentrism or biased officials. However, the latest news about Rachel Corrie as well as Apple and Samsung reinforce my greater confidence in Israel's professional judges over American juries.

It was understandable that framers of the US Constitution implanted trials by local juries into the national character, insofar as they were only a few years away from rebelling against distant authorities. However, the professionalization of the judiciary has come a long way since then. Trained panels of judges provide justice in almost all other democracies. Americans, too, would be better served by them, but pity me should I venture forth against a beast so sacred in that country as trial by jury.

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 05:51 AM